2002 Marked the 25th anniversary of one of Australia's foremost international bands. INXS boast album sales any band would be proud of and a healthy sprinkling of awards. Their single sales are unexpectedly low, in hindsight, but their live support is... or possibly was... unwavering.
There are three main ingredients in the INXS success story: the primary one is that the band simply rock, but many artists will tell you that is not enough; secondly, the band built a following through relentless touring, but what really set them apart, was the stellar quality of front man Michael Hutchence.
I have a live version of One X One lying around where Hutchence introduces the song as "a song to strip by, so do your best: if you've got the room, take your clothes off". As much as the music is music to have sex to, Michael Hutchence is the one to have sex with: the strut, the moves, the pose, the voice. Women around the world were captivated, not so much by his looks, but by the way he oozed sex.
The album that launched INXS into orbit was undoubtedly Kick. Follow up album X did well enough, but Welcome to Wherever You Are and the following year's Full Moon, Dirty Hearts could arguably have been condensed into one. The band took a bit of a break, releasing a Greatest Hits album. Most members returned to Australia, but Michael remained in England, with his partner Paula Yates and their young daughter.
By 1997, however, INXS were back on top of the world. They had a new album out, which had been received to critical acclaim and the band were finally commanding more column inches than Michael's beleaguered personal life. Always the one to steal the limelight, he made off with it (hopefully not) forever, one sad October night that year, when he took his life.
August 16, 1977 went down in musical history books as a tragic day: The King had died in Memphis. But half way around the world, a new musical legend was rising out of the ashes. The Farris Brothers with their mates Michael Hutchence, Kirk Pengilly and Gary Garry Beers played their first gig together at a house on Whale Beach. Tim Farris describes it as "a very decadent affair... ...completely rammed -- about 250 people". They played mostly their
own music, interspersed with a few cover versions to keep the crowd happy. Farris recalls two tracks off that original setlist: An Hour in the Shower and Bananaman and claims he still remembers how they go.
The following year, only baby of the band, Jon Farris, was still in school. Because of Jon, the band trekked across Australia and took up camp in Perth. Though confined to Western Australia, they were hardly inert, touring the length of Australia's largest state, visiting obscure mining towns. When Jon left school at the end of the year, the band played every gig they could scramble to make the cash to cross the country. School Formals, private parties, if it paid, it was not beneath them. When they finally had enough money, they loaded up Garry's van with their equipment, tossed it on a train and piled into Andrew's VW and Kirk's panel van and headed east.
Back in Sydney they got day jobs and played pubs, until spotted by Midnight Oil's manager Gary Morris in August 1978. Tim and Kirk had been managing the band up until then, but were relieved to pass over the job to Morris. Morris insisted they change their name, and on September 1, 1978, they played their first gig as INXS at the Ocean View Hotel in the little town of Umina just north of Sydney. Later that month they did a three week tour opening for the Oils, but the relationship with Morris was not good and they soon after parted company.
The exposure had done the trick, though. The band approached Chris Murphy, who had booked the Midnight Oil tour dates, and he agreed to manage them.
Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport
1980 saw John Lennon's assassination and the beginning of the Ronald Reagan regime across the Pacific. INXS worked the East Coast of Australia in much the same way as they'd worked the West Coast two years previously, sometimes playing two gigs a night. They also paid their first visit to the studio, where Duncan McGuire did an amazing job with AU$10,000 and bad equipment that once even caught alight. Debut single Simple Simon was released in Australia, on May 14, 1980 and also in France. The self-titled album was released on October 13, with follow-up single Just Keep Walking, written about their nightmarish tour driving experiences, making No 38 on the national charts.
Third single The Loved One was released on March 6, 1981 and reached No 18. That year, INXS embarked on The Fear and Loathing Tour, The Campus Tour, Stay Young Tour and The Tour with No Name, playing 300 gigs across Australia. Somehow they also made it into the studio to record their second album, Underneath the Colours. The album made it to No 15 on the charts and its single Stay Young hit No 21.
The following year the band broke borders for the first time, crossing the Tasman Sea to play in New Zealand. In April 1982, Kirk, Michael and Andrew headed for New York, Los Angeles and London in search of a producer for their next album, Shabooh Shoobah, recorded in June at Paradise Studios in King's Cross, Sydney. They had decided to stick with Australian Mark Opitz who had produced The One Thing. The following month they signed to WEA records and The One Thing was released as a single and hit No 14. The album went gold, as the other two had.
Getting the Show on the Road
Tim Farris describes 1983 as mindblowing. INXS hit the United States for the first time and saw The One Thing, with its accompanying video by Scott Hicks, chart there and get rotation on MTV. As someone who only got into INXS in 1990, aged 15, it is perhaps ironic that I find it bizarre that INXS were seen in the US as a teen act.
Playing the immense US Festival was a standout moment. I was particularly freaked out by the fact that fans in the crowd were wearing home-made INXS t-shirts. Playing out front during 'Don't Change' was so loud I think it changed my hair forever. Really. -- Tim Farris
INXS eventually cracked a No 1 back home in 1984, with Original Sin. The song may have been successful in Australia, but the South African government thought its radical ideas about mixed-race relationships to be unsuitable and the song was banned until the 1990's. More firsts were in store for the year: First tour of Europe, First tour of Japan, First gig in England at London's Astoria Theatre on May 26. After a mid-year tour of the US backing the Go Go's, it was time for INXS's First Headline Tour of the United States. The band then spent the last quarter of the year writing (aka First Three Months Not on Tour.)
The product of all the writing became 1985's Listen Like Thieves, recorded in March at Sydney's Rhinoceros Studios by producer Chris Thomas and finished off at Air Studios in London. Dekadance was released in March to commemorate one year on the charts for The Swing. INXS cleaned up at May's Countdown Music and Video Awards with seven prizes. The band also took part in July's Live Aid for Africa (Heal the World!) when their concert at the Sydney entertainment centre was broadcast around the world.
Later that year they were back on the road with a world tour, kicking off after the release of the album and the first single, This Time, which reached No 19 in Australia. The tour backtracked to Melbourne for November's Rockin' The Royals charity concert, attended by a still happily wed (maybe) Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
By the beginning of 1986 Listen Like Thieves was really hotting up: certified triple platinum in Australia and approaching platinum in the US, second single What You Need cracked the US Top 51. The If You Got It, Shake It world tour kicked off mid-year, taking in a sell-out show at London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall.
In early 1986 the band took a break from one another: Michael made the forgettable film Dogs In Space2 which at least resulted in a solo Top 10 single; Andrew produced a solo single for INXS backing singer Jenny Morris which had similar chart success; Tim went fishing. At the end of the year, after recording a single with Australian legend Jimmy Barnes (who would later front the band after Michael's death) and preparing to headline the Australian Made tour, Tim's fishing commitments would result in his being "uncontactable"3.
Kicking into Orbit
Andrew wrote much of the Kick material in 1986 while on tour, and credits the previous four years' touring as a big influence on the album. Certainly it is hard to believe that Listen Like Thieves and Kick were released in successive years, for they are worlds apart. Tracks like Three Sisters on the former are all the electronica you expect and love about mid-80's music. Kick, on the other hand, is rock. Mediate uses a form of rap, while Never Tear Us Apart is a beautiful ballade. Kick was cutting edge. If you only ever buy one INXS album, make sure it's Live Baby Live, because INXS are first a live band and then whatever else INXS are. But if you should buy two INXS albums, make the second one Kick.
[1987 was a] crazy year which only saw me at home with the family for a few days at a time. We went really gung-ho. Aside from the endless tours, we also made Kick... ...All I can say is that it really was a long, hard year. But I did find time for some fishing. -- Tim Farris
Like the previous album, Kick was recorded at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney with Chris Thomas and mixed by Bob Clearmountain at Air Studios in London. On October 16, the KICK world tour <ahem> kicked off, with the album released three days later. By January 1988 the album was simultaneously certified gold and platinum and Need You Tonight became INXS's first US No 1. The back catalogue went gold and platinum in the States and the following singles, Devil Inside (No 5), New Sensation (No 3) and Never Tear Us Apart (No 7) were hot successes. The video for Need You Tonight won five MTV video awards including Best Video. Mediate was released as a single in the UK only, reaching No 14. By the ten year anniversary of the album, it had notched up more than 6 million sales in just the US.
While the album was doing phenomenal things on the charts, the fans were flocking in their droves to the ever-more live show dates. In one year, the band played 154 shows across the world and were still on tour: the KICK tour ran straight into the Calling All Nations tour which wound up at the end of November 1989. During that time, the band had had only January, April and most of July 1989 off. Drummer Jon was struggling with his knees and ankles. Audiences were still queuing up and the responsibility was his to decide whether or not he could cope with the pain. He was on crutches already, and ended up canceling a section of the tour. 171 shows in 15 countries over 13 months is a remarkable feat.
On Top of the World, check, Now What?
Time for a break, which if you're part of INXS means you make a movie - Frankenstein Unbound - and record an album with Ollie Olsen - Max Q - (Michael); record an album (Absent Friends) with a host of other famous Ozzies (Garry4); work on a rock 'n roll fishing movie - Fish in Space5 - (oh come on you know who); and of course you fall in love with Kylie Minogue. (Oh yeah, and you start writing for the follow-up album, X.)
Back in Rhinoceros Studios with Chris Thomas, the band were rehearsing and writing, into 1990. They broke in March, with Michael and Andrew writing in Sydney and Jon writing in Hong Kong, his new home. The album was mixed by Thomas and Michael in London and released in September. Leading up to the album release the band were pursuing personal interests: Andrew playing (guitar, playing guitar) with Jenny Morris in Europe, opening for Prince in Paris, and Tim and Kirk producing local band Crash Politics in Sydney.
Suicide Blonde, the first single off X was released in August 1990 and sprinted for the Top 10 in the UK, US and Australia. The album was released on September 21st and went platinum in Australia within a week. It eventually went double platinum in both Australia and the US. The X Factor World Tour kicked off in northern Queensland before moving to Europe in November. They closed out the year in Dublin at The Point Theatre, the first of many shows recorded for the upcoming album Live Baby Live (a pun on the opening line of New Sensation).
More firsts for the band in 1991: First band to play in Mexico since The Doors, and play they did! To concerts in front of 50,000 people. They then moved south into Brazil to headline Rock In Rio and play to an audience of 100,000. The concerts may have been going well, but it was clear that that the Kick honeymoon was over. Second and third singles Disappear and Bitter Tears failed to chart anywhere but in Australia (Bitter Tears reaching a humble No 36). By My Side was released at the same time that INXS were touring their homeland and probably boosted by the touring, reached No 23 there.
Like I said, though, there was nothing wrong with the touring: 22,000 tickets selling in 20 minutes in Sydney... and a headlining spot at July's Summer XS show at Wembley Stadium. This show would eventually become the video Live Baby Live (production on the album had begun in May, again in Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney). The Wembley Stadium show was one of the last dates of the tour, and 72,000 screaming fans turned out. On the recording, Michael is heard addressing the audience: "Hello London! <cheers> ...Or is that 'Hello England' <even louder cheers> ... It looks like fucking England out there."
A pinnacle was the Wembley Stadium show. There were something like 200 people backstage which was a bigger crowd than some of the pubs we'd played in! It was nuts and I couldn't really take it all in. -- usually level-headed Andrew Farris
If I could go back in time and be anywhere, being the 201st person backstage would be in my Top 5 list of places to be.
Welcome to Wherever You Are
The management of INXS had clearly not learned the same lessons as the management of acts like U2, Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson... that the secret to chart longevity is to keep the buying public hungry. INXS earned every album or single sale through relentless touring, and had they taken things just a little easier and released a little less material a little less often, they would probably have sold many more in individual numbers. But who's to know?
Live Baby Live was released on November 11, 1991, a few weeks after the X Factor World Tour had drawn to a close. It reached the Top 10 only in the UK, probably spurred on by 72,000 fond memories of a kick-ass Wembley show that could now be bought on CD or Video and filed away in the "I was there" box. Still, as I said earlier, if you only buy one INXS album, make it Live Baby Live. And Secret Santa, please may I have the DVD (if you can't fit the pony into the mail, of course).
In the midst of the X factor World Tour (and all its associated partying), Michael and Andrew had found time to write material for the next album. The first live performance of the songs for the new album was at Sydney's Centennial Park, at the Concert for Life6 charity event showcasing the cream of Australia's local talent. The show was attended by 72,000 people and raised Au$600,000 for St Vincent's Hospital.
Recording was completed again by Mark Opitz and mixing once more by Bob Clearmountain. Videos were recorded in London and single Heaven Sent was released in July 1992. Yet again, the single charted (No 14) only in Australia, but the album, Welcome to Wherever You Are debuted at No 1 in the UK when it was released in August. In Australia it was beaten to No 1 by the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar, which was running in London starring Australian Neighbours-Star-turned-Stock, Aitken and Waterman-Pop-Star, Jason Donovan. A band who like to morph themselves, this is the first featuring guest artists: Deni Hines and the Australian Concert Orchestra.
1992 was the first year that the band didn't tour. Instead, they wrote and recorded material for yet another album, Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. The album was recorded on the Isle of Capri, and the sleeve notes testament to how much the band enjoyed the recording experience. Based in a Villa in near seclusion, Jon describes it as cosy and romantic... ...a great environment to record in.
Welcome material is still being released, but again charting only in Australia, where the band is still winning awards: Best Australian Band and Best Video for Baby Don't Cry. Fourth single, Beautiful Girl was used in a campaign against the effects of anorexia in the US, but despite the exposure the single still didn't chart.
Someone had the idea for an intimate tour: playing small venues across the world. The Get Out of the House world tour quite obviously sold out: the Wembley Stadium show intensity up close and personal is something you don't need to be a fan to want to experience. I was in England at the same time as INXS and was fairly devastated not to be able to get a ticket for love, money or extreme teenage fan adulation. (South Africa was only just opening up to international bands after the apartheid cultural boycott, and after the experience of Original Sin being banned, you can appreciate why INXS were not queuing up to play to a country still run by the same government.)
As well as the tour went down with the fans who could get tickets, it didn't go down well with the band. This is possibly why nobody is taking credit for the idea. Tim explains:
"The shows were enjoyable, inspirational, and motivating, but at the same time I don't feel INXS belonged on the small stage. We['re] a big stage band. On a big stage we're big and on a small stage we're bigger. The tour was a headspinner. It actually worked best in the UK where we played theatres and universities - the UK just got the idea a little better. For each show we had a different unsigned local act and I recall being instrumental in sifting through all the demos and recordings to choose the acts who'd open each show for us."
The pub tour may have won rave reviews, but the lack of numbers that INXS played to on the tour is more than likely directly attributable to the lack of numbers of sales that Welcome and its singles notched up. Ticket touts probably benefited the most out of the tour.
The Strangest Party
Full Moon, Dirty Hearts was released in July 1993 and picked up where Welcome had left off. The album featured collaborations with Ray Charles (Please (You Got That...)) and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders fame (Kill the Pain). Single The Gift, written by Michael and Jon (never shy to push political buttons like in Original Sin and Guns In the Sky) , used Holocaust and Gulf War imagery in its video and was consequently banned on MTV. The song reached No16 in Australia and No 11 in the UK, but failed to chart Stateside.
The album may have charted in the Top 5 in the UK, but it received terrible reviews and ultimately crashed and burned. My personal feeling is that there is nothing wrong with the album, but the audience was at saturation point. In 4 years of the 90's, INXS fans had been inundated with INXS albums: X, Live Baby Live, Welcome to Wherever You Are and now Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. Musically the band were moving on, but they had hardly toured (given the reduced audience of the Get Out of the House tour and 1992's year out) and audiences were not given a chance to move with the band.
Fans may not have been buying albums, but they were still queuing up for concerts. And the management was still releasing albums. In 1994 the band embarked on the Dirty Honeymoon tour and released a Greatest Hits CD. Australian fans were rewarded with a bonus disk, All Juiced Up, which included nine remixes of classic songs like Devil Inside. The Strangest Party (These Are The Times) was used in the closing scene and for the credits on Sandra Bullock's movie The Net.
Michael appeared on UK cult classic, Paula Yates' Big Breakfast show, in which she interviewed guests in her bed. Despite Yates being married to UK saint, Sir Bob Geldof and Michael's high-profile and apparently stable relationship with model Helena Christensen, sparks flew throughout the interview and soon the tabloids were documenting their illicit relationship. To the British public corrupting Kylie Minogue was one thing, but breaking up Saint Bob's marriage was unforgivable.
With Full Moon, Dirty Hearts a disappointment and Michael's personal life in continued crisis, the band took 1995 off. Michael, who had been calling Europe home for a few years, stayed in the UK with Paula and faced a continuous barrage of tabloid abuse, while the rest of the band headed home to their families. Manager Chris Murphy resigned.
Turning the World Around Again
In 1996 the band regroup in London and begin rehearsals before heading off to Vancouver to record with Bruce Fairbairn. Midyear, Andrew and Michael complete the album in Spain while Tim releases his Deep Inside Tim Farris, a CD sampler he'd produced in his Sydney studio. Michael and Paula celebrate the arrival of Heavenly Hiraani Tigerlily and the British media finally come to terms with Michael and Paula's relationship. Later that year, the band undertake their first live performance since 1994 at home at the ARIA Awards: a world premier of Searching, a taste of the new material. Its reception is the first positive press INXS and its members have had in years.
Still media shy, the unveiling of the new material is done in secret: a hand-picked audience of 100 at a secret gig at the ABC studios in Sydney on January 29, 1997. The band played material from upcoming album Elegantly Wasted and a sprinkling of old favourites. The select guests can't wait to get to their typewriters to celebrate to the world how awesome INXS are.
In March the first single, Elegantly Wasted is released and shoots into the Top 20 in the UK and Australia and is placed on high rotation on radio stations worldwide. Australian fans are again rewarded for their loyalty, with the album accompanied by a bonus live disk recorded at a concert in Aspen, Colorado.
In May the lead single hits No 1 in South Africa, the same week that the band began the Elegantly Wasted world tour at Cape Town's 3,000 capacity 3 Arts Theatre. Oh yeah, baby, I was there. The band was supported by the Springbok Nude Girls, who were charting alongside INXS with their I Love You, and Michael sat on the stage at one point going off in raptures about how good the Nudies were. He didn't know it, but he was preaching to the converted. Headlines around the country told how the Nude Girls had stolen the stage from INXS, which didn't for one moment suggest that the Australians were rusty or below-par.
I was about 5 metres from the stage, until Michael came forward to practically crowd-surf on his gaggle of adoring girlies. The groupie in me that I didn't know existed (though I'm sure, this far down the bio you are not remotely surprised at) elbowed her way through the girls to touch flesh with her deity. I nearly bought a ticket for the second night at the 3 Arts. A year later, with Michael dead, I would reminisce about that night with Nude Girls guitarist Theo Crous on the streets of Knysna. A week touring the country with INXS is one of Crous's highlights of a phenomenal experience with the Springbok Nude Girls.
The tour moves on and singles are released, with Don't Lose Your Head featuring in Nicholas Cage's hit Face/Off. On August 16th, the band celebrates its 20 year anniversary. The Elegantly Wasted tour draws to a close and the band head home for a short break before embarking on their Don't Lose Your Head 20th Anniversary tour of Australia. The tour would never take place, for in the midst of a personal life crisis, Michael took his life, found naked on his knees hanging from the door knob in a hotel room in Sydney on November 22, 1997.
Life after Death
Hutchence fronted the band that started out life as The Farris Brothers for 20 years. For the past five years, INXS have been telling us that the Farris brothers -- Andrew, Tim and Jon -- plus Gary Garry Beers and Kirk Pengilly are still INXS, and not INXS-minus-Mike. Michael was mourned as a friend, as a brother, but the time for mourning has long since elapsed.
Michael Hutchence was not to INXS as Kurt Cobain was to Nirvana. While Hutchence shared song writing credit on most of INXS's songs, he was almost never wrote alone. Andrew Farris has always been the main song-writer in the band, though all members have contributed to a song at one time or another.
Since Hutchence's demise, the band have been fronted by five people: Australian music legend, Jimmy Barnes; Terence Trent d'Arby; the band's own Kirk Pengilly; Suze de Marchi; and latterly Jon Stevens. INXS have not released any new material since 1997's Elegantly Wasted.
Individually, the members have been busy writing for and producing local artists. Any INXS events have been live shows, first Australian label Mushroom's 25th anniversary concert on November 14, 1998, fronted by Jimmy Barnes at which they performed Good Times and The Loved One. Their next event, which I considered getting tickets for but couldn't afford the Au$70 price tag, was the opening of Stadium Australia in June 1999, which featured a (televised) hour-long concert at which INXS performed a 20 minute set fronted by Terence Trent D'Arby, before the Socceroos took the field. The stadium was packed with 90,000 (out of a 110,000 capacity). I caught the show on TV and though they say they enjoyed it, to me the band looked shell-shocked and miserable.
It was a case of looking over the stage and thinking: "Fuck, Michael isn't here, this is strange." -- Kirk Pengilly
The first full INXS show since Michael's death was on May 14, 2000. Jon Stevens, formerly of Australian band Noiseworks who was a friend of the band and had recently returned from living in LA stepped in. The 1,200 tickets sold out quickly, with some fans crossing the Pacific to be at the gig. A second concert was quickly scheduled for the 25th in Sydney. The next six months were spent with low-key gigs throughout Australia, before returning again to Stadium Australia for the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.
At a 2000/1 New Years party, the band were joined by Suze de Marchi (who now lives in the US), formerly of The Baby Animals. Suze's voice went well with the music and a female lead is something that the band might toy with again (once more confirming Jon Stevens' lack of permanent-band-member status). In 2001 they embarked on a pub tour of northern Australia: the Just for Kicks tour. In June they ventured out of Australia and back into Europe for one of Elton John's charity events. Jon was as well received in Europe as he had been at home.
in October 2001, now-shamed Australian cricket captain Shane Warne and former INXS backing singer Jenny Morris presented INXS with their induction into the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame, which was received by a protracted 3,000 member-audience standing ovation.
In 2000 the band were approached with the concept of doing a docufilm about the INXS story and it is scheduled for release in late 2002, titled Don't Change (after an early INXS song). I'm not sure of the date of the source that mentions this (possibly early 2002), but certainly late in November 2002 there is no sign of it and it seems a bit late to release it in time for the Christmas rush. The only evidence of the band celebrating their silver jubilee is a recently-released Greatest Hits compilation (yes, another one). Hint, hint, Secret Santa, I don't have it yet.
Whatever their reasons for their reduced activity since Hutchence's death, one thing is certain: when Hutchence died, their star was shining, they had the will and they had the way. INXS were robbed.
- 'What You Need' also had a fantastic video. We actually processed the whole film in our local chemist. I can remember Mick Jagger calling Michael and saying, "Who made that video? I've never seen anything like it!" -- Andrew Farris
- amnesiac says oh i see where your obsession stems from now - i forgot to add he was dirty and couldn't act his was out of a paper bag - i saw him in 1 terrible movie playing a druggie which you would think he'd be good at - heheh what a tosser. i'm quite happy for us to be enemies based on our differences on Hutchence
- That's what the website says anyway. But it's always very hard to tell when they're taking the piss.
- Apparently Garry actually resigned from INXS to make this record, but he rejoined before it mattered.
- See what I mean about taking the piss? Michael makes Dogs in Space and then Tim does a fishing video and calls it Fish in Space. Coincidence? I think not. All I can say about a "rock 'n roll fishing video" is that it must be trippy as all hell. Tim, where did you get your drugs and may I please have some? Ta.
- My housemate tells me that she and a friend were in Year 9 at school (so about 15) and were allowed to take the train alone all the way from Newcastle on the Central Coast (so about 2 hours away :) to go to the concert.
- a decade of extreme fandom
RalphyK says I had a wild love affair with INXS, devoured Kick in my school days, Loved X as well, saw them in Wembley Stadium for *that* live show which fucking rocked. Completely went off them when Baby Don't Cry came out, got upset that they'd gone all shite, didn't like anything for ages - then the single Elegantly Wasted arrived, and I thought yeah, they're back! Then he went and bloody died. I heartily agree, they were robbed.
Michael Hutchence - vox (1979-1997)
Tim Farris - Guitar
Andrew Farris - Keyboards and Guitar
Jon Farris - drums
Kirk Pengilly - Guitar and Saxophone
Garry Gary Beers - bass