NB: This post has remained unedited since its initial submission in content to my university as part of my undergraduate program. Changes have been made to paragraph spacing and this post now includes links to media.
In 1977 in Sydney, New South Wales the Australian rock band INXS was formed (INXS). Throughout their musical career, INXS would receive six Australian Recording Industry Association awards, be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, and sell over 80 million albums worldwide (INXS). They have become known as one of Australia’s highest- selling musical acts of all time (INXS). Their song, Never Tear Us Apart, was released in 1988 as the fourth single on their sixth studio album, Kick, and peaked on the Australian ARIA charts at number 14 (INXS; ARIA).
Since its release, Never Tear Us Apart has featured in cultural media and moments as the titular name for INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, a two-part Australian miniseries about the band which received 2.243 million national rating audience, and influenced in the week after airing, a resurgence on the ARIA charts for INXS’s albums and the single Never Tear Us Apart which reached number 11 (INXS; Moran 10).
Additionally, after lead singer Michael Hutchence’s death in 1997, his coffin was carried out by the remaining members of the band and his younger brother to the song Never Tear Us Apart (Morgan 10). The song has also been named in January 2018 as part of Triple M’s “Ozzet 100” and in 2021 was listed in Rolling Stone’s “Top 500 Best Songs of All Time” (INXS; Aria; Breihan 1). Never Tear Us Apart can be argued to epitomise the idea that Australian music is found and shared in pubs as the song is still beloved by Australians today and a fan-favourite for pub karaoke, and pubs evoke the sense of nostalgia of watching Hutchence perform (Gallan & Gibson 174-175; Bennet & Rogers 501; Young 2).
Tom Breihan summarises, “To my mind, and for my purposes, there has never been a better karaoke song than “Need You Tonight,” the sole Hot 100 chart-topper from the Australian band INXS. “Need You Tonight” is a great song, but it’s not a complicated one, and it does not require a rocket launcher of a voice” (1).
Skinner argues that an Australian song is recognisably Australian in some way (Skinner 289). Skinner states that Australian music is usually considered to be male singers and/or bands that are also songwriters and perform mostly songs that fall into the rock genre (Skinner 290). One way in which Australian music is distinctive is because Gallan and Gibson explain that Australian live music is a “history of pubs” (174).
From the 1950s onwards, pubs and clubs played a major role in Australian music and culture by providing a creative space for musical performance and exposure, featuring genres such as rock, punk, pop, alternative, and more (Gallan & Gibson 174-175). Therefore, pubs gave a physical space for belonging and musical appreciation, and participation (Gallan & Gibson 176). People would remember bands, songs, drinking, and their friends to create an emotional space of music that cemented itself as an essential Australian music cultural asset such as INXS (Gallan & Gibson 176).
This physical space and emotive memory are important in Australian music culture because, “Music, in all its forms, has the potential to contribute social, financial and artistic capital to a community” (McCarthy 1). The appeal of Australian music is drawn from its emotive, participatory, and authentic nature (McCarthy 1-16).
Therefore, pubs are, “significant in this are the ways in which collective memories become textured by particular venues and how memory works to forge strong collective associations between former audiences” (Bennet & Rogers 490). The memory of these venues forms an important aspect of the Australian music cultural heritage in contemporary society today (Bennet & Rogers 490). Bennet and Rogers summarise this:
“Popular music has long been understood as a primary driver for the construction of sociocultural identity in a late modern cultural context… This understanding of popular music also extends to the local context where it is seen to mesh with other aspects of local culture, such as local dialect and the vernacular tradition in the production of rich and highly nuanced perceptions of space and place” (494).
Bennet and Rogers suggest that the relationship between popular music and cultural memory suggests that local aspects of popular music production and consumption are firmly rooted in the way that people remember the music – and use such memories as a means of articulating and justifying music’s ongoing significant in our daily lives (Bennet & Rogers 494-496).
“In this sense, there is a highly palpable connection between the significance of music and what is now commonly referred to as ‘emotional geography.’ Thus, along with other aspects of everyday taste, aesthetics and lifestyle, music and the way it is experienced become an important means through which individuals form an emotive attachment to local spaces. To put this another way, music becomes one of a series of interrelated signature experiences through which individuals understand themselves as social beings grounded in space and place” (Bennet & Rogers 494-496).
Therefore, they explain that musical spaces such as pubs act as an important “barometer” for people to root their music and daily lives via their involvement in the music in their space (Bennet & Rogers 494). The pub is used as a place for collective sharing and celebration of music and nostalgic memory and shows the importance of Australian bands such as INXS’ songs being fan-favourites in pubs (Bennet & Rogers 501).
It is a fan-favourite because the song is not musically complex and does not require vocal talent (Breihan 1). Instead, one can get away with ‘singing’ the song by whispering the lyrics even if they’re nervous to perform because it “is a song driven by nervousness” (Breihan 1). All that is required to sing the song is a semblance of a sense of rhythm (Breihan 1). In fact, to highlight its lack of musical complexity, Breihan explains that the song was composed over one night (11).
INXS guitarist Farris thought of a riff while waiting for a cab to the airport, and ran back into his house to record the riff over a drum-machine beat he’d already laid down previously. Farris then gave Hutchence the tape when he landed, and Hutchence wrote the lyrics in a link and said it took him about 10 minutes to come up with most of them (Breihan 12).
It was said to be recorded in one sitting (Breihan 12). However, the riff in particular and the song remain a fan-favourite in Australian music to this day because of its ability to be sung and that is musically not complex, but still “is a marvel” (Breihan 12). Breihan argues that:
“The entire track is a marvel, an itchy-scratchy little throb that pushes you in all sorts of different directions. Farriss’ riff is pretty close to the one that Queen used on their own Chic-inspired quasi-funk smash “Another One Bites The Dust” eight years.
The track is spacey and mechanical, but it’s also fluid. Everything clicks into place with everything else: the bone-simple riff, the slow-roll bassline, the rubbery rhythm-guitar line, the shivery ahh of the keyboard. The band kept the drum-machine beat, but drummer Jon Farriss still played over it, adding little embellishments like that perfectly-timed cymbal-splashe. The song is all pocket. Everything rides the groove lightly” (13).
The song is also easy for people to sing because there is no chord progress in the song, instead is a modal groove (like many other hit songs of the time) that doesn’t require a technique to sing (Hein 6). It is also ‘fun’ to sing because the lyrics do not rhyme, but instead act as a dialogue between one person where there is “a low whisper calling, and then a higher, open-throated belting response” (Hein 6).
Additionally, Never Tear Us Apart embodies Homan’s argument that Australian music is embedded in performance attitudes and therefore evokes nostalgia (601-606). Hutchence was a ‘virtuoso’ singer and a charismatic performer, signifying the belief that Australian music is embedded in live, memorable performances (Bennet & Rogers 496-501).
“He had a presence — the confidence and charisma that comes from being impossibly handsome” (Breihan 3). Therefore, the song Never Tear Us Apart remains relevant in Australians’ memories of how wonderful it was to watch Hutchence perform and the nostalgia invoked from singing the song in the space of pubs nowadays (Bennet & Rogers 495).
Performances of Never Tear Us Apart are also memorable in Australian music culture because Hutchence also danced, enhancing his performance (Breihan 14). The way he also sang the lyrics of the song is notable, making use of on-beat gasps and yelps that bridge the fine line of an ‘Australian male rock star’ ambivalently sexual performance (Breihan 14).
Pullen and Rhodes argue that Australian rock stars were known for their ambivalent masculinity, as they toyed with traditional hegemonic white nationals of masculinity by embracing emotive lyrics, performance, dance, and clothing – something Hutchence was also known for (9). This is because, for Australian men, Young explains that the “very act of appearing on stage has for much of the twentieth century aroused suspicion about their gender status and their sexuality.
To aspire to the stage often implied homosexuality culturally in Australia. This has been evident in the evolving aesthetic of white Australian masculinity in pop music from the 1970s onwards” (1-2). However, INXS’ Hutchence left the cultural memory of a sexually driven performance because he defied the norm of Australian performers on stage blending together an outback or coastal Australian aesthetic with a ‘traditional’ 1970s onwards male aesthetic to appear ‘sexless’ (Young 2). Young explains this is because:
“The exception is the late Michael Hutchence whose performances were a clear departure from this in that on stage and in music videos, he conveyed a star persona that was sexually charged and often ambiguous about its sexuality. It is for that reason alone that Michael Hutchence has been referred to as Australia’s only international rock star (2).
This idea is also showcased in Hutchence’s performance of the song Never Tear Us Apart. Breihan argues that all of the intonations in the song: “…Feel like they’re part of the beat: the whispered “come over here” on the intro, the helium squeak just before the chorus, even the way he seems to half-swallow his words here and there.
Hutchence sings most of the song in a flirty baritone purr. He sounds like he’s whispering in your ear but every once in a while, the intensity jumps up 10 notches out of nowhere, and he sounds like he’s been possessed by sheer appetite: “I’m loooone-laaaaay!” (14).
Breihan also states that another reason Never Tear Us Apart remains culturally relevant today, especially as a fan-favourite for pub karaoke, is because the majority of the lyrics of ‘silly’ pick-up lines evoke a sense of fun for people to sing (15).
However, the song Never Tear Us Apart cannot be discussed without questioning if it upholds the Australian cultural music value of creativity (Gallan & Gibson 177). Like pubs as a musical venue space, Never Tear Us Apart can be critiqued for trying to work its way into Australian cultural life by including itself in music culture where instead of natural authenticity, pubs are built in to try to appeal to music lovers and Never Tear Us Apart was written and performed as a commercial endeavour (Gallan & Gibson 176-177).
Hein even argues:
“Need You Tonight” was INXS’ biggest hit, but before it dropped there was concern on Atlantic Records’ part about its commercial prospects. Here’s a quote from the band’s manager Chris Murphy: They hated it, absolutely hated it. They said there was no way they could get this music on rock radio. They said it was suited for black radio, but they didn’t want to promote it that way. The president of the label told me that he’d give us $1 million to go back to Australia and make another album” (4).
Gallan and Gibson argue that a lack of creativity and instead the pursuit of developing new ‘forms’ to gain cultural capital, is inauthentic and shouldn’t, therefore, be celebrated in culture today because of how political policy is considered to exclude creativity, and therefore Never Tear Us Apart should be scrutinised under this ideal because it arguable diminished the authenticity of the Australian musical culture (Gallan & Gibson 176).
Never Tear Us Apart showcases the idea that Australian music is found and shared in pubs, as the song is still beloved by Australians today and a fan-favourite for pub karaoke because it is easy to sing and emotive (Gallan & Gibson 174-175).
The song also evokes a sense of nostalgia within the pub space and from watching Hutchence perform matching the Australian music culture of a ‘male ambivalence’ rock star while also diverting from the traditional ‘sexless’ rock star performance that is remembered within the Australian music culture today (Bennet & Rogers 501; Young 2). However, Never Tear Us Apart also begs Australians to question if the culture values authentic musical creativity over the pursuit of commercial gain (Gallan & Gibson 176).
ARIA Charts, editors. ARIA. Australian Recording Industry Association, 2022, https://www.aria.com.au/charts/.
Bennet, Andy & Rogers, Ian. “In the Scattered Fields of Memory: Unofficial Live Music Venues, Intangible Heritage, and the Recreation of the Musical Past.” Space and Culture, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 490-501. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/1206331215623217.
Breihan, Tom. “The Number Ones: INXS’ ‘Need You Tonight.’” Stereogum, MLA, 12 Apr. 2021, https://www.stereogum.com/2143512/the-number-ones-inxs-need-you-tonight/columns/the-number-ones/.
Gallan, Ben & Gibson, Chris. “Mild-mannered bistro by day, eclectic freak-land at night: memories of an Australian music venue.” Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, 2013, pp. 174-193. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/14443058.2013.781051.
Hein, Ethan. “INXS needs you tonight.” The Ethan Heigh Blog, MLA, 11 Jul. 2010, http://www.ethanhein.com/wp/2010/inxs-needs-you-tonight/.
Homan, Shane. “An ‘Orwellian vision’: Oz Rock scenes and regulation.” Continuum, vol. 22, no. 5, pp. 601-611. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/10304310802311600.
INXS, editors. INXS. Universal Music Group, 2022, https://www.inxs.com/band/. McCarthy, Breda. “The Landscape of Music Festivals in Australia.” Music Business and the Experience Economy, edited by P. Tshumuck, P. Pearce. S Campbell, Springer, 2013, pp. 1-16, doi:10.1007.
Moran, Rob. “INXS: Never Tear Us Apart – a review.” The Guardian, MLA, 10 Feb. 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/music/australia-culture-blog/2014/feb/10/inxs-never-tear-us-apart-review.
Pullen, Alison & Rhodes, Carl. Who Needs that Sentimental Bullshit Anyway? OzRock and the Instability of Australian Hegemonic Masculinity. 2008. University of Technology Sydney, School of Management Working Paper Series. Research Gage, https://www. researchgate.net/profile/AlisonPullen/publication/228591888_Who_Needs_that_Sentimental_Bullshit_Anyway_OzRock_and_the_Instability_of_Australian_Hegemonic_ Masculinity/links/02e7e524d712704ad3000000/Who-Needs-that-Sentimental- Bullshit-Anyway-OzRock-and-the-Instability-of-Australian-Hegemonic- Masculinity.pdf
Skinner, Graeme. “The Invention of Australian Music.” Musicology Australia, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 289-306. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/08145857.2015.1076594.
Young, Greg. “So Slide Over Here: The Aesthetics of Masculinity in Late Twentieth-Century Australian Pop Music.” Popular Music, vol. 23, no. 2, Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/S0261143004000145.