You know when you’re out and about, half-cut, and somebody tells you something you’re too not sure about so you simply nod in half-arsed agreement and make a mental note to Google it (if you remember) once your hangover has dispersed?
Well, I can’t remember for the life of me who I was banging on to about my unwavering obsession with Melbourne’s own waaaaaay-ahead-of-their-time band Models, especially the golden age Andrew Duffield/James Freud (RIP)/ Sean Kelly/Barton Price incarnation. But thanks to David Nichols’ book Dig: Australian Rock And Pop Music, 1960- 85, said random fact has since been confirmed: “…Duffield claims to have written I Hear Motion (which reached #12 in 1983) while trying unsuccessfully to play Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.”
The opening track on Models’ striking Nick Launay-produced third studio album The Pleasure Of Your Company (which hit #12 on Australia’s Kent Music Report Albums Chart), I Hear Motion marked a commercial breakthrough for the group. The song’s streamlined intro – a sinister sample that bursts through alternating right and left earbuds, Duffield’s aforementioned wonky-yet-catchy attempt at playing Superstition’s melody, Price’s powerful, sporadic drum beats and then some kind of slow mo’, distorted air raid siren – just never gets old. And that’s even before Freud’s mesmerising bassline and Kelly’s irate-yet-sexual vocal enter the arrangement.
In 1985, Models performed at Palais Theatre in St Kilda. I remember this well, because I was in Year 10 at the time and called in sick during a five-day work experience stint with a view to hanging out at the venue’s stage door for a photo op with the band (pre-smartphone, using some kind of trusty 35mm camera ‘borrowed’ from Dad – oh, the agony of waiting to collect those photos and praying you didn’t look like a starstruck nufty next to the hot rockstars!).
Back in the day, Models would often open their sets with I Hear Motion, as was the case at that Palais show. Smoke billowed from the stage during blackout as we all shrieked and bolted down the aisles to score a posi as close to the stage as possible. When the stage lights illuminated, Kelly smouldered, “I wanna see you/ I wanna see you twist it around…” Whatever he was on about, it made us feel funny in the pants.
We then spotted the orchestra pit and a bunch of fans jumped in, like lemmings, aching to get closer to the band and realising all too late that you couldn’t see sh-t from down there. Forced to settle for occasional glimpses of Kelly or Freud if they leaned out from the lip of the stage, at least we had plenty of room to do the God Bless America sidestep dance made famous by I’m Talking’s Kate Ceberano and Zan Abeyratne, who contributed BVs and appeared in the song’s accompanying music video (which was filmed in 3D) dressed in sexy military attire. The album’s third single God Bless America is a sonic masterpiece: Kelly’s snarling vocals, Freud’s debilitating bass solo and Duffield’s sparse, scattershot synth parts/samples.
(Fun fact: Duffield wrote the theme song for Round The Twist, which was Mark Ronson’s intro tape of choice during his 2015 Australian tour).
But there was a sense that Models purposefully shunned commercial appeal, terrified of ‘selling out’. Kelly’s vocal was as gravelly as the Cookie Monster; his unhinged screams drove fans wild (see two mins into the Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight single). Other unconventional Australian voices were embraced in 1983: Midnight Oil’s 10 to 1 came in at #2 on Australia’s End Of Year Albums Chart and Australian Crawl released their Semantics EP, which topped the Singles Chart. Freud’s voice was more radio friendly; he was brought to the fore on The Pleasure Of Your Company’s 1985 follow-up Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight – writing and taking lead vocals on six of the ten tracks – which became the band’s most commercially successful album (#3). Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight’s title track hit #1 here and soundtracked many aerobics classes all around the globe (peaking at #37 on the US Billboard Hot 100).
By this time, Duffield had left Models (replaced by Roger Mason), and two new members were recruited into the fold: James Valentine (sax) and Wendy Matthews (BVs). But our fondest memories precede Models’ international breakthrough. Take me back to the Palais orchestra pit in 1985, screaming along with the band’s trademark nonsensical lyrics (“Sing Happy Birthday/ Sing Happy New Year”). Reacquaint yourselves with this iconic post-punk, new-wave, electro-funk, industrial-rock band who supported David Bowie on the Australia leg of his Serious Moonlight tour, just after the release of The Pleasure Of Your Company.