Midnight Oil was an Australian rock band from Sydney, Australia. Through a long and distinguished career, the band became known for its driving hard-rock sound, intense live performances and political activism, particularly in aid of environmentalist and indigenous causes.
Drummer Rob Hirst, vocalist Peter Garrett, and guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey formed the centre of the band from its formation to its breakup. Bass player Andrew James was replaced by Peter Gifford in 1980. Gifford was replaced in 1987 by Bones Hillman.
The group began as a progressive rock band called Farm in the early 1970s. After changing its name to Midnight Oil, the group began to develop an aggressive, punk - hard rock sound. The band built a dedicated fan base through constant touring, and furious live performances, featuring the twin guitars of Moginie and Rotsey, the drumming and vocals of Hirst and the manic presence of the towering, bald Garrett as lead singer. Its first two albums, Midnight Oil and Head Injuries mixed solid guitar rock with progressive flourishes, and further interest was generated by the popular Bird Noises EP, produced by former Supercharge member Lesek Karski, which featured the surf-instrumental "Wedding Cake Island" (named after a rock outcrop in the ocean off Sydney's Coogee Beach). The band's third LP Place Without A Postcard (1981) was recorded with English producer Glyn Johns. Creative tensions between band and producer plagued the recording, however, and the group were not totally happy with the outcome.
Driven largely by commercial pressures to stay with reliable chart-toppers and teenage pop sensations, the Australian music industry in the mid-1970s cast a dismissive eye toward most bands with an alternative outlook. Although consistently championed by Sydney alternative rock station Double Jay and its FM band successor Triple J, the band in the early part of their career were almost totally ignored by Australia's mainstream commercial radio stations. Manager Gary Morris quickly developed a reputation as one of the toughest managers in the business, and became notorious for banning critics or journalists, who were usually given free admission to concerts, for writing unfavourable reviews. One famous case in the mid-80s involved writer and critic Bruce Elder, who in a newspaper review described the band's music as "narrow and xenophobic"; in retaliation, Morris banned him from Oils shows permanently. Elder later recanted, describing them as the only Australian band to have developed a truly Australian sound.
The frostiness of their relationship with the traditional music media quickly saw the band develop a strong "street cred", and a reputation for making no compromises with the music industry. In the early 1980s the band was scheduled to appear on an episode of the all-powerful ABC TV pop show Countdown, but on the day of the show found themselves "bumped" from the lineup. According to Countdown producer Michael Shrimpton, the band had arrived late for rehearsal, and due to the show's very tight schedule and budget there was a strict policy that latecomers were not allowed to appear, and as such they were told they could not perform that day. In retaliation, the group declared that they would never appear on the show, a promise they faithfully kept.
Fans of the group were drawn to the band's "us and them" mindset, and fan loyalty to the Oils' ideas and music was fierce. Two venues at which they built significant fan bases from their early live performances were the Sydney northern beaches pub The Royal Antler at Narrabeen and the Bondi Lifesaver club near Sydney's Bondi Beach. Politically-oriented rock of the style produced by the band was something of a new concept for the Australian music scene, and Peter Garrett quickly earned a reputation as one of the most charismatic and outspoken musicians in the country.
After the release of 1985's Species Deceases EP including the single "Hercules", the band spent several months in 1986 touring outback Australia with Aboriginal group Warumpi Band, playing to small Aboriginal family groups and seeing first hand the seriousness of the issues in health and living standards experienced by Australia's outback indigenous communities. The band was galvanised by the experience and made these the basis of Diesel and Dust (1987), an album focusing on the need for recognition by white Australia of past injustices involving the Aboriginal nation and the need for reconciliation. Featuring the singles "Beds Are Burning" (their biggest international hit), "The Dead Heart", "Put Down That Weapon" and "Dreamworld", the album debuted to worldwide critical acclaim.
In 1993, the band participated in the Another Roadside Attraction tour in Canada, and collaborated with The Tragically Hip, Crash Vegas, Hothouse Flowers and Daniel Lanois on the one-off single "Land" to protest forest clearcutting in British Columbia.
Garrett decided to quit the band on 2 December 2002, to refocus on his political career. In 1984, Garrett had stood for the Australian Senate under the Nuclear Disarmament Party banner, and narrowly lost. He won the seat of Kingsford Smith at the 2004 General Election for the Australian Labor Party and was selected as Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts. On Thursday, 29 November 2007, Labor Prime Minister elect Kevin Rudd named Garrett Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts. The other members of the band continued to work together, but not under the Midnight Oil name, bringing the band's career to a close. After a warm up gig the previous evening at the Manly-Warringah Leagues Club the band, including Garrett, reunited to perform at the WaveAid concert on 29 January 2005, to raise funds for the victims of the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The concert, which took place at the Sydney Cricket Ground, also included performances by Powderfinger, Silverchair, Nick Cave, the John Butler Trio, the Finn Brothers and others.
|Australia||US Hot 100||US Mainstream Rock||US Modern Rock||UK Singles|
|1978||"Run by Night"||100||-||-||-||-||Midnight Oil|
|1981||"Don't Wanna Be the One"||40||-||-||-||-||Place Without a Postcard|
|1982||"Power and the Passion"||8||-||-||-||-||10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1|
|1986a||"The Dead Heart"||4||53||11||-||62c||Diesel and Dust|
|1987a||"Beds Are Burning"||6||17||6||-||6b|
|1987||"Put Down That Weapon"||32||-||-||-||-|
|1990||"Blue Sky Mine"||8||47||1||1||66||Blue Sky Mining|
|1990||"King of the Mountain"||25||-||20||3||-|
|1992||"Sometimes"||33||-||-||20||-||Scream in Blue|
|1993||"Truganini"||10||-||10||4||29||Earth and Sun and Moon|
|1993||"In the Valley"||57||-||-||-||60|
|1993||"Drums of Heaven"||-||-||-||10||-|
|1993||"Outbreak of Love"||-||-||-||9||-|
|2000||"The Real Thing"||48||-||-||-||-||Real Thing|