It’s not fashionable to like The Radiators.
I’m not sure if it ever was fashionable to like The Radiators.
But they are still touring some 30 years after they began.
The Radiators are an Australian icon. I hesitate saying “The Rads are an Aussie icon” for fear of sounding to parochial.
Formed in the late 1970s the Radiators were around in the heyday of Australian pub rock.
Wikipedia: “The Radiators were formed in Western Sydney in September 1978 as a pub rock band with Brendan Callinan on keyboards and vocals, Brian Nichol on lead vocals and guitar, Stephen "Fess" Parker on lead guitar, Chris Tagg on drums and Geoff Turner on bass guitar. Nichol and Parker grew up in Bega where they attended the local high school. They formed a local group, Undecided, and in 1969 they relocated to Sydney. Callinan, Nichol, Parker and Tagg were all ex-members of hard rockers, Big Swifty which had formed in 1975. Turner had been in Twister which had issued two singles in 1977 prior to disbanding. The Radiators signed with WEA Records and issued their debut single, "Comin’ Home" in September 1979. It peaked at No. 33 on the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart. A second single, "Gimme Head", appeared in February 1980. In March 1980 the group released their first album, Feel the Heat, which was produced by Charles Fisher (Radio Birdman, Ol’ 55). They supported the Australian leg of a tour by United Kingdom rock group, The Police”.
Unlike their pub rock contemporaries The Radiators didn’t envelop themselves in hard rock sounds but rather in the power pop sounds emerging at around the same time.
The pub rock and power pop genres seemed to attract quite a few kids from working class families. Perhaps that is a generalisation but it seems to be one with an element of truth. The Radiators, in that respect, were no different with members drawn from rural NSW, the western suburbs of Sydney as well as Ipswich in Queensland.
Their lyrical concerns were the same as those of others in the genre, regardless of country: girls, getting laid, infidelity, breaking up, girls, getting laid, infidelity, breaking up, girls, getting laid, infidelity, breaking up, girls, getting laid, infidelity, breaking up.
The Radiators though, by virtue of being Australian, had to be coarse, of course.
Where else could you release a single in the mainstream like “Gimme Head” ?
I knew all the words to that song as a teen. I still didn’t get any action though. To woo a girl I can guarantee you the best approach is not to walk up to them and say “gimme head”. Even altering the pitch of your voice to make the words more delicate, gentler and even dreamy doesn’t work. Clearly, girls don’t appreciate the type of romance (successfully, apparently) espoused by The Radiators.
Perhaps it’s these straight forward unambiguous lyrics coupled with straight ahead rock n roll that didn’t make them favourites with the tastemakers.
They were favourites with the punters though who made some of their albums go Australian Gold and Platinum.
And like many things of this ilk, whether the punters knew it or not, there is more than meets the eye. The lyrical obvious girl / boy concerns were underpinned with some genuine biting cynicism and some caustic observations on Australian culture.
The great Australian 70s band Skyhooks, who are not dissimilar, made an art out of the same. The Radiators didn’t have the same ambition but, nevertheless, snuck in their cynicism disguised as humour, and created quite a few winning tunes.
Those first three albums and one mini LP (“You Have the Right to Remain Silent” – every kid, including this one, had a copy of that mini LP) hold a multitude of minor treasures.
This is their fourth album.
What the fuck happened?
The Radiators have changed their sound and gone a little new wave. Hey, I like it when bands shake it up and try something different but here the new clothes just don’t fit.
The lyrics are still sharp and have something to say but the rock punch is gone replaced by a new wave drone. Fuck, there are even Byrds like harmonies and Celtic sounds, which I have nothing against, but this is the Radiators! These sounds don’t fit any more than if Chuck Berry was in “Flock of Seagulls”
The Radiators must have felt they needed to go somewhere but this attempt at “sophistication” is like bringing a flagon of wine to a champagne party.
They may have felt limited before but at least it worked.
Maybe they were looking to expand their audience?
What a misstep.
I’m not sure how their follow albums turned out as they rarely charted but I have a few in the pile behind me which I have yet to listen to, so … beware.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Life’s A Gamble – For a title track the song is quite subdued and un-Radiators like. Well up till that point. It is nicely melodic though. The title says it all …..quite catchy.
- I’d Die For You – if this was recorded by and English band it would be a new wave ballad. .
- Suddenly We’re Strangers – another new wave styled number ….undistinguished.
- Getting Away From It All – lame.
- A Bit Of Pain Never Hurts – a Celtic feel without any Celtic sound on this one.
- Let’s Do It Again – please, don’t. This is not unlike the harder, louder songs The Kinks were doing at the same time. And it wasn’t good for them either.
- Hollywood (The Love You Steal) -duff
- Night Slave -slow, supposedly intense and brooding
- Scratch It Off – dear lord
- Scream Of The Real -silly but catchy.
- Rock And Roll Carnivore -hmmmmm. Dodgy.
I love The Radiators so for the sake of the collection…. I’m keeping it.
1985 Life’s A Gamble #47
1984 Top 100 #47
Life’s A Gamble
and MP3 attached
A Bit Of Pain Never Hurts
a bunch of 50 something year olds singing "Gimme Head".
– I finally got to see them in 2011 at the Caxton Street Seafood Festival in Paddington, Brisbane, of all places. They were old. But they certainly weren’t tired.