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Song of the Day (11/07/08: Midnight Oil Day) November 7, 2009

Posted by monty in music.
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In a fair and just world, Midnight Oil would be as big as U2.  They tread the same lyrical ground (vaguely philosophical pleas for human rights), sport a charismatic frontman (6’5″ shaven-headed Peter Garrett), and their music packs a muscular, anthemic  punch.  They flirted with U.S. stardom in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but never quite caught on, maybe because it was harder for them to travel here from their native Australia to tour, maybe because their songs were just too, well, Australian.  Frequently namechecking the native people of their continent, as well as Australian geographical landmarks and historical figures, their music, as good as it was, might have been just a little too foreign for many Americans.  They released several albums in the latter part of the 90s, and then Garrett quit the band to pursue a political career.  He’s currently the Australian Minister for Environment, Heritage, and the Arts.

Here’s a clip of them performing live at the Sydney, Australia Olympics in 2000.  The song, “Beds Are Burning” (from their 1988 high-water mark, Diesel and Dust), is about the way Australian aborigines had their land stolen from them by British settlers.  It takes a supremely ballsy band to perform this song in this venue, and it’s even ballsier that every member of the band is wearing clothing that reads, simply, “Sorry.”

The next two clips come from what I think is their defining moment.  After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, the band staged a protest in front of Exxon headquarters in New York City.  They pulled a flatbed truck in front of the building in the middle of the day and played a full concert in front of a giant backdrop that read, “Midnight Oil Makes You Dance, Exxon Oil Makes Us Sick.”  For some reason, only two songs from this triumphant event are available on YouTube.  I’m including them both.  The first is their song “River Runs Red” (from 1990 album Blue Sky Mining).  The second is a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”

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