I’m at that age where you don’t have a ‘best friend’ or a ‘favourite band’ because you’ve been exposed to too many people and bands. In saying that, Silverchair are right up there when i think about bands that are insanely great. I have been listening to them since i got up this morning and decided to make a short rundown of my top ten songs from the band alongside some text commentary. You’ll notice a hefty majority are from two of their records, that’s simply because they’ve released five and i didn’t really like the first two at all.
1. Ana’s Song
I have credited this song in multiple interviews for well over a decade now as being the song that inspired me to start writing my own music – it’s totally true. This song hit me harder than any song before it when i first heard it in late 1999 [when i was all of 14]. I was at my friend Paddy’s house and he was showing me some music, all of which i liked, however this is the song i made him repeat over and over to the point where he just lent me the CD [i don’t think i’ve given you it back yet mate, sorry!]. Learning that the band were only 6/7 years older than me at the time of this release filled me with the confidence that maybe i could be as good as they were in the term of the age gap. This song is to blame for my songwriting career without a shadow of a doubt. In regards to the song itself [and a fact i would learn only years later as i didn’t have my own internet connection until 2003 or so] it’s about the singers battle with anorexia – this is why the line ‘ana wrecks your life / like an anorexia life‘ holds so much importance – what a fucking brave thing to document in audio, right? Daniel had been thrust into the spotlight at the age of 14/15 when the band released their debut record, frogstomp, and although he wasn’t/isn’t world famous, he was/is the posterboy for rock music in his native australia and is hounded on a daily basis. This was always going to have some effect on him and anorexia seemed to be it. In reading their biography, it was stated that daniel thought that every chef in the world wanted to poison him and that he automatically assumed food all contained razorblades – an incredibly irrational way of thinking, i’m sure you’ll agree. Another interesting tidbit is that when the vocal tracks for the entire‘Neon Ballroom’ album session [of which this song is a component] were finished and reviewed, they were found to have an irregular ‘clicking’ sound that rendered them unusable. Having sung his heart out for weeks on those songs, daniel had to return to redo every single song – it has been said that it took him ‘weeks and weeks’ to even muster the courage to re-sing this particular song as he felt he closed that episode once and for all on the first pass. I know only too well that singing about something incredibly personal can reduce your mental and physical energy in a zap – so for him to redo the song a month or so later, took immense courage and bravery. As an avid Silverchair collector, i still hope to one day hear those original vocal takes.
2. Tuna in the Brine How dare a 21 year old write something like this! This absolutely blew my mind when i first heard it. Please remember that a few years previous, i had been rocking out to their previous album … and then this?! Not only is one of the most unique album tracks from an established band i’ve ever heard, but the vocal melodies and performance is simply stunning – there are no other words. In their album documentary, the two other band members recall going to daniel’s house to hear the new tracks and thinking ‘what is this?’ in regards to the new material – i think that was a thought echoed by the entire fan community back in the the day – but in a good way. Silverchair had essentially released three straight-up rock albums up until this point and it was probably time for a chance such as this. Unfortunately, there’s always going to be a contingent of fans that want the band to replicate over and over – and so, this record lost the bands many fans despite them openly admitting that songs such as ‘The Lever’ were only included to appease those fans that loved the rocky/riff side of the band. Shame.
3. Across the Night How dare a 21 year old write something like this! [sorry for the repeat line]. I could nearly and copy and paste the above comments into this song’s commentary – how could a 20/21 year old come up with this kind of genius? At that age most of us are just learning the craft and daniel johns was composing this?! Daniel gives a nod to the likes of Kate Bush for inspiring these types of tracks. He would sit at his piano that’s facing the ocean in his mansion in Merewether in Australia and just watch the sun go down whilst composing -The line ‘it was the moon that stole my slumber’ is a direct nod to this writing style- i wish he’d do it more often if this is the audio result. It’s just such an intelligent song in terms of arrangement, instrumentation and especially vocal melodies. The change in the bridge that essentially makes it a new song is stunning – when i first bought the record [edit: my girlfriend at the time, tracey, bought it for me – thanks trace!] i replayed the ending segment over and over and over again. Just like i will likely suggest a handful of times below; please go and check out the live version of this song from Newcastle – it’s even better than the studio version.
4. Straight Lines
This came out in early 2007 when i was living in a penthouse apartment with my friend Christy in the centre of derry. This album will forever remind me of this era because it was all i played. We had a full sized pool table in our living room and would always whack on some music before our games started – this tended to be our go-to record [alongside the bowling for soup album at the time]. Christy wasn’t really naturally into this kind of music before he met me, something he openly stated, but i still remember a moment that filled me with smiles; coming home late after work one night to him playing pool by himself with the album playing – small victories. Whilst this song is clearly the most immediate on the record, the entire ‘Young Modern’ album is fantastic and varied. I’m sure that somewhere deep down in my sentimental heart it states that i adore this song simply because it was the first song back after a five-year+ hiatus … but all these years later, i think it’s simply because it’s an amazing track from top to bottom. I’ve never been sure whether i liked the video or not; but the song is always king to me so that doesn’t matter much. As a major fan of the band [that saw them do a few shows during the period leading up to this record such as clipsal festival and such] i guess i always wanted them to look and be a certain way; and gone were the long blonde locks and the youthfulness of the band – it was cool, but just a little shocking at first.
5. Emotion Sickness
If there’s a ‘top 10 silverchair songs’ list in existence that doesn’t include this song, then they’re wrong. It should be in every single list ever. This ambitious track was written by an 18 year old! When i was 18 i was writing the most boring bar-chord rock songs that the world has ever heard, but this aussie musician was pulling emotive beautiful songs like this from his brain – it’s not fair. This song is the first on their ‘Neon Ballroom’ album and what a way to start my favourite record of all time. If you read my description of track number one above, you’ll know that this isn’t my favourite song from the record, however it is my second favourite and still one that i’ll repeat today – nearly 20 years later. It’s a nailed-on favourite of their live show and a song i cannot remember them not playing live in every set since it was recorded. Oh, that’s right, check out the ‘Rock IM Ring‘ or ‘Rock AM Ring‘ version of this song because daniel does some scarily high vocals that no man should be able to do! The entire band drink from a few litre bottles of straight vodka that’s sitting on the drum riser during these shows too; so they are quite interesting when compared to their usual [at the time] professional shows – i don’t know what was going on that day. The line ‘addict with no heroine’ is amazing.
6. Without You
As a straight guy that writes poetry and plasters hearts over everything – it won’t shock you to hear that when i saw this video i totally crushed on the singer. I remember it being around 2001 and using a napster rip-off called WinMX [yes. i used to pirate music 🙁 – no, i’m not happy about it] – it took literal days to download this video on the service, but i remember opening the video [in Realplayer – remember?] and just watching it on a loop. Daniel looks incredibly female in this video to me. During this phase he was very effeminate and, growing up in a household of six older sisters and no father figure, i’ve always been that way and gravitated toward those that are that way. I’m only writing about daniels looks in this video because it’s something that sticks out as i rewatch the video all these years later. The song itself was something i performed for my first vocal exam when i joined music college – it’s simple in terms of playability, but the vocals are a lot harder to nail than you might think. In their book, the band mention that this song was actually written and recorded during the previous record cycle but just didn’t fit the album – personally, as a huge fan of the band, i do not envisage any version of this song fitting on the previous album – so i’m sincerely grateful for their editing skills on that call. An absolute gem of a track.
7. Miss You Love
Do you remember having a piece of software called MSN – that allowed you to chat to other friends in realtime years before facebook? The line from this song ‘i love the way you love / but i hate the way i’m supposed to love you back’ was my MSN name for years. Without a shadow of a doubt i will get it permanently inked on my body at some stage [to match my other two silverchair tattoos]. I played a handful of acoustic shows when i was pretty young and didn’t know what i was doing and this was a song i always played. In fact, here’s an awful cover of the song that i recorded into a webcam microphone circa 2001/2002 – it truly is cringy but what the hell. The song itself is beautifully sparse – and as a writer, i can tell you that emptiness in songs is the hardest thing to achieve because we writers have so many ideas to fill the gaps. Again, the best version of this song in my opinion is not the studio version, but the version they play at the ‘Big Day Out’ festival – daniels vibrato in that final chorus has been giving me goosebumps since 2001 and continues to. The subtitle in the official video below ‘are you falling asleep? no. i’m falling apart’ is something to be admired, too.
8. Spawn Again
For any Silverchair fans that might be reading, this is probably one of the only ‘shocker’ decisions on my list, but to me it earns its keep on this top ten. Not only do i think it’s an amazing track and love it’s message and lyrical content [veganism etc] – but it is the glue that holds the entire ‘Neon Ballroom’ album together. It adds so much depth to that record and is placed perfectly in the sequence. Also, the version played live in Melbourne park is simply astounding – it gave daniel the chance to truly get his pent-up aggression out and scream for 3 minutes. The song itself lends itself to something that could have fit on their previous record ‘Freak Show’, but that’s part of the reason why i feel it fits on this record – as it’s a nod to their recent past. This comes directly after the beautiful ‘Ana’s Song’ – so if that doesn’t showcase the diversity of the band, i’m not sure what could! I haven’t got my physical copy of the record to hand, but i think this is the song on the liner booklet that features more lyrics that are actually contained in the song – when asked about this daniel said something like ‘the songs all started life as poems, and i wanted to present them as complete works whether i sung every line or word on the actual song’ – a pretty cool reason!
9. If You Keep Losing Sleep
During the creation of this album, the band released insanely short [30 seconds or less] video clips that showed the band in the studio either recording distorted guitars, banging on drums or, in this occasion, recording a very peculiar vocal part. I remember being perplexed when i heard this vocal part because it was simply that; a vocal part with no surrounding musical context. You have to understand, coming from the genius of the previous record ‘Diorama’, i was expecting something in the same vein-ish – but this isolated vocal intro completely threw me. When i eventually bought the record and got to hear the song in full, it astounded me. I wish more bands would release videos of them in the studio because it not only heightens the anticipation for the record, but it allows us to warm to songs we don’t even know about yet! This song is just totally unique and a beautiful work of audio art. The arrangement and composition is just like nothing the band had done before. Remember, these are the rock darlings of the australian music scene ….
I’ll never understand why this song fell short of having a place on ‘Diorama’ as in my opinion, it would have been a better piano-based closer than ‘After All These Years’. Also, i think the lyrical content follows a closer thread to the rest of the aforementioned album than the aforementioned song does. A beautiful and unique piano ballad. The song below is a demo recording of the track that was never really held in contention to have a home on the record, but still was deemed good enough to record as a b-side to an album single. I miss the days when bands let their hair down on b-sides and gave us all a glimpse into how they could be had it not been for their bowing down to the commercial gods. Listed below as part of the ‘songs you’ve probably never heard’ is a song called ‘Ramble’ – apparently once the record executive [Kevin Williamson] from Atlantic records heard the record, he asked the band to go and write a few more songs – ‘Ramble’ and ‘Asylum’ are apparently the two songs that the band emerged from the studio with; neither of which displaced any album track – make of that which you will! Oh, by the way, since i’ve mentioned this involvement from record label – i totally suggest you seek out and watch ‘The Creation of Diorama’ as it’s fantastic [you can see a slice of it here]. Whilst i’ve linked the studio version of the song below, i would ask you to check out the version played live in Newcastle as the vocals as insanely marvellous and majorly outdo the studio vocals. One of the best b-sides i’ve ever heard from any band – just makes me wonder about the b-side archives of the best bands around the world – stuff we’ll never get to hear. Insane.
Bonus: 10 Silverchair songs you’ve probably never heard;
The songs below are either demos or outtakes from various albums. I know a handful of big silverchair fans that didn’t even know these songs existed, so if you’re a fan of the band and have never heard these tracks… feast your ears!