I was in middle school and had finally been promoted to having my own bedroom when I went through a period of a couple of years when I would fall asleep with the radio on. Flint, Michigan had a lot of great radio stations in the late 1980s for any and every taste, with a few formats overlapping each other. With the acquisition of my very first radio and cassette deck for Christmas 1984, I had initially gravitated toward urban contemporary station 92.7 FM WDZZ (which is still excellent to this day), though not exclusively.
My older brother was into a lot of rock, new wave, alternative, and New Romantic, and with him being one of my childhood idols, I grew up liking (or learning to like) a lot of the music and sounds he was listening to at the time. By the time I hit seventh grade, a new school meant a lot of unfamiliar people and different sources of influence, so I had started also tuning the dial to more mainstream pop, dance, and rock like Def Leppard that used to play on stations like 102.5 FM WIOG and 105.5 WWCK. That band’s Hysteria album is pretty much the radio soundtrack for something like an entire two-year stretch of my life, and any of the singles released from that album take me right back.
Many of us can agree that adolescence is universally awkward for most people. As I was still trying to get my social “sea legs” outside the former, comfortable confines of my somewhat sheltered, gifted elementary school, I struggled for a time to make new friends, which did ultimately happen. In the meantime, my radio that was perched on the bookcase that served as my headboard kept me company at night, playing softly in the background, maybe even providing the soundtrack to some of my dreams. I came to think of some of those musicians as my friends. I remember the optimism in those days of feeling like one day, my life would actually be cool, and so would I. As Evelyn “Champagne” King had sung roughly ten years earlier, like her, I was also very much in love with my music box.
It was around this time that I remember a band called Icehouse getting rotation on many of the local stations. This was at what I would consider the tail end of the new wave movement, and their sound seemed like a natural evolution of the kind of synth-based rock that used to come from the speakers in the living room, thanks to my brother. At the time, I thought they were a new band, but later found out they had been recording since 1980. Their first hit that I could remember, “Crazy” from ’87, resonated with a kid with low self-esteem, with lyrics that included lines like, “Well, you’ve got to be crazy, baby, to want a guy like me”. The overall tone of the song, though, was a hopeful one, signifying that even geeks like Joe Dennis had a chance.
Icehouse’s second hit from their Man Of Colours album, “Electric Blue”, reached No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and was also their only top-ten hit on that chart. Also their only chart-topper in their native Australia, it was co-written by Icehouse frontman Iva Davies and John Oates. Hall & Oates is another band that will forever and unapologetically have my devotion to their greatness. (Try to ignore that Mr. Davies, as he appears in this video, looks a little bit like he wants to sell you a Gazelle fitness machine.)
The United States has long seemed to have a fascination with and harmless crush on all things Australia, but this doesn’t seem to have been more apparent than in the ’80s. Without delving into any kind of comprehensive list of examples from that decade, off the top of my head, I can think of fellow Australian band Men At Work, actor Paul Hogan and the Crocodile Dundee movie franchise, singer and actress Olivia Newton-John (and her Koala Blue chain of Australian imports), Aussie brand shampoo, Outback Steakhouse, and let us not forget actor / director Yahoo Serious. This is not unlike U.S. culture and kitsch being of interest in other countries, citing the popularity of “yacht rock” in Japan as just one example of many. It seemed to me, however, that the longevity of the stateside popularity of many Australian-sourced or themed things seemed to last for only so long into the ’90s and beyond.
Curbside has yet to comprehensively cover the final, 2004-’06 iteration of the Pontiac GTO, which was based the third-generation Australian Holden Monaro. I’m not the man for that job, though I did find and write up this one a while back. I’ll simply reiterate that I liked and respected it, and then was shocked and saddened when it was given the heave-ho after three brief model years in the United States. The official name for the color of this example’s finish is “Impulse Blue Metallic”, though “Electric Blue” a la the Icehouse song might also have worked, as this magnetic hue seemed perfectly suited to such a potent machine.
Icehouse would crack the Billboard Hot 100 main chart only a couple more times in the late ’80s, with a No. 88 placing for “My Obsession” in 1987 and at No. 84 with “Touch The Fire in ’89, though their success would continue in Australia. I don’t remember either of those other songs, probably like many adults born in the U.S. around the time of their release might be challenged to distinguish our final GTO from a latter-day Grand Prix or a big Cavalier. I considered it fortuitous to have come across this beautifully kept example on a particularly nice arvo.
On my knees
Help me, baby
Tell me, what can I do?
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, April 17, 2021.