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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to…The Go-Betweens 1978 – 1990 May 7, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

It’s five years since the death of Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens and a fine solo artist in his own right. Five years and it still seems like shocking news, still seems like yesterday that it happened. I wrote a piece in 2007 here which continues to sum up my thoughts on his death and his legacy. Even now I can’t bring myself to listen to their last album with any real enjoyment, which I know is my loss.

Anyhow I was thinking when I realized it was the anniversary this week that I should select a Go-Betweens album for This Weekend…. The only problem was that, well, I couldn’t. There’s too many of them and each encapsulates a very individual vision.

Tallulah? Perfect mid-period – or at least mid-period of their first incarnation. But… Before Hollywood. Representative of the early years with a raw and rough-hewn quality. 16 Lovers Lane? 1988, polished but not overly so with songs that in an alternative universe became monstrous hits. But not this one. And the later albums? Each of them remarkable artifacts given that the band had dissolved and reformed. Taking up not quite where they left off but still in a place where their music remained both credible and more importantly listenable.

So where to start?

Easier by far to evade the issue and point to the 1990 double album (on vinyl) compilation, The Go-Betweens 1978 – 1990.

Sure, that ignores their later output when they reformed, but… the cover has a tree or a hedge on it. That’s got to be a winner.

A tree or a hedge. Slightly ornate typography [you’ll see a copy of the gatefold cover in the opening seconds of Spring Rain below]. A selection that engaged with both sides of their output, the more spiky abrasive songs – largely, but not exclusively, those of Robert Forster; the softer more overtly pop songs – usually, but not always, written by Grant McLennan. Let’s not forget that this wasn’t a simple two man band. Lindy Morrison was there throughout almost all this period providing the structures to hold this all together – a tougher job than it might have been in most other bands of their sort and Amanda Brown Robert Vickers and John Willsteed all were key to their mid to late 1980s sound. And tracing their lineage directly from punk/post punk, their earlier excursions having curious echoes of the Cure, even Joy Division, all angular compositions and jerky time signatures that gradually softened but were never quite abandoned as they transformed into a pop band that wasn’t quite a pop band.

Robert Christgau wrote of this compilation:

Half best-of, half collectorama, this gets you coming and going: you had no idea the album highlights would mesh into perfect pop, and you had no idea the 45-rpm obscurities would coalesce into imperfect pop. What threw you off was that they always seemed too serious for pop, too grown up. But once Robert Forster and Grant McLennan stooped or leaped to melody, they were serious fun in spite of themselves. And bookishly static though they seemed, they were also a band. Forster and McLennan provided the internal tension–subtle friction at its most personal and its most cooperative. Lindy Morrison made sure they moved. A

Unfortunately the later CD version of 1978 – 1990 missed out on one or two tracks which are beyond difficult to find online or off. It’s a small piece of grit but one that seems oddly appropriate for a band that managed to subtly but efficiently always retain the grit in their songwriting, even when it was at its most melodic – note the lyrics of Streets of Our Town, a perfect and brutally realistic counterpoint to the music itself. But then the Go-Betweens had a duality that characterised them on so many different levels. McLennan/Forster. Softer/harder edged. Sunny/dark.
Perhaps that’s why they stay with you these songs. Always have, always will.

People Say [1979]

Hammer the Hammer [Send Me A Lullaby – 1982]

Cattle and Cane [Before Hollywood – 1983]

This Girl Black Girl [B-Side – 1983]

Bachelor Kisses [from Spring Hill Fair – 1984]

Spring Rain [Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express – 1986]

Bye Bye Pride [Tallulah 1987]

The House Jack Kerouac Built [Live – originally from Tallulah 1987]

Rock and Roll Friend [B-Side – 1988]

Streets of your town [16 Lovers Lane – 1988]


1. Earl Williams - May 7, 2011


WorldbyStorm - May 7, 2011

From their reformed version and it just shows how nothing had been lost… A fantastic song.


2. Seán Báite - May 10, 2011

Missed your previous post on the GBs WBS and almost missed this one too. Very kind of you to dedicate the ‘This Weekend…’ slot to them for my XXst birthday 🙂 Also greatly enjoyed the Robert Forster write-up on his friendship with Grant adverted to in your previous post.
Never overtly political – but often tinged with feminism – like on ‘Clarke Sisters’ on that same compilation (clearly another slightly awkwardly constructed Forster song – bu a great one).


WorldbyStorm - May 10, 2011

Happy birtthday.

Re feminism, I like to think they were a feminis band.

Awkwardly constructed is a great way of putting it.


3. anarchaeologist - May 11, 2011

The best track on that compilation (imho of course) is a Robert-penned ditty ‘When people are Dead’, a song about two kids coping with the death of an uncle. A gorgeous tune (featuring one of those ostensibly simple one-note guitar breaks well beyond my humble abilities), the sleeve notes indicate the lyrics were written by Marion Stout, an Irish poet Robert met in London. Being fortunate enough to have a few beers with the great man several years ago, we asked him about the poet. Robert winked and suggested we look again at her surname! The song is frequently in my head these days as I attend an increasing number of family funerals and I hope it’s played at mine. Eventually. I can’t believe it’s five years since Grant died…


4. Seán Báite - May 13, 2011

He had to invent a fictional writer – were there not enough real female Irish poets knocking around London in the 80s ?? ‘Marry on stout’ and ‘Divorce on the hard stuff’ I suppose – takes me 2 decades and your prompt to see it. I like that track a lot too – but you’ve just shattered my illusion that it has some sort of Irish essence to it 😦 Reminds me of another great ‘wake’ song from the same time ‘Body of an American’ by Shano.
For those of us with humble guitar skills – there are a good few GB songs that work fine – have ye tried People Say, Karen or Lee Remick ??? The early funny three-chord ones ?


WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2011

Hmmm… I should get keyboard notation.


5. Seán Báite - May 14, 2011

A tribute band ?? The ‘Northside Go Betweens’… D’ye know any decent female drummers WBS ??


WorldbyStorm - May 14, 2011

Hmmm… great question…


6. chrisamies - November 22, 2011

There seems to be a rumour that Ms Stout was a metaphor, possibly for Guinness (and ‘Marian’ (sic) – Catholic too?). I can report that she was not – she turned up sometimes to poetry venues in London in the late 1980s and is apparently now a novelist though ‘not under her own name’. I always believed the lines “Shake off your despondency, and your country girl act. / You are reading me poetry, that’s Irish, and so black.” from “The House Jack Kerouac Built” referred to her.


WorldbyStorm - November 22, 2011

Hadn’t heard that before, but at this stage nothing about them surprises me! 🙂


7. Crocodile - November 22, 2011

Re previous TWIMBLTs: Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings at the Grand Canal last Thursday. Venue too big but packed. Rawlings and Richard Thompson in Dublin in one autumn – guitar nirvana.


WorldbyStorm - November 22, 2011

That sounds brilliant Croc.


8. And This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Jack Frost [Steve Kilbey of the Church and Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens] « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 24, 2011

[…] my mind was drawn back to Jack Frost, the joint solo project between Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens and Steve Kilbey of the Church. The two got together in 1990/1 and produced the first eponymous […]


9. nlgbbbblth - November 30, 2014

Great post. I was never happy with the sound quality of the double LP so purchased two different CD versions in subsequent years. The regular Beggars Banquet CD has 22 tracks [No room for Karen, The Wrong Road, 8 Pictures, The Sound Of Rain, A King In Mirrors, Mexican Postcard]. I also got hold of the Japanese double CD which has all 28 tracks and comes in a lovely chunky fatbox.


WorldbyStorm - December 1, 2014

Thanks a million for the lead re the Japanese double CD, much appreciated!


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