When most people think of Cold Chisel, they probably get an image of Barnesy shredding out the high octane vocals from his Scottish pipes, holding down the swagger and grit whilst fronting the band.
But there was a lot more to the band than Cheap Wine and Khe Sanh. Below the surface there was songwriting talent for days and musicianship of a seriously high caliber.
Don Walker was the head honcho and puppet master for much of Chisel’s output, with his piano chops and pop nous penning epic hits such as Flame Trees and Choir Girl. But throughout Cold Chisel’s career, Ian Moss, with his signature curly mullet and Stratocaster, emerged as a songsmith in his own right, holding court with one of the most iconic Australian bands ever.
Post-Chisel, Ian Moss came into his own, releasing successful solo albums and touring relentlessly, his love for performing and playing the guitar still apparent now in his solo shows.
Chisel have in their work the foundations of good songwriting, great hooks, amazing melodies and lyrics that are so evocative yet economical, I never really knew how much of an influence they were when I was a young songwriter and only in the last ten or so years have I been able to appreciate their place amongst the cream of Australian songwriters.
Ahead of Ian Moss’s upcoming free show at Rock Lily at The Star on ANZAC Day, Tuesday 25 April, here are a few of my favourite Mossey songwriting and performing moments.
Probably his best known Chisel song, Bow River takes its subject matter from Mossey’s youth in Alice Springs and the Northern Territory where he grew up before making the skip over the Nullarbor to Adelaide. His brother worked at Bow River Sheep station and the song evokes the atmosphere and feeling of the NT and the struggles of young men working in the isolation of the desert. Sonically, after opening with just piano and vocals, it screams with shredding guitar and the duelling lead vocals of Moss and Jimmy Barnes delivering a soulful yet tear-your-head-off chorus. Its bluesy, its pub rock, you can drunkenly dance to it, but like all of Cold Chisel’s best songs its got a narrative and story that makes it last longer than just a balls to the wall rock tune.
The first Moss penned tune to emerge on a Chisel album, Never Before popped up on East in 1980. It was also the first song that Triple J played when it switched to the FM dial. It is a sprawling, swampy song, revealing for the first time to Chisel fans Ian Moss’ love of the blues and soul. The music bubbles its way below Moss’ gravelly delivery before lifting to his signature falsetto. It adds some extra depth to the pop rock of East, with unison choir vocals, woos and claps, half time drums contrasting to the more straight up tunes that it sits amongst.
Georgia on My Mind
In 1983, Chisel called it quits after playing a bunch of sold out shows at the Sydney Entertainment centre. And for an encore, whilst Barnesy was probably sinking the rest of the Jack backstage, Don Walker accompanied Ian Moss on a rendition of the classic Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell song Georgia on My Mind. It was a beautiful way to finish the show, it showed off the fact that Ian Moss has a really soulful voice for a kid from Alice Springs and the guitar playing is just super tasteful.
Has that classic late 80’s groove, kinda white-guy-funk thing, but is a killer pop song – great crashing chords with really nice melodic guitar playing and the long phrases of the lyric work well to make it one of Moss’ best songs.
I think the fact that his initial solo work was made in the late 80s and early 90s gives it that fairly dated sound but seeing him live you can hear the timelessness of his songs with just him and his acoustic. Sometimes the best litmus test of a song is to see if it works with just guitar or piano and voice.
Such a Beautiful Thing
This one is a classic and shows how well Moss and Don Walker worked together. Walker wrote or co-wrote several of the songs for Matchbook, Moss’ debut solo album after Chisel imploded.
They had a long running working relationship at this point, thus Walker knew exactly where to put the melody to best showcase Mossey’s soprano pipes, telling the tale of reminiscing about his hometown and the trials of life in big bad Sydney- mining familiar territory for Walker- tales of Kings Cross and Sydney Harbour.
Tucker’s Daughter cemented Moss’ spot in the cannon of bonafide OZ Rock legends. It opens Matchbook with its bubbling intro before it gets into the groove of the verse then proceeds to smash its way into your head and into sing-alongs for years to come.
Another fictitious tale from Moss that gives a perspective on rural life; a tryst with the farmer’s daughter, the song again shows Moss and Walker’s skill at evoking pastoral Australian stories that connected with your average listener. Besides weaving a tale, the tune weaved it’s way into the the charts, hitting number 2 on the ARIA charts, and grabbed a swag of ARIA awards – cementing itself as an Aussie pop classic.