From the moment I heard Friday On My Mind by the Easybeats, I was convinced Australians had a special knack for rock. Diligent subsequent listening to pioneering Aussie-60s anthologies such as Ugly Things and So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star series, plus energetic if largely ineffectual efforts to collect original artefacts from the period, has done nothing to shake that conviction.
Most previous comps concentrate on Australia's formidable garage-rock and psychedelic legacy, highlighted by such world-class nuggets as Undecided by the Masters Apprentices and The Real Thing by Russell Morris. Of Hopes & Dreams & Tombstones: Australia's Beat Years illuminates a less-exposed sub-genre in which Australian artists display the same uncanny mastery.
Beat music, imported from Britain both on record and in person by streams of immigrants, thrived in the Australian mid-60s at lofty levels of proficiency, originality and passion. This 31-track anthology provides a welcome introduction to the scene's diversity. It's got many of the big beat idols - Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, the Purple Hearts, Normie Rowe & the Playboys, and the twin Tonys of Aussie beat renown, Barber and Worsley - and a host of less celebrated but equally adept compatriots. And the range of styles is remarkable.
Oh by the Rajahs sounds like the Beau Brummels imitating the Searchers. Jimmy Crockett & the Shanes' intense That Lovin' Touch reminds me a bit of the Blues Magoos. Tony Worsley's vocal on Ready Steady Let's Go is reminiscent of a less deranged Roky Erickson.
Thorpe's Blue Day and the Courtmen's I've Got To Let You Go are proto-garage stormers, while Steve & the Board's So Why Pretend and the Pogs' I'll Never Love Again display consummate command of the melodic moody-beat style.
I've always been fascinated by the obscure material antipodean acts unearthed (aided by active music publishers). This collection boasts some prime examples, none more obscure than the Purple Hearts' title track, ephemerally released in the U.S. as a public-service announcement with some copies of the 45 omitting the artist's name (Jimmy Fraser, if you're keeping score at home). Other obscurities include the Others' Dancing Girl, one of Bo Diddley's less-celebrated numbers but one of the better Bo covers in the pantheon-.-and Mike Furber & the Bowery Boys' version of the great Addrisi Brothers/Grains of Sand/Montanas stormer That's When Happiness Began.
I've been raving on for six paragraphs (and entering the seventh) and still haven't mentioned such faves on this anthology as the ultra-tough Don't Ask Me Why by Chris Hall & the Torquays or the rockabilly-flavored rasp of Toni McCann's My Baby or Tony Barber's weird and wondrous I Want Her To. But the best thing about Of Hopes, etc. is that, as comprehensive and eclectic a collection as it is, it merely scratches the surface of the Australian mid-1960s motherlode. Which means that future volumes must be a definite possibility. Which would make me very happy indeed.
By Ken Barnes
(Ken Barnes is one of the world's foremost authorities on mid-1960s rock. He is currently an entertainment editor at USA Today)