Everett True

In defence of Cold Chisel – an incomplete aural + visual history of GOOD Australian soft rock

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There was an interesting conversation that took place on Facebook recently, following the publication of this article decrying Australian ‘classic’ rock as portrayed by a commercial video channel. It started with the bald statement, “Cold Chisel. Please explain.”

P.S. The conversation really starts getting interesting from the second page on when Nazzinator Nassari and Ng Taylor address the main question. Page one is more of an attempt to provide some context.


Suzy Ramone
We can’t explain Chisel. Bogans liked it then and now. But these will make you happy: Ratcat, The Stems, The Reels

Ed’s note: I liked early Ratcat, but wasn’t sure how they turned out. Here.

Ed’s note: The Stems are just fine, in a Paisley Underground way.

Ed’s note: The Reels are new to me. Quirky, new wave. The UK had a thousand of them. I’m sure Australia did too. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Nazzinator Nassari
Aye, not a fan but love Don Walker’s lyrics. He was doing something naughty and that always gets points from me. So many digs at the hegemonic myths of Australian masculinity

Nazzinator Nassari
Triffids!! Scientists!!

Ed’s note: Well, of course. Here are The Triffids.

Ed’s note: And here are The Scientists.

Neil Evans
I’d like them if Jimmy Barnes didn’t SCREAM on EVERY NOTE!!!!!! Ian Moss always had the better voice.

Ng Taylor
Bogans is such an offensive term … Chisel have their place, and Walker is a supreme songwriter, again check out The Loved Ones.


Kids out driving Saturday afternoon pass me by
I’m just savouring familiar sights
We share some history, this town and I
And I can’t stop that long forgotten feeling of her
Try to book a room to stay tonight

Number one is to find some friends to say “You’re doing well
After all this time you boys look just the same”
Number two is the happy hour at one of two hotels
Settle in to play “Do you remember so and so?”
Number three is never say her name

Oh the flame trees will blind the weary driver
And there’s nothing else could set fire to this town
There’s no change, there’s no pace
Everything within its place
Just makes it harder to believe that she won’t be around

(‘Flame Trees’ – Cold Chisel)

Nazzinator Nassari
Everett, if you’re like me and the music leaves you cold, just try the lyrics of say ‘Flame Trees’ – coz I just didn’t get it for years. I’m English too so I found it pretty impenetrable – until I realised how the music was forged, in what venues, to what crowds. They come from a pretty bloodthirsty training ground. And the redeeming quality about them is Walker and they way he reads those audiences and tells them things they’ve never been told before (and probably, as with Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’, don’t ‘get’). Springsteen’s a pretty good measure for them actually now I think about it.

There’s something Don Walker does there where the speaker is, on the surface, an Aussie alpha male trying desperately not to be sentimental but something stirs in him when he returns to his old haunts that causes something important to emerge in him. He’s still sorta inarticulate about it. Anyway I don’t want to bore you but it’s quite a deft piece of observation on Walker’s part about his audiences.

Well, you asked. I had a crack

Everett True
Cheers Nazzinator. Not expected, but appreciated.

Ng Taylor
Also Don Walker’s book is beautiful, for further Don you might enjoy, check out Tex, Don And Charlie …great album. Oh and you overlooked proto schoolgirl punkster Chrissie Amphlet, truly a hard rocking chick and world-conquering one at that … and let’s have no more trash talk about AC/DC, ok?

Tex, Don And Charlie

Chrissie Amphlet (The Divinyls)


Nazzinator Nassari
This has really started me thinking about the jarring cultural shift I felt moving from the UK to Australia. It’s taken me quite a long time to find appreciation for some of the bands quite a lot of Aussies love the shit out of. Chisel being a major case in point. Even now I appreciate them because of what they caught that I couldn’t see, more than I’m actually a fan. Like, for instance, I now like a fair whack of Skyhooks – partially for their cheek, partially for the proud Australianisms in the lyrics. This I love:

But THIS I can only appreciate for biting political satire more than I can actually like:

Divinyls are MUCH easier to love. Who wouldn’t love this?

or this?

or this?

Even as straight pop – and I have no frickin problem with that whatsoever IF it’s done well – it’s cagey stuff.

I’m a bit of a garage 60s slut so I think early Masters Apprentices, Loved Ones and choice Easybeats are as good as anything at the same time anywhere. And Scientists, Triffids, Go-Betweens, and The Birthday Party are a really easy sell:

Masters Apprentices [this is fucking great – Ed]

Don’t know how anyone could have a problem with Bon Scott-era AC/DC … that naughtiness, that impish charisma, that street wit and balls-to-the-walls, cut the crap, rockin’ … still fascinates the hell out of me

But Powderfinger and Silverchair? I won’t ever get and don’t effing want to.


The best stuff is in the underground (like The Coloured Balls who I would argue are one of the greatest bands this country or any other has ever produced – in their field. Same for Buffalo. Big Beasts Of Bourbon fan too) but there’s been plenty of overground crackers. Even the freaking Angels who, for the most part, are straight ahead boogie rock plodders had Doc Neeson who came up with some of the freakiest and demented shit straight rock has ever seen. Not every time. But when he pulled a swifty, by gum was it an eyebrow-raiser.

The Coloured Balls


The Angels

Beg pardon for the Mr Ranty Pants routine but you posed a fantastic question and it got my cogs a clicking. This is a very very unusual (and remarkable) country when it comes to music.

Ng Taylor
nice one mr Nassari !

Nazzinator Nassari
For pop you can’t really go past anything Dom Mariani had a hand in and I’ve always been very touched by Spencer P Jones’ stuff. And when he does pop it’s quite something. On the other side, X, Powdermonkeys, Bored!, there’s just so much to love. And the only band I ever saw get a rowdier audience than The Hard Ons was the Ramones. True dat.

The Hard Ons [I interviewed them around this time for the NME – Ed]

I think the audience and overplay is half the problem with some of the songs you named in your article. I couldn’t help but nod with empathy. ‘Khe Sahn’ [Cold Chisel] has never had a chance to be the song it was supposed to – and I will never play it as a DJ no matter what the gig is. I find myself a little saddened that I can’t find a space in me to enjoy it coz 99.99% of the people ever request it are the same people who want ‘November Rain’ – and only what’s in their record collection. And that’s just a bridge too far … as far as I’m concerned anyways.

The Lime Spiders (Dom Mariani)

Spencer P. Jones (with Rowland S. Howard)

Ng Taylor
Also in regards to Chisel … they had a quite a few overtly political songs, and stuff like ‘Khe Sahn’ resonated with a lot of Australians because of the Vietnam experience etc. It’s pretty meat’n’potatoes musically, but Don is a super gifted writer. ‘Cheap Wine And A Three Day Growth’ (great title) contains some fantastic lines, such as “I had a friend, she died, on the needle she was crucified” and “I don’t mind taking charity from those that I despise”. I mean, c’mon that’s a corker.

Ng Taylor
Never thought I’d be defending Chisel, but there you go.

Nazzinator Nassari
I think Everett’s post opens up something I’ve always felt about the specificity of quite a lot of Australian music – and the type that has been mega-popular with the Aussie mainstream but has great trouble translating outside the country. And it has been notoriously hard to spot for Australians. It’s most obvious – as someone not from here – in the mainstream acts. I think Cold Chisel definitely have it (and it’s odd because from an acclimatised point of view it’s like a cross between Springsteen and ooh I dunno, early Elton John or something).

Early Midnight Oil definitely had it too, as does most Oz Rock. Dinvinyls and INXS don’t – and no matter what Ev says about them, I’d take them over say Duran Duran or Culture Club any day but then again I felt that when I was in England too. But it’s not important whether we agree on every bit of music, I think the point is, this classic rock bugbear really does pound the pants off of a lot of music. Our commercial radio stations seem hellbent on a long and slow assassination of any merit these bands have ever had. And then there’s also the Status Quo-y/Eric Clapton brush the music of Chisel is tarred with. But it really makes sense if you know the suburban beer barn background it sprang from.

Midnight Oil in 1977

This is a really intriguing topic when you stop and think of it – especially from a point of view of being a huge pop, garage (60s) and Scientists/Birthday Party fan

Editor’s note: I can’t abide Duran Duran.

Nazzinator Nassari
And just in case that sounds like I think there’s something inferior about those bands, I don’t. I think that specificity lends them something very special – even the bands I wonder whether I’ll ever actually love (Chisel again). But they’re a great case study and Walker really is a class act. I would say Paul Kelly can fall into this category too even though I find him much easier to like.

Paul Kelly And The Coloured Girls

Ben Munro
Nazzinator – very good point. I grew up hating Chisel while I lived in Australia and then funnily enough started liking them after moving out of the country. Definitely a unique Australian-ness about most of the great Aussie bands

Ng Taylor
Unlike the US or UK, bands in Australia even at their peak of succsess would have to slog it out on the live circuit, playing in some prettty rough and tumble beer barns around the country. That was how you got known, and made some dough, records seemed much more secondary… If a band got the crowds up and into it, they created a following of devout fans, so speed, volume, energy were always the order of the day. This held true for AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, and equally for bands like the Birthday Party and The Dirty Three … Aus Rock always came from the live venues then into the studio, which seems to be the reverse of the UK, where it’s much more about making a record then trying to reproduce that on stage.

The Dirty Three

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