PUB ROCK 1970-1990

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Boys In Town (C Amphlett/ M McEntee) 1981 and Science Fiction (C Amphlett/ M McEntee) – Divinyls 1983

The Divinyls formed in 1980 after Chrissy Amphlett met Mark McEntee, she was fronting the covers band Baton rouge and although only 21 she had been performing since she was 14, with such groups as Daisy Clover and One Ton Gypsy, as well as a starring role as Linda Lipps the Porn Queen in the sex musical Let My People Come. She had travelled the world, lived as a homeless person, and done jail time for illegally busking in Spain. She came up with the name Divinyls for the band whilst shopping in Oxford St. Sydney with her friend actor Tracey Mann, when they would exclaim “oh that’s divine!’ and for no particular reason began to pun on that word until it became “divinyl”, which Chrissie seized on for the band’s name. Amphlett and McEntee were mutually attracted, their personal chemistry was a volatile mix which was expressed via their creative musical relationship, and in their personal life, after McEntee left his wife Linda for Amphlett.

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As the creative dynamo of the band, the pair charted the future course of the Divinyls from the pub rock circuit, to creation of the soundtrack and performing roles in Helen Garner’s 1982 movie MonkeyGrip, then onto arena rock fame and ultimately international chart success, with I Touch Myself.

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MonkeyGrip the book and movie eerily reflected the personal life experiences of a wayward young Chrissy Amphlett (below), who would meet with her girlfriends on weekends to hitchhike from Geelong to Torquay on the Great Ocean Road (Vic.), hang out with surfer guys, listen to music, smoke dope and have sex, she was a beautiful, self-possessed, intimidating young girl, who was also an uncomfortable fit within the misogynistic, drug-addicted surf culture of the 1970’s, and it was this experience that moved her to write the song Boys In Town.

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In her memoir Pleasure and Pain- My Life, Amphlett recalls returning to Geelong for a gig as front woman for the Divinyls when their first hit record Boys In Town was charting, in the audience were Fledge, Boong, and Brew, three of the Torquay surfer guys who had treated her like “jailbait” when she spent lost weekends with them on the beach. Gobsmacked by the transformation of the young woman they had known, and intimidated by Chrissy’s carnally captivating performance, they waited in anticipation for her to acknowledge them, but she was determined to have the last word on her own terms and at the end of the set leaned over and pointedly told them to ” go and get f…ed”. Chrissy Amphlett would go on to become one of the most complex female protagonists in Australian rock music, but a sad postscript to this incident, was that all three of those younger surfer guys would die of drug-related deaths.

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The promo video for Boys In Town dialed up the threatening, female domination angle for Chrissy, shot from below to accentuate her intimidating presence, and clutching a giant phallic neon mic stand, Amphlett writhed and pranced about in fishnet stockings and a schoolgirl uniform, sneeringly delivering this sultry stomper in her trademark husky vocals. Although she was the cousin of the demure Little Pattie (Patricia Amphlett), Chrissy made no pretence to project the traditional female pop image of shy innocence or virginity, she was a confusing and yet mesmerizing mix of feral and carnal attitudes and poses and she totally dominated the public image of the band. The song charted #8 and was a foretaste of things to come from this unpredictable but always fascinating front woman.

Chrissy and her Neon Wand – Casting a Spell over All The Boys In Town

Boys In Town was added to the National Film and Sound Archives “Sounds of Australian “ Registry, as a song that was a culturally and aesthetically significant sound recording, and at the time Mark McEntee described its inclusion as a welcome surprise “Who knew, the very first time Chrissie Amphlett and I met, that we would sit down and pen this song together? It was the first result of a magical connection between us, as song-writing partners, which would take us to heights we never would have expected.”

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By now the Divinyls lineup was left to right – Rick Grossman (bass), Richard Harvey (drums), Mark McEntee (lead guitar), Bjarne Ohlin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Chrissy Amphlett (lead vocals), and they were solidifying under the management of ex-Valentine Vince Lovegrove, Chrissy and Mark would remain the creative songwriting force within the band.

Along the way the ambitious and self-obsessed Amphlett had taken time out to deal with band members who challenged her authority or sought to remove or replace her in the Divinyls. Henk Johannes had the temerity to suggest that he should be the lead singer so Chrissy sacked him, while bassist Jeremy Paul attempted a coup to remove her and was also sent packing, she may have been the only woman in the band, but her combination of street cunning, determination, ruthlessness, and intimidating fury, made her the alpha female in the lineup.

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Amphlett conceived the lyrics and melody for Science Fiction while working part-time as a cleaner to augment the band’s meagre earnings at the time, she was also learning the art of recording her voice. Producer Mark Opitz (below) taught her how to double her voice duetting with herself against a recorded track, and this effect was evident on Science Fiction, as Amphlett twists the phrasing of the lyric “I thought that love was science fick-shu-hun”, to achieve a distinctive vocal treatment of the song.

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The lyrics of Science Fiction provoked the possibility that true love was not ephemeral, as it had once seemed to a young Chrissy Amphlett on Torquay beach, but instead it was real and addictive, and like all addictions, potentially destructive if abused. These sentiments reflected the nature of the relationship between Amphlett and McEntee, they were more than just bandmates, their tempestuous personal relationship, and frequent arguments, underscored the lives they shared and the creative, artistic partnership which became the axis around which the whole band revolved.

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Science Fiction was driven along by Richard Harvey’s staccato percussion breaks, Grossman’s bass line, and the understated brilliance of McEntee’s guitar riffs, where he eschewed playing showy guitar solos, and instead focused on enhancing Amphlett’s vocal attack. Amphlett sings in an eerie and mannered vocal style which recalled the UK performer Lena Lovich (Lucky Number, #3 UK, 1978) as well as several of Amphlett’s early vocal inspirations, Martha Davis (Motels) and Debbie Harry Blondie). The promo clip was strangely subdued, Amphlett is partially enveloped in shadows throughout the song, there are none of the theatrics which would characterize her future clips, she is restrained, detached and seemingly lacks engagement with the visual medium of which she was usually the focus. This was the first single off the Desperate album and backed with the Easybeats classic I’ll Make You Happy, charted #13 nationally and was ranked by APRA as one of the thirty best original Australian songs of the modern era from 1924- 2001, the album was also a hit climbing to #5 nationally.

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