Underrated Classics: Paul Kelly (Pt. 1)

Paul Kelly & The Coloured Girls - Gossip

Each week in Underrated Classics, Cory Clifford digs deeper into the annals of music history to recommend essential unsung acts that have yet to even find a sustained cult appeal.

Out of all of the countries in the world where English is the primary language, for some reason, Australia seems to be overlooked the most in many facets of art. In music specifically, Australia has seen just as many brilliant and legendary musicians as America, Canada, and/or the United Kingdom. Yet even with the popularity of certain acts such as AC/DC, Nick Cave, and Kylie Minogue, Australian bands tend to get a cold-shoulder from North American and British audiences. But there’s one artist – one musician who Australians hold in the highest regard – who has the post-modern bluegrass approach of Billy Bragg, the stammering working-class poetry of Bruce Springsteen, and the pub-rock stylings of Graham Parker, that is largely unknown elsewhere. His name is Paul Kelly, and the album we’ll be covering over the next two weeks is his terrific double-album with his former backing-band The Coloured Girls, entitled Gossip.

Gossip, released in 1986, was the fourth album from Paul Kelly. Much like Bruce Springsteen’s The River, it’s an album that stylistically can be categorized in Paul Kelly character, yet it wears a certain badge of eclecticity and pop prose. The album, also similarly to “The Boss,” wears the streets, names, and life of Paul Kelly’s hometown of Adelaide honorably (something Springsteen is notable for). The album opens with the bluesy train-riding track “Last Train To Heaven.” A repeat of “This is the very last train, this the train I’m on,” and “People get ready, people get moving, people get rolling, people get on it,” show a confident, young Paul Kelly encouraging people to get ready for the terrific double album, that eventually would hand him a world of home-country acclaim.

Next we have the terrifically jangly track filled with Australian Rules Football-references, “Leaps and Bounds.” The song’s a very joyous affair, that shows implications of Paul Kelly on an amazing high and falling in love with the city he wrote most of Gossip in, Melbourne. The poetic upbeatness continues with “Before The Old Man Died.” But where the previous song celebrates city life, this track entertains the fact of the miserable life Paul might have had growing up under his father’s rule. “For the way he ruined our mother/Not enough blood can run/We had plans me and my brother/Every day I cleaned the gun/Before the old man died/before we came alive,” show signs of a difficult family life growing up, but a dark-humored sense of being better off once their “old man” has passed.

“Down On My Speedway” follows, and it’s a stadium-rocker. It’s filled with salacious metaphorical racing imagery in place of sexuality and dating in likes like “C’mon and tangle down deep in my wires,” and “There’s something smoking must be fire/Down on my speedway.” Following, we have the country blues track “White Train,” a song that similarly to “Before The Old Man Died” creates an upbeat atmosphere behind a story of sorrow and difficulty. “White Train” uses death and injury in place of relationship turmoil, by way of lines like “Some will swill and some will sip/Some just find a place where they don’t slip/Others take a trip/On a white train.” Next we have the beautiful love instance of “Randwick Bells.” The song tells of a “bride and groom” on a honeymoon vacation in the Sydney suburb of Randwick. The sexy bell-like synths and saxophone, create a mellowed atmosphere of two young lovers waking in the middle of the day, and Paul telling his bride “Put a blanket on the window and come on back to bed.”

“Before Too Long” follows, which tells a tale of a needing for love, in which Paul declares “Before too long/we’ll be together/and no one will tear us apart/before too long the words will be spoken/I know all the action by heart.” The song’s a very fun “wanting-what-you-don’t-have” type of love song, and uses that formula incredibly well. Following we have the upbeat ode to/critique of Paul’s hometown – “Adelaide.” The first verse immediately showcases his birth with lines like “Kensington Road runs straight for a while before turning/We lived on the bend it was there I was raised and fed.” Then the second verse shows the tribulations of his father’s death with “Dad’s hands used to shake but I never knew he was dying/I was thirteen I never dreamed he could fall.” The final chorus has Paul declaring “All the king’s horses/all the king’s men/wouldn’t drag me back again,” before a repeating fade of “Adelaide.”

“I Won’t Be Torn Apart” is next, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek, upbeat affair of Paul Kelly listing the various things he’d be willing to go through without being torn apart. Just a few years after the divorce of Paul’s first marriage, the song mirrors the difficulties of him simply wanting better love. Paul revisits built-up angst for his father with “Going About My Father’s Business,” in which he finds resolution in the final verse with “Someday when we sign the treaty I’ll be home/War is long and lasts for ever and I’m your own.”

Following we have the somber and heartbroken “Somebody’s Forgetting Somebody,” in which Paul visualizes and tortures himself through the memory of his former love in a drunken country-haze. He makes a reference to the honeymoon of “Randwick Bells” in the bridge with “And every time I hear those bells/I think I’m done for/And every time they cast their spell/I think I’m done for/Nowhere to run for.” Lastly, we have Paul’s encounters with his former loves and their new beauxs, in which Paul jokingly and relatably announces “I never know what to say, when I meet ‘em.” The song features plenty of “been-there” situations of the awkwardness in such a situation.

Check out part two of Cory’s ode to Paul Kelly next Monday!