Thursday, 15 November 2012

REVIEW - On Song by Simon Sweetman

A beautifully presented discussion of twenty nine of the finest songs to 
ever come out of New Zealand, and a track by Scribe.

TITLE: On Song - Stories Behind New Zealand's Pop Classics
TOPIC: Classic New Zealand pop songs
AUTHOR: Simon Sweetman
RELEASED: October 2012

There probably won't be a lot of coverage of New Zealand music on this blog, but the recent release of NZ blogger/music journalist Simon (Blog on the Tracks) Sweetman’s  first book, On Song, seems like an opportunity to acknowledge both an excellent book, and some of the best songs you could ever wish to hear.

Ostensibly musings on thirty songs that the author is at pains to point out do not constitute any sort of definitive list of kiwi classics, On Song is a 250 page hardback that’s too in-depth to be classed a ‘coffee-table’ book, but beautifully presented enough to warrant a fairly hefty price-tag.

The Way I Feel - Jan Hellriegel

The writing itself is not at all lightweight, but the book is an easy read, consisting of thirty short pieces and a handful of artist profiles, and likely to be consumed in pieces rather than read cover-to-cover. Apart from a brief introduction, there’s no particular attempt to force the songs together under any naff common theme, which is probably good, as creating any artificial linkages between such a diverse range of tunes would do the artists in question, and New Zealand music in general, a great injustice. Having said that, Sweetman's approach to each tune is insightful and there are plenty of recurring themes that readers themselves will be able to filter through their own experiences of New Zealand music, granting the book enough coherence to be considered a work in full, not simply a collection of articles.

Jesus I Was Evil - Darcy Clay

The selections themselves are largely uncontroversial. Sure, there are a couple of bands missing that the reader might feel deserve inclusion, and a couple of song choices that might seem unusual (I’m not convinced that if left to choose one Split Enz song, it would be Spellbound) – but that’s the author’s prerogative, and certainly there is nothing eyeball-rollingly out of place. Indeed, the less-obvious inclusions are the book’s best moments in some respects, gently reminding the reader of all the great music that sits outside the Flying Nun/Finn Brothers dichotomy. The willingness to include a couple of more recent (Lawrence Arabia), less heralded (Space Waltz) and downright unfashionable (Scribe) acts is laudable too.  Sweetman may be a notoriously opinionated blogger, but On Song is an inclusive book, as anything with the word ‘pop’ in the title really ought to be.

Slice of Heaven - Dave Dobbyn w/ Herbs

If there’s a missed opportunity, it’s that it might have been nice to supplement the author’s and composers’ views on each song with a few choice quotes from other acts. Sweetman opines on the influence of certain artists and songs, but hearing it straight from the horses’ mouths might have been fascinating. Given the book’s layout, such an approach would have been easily accommodated and would have provided further insights into the evolution of New Zealand pop music and the minds behind its greatest moments.

Pink Frost - The Chills

However, all the selections are well researched - many the result of interviews with the composers - and none are anything short of interesting. And, if a book on music is to be judged on the extent to which it makes you want to visit or revisit the subject matter, then On Song is certainly a success.

But seriously dude, what about Trippin'?!


Don't Dream It's Over-Crowded House/Gutter Black-Hello Sailor/How Bizarre-OMC/For Today-Netherworld Dancing Toys/Anything Could Happen-The Clean/Counting The Beat-The Swingers/Slice of Heaven-Dove Dobbyn feat. Herbs/E Ipo-Prince Tui Teka/Not Given Lightly-Chris Knox/Pink Forst-The Chills/A Thing Well Made-The Mutton Birds/Death and the Maiden-The Verlaines/The Beautiful Young Crew-Lawrence Arabia/(Glad I'm) Not a Kennedy-Shona Laing/She Speeds-Straightjacket Fits/The Way I Feel-Jan Hellriegel/Drive-Bic Runga/In The Morning-Anika Moa/System Virtue-Emma Paki/In the Neighbourhood-Sisters Underground/Chains-DLT feat. Che Fu/Victoria-The Dance Exponents/French Letter-Herbs/Screems from tha Old Plantation-King Kapisi/Not Many-Scribe/Out on the Street-Space Waltz/Can't Get Enough-Supergroove/Nature-The Fourmyula/Jesus I Was Evil-Darcy Clay/Spellbound-Split Enz

Trippin' - Push Push


  1. What about Morrissey?

  2. COME ON! This is a white man's album without Scribe and you dis the Scribe track!

    West Side Hori by Tipene... Listen to it.
    David Dallas - Big Time?

    The times they are a changin...

    1. Herbs, OMC, Emma Paki, King Kapisi, Bic Runga, DLT, Sisters Underground, Prince Tui Teka.

      And it is a book.