Cold Chisel were yet to really crack the singles charts at this time although their second album Breakfast At Sweethearts had climbed to #4 nationally, they were recognised as a great live act who were poised to deliver on their early promise. The band did not believe that the raw power and spontaneity of their live performances had been captured on record by their two previous producers, Peter Walker and Richard Batchens.When they entered Paradise Studios (Syd) in March 1980 they would be recording with Mark Opitz, who had recently joined Warner Music from Alberts where he had recreated the sweaty pub rock-infused recordings of AC/DC, The Angels and Rose Tattoo, and knew how to harness the raw power of such bands while still producing a radio-friendly record.Chisel’s third album, East, was a more commercial affair, the band were a more confident, cohesive, fully – realised unit now, with multiple song writing options as all band members elbowed to get their songs into the final mix. The cover art was the first sign that things had changed, as Jimmy Barnes appears slumped in a bath wearing a headband, in a setting which recreated the eighteenth century painting The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David (below), this was the sort of cover one might expect from an art-rock group, which Cold Chisel most definitely were not. Album tracks here that would become live performance favorites, although not released as singles, included Star Hotel and Standing on the Outside. Choir Girl had been recorded in late 1979 and released before the album, Walker has revealed that the song is about pregnancy termination and the personal angst and human trauma associated with it, “One nurse to hold her/ One nurse to wheel her down the corridors of healing/ Well I’ve been trying/ But she’s crying like a refugee.”Walker’s Yamaha CP70 electric grand piano drives the song musically, Barnes sings lead vocals on most of the song and Ian Moss provides close harmonies on the second verse and sings lead vocals on the bridge, the vocal delivery was restrained and affecting, it was a rhythm and blues ballad of some intensity and it resonated with fans and charted #14 nationally.
The subject matter of the song was so obliquely embedded in the lyrics that the Catholic radio stations 2SM in Sydney and 3XY in Melbourne, didn’t detect it, and failed to ban it, which was the usual treatment for songs deemed to be contrary to the teachings of the Catholic church. Producer Opitz said of the recording,“I used all the old Alberts tricks as we built Choirgirl – where to bring in the backing vocals, have a half-chorus first…all the things I’d learned from Vanda & Young about keeping the listener interested.” Walker said, “Mark was the first person who came along who took the barriers away, who said, “Yes, doing that is not a problem. In fact, that’s the way we should do it.” The band appeared on Countdown to promote the song, with the band wearing matching white clothes and miming the performance.The second single lifted off East was another Don Walker (above) song, Cheap Wine, which captured the fusion of hard rock with soulful bluesy overtones for which the band would become justly famous. The lyrics describe a person who is rebellious, nihilistic, who has rejected the trappings of material success and is unconcerned about the future.
Don Walker said, “It’s about someone who’s on the skids, but still having a great time. I can relate to that – in the seven years Cold Chisel have been together, we’ve only had enough money to eat the last two and a half. If you get into that lifestyle and start to enjoy it, you tend to stay that way even when the money comes in.” Producer Opitz said, Cheap Wine was obviously written as a single, something to follow Choirgirl, “if you listen to it, it has many of the same structural elements – where the chorus falls, where the bridge falls, where the backing vocals come in; and that was no accident.” Ian Moss had some reservations about this song which he initially thought was too commercial, but ultimately agreed that the chord progressions were enough to stop it from being too poppy.
Composer Don Walker said the song was, “a cobbled together song. The two verses were from two different ideas and the chorus came in quite late, and a middle bit from somewhere else. From memory, this was bolted together on the day, in the frenzy of writing and the euphoria of the first few days at Paradise Studios recording East.” Piano, guitar, and percussion blend to produce a sound reminiscent of the early Faces material, and it became the band’s first top ten hit at #8.
A promotional video was shot for the song by Peter Cox, featuring Barnes walking around an apartment, getting dressed, showing how to put an inside – out T-shirt on at 1.05 m, and miming to the song, which also included footage of a cockfight in one scene. It was filmed at Roger Langford’s apartment in Elizabeth Bay (Syd) on 10 and 11 April, where the cover for East had been shot. Barnes wore a shirt depicting a woman using cocaine, with the logo, “Coke – The Real Thing”. The B-side was Barnes’ first solo song-writing credit, Rising Sun, a rockabilly song, inspired by Barnes’ then-girlfriend, Jane (below), travelling to Japan.Three months later the third single off the album, My Baby was also on the charts, written by bassist Phil Small, and inspired by his wife, Small said, “I was in the bathroom at Paradise Studios when the idea came to me. Luckily, being in the studio, we were able to whack the idea down on tape pretty much straight away. Everyone seems to think it’s written about Christine, my wife (see below); maybe subconsciously it is.” Moss adds, “It was all in Phil’s head; we just needed to get it down. He didn’t even know the chords – he just played it on his bass, and I picked it up from there.” Walker said, “Between learning the song and having the finished record might have been a couple of hours work.”
It was a perfect piece of pop, a cleanly-defined melody and sound, quite different from the more hard-edged rock of other tracks on East, it deserved to chart higher than the #40 at which it peaked, although it did make top forty in the USA. This was the first time a non-Walker song had been released as a single by the band, Ian Moss delivered convincing lead vocals and Joe Camilleri guested on a shimmering saxophone solo at the bridge. The clip was shot at a live performance by the band at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion in 2013, and featured David Blight on sax and ex-Divinyls drummer Charlie Drayton, the late Steve Prestwich’s replacement.East hit #2 for their biggest album to date, it sold over 200,000 copies and produced three hit singles and occupied the charts for 63 weeks. Jimmy Barnes combination of speed and red wine were producing the galvanizing vocals synonymous with a Chisel live performance, and while Don Walker was still the creative fulcrum off the group, the creative process was no longer a monopoly, but a shared dynamic, a more collective effort.