January 25 – Green Kept Busy After Split From Enz

Happy 70th birthday to one of the drumming world’s anonymous greats – Malcolm Green. Green is mostly remembered for his time with Split Enz, but has done quite a bit more although, unfortunately for him, seems like he’s always been “one step ahead” (to borrow from one of the bigger hits he worked on) or perhaps behind in hitting it big.

Green’s British, but his most successful period was spent Down Under, in Australia. He began drumming professionally at age 16, and was in several British bands that did OK, but seemingly just after they’d peaked. Notably, The Honeycombs and The Love Affair, who had a #1 song there with “Everlasting Love” (later an American hit for Carl Carlton). It’s unclear when he was with them, but his name isn’t on the credits for that single.

Split Enz seemed to go through drummers something short of Spinal Tap’s rate but more frequently than most groups, and when they went looking again in 1976, the Finn brothers knew of Green and invited him. He moved to Australia and took the job and was the guy behind the kit for their growth years, in which they went from small-time Aussie successes to international stars. Particularly the 1980 True Colours album, with the single “I Got You.” The album was their first top 50 hit in the States and the UK, their first top 10 in Canada and their first chart-topper at home, both in Australia and New Zealand. He was given co-writing credits on one song on it, the instrumental “The Choral Sea”, but wanted more input. But Tim Finn had a problem with that, so after one more album (’81’s Waiata), he was fired unceremoniously.

After a seemingly half-hearted attempt to go solo, he bought a new house in a beautiful neighborhood of Sydney and built a studio in it – Green Sounds Music. It’s unusual in that it’s said to be entirely “wired to optimize utilizing different acoustic spaces”. Basically, you could play and record in any room! He then concentrated on producing artists in his home, though he did rejoin Split Enz briefly, for their 2005 induction into the Australian Music Hall of Fame and a few concerts the next year.

Green keeps a low profile these days. He seemingly is a spokesman for Roland drums, but he sold his studio to return to Britain in 2014.

So cheers to Malcolm. Not a Ringo Starr or Dave Grohl, but one of the many minor names that collectively are what keeps much of our music alive and kicking.


October 30 – After This Song No One Asked ‘Who’ Anymore

Crikey! Crack open a Fosters mate… things were going well for Men At Work on this day in 1982. The Aussie band had made it to #1 in the U.S. with their first international single, “Who Can It Be Now?”. And for icing on the cake, to the north in Canada, their second international single, “Down Under” had taken the top spot. Doubtless being the guests on Saturday Night Live the week before helped raise their profile a little more and get them to the top of the charts.

It had been a fairly quick rise to superstardom for the band, although it surely didn’t seem as quick to them when they were living it. Singer/writer Colin Hay and his friend Ron Strykert had begun as a folk duo playing clubs in their homeland about four years prior. Soon they added the others, including well-regarded saxophonist and sometimes keyboardist and writer Greg Ham, and become one of the most popular club bands in southeastern Australia. They put out their first single, “Keypunch Operator” on their own before the ’70s were done.

Although the single didn’t sell that well, it – and the B-side, which happened to be an early rendition of “Down Under” – got them noticed by CBS Records which signed them. But only for Oceania. Their debut, Business As Usual was an instant hit in Australia and New Zealand, getting to #1 in both markets during the summer of ’81, with this single being among the top 10 of the year in their home country. Nonetheless, the CBS head office weren’t sold on it, and took months before agreeing to release it outside of “down under.” Once they decided to do so, they put them onto the ticket opening for Fleetwood Mac in 1982. That led to “Who Can It Be Now?” becoming a hit on Canadian radio, which spurred interest from the American bosses to really get behind the album. That paid off rather handsomely. The album went 6X platinum in the U.S. and won the Grammy for best New Artist the following year. And as for “Who Can It Be Now?”, as popular as it is and still remains, surprisingly the States was the only country where it went to #1.

The song itself was written by Hay. He came up with the music early on, in his duo days, but took over a year to come up with lyrics for. That happened when he was living in an apartment near Melbourne inhabited by rather sketchy neighbors, like “drug sellers” and prostitutes. Random types knocked on his door, day and night. “I was trying to get out of the situtation,” he remembers, but money was too scarce to move to a better building. “Everyone who knocked on my door wanted something,” he says, generally money but sometimes just all his spare time. When he wrote the lyrics, his girlfriend said “that will be your first hit… and she was right!” The song which allmusic describe as an “excellent single that merged straight-ahead pop/rock hooks with a quirky new wave production and offbeat sense of humor” put Men At Work on the musical map, and demonstrated the old adage about when life gives you lemons….

August 21 – Oil’s Delivered Crash Course In Aussie Sociology…And Rock

Besting the Clash at what they do is a tall order. But on a day that was Joe Strummer’s birthday, Midnight Oil might have done that. On this day in 1987. On that day they released their international breakthrough album, Diesel and Dust.

The political rockers from Australia had been around for over a decade and were well-loved at home by then. Their previous album, Red Sails in the Sunset was a #1 there and went multi-platinum. However, except for some residual popularity across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, they were relatively unknown elsewhere. That would all change with Diesel and Dust, their sixth album and first one to be pushed heavily overseas by CBS Records.

The impetus for the record was largely set in motion in 1986, when the Oils toured Australia with a couple of Aboriginal bands, playing a number of small towns in the Outback besides the normal cities like Sydney and Melbourne. It was called the “Blackfella/Whitefella tour.” They were outraged at the poor conditions they saw in the Outback, particularly the indigenous/Aboroginal communities where health problems were common and housing conditions terrible compared to the wealthier coastal communities. The result was a set of songs about the Australian Outback and the plight of the Aborigines.

Which could have been overbearing and monotonously lecturous. But in the hands of Peter Garrett and his bandmates, it ended up being a lively, driving, almost hypnotic manifesto – no wonder a couple of years later when they played a protest show outside of Exxon headquarters they had signs saying “Midnight Oil makes you dance/Exxon Oil makes us sick!”.

The single “Beds are Burning” was flat out one of the best rock songs of the decade, let alone the most listenable of the protest ones. The follow-up “Dead Heart”, a view of their land being colonized through Aboriginal eyes, built to a boil and other tracks like “Dreamworld” and “Bullroarer” kept the momentum through and through. The song “Arctic World” oddly enough, was the only track not specifically about Australia; it was a protest of the rampant oil drilling in the arctic… a subject they’d revisit after the Exxon Valdez shipwreck.

Curiously, the protests about the record came from not the establishment, nor people who wanted to dance without being subject to a history lesson, but from some of the far-left political organizations. They felt that Garrett, a white, was being patronizing singing about Aborigines, and that the band was disrespectful for using a bullroarer (a traditional ceremonial instrument with the natives of the country) in the song of that name. Whatever.

The public didn’t care too much about that and loved it like they had the more whimsical act from Down Under, Men at Work, a few years prior. It soon hit #1 in their homeland and New Zealand, and while it took a while, became a massive success in the West”. It spent eight weeks at #1 in Canada and although it only got to #21 in the U.S., it still earned them a platinum record there. In Australia, it was 7X that.

Critics too adored Diesel and Dust. At the time, Rolling Stone would grade it 4-stars, calling it “the last word in rock and roll road songs. No candy-ass laments about dingy hotel rooms, lousy room service” just a record which “shakes and roars and throbs like the giant double-trailer trucks that chew up the asphalt across…the Australian desert heart.” It would later call it the best album of 1988. Years later, Pop Matters would grade it 9/10 calling it “punk-informed fire (with) a little R.E.M. jingle” and applaud their picking up the torch of guitar-driven socially conscious rock that U2 veered away from around then. Or, as allmusic would say, it sold well and was “an artistic success and a triumph for leftist politics. Even The Clash never managed that … this well!”

For those keeping track, Midnight Oil is rolling again after a long break while singer Peter Garrett successfully ventured into federal politics in his country.

May 26 – Little River Flowed Easily Across Pacific

Southern California easy rock and smooth harmonies with a side of vegemite? That’s perhaps how people view the Little River Band, an Aussie band which perhaps sounded like it originated on the other side of the Pacific. And those of us on this side of the Pacific got to learn a lot more about their sound with the release of their fourth album, Sleeper Catcher, this day in 1978. It continued to build their growing fanbase at home and was their first major foray into the hearts and charts of North American music.

The band had begun in Melbourne just three years earlier, going by the name Mississippi at first. They were formed from a number of musicians who’d done well in the Australian East Coast music scene (among them Beeb Birtles, a guitarist for them who’d played bass in a band called Zoot, which was where Rick Springfield first started into music) but were unknown internationally.

They changed names and signed to Capitol Records internationally, with their records coming out on EMI in their homeland and Harvest Records (the label known for putting out Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) in the Americas and Europe. The very first song they recorded was a cover of the Everly Brothers “When Will I Be Loved”… a fine showcase for their voices and pop stylings. Unfortunately – or possibly fortunately – for them, Linda Ronstadt also loved the song and put out a version which became a hit just before they were ready to, so the label filed their cover of it away and got them working on their own songs.

Their first trio of albums each did a little better than the previous in Australia and New Zealand but made little dent elsewhere despite having a modest hit in ’77 with the single “Help Is On The Way.” Capitol knew they had talent and made a harder push for Sleeper Catcher, after bringing in John Boylan to produce the record. Boylan had ironically risen to fame working with Linda Ronstadt, and had also co-produced Boston’s huge debut. It didn’t hurt that the group showed up with probably their strongest set of songs to that point.

As per usual, the album contained a mix of songs penned by lead singer Glenn Shorrock, a couple from Birtles and a couple of collaborations, but the album’s two standout tracks – and hits – both came from guitarist/backing vocalist Graham Goble: “Lady” and “Reminiscing.” Shorrock suggested Goble “was the Brian Wilson of the band,” which we assume was meant as a compliment.

Surprisingly, neither of those songs were big at home for them; “Shut Down/Turn Off” was the only top 20 entry from the record in Australia. But over here, they really made themselves known with “Lady” being a top 10 hit and the lovely retro-sounding “Reminiscing” (which even references Glenn Miller’s music in the lyrics) making it to #3 in the U.S. and #7 in Canada. That (as well as opening for a number of Doobie Brothers concerts the year before) helped the album get to #16 in the States, and become their first platinum record. At home, it reached #4, their third-straight top 10 LP. Critics there liked it as well as the public – they took home several Australian Music Awards for it including Best Male Singer (Shorrock), Best Live Band and Most Popular Group.

Little River Band kept the momentum going through the end of the decade with the equally-popular First Under the Wire in ’79 and the singles “Cool Change” and “Lonesome Loser.” However, even though they’re still rolling like a river, by the early-’80s, the popularity of their new releases began to decline and as members came and went there became increasing numbers of conflicts over things like which ones could legally use the “Little River Band” name; the current incarnation contains no members who were part of the band in their ’70s heyday.

May 14 – International Success The One Thing For INXS

A gamble paid off well for Australian band INXS this day in 1983. That’s when their single “The One Thing” became their first to make the top 40 charts (or any really) in the U.S. Which is doubtless what they hoped to accomplish and were so confident of, they paid to make it themselves.

By that time INXS were quite well-established in their homeland, having a small record deal, and two albums out that each went gold there and garnered them a trio of charting singles. But they felt they were destined for bigger and better, and weren’t sure their small label, Deluxe, was designed to accommodate that. So they rented a studio and recorded this song themselves. They liked the result so they kept the producer, Mark Opitz, around to do three more. These they used as a demo to shop themselves around to international companies, soon getting signed by Warner Bros. for much of the globe, and Polygram for Europe.

They kept “The One Thing” for their international debut album, Shabooh Shoobah – a title allmusic note is “one of the most annoying…ever” and supposedly derived from the sound of the rhythm of one of the songs on it. Thankfully, most agreed the music was better than the name of the record. Allmusic called it “a talented bunch of performers still finding their identity” but loved this song, “a strutting number that gives (Michael) Hutchence a real chance to shine as a singer” with “synth/guitar/sax hooks” that made it “instantly memorable.”

Hutchence wrote the lyrics about the guy obsessed with a girl who has lots of suitors (and provided his girlfriend as one of the many models for the video) , and though it was short of words, Andrew Farriss thought that a plus. Andrew, one of three Farriss brothers in the group, wrote the music and said of Hutchence “when he felt he had nothing more to say, he wouldn’t say anything more…he wouldn’t try to justify his lyric, and I think there’s a strength to that.”

Seems he said enough, the song became a hit…helped along by their extensive touring of North America that spring and summer. At various times they opened for the Go Gos, Kinks and Hall & Oates and they were on the big stage at the US Festival. It all helped push Shabooh Shoobah to gold status in the States, and “The One Thing” all the way to #2 on the then-new Mainstream Rock chart. Overall, it got to #30, first of nine top 30 hits they’d eventually have Stateside, and #31 in Canada. At home, it helped their career along too, hitting #14, their high mark to that point, although one they’d eclipse many times in the following eight or nine years, particularly with the multi-platinum Kick. So, seemingly having confidence might be “the one thing”. At least it was for INXS.

May 2 – The Men Went Back To Work

Lightning never strikes twice.” Meteorologists will tell you this isn’t true, but the gist of the statement sometimes is… particularly in music. It’s exceedingly hard to follow up a mega-successful record, particularly if it was a totally unexpected fluke one. Men At Work found that out with their sophomore album, Cargo, released this day in 1983.

The fun Aussie quintet had been big news in their homeland for pretty much the whole decade to that point, but had just broken through internationally in a huge way with their debut, Business as Usual and its two smash hits, “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now?”. Although CBS Records had been reluctant to release it outside of, well, “down Under”, eventually they did and it jumped to the top of the charts in North America and parts of Europe, selling upwards of 10 million copies. that’s a tough act to follow if you’re the Eagles or Pink Floyd, a gigantic one if you’re a relatively new, easy-going Australian pop band. Particularly when the record company wants to strike while the iron is hot and rush you.

So came about Cargo. They recorded some of it at home and some of it in L.A., but brought back the same producer, Peter McIan. And they seemed to try to replicate the relative formula for Business As Usual, with a few (supposedly) laugh out loud sing-a-longs (“Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive”), a few standard pop ditties and one or two laughably paranoid ones (“It’s a Mistake.”) . As before, Colin Hay, the singer, wrote the majority of the album with a little help from lead guitarist Ron Stykert on a couple of tracks. What they couldn’t necessarily duplicate was the easy-going, spontaneous feel of their first album.

Critics generally picked up on that. While it wasn’t a bad album at all, neither was it fantastic or as much fun as their debut. For instance, Record magazine liked Hay’s voice, compared it favorably to Sting’s, but found the album “inoffensive, but forgettable.” Rolling Stone gave it a favorable 4-stars, but spent a fair bit of the review praising the predecessor rather than looking at the new one, but did find the LP decent and also compared Hay to Sting and the band to “The Police as a five-piece.” Later on, allmusic gave it a very generous 4-stars too, but summed it up well as “considerably more diverse – but not more ambitious – than its predecessor”… featuring “two extraordinary singles – the soaring ballad ‘Overkill‘ and the satiric, anti-nuclear ‘It’s a Mistake’” supplemented with a lot of “filler.”

The public weren’t entirely sure what to make of it. It did well, but didn’t come close to the success of Business as Usual. the first single, “Dr Heckyll and Mr. Jive” made it to #6 in Australia and was a top 30 in North America and New Zealand. the next pair of singles, the ones allmusic correctly lauded, “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake” did decently too; the former especially, with it going gold in Canada and hitting the top 10 there as well as the U.S. and Australia. The album overall got to #1 in their homeland and #3 in North America, and sold to triple-platinum levels in both the U.S. and Canada.

If “Overkill” was likely the album’s highpoint, it also signaled the band’s future. Colin Hay wrote it (as he did most of their stuff), but he told the Chicago Tribune, “”I really thought I’d written something that might last. I was really quite excited. I didn’t get a reaction (from his bandmates), so I just decided to play everything (and record it) because I didn’t want to wait for them to get excited.”

Men At Work would record one more album, 1985’s almost-forgotten Two Hearts, which flopped, then broke up..by the time that album came out, three members had already quit. Hay however, has had a decent career since as a solo artist although never matching the highs of his band’s first album and two hits.

November 22 – Pressures Got To Be In Excess For Hutchence

Remembering the life, and unfortunately death, of Michael Hutchence who died on this day in 1997 in his homeland of Australia. Hutchence was only 37.

The INXS singer’s passing was ruled a suicide by hanging although circumstances were deemed by some to be suspicious. The singer was said to be unhappy with the band’s fortunes coming off a lengthy world tour that still only saw their then-current Elegantly Wasted album hit #41 in the U.S. and fail to make the top 10 “Down Under” (the first INXS release since ’81 to miss that mark) and more distraught by his personal life. Hutchence was involved with Paula Yates, a British TV personality who’d been married to Bob Geldof and the couple had a daughter, Heavenly Tiger Lily, together. Earlier in the night of his death, Hutchence was apparently impaired and arguing on the phone with Yates and Geldof over having the daughter sent to Australia to see him. Rather ironically, Geldof ended up with custody of Heavenly as Yates died three years later.

Hutchence death came 10 years after this song from Kick was racing up the American charts; it would end up being their only U.S. #1. Kick was their high-water mark at home and internationally, being the #1 seller of 1988 in Australia, going multi-platinum there, the U.S., UK and Canada and topping 15 million copies worldwide. It also made Hutchence, with what Rolling Stone term “a lithe, magnetic stage presence” a major international star.

After Hutchence’s death, INXS took a break but started up again about a year later before taking the unusual step of finding a new permanent singer by way of a TV reality show. Although that winner, JD Fortune arguably shared Hutchence’s good looks, he didn’t have the same fan appeal and the band’s two post-Hutchence’s albums were met with only moderate interest and the band called it quits in 2012. Meanwhile, a self-titled album by Michael was released posthumously in 1999, with Andy Gill of Gang of Four working to finish up some demos Hutchence had made in the mid-’90s. Most noteworthy of the tracks was likely “Slide Away,” a song Bono added vocals to in honor of his friend. The album went gold in Australia but was largely unnoticed elsewhere.

November 13 – Men At Work’s Appeal Stretched Far Beyond Down Under

Crikey mate, seems like those Aussie blokes knew what’s for after all! So might have been the conversation in Columbia Records’ American headquarters this day in 1982, because that was the day Men At Work would hit #1 on the album chart with Business As Usual. It would end up staying on top for a remarkable 15-straight weeks. The last time an album had bested that streak was Saturday Night Fever in 1978. It was a little surprising…but more surprising was how reluctant Columbia were to release it in the northern hemisphere.

Men At Work were formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1978. They were always Colin Hay’s band, and soon got their core lineup and a local following together. In 1980, they put out an indie single in Aus, “Keypunch Operator.” It was noteworthy perhaps because the b-side was a little ditty called “Down Under”. The original pressing was only 300 copies so, even in the relatively-sparsely populated Australia, it didn’t make any sales charts (by the way, if you’re interested, I did track down one copy for sale online… for about $450). What it did though, was catch the attention of some music execs in Sydney. Soon they signed to CBS Records, but only for Australia and New Zealand. They quickly put out “Who Can It Be Now?” as a single, and it got to #2 there. Encouraged by the results, CBS had them record a whole album…Business As Usual.

The 10-song LP was largely Hay’s work and vision. He was the primary writer (only “Helpless Automation” by sax and flute man Greg Ham and “People Just Love To Play With Words” from guitarist Ron Strykert weren’t his) and vocalist, as well as rhythm guitarist at times. The album was fast-paced and fun, and as Ian McFarlane (author of the Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop) put it succinctly, “the production sound was low-key, but clean” and the appeal was largely the “bright, melodic sing-along quality” of the songs. Soon the re-recorded version of that original b-side, “Down Under” was #1 in their homeland, quickly followed by the album itself. What’s more, it also was at #1 in New Zealand, which incredibly enough was the first time an Aussie act hit #1 on that chart across the strait.

Seeing how North America and Britain were warming up quickly to new wave, or just “new” sounds, and the success of “Down Under”, well, down under, you’d think CBS/Columbia would be raring to go with the album worldwide. But you’d have been wrong. Inexplicably, CBS in the U.S. didn’t think it could work here, or almost anywhere and twice turned down requests from the Australian office to put it out elsewhere. Eventually, they grudgingly gave in. they changed the album background color from white to yellow and released Business As Usual about eight months after its home release. Probably a good decision!

Rolling Stone jumped on the bandwagon very quickly, given that the band was new and foreign. They compared them to Split Enz due to geography but opined Split Enz took the “high-art pop road” like Roxy Music or Beatles at their most complex whereas Men At Work were accessible. They “have absorbed the sparse, rhythmic spunk of reggae and the punchy, yet articulate brevity of post-punk” and compared them favorably to Elvis Costello or the Police.

They were right. The fresh sound and fun videos on the fledgling MTV network pushed both the first two singles (“Who Can it Be Now?” and “Down Under”) to #1 and the third, “Be Good Johnny” onto radio as well and into the Canadian top 20, although it didn’t quite score as well in the States.

The album ended 1982 at #1, making it an Australian sandwich for American listeners that year. The first #1 album of the year was AC/DC’s For Those About To Rock. Men At Work eventually fell out of the top spot due to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but not until late-February ’83. It won them the Grammy award for Best New Artist and also topped charts in Canada and Britain, and even hit #3 in Japan. Worldwide sales topped 10 million … likely the biggest debut album since Meat Loaf’s in 1977. And nowhere was it more popular than in the reluctant U.S., where it’s 6X platinum. Seems Rolling Stone was right…except for one thing. They concluded their initial review by suggesting Men At Work’s “future in rock is secure.” Of course, their rushed follow-up, Cargo, sold only about half as well, and due to falling sales and internal disputes between the members, they failed to even play on into the second-half of the ’80s.

October 16 – People Liked Record…But Not ‘InXs’ive Amounts

A few casual listeners back in the ’80s might have thought INXS was some kind of overnight sensation that arrived with “Need You Tonight”. Of course, that was far from the case. The Sydney sextet had quite a slow, gradual path to worldwide stardom, playing countless shows in their Australian homeland before even putting out an indie record in 1980. They took an important step forward on their career on this day in 1982, with the release of their third album – the first with widespread international distribution – Shabooh Shoobah. Most agree, it was a better album than their previous pair, and a better album than record title!

They’d built up a following at home, and sold decent quantities for an indie act in ’80-81, so they recorded a new single, “The One Thing.” It had a clean, modern sound and great groove, and that in turn got the big labels interested. Warner Brothers signed them to a contract for a good chunk of the world, on various labels it owned including WEA and Atco; somehow the UK and all of Europe saw them come out on Polygram simultaneously. They went back into the studio about six months after doing “The One Thing” and recorded the other nine songs, all self-written, mostly by keyboardist Andrew Farriss and singer Michael Hutchence. They worked with another Aussie rising star, producer Mark Opitz, who’d later win the Australian award for producer of the year twice running in the late-’80s. “Mark was the first producer (to) capture some glimmer of what the band felt like it was like live,” Tim Farriss said, which was to say clean-sounding but energetic and even a bit loud at times.

Although few of the album cuts really resonated widely at the time or later on with the masses, the singles really introduced INXS to the world…and the world paid attention. Although the media didn’t seem to pay as much attention as the newbie fans did. Rolling Stone did review it, giving it a middling 3-stars, saying “perhaps it is too glib to dismiss INXS as the next Duran Duran, but (it) has all the hallmarks of current British pop.” It’s not entirely clear whether that was seen as a good thing or not, or if the mag even knew they were Australian rather than English. Then again, it was easy to miss that; unlike the Aussie pop-new wave sensations of the day, Men At Work, INXS certainly didn’t wear their nationality on their sleeves, something which might have worked in their favor years down the road. Allmusic would give it a similar grade later on, deciding that beyond the title (“one of the most annoying titles ever!”) they were getting better but “INXS wasn’t quite there yet” although “there’s a smart, slick punch to this album that suggest later-period Roxy Music crossed with a younger, brasher energy.”

Black and White,” the third single off it made the Australian top 30, but the two that preceded it got them fans far and wide. “Don’t Change” hit #14 at home, and garnered some North American airplay on college radio but “The One Thing” was the one thing they needed – not only a hit at home, but a top 40 hit in North America, with it reaching #2 on Billboard‘s rock charts. It helped the album squeak into the American top 50 and go gold in the U.S., while back down under, it reached #5, stuck around on the charts for 94 weeks and got them their first platinum record…later double that in fact. As big as that was, their follow-up, The Swing, would end up doubling those sales levels around the globe, making them something of an overnight sensation after about seven grueling years.

August 10 – Imagine If Jon Had Started At Nine

Singers usually get the bulk of the publicity in a band, so it’s no surprise when people think of INXS, they typically only think of ill-fated singer/lyricist Michael Hutchence. While he undoubtedly made them sound distinctive with his voice, the core of the Aussie band was really a trio of brothers – so much so that their original name was The Farriss Brothers. Today we wish a happy 60th birthday to the youngest of the brothers, drummer Jon Farriss.

Jon, along with his brothers, guitarist Tim and keyboardist Andrew began the band around 1977, along with Hutchence, Garry Beers and Kirk Pengilly. By that point, jon was already a veteran behind the kit, having begun playing them around the age of three and trying out (unsuccessfully mind you) for a rock band when he was only nine! By the end of the ’70s, they were opening up for then also-young Midnight Oil, one of whom actually suggested the new name for them – INXS. In 1980 they signed to a Sydney label, Deluxe Records, and soon after put out their first single, “Simple Simon.” That one didn’t quite take the nation by storm, but soon they’d be on their way with their first album out by the end of 1980 and their first top 20 hit Down Under, “The Loved One” early the following year. They’d go on to win the Australian RIA award for Group of the Year three times (1987, ’89 and ’92) and by the mid-’80s were a major worldwide draw, eventually scoring seven platinum albums in the U.S., highlighted by Kick which went 6X that.

While he co-wrote a few songs along the way for INXS, including the hit “Disappear”, Jon’s major contribution was always laying down the beat. He is, in the words of DrummersZone “a drummer’s drummer”, and unlike many, equally at home behind conventional drums as with an electronic drum machine, helping expand the band’s sound through the years. As did his love of funk music, which gives him a bit of a different flavor compared to many rock/new wave drummers. It also lured Nile Rodgers in to work with them, producing their ’84 breakthrough album The Swing, mainly because he was a fan of his.

The death of Hutchence was hard on him, as were all the band, since they had remained in tact as a unit with little change for some 20 years by then. “INXS is a family,” he told a Las Vegas newspaper in 2011, “we have to give each other the respect and the slack to expand.” (an interesting aside in the same story, he said Tom Jones was a fan of theirs and played “Need You Tonight” in some of his shows and they got together to record a song at Willie Nelson’s studio in Texas, although he lost track of what happened to the end product!).

Although they soldiered on after Hutchence’s death, mainly with new singer J.D. Fortune, they never regained the same level of popularity and eventually called it quits in 2012. Part of that might be the result of the band’s changing lives. Jon by then was married to his current wife, Kerry, and had two small kids. He told the interviewer before the children he and her used to “sit around and watch TV or movies. Now it’s all about sleep!”.

Outside of the main band, Jon’s kept himself busy, producing records for several other Australian artists, as well as co-producing an INXS tribute album (Original Sin) and occasionally playing with other artists including Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band in their 2013 Australian shows.