Run By Night (R Hirst/ J Moginie/ M Rotsey) 1978 and Stand In Line (P Garrett/ R Hirst/ J Moginie/ M Rotsey) and No Time For Games (R Hirst/ J Moginie) – Midnight Oil 1979
Midnight Oil would commence recording their debut album at Alberts studio with producer Keith Walker in 1978, they had signed a deal with Seven Records which preserved much of the band’s independence regarding musical content, associated album artwork and promotion. Their eponymous first album, was a strange mix of prog rock, punk, and the pub rock influences of their contemporaries the Angels, AC/DC, Cold Chisel, and Rose Tattoo. They were touring incessantly through May- Sept ’78, with over 200 live shows in the year, so there was little time to develop and promote the album professionally, it peaked at #43. The songs were characterised by raw, loud, brash, angular, unpolished guitars dueling for ascendency, and projected an ambitious, original, rhythmic, frantic, driving sound “featuring five over-educated north shore punks in stovepipes and sneakers “ according to Rob Hirst. A video clip exists of the band performing Run By Night, at the Tanelorn Music Festival in NSW (1981), south of Gloucester, near the town of Stroud (below)This song was slightly more commercial than the rest of the album, the backing vocals in the chorus were effective but the song was raw, visceral and overwhelming at the same time, and it charted #100
At this stage in the band’s evolution the Oils would either become a short-lived cult band who would play some great gigs, or their live shows would take them to the next level of success as their song writing and recording prowess markedly improved at the same time. Peter Garrett took a shot at describing what he thought the band’s fan base really was at this time “ we attract hard case fans, bikies, butch dykes, hardcore druggo types, street gangs, students, and surfers- no straights, and we refuse to appear on Countdown to mime songs, or change lyrics to avoid offending teenyboppers, Countdown is just a pop fantasy thing.”
While the band had been highly politicised and prepared to espouse social causes from the beginning, they also insisted that they were a rock band first and foremost, who appeared in support of political causes, and not a political cause appearing as a rock band. They became part of the Great Australian Pub Rock movement, moving through sweaty, testosterone – charged, often violent, nicotine-stained, overcrowded, beer barns of the country, playing alongside fellow travelers like AC/DC, the Angels, Rose Tattoo, and Cold Chisel. Pub rock was characterised by loud music played fast, all the songs were linked, there were no spaces in between, no loss of intensity, also no encores, the bands held nothing back for a contrived or planned encore, the Oils quickly adapted their live shows to this format, and left their prog-rock pretensions far behind.The band’s second album was Head Injuries, produced by Les Karski and recorded on the band’s Powderworks label, with Colombia records handling distribution; the album aimed to capture the raw live sound of the band and the upfront vocals of Garrett which were judged to be tentative on their debut album. The standout tracks were Cold, Cold, Change with soaring guitars, relentless thrashing of drums, and Peter’s impassioned vocals, and it would become a live performance favorite, and the mini-epic Stand In Line, constructed around a convoluted bass riff which was also critically praised, neither song charted but the album did well at #36 and occupied the charts for 46 weeks.
Koala Sprint would also become a live performance favourite, a song which had been inspired by the over development of Surfers Paradise and the destruction of native habitats by high rise apartment blocks, as exemplified by a road sign on a six -lane highway that wound through this busy coastal development and said “Caution: Koalas Cross Here At Night”. The irony of the road sign was obvious, koalas do not know how to sprint being slow-moving, timid, primarily tree-dwelling marsupials, and they would never survive a sprint across six lanes of traffic travelling at speed, and particularly at night.This would be the last album that bassist Andrew James (at left above) would play on, following the tour to promote the album from July- December 1980, James had become unwell, and was not handling the rigors of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. He had found the grind of touring not conducive to the permanence and security that he sought in his life, and was replaced by Peter Gifford who made an impressive debut at his first gig at the Woollongong Leagues Club. Les Karski would also helm the production on the band’s EP Bird Noises released in November 1980, recorded at the Music Farm Studios near Byron Bay, four tracks with No Time For Games, a restrained rocker, which lamented the loss of childhood, being probably the best. Despite still being largely ignored by commercial radio stations, with the exception of 2JJJ (Sydney) and 3 RRR (Melb) , the record charted a respectable #28, and by now the Oils were vying with Cold Chisel and the Angels for pub rock domination throughout the country.