Like wow, don’t blow your cool: Australia’s retro pub rockers Hoodoo Gurus on “Flash Tracks”

By on April 27, 2018

This episode of Night Flight’s “Flash Tracks” — which originally aired on February 26, 1988, and you can now find streaming on Night Flight Plus — features three videos from Sydney, Australia’s neo-Sixties retro pub rockers Hoodoo Gurus.

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Two of the three — “I Want You Back” and “Like Wow” — were lensed by Australian rock video director John Whitteron, who directed at least five of their videos (often with co-director Tony Stevens).

Talking about the British Invasion-infused jangle-rocker “I Want You Back” — Trouser Press described it as “winsome teen-angst power pop with a deadly hook” — Gurus frontman, guitarist/lead vocalist Dave Faulkner has said, “Some writers refer to their creations as their ‘children’… well, [‘I Want You Back’] felt more akin to having your child grow up to be a serial killer.”

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1985’s spirited punk-rockish “Like Wow” — issued as a single in October ’85 on the band’s Big Time label — was the Gurus’ biggest Australian hit (#28).

“We just liked it because it was noisy,” said Faulkner.

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The video for “Good Times,” directed by Ray Argall, featured the Gurus marching in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, and hangin’ with the Bangles.

In 2011, Susanna Hoffs told A.V. Club‘s Will Harris:

“Yeah! That came about because we toured with the Hoodoo Gurus. We loved touring with the Hoodoo Gurus. I’m blanking on the exact time that we did that, but it was sometime in the mid-’80s. We still see them. The Bangles have been to Australia three times in the last five or six years, and we try to see them every time we’re there. Unfortunately, this last time we were there, I think they were in America, or maybe they were just on the other side of their giant continent. [Laughs.] But we love any opportunity to hang out with them. They’re such great guys.”

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Read more about the Hoodoo Gurus below.

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In 1979, Faulkner — described by Australian rock journo Andrew Mueller as having “iguana-like visage” — formed his first band, the Victims, in his hometown of Perth, on Australia’s west coast.

That same year, he traveled to NYC, where he hung out with drummer Will Rigby and saw the B-52s, the Cramps, the Fleshtones, Ramones, Talking Heads and Rigby’s band, the dBs.

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After Faulkner returned home, he moved two thousand miles away to Sydney, on the other side of the continent.

At a 1980/’81 New Year’s Eve party, Faulkner met guitarists Kimble Rendall and Rod Radalj, who — along with ex-Victims drummer James Baker — became the original lineup of the band, at first called “Le Hoodoo Gurus.”

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At first, the Gurus played mostly cover songs, but it was with one of Faulkner’s clever originals, “Leilani” — about a grieving young man whose girlfriend is tossed into a volcano as an offering to the gods — gave their their first minor Australian hit.

Faulkner’s original tunes thereafter began to reveal a penchant for clever puns and wordsmithery, shot through with sci-fi kitsch and thrift-store revisionism, a musical pu pu platter of pub rock, trashy garage rock and neo-psychedelic influences.

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Both Rendall and Radalj would depart soon thereafter, and their replacements — bassist Clyde Bramley and guitarist Brad Shepherd, both ex-members of the Hitmen, a Radio Birdman side project, and also Super K, who were a bubblegum tribute band — were the first of several revolving-door lineups over the years.

The Gurus dropped the French article “Le” from their name before recording their first album, released in the spring of 1984 on Big Time.

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Its title, Stoneage Romeos, was featured on the back cover, while the front cover displayed garish psychedelicized dinosaurs straight out of the 1966 Raquel Welch caveman flick One Million Years B.C. (although the title was also the name of a 1955 Three Stooges short).

The band dedicated it to a few of their American TV heroes, “Get Smart”‘s “Larabee,” “F-Troop” actor Larry Storch and “Green Acres”‘s smart little pig, “Arnold Ziffel.”

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Stoneage Romeos was also released on their U.S. label, A&M Records, who for some reason insisted on changing the cover artwork to simple purple line-drawings of dinosaurs against a bright orange/pink background.

College radio picked up on what the Gurus were laying down almost immediately, an always-humorous Sixties-influenced pastiche of garagey-rock and neo psych-pop, that plundered and purloined the best elements of every sub-genre they loved.

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Ex-Hitmen drummer Mark Kingsmill replaced original member James Baker before the band launched their first American tour.

In 1985, they recorded their second album, Mars Needs Guitars!, which was released in the U.S. by Big Time America after the Gurus fell out with A&M.

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By ’86, the band were back in the States for a co-headlining tour with then up-and-coming L.A. band, the Bangles, whose “Manic Monday” hit (#2 US) led to them overshadowing their friends from down under, with the Gurus more like an opening act.

The female power-pop foursome also sang on “Party Machine,” another track on the third Gurus album, 1987’s Blow Your Cool, released on Elektra, which also featured L.A. band Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and Mark Walton singing backing vocals on another Gurus track.

Earlier this week, the Hoodoo Gurus announced that, beginning in September 2018, all of their albums are being reissued on vinyl (CD, downloads & streaming too) via Big Time Phonograph Recording Co.

Watch the Hoodoo Gurus videos in our special 1988 “Flash Tracks” episode — which also featured a triad of videos by Flesh for Lulu and the Cult, as well as a special segment by Australia’s roaming reporter Norman Gunston at the 1979 Grammys — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.