THE 1980’s- Big Hair, Boomboxes, Synths and New Wave – Hoodoo Gurus

My Girl (D Faulkner) and I Want You Back (D Faulkner) 1984 and Like Wow Wipe-Out (D Faulkner) 1985 and What’s My Scene? (D Faulkner) – Hoodoo Gurus 1987

Garage rock in Australia has been a musical force since the 1960’s when early practitioners included the Missing Links, the Throb, and the La De das, following through into the 70’s and 80’s with Radio Birdman, Lime Spiders, Celibate Rifles, the Stems, the Victims, the Scientists, New Race, Cold Chisel and of course the Hoodoo Gurus. Below Original Le Hoodoo Gurus L-R Rod Radalj, Kimble Rendall, James Baker, and Dave Faulkner

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The Le Hoodoo Gurus originated in Perth and comprised expatriate members of several of the aforementioned bands – Dave Faulkner (guitar, vocals) and Rod Radalj (guitar,vocals) from the Scientists, James Baker (drums) from the Victims and XL Capris, and Kimble Rendall (bass,vocals). Ultimately the classic Hoodoos lineup would gell after Brad Shepherd from the Scientists replaced Rod Radalj and Clyde Bramley replaced Kimble Rendall, and they emerged with a clutch of great songs, written primarily by Dave Faulkner, and proceeded to release one of the most impressive debut albums ever in 1984 – Stone Age Romeos.

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In 1981 the band had relocated to Sydney and tirelessly worked the suburban beer barn circuit there, developing a loyal following at the Trade Union Club in Surry Hills, Syd. before heading for the US college campus circuit where they capitalised on the emerging popularity of a network of college radio stations which were breaking new guitar rock bands such as REM and over several years of touring, the Hoodoo Gurus established a fanbase and became friends and toured with The Bangles.

The Hoodoos were musical chameleons capable of wild garage punk and rambunctious hard rock, their inspirations were diverse and included the New York Dolls, the Flamin’ Groovies, the Ramones, Gene Vincent, the Rolling Stones, T Rex and the Troggs. They embraced a cartoonish comic book aesthetic, dressed in what looked like retro charity shop paisley, goth threads, hippie beads and headbands, named their debut album after a Three Stooges short film, and borrowed the artwork for their album cover from the prehistoric B-movie One Million Years B.C., they were punky, junky and completely authentic.

A song ripped from the script of a Saturday matinee cliff-hanger serial, it was hooky, catchy, and showed great promise.

The band had already released Leilani (’82), a novel ditty about a maiden sacrificed to the gods of an erupting volcano while her true love helplessly looked on and Tojo (Never made It Into Darwin) (’83) about the Japanese attack on Darwin in 1942. This was an answer song to Bill and Boyd’s Santa Never Made It Into Darwin (1975), a fund-raising single recorded to raise money for the relief of Darwin residents after Cyclone Tracey flattened the city in 1975. Both of the Hoodoos early singles were admired, but did not chart top 40, the third single off their debut album was the more plaintive My Girl which they did take into the charts.

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Variously described as a song about Faulkner’s greyhound because of the promo video, or a love song ripped from the pages of a 60’s teenage crush romantic paperback, either interpretation may have been correct, given the band’s then-fixation with cartoonish scenarios and US sitcoms like F-Troop, Petticoat Junction, Get Smart, and Green Acres, as well as the slapstick antics of the Three Stooges, who were all influences. In 2005 Dave Faulkner revealed that the song was supposed to be a tribute to 1960’s beach movies like Gidget Goes Ape, but while the Gurus were out on tour the record’s producer Alan Thorne, added keyboards, and session-singer backing vocals, which horrified the band, but pleased their record company. (Internet Archive- Wayback Machine 2005).

Working class rock clip, down the pub, walking the dog, and betting on the dishlickers.

My Girl pivots on a love that is unrequited and the pathos of a relationship that has failed, the song is more plaintive and less unhinged than other contemporary Hoodoo songs such as I Want You Back and later Like Wow- Wipeout but its punkish pop pedigree is obvious. Sydney locations abound in the promotional video – Belvue St Glebe, Wentworth Park, Central Market Hotel in Darling Harbour, and of course there is that greyhound, it charted #35 nationally.

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The second single lifted off the album was I Want You Back, a jangly dollop of attractive 1960’s-era power pop, merging acoustic and electric guitars with riveting vocal harmonies. Lyrically the song underscored another failed relationship, but this time it was between Brad Shepherd’s predecessor, guitarist Rod Radalj, and the other members of the band, as Radalj had been very critical of the band upon leaving and Faulkner’s lyric is responding by stating that “you’ll regret it, you’ll wish you were back”.

The single barely charted at #68 and deserved a better fate, but the album cracked the top thirty and the Hoodoos, who had by now dropped the “Le” from their name, came out punching in 1985 with their second album, Mars Needs Guitars. 

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The standout single was Like Wow Wipeout which literally jumps out of the speakers with the initial assault of drums and bass as Dave Faulkner lays it on the line to his “New York doll” “I kiss the ground on which you walk/ I kiss the lips through which you talk/ I kiss the city of New York/ Where I first met you.” Surprisingly this song was only recorded as a B-side but producer Charles Fisher liked it so much that he insisted that it be included on the album. The band were surprised when it became the second single released and their biggest hit to that time, Dave Faulkner has said that he liked it because “it was noisy.”

Not their biggest hit but so very good

The verses build manically as guitars and drums vie for attention, but Faulkner’s authoritative vocals keep everyone focused right up to the declaration of love that is the chorus, when everything goes crazy “I love the way you talk, you walk/ Your smile, your style/ Like now, like wow-wipeout, no doubt/ But I was gone the moment I laid eyes on you.” Like Wow Wipeout, was perfect three- minute garage/pub rock/pop from the Hoodoos and charted at #15, the album Mars Needs Guitars took the Hoodoos into the top 5 for the first time and occupied the charts for 48 weeks.

An under-rated classic and for the first time the distinctive explosive drumming of Mark Kingsmill was captured on a Hoodoos record.

Bittersweet was also a notable track lifted off the album, it maintained the band’s momentum and in 2000, Dave Faulkner said “… I vowed to myself that I would write less comic narratives and try to express my sentiments in a more forthright way. I feel I succeeded with ‘Bittersweet’ though at the time I didn’t think that a) the band would want to play it and b) our audience would want to hear it. I was happily wrong on both counts,” and it charted #16.

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The band would re-form several times over its life and when they recorded their third album the personnel were Dave Faulkner (vocals/guitar/keyboards), Brad Shepherd (guitar/harmonica), Mark Kingsmill (drums), and Clyde Bramley (bass). But they always delivered a heady brew of paisley, pop, pub rock and punk under the leadership of Dave Faulkner.

Lifted from their third hit album Blow Your Cool, What’s My Scene continued to display the Gurus power to deliver an infectious riff, the opening line draws you into a conversation that you didn’t even know you were having “And another thing, I’ve been wondering lately” and the song is also unusual in that it has two different choruses, when usually one is enough.

Gotta love the song and the zany cultural appropriation, can you spot the following – Matador and various Mexicans,Elvis, Viking, Cop, Fireman, French Legionnaire, Gridiron player, American Indian, Hassidic Jew, Anglican Vicar, Biker, Roman Centurion, Superman, Scotsman, Cowboy, Astronaut, Sports Fans, … thought there was one more?

It charted at #3 nationally and was embraced by the NRL who have used the song, in various incarnations, for example That’s My Team – to promote the game and raise funds for charity. Other tracks lifted off the album included Good Times on which The Bangles provided backing vocals and charted #36 and In The Middle of the Land which stalled at #79.  

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Magnum Cum Louder would become the band’s most successful studio album when released in 1989, it sold 70,000 copies and charted #14 in Aust, #45 NZ, #27 Sweden and #101 USA, its standout tracks included the mock pompous rock of Axegrinder and the uber-hooky Come Anytime, described by Dave Fauklkner as “a romantic song about an unromantic subject but you can reverse the adjectives and the statement would be equally correct,”, the lyrics may provide a clue “What is it you want from me?/There isn´t much I will not do/If it´s only company/You know, I might need that too/Won´t you/Come anytime – I´m a man of leisure/Come anytime, I await your pleasure,” and charted #26.

The Hoodoos would continue to tour and record Stateside and take three more albums into the top ten locally in the period 1991-94 –Kinky (70,000 copies, #8 in ’91), their Greatest Hits compilation titled Electric Soup (210,000 copies, #4 in ’92), and Crank (#2 in ’94). The Hoodoo Gurus had no less than 8 top 40 singles and 6 top 40 albums, in 2007 they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, and in 2021 they announced plans to tour locally with US indie favourites the Dandy Warhols.

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