SONGS OF THE DECADE- 90’S

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Berlin Chair (T Rogers/You Am I) – You Am I 1994

You Am I are an alternative rock band from Sydney who originally comprised Tim Rogers (vocals, guitar, mellotron, organ), Nick Tischler (bass) and Tim’s brother Jaimme Rogers (drums) whose musical influences included such power pop UK bands as the Small Faces, Who and the Kinks. Early band shot L-R Tischler, Rogers, Tunaley.

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They started life as a trio, and after several lineup changes, including the departure of Jaimme Rogers for Mark Tunaley on drums, who was replaced by Russell Hopkinson, while Tischler was replaced by Andy Kent, and all of these changes were linked to the departees having “musical differences” with Tim Rogers. The more stable lineup of Rogers, Kent and Hopkinson subsequently emerged, and they were invited to play support to US avant garde band Sonic Youth, who invited them to the States to record at their Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota (USA) in 1993 with Lee Ranaldo producing the sessions.

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The album Sound as Ever emerged, and its standout track was Berlin Chair, a Tim Rogers composition which was inspired by Dutch architect/designer Gerrit Rietveldt’s gravity-defying sculpture of a three- legged chair, composed of interrelated planes, asymmetrically balanced, which is exhibited in the National Gallery (Canberra). Reitveldt’s sculpture symbolized for Tim Rogers his personal insecurities, anxieties, and a worsening alcoholism problem, tellingly Rogers has described his songwriting “as a way of romanticizing the banal or somehow squeezing some of the hurt out.” Below L-R – Berlin Chair and Gerrit Reitveldt.

Rogers felt that the sculpture’s hard almost impenetrable edges, defined the character of his relationship with his girlfriend, and more broadly of a love that had soured, but where the couple persist, going through the pantomime of balancing emotions that are the precursor to a doomed affair ”I’m the re-run that you’ll always force yourself to sit through”…”My cold hand is there for you to take/ I’ll ignore each golden, dragging kiss you can give.” This was mordant self-deprecation by Rogers who delivered strained and anguished lead vocals. He didn’t try to play the endearing protagonist, instead he painted a picture of a cold, self-obsessed, disconnected man, yearning for love but unwilling to give much in return, he is a flawed human, who could accept love or loss with equanimity. Band L-R – Andy Kent, Davey Lane, Russell Hopkinson, Tim Rogers.

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Musically this two and half minute song is not traditionally catchy, but it is certainly memorable, classic power pop, thundering drums and bass, staccato guitar riffs and Rogers impassioned vocals merge to produce a timeless record which rocked but had a darker melancholic subtext.

This is the US version of the clip, the monochrome set is reminiscent of the Knack’s video for My Sharona, an alternative clip is also worth a look, features PJ the “Silver Dancing Man” and Monica McMahon of the band The Prickles.

The song failed to make an impact on release reaching #79 locally but it has been included on many “Best Of” lists ever since by Triple J. The band’s record label, Warner Music, had grand plans for the song, which they felt would find an audience in the US, and to plug Berlin Chair, they planned to use it as the soundtrack for a national advertising campaign for Budweiser beer, so giving the band and the song, massive publicity in the US. But the band refused to allow their song to be commercialized in such a way, and they took their integrity and credibility back to Australia, never to break the band in the US in the future.

Less than a decade later such a decision would have been derided, as cross-marketing, branding, sponsorship, and product placement had become commonplace strategies to boost album sales and break a band into new markets. Strangely You Am I would agree to celebrate the 25th anniversary edition of their debut album Sounds As Ever, by endorsing a limited-edition beer brewed by Sydney brewery Young Henry’s, and sold in conjunction with the name “Brew I Am”, perhaps a case of too little market savvy too late. Guitarist Davey Lane would augment the band’s lineup in 1999, and it has remained unchanged since then, although there have been several alcohol-fueled incidents along the way. In 2003 a drunken Rogers violently confronted Mark Holden, a judge on Australian Idol at Adelaide Airport terminal, and most notably at the Falls Festival 2004/05 in Launceston, when Rogers was too inebriated to perform the band’s headline set, which triggered an altercation with Davey Lane, and as he stormed off the stage, he accidently knocked Missy Higgins over backstage.  

Singles were not really You Am I’s market, but they scored with three consecutive #1 hits locally, with their albums Hi Fi Way (’95), Hourly, Daily (’96), and You Am I’s #4 Record (’98), and followed up with Dress Me Slowly (#3 ’01) and Deliverance (#12 ’02), after which their label BMG dropped them. Their next two albums were distributed by Virgin – Convicts (#8 ‘05), and Dilettantes (#15 ’08), and the most recent have been independently issued via their band website – You Am I (#18 ’10), and their latest Lives of Others in 2020.

Despite their lack of success in the singles market, You Am I were simply one of the best and most successful Australian bands of the 90’s along with Silverchair, Spiderbait, Regurgitator and Powderfinger, and still continue to surprise and delight their fans 25 years after they formed.   

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