Stride Over Stride

Five years ago on this date, Grant McLennan died in his sleep from a heart attack at the age of just 48. Along with Robert Forster, he shared songwriting and vocal duties in the brilliant but unappreciated Australian band The Go-Betweens. I’ve always put the pair up there with popular music’s most celebrated writing partnership: Lennon and McCartney. Grant and Robert worked in a similar way to John and Paul, in that both often worked separately on their songs and then the other would tweak it here and make a suggestion there. The writer would then take lead vocals on the recording, though the song would be credited equally to both. Lennon was always my favourite Beatle (Harrison came second), while McLennan was always my favourite Go-Between. Funnily enough, Forster’s songs were more similar to Lennon’s and McLennan’s shared some similarities with McCartney’s. All of the Go-Between’s songs were literate and melodic and most of them dealt with failed relationships. Grant’s songs tended to be more melodic than Robert’s and his lyrics often made reference to nature. Robert had a darker approach and his lyrics tended to be more cynical than Grant’s. It was a creative partnership that combined to make half a dozen wonderful records throughout the 80s

The band had formed in Brisbane in 1978 when both were BA students on different trajectories. Grant had been rejected from film school for being too young but maintained his interest in cinema while at college and was a successful student. In contrast, Robert had a one-track mind for music and had little interest in his studies. Naturally the two became friends, Robert taught Grant how to play the bass and the rest is history. The two formed The Go-Betweens, Grant eventually moved to lead guitar and they wrote some of the best songs from down under that you’ve never heard. They moved from Australia to England and from label to label. Sadly, they never sold enough to the record-buying public and the band called it a day at the end of the 80s. They reunited over the last decade and released three final albums during that time. My favourite albums by the band, however, come from their original incarnation and I’ve included seven covers from that time below. They’re followed by two musical tributes to the band, but first I begin with four songs that Grant recorded while the Go-Betweens were in hiatus throughout the 90s

In 1991, Grant released his first solo album as well as a collaboration with Steve Kilbey of The Church. The duo called themselves Jack Frost and shared writing and vocal duties on the self-titled album. Thought That I Was Over You is the title of my favourite track on the album. Four years later, they followed it up with their second and final album called Snow Job. McLennan’s other collaboration during this period came in 1998 when he was joined by a number of established Australian musicians in The Far Out Corporation. Parachute is the one that jumps out at me when I listen to their only album, FOC. As members of The Go-Betweens, Grant and Robert had never recorded other people’s songs. In 1991, Robert’s take on Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song appeared on the I’m Your Fan compilation and a year later Grant released his fine version of If I Should Fall Behind by The Boss. That appeared on the Lighting Fires single taken from Fireboy, the second of his four solo albums. Robert has also released four solo albums of original songs plus the ten-track covers collection, If I Had a New York Girlfriend (1994). Grant released his second cover that year when Roger McQuinn’s Ballad of Easy Rider appeared on his Horsebreaker Star double album

The Go-Betweens were never a commercial success and other acts weren’t exactly lining up to record their songs. The first time one of Grant’s Go-Between songs was performed by someone else would appear to have been in 1990. That song was In the Core of the Flame from Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express and the band was The I-Burnettes. I haven’t been able to track that one down, but two more of his compositions appeared in 1992 as b-sides to singles by a couple of UK bands. That was the year that The Wedding Present from Leeds placed a dozen singles in the Top 30 – one for each month. The reverse of each 7″ contained a cover and the flip side of January’s Blue Eyes was their reverent take on Cattle and Cane. Scotland’s Del Amitri also got all their singles into the Top 30 that year and their version of Bye Bye Pride is taken from the final one of the three, Just Like a Man. In 2008, Geordie art rockers Maximo Park were one of thirty contemporary acts to take on a song from the past for a double album of covers. You can find their version of Was There Anything I Could Do? on Independents ID08. Also in the last decade, two American bands have put out covers albums that have included a Go-Betweens song. In 2002, Ivy recorded Streets of Your Town for Guestroom and last year Nada Surf performed their version of Love Goes On for their If I Had a Hi-Fi album

Two Go-Betweens tribute albums featuring acts from the Land of Oz have also been released. The most recent was a 14-track collection from 2007 called Write Your Adventures Down. My favourite on it is singer-songwriter Darren Hanlon‘s version of Right Here. That song was also the title of the previous tribute album from 1995 that featured a whopping 20 songs. I’ve gone for a nice version of The Devil’s Eye by The Killjoys. Another band that appeared on that album was Smudge and they had already sang about Australia’s premier songwriting partnership a single of theirs from 1991. Don’t Want to Be Grant McLennan is a tongue-in-cheek plea from the singer who dreams about writing songs in the style of Robert Forster, but ends up writing like Grant McLennan instead. He also namechecks the four Beatles and even claims that he doesn’t want to write like them! Methinks he doth protest too much as his song has a strong melody and even mentions the title of a tune from Grant’s solo debut as well as quoting a line from Bye Bye Pride. The final song also has a funny title and it comes from Glasgow’s Belle & Sebastian. It was originally recorded for a John Peel session and was released in 2008 on The BBC Sessions. The song seems to be about fandom and is quite complimentary of the Go-Betweens and the group’s two songwriters. The Go-Betweens didn’t have a lot of fans throughout their lifetime and I guess many of us only knew Grant through his music. He seemed like a guy well worth knowing, as Belle and Sebastian sing in their song:

‘Cause I’m a fan of the Go-Betweens
A fan of Robert, and I always have been
But I like Grant, now that I’ve met him
Because he’s charming

Of all the stars, and all the would-be stars
I’d take him home, to my mum and dad
Yeah, he’s charming, but he’s a trouble-maker too
He amuses me greatly

Thought That I Was over You – Jack Frost

Parachute – Far Out Corporation

If I Should Fall Behind (Bruce Springsteen cover) – Grant McLennan

Ballad Of Easy Rider (Roger McGuinn cover) – Grant McLennan

Cattle & Cane (Go Betweens cover) – The Wedding Present

Bye Bye Pride (Go Betweens cover) – Del Amitri

Was There Anything I Could Do? (Go Betweens cover) – Maximo Park

Streets Of Your Town (Go Betweens cover) – Ivy

Love Goes On (Go-Betweens cover) – Nada Surf

Right Here (Go Betweens cover) – Darren Hanlon

Devil’s Eye (Go Betweens cover) – Killjoys

Don’t Want to Be Grant McLennan – Smudge

Shoot The Sexual Athlete – Belle & Sebastian


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