(Australian 1973-1980, 1983-84, 1990, 1994)
When Cyclone Skyhooks (as they call her in the trade) appeared on the distant horizon in 1973, little was Australia aware that its entire bungling, struggling, apologetic little wader's pool of an industry was about to be swamped, revamped and exhilarated almost overnight.
Two years later Skyhooks, a band of unknowns with little more than a lot of lip, nerve, talent, imagination and several million dollar riffs with lyrics to match at their disposal, had completely revolutionised the face of Australian rock. They didn't have a manager till January '75, they still don't have a publicist.
The band was the basic conception of bass-player Greg Macainsh, who writes 90% of the repertoire, built upon by other Skyhooks Red Symons (aka Rocco Simone, guitar/vocals/odd compositions); Graeme Strachan (aka Shirley, vocals); Bob Starkie (aka Bongo Star, guitar) and Fred Strauks (aka Freddy Kaboodleschnitzer, drums/vocals).
They started out by winning over the bohemian grandchildren of Eltham, the theatrics of Carlton and the student intelligentsia of Melbourne's high schools, technical colleges and universities; picked up the sharpies and skinheads of St. Albans and Chelsea; did well interstate and ended up with the nation's Hot Sox and pimple-cure market on their hands - plus thicker wallets, gold record racks and more press clippings books than any Australian band had ever dreamed of. [extract from 'Million Dollar Riff', 1975, p6]
So, how did Shirley join the band?
Sunbury '75 was Skyhooks' big chance to win over thousands in one foul swoop, thrill the press and maybe even steal the thunder of many bigger bands. But on the day it didn't work like that. It was a stinking hot day in late January, and the band's allotted time slot was lousy mid-afternoon on Saturday, when the sun was at its zenith and everyone still left in their right mind would be swimming in the Hunter river or sleeping someplace in a tent. Uncharacteristically, before the performance Skyhooks were nervous. "I never thought I'd see the day", swears Gudinski, "when that band would be affected at all, and they really were."
In the hazy heat the make-up was dripping off their faces even before they reached the stage and guitar strings wretched flat immediately they re-tuned. The sound didn't come together at all and when a few of the standard festival hecklers caterwauled a little abuse along the lines of "poofters!", Hill overreacted and got involved in a shouting mouth fight with some cat in the crowd . . Altogether, the thing was a mess.
Sunbury was later televised by Channel 0, and Steve Hill felt sickened watching himself jerk and writhe in miniature on the video replay. Already more than uneasy with his position, he decided to quit while he was ahead.
"The main reason why I left - let's get down to the crunch of the whole thing - was because I was having an identity problem. . . You get to that stage in life where you're wondering who you are and all that sort of stuff, and in the context of Skyhooks it was very difficult to play out this role of this mysterious, macho, menacing, aggro lead singer of a rock'n'roll band, which is not me at all you know, and at the same time solve all my identity problems.
"It was just starting to spin too much in my head, and I felt that if I didn't step out of it then, and get a chance to look at things in perspective . . . well, I'd blow it for myself and I'd blow it for the band."
Also in Hill's mind was the factor that Skyhooks were soon to sign a deal with Gudinski's indigenous Mushroom Records, and to change your lead singer after your first record could be a major drag. When Steve announced he wanted out, no-one hit the roof.
"I'd been used to guitarists coming and going", mutters Macainsh, "so when he reckoned he was gonna leave the band it was just another person leaving. He'd been with us for a while, so it kinda posed a problem. But the band wasn't on the verge of breaking up because of it."
Gudinski was thinking "oh-oh, the band's dipped out." The band said not to worry. "It didn't worry me!" says Wilson. "I could see that it was gonna be alright anyway. I just sat back and watched what happened. Asked Greg what they were gonna do, and he said, there's this guy . . . "
Yeah, there was this guy alright. Shirley Strachan had been hanging loose down at Phillip Island ever since Frame broke up. But it was February 74, the cold was coming on and his girlfriend was off to Perth, so Shirl jumped in his combi and headed for Melbourne to work the winter through carpentering for his dad. But as he sped up the coast road, Greg Macainsh and Freddy Strauks were driving down and they must have passed each other in transit. The two Hooks arrived at Strachan's Phillip Island pad only to find him gone, so they turned around and began the long drive home. Later that day they caught up with him at his parents' Mt. Waverly home, sat down, had a cup of tea and asked him if he'd join the band.
It didn't take Strachan long to make up his mind. Melbourne he could take or leave - he didn't particularly want it. Really it was just a matter of being able to work there, make some money and take it down to the surf beaches again. Skyhooks, he thought, would be a nice interest to pass away the time.
*Ross Wilson actually considered joining Skyhooks around this stage, Mighty Kong having dipped out leaving time on his hands. "I thought it would be really neat to sing those songs and play with the really tough music . . . But I decided against it. I had to follow my own destiny through."
Graeme's first gig was March 3, 1974 in Frankston, Melbourne. Right from the start, Macainsh had made it clear to him that Skyhooks were streets away from Fame, especially in their approach of an audience.
"Greg said you're gonna have to talk, you're gonna have to look at people . . . And the first night I did, you know. And I thought, oh fuck, that's not bad ..." He wore a blue satin outfit something like a sailor suit and white gym shoes, he was lean and very suntanned from all that surfing and swimming and his hair was so long it had to be pulled back off his face in a ponytail.
"Greg introduced me to this guy", reminisces Gudinski, " really straight, quiet, meek guy. He says oh, you're the one, meets me and shakes my hand . . . little did I know that I felt funny to him because he was replacing Steve, he was the new outsider ..." But it wasn't long before the two were getting on like a house on fire. Shirley (Macainsh insisted on that name in the press releases) became the new band rep in the office; a whiz with figures and a keen, hard-headed businessman; and as such worked hand in hand with Gudinski, whose interest in Skyhooks was rapidly expanding. He'd signed them to a recording contract with Mushroom, and the hottest buzz in the industry was that Ross Wilson, probably Australia's most legendary 70's rock songwriter and performer, had talked Skyhooks into letting him produce their first album.
[extract from 'Million Dollar Riff', 1975, p25-27].
Skyhook's Rise to Fame
OK you say, but just how have Skyhooks revolutionized Australian rockbiz? Here's some of the things they've done in the year October 74 - October 75.
They sold over 350,000 LP's and cassettes of their first two albums. 'Living in the 70's' and 'Ego Is Not A Dirty Word' (the first outside productions of the multi-talented Boss Wilson). 'Living in the 70's' alone sold around 200,000 LP's and cassettes by October '75; approximately four times the previous record sales for a locally-produced rock album in Australia (set by Daddy who? Daddy Cool in 71-72). This amounts to over thirteen gold records. Ego went gold several times in pre-release orders alone and continues to give its forerunner a run for its money. Both albums have sold gold cassettes, a first for Oz rock. "Horror Movie" was a gold single and both subsequent singles have been National Number 1.
Skyhooks national tours have smashed attendance records all over the country. Their third was the premier tour of an indigenous act ever taken by promoters Paul Dainty Corporation - who wised up to the fact that in Australia, Skyhooks could equal or surpass the draw of any given international star act, and do it from Sydney to the black stump (requiring only internal airfares to boot).
They also effected a complete upheaval of the media . . . playing banned number "Smut" on the now defunct Blind Date (Red Symons, "date" for the evening, sending the whole show sky high by wearing dark glasses and tapping a cane as he entered the set, playing possum throughout the questioning and finally biting the lucky contestant on the neck instead of kissing her) and on kids show Do It (also now defunct) and other banned numbers elsewhere; making a strict point of discussing camera work, lighting and sets with every video crew they worked with; refusing to grant unwarranted interviews tc the press and;, eventually working a miracle on the country's stuffy, traditionalist major pop radio network . . .
For although FACB (Australian radio and TV's self-controlling body comprised of representatives from all over the nation) voted to ban six of ten tracks on 'Living in the 70's' something (perhaps the huge sales of that album) mysteriously moved them to leave 'Ego Is Not A Dirty Word' completely uncommented upon - with the result that "Smartarse Songwriters", "Saturday Night" (containing the word "dope") and "Love's No: Good Enough" ("The girls in the front row are or mandrax" - mandrax being a well-known soporiphic taken these days for kicks) are now being freely broadcast by at least one radio station reported to have large Catholic/Liberal Party interests. Not to mention "Love on the Radio", deliberately omitted from the first album because of the blatant way it rubbishes radio and its advertisers.
So Skyhooks have stretched all those limits we pessimistically imagined concrete beyond recognition In America, rock is close to the country's biggest industry In Australia it's still only a fraction of the national annual income, but increasing hundreds of percents every year giving our musical artists and everyone working around them a better chance for the right to decent conditions and a certain measure of respect.
In late 75, there were more rock and pop centered publications on the market than ever before and television gave us several hours o" rock-centered music every week.
Skyhooks have not been the sole cause of the uplifted state of Oz rockbiz of course . . . The Easybeats paved the way in the 60's, Daddy Cool gave it another great shove in the early 70's and Sherbet have been in there fighting for years, with considerable success - not to mention all those scores of bands and media fold who've given everything from a little inspiration to their all. But if the others put in the foreplay,it was Skyhooks who completed the act, and did it with such finality we were all left reeling.
So, having sold over Australia, $2,000,000 worth of recorded wares and with the best overseas deal yet clinched by an Australian act (one of the best offered to any new group around the world at the time, in fact), Skyhooks prospects are good..... [extract from 'Million Dollar Riff',1975. p145-147]
After completing their 1976 US tour, the band remained in San Francisco and recorded their third album with Wilson producing, Straight in a Gay Gay World—called Living in the 70's for US release with "Living in the 70's" replacing "The Girl Says She's Bored"—which appeared in August and peaked at #3 on the Australian album charts. In July, upon return to Australia they launched The Brats Are Back Tour with a single, "This is My City", which reached the Top 20. "Blue Jeans" followed in August and peaked at #13 on the singles chart. By October, Strachan provided his debut solo single, "Every Little Bit Hurts" (a cover of Brenda Holloway's 1964 hit), which reached #3. In February 1977, Symons left the band and was replaced on guitar by Bob Spencer (Finch later called Contraband). With Symons' departure the band dropped the glam rock look and used a more straight forward hard rock approach. During 1977 Skyhooks toured nationally three times, while their first single with Spencer, "Party to End All Parties", peaked into the top 30 in May. Strachan released his second solo single, a cover of Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears", which reached the top 20 in July. Meanwhile, Mushroom released a singles anthology, 'The Skyhooks Tapes', which entered the top 50 in September and is featured in this post. The band's mass popularity had declined although they still kept their live performances exciting and irreverent and played on until 1980, when they finally disbanded [extract from wikipedia]
This post consists of a vinyl rip at 320kps taken from my treasured copy of 'The Skyhooks Tapes', which has rarely seen daylight. Full album artwork is also included along with a selection of B&W photos sourced from the 1975 biography 'Million Dollar Riff' by Jenny Brown (photos thanks to Carol Jerrems). As this compilation was a collection of A & B side singles, I have also chosen to include 2 tracks from a rare flexi disc which was only available with the 'Vault Magazine' Vol 1 #4 (sourced from Ozzie Music Man with thanks).
This album was not meant to be a definitive collection of 'hits' at the time of its release, but rather a compilation of singles and non-album tracks. I have also chosen to include a podcast of an interview with Greg Macainsh on a San Francisco radio show called 'The Rock 'n' Roll Geek show' and was sourced from the Midoztouch Forum with thanks to Jetboy. This is a wonderful 1/2 hour mixture of dialogue and music centered on Skyhooks invasion of America during their 1976 tour and well worth the listen.
01 - All My Friends (Are Getting Married)
02 - Party To End All Parties
03 - Crazy Heart
04 - Ego Is Not A Dirty Word
05 - Hot Rod James
06 - Million Dollar Riff
07 - You're Like A Broken Gin Bottle Baby
08 - Let It Rock
09 - Revolution (US Version)
10 - Blue Jeans
11 - Living The The 70's
12 - You Just Like Me 'Cos I'm Good In Bed
13 - Forging Ahead
14 - Horror Movie
15 - Sweet Sister (A-Side Flexi Single)
16 - Guitar Thunders In My Hand (B-Side Flexi Single)
17 - Greg Macainsh Radio Interview (Rock 'N' Roll Geek Show, 2007)
The Hooks were:
Shirley Strachan (Lead Vocals)
Red Symons (Guitar/Vocals)
Bob Starkie (Guitar)
Greg Macainsh (Bass/Vocals)
Freddy Strauks (Drums/Vocals)
The Skyhooks Link (165Mb) Link Fixed 02/08/2015