Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Shannon Noll were white hot when they teamed up to re-create the soulful ballad Don’t Give Up, originally a duet hit for Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush in 1986. In the period 2002- 2006 Natalie had fronted electro-rockers Rogue Traders (below) and taken them to five top ten hits and two top ten albums.Shannon Noll had placed second to Guy Sebastian in the first series of Australian Idol, and subsequently set an industry record, taking his first eight singles into the top ten as well as his first two albums to #1.Don’t Give Up was written by former Genesis front-man Peter Gabriel after he was inspired by a collection of Depression-era photographs taken by Dorothea Lange (below), showing poverty-stricken Americans in depressed dust- bowl rural communities, barely eking out an existence, of these people so terribly marginalised by poverty she said “Life for people begins to crumble at the edges, they don’t realise it.” In the mid-80’s the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher had resulted in the decimation of traditional mining and manufacturing industries throughout the north of England, and Gabriel, a committed supporter of the British Labor Party, drew a parallel between the disintegration of working-class communities he saw in the UK and the images so graphically depicted by Lange over fifty years before.Gabriel wrote the song from the perspective of a man feeling isolation and despair, seemingly stripped of his pride, hope and dignity, unable to find a job to support his family’.” No fight left or so it seems/ I am a man whose dreams have all deserted/ I’ve changed my name, I’ve changed my face/ But no one wants you when you lose.”His rendition of the verses is anguished, forlorn and discomforting, Kate Bush offers solace, support, encouragement, and hope, as she soulfully responds to her partner in a call and response refrain, it was one of her most nuanced vocal performances.“ Rest your head/ You worry too much/ It’s going to be alright/ When times get rough/ You can fall back on us/ Don’t give up/ Please don’t give up.” It is hard to imagine anyone else singing this song with Gabriel, but he did initially invite Dolly Parton to duet with him, as he had originally written the song from an American roots perspective, but fortunately Parton turned him down, and his good friend Kate Bush took her place. Her gently keening vocals were a world apart from the brassy, “aw shucks”, syrupy, country inflexions of Dolly.The original version was produced by Gabriel and Daniel Lanois and formed part of Gabriel’s legendary album So, it is performed as a conversation between the man and his wife/lover, slowed down for dramatic effect and runs for over six minutes, the atmospherics and introspection of the song are enhanced by a slow low-pitched drum pattern, piano, bass and Fairlight Synthesiser. The Gabriel/Bush video clip featured the two singers in a close embrace throughout the song, while the sun behind them enters total eclipse and re-emerges via the magic of chromakey green screen technology – of the shoot, with the luminous Kate locked in a tight embrace throughout, Gabriel wryly remarked “There are worse ways of earning a living.”
The Noll/Bassingthwaighte version begins with keyboards and a snare drum, it is a much faster tempo than the original and lacks real intimacy and drama, orchestration floods the production about halfway through, Natalie struggles with her vocals, neither singer seems to be aware of the original narrative which inspired the song, everyone is apparently in a hurry to get out of the recording studio, where the promo clip was unimaginatively filmed.
Recorded to raise funds for beyondblue, it charted #2 nationally, and became Noll’s ninth consecutive top ten single, a feat he would better with his tenth consecutive top ten song, Loud in 2007, you can decide which version you prefer.