Tagged: Ross Wilson

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

The Great Australian Songbook III (30-21)

Following on from the previous thread, as the title suggests, here’s tracks 30-29.

30. YOTHU YINDI – Treaty (1991)

Did this song start a national conversation, or just get people dancing? Actually, scarily, it managed to get politicians dancing, spurring some very awkward shuffling by certain members of the ALP after Paul Keating’s famous “victory for the true believers” in 1993. I’m sure there’s incriminating evidence of Ros Kelly and Gareth “Gareth” Evans out there somewhere. But buried under the Filthy Lucre dance remix is a great song sung in both English and Yolgnu/Matha, written by Mandawuy Yunupingu with help from Paul Kelly and Peter Garrett. It was the first song by a predominantly Aboriginal band to chart in Australia (reaching number 11), and peaked at number six on the Billboard dance charts in the US. In 2009, the song was added to the National Film and Sound Archive.

29. DADDY COOL – Eagle Rock (1971)

I’m nowhere near as crazy about this song as those who routinely put it in the top 10 of these kinds of lists (APRA had it right up there at number two, behind Friday On My Mind), but I’m not about to deny its charms either, from Ross Wilson’s opening exclamation “NOW LISTEN!” down. Word is that Sir Elton John was so inspired by the song after an Australian tour that he wrote Crocodile Rock in response. It’s also considered traditional at the University of Queensland to drop your daks when it’s played on the local campus bars. Maybe that’s why it, too, is in the National Film and Sound Archive. You just can’t argue with that level of cultural significance, can you?

28. RADIO BIRDMAN – Descent Into The Maelstrom (1977)

Ann Arbor, Michigan native Deniz Tek isn’t solely responsible for bringing the Detroit rock action of the MC5 and the Stooges to Australia when he founded Radio Birdman as a medical student in Sydney in the mid 1970s – there were many other record collectors who had already picked up on it, not least a guitarist from Brisbane called Edmund Kuepper. But Tek still deserves a huge amount of credit. This song, for me, is their finest four minutes. It’s pure excitement, from the rolling thunder of Ron Keeley’s opening drum salvos to Rob Younger’s adrenalised vocals, telling a Tek tale about a surfer dragged out to sea. It’s a pretty good metaphor for the song itself: you think you can ride this monster wave, then Tek’s extended pipeline lead break sucks you under. (Check out the video – half the audience at the Marryatville Hotel in Adelaide is going bonkers, while others can be seen covering their ears!)

27. EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING – Which Way To Go (2008)

There’s something about Eddy Current Suppression Ring that reminds me, inescapably, of Midnight Oil. Like Peter Garrett, Brendan Huntley really can’t sing. Nonetheless, he’s a great frontman, with a unique dance step to boot. And like the Oils, each member of Eddy Current perfectly complements the other. You won’t get a better example of their chemistry than this seamlessly constructed song, where the bass carries most of the melody, the guitar adds texture (until Mikey Young drops in the most exquisitely logical of solos) and the drumming matches Huntley for urgency. There’s something both universal and comic about the singer’s inability to make up his mind, and the fact that he can barely keep time with a band that’s otherwise in perfect lock-step somehow only adds to the charm.

26. KYLIE MINOGUE – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (2001)

Like Which Way To Go, the beautiful symmetry of this song’s arrangement is the key. Like Giorgio Moroder’s production on Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, its strength is its minimalism, reducing dance music to a pulsebeat. At just the right tempo, with just the right amount of melody, and a lyric that seems to be about pop music itself, it’s a song that lives up to its name – but in that good way.

25. THE AVALANCHES – Since I Left You (2000)

A sound collage composed entirely from samples, it’s hard now to divorce this song from its iconic accompanying video – a story of two trapped coal miners which perfectly captured this wistful song’s odd, ineffable beauty. But it still works a treat on its own. Moving away from the late 1990s Big Beat electronica/plunderphonics of the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, the sound of Since I Left You is gentle and nostalgic, conjuring the Beach Boys and obscure French pop records. The song reached number 16 in the UK charts, with the album of the same name featuring high up on end-of-year (and end-of-decade) lists around the world. Oz rock didn’t end here, but Since I Left You finally forced the local industry to recognise dance music’s artistic legitimacy.

24. GOD – My Pal (1988)

Teenager Joel Silbersher had this song’s circular five-note riff in his head for years before one day, in the shower, the lyric came in a rush: “You’re my only friend / You don’t even like me!” Recorded when most of the band were 17 (the video above captures Silbersher with braces still on his teeth), My Pal was GOD’s first single, and it was such a towering feat that, unfortunately, it overshadowed everything else they ever did. Tim Hemensley joined Bored! before going on to form the mighty Powder Monkeys; he died in 2003. Guitarist Sean Greenway, who went on to the Freeloaders and Yes Men, died in 2001. Both barely made it out of their 20s.

23. ICEHOUSE – Great Southern Land (1982)

Iva Davies has always sounded like a poor man’s David Bowie to me, but this song still puts me under a spell wherever I happen to hear it. Like some Antipodean Born In The USA, it’s often mistaken for a cheesy patriotic anthem, but in actuality it’s no more nationalistic than any of Sidney Nolan or Russell Drysdale’s more nightmarish landscapes. Perfectly paced and executed, Great Southern Land’s sparse arrangement and echoing vocals add to the impression of vast, empty space, giving the track a panoramic feel. A few years later, the Triffids’ Wide Open Road replicated this song’s single-note, droning keyboard intro to similar effect.

22. INXS – Original Sin (1984)

For INXS, this was the track that launched them from Australia’s beer barns onto the world stage. Produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, it’s a muscular funk track, underpinned by Andrew Farriss’ opening keyboard hook and with Michael Hutchence’s voice at its best – his falsetto leap at 3.12 remains startling and spine-chilling. This is a song where every part serves the whole, right down to Kirk Pengilly’s excellent closing saxophone break. Check the video for the best collection of mullets the 1980s ever tossed up.

21. NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – The Mercy Seat (1988)

In a word: epic. Nick Cave’s tale of a man facing the electric chair for a crime of which he’s “nearly wholly innocent, you know” is his Like A Rolling Stone, tackling the big questions: life, death, good, evil, truth, guilt and innocence. Sonically, it’s an overpowering assault: leading off the album Tender Prey, the song is seven minutes plus; the single is more powerful for being slightly condensed. Later covered by Johnny Cash, leading Cave to proclaim something along the lines of “Johnny Cash has covered one of my songs, so the rest of you can fuck off.” Fair enough.