The unpasteurised milk paradigm

Humour is a funny thing. Beautiful music can transcend time and place and culture; humour, not so much. What is comedic genius to one audience can fall flat to another, be offensive to a third, mystify a fourth.

2059 label

I write parody lyrics to popular songs, and some get performed on a radio show, The Coodabeen Champions. The show is popular, and from time to time I have the joy of meeting someone who says “are you the Richard Evans who writes all those songs …” But it is a limited public. The theme is usually Australian Rules football, and unless you understand the culture, history, tropes and mythology of that sport, then the humour will almost certainly be lost on you.

Like unpasteurised fresh milk, humour is a wonderful thing, but it can’t travel all that far and has a short shelf life.

All of which is by way of introducing a mostly-comedy album, a live recording of various funny songs and banter, which came out in 1974. It is the work of Bob Hudson, an Australian folk singer who strayed into absurdist comedic songs, often half-sung, half-spoken. If you are familiar with Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”, that is the style.

Bob Hudson is better known now as a radio presenter than a musician. A bit of a renaissance man, Bob: he also did a PhD in archeology. Not making that up. But as a performer he had his moment in the sun. This album’s title track, “Newcastle Song”, was a number one hit in Australia in 1975. For a local musician to have a successful album, and even a hit single, drawn from original Australian material … this was not the first time it had happened, but it was pretty unusual.2059 sleeve front

However, forty-odd years on Hudson’s sardonic, slightly crass humour doesn’t stand up too well. In a smoky pub on a Sunday arvo in 1974, his set would have been side-clutching funny. Hudson’s skill is obvious – the audience is in the palm of his hand, his rapid-fire repartee is skillful, deft. The musicianship, both from Hudson and the supporting band, is strong. But funny now … nah.

Fortunately, as is often the case with mostly-comedy albums, there are some straight  songs included for light and shade. One of these, “Girls in Our Town”, became a minor hit for another Australian artist, Margaret Roadknight, and it still features in the folk repertoire.

But the track I like most is a quiet, spare song, “Who’s Your Friend”. It is about the experience of jealousy, when you are young and mixed up, and about the caution and the fear and confusion which stalk a party full of young people.

I did not laugh once, listening to this album, but with this sad, subtle song Bob Hudson wins me over.

  • Artist: Bob Hudson
  • LP Title: Newcastle Song
  • Track: Side 2 Track 1 “Who’s Your Friend? ”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: M7 MLF.083
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1974

This record, and hundreds of others, is for sale on Discogs.

The firehose effect

Probably the fastest way to disperse a crowd of Australians, short of turning a fire hose on them, is to invite them to church.

There is no oppression, just compartmentalisation. You are allowed to sing “Amazing Grace” on Sundays and at funerals, but gospel struggles to reach a wider audience. There is a lot of fine Australian contemporary Christian music – Hillsong in its many manifestations, Newsboys, Sons of Korah, heaps of others – but not too many of these acts are able to cross over. Real passion and fine musicianship, but sectional still.

0027 Label

Consequently, when Christian musicians try to sneak a bit of spirituality into a popular song, they tend to do it by the side door. It’s the U2 approach: exploit the ambiguity in words such as “love”, “spirit”, “sacred”, “eternal”. It can work well – “I did what I did before Love came to town” – though it is sometimes hard to work out if the singer is devoted to the guy upstairs or the girl next door.

One of the pioneers groups of this style in Australia was Family. Not a great choice of name for a band: there have been at least 25 other groups with the same or very similar names. Apart from anything else, it makes them hard to research: most search engines lead you to the Family which hung out with Charles Manson. If you don’t know who they were, let’s just say gospel was not their go.

0027 Label sleeveThis particular Family, though, were a much nicer bunch. Two of them were genuinely family, the brothers Ian and Phil Truscott. They were Queenslanders, and came together in 1972. They enjoyed modest mainstream success, and a stronger following in charismatic Christian circles. Several of their LPs were released in the US. They were, as you will hear, genuinely talented: lovely tight-harmony singing in a country pop style.

This track is from a single released in 1973. The lyrics are a bit lightweight, but as an early example of the U2 approach to Christian music, I think it stands up well. The B-side is out-there, no apologies gospel, and beautifully sung, but we will go with the A-side. Don’t want the firehose effect.

  • Artist: Family
  • Single Title: Just Another Song About Love / They’ll Know We Are Christians (One In The Spirit)
  • Track: Side B “Just Another Song About Love”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: M7 MS-032
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1973

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs