Let’s All Turn Back: Stoneage Romeos at 35
On the ragged endurance of that classic first Hoodoo Gurus LP
While it’s one of the best debut albums of the 1980s, Stoneage Romeos was aided by the fact that the Hoodoo Gurus had already honed their hooks in some of the best Australian punk bands of the original era.
From 1978-79, singer Dave Faulkner had pumped out a number of great songs as singer/guitarist for the Victims, not the least of which, “Television Addict,” was a defining statement of the defiantly bored state of the Australian punk teen, circa 1977. Guitarist Brad Shepherd added his own great cranky crunchers to the canon with his short-lived 1980 band, Fun Things.
Despite their brief lives (Fun Things having only played like three shows), and tucked away in faraway Perth and notoriously conservative Brisbane, respectively, those bands nonetheless were instrumental in creating the unique and influential sound of Australian punk rock – savagely raw riffs, brawny drumming, trashy production and a sense of humor often lacking in their non-Bowery punk counterparts around the globe. So the combination of Faulkner and Shepherd was almost destined for garage glory.
Hoodoo Gurus formed in 1981 in Sydney, Faulker and Shepherd nabbing rhythm roughneck, bassist Clyde Bramley and drummer James Baker. Australia’s infamous distance from the usual pop culture centers had its frustrations: it’s expensive for international bands to get there to tour, hence they usually don’t; the few big cities, so far scattered, had few venues amenable to new sounds anyway, so touring wasn’t any easier for the locals; and even if you could garner some attention, it was going to be a while before anyone was going to notice outside your scene. Burgeoning big names like the Saints, Radio Birdman, the Scientists and the Birthday Party took to traveling or even moving to the UK to garner some ink and label deals.
Though in that particular seclusion laid some advantages. Aussie bands were not beholden to the quick genre definitions or press trend-trashing that soon sunk British punk; and, aside from AC/DC’s success (they were actually tagged as part of the “new wave” by many early on), there were zero expectations of chart action, hence no failure feelings (at first) of the kind that caused desperate in-band consternation or questionable production choices that dragged down some of the original punk bands.
That said, the Hoodoo Gurus arrived with a well-formed idea of where they wanted to go. The album’s title is perfect. Here were some punk cavemen ready to show off their poppier sides. After all, the members grew up under the massive Aussie influence of the Easybeats and their chiming hooks, but also gnarlier garage greats like the Missing Links; all before the quick, Stooges-like effect of Radio Birdman on the Down Under underground.
VIDEO: Hoodoo Gurus play “I Want You Back” 1984
And unlike the sometimes lag in trends down there, Hoodoo Gurus were right on top of the retro ‘60s scene that was happening by the mid-80s, as hardcore punk’s macho moves were turning some off. Unlike the psych-garage scenes in NYC and L.A. that were often slavish in their homage, the Gurus came sporting huge ‘80s hair and bright production that had no fears of meeting their decade head-on, without losing their ragged roots. Note the near-perfect paisley shirts and pointy boots – not to mention cool-ass guitars – these guys were able to find, far aflung from hep U.S. vintage shops.
And so Stoneage Romeos came stomping, like that great cover art (oddly re-designed for the U.S. release on A&M) – a re-invigorated, day-glo dinosaur ready to dance with the girls only partially backing away. Crunchy garage rock riffs get jangled here and there, only a hint of that often irksome “eighties drum sound” pops things up, expert surf licks slice through, while all the while, Faulkner’s vocal winks batter through every song. From exotic island references to house party chants, he could croon a swoon out of the middle of a mini-epic like “Tojo,” desperately pine for a lost love (“I Want You Back”), or snicker-swagger through the great “I Was a Kamikaze Pilot” (“They gave me a plane, I couldn’t fly it.”). Every song is joy.
VIDEO: Hoodoo Gurus perform “Death Trip” circa 1984
Their country’s consistent respect for raw rock through to their always self-effacing sense of humor, meant instead of remaining a college radio staple, as in the States, the Hoodoo Gurus soon became a classic pop act themselves Down Under. It didn’t hurt that they followed up Stoneage Romeos with three equally fun albums, a string of consistency – on a major label no less – unmatched by any garage pop-leaning band of the era. Aside from a brief rest in the early aughts, the core of Faulkner/Shepherd have juggled lineups, solid albums, and a sizable Aussie following to this day.
Quick story: The band played the U.S. for the first time in a while back in 2010, and from the get-go, my drunk pal and I kept half-snarkily yelling for “Television Addict.” Finally, only about three songs in, Faulkner goes, “Oh man, I don’t think we’d remember that one,” looks over at Brad for a sec, and they kick right into a furious version of it! Our eyes went wider than the Outback, and they followed that up with a great slew of Gurus classics. I’ve never uttered the cliché “They still got it” with such conviction. I want them back!
VIDEO: Hoodoo Gurus at the Bell House
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