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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #12: Crowded House

Jenny Morris reflects on the majestic career of one of the world’s most beloved bands, the iconic Crowded House.

Supplied; Daniel Boud*

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #12: Crowded House (by Jenny Morris)

When I first met Neil in 1982, I was gobsmacked to learn that he hated Steely Dan. Everybody else loved them! What sort of a person couldn’t acknowledge the precocious catchiness of those intricate chord progressions, the clever dick harmonies and the stinky, dirty grooves? The point is, Neil has always been his own man and held his own convictions. I reckon if you are a true original, that’s a big part of it. 

Cutting his songwriting/performing teeth in the Split Enz years was like doing your law degree at Harvard. You emerged bona fide. No one’s going to argue that point. Neil Finn and Crowded House were bona fide! Their first album reached number 12 on the US charts and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” went to number two on the Billboard charts, number one in a shit-tonne of places around the world, and we’ve been hearing it ever since as covers and in movies and TV shows. Not bad.

Neil had already proven his hit songwriting chops with “I Got You”, but this took him and the band to a whole new level. So many of their songs deserve that amount of kudos though. Too many to mention but “Hole In the River” still haunts me, “Into Temptation”, “When You Come” (“underneath the heavens, with the stars burning and exploding”), “Private Universe”… and on, and on, and on. 

“They were cocky buggers, but you’re allowed to be when you back it up with that much talent.”

The chemistry between Neil, Nick, and Paul can’t be ignored as a source of their originality and consequently, their appeal. The easy patter they developed onstage became part of fans expectations alongside their no-holds-barred energy and that irreverence. Neil has always been a consistently awe-inspiring live performer and communicator but there’s no doubting Paul Hester was often the glue that held it all together. He was funny and astute and could read a room. I know his loss is still a source of desperate sadness to Neil and Nick, and probably every single Crowdies fan.

Tim Finn’s involvement in 1990/91, although short, was very sweet. It has always felt like a privilege listening to the melding of the brothers’ music genes. They are each other’s sharpest prism so each time one’s shine bounces off the other, something magical happens. Live gigs were an adventure. I loved the combination of deep emotional expression, technical excellence, originality, and uninhibitedness. They were cocky buggers, but you’re allowed to be when you back it up with that much talent. 

P.S: Paul McCartney told me Neil Finn is one of his favourite songwriters.