The Long and Winding Way to the Top
50 (or so) songs that made Australia…
Australia likes to celebrate its musical heritage, but there are so many stories that haven’t been told.
‘Andrew tells us things about the songs that we might not know and things about the songs that no one should ever know. He does it with intelligence and humour, not to mention an acid wit.’ – Jimmy Barnes
Andrew P Street-writer, critic and obsessive Australian music weirdo-tries to answer these and many, many, many other questions you never thought to waste time asking in this history of Australia in 50 songs (or so). Deeply cheeky, unashamedly nostalgic and endlessly enthusiastic, this is a dive into our national playlist from the birth of rock’n’roll to the reign of Australian hip hop and just about everything in between.
‘Andrew P Street is a ridiculously infectious writer. His tone can be sharp and impertinent and he can be quirky but in the end he is authentic, original and writes his astute observations with beautiful clarity.’ – Lindy Morrison, the Go-Betweens
Let’s just get this out of the way right from the get go: The Long and Winding Way to the Top is not just a book, it’s an experience. And if you’re anything like me, this experience will embrace all members of your family and possibly your immediate neighbours as you listen to the soundtrack on repeat at high volume while informing anyone who happens to be within shouting distance a plethora of random music facts about bands said listener has never even heard of. And then there’s the trip down memory lane, revisiting all of those special moments experienced throughout the ages, giving said listeners mentioned above a glimpse into a bygone era filled with adventures they could never hope to replicate with their lame music of today. Teenagers; they have no idea on what they’ve missed by not being alive during the 80s and 90s.
Yes, it’s safe to assume that I liked this book. A lot. And I really mean it about listening to the soundtrack. A link to the Spotify playlist is included in the front of the book and it enhances the reading experience immensely. And if you think you’re one of those people who will be content with just reading the book thank you very much, I got to chapter 6 and caved. The Real Thing beckoned and that was it. My ear drums have been well and truly worked out over the course of this weekend and I’m incidentally more than ready for a round of pub rock quiz.
Trips down memory lane aside, this book is a fabulous study in Australian history through the music that has defined our years since the late 1950s. I studied pop culture as part of my Journalism degree (many years ago now) and I would have loved a resource such as this to have been part of the reading list. In fact, how awesome would it be to have a unit of Australian history in high schools that related key political and social changes to the music of the eras. And if you think it’s not possible to get a sense of a country’s history and identity through music, then you really need to read a copy of The Long and Winding Way to the Top because Andrew P Street has demonstrated the plausibility of this with vigour. There are some pretty momentous stories behind many of our favourite songs and ripple effects that will make your heart swell (and then retract and shrivel, depending on what chapter you’re in).
Less about which songs were picked and more about the bands who sung them and the effect they had on Australia at the time of release, this book offers a lot of thought provoking material. It’s also very funny, particularly the footnotes sprinkled liberally throughout. Andrew P Street is an excellent writer: sharply witty, often hilarious, and deeply intelligent. Without mentioning any names, I intend on buying a copy of this for a certain D-A-D for Christmas, which is oddly one of the highest compliments I can pay to an author. Books for D-A-D are highly vetted lest he think I’m giving him ‘bloody rot to read’ (which happened once, a very long time ago, so long ago now that he’d be hard pressed to remember the offending title). As a keen muso from way back and a dedicated Eagle Rocker (before the pants dropping addition to the dance — THANK GOODNESS!) I’m fairly certain D-A-D will love this book as much as I did.
Despite being a muso head myself (like father like daughter), I did have a couple of ‘what song by who’ moments within this book, not to mention the odd ‘oh no, I can’t believe he included that song’. However, Andrew easily justifies each selection with a wealth of reason as to the meaning of the song within the context of it being a game changer. Doesn’t mean I necessarily liked the song thereafter, but I could certainly see his point. Anyway, all inclusions of crap songs can be excused given that a whole chapter was devoted to worshipping Powderfinger and the special mention made of a certain curly haired ukulele-strumming Melburnian towards the end. Andrew knows good music. FACT. Also, anyone questioning the validity of The Horses by Daryl Braithwaite as a timeless classic should consider this: Two weeks ago, I attended a year 12 formal (which I do every year as a high school staff member) and the song to close the evening was The Horses and they all knew the words! The Horses is here to stay and that’s the way it’s gonna be little darlin’.
The Long and Winding Way to the Top is a great book. I can’t be more explicit than that. If you enjoy music then you’ll enjoy this book. So too will your D-A-D and your M-U-M. Maybe not your kids, but hey, if you run the playlist through enough times you never know, they might start singing The Horses and then request it for their year 12 formal in a few years time.
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Long and Winding Way to the Top for review.
Andrew P Street is the author of The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott and The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull, the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat. But before he ventured into political commentary he was a music journalist. He’s been published internationally in NME, Rolling Stone, Time Out, GQ, the Guardian, and Virgin’s Voyeur in-flight magazine. Locally he’s appeared in pretty much every masthead with a freelance budget, from the Sydney Morning Herald to Elle, the Big Issue and Australian Guitar. He also played in an Adelaide band (or two), The Undecided and Career Girls.