Saturday, May 31, 2014

NZMM Day 31 – Dave Dobbyn

In the first post in this series, I called Dave Dobbyn “a music icon”. When I posted one of his songs in the second post, I said “I’ve often said that if modern New Zealand had a musical soundtrack, I reckon Dave Dobbyn’s music would be a major part of it.” All of which makes him the obvious choice for the final post in this series.

Dobbyn has been part of the New Zealand music scene since he was part of rock band Th’Dudes (1975-80) as guitarist. He went on to write and perform some of the most iconic pop music of the past 35+ years.

Dobbyn and guys from his high school formed Th’Dudes not long after they were out, but he suffered so badly from stage fright that he used to stand in the back and close his eyes while playing. However, by 1978, Dobbyn took to the front as lead vocalist on their single “Be Mine Tonight” (above). The song peaked at Number 36. The album it was on, Right First Time, reached Number 17. The song won Single of the Year, and Th’Dudes won Group of the Year, at the 1979 New Zealand Music Awards. It was just the start: So far, Dobbyn has won 22 Awards.

Th’Dudes broke up in 1980, just before the release of their second studio album, Where Are The Boys, which didn’t chart. That album had their single “Bliss” (below), which turned out to the their biggest chart success, reaching 25. Dobbyn played guitar on that one (and co-wrote it), but wasn’t the lead singer. The song was written as a satirical take on the drunken audiences the band had played in front of, and, ironically, went on to become an iconic NZ drinking song. Still, this also means that the song was far more popular than chart positions would suggest.

After the breakup of Th’Dudes, Dobbyn went on to form pop/rock band DD Smash. They released three albums: Cool Bananas (1982) hit Number One and was 3x Gold; Live: Deep in the Heart of Taxes (1983) reached 11; The Optimist was also Number One.

The band had eight singles, the highest charting of which was “Outlook for Thursday” (below) which wasn’t on a studio album, though it was on their live album. The song reached Number 3.

DD Smash broke up in the mid-1980s, as Dobbyn started doing more solo work, including work on the soundtrack for the animated movie, Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale. His song “Slice of Heaven” which he recorded with Herbs (the video is part of my Herbs post), went to Number One in New Zealand and Australia.

Dobbyn’s next single, also from Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale soundtrack, was “You Oughta Be In Love” (below), which featured Ardijah, one of the many NZ groups that didn’t get a post in this series. The song reached Number 2 on the NZ chart and Number 63 in Australia. I always thought it was a sweet song, and a good pop song.

It’s extremely difficult to choose what other songs among Dobbyn’s 25 singles (so far) to feature. I can’t limit it to only Top Ten singles—he’s had seven of them (two of which I shared earlier in this series)— because not all of my favourite Dobbyn songs were Top Ten.

Like “Loyal”, for example (below). The 1988 song reached Number 19 in New Zealand (and 70 in Australia), and was from his album of the same name, his first solo studio album (it reached Number 9). I liked the video as much as the song. The song took on a new life in the 1990s when it became a rallying song for supporting Team New Zealand in the Americas Cup yacht racing in Auckland. At the time, a black Team Zealand flag used the Team's silver fern logo and had one large word as part of the design: "LOYAL".

1994’s “Language” (below) has always been one of my favourite Dobbyn songs. It reached Number 4 in New Zealand, and the album it was from, Twist, reached Number 8. Neil Finn, who'd attended the same high school as Dobbyn, worked with him on the record, and Dobbyn himself has commented on how important Finn was to the album's sound. To me, it’s a pretty perfect pop song: Meaningful lyrics, strong hook, totally sing-alongable (when no one else can hear, in my case…) and with a well-made, relevant video.

In addition to the 25 solo singles, Dobbyn has so far released eight studio albums, all but one of which was Top Ten. He’s also released three compilation albums and one live album. In 1995, he was one of first performers in the world to attempt an international simulcast over the Internet. He’s been busy.

In 2001 the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) awarded Dobbyn a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the 2001 New Zealand Music Awards.

Of all of Dobbyn’s music, the one song that stands out as my favourite is “Welcome Home”, which is the real reason it got its own post. I said it was “a song that spoke to me personally probably more than any other pop song in my life” because it was about welcoming immigrants like me. There have been very few songs that I’ve felt connected to in that way.

All good pop music will make us feel something, even if it’s just happy and having fun. This series has been about highlighting some of the New Zealand music that’s done that for me, or others. I wanted to show some of the breadth and variety of New Zealand music, and to give readers a chance to discover some music they might not have otherwise.

I’ve discovered a lot, too, ranging from performers and groups I wasn’t aware of, to songs I hadn’t heard or facts about artists that I hadn’t known before: I learned a lot from doing this series. I also had many pleasant memories rekindled, and some new ones made.

But this series was also a bit of a mission: Blogging every day for a month on a single theme is hard enough, but that also meant a lot of research, all with time pressures. It was also surprisingly difficult to choose what to include, so I missed a lot of fantastic acts and songs. I suppose I could always do an occasional “Weekend Diversion” post to share some of the others.

I won’t be doing this again next year. In fact, I only did it this year on a whim: If I’d planned it, I’d have organised it better. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it to the end without giving up. I’m glad I made it.

This blog has always been about many things, but its core subject area from the beginning has been my take on life in New Zealand as well as sharing some things about it that are significant for me. This series of posts has really been about all that, too. Mainly, I wanted to help people get to know and understand New Zealand a little more. I hope I succeeded.

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