Fall of Rome (J Reyne) and Hammerhead (J Reyne/S Hussey) 1987 and Motor’s Too Fast (J Reyne/ S Hussey) – James Reyne 1988
While James Reyne had ventured into acting in the 1980’s playing the role of manipulative playboy/murderer Greg Marsden in the mini-series Return to Eden, he and his band Australia Crawl continued to issue successful albums, Sons Of Beaches (#1 1982), Phalanx (#4 1983) and a Greatest Hits compilation (#2 1984), but the band’s last hit single was Reckless (Semantics EP) (#1 1983).
Guy McDonough had sadly passed away in 1984, and there was a simmering feud between Reyne and guitarist Simon Binks, over the band’s royalty-sharing arrangements, so that by 1985 Australian Crawl had disbanded, but Reyne was poised to embark on a successful solo career.Reyne’s relationship with English-born model and stylist Kim Ellmer (above left) had resulted in the birth of their son, Jamie-Robbie Reyne (born 11 May 1985) (above with partner Louise van De Vorst and baby Roosevelt), and as a young adult, Jamie-Robbie (below) appeared in the Australian Ten Network television soap opera Neighbours, from 2002 to 2004. In 1985 James Reyne combined with Lin Buckfield, lead singer for the Electric Pandas, to release a duet version of Garland Jeffreys 1981 song R.O.C.K. which charted #44 locally, but he was about to launch his solo career with a vengeance.Reyne had been front-man and the creative force within Australian Crawl, he and the band had exuded a sun-kissed surfer-dude image, walking straight off the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula and onto the charts, projecting a cocky, arrogant, slightly subversive attitude, whilst enjoying a good time that included plenty of sex and marijuana. Reyne was a clear-eyed, good-looking, luminous front man, with an outrageous mullet and a clipped vocal style that demanded subtitles to interpret. His solo output however, was to reflect an altogether darker preoccupation with drugs, unhealthy obsessions, substance abuse, and alienation, he was writing a new soundtrack for his life as a solo singer, and perhaps reflecting on his own demons, as well as the experience of others.Reynes self-titled debut album was produced by American Davitt Sigerson (below) (Olivia Newton-John, The Bangles, Tori Amos) and it was fairly hailed as one of the most striking debut albums of the late-eighties. His vocal style was still enigmatically clipped and leaped wildly across complex melody lines littered with irresistable hooks, as exemplified in the frenetically edgy opening track, Fall of Rome.This became his debut single, and its preoccupation with drug abuse reflected the theme of several Australian Crawl songs, Oh No Not You Again (heroin addiction) and Boys Light Up, (marijuana, infidelity, and fellatio, not necessarily in that order) and the drug-related death of Crawl guitarist Guy McDonough, only three years before in 1984.” Well I’ve been living a categorical lie/Each last thrill the penultimate high/Just one more hit before I can die…Mirror don’t lie, mirror don’t lie”). Needing a fix, chasing the dragons of addiction, and using the “the fall of Rome” to metaphorically link the personal feelings of desperation, alienation and worthlessness experienced by addicts, the debut solo single by Reyne was confronting and hard-hitting. The bleak images are piled on one after another – “dragons are just a’draggin me down”, “when am I gonna buy it, gotta give a dog a bone”, “just one more hit before I die”. Reyne’s vocal style gave rise to several misheard lyrics, or mondegreens, attributed to this song, notably “In the morning when I wet my bed …” instead of “wake from my bed…”
The hallucinatory and aimless landscape of those in the grip of the “wild dog of addiction” had seldom been more thoroughly canvassed, musically the record begins with an eerie chant followed by discordant guitar, then percussion and Reyne’s robotic vocals, the tempo increases and the bass kicks in, there is a Billy Idol White Wedding ambience to the song. The promo video was shot on an all-white set with Reyne traipsing through derelict cars, sparks flying, geometric shapes, dressed in what looks like a cross between a priest’s vestments and a girl’s black pinafore school tunic, (this vid is no longer available) it was unusual and slightly surreal, charted #5 nationally and was the first of five top 10 entries by Reyne in the period 1987 – 92. Fall of Rome was to be the song that Capitol Records believed would break Reyne in the US market, he wryly recalled that the company executives wanted him to sound more like a soft-metal version of the band Poison, to ensure extra airplay on 150 US radio stations, he refused, the song was picked up by only 25 stations in the first fortnight, and subsequently sank without a trace there.Hammerhead was just as confronting, hammer being a euphemism for heroin, the “silken slip of evil” that is the deadliest of drugs, “Five times a day my self-destruction you’ll oversee/ Don’t’ go, don’t go away.” Opening guitar chords segue to percussion and bass, in the promo clip Reyne appears in white shirt buttoned to the neck, a head and shoulders shot of a girl appears throughout, who appears to be affected by drugs, exterior shots are intercut as Reyne walks through a farmhouse, and a “HOLLYWOOD” sign appears in the background. Reyne didn’t want to push the drugs linkage too much, and later said the song was about any unhealthy obsession, be it drugs or people, it was recorded in LA with expat Aussie Olivia Newton-John providing delightfully melodic uncredited backup vocals, and regular Reyne sidekick Simon Hussey produced the session, for a #8 national hit.
Motor’s Too Fast was the fifth song lifted from Reyne’s self-titled debut album and it continued the strong run for Reyne early in his solo career when it charted at #4, it was one of six songs on the album co-written by Reyne and Simon Hussey (below), former Peninsula School old boy, like Reyne, and bandmate of James younger brother David, in the group Cats Under Pressure. The lyrics are cryptic but it’s is likely that the song’s title is a metaphor for a young man living life in the fast lane, shunning his parents who may be separated and /or abusive, drinking excessively, stealing to feed his addiction, and drifting into a dissolute lifestyle outside of mainstream society. It continued the strong run for Reyne early in his solo career when it charted at #4, but his chart fortunes would fluctuate between the eponymous debut album (#4 in ’87), and Hard Reyne (#7 in ’89) until he released arguably his best album Electric Digger Dandy, in 1991 for a #2 hit.