Today marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Go-Betweens co-founder Grant McLennan at the age of 48. On May 6th 2006, preparing for a party at his home in Brisbane, Grant complained of feeling unwell and went upstairs for a rest; he died in his room shortly afterwards from a heart attack.
Grant was one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation and one of my all-time musical heroes, so I think it only right that I use this blog to commemorate him and remind people of what an exceptional talent we lost on that shitty day five years ago, with some of his greatest should-have-been hits.
First up, the video to Streets of Your Town from 1988's (at the time) valedictory Go-Betweens album 16 Lovers' Lane. This was the song that first introduced me to the band (I was typically late to the party) and to this day it remains one of my desert island discs; a perfect, wistful three-minute pop song. If the streets of your town matched the beauty of this song, you'd never leave.
From the same album, Grant also takes the lead on the rumbustious Was There Anything I Could Do? This and Streets sold a combined total of about twelve copies in the UK, despite being two of the singles of the decade. (I wonder about the music-buying public sometimes, I really do.) Wonderful song and video. How much fun are they having in this?!
Although Streets is my absolute favourite, many people's top Go-Betweens song would be 1983's Cattle & Cane, which, it has to be said, is absolutely fantastic also. As a child, Grant's family spent some time living on a cattle station in north Queensland so the lyrics to this song are, you won't be surprised to learn, largely autobiographical.
Of course, the Go-Betweens were as much about Robert Forster as they were Grant. In fact it was Forster who first encouraged McLennan to learn bass guitar and join him in forming the band. On their early songs, Robert was taking lead songwriting and vocal duties, but Grant gradually developed his own style and the two of them soon became equals. And, as time went on, more & more of the band's singles were being composed and sung mainly by Grant - his McCartney-esque ear for a pop hook obviously being deemed as the way forward to chart success (the best-laid plans & all). But the standard of Robert's songwriting never dipped either, as illustrated perfectly by 1986's Spring Rain.
And another Forster favourite - Head Full of Steam. Excellent song but the video is most memorable for Grant in drag as a blonde bombshell!
The above songs are all from 1990's Video Singles which I remember being a bugger to get hold of at the time - I think I eventually tracked down a copy in the classified pages of Record Collector - but which can now be bought relatively inexpensively from Amazon. Isn't the future amazing?
One song that, oddly, didn't appear on Video Singles was '84's Bachelor Kisses, so I'd never actually seen the promo before today. The song's long been a favourite, though, and what a treat it is to see a young Grant sans hat, sans long blonde bombshell wig and with what appears to be a full head of hair! (Also, Robert Vickers, who took over bass duties when Grant graduated to lead guitar, looks about 12 in this clip.)
After the split at the end of the eighties, both principles went solo & both released some cracking albums in their own right. My favourite of Grant's is his debut, 1991's Watershed. It contains songs like Easy Come Easy Go which showcase a performer at the peak of his powers. Writing one song this good would be way beyond most of us; Grant seemed to be able to conjure them up at will.
If you've never seriously investigated the work of the Go-Betweens or the solo output of Forster & McLennan can I suggest that now might be the time to start? If you're reading this blog and you generally like the sort of stuff we post, then I can pretty much guarantee you won't be sorry. Go on - you know it makes sense!
Anyway, one more for the road. When the band eventually reformed at the start of the new millenium it was, typically, to widespread critical, if not commercial, acclaim. Here they are performing Going Blind on Later... with Jools Holland in 2000.
Grant McLennan 1958-2006. Gone, but not forgotten.
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