Graham Reid | | 8 min read
They are found at the back of cartons at record fairs, under beds in long abandoned houses and sometimes stored lovingly -- but rarely played -- in the collections of the obsessives. They are those great, and not that great, singles by Kiwi artists which existed either in limited pressings or were simply so awful the artists themselves tried to buy and destroy every copy.
They are Kiwi rarities, singles with an interesting story behind them -- often more interesting than the music itself. Here are a few examples, more as they come to light.
Fat Freddy's Drop Fly and Roots Black Pretties: Gimme Some Money
When the COVIS-19 pandemic hit, this collection of musicians from Black Seeds, Fly My Pretties, Trinity Roots and Fat Freddy's Drop decided to record this fund-raising single to keep them in "strings, reeds and weed". Their choice of a song to cover -- the original was by the Sixties Beat-era group the Thamesmen -- was inspired in its message and their slow roots reggae treatment was interesting.
However because of social distancing the group -- which numbered between 35 and 58 apparently -- had to record this in a huge hanger at Wigram Air Base while standing many metres apart. The result was a terrible echo which rendered the song almost inaudible.
Sales were also hindered when they decided to release it only as limited edition 78rpm shellac in a cover which depicted a rather too literal interpretation of the band name.
A collector's item which collectors have conspicuously failed to collect.
Nadia Reid: O Le Fu'a o Le Sa'olotoga o Samoa
After her daring rewrite of the Canadian national anthem Oh Canada on her latest album Out of My Provenance, folk-rock chick Reid offered this courageous heavy metal version of the Samoan national anthem as a flexi-disc single to be given away free at Pasifiki and PolyFest.
Unfortunately not only were those two festivals cancelled but Reid was the target of internet trolls who took her to task for making the plastic discs. In a fit of pique she took the boxes of the single to a field in Northland and set them alight, and was prosecuted for violating the fire ban. Reid appeared in court and promised not to record another note until the COVID-19 pandemic was over and she could go to Samoa in person to perform her song for people there.
Jamie McDell with Head Like a Hole: Wipe Out b/w Helter Skelter
This unexpected pairing was apparantly prompted by McDell's new management who wanted to reposition her from the pop market into a more adult demographic. The cover of the Surfari's classic surf rock got no traction at radio. But the video -- in which the band remain fully clothed but a stark naked McDell wearing devil's horns and covered in blood cavorts around a bonfire on a beach then does something unspeakable to a goat, a dog and a really cute little bunny rabbit -- garnered 2.7 billion You Tube views. "She was just a lunatic," said HLAH's Booga when released on bail last week. "She was drinking vodka all the time and injecting P and marijuana and other drugs and was totally out of it. We were freaked out, and it wasn't our idea to ram-raid that dairy for cigarettes. We don't even smoke anymore. That little girl scared the heck out of us."
Wipe Out has only had 12 plays on Spotify but HLAH's gentle folk-rock and born again version of the Beatles' Helter Skelter fared better with 27.
Lorde: Green Flicker Twitter Bleat
This unusual single by Lorde features a mash-up of her singles Yellow Flicker Beat and Green Light by DJ Random, but most interest alights on her voice-over parts where she reads a series of apparently un-posted Twitter messages. In them she rants about her former famous friends (Miley, Taylor, Morrissey), former boyfriend, former manager, former producer and “that skinny shouting bitch Miss Nepia” whom friends have identified as Lorde's kindergarten teacher.
This briefly appeared on limited edition 12'' bile-coloured vinyl with her own “Hard House Therapy remix” on the flipside.
Te Vaka/Opetaia Foa'i: Moana Beats Your Beats
A terrific collection of various percussion beats from around the Pacific (log drums etc) curated by Te Vaka's Foa'i after the success of the Moana film and soundtrack. Foa'i undertook the work himself at great personal expense and all profits from sales go to worthy causes in the region. The intention was that “the beats be made available free to samplers so the message about Pasifika music could carry on beyond Moana” he said.
However the lack of a comma in the middle of the title lead some Pakeha critics and two prominent Maori academics to slam it for its suggestion of personal arrogance and cultural superiority.
The 12'' was quickly withdrawn when a complaint about it was lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal.
Much sought after by DJs because of the attractive, framable cover image of a postcard-perfect Pacific island beach with what looks like an extremely high tide washing around pretty village houses.
Neil and Liam Finn: Father and Son
In many ways this cover of Cat Stevens' famous inter-generational song was the ideal first single from the debut album of Finn pere et fil. But their lyrical changes from the antagonistic relationship in the original into self-congratulation about how cool it is to be wealthy, happy, talented and enjoying an excellent father/son relationship rather undercut it.
Sole interest alighted on Neil's ad libbed lines towards the end about “sad losers who listen to Don McG's intellectual bullshit songs” and Liam's spontaneous laughter which goes on into the run-out groove where it is looped endlessly as on the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album.
It is believe the “Don McG” is a reference to fellow songwriter Don McGlashan but none of the Finns or McGlashan would confirm this at the time of going to press. In fact McGlashan denies ever having heard it although he was seen outside Neil Finn's house in the week after the song's release with a can of petrol while swigging from a bottle of vodka.
All copies of the single have been bought up by a mystery buyer and it is believed none now remain in existence.
KINGS: She'll Be Right, S'all Good Bro, Don't Worry 'Bout It:
Tapping into Kiwi laissez-faire attitudes and aspects of local indolence, this 15 minute 12 inch single tried to link across the generations with references to common phrases from the past ("she'll be right" and the more recent, "s'all good bro") but by the time he got to his own contribution to the lineage ("don't worry 'bout it") he had forgotton what he wanted to say. The final five minutes were just instrumental with KINGS sometimes being heard to mutter "Ahh . . . yeah, nah . . ." A fortnight later he had another crack at it and just shaved off the first historical ideas and jumped straight into his own take with "don't worry 'bout it" . . . although in an unedited version which appeared on the internet he can be heard to say at the end, "Jeez bro', there's a shitload to worry 'bout when you think 'bout it, eh?"
SixSix60: The Devil Went Down to George Street
Few people know that before they became famous, Dunedin's Six60 were actually Satan-worshipping, baby-eating black metallers. As SixSix60 they recorded this one-off single inspired by the Charlie Daniels Band hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The fiddle part was played by a member of the NZSO who they had drugged up on P, which explains her furious playing style. Shortly after however they actually met Satan and he offered them riches and fame as long as they converted to the MOR/reggae religion. Which they did. But he now owns their immortal souls.
Anika Moa with Babymetal: Bubbas, Live at Budokan
While she was holidaying in Japan, a chance encounter between Anika Moa and local metallers Babymetal (three young poppets backed by a hard rock band) resulted in a day-long saki session and Moa joining the band onstage at Budokan that night for a thrash metal medley of material from her Songs for Bubbas album. Bootlegs appeared in Tokyo and copies now go for in excess of $500. Encouraged by this, Moa started a Crowdkicking campaign to raise funds to get her and Katchafire to Denmark for a festival there to record a live album . . . Bubbas, Reggae From Roskilde.
Lorde-Dobbyn: Call Me Royal: This ill-conceived duet seems to have been instigated by the New Zealand Monarchist League in the months before the 2014 visit of Prince William and his lovely wife Kate Middleton. It was well known Dave Dobbyn was angling for a knighthood at the time but quite why new 12-year old sensation from Hillsborough, Lorde (aka Ellie Hypenated-Something) got involved is a mystery. But lyrics like "call us royal and keep it that way" did seem to capture something of the pro-monarchy sentiment of the time, and got them a cover story on the New Zealand Woman's Weekly.
Aaradhna, Wake Up, Yeah-Nah
This previously unheard demo of her Wake Up hit recently slipped out via Simon Sweetman's excellent website Blog on the Tracks. Word has it it was leaked to him by United Future MP Peter Dunne. Sort of a South Auckland slacker anthem celebrating sloth, KFC and lying in bed with bottles of booze.
Dave Dobbyn; Welcome Home, Yeah Riiight
Those who were there when Dobbyn recently re-recorded his Welcome Home hit say it seemed he'd fallen off the wagon after being burned by financial advisors now living in luxury homes on the Gold Coast. YouTube footage -- since deleted -- showed a clearly angry and possibly intoxicated Dobbyn on Paratai Drive shouting profanities at builders working on the former home of an investment advisor while the soundtrack played this brutal and offensive song. Mr Dobbyn was unavailable for comment.
Fat Freddy's Drop, Wandering Hands
Some say this captured the band in their P-period, others are less kind. But this thrash-metal shout-out to kiddie-fiddin' teachers was only briefly released as a download through their website and instantly deleted when their manager woke up and discovered their website had crashed. It is said the song had over three million hits in 24 hours because it was leaked with a photo taken at five-year old girl's birthday party. Mr Freddy was unavailable for comment.
Ray and the Reptiles, She's a Gob
Ill-conceived project by John Baker (of Wild Things fame) who aligned Ray Columbus with the reformed Suburban Reptiles for this '87 punk version of She’s A Mod. Wreckless Eric covered it on his '89 comeback album. He didn’t come back.
D.D. Smashed, Outlook for Thirst Day
After the boozy Bliss, Dave Dobbyn briefly fell prey to commercial interests from breweries and threw his lot in with an Irish metalhead pub band. Liberally applied sponsors’ products resulted in this rather off-key single which Dobbyn later reworked to greater effect.
Chris Knox, Address to the Third Soviet Congress 1921
Those who were there say it was late and the background noise intolerable, so perhaps Chris misheard. But being a Beatles fan he felt he had to immediately record what he took to be the lyrics of a previously unreleased John Lennon song. The 37-minute cassette-only single began with unpromising line: “Comrades and fellow party members . . .”
Greg Johnson, Shave Yourself
Indulging his interest in things Brazilian -- body grooming, not the music -- Johnson demoed this interesting song with the chorus "first you shave yourself, then you shave the girl". Three days later when he sobered up he rejigged it to become "first you save yourself, then you save the world" for Save Yourself on the album Here Comes the Caviar. (Not the first time Johnson had changed a lyric: If I Swagger was formerly the inebriated and barely coherent If I Stagger).
Mika, Out in the Street
Genuinely inspired reworking of the old Alistair Riddell/Space Waltz hit but, naturally, given a gender flip. Released on the eve of the ‘81 Springboks tour with a flamboyant street parade to promote it -- which regrettably clashed violently with a pro-tour march. All copies of the double A side single, being carried by lightly oiled boys, were destroyed in resulting melee.
Swingers, Counting the Sheep
Terrific folk-rock song hampered by lyrics that were clearly drawn from the band's rural isolation on a high-country run in the South Island. A move to Sydney saw a toughening up of the band’s attitude (the bagpipe solo was dropped) and lyrical rewrite. Remaining copies of this early version ruthlessly sought by Phil Judd and the Bats.
La De Das, How is the Air Up There '89
Ecologically-conscious former rockers reformed to rework their Sixties hit as a new-age plea to ban “spray cans and stuff because of the ozone layer and all that.” Picture sleeve single recently valued at $45 ($35 if record still in cover).
Mutton Birds, Karangahape Road (But Not That Boring Bit Up By the Sheraton)
Somewhat limp follow-up to Dominion Road and not among Don McGlashan’s best. Two versions exist; collectors favour the one with 27-second euphonium solo after the words “and I’m lying in a coma, outside Verona.”
Elsewhere readers are invited to contribute their own Great Lost Kiwi Singles by using the Post A Comment option.
For other articles along these lines check out Absurd Elsewhere here.