Legendary Australian songsmith Mick Thomas shares his top ten records with us this fortnight. He has famously become known for his storytelling through his songwriting and as you might expect, there’s a great story to be told about each of his favourite records here. Mick has written countless tunes over the years and produced some great records. Amongst these, I strongly recommend checking out Mick’s solo record The Last Of The Tourists, recorded in Portland, Oregon and produced by Darren Hanlon. It’s a ripper. Here’s Mick’s Top Ten!
THE (EX) CAT HEADS Our Frisco (1990)
There seems to be a lot written about this album and this band on the web. It appears they are/were in some way an important part of the San Franciscan local music scene in the early nineties. But the night we wandered into their gig there weren’t a lot of people there. It didn’t feel like an important show and we were surprised when we spoke to the band and they said it was their last performance.
The record is a weird classic to my mind – strangely-lo-fi and quite unsettled, it seems to jump between a fully-fledged concept album about San Francisco (bookended by two instrumental tracks, “Fog Rolls In”/ “Fog Rolls Out”) and a collection of demos (three vastly different versions of one song). It’s sprawling and ambitious, as pretentious as it is unassuming and when I hear it I am back in San Francisco at the end of a tour. Or in the van driving up the Pacific Highway three months later listening to a cassette dub of it.
LOWEST OF THE LOW Shakespeare My Butt (1991)
I have written about this record a hell of a lot over the years but it continues to be one we play at our house at certain times and it never seems to lose its appeal. Although it came into our lives well after we’d become regulars in downtown Toronto it still speaks to me of our time there. It still tells the tales of that city. We were handed the CD by great friend and promoter Bruce Eaton one tour and it will always take me to times we spent hanging around his house in Kensington Market. It reminds me of the Grange Hotel and The Cameron House, The Siboney and The Horseshoe, and of the times that were not so good. So broke, so cold and far from home,1990 coming in from a long drive out east drunk and hungry and finding the town pretty well shut up on a Sunday night. And then the Hungarian Goulash Party Tavern was magically open but payday was five days away and then for the first time in my life realizing that they would take a credit card and wasn’t that the start of something else totally? The Hungarian Goulash Party Tavern is gone now but my credit card debt seems a constant and Shakespeare My Butt still sounds as good as it did back in 1992. Weddings, Parties, Anything only ever played two shows with the Lowest of the Low. It was nowhere near enough.
THE WARNER BROTHERS Talking in Your Sleep (1992)
We did a stack of shows with them through the years – both as the Warner Brothers, then as Overnight Jones and ultimately back to the Warner Brothers again. They made a great record after that one, Dan and Stuey, the two writers made great records under their own names as well but it’s still Talking in Your Sleep that means the most to me – and also to a lot of people who were around Melbourne at a particular time. They reformed recently as a thirtieth (!!!) anniversary of their inception and it was pretty much that album that got the majority representation.
SEAN McMAHON Welcome to Gippsland (2008)
I was walking past the Last Record Store in Smith Street when I noticed this one in the window and I guess being born in Gippsland it got my attention. I’d just become aware of the band Downhills Home at this stage and had no idea that Sean was from there or any other band to be honest. But here was this brilliant concept album with guest character parts sung by Matt Walker, Liz Stringer and Laura Jean and when they finally played it live it was billed as a Downhills Home show and so it was a confused foray in a promotional sense but the record itself is really self-assured and quite timeless. The playing is understated, the singing is evocative, the songs are interlocking and self-supporting, the whole thing totally lyrical.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS West (2007)
It’s the record she wrote after her mother passed on and although it’s pretty painful I think it’s possibly the purest expression of her personal blues. Stylistically it moves around a fair bit but the whole thing seems underpinned with an anger and a resentment that is at times quite exhausting. I like most of her records actually.
JAKE THACKRAY The Very Best of Jake Thackray (1975)
I first heard Jake Thackray songs in folk clubs back in the mid 70s and had no idea who the writer was. But the songs were acerbic and pointed – and they were funny. And when Darren Hanlon started playing an album of his to me a few years back it all made sense. They called him the working class Noel Coward but more than that he was a complex man from a complex tradition of European songwriting and it’s almost the few little serious snippets here and there that give the most away.
PAUL KELLY Post (1985)
I guess Paul has written better albums but this one is so much of its time and so simple and direct it’s hard to go past. We listened to it a lot in the early Weddings and when I went to a gig at the Club in Collingwood around the time it came out I remember people singing the words to each other, everyone with a kind of knowing camaraderie. Yep, I wanted a bit of that to be sure.
London is the Place For Me (Vol 1) (2002)
I never thought Calypso is where I’d find really inspiring original songsmiths but the various writers that make up this testament to the West Indian experience in England are far more what I was looking for than the ones I found in the Anglo/Irish folk music scene of the 60s and 70s. “Lord Kitchener in the Jungle” is a kooky masterpiece. “Lady Want Rent”, “At the Coronation” and surely the best sporting ballad ever written, “Victory Test Match”. Classics. Lord Beginner, Young Tiger – folk music at its best.
THE KINKS The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (mono version) (1968)
I think this is my favourite Kinks album although Face to Face and Arthur which all came out around the same time are pretty close as well. But this has got Big Sky, Picture Book, Animal Farm – it’s got Last of the Steam Powered Trains and Village Green Preservation Society for Christ sake. And it’s got the best song about being drunk on stage ever written All of My Friends Were There. I guess everything I want The Kinks to be is on this record. Their lyrical, English version of rock n’ roll really finds it’s place here. But Arthur is still pretty good.
NEKO CASE The Tigers Have Spoken (2004)
A cracking live album. Some spirited covers, great playing and incredible singing – and a stack of wonderful songs. It’s a beautifully weighted record and one that seems to have an interlocking lasting appeal for me. The title track is riveting. Simple yet so personal it’s almost embarrassing. Easily my favourite record by her.