1979 and If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too? (M
.Plaza) and Too Many Times (A .Smith) 81 and Live It Up (A Smith) – Mental as Anything 1985and Concrete and Clay (B Parker/T Moeller) – Martin Plaza 1986.
The Mentals established their Sydney following in the claustrophobic back room of the Unicorn Hotel in Oxford St. Paddington, where they often performed atop a rickety pool table, the group members were mostly art students from the neighboring East Sydney Tech who dreamed up zany nicknames for themselves and were amusing, quirky, court jesters of rock. Below – The band’s tour posters were original and humorously riffed on Australian cultural icons such as – L-R the winged thongs, the Victa mower with bottle opener, and their cupcake homage to confectionary and violence.
Blessed with four songwriters producing unashamedly commercial, classic pop, rooted in rockabilly and early R&R, that was utterly engaging, warm, witty and charming, the Mentals were Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty, guitar, vocals), Wayne “Bird” Delisle (David Twohill, drums), Peter “Yoga Dog” O’Doherty (bass, vocals) Andrew “Greedy” (McArthur) Smith (keyboards, harmonica, vocals) and Martin Plaza (Martin Murphy, guitar, vocals).
In Plaza and Smith the band possessed two distinctive lead singer/songwriters, while the O’Dohertys were brothers whose family had emigrated from New Zealand to Sydney in 1969, who often contributed artwork to the band’s album covers.
Martin Plaza wrote The Nips Are Getting Bigger which delivered their trademark off-kilter brand of comically ambiguous words and music in this top twenty ode to drinking, with Plaza providing lead vocals. But not everyone got the joke, Sydney’s Catholic Church-owned radio station 2SM initially banned the song claiming that the band’s name was insensitive to those who were disabled, and the song title was deemed to be offensive to the Japanese, even though the nips referred to, were the standard size of a glass of spirits. The song charted #16 nationally, and their debut album Get Wet, produced by US-based Australian Cameron Allan, and recorded at the United Sound Studio (Syd) followed the single into the top twenty, four months later in November, when it climbed to #19.
The Mentals followed up with their second album Espresso Bongo in 1980 which was a minor hit but they returned to form with the Cats and Dogs album in 1981 which sold 70,000 copies, the first single released was another ambiguously-intriguing composition from Martin Plaza, If You Leave Me Can I Come Too, with Plaza again on lead vocals.
This song possessed a typically quirky left-of-centre lyric that was driven along by an infectious beat and seductive vibe; by now the Mentals were really starting to hit the mark with poppy, accessible well-crafted melodies and lyrics that
If You Leave Me Can I Come Too charted strongly at #4 nationally, in September of the same year the band followed up with Too Many Times, the second single lifted off Cats and Dogs, and another ode to over-indulgence following on from their first hit in 1979 The Nips Are Getting Bigger. “Too many times I’ve seen the sun come up through bloodshot eyes this week…” It was again quirky, accessible pop, written by Andrew “Greedy” Smith who also played harmonica on the recording, and shared lead vocals with Martin Plaza. They took this one to #6 locally and surprisingly top 40 in Canada, which earned them a spot on the Men at Work North American tour in 1982.
Their 1983 album Creatures of Leisure sold 70,000 copies and yielded several minor hits that both charted #20 in Spirit Got Lost and a cover of the Roy Orbison hit Working For The Man. But it would be their fifth studio album, Fundamental, which would represent the peak of the group’s songwriting and musicality, yielding the international hit Live It Up, when it was the second single lifted from the album. Greedy Smith wrote the song and his high-pitched pop vocals were ideal for this song about a downhearted girl who is being encouraged to believe in herself and confidently face the world and its challenges “Hey, yeah you, with the sad face/Come up to my place and live it up/You, beside the dance floor/What do you cry for, let’s live it up.”
A jaunty, catchy song, produced by American Richard Gottehrer(above far left in band shot above) who, as a member of the Strangeloves trio, had written and released I Want Candy and Cara-Lyn, the latter a hit for Johnny Young in the 1960’s, the album Fundamental climbed to #3 and sold over 140,000 copies.
Live It Up fairly chugged along, and was a genuine global hit charting #2 Australia and Ireland, #3 Norway and UK, #6 Germany and NZ, and it was given a boost when included on the soundtrack of the movie Crocodile Dundee, and played at a lavish party in New York to welcome Mick Dundee to the States, it was also the 4th best-selling record of the year. The band had hits with a cover of Chuck Berry’s Rock and Roll Music (#6 in ’87) and the album Greatest Hits Vol 1 (#2 in’87).
Martin Plaza would have a surprise #2 solo hit in 1986 with his cover of the #1 hit for UK band Unit 4 Plus 2, Concrete and Clay, written by band members Brian Parker and Australian Tom Moeller. The band were based in St. Albans and when they were scheduled to appear on the BBC’s Top of the Pops, it was the director’s habit to divide the show into “units” when describing the composition of the performing bands, hence the six-man band from St. Albans were described as Unit 4 plus 2 and the name stuck. Opening cowbells, bass, acoustic flamenco guitar riffs and solid backing vocals enhanced the original version and Plaza did not stray too far from that formula here, when he charted with this, his only solo hit.
The Mentals were a quirky fun-loving, good time band who specialized in ironic lyrics and bouncy garage rock, they were unpredictable, and retained a subversive undergraduate sense of humour over the journey. They were one of the most successful bands of the 80’s, taking no less than eighteen songs into the top 40, including nine top 10 hits, and six top 20 albums, they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2009 along with Kev Carmody, The Dingoes, Little Pattie and John Paul Young. Andrew “Greedy” Smith sadly passed away in Dec. 2019.