Sunday, May 18, 2014
NO discussion of New Zealand music could be complete without mentioning Split Enz. They’re also the most difficult because they had distinctly different eras.
The band formed was in 1972 by Phil Judd and Tim Finn. Tim’s younger brother, Neil, joined them around 1977. In the early days, the band was all over the map stylistically, including art rock and punk, as well as vaudeville, among many others. By 1977, with the arrival of Neil, the band’s sound began to shift more toward New Wave and pop.
The video above is “I Got You”, the band’s first single from their 1980 album, True Colours. The song went to Number One in New Zealand and Australia, 13 in Canada, 12 in the UK—but only 53 in the USA. To me, that’s really quite funny, because I knew this song back then and really liked it. I remember seeing True Colours in a record store, though I didn’t buy it, and I saw the video on TV. I also remember fancying Neil Finn (he’s a few months older than me, and at the time we would have been 20 or 21).
The album went to Number One in New Zealand and Australia, Number 10 in Canada, Number 38 in the UK and Number 40 in the USA. Prior to this, their highest charting song was 1977’s “My Mistake” from the album Dizrythmia. That song peaked at 21 in NZ (and 15 in Australia). That album, however, went to Number 3 in NZ (and 18 in Australia).
The other pre-1980 charted single was “I See Red” from the album Frenzy, which was only released in New Zealand and Australia. The song only hit 43 in NZ and 18 in Australia, and the album was 13 in New Zealand and 24 in Australia.
Both songs give an idea of what the band was like before 1980, so here they are:
The video for 1981’s “History Never Repeats” (below), from the album Waiata (called Corroboree in Australia), had many visual references to the previous version of Split Enz, and seemed to be implying people should move on from expecting that. The song reached Number 5 in New Zealand, 4 in Australia and 63 in the UK. The album was Number One in both New Zealand and Australia and Number 45 in the USA.
The band released two more albums, Time and Tide (1982) and Conflicting Emotions (1983). They took a break between the two and when they came back to record Conflicting Emotions, Tim Finn had had enough, and left when it was finished. This left Neil as leader of the group, which now also included Paul Hester, who would be the drummer in Neil’s later group, Crowded House.
Time and Tide hit Number One in New Zealand and Australia and Number 17 in Canada. The album did less well in the UK (#71), partly because of controversy over the single “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” (WATCH: I couldn’t find a decent copy, and, anyway, I’ve rather a lot of videos in this post), which some in the UK thought referenced the Falklands war (it didn’t and, in fact, was recorded before the war). That song reached Number 7 in New Zealand and Canada, and Number 2 in Australia, but only 83 in the UK.
The final Split Enz album was See Ya Round (1984), a title which many interpreted as a farewell album. It reached Number 5 in New Zealand, but only 29 in Australia, the first time in 15 years that a Split Enz album didn’t make the top 20 in that country (all their albums were Top 20 in New Zealand).
Their final charted single was “I Walk Away” (below), which reached Number 13 in New Zealand and 45 in Australia. Their final single was “One Mouth Is Fed”, but it didn’t chart in either New Zealand or Australia. Maybe that's just as well: If See Ya Round is a fitting name for final album, then “I Walk Away” is a good name for a final single.
Split Enz was an important band in New Zealand’s music history. The principle members continued careers in music, with Neil Finn’s Crowded House being the biggest success post-Enz. But that’s a story for another day.