ICEHOUSE: Over the Line – An Overview of the B Sides
BESIDES THE ICEHOUSE
Has an overview of the Icehouse B-side catalogue been attempted before? In the vastness of the Internet, it’s a possibility yet I can’t recall seeing one. Charting the adventurous curve of a career that as far as releases go spanned just over a decade is no mean feat as the singles carried almost as many alternate B-sides as Icehouse had line-ups.
In some cases, the ‘A side’ were later relegated to ‘B side’ status though I’ve omitted those (see note below). If anything is clear from this, it’s that the flipside of the vinyl was very much used as an artistic laboratory to explore sonic experiment, genre, and avenues they may not have ventured into otherwise. Anyway, for those that liked my Eno Suggestions blog, this may suit…
*editorial note; I’ve tried not to cover live versions, covers or album tracks that often appeared on varying b-sides in different territories preferring to concentrate on stand-alone tracks.
**for artistic reasons, I’ve had to position some of the sleeves in a different order to release.
***this blog contains affiliate links.
The first two singles (Can’t Help Myself and We Can Get Together) were backed by a variety of album tracks from Skin to Not My Kind. In post-punk Britannia, the former was backed by ‘Fatman’ while the latter was coupled with one of the strongest non-album cuts they ever did.
I never really got it when Icehouse were constantly compared to The Cars but I can see it here even if The Cars didn’t do too much for me. This is a wonderful piece that exudes both naïve charm and bountiful bravado in equal measures. ‘Won’t you Send Somebody (Somebody)/I don’t wanna be the last survivor.’ Perfect playing and I like the snappy ending too.
From dizzy heights to the downbeat for this lengthy near six-minute instrumental with cryptic and almost inaudible lyrics from Iva, which if you listen very close are: ‘you don’t scare me just to hesitate’ whatever that means.
Despite its duration, which may grate the nerves of some, I find its sombre take on Hawaiian slide guitar music strangely engaging. Nothing much happens save the repetitious harmony of said lyric with hand-claps and a cool bass line. Hula music for a grey day.
ALL THE WAY
This fits in with the more American imbued soundscapes of their discography. It could almost be a precursor to Sidewalk’s On My Mind, nonetheless, the bridge in particular reminds of Duran Duran doing a Steve Harley Cockney Rebel impression. Very LA and very LeBon at the same time.
GOODNIGHT MR. MATTHEWS
Ry Cooder-esque guitar intro that was dropped for the album version; in keeping with the rest of Primitive Man – John Lloyd’s drums were also cut in favour of… the Linn drum machine. Oh dear! Apparently about a conversation Iva had with a schizophrenic though I would never have guessed that. Still love both versions.
UNIFORM (GERMAN VERSION)
GLAM (EXTENDED MIX)
Pretty much says it all, the German really suits it though. Don’t think he ever did another foreign language song as far as I know. Another of the Primitive Man songs that got an alternate treatment was the overlong remix of Glam adding support to the uber-successful Hey Little Girl in Australia and NZ. I would have settled for the original. Elsewhere Love in Motion and Mysterious Thing did the honours.
OVER THE LINE
The first in a number of songs that are definitively at home in the eighties and also best heard around dusk (see also Java, Perfect Crime, Just a Word). Possibly recorded by Iva alone; synth, guitar (both acoustic and electric) and the ever-present Linn drum. Again it appeared on several different single releases, notably Street Café in the UK and the mini-album Fresco.
WALKING THE WALK
Cool dusky disco funk. Difficult to know why it didn’t make SIDEWALK and why it wasn’t an A-side. It could’ve been on a soundtrack or perhaps a one-off single. John Lloyd opens the track ahead of then bassist Guy Pratt’s tight funky slap and a good groove that guides right through.
In his book My Bass and Other Animals, Pratt recalls the song being a near parody as it features no less than six Roxy Music titles in its lyric. Nice yet dated eighties synth similar to Hey Little Girl and Stay Close Tonight pepper the tracks alternate verse (not technically a bridge as there’s no chorus – perhaps a musical note of gratitude to Roxy in that Love is the Drug had none).
The other winner from 1984; a period romantic instrumental named after one of Indonesia’s islands and one would assume, one of Iva’s hideaways. As evocative as anything Japan or Ryuichi Sakamoto could conjure up. Best played in late afternoon (with or without a hammock). You can also read about Java on my Around the World in 20 Plays blog.
THE PERFECT CRIME
Now here’s a rarity, both beautiful and eerie. An acoustic affair with Japanese percussion. Not sure what he’s singing about but while the music has more of a seventies feel and the vocal still echoes Bowie, it’s not so overbearing (as it is on Taking the Town). There are a couple of unusual things about this one; the first is it’s self-produced by the band not just Iva.
The second is it’s the only co-write between Iva Davies, Bob Kretschmer, Andy Qunta and Masaki Tanazawa! Perhaps another crime as the chemistry was clearly there. A pity then there wasn’t more material in this vein and while some may hope for a secret vault with treasures of this ilk, according to Davies such a place does not exist, and if it did, it would very much be an enigma, like the song.
TOO LATE NOW
INTO THE WILD
JUST A WORD
The supporting cast to the glam rock stomper ‘Baby, You’re So Strange’ on the Single Measures release are better and sound more like Icehouse than the frontrunner. This is definitively so on Too Late Now and how different Measure for Measure may have been had it been included. Again, it sounds like it should have been on an eighties teen flick soundtrack.
Into the Wild has metallic synthesised percussion that gradually pans out to brass similar to that found on Mr Big. Better still, are the soulful vocals courtesy of PP Arnold and Maureen Green. It’s unlike anything they’d attempted before or since.
Just a Word is produced by Iva and Bob and probably the most dated of the lot for its nasty 80s synth which sounds like a digitized cat. This might work wonders for the Human League (Love Action) but here it’s just a bit too much to swallow. However, getting back to the serene and eerie soundscape conjured up by Perfect Crime remains an interesting period piece. Meanwhile ‘Strange’ itself appeared as the B-side to Paradise in the UK and US.
The Pink Floyd influence is somewhat ironic; following Pratt’s defection to the iconic British band, as it’s evidently utilising the theme of madness (remember it’s backing up Crazy) much in the way the Floyd did. Beginning with a slowed down BIKO as in motorbike not Biko as in Gabriel’s paean to the political prisoner of the same name.
The track has everything from snippets of sheep, to horses neighing and dogs barking. Varying vocal refrains of ‘ready can I go now?’ ‘Not yet,’ ‘is that right?’ and ‘tell me when’ support the lunacy theory. It may be a touch too long at near five minutes but is essential in demonstrating they were more than capable of producing art rock when they wanted to.
OVER MY HEAD
Acoustic rock in the vein of Lloyd Cole (I always thought his song Perfect Skin had a sort of kindred relationship with Icehouse or maybe more so, the Lou Reed infused songs on the fledgling Flowers album, especially in its bridge).
This is one of the more song structured B sides so it’s interesting to see whether it was intended for Colours and didn’t make it or perhaps some new direction for an album that never was. Either way, it’s a nice addition to their oeuvre.
The two keyboardists (Simon Lloyd and Andy Qunta) take the helm for the opposite view of My Obsession. Of its time now, an OK instrumental overshooting the welcome mat after a couple of minutes. A shame they didn’t play on the lead track’s theme in a similar way that Crazy’s midnight mix does, it would have been a beauty for sure.
Again the two synth maestros pay homage to Jean Michel Jarre’s Zoolookologie punctuated by Stephen Morgan’s bass stabs. Great work even if it is an obvious nod to Jarre and perhaps the Tom Tom Club.
Lloyd takes centre stage on this light funk workout. Not sure it really merits a 4.40 duration though.
As with Komsaka B, Last Cut showed that (Simon) Lloyd had delved further into the sonic structures underpinning JM Jarre’s Overture from The Concerts in China. I do like the fact this tune of moody menace with its sound-byte of snipping scissors is bathed in a warm red (like the A-side Touch the Fire) and goes through several key changes before the drums and guitar open it up wide for some high pitched synth a la Jarre or Jan Hammer (of Miami Vice fame).
This is probably the most disappointing of the lot, a sombre piano ballad with none of the magic of Java (though it’s important to note this is another penned by Lloyd NOT Iva which makes all the difference). It has more in common with a damp December in Dresden than Arabia. If it’s the unforgiving heat and majesty of the desert you’re after then stick to Tea in the Sahara by The Police.
BACKING THE BLUE
NICE HAIRCUT, WRONG PLANET
*The only one I couldn’t get access to.
Yet another Lloyd composition (produced by Nick Launay) – cue bongos, organ, piano and sax. If ever Our Man in Havana is remade starring Mr Bean, this would be a good choice for the soundtrack. Cute but for diehards only and even then only just; the false ends wear thin after a while.
Almost single-handedly Simon Lloyd had commandeered the realm of the supporting song, pushing the band into musical landscapes hitherto alien to Icehouse, but what about the song?
Such was the band’s staggering diversification rate by this stage, you may be forgiven for thinking this dramatic slice of ambience is fellow Aussie art house disciples Dead Can Dance.
On YouTube, someone asked ‘Are you sure this is Icehouse?’ Surprisingly the answer is yes, albeit Lloyd having another attack of art noodles.
WHEELS IN MOTION
Another experiment; call it Merz music, this rock dance track echoes the more menacing themes conjured up by some of the ‘link’ music on Big Wheel. The link being a piece of music used to bridge one song into another.
Utilising studio wizardry and repeated refrains of Orbital Line it’s almost a nineties cousin to Paradise Lost though a little more schizophrenic amid frenzied drumming. If this is your bag, you’d probably like Melt Steel from the Full Circle remix effort from around the same time, though I’d hasten to add that’s a more ambient affair than Orbital Line.
TURN IT ROUND
Well, this is more like it, a simple alternate take on Big Wheel, which makes up for the lacklustre mixes of the title track. Although it’s 15 years old – to my ageing ears it sounds fairly contemporary.
If you’re new to ICEHOUSE a compilation is often a good way into an artist you’re curious about. Here’s my take on what’s out there.
GREAT SOUTHERN LAND The first takes its name from their ‘unofficial’ Aussie anthem. At the time (1989) it featured two new tracks Touch the Fire and Jimmy Dean plus a new 8 minute dance mix of No Promises. The latter and the cover are now the only reasons to purchase this.
MASTERFILE Another comp from 1992 featuring tracks off the first four albums. Again the only reason to really purchase this would be for the cover art, again with photography by Hugh Stewart (same as Code Blue).
NO PROMISES/LOVE IN MOTION These are mid-nineties collections of songs again culled from the first four albums that are really stop gaps and not really necessary unless you are a super fan and completist.
THE SINGLES A SIDES AND SELECTED B SIDES BOX 1995 Now this is really nice, a trio of deep green discs set in a pale green book styled rectangular slipcase with an inner booklet featuring the single covers and other items like the ‘flowers’ poster.
THE BEST OF… This 2013 comp is probably my pick of the bunch, decent cover art by Pete Hayward and a good overview of the main hits. All the casual or newbie fan would want to start with. 20 tracks, all the big hits except Don’t Believe Anymore. It also omits Jimmy Dean and wisely Big Fun.
WHITE HEAT After the band became active on the live circuit in Australia in 2010 it was necessary to rehash the best of and remind younger listeners of who ICEHOUSE were and are. A bit like The Police did in 2007. White Heat (2011) contains the singles and videos for the first time over three discs.
It’s kind of an update of the SINGLES box above in a better format. There is also a 2 disc version (minus the videos) and the discs are nicely designed too. In addition to those are several double box sets of the standard albums and also the complete box of all the albums but obviously I’ve stuck to the generic ‘singles’ compilations.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Send Somebody – ICEHOUSE
Paradise Lost – ICEHOUSE
Goodnight Mr Matthews (original single version) – ICEHOUSE
Over the Line – ICEHOUSE
Dance On – ICEHOUSE
Java – ICEHOUSE
Too Late Now – ICEHOUSE
Perfect Skin – Lloyd Cole
Over My Head – ICEHOUSE
Zoolookogie – Jean Michel Jarre
Komsaka B – ICEHOUSE
The Overture – Jean Michel Jarre
Last Cut – ICEHOUSE
Tea in the Sahara – The Police
Turn it Round – ICEHOUSE
Photo credits: Images as always courtesy of discogs.com, some retouched by KH.
The official Icehouse site has an extensive discography and although cleverly done, the single covers are reduced to postage stamp size.