In our never-ending attempt to immortalise those classic Australian singles that touched our collective hearts, Webcuts shines a light on the Hoodoo Gurus and their tear-jerking ode to love gone astray “My Girl”.
It was in the pages of Countdown magazine around 1984 that I first recall seeing the Hoodoo Gurus, hanging out in the Land Beyond Beyond surrounded by comic books and looking like a ragged bunch of psychedelic hipsters. The significance of this (for me at the time) being a comic book store in Sydney I didn’t know about. I’d gone through the phone book (I had, comic book junkie I was), and I swear I’d found them all, but this one was tucked away down a nondescript corridor on George St, with only a sign above the doorway indicating something otherworldly lay ahead. I always loved that name – the Land Beyond Beyond. Beyond beyond? This I had to see, but for those who never made the journey, it was really just a mecca for B-grade movie freaks, full of rare sci-fi and horror flicks and movie ephemera, run by a gothic looking version of Pee Wee Herman.
The Hoodoo Gurus made their second appearance in my life with the video clip to their now-legendary fourth single “I Want You Back”. The band were playing in front of a blue screen, with animated plastic dinosaurs waving their limbs around, chewing up the paper trees while the band play out the song, each member having their own unique look. Guitarist Brad Shepherd played an orange Gretsch guitar and wore this cut sleeve C&W shirt, tight black jeans and dyed black hair. A little “note to self” was then planted inside my head which said ‘remember this when you start buying your own clothes”. Singer Dave Faulkner had the most absurd hair I’d ever seen on a man. It was as if he was sucked head-first out of the sixties and landed feet first in suburban Sydney. As the photo below attests, Hoodoo Gurus were the coolest fucking band in town bar none.
For the better part of a decade, and despite my mother’s repeated interjections, I was entirely couch bound from 9am to 12am on a Saturday morning watching a music show called “Sounds”. Not only was this part of my routine, but I religiously watched ALL music shows on television. Staying up till all hours of the night recording favourite bands/songs and then setting the video to record what I missed. Sound and vision. You might take that for granted these days, now that you can call up YouTube and get instant gratification, but the advent of music television was the shit. My radio went out the window. I had Sounds and Beatbox, Nightshift and Rock Arena, Eat Carpet and Rage and I was happy.
This is where I first heard “My Girl”. In an era of expensive video clips filmed on yachts with hot models, the clip for “My Girl” were entirely original. In a bit of inspired film-making, the focus of “My Girl” changed from being about some two-timing troublemaker to being about a champion greyhound called “My Girl” with singer Dave Faulkner as her trainer. The clip shows Dave taking My Girl for her morning walk through the backstreets of Glebe, down past the racetrack, letting her loose for a run around the park. You see the pennants she’s won for him. He gives her a kiss. You can feel the love between a man and his dog. The clip cuts back footage of the band playing inside a local inner city pub, they’re all decked out in paisley, Brad Shepherd looking like a goth Colonel Sanders with Nick Cave-esque “I’ve just been electrocuted” hairstyle. The picture then shifts back to the big night at the racecourse. My Girl is down on the tracks getting ready for the race. Dave has been to the bookie, made a few bets, and heads down by the track to watch the start. The dogs tear off around the track My Girl doesn’t win. Dave tears up his ticket, heartbroken. Much to the chagrin of the band, most people still think this song is about a dog.
The song itself has that classic 60s feel to it. The doo-wop bassline, the bittersweet “love and love lost” lyrics that sat so firmly on the fence of cliché that I always wondered whether there was some little tongue in cheek here. The Gurus weren’t exactly setting sail on a sea of high art, and on a debut album that featured death ships and kamikaze pilots, a simple sad love song wouldn’t seem too unlikely. The opening lines “Once a girl took my love until I couldn’t give anymore/and I tried to pretend not to see what I couldn’t ignore” can’t be faulted and basically sums up the essence of the song in two lines. The moment of confrontation, the “Who were you with? She said no-one” is something we’ve all heard (or had to endure) before. God, I’m sure I said it yesterday…
What else do I love about “My Girl” Brad Shepherd’s Dave Faulkner’s slick surf guitar solo that almost steals the show. The way the song builds up to a sudden stop and then slowly, sorrowfully winds down. Everything about “My Girl” fits together perfectly. There’s not one unnecessary word or a note out of place. If there was ever a song that announced “here was a band to take notice of” for sheer versatilities sake, it was this one. Twenty-odd years later and I still never tire of hearing this song.
Whilst interviewing Dave Faulkner about their recent UK tour, I managed to get him to say a few words about the secret history of “My Girl” and this is what he had to say.
We were on tour promoting our first single off that album which was “Tojo” and we couldn’t be there for the final mix, and the producer who was generally a great guy had this scheme to put on backing vocals and keyboards at the start, neither of which we knew about, and we got the final mix given to us when we were in a hotel in Adelaide and it was quite shocking to us and we still find it appalling. These horrible backing vocals that are done by a session singer in an American accent, and also that keyboard at the start which is some bad Oberheim synth or something. It was certainly a shock to us from where we were coming from. So that was amusing, and the record company wouldn’t let us take those off because it made it more commercial, and it probably did, but it appalled us.
It’s so mainstream AM radio sounding that if you flipped the sexes Olivia Newton-John could’ve had a hit with it.
(laughs) Well I wrote the song for a make-believe feature film/home movie I wanted to make called “Gidget Goes Ape”, and it’s all about Gidget meeting some hippy/merry prankster types and one of them slipped some acid to her and she wigged out and had altered consciousness and couldn’t be the same happy-go-lucky beach bunny again. I wrote that song for before the wigged-out change, she’d be hearing that on the radio, on a little transistor on the beach. It was basically my attempt at writing a classic 60’s pop song that might be overheard by Gidget.
When did you write the song?
I wrote that in Perth before the band had even formed, and it was a song I actually brought to the band fully formed.
Brad Shepherd’s solo there is one of my favourite…
That’s my solo…
(quelle embarrassment) It is? I had no idea. I thought the video clip had Brad playing it (again, completely wrong!).
No, it’s my solo. Brad plays rhythm. I haven’t got fast fingers but I like a melody and there’s a bit of a tune in that solo that sounds kinda cool.
There was a bit of a band upheaval in the beginning of the Gurus. Was Brad’s joining something of a catalyst for what the band became?
Basically we were three guitarists and a drummer. When one of the guitarists (Kimble) left, it was obvious then to just bite the bullet and get a bass guitar. We always said we wouldn’t as we didn’t want to have five people in the band as all three of us wanted to play guitar and didn’t want to change to bass. It was really a product of necessity rather than one of musical direction. When we were playing for a while, it was about a year or a little less, it was obvious we lacked something without a bass guitar to unify the drum kit with the rest of the sound. We thrashed but didn’t pummel. It was obvious we needed a bass, and we did that, and we rehearsed for a while and then second guitarist Rod Radalj got cold feet that we’d lose our cool-ness, so he left just before we were due to play a gig. We’d been rehearsing for a couple of months, even though he’d been saying how great it sounded and how he loved it. He suddenly did an about-face and was gone, and then we quickly replaced him and that’s when Clyde (Bramley, original bassist) was able to get in touch with Brad Shepherd. I’d seen him perform with Clyde in a band called Super K. I’d seen him in the Hitmen, but he was the rhythm guitarist and so I didn’t really pay much attention and it wasn’t my cup of tea anyway. When I saw him in Super K it completely turned my head around as far as what he was capable of. He sang and played guitar and all this melodic stuff. It was untapped potential as far as I could see, and obviously that has borne out by the career we’ve had. Brad joined in ’82 and that became what the band was meant to be at that moment.
Was “My Girl” part of the Stoneage Romeos sessions or did it come before?
We recorded the album in three separate sessions from memory. We did the single for “Tojo” and one or two tracks extra for that, and then we went out and toured and came back did some sessions for “My Girl” and extra tracks and went on tour again, and that was the “Tojo” tour and came back and “My Girl” was released and we did some more touring and then finished off the album, so it was recorded in bits and pieces in a funny way, and I liked that idea as well.
Did you have a lot of the songs written before you went into the studio?
The only one that was a new song on the album that we hadn’t played live was “I Want You Back” and I wrote that just before the sessions and I just thought that was a really good song. We tried it a couple of times in the studio and it just wasn’t gelling and it wasn’t until the end of the sessions that I said we had to start that one again, it’s not right. Finally I had a bit of a brainwave to the right drum feel and stuff and that pulled it all together. Everything was songs we’d been playing together, some as Le Hoodoo Gurus a year early, but “My Girl” obviously was something I’d written a long time before.
The video clip is something of a favourite of mine and I’m sure many others. Who’s idea was it to turn the song into a heartbreaker about a man and his dog?
That was only because we didn’t want to fit in with the 80’s prevailing thing about having supermodels gallivanting around drinking champagne a la Duran Duran. I talked to Kimble who was the film-maker, saying that I didn’t want to make it like that, acting out the story of the song would be boring, so he said make it about two dogs. My original scenario was to make it a love story about a greyhound and a stray, and the stray dog would see the greyhound in the electrics store window winning races and fall in love with this dog “My Girl”, and then of course he ended up palling up with some hobo and drinking meth out of the gutter and being taken off to the pound was the story I’d written for the video (laughs), but we didn’t have any budget for dog training or anything, so that got changed, so it basically became a story about a trainer and his dog and having the dog on a leash which was a lot easier.
I can’t imagine that its something you still play in your sets regularly?
Not regularly, but we do play it now and again. I was thinking about doing that tomorrow night actually. I had that thought today, so I probably will.
….and true to his word (and to my immense satisfaction), they did….