Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings are burning the midnight oil with the April 30 release of Essential Oils, a 2-CD, 36-song chronicle of one of Australia’s favorite bands, Midnight Oil. This new survey of the rockers’ long career takes in all twelve of Midnight Oil’s studio albums in addition to two rare EPs.
Midnight Oil had its roots in the band Farm. Founded in 1972, Farm performed familiar classic rock as part of its repertoire and evolved to touch on the burgeoning sounds of progressive rock. Eventually, the members of Farm – Peter Garrett on vocals and synthesizer, Rob Hirst on drums, Andrew James on bass guitar and Jim Moginie on keyboards and lead guitar – developed a hard-rock approach all their own, and the group’s style solidified further with the addition in 1977 of guitarist Martin Rotsey. Soon, the renamed and re-energized Midnight Oil was recording its first, self-titled album. The group jumped from its independent Powderworks label to CBS with the 1981 release of the Glyn Johns-produced Place Without a Postcard, but its true breakthrough didn’t come until one year later with 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Of course, there had been a personnel change by this point – Peter Gifford had replaced Andrew James on bass – but Midnight Oil scored a No. 3 hit in Australia with the album lasting 171 weeks on the chart. 10, 9 was also the group’s first album to be picked up for U.S. distribution by Columbia Records. All of these key early career highlights, and beyond, are captured on Essential Oils.
The first disc of the chronologically-assembled Essential Oils spotlights the band’s formative years, through 1985’s Species Diseases EP, while the second disc picks up with 1988’s international hit Diesel and Dust and ends up all the way at 2002’s swansong Capricornia. All told, 28 single sides are joined by eight album and EP tracks. David Fricke of Rolling Stone has provided the new liner notes, writing, “In their time, on stage and record, there was nothing in rock – in Australia or anywhere else – like Midnight Oil.” Fricke details the “14-album, 25 year campaign against glitz, injustice and complacency, corporate greed and environmental crime, by a band that had everything going against it but believed – stubbornly, rightly – that nothing would stop it.” With Australian chart-topper Diesel and Dust, too, the band successfully penetrated the American consciousness. From 1988 to 1993, Midnight Oil placed nearly a dozen songs on the Top 20 of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts, starting in 1988 with “Beds Are Burning.” “The Dead Heart” and “Dreamworld” built on the popularity of “Beds,” and Midnight Oil achieved platinum sales certifications (and gold in the U.K.) for the Diesel album. It spent more than one year on the Billboard 200.
There’s more on Midnight Oil’s anthology after the jump!
Naturally, Midnight Oil’s social awareness and activism had begun to make headlines, as well, and Essential Oils reflects those many stories. As early as 1983, the band’s album Red Sails in the Sunset coincided with Peter Garrett’s run for the Australian Senate on a Nuclear Disarmament platform. The Oils’ 1985 EP Species Deceases was released to mark the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings that brought World War II to a close. Diesel‘s hit single “The Dead Heart” was notable for having been written as a response to the ‘handing back’ ceremony of Uluru (then Ayers Rock) to its Aboriginal owners. Midnight Oil even embarked on a tour with the Aboriginal group, the Warumpi Band, on the Blackfella/Whitefella tour.
Peter Gifford retired from the Midnight Oil line-up in 1987, following the recording of Diesel and Dust, and he was replaced by Bones Hillman. Hillman remained in the group until it officially disbanded in 2002. Hillman appeared on Blue Sky Mining, the 1990 follow-up to Diesel which became the band’s highest-charting U.S. album with a No. 20 placement on the Billboard 200. The title of Blue Sky Mining itself had social significance; the LP was so named in honor of the blue asbestos miners in Western Australia who developed mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Blue Sky Mining reaffirmed Midnight Oil’s commitment to a better world. Shortly after Blue Sky‘s release, on May 30, 1990, the group performed an impromptu concert on a flatbed truck in front of Manhattan’s Exxon Building. Peter Garrett explained in a press conference, “We chose the front of the Exxon Building not because we attribute any special or particular blame to that corporation, but because the spill of oil in Prince William Sound from the Exxon Valdez and the whole history of what happened since that period of time for us was a perfect image and metaphor for what’s going on around the world – in our country, in Europe, in the Third World, and here.”
Age clearly didn’t dull the anger and desire for change that marked much of Midnight Oil’s finest and most visceral music. 1998’s Redneck Wonderland chastised the anti-migrant and anti-Aboriginal sentiments still rampant in the Oils’ homeland of Australia, while the group’s final album to date, 2002’s Capricornia, was too inspired by the plight of the Aborigines and named after a 1938 memoir by Xavier Herbert about his experiences as the governmental Protector of Aboriginies in Darwin.
The rich legacy of Midnight Oil receives a comprehensive retrospective from Columbia and Legacy on April 30. You can pre-order the new set at the link below!
Midnight Oil, Essential Oils (Columbia/Legacy 88725 49763 2, 2013)
- Run By Night
- Cold Cold Change
- Back On the Borderline
- Wedding Cake Island
- No Time for Games
- Don’t Wanna Be the One
- Armistice Day
- Lucky Country
- Only the Strong
- Short Memory
- Read About It
- US Forces
- Power and the Passion
- When the Generals Talk
- Best of Both Worlds
- Beds Are Burning (Mainstream Rock #6)
- Put Down That Weapon
- Dreamworld (Modern Rock #16, Mainstream Rock #37)
- The Dead Heart (Mainstream Rock #11)
- Blue Sky Mine (Mainstream Rock #1, Modern Rock #1)
- Forgotten Years (Modern Rock #1, Mainstream Rock #11)
- King of the Mountain (Modern Rock #3, Mainstream Rock #20)
- One Country
- Truganini (Modern Rock #4)
- My Country
- In the Valley
- Surf’s Up Tonight
- Redneck Wonderland
- White Skin Black Heart
- Say Your Prayers
- Golden Age
- Luritja Way
CD 1, Track 1 from Midnight Oil (originally issued Australia 1978, Powderworks)
CD 1, Tracks 2-3 from Head Injuries (originally issued Australia 1979, Powderworks)
CD 1, Tracks 4-5 from Bird Noises (EP originally issued Australia 1980, Powderworks)
CD 1, Tracks 6-8 from Place Without A Postcard (originally issued Australia 1981, CBS)
CD 1, Tracks 9-13 from 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 (originally issued Australia 1982, CBS; U.S. 1983, Columbia)
CD 1, Tracks 14-16 from Red Sails In the Sunset (originally issued Australia 1984, CBS; U.S. 1985, Columbia)
CD 1, Tracks 17-18 from Species Deceases (EP originally issued Australia 1985, CBS; U.S. 1990, Columbia)
CD 2, Tracks 1-5 from Diesel and Dust (originally issued Australia 1987, CBS; U.S. 1988, Columbia)
CD 2, Tracks 6-9 from Blue Sky Mining (originally issued Australia & U.S. 1992, Columbia)
CD 2, Tracks 10-12 from Earth and Sun and Moon (originally issued Australia & U.S. 1993, Columbia)
CD 2, Track 13 from Breathe (originally issued Australia & U.S. 1996, Columbia/W.O.R.K.)
CD 2, Tracks 14-15 from Redneck Wonderland (originally issued Australia & U.S. 1998, Columbia)
CD 2, Track 16 from The Real Thing (Studio and live recordings, originally issued Australia & U.S. 2000, Columbia)
CD 2, Tracks 17-18 from Capricornia (originally issued Australia 2002, Sony Music & internationally on Liquid 8)