Tagged: Deep Purple

Who’s your Daddy? Daddy Cool

If you are of a certain age, as I am, you might owe your entire existence to Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock. Your parents probably had sex to it. No one wants to think about that, do they? It makes it literally Dad rock. Or Mum-and-Dad rock, if you prefer.

Eagle Rock is 50 years old this year. It is a cultural touchstone, voted the second greatest Australian song of all time, behind only the Easybeats’ Friday On My Mind, in a 2001 Australasian Performing Right Association poll.

Yet there is a younger generation that semi-ironically loses its mind over Daryl Braithwaite’s Horses – a naff cover of a Rickie Lee Jones song – but spurns Eagle Rock. Why?

It could be Mondo Rock, the new wave band that Daddy Cool leader Ross Wilson fronted from 1976 to 1991. More specifically, it could be their creepy 1983 hit Come Said The Boy. But you can’t totally blame Wilson for that one. It was written by guitarist Eric McCusker.

More likely, it’s the ubiquity. Overexposure can do terrible things to a tune, and Eagle Rock is inescapable. In Australia, it has charted twice in my lifetime: 17 weeks at No. 1 in 1971 (the year of my birth, if not conception), and it reached No. 17 when reissued in 1982. It remains an FM radio classic rock staple.

New Zealanders were just as fixated with Eagle Rock. Across the Tasman, the song peaked in the charts 19 years after release, finally going to No. 1 for a month in 1990, when it stayed in the charts for 15 weeks.

It’s a football anthem. The West Coast Eagles play it to celebrate wins after home games, after their club song, and it was also played after their win in the 2018 grand final. It’s also the unofficial theme song of the NRL’s Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.

More dubiously, it was students at the University of Queensland who started the strange tradition of lowering their pants and strutting around to it, albeit more like chickens than eagles. (I can personally attest to this.)

Cultural cringe may also play a part – the belief that Eagle Rock is a hand-me-down of an American tradition. The name derives from the ragtime standard Ballin’ The Jack, which features the lyric: “Spread your lovin’ arms right out in space / Then you do the eagle rock with style and grace” – the eagle rock, of course, being a sexual metaphor.

Which brings us back to what makes Eagle Rock work. It is true that Daddy Cool had more of the 1950s than the ’60s about them when they appeared in the early ’70s: musically, they were a throwback to the spirit of early rock & roll and doo-wop that may have seemed at odds with the time. And on the other, Daddy Cool’s music itself moved with a style and grace that was timeless.

When you get right down in the groove, Eagle Rock remains infectious, from the first, seductive notes of the late Ross Hannaford’s guitar, to Wilson’s cry: “Now listen!” His delivery is sly and horny. Of course it is: what else should a song called Eagle Rock be? The joy in the ensemble playing is palpable.

And if a good cultural cringe demands validation from beyond our shores, then Daddy Cool had it in spades. Most famously, Elton John’s Crocodile Rock was directly inspired by Eagle Rock. Which is also cool. But did you know Marc Bolan’s first request, after touching down in Australia with T. Rex in 1973, was to meet the song’s author? Or that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were entranced by Daddy Cool’s first album, Daddy Who? How cool is that?

Daddy Cool were also one of the first Australian bands to hit American shores, in 1971, when Eagle Rock was still flying atop the charts in their home country. Signing a deal with Reprise, they opened shows for the likes of Deep Purple, Captain Beefheart and Fleetwood Mac (pre-Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s arrival).

So, what is it about this song? I asked Wilson if there was anything left to be said about Eagle Rock after 50 years.

Wilson replied that the four members of Daddy Cool, between them, had that intangible chemistry that great bands have. “Give that song to other bands and it just doesn’t sound right,” he said.

“When I listen to the original recording today, I still get amazed by the voodoo in that track. There are harmonic overtones that I can hear that provide the magic, as if there are extra players, even though I know there aren’t.

“One of my greatest post-Daddy Cool moments was at Port Fairy folk festival maybe 10 years ago when some Nigerian musicians heard I was playing, insisted on seeing me, dropped in side of stage – we finished with Eagle Rock and as I came off stage they gave me a big hug. Such is the reach of Eagle Rock. It’s funky.”

So, there you have it. Who’s your Daddy? Daddy Cool. You should thank them. Spread your lovin’ arms right out in space.

First published in the Guardian, 7 August 2021

Still going hard

If you were growing up in the Australian suburbs in the 1980s and early 1990s and had any interest at all in what later became known as alternative music, you have probably heard the Hard-Ons. Against considerable odds – starting with their name – the band once racked up an astonishing run of 17 consecutive No. 1 songs on the independent charts.

It’s tempting to say they’re back. But the priapic Hard-Ons never really went away. They did break up in 1994, but bassist Ray Ahn and guitarist Peter Black (known to all as Blackie), soldiered on as Nunchukka Superfly. They reunited with singing drummer Keish de Silva in 1997, but de Silva quickly became disenchanted and moved on again.

Still, the band carried on, with Murray Ruse on drums and the prolific Blackie singing. Actually, prolific doesn’t begin to describe Blackie: the influential guitarist recorded a song every single day in 2016, adding a cover of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water on New Year’s Day 2017 for good measure.

It’s de Silva – whose honey-sweet vocals and energetic drumming style was a big part of the band’s appeal – who’s back, with the release of the band’s 12th studio album So I Could Have Them Destroyed today. It’s a welcome return, and the band’s mix of bubblegum pop, punk and metal is well intact, led by a wonderful single, Harder And Harder.

But it’s also not the same. Firstly, the band is now a four-piece, with Ahn and Blackie unwilling to part ways with Ruse. “We love Murray, we love his drumming and we like him a lot personally,” Ahn says. De Silva is now purely a frontman, a role he first explored on the band’s 30th anniversary tour in 2014.

Ahn says the new look suits the band. “What wouldn’t work would be a big muscle-bound guy with his shirt off, doing that stereotypical thing, pacing up and down the stage and screaming into the mic. I don’t think that would suit the Hard-Ons, because we’re way more melodic than that,” he says.

Which is pretty funny, because one of the Hard-Ons’ most successful singles was a collaboration with Henry Rollins, the archetypal muscle-bound punk screamer, on a cover of AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock. “Yeah, but he suited that for that one song,” parries Ahn, quite reasonably.

Despite their name, sound and image, the Hard-Ons, Ahn says, were never really punks. Growing up, Blackie loved classic rock, while de Silva was a James Brown fan. “You know how punks have got so many rules, what you can do and what you can’t do? It didn’t really fit three migrant kids,” Ahn says.

Straight out of Punchbowl, in Sydney’s west, the original trio is indeed one of Australia’s best multicultural success stories: Ahn is of Korean parentage, de Silva’s is Sri Lankan and Black’s Slavic. The three met in primary school in the 1970s, and have sold over a quarter of a million records worldwide.

The Hard-Ons learned to play to their strengths and work within their limitations. “We were friends before we became a band,” Ahn says. “When we started, none of us had to audition or prove ourselves. It was very natural – it was just the three of us, and any shortcomings or extra talents that we had, we formed the band around that.”

Blackie was always a shit-hot guitarist. In time, Ahn became a formidable bass player, but his main gift initially was drawing, and he has been responsible for the band’s distinctive artwork. De Silva, meanwhile, was multi-skilled: he could play piano and guitar, he could sing and write songs, and he was good at all of it.

Then he started playing drums. “I actually said to him, I didn’t know you could play the drums, and he said, ‘Neither did I’,” Ahn recalls. “You know how some people are just naturally talented? I think he just got bored of playing drums and singing, that’s why he quit. But he’d never been just the frontman before, so I think that held interest to him.”

Ahn acknowledges that if you were one of those fans who grew up with the band, your favourite Hard-Ons release might be their delightfully named 1986 mini-album Smell My Finger, or any of a dozen-strong singles: quicksilver pop-punk gems like Where Did She Come From or Girl In The Sweater.

“That’s good for them,” Ahn says. “But we have a duty to our band to constantly make the music that we like. I know some bands go out there and do the greatest hits set over and over again, especially a lot of punk bands. That’s good for them, too. But you can’t really pretend that it’s punk anymore, can you?”

First published in The Age (Shortlist), 10 October 2019