FLASHBACK: The Go-Betweens

Brisbane has never truly been accepted as a hive of cultural progression with the same enthusiasm as Australia’s other great cities, and this is particularly true when discussion turns to music. To me, this has always been perplexing: Brisbane has played home to some of Australia’s biggest indie game changers.

Don’t believe me? Well, first of all, you should be ashamed of yourself, naysayer. Second of all, I submit for your consideration THE GO-BETWEENS , one of the most important bands of the Eighties and Nineties at home and abroad. If you don’t recognise the name, rest assured that you’ll know their music.

Ok, so maybe – and that’s a pretty hefty ‘maybe’ – you didn’t know their music before, but I’ll bet you’re glad you do now. ‘Streets of Your Town’ was released in 1988, and I hope you’ll agree when I say, it wouldn’t have gone astray on last year’s Hottest 100 (and not merely because of the plethora of 80’s pop-rock that dominated the body of the Countdown). The wide reach of The Go-Betweens influence is clearly evident.

What made The Go-Betweens so exceptional, and continues to set their music apart to this day, is the sweet-and-sour coupling of lyrics designed to coax a genuine emotional response (quite often one of sadness or angst), masked by charming melodies. Listen to ‘Streets of Your Town’ enough and you’ll start to realise it’s not an ode to a beloved hometown, but a tale of rejection – an assertion that there is no worse place to be than “your town”, where the ills of society are glossed over or misconstrued and championed; an implication of longing and hope that there is some place better to run and be free.

Sound familiar? This sort juxtaposition has framed the success of any number of currently prominent bands. Admit it: the first time you listened to ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ by Foster the People, you didn’t know it was about a high school shooting either.

Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, the band’s two founding members, were accountable for the bands unique sound. Their work spawned a legacy that continues to benefit the music industry holistically – and with a wide reach, encompassing much of the US, UK and Australia – despite never achieving great commercial success or securing a Top 50 chart single. They left Brisbane – suspected to be the subject city of ‘Streets of Your Town’, though this was never quite confirmed – and travelled the world.

After six albums and countless successes, the band disbanded. They reformed in 2000, with a lineup featuring the two founding members and a handful of “new” talent, and released two new albums. However, when McLennan died of a heart attack in 2006, they once again disbanded. Triple J and JTV broadcasted a tribute concert at the Tivoli in Brisbane to commemorate the first anniversary of McLennan’s death and since, the band has seen a great resurgence, as tributes flowed in.

The Go-Betweens have been covered by innumerable bands, from Nada Surf to Belle and Sebastian, and their legacy will continue to live on. Most importantly, they were one of the first Brisbane bands to change the perception most of Australia holds of Brisbane – y’know, cultural wasteland and all that – and for that, if nothing else, I thank them.

The Go-Betweens have no official website, but a small collection of their songs can be found on Last.fm for those interested in discovering more about the band.

Words by Cheryl Billman


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