By the mid ’80s Australian rock bands were becoming as familiar to Americans as Mad Max or Crocodile Dundee. Part of the universal charm of bands like INXS or AC/DC was that they struck a chord with listeners that went beyond national boundaries. For me, it always came back to some form of exported Americana sent back to us (like English soul and mod music). Even for a band in a land far away, the influence of American ’60s rock loomed large.
While rocks primary defining elements are universal by now, many of them were developed by Americans and refined by the British to the point of becoming a ‘standard’.
Hoodo Gurus was one of those bands who’s ‘standard’ sound always recalled Americana in the form of the American West to me. “I Want You Back”, a popular college radio song from their 1984 debut Stoneage Romeos hinted to a sound firmly rooted in ’60s power pop.
With a style like Marshall Crenshaw, lead vocalist Dave Faulkner’s songs on Mars Needs Guitars, the band second album, combined Western and Power Pop themes. Faulkner’s voice was somewhere between whimsical and serious like he could have been on a light-hearted country western record. The vast expanses of untamed Australia had a similar history to that of the American West so the connection is not a surprising one. The rustic cowboy rock on “Hayride To Hell” illustrates the similarities between the two ‘Western’ cultures.
In addition to the American cowboy West meets ’60 power pop, Faulkner’s vocal style could approach the bluesy croon of Peter Case from the Plimsouls in another kind of American West Coast similarity of the mid ’80s.
This may have been one of the reasons songs like the hit “Bitersweet” did so well in America. Other singles like “Like Wow – Wipeout” and “Death Defying” did reasonably well and were college radio favorites. Hoodoo Gurus combined straight up rock with touches of new wave and just enough stuffiness to register with the college rock crowd. In the process whatever Australian accents were buried in a Trans-Pacific mesh of influences.
Mars Needs Guitars is as fun and whimsical as it’s title suggests. This the sound of Australia at its least Australian in that many people never even knew they were from Sydney. There would be more of the same on the band’s follow-up two years later Blow Your Cool. After that it seemed American audiences moved on as Hoodoo Gurus faded back to college radio.