Human Frailty Pty Ltd
The core of Midnight Oil was formed in 1971 under the name of "Farm" and by 1976 the line up was similar to what it was for the majority of their 26 year history. In 2002 Midnight Oil were suddenly no longer, after the lead singer Peter Garrett departed. At a time when modern music was full of disposable pop (1998 to 2002), it was oddly comforting that the Oil's were still going strong after so much time.
So... you may be thinking... what do Hunters and Collectors have to do with Midnight Oil? Well, in many reviews around the place people talk about Hunters and Collectors always being hidden by the shadow of the mighty Oil's. Personally, I think that the Oil's and the Hunna's were both bands that were their most prominent in the late 80's with interesting stuff either side of this time period. I believe that is why they are so often seen together - they were both loud, unashamedly Australian rock bands of a time and a place.
The difference, of course, is that the Oil's made it far bigger in the late 1980's than Hunters and Collectors ever did. There were numerous overseas support gigs where the Hunna's nervously played in front of massive audiences gathered to see the Oil's. The more astute readers may know that Jeremy Smith (french horn, Hunters and Collectors) is credited for helping on the "Blue Sky Mining" (1990) and "Diesel and Dust" (1987) albums. For those who are familiar with the Oil's, the "What's A Few Men? / Fate" era for Hunters and Collectors feels very similar stylistically to the "Diesel and Dust" era for Midnight Oil.
The Oil's always loved their politics - particularly the front man Peter Garrett. A good slab of lyrics they did had strong political connotations, particularly in social and environmental areas. The hit "Beds Are Burning" was about returning Australian land to the aboriginals. "Blue Sky Mining" was about the dire human effects of asbestos mining and profit orientated uncaring companies. This list could go on all day!. The strong focus on the political purpose of the band is often attributed to why the Oil's were so successful.
Midnight Oil's debut album "Midnight Oil" (1978) reached #43 in Australia and contained the minor hit "Run by Night" (#100). The follow-up album "Head Injuries" (1979) made #36 on the strength of the non charting singles "Back On The Borderline" and "Cold Cold Change". Next was the "Bird Noises" EP (1980) which reached #28 and contained the great "Wedding Cake Island", which is still played on Australian radio.
The "Place Without A Postcard" album (#12, 1981) took another step towards big things for Midnight Oil, reaching #12 and giving the hits "Don't Wanna Be The One" (#40) and "Armistice Day" (#31). This album was clearly more accessible and hinted at what was to come.
The next Midnight Oil album broke them in Australia, peaking at #3 and spending more than two years in the albums chart. The album was "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1" and the songs "Power And The Passion" (#8), "US Forces" (#20), "Read About It" and "Short Memory" are a staple of Australian modern rock radio. "10...1" was also the first Midnight Oil album to enjoy an international release - but did not make an impact other than in Australia. This album succeeded in Australia because it truly is an excellent album - a must have.
The follow-up "Red Sails In The Sunset" was riding on the success of "10...1" when it topped the Australian charts in 1984. No singles were issued in Australia but the US and UK enjoyed the very poppy "When The General's Talk" and the rocker "Best Of Both Worlds".
Midnight Oil then released the "Species Deceases" EP in 1985 which instantly topped the Australian singles chart. The EP featured the song "Pictures" which had a strong political video clip about rainforest destruction.
1987/1988's "Diesel and Dust" signified a completely new era for Midnight Oil - global domination! The single "Beds Are Burning" became an international smash hit (#17 US, #6 UK, #6 Australia) and aired Australia's dirty linen for the world to see. Other singles included "The Dead Heart" (#53 US, #62 UK, #4 Australia), and in Australia "Put Down That Weapon" (#32). "Diesel and Dust" reached #1 in Australia, #19 in the UK, #21 in the US, and is a highly recommended brilliant accessible rocker.
1990's "Blue Sky Mining" continued the trend but was not as popular or as moving as "Diesel and Dust". Singles included "Blue Sky Mine" (#66 UK, #47 US, #8 Australia), "Forgotten Years" (only charted in Australia, #26), and the Australian only singles "King Of The Mountain" (#25), "Bedlam Bridge" (#46) and "One Country" (#51). The album itself reached #1 in Australia, #28 in the UK and #20 in the US.
The Oil's released the "Scream In Blue" live album in 1992 (#2) with the accompanying "Sometimes (live)" single (which reached #33 in Australia). The album did not chart outside of Australia.
Also definitely worth a look is the 1993 album "Earth And Sun And Moon" (#1) which contained the singles "Truganini" (Australia #10, UK #29), "My Country" (Aus #52, UK #66) and "In The Valley" (Australia #57, UK #60). The sound on this album is a more laid back less-heavy sound that in the previous three albums.
In 1996 Midnight Oil released the "Breathe" album, which did not achieve too well sales wise, peaking at #3 in Australia and only containing one charting single ("Underwater", #22). The album and the single did not even chart outside of Australia. Perhaps there was a feeling if a slight loss of direction on this album - or perhaps nothing spectacular which had been the case with previous Oil's albums.
In 1997 "20,000 Watt RSL" was released, a 'best of' set of the songs to date. It peaked at #1 in Australia and sold a reasonable amount. The images seen in this section are taken from the artwork of this album. It is good as a taster of Midnight Oil but misses a lot of good material (as fans normally say about 'best of's!).
1998 saw the release of the very heavy "Redneck Wonderland" album, which peaked at #7 in Australia and contained the minor hits "Redneck Wonderland" and "Cemetery In My Mind". Although good, the harder edges are hard to appreciate if you loved the 'softer' Midnight Oil in previous years.
"Say Your Prayers" was an Australian single from an East Timor benefit album in the year 2000, which eventually found its way on to the "Real Thing" album. The "Real Thing" album (#7) contained mostly live acoustic tracks with four new fairly good tracks. Midnight Oil released their remake of the classic Russel Morris track "The Real Thing" from the album and it made the top 50 (#48).
A perhaps unexpected but much welcomed return to brilliant form came with the excellent guitar driven melodic masterpiece "Carpricornia". Released on the 25th of February 2002, "Capricornia" features a lot of the sound that made the Oil's what they were while still progressing forward (that is, it is not simply a remake of earlier material). Reaffirming that charts are indeed no indication of how good an album is, "Capricornia" only managed #8 in the Australian charts, their lowest since "Place Without A Postcard" in 1981. A promotional single of "Golden Age" was issued, and the next single was "Too Much Sunshine".
After the brilliant "Capricornia" album extensive touring of the US, the UK and Australia in 2002, Midnight Oil suddenly parted ways on the 3rd of December 2002. Peter Garrett departed the band to pursue personal challenges outside of music. The remainder of the band vowed to play on under a different guise at some point in the future.
A CD and DVD set called "Best Of Both Worlds" was released on the 5th of April 2004. This contained a DVD of the January 1985 Goat Island and November 1982 Capitol Theatre gigs along with a CD of the Goat Island gig.
After Midnight Oil, Peter Garrett was elected as the Labor federal member for Kingsford-Smith in the 2004 federal election. Rob Hirst teamed up Paul Greene and released an album by the name of "In The Stealth of Summer" in 2005. Jim Moginie has formed a band called "The Family Dog" and is soon to release a solo album.
Midnight Oil were:
Peter Garrett - vocals, left wing political angst.
The bass player shifted over the years - Andrew James (up to April 1980) and Peter Gifford (April 1980-1987).
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Bottom photograph by Andrew Liguz, Sony Music Entertainment (Australia) Limited 1999.