Thirty years ago in June 1986, the self titled debut album by Australasian band Crowded House was released into the world. I’m not sure of the exact date it came out, but three decades later this landmark gives me the perfect excuse to write about my all time favourite band.
Formed in Australia in 1985 and originally called the Mullanes, the band comprised of New Zealander and former member of Split Enz Neil Finn (guitar, principal songwriter) and Australians Paul Hester (drums) and Nick Seymour (bass). The band changed their name to Crowded House whilst they were recording their debut album in LA and it was a reference to the lack of space in the apartment they shared in West Hollywood during the recording.
The debut album includes the singles Don’t Dream It’s Over, Something So Strong, Mean to Me, World Where You Live and Now We’re Getting Somewhere and actually never charted in the UK until 1995 (and only then at #99). This album would also signal the beginning of the bands working partnerships with both producer Mitchell Froom and engineer Tchad Blake who worked with them on their next two albums.
The fact that Neil came from Split Enz meant that their fanbase was predominately from Australia and New Zealand, hence the fact that here in the UK we didn’t seem to notice them at all. The album reached #1 in Australia and #3 in New Zealand and the single Don’t Dream It’s Over hit #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 on release in April 1987. This track has since been covered by Paul Young and Sixpence None The Richer, but being somewhat biased I have to say neither match the beauty of the original.
Back in 1986 I would have been almost 10 years old, so I can’t honestly claim that I have been a fan of the band since the very beginning. It would be two albums later when Woodface was released in 1991 that I first took a serious liking to them and they have been my constant companions ever since.
I did the back catalogue thing and discovered not only the debut, but the beauty that is the second album Temple of Low Men. Apparently Neil jokingly considered calling it Mediocre Follow-Up as he was under pressure to bring something of good quality to the table. I think he certainly succeeded as this album contains what I consider to be one of their best songs, Into Temptation. Touring with this album also saw them introduce multi-instrumentalist and former member of Supertramp Mark Hart to the mix and he would go on to become a permanent member of the band when fourth studio album Together Alone was released in 1993.
The album Woodface was released in 1991 and featured Neil’s brother Tim Finn (who was a founder member of Split Enz). The brothers had been working on some material for a Finn brothers album, but Neil ended up asking Tim if some of the songs could be used for the new Crowded House album. Tim agreed, but on the condition that he could join the band. That may have in fact been meant as a joke, but whether it was or not Tim went into the studio with the rest of the band and the result was Woodface. Brotherly harmony didn’t last long though as Tim left the band part way through the UK leg of the tour and back up duties fell once more to Mark Hart.
Studio album four was the gorgeous Together Alone which saw the band work with producer Youth in New Zealand. The album came with a more experimental sound which was credited not just to Youth, but also to the extreme weather conditions of Kare Kare beach where the album was recorded as this helped to shape the way the album sounded. Maori log drummers feature on the opening track and there is more complex, layered guitar to be heard throughout.
As seems to be the want with Crowded House, Paul Hester decided to quit the band part way through their American tour as he wanted to spend more time with his family. Peter Jones was drafted in to replace him and they finished the tour. I was lucky enough to see them play at Wembley Arena on this tour and it was a fabulous show. There were log drummers on stage with them and it is one of the concerts I will always remember.
The story of Crowded House to my mind is one of a band that flew so far under the radar that to be a fan was like being in some sort of special club. Only those of us who were members really got to see how hugely talented they were and it was a sad time for me when they decided to split for good in 1996. After being the focus of my music passion for so many years it was tough to know that I would need to find a replacement.
They played a blinder with the marketing campaign for the greatest hits release Recurring Dream: The Best of Crowded House in ’96 though, as the tagline that accompanied it was “You know more Crowded House songs than you think you do“. Very clever and also very true. They happen to be a lot more than what I have heard described as “the weather song” and it does peeve me somewhat when I tell people they are my favourite band that I usually get “everywhere you go” sung back in my face. Rolls eyes.
Despite quitting back in 1994, Paul Hester reuninted with the rest of the band to play a farewell show on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in 1996. Tim Finn and Peter Jones also joined them for the concert and it is estimated that between 120,000 and 250,000 attended. Farewell to the World was released in December 1996 and a double CD and a DVD were issued in 2007 to commemorate the concert’s ten-year anniversary.
Following the break up on the band, Neil went on to work on a solo album and Try Whistling This was released in 1998. One Nil followed in 2001 and more recently Dizzy Heights became album three in 2014. Not content with being a solo artist, he has also collaborated with the likes of Johnny Marr and Eddie Vedder on 7 Worlds Collide, released two Finn Brothers albums with Tim and worked with his wife Sharon on a project and subsequent album called Pajama Club. Both of his sons have inherited the musical Finn gene with both Liam and Elroy being multi-instrumentalists just like their father. Liam is a well known recording artist in his own right and Elroy has played drums in several bands and also supports Liam on drums whilst touring.
Tim Finn resumed his solo career and worked with Neil on the Finn Brothers albums including touring both releases. Peter Jones and Nick Seymour joined Australian band Deadstar for their album Milk in 1997. Mark Hart rejoined Supertramp in the late ’90s and also toured with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.
Paul Hester worked on the children’s show The Wiggles and also had his own show on Australian TV called Hessie’s Shed. He also formed the band Largest Living Things. Paul had fought depression for many years and it was in March 2005 that it finally got the better of him and he took his own life. I cried on hearing the news and cannot write about him even now without tears rolling down my face. He was a brilliant and extremely talented individual who could always raise a laugh with his antics and he is deeply missed.
2006 saw Neil and Nick reunite to work on some tracks for what should have been Neil’s third solo album. In fact it led to a new Crowded House album and once Mark Hart was on board they auditioned for a drummer. The job went to Beck’s former drummer Matt Sherrod and recording began with both Ethan Johns and Steve Lillywhite on production duties. Time On Earth was the result and joined the bands catalogue in 2007. It reached number 3 in the UK charts which showed that we had finally fallen in love with this band and it had only taken 20 years.
The beautiful Intriguer album followed in 2010 and the band toured extensively to promote the record. Further greatest hits albums have followed with the notable Afterglow rarities album being released back in 1999. This album would contain the song Help Is Coming which would be used to raise money for the charity Save The Children in 2015.
Peter Jones sadly passed away in May 2012 after battling brain cancer.
The band have not toured or released any new material for the last few years, but there is no hint that they are no longer together. Neil is nothing if not always being creative in some form or other, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that we will be informed of something new at some point in the future.
So after thirty years, six studio albums, several line-up changes, various walk outs and two OBE’s why do I love this band so much? Because they are the real deal. Unquestionable talent, beautiful songs with wonderful lyrics, the ability to build a rapport with the audience when playing live, marvellous humour, a drive to be the best and the legacy of so many songs that will remain with us long after they are a band no more.
They may have never been the coolest group out there, but they are totally sub-zero to me and it doesn’t get much better than that. I will never be embarrassed to say they are my all-time favourites and that Neil Finn is my hero. Here’s to the next thirty years. I absolutely cannot wait.