Cold Chisel were in the process of disbanding and front man Jimmy Barnes was heading for a solo career and had his sights set on breaking through into the vast US market, he did enjoy a decade of solo success locally but failed to make an impact Stateside. Left to right below- Jimmy Barnes, Ian Moss, Steve Prestwich, Phil Small, Don Webster.
The band was fractious and feuding, Barnes had been ostracized by his bandmates for precipitating their disintegration, there were disputes over song credits and royalty-sharing. Steve Prestwich had been sacked and replaced by Ray Arnott on drums but continued to play on the farewell tour, however keyboardist and master songwriter Don Walker was still churning out great songs, this time with the help of the recently- dismissed drummer Steve Prestwich (below).
The melody was composed by Prestwich initially on a bass guitar, the lyrics were provided by Walker who had been were inspired by his childhood years in Grafton (NSW) and his memories of the spring colors of flowering trees – the purple-blue of the Jacarandahs, the bright orange Poincianas, and most memorably the bright red of the native Illawarra Flame trees. The song traces a young man’s return to his home town, catching up with friends and remembering a former lover who had passed away, Venetta Fields and Megan Williams rendered soulful backing vocals.
The promo video was filmed in Oberon (NSW) with all band members participating except Barnes, who had temporarily fallen out with his bandmates, actual residents of the town feature, it is quite moving as it peers into the ordinary, unvarnished, uncomplicated lives of the people of a small town, Barnes vocals are for the most part restrained, and the spoken word insert was a brief but brilliant threnody about country communities like Oberon. The Last Stand tour was the band’s national farewell to faithful hometown fans, band members would move on to other groups and solo projects, but they would ultimately resolve their differences and feel the need to go around one more time in the next decade, when they took The Last Wave of Summer to the top of the album charts in October 1998.
Cold Chisel would close its chapter in the annals of pub rock history, but Barnes would prove to be a continuing presence in this blood, sweat, and beers-stained genre, as he would take no less than ten singles into the national top ten in the period 1985-91, as well as a staggering six consecutive #1 albums in the same period.
Flame Trees charted at #26 for Chisel’s last top 40 single success in the decade, when lifted from the band’s sixth studio album Twentieth Century, which would become the third consecutive #1 Cold Chisel album, despite the fact that the songs and production quality were variable and only Flame Trees, Saturday Night, and Rip It Up were really memorable. Flame Trees became an iconic postscript to the career of Cold Chisel, treasured and inspiring in equal parts, with great cover versions by Sarah Blasko, Jessica Mauboy, and the Killjoys.
Cold Chisel had disbanded in 1983 and they went out on top, they had quite simply been the best live band in the country for most of the decade. Jimmy Barnes quickly segued to a successful solo career, Ian Moss slowly began re-kindling his love of performing with the Ian Moss Band, doing session work, and writing songs that varied from the Cold Chisel template. But he did not record for five years after the split, and initially struggled to convince record companies to take a chance on him, Barnes put in a good word for him with Michael Gudinski and he was signed to Mushroom Records.
In 1988 Ian was looking for inspiration in the USA, meeting producers and demoing songs, finally he settled on American producer/engineer Chris Lord-Alge (James Brown, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Tina turner) who was supportive of Ian’s quest to re-imagine his music in a way that was not just a rehash of the Cold Chisel canon of work.
Former band buddy Don Walker (above) came on board and together the songs for Moss’s debut album, Matchbook, began to evolve, of the ten tracks Don Walker wrote six and three were co-written by Walker and Moss, including the brilliant lead single Tucker’s Daughter.
Moss had developed the melody for Tucker’s Daughter and several lyrics that he liked, these included the lines “Hey there motherf..ker…” and “build me up, tear me down…” which Moss felt had a desired percussive effect, he express-airmailed the cassette from Los Angeles to Don Walker back in Australia. The opening line was ultimately changed to “hang me for a sucker…” and the song was completed in time for its pre-release, before the album, in November 1988.
This song was recorded at Ocean Way Studio in LA, and emerged as a radio-friendly perfect pop song with an infectious chorus, Moss’s exemplary, precise guitar-playing was well-known, but his soulful vocals, rarely heard on Cold Chisel records, was an added highlight, it hit #1 early in January 1989 and stayed there for three weeks, occupying the charts for 24 weeks and selling over 70,000 copies. The follow-up, Telephone Booth was a creditable #9 when lifted from the Matchbook album, which was also a big hit, charting at #1 and ultimately selling over 200,000 copies during its 39 week- long stay on the charts.
Tucker’s Daughter is set in north-western NSW at Narrabri, the centre of the local cotton-growing industry, a fact further reinforced by the curious lyrical reference to “CAL-cotton row…” which described the preferred spacing of cotton rows on Californian cotton plantations to achieve the most productive crops with the least amount of irrigation. The lyrics tell the story of a farm hand who finds himself the object of the attentions of his employer’s only daughter, a la Roy Orbison’s Working for The Man, the “daughter” in question was played by actress Tasma Walton (wife of Rove McManus) in the promo clip. She is depicted strolling through the fields in the intro, intercut with several scenes featuring Moss singing and playing guitar inside a barn – but while lyrically the farm hand does not apparently welcome these overtures from the boss’s daughter, the promo video however suggests otherwise.
Moss’s debut album won ARIA awards for Best Album of the Year, Best Male Artist and Breakthrough Artist (Album) and the single won the prestigious Song of the Year Award, shared by Moss and Walker, Cold Chisel would ultimately reform in 1997 and release another studio album, The Last Wave of Summer, which would become their fourth consecutive #1, and their last album of original songs. Surprisingly Ian Moss would not sustain a solo recording career, and after three more singles issued in 1989-91 and the album Worlds Away he disappeared from the charts.