former bandmates take things to a new level? Will lightning refuse to strike twice? Will it be the same, but different? Will it be different, but the same? Will the situation turn grown men into giant titty-babies? This week we turn our attention to an interesting dead-end of Australian powerpop, a hand-me-down by the name of The Big Beat which had remarkable longevity, bouncing between Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in the latter half of the '70s. Before going on, we note that much of the detail below comes from Dave Laing's excellent liner notes for the reissued Young Modern LP (buy it here), and his accompanying interview with John Dowler at the I-94 Bar. We've referred readers to the latter at least once before for context on Melbourne pub rock; consider this another nudge if you didn't take the hint the first time around.
Spare Change allegedly formed, at least in concept, among Adelaide ex-pats in Amsterdam. Back in Adelaide, the band coalesced in 1973 as a pre-punk powerpop unit, as much in thrall to the MC5 and the Flamin' Groovies as the art rock of Sparks, songs by all of which featured in the band's early repertoire. The initial line-up included John Dowler (vocals), Chris Langman (guitar), Bob Kretschmer (guitar), Tony Murray (keyboards), and John Wilkenson (drums). Wilkenson was soon replaced by Graeme Perry, and this would remain the definitive Spare Change line-up. After a solid couple of years playing Adelaide pubs, Spare Change relocated to Melbourne in early 1975, becoming a fixture of the Carlton scene. There, the band recorded The Big Beat, penned by Murray, which was issued as a single at the tail end of 1976 (b/w Classified Ad, Champagne CHS 601). Aided and abetted by Henry Vyhnal, the band continued recording until March 1977 with the intention of an LP release, but broke up before that eventuated. The posthumous Lonely Suits LP (Cleopatra CLP 202) was eventually released in late 1979, and included both sides of the earlier 45.
truck driver's gear changes which bookend each chorus. Purists may say that semitone modulation around the chorus isn't a true gearstick workout, but they probably haven't heard The Big Beat's gears crunch as its key pivots from A to B-flat and back again. Add to the equation some very literal drumming which only picks up when the chorus kicks in ("The Big Beat comes on loud and strong..."), and someone is guilty of over-thinking things a touch. Usually that someone is us, but here the evidence points closer to home.
Spare Change - The Big Beat [Download]
Local LOCAL 5, 1980) was cobbled together from Young Modern's lone single and the '78 demos.
The second time around, The Big Beat benefits from a more direct approach. "Ultimately, Young Modern played like punk never happened", says Laing in the Play Faster reissue liners, but comparing the pre- and-post '77 arrangements is instructive. Gone are the unwieldy key changes, and in comes more propulsive 4/4 drumming; punk it's not, but it's hard not to hear punk's influence, if only by osmosis of the prevailing mood. In addition, the less polished recording and performance are likely to make it the preferred take for listeners with a punkier ear.
Young Modern - The Big Beat [Download]
Parachute - The Big Beat [Download]