Last week I was reading a list of the top ten Stereolab songs that somebody put together for the Stereogum site. I disagreed with 90 percent of the choices. So I thought to myself, I should make a list that you can disagree with 90 percent of the selections. With the Go-Betweens you either lean towards Robert Forester or Grant McLennan. The younger me was a McLennan guy, the older me is most certainly a Forester disciple. Since McLennan’s untimely death Forster is all we’ve got. He’s reportedly working on his sixth solo album so what better reason to choose him for this first semi-irregular installment of Ten Best.
10. Make Her Day (Go-Betweens – Bright Yellow Bright Orange -2003)
This comes from one of the slighter Go-Betweens albums, their second reunion album. This song flew under my radar until I saw them play it live on what became their final tour of the US. It was at the Triple Door here in Seattle. Forster counted it off tapping his boot against the stage floor. The jangling warmness filled the room and this song just bloomed. This recorded version doesn’t quite reach those heights I experienced seeing it performed live that night, but it is close. A shame they buried at the end of Bright Yellow Bright Orange.
9. Warm Nights (Robert Forster – Warm Nights -1996)
I remember when Warm Nights came out and how disappointed many were about it. After all, it was a Robert Forster album produced by Edwyn Collins. It had to be good. I guess we were expecting something else. Hindsight provides some clarity thankfully. The slight country tinge is something Forster has explored a lot on his solo records and that is present here, but there is also Television-esque guitar that gives this song a different feel than much of his catalog. His previous record was an all covers album titled I Had a New York Girlfriend, but this is his most New York sounding song he ever wrote.
8. Dear Black Dream (Robert Forster – Danger In the Past -1990)
Dear Black Dream comes from Forster’s first solo album. After the breakup of the Go-Betweens he went to Germany and recorded it with Mick Harvey of the the Bad Seeds. It was well known that Forster was the one who often struggled with writers block while McLennan seems to have an endless supply of songs. So it was kind of surprising that Danger In the Past bettered McLennan’s Watershed. Dear Black Dream has a gospel feel to it, like he’s elated to have come out of the murk of being in the under appreciated Go-Betweens and the idea of wide open roads ahead brought excitement and hope to his song writing.
7. Surfing Magazines (Go-Betweens – Friends of Rachel Worth -2000)
This song comes from the Go-Betweens’s first album after reuniting after 12 years apart and four solo albums. Surfing Magazines successfully unites the whimsy of adolescent dreams of being a surf bum and dropping off of the grid with becoming an adult and the knowledge that those were just dreams. You get the feeling from the song’s poignancy that he thinks he should have really been a surfer, or at least still wonders what might have been.
6. Spring Rain (Go-Betweens – Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express -1986)
McLennan and Forester both had distinct styles, but every once in a while they would write a song that sounded like the other one. Spring Rain had a killer hook and beautiful guitar solo that gave you the feeling that the two were living closely together. This was written after they’d moved to London from Brisbane so they probably were.
5. The Circle (Robert Forster Calling from a Country Phone -1993)
Forster’s second album is his best one and unfortunately the only one that was never released in the US. Go figure, the curse of the Go-Betweens continues I guess. The Circle married the pop smarts of the Go-Betweens with country twang and charm. He seems like he’s having fun, like he did when he sang odes to Lee Remick and Karen.
4. People Say (Go-Betweens second 7″ single -1979)
In the liner notes of the Go-Betweens best of 1978-1990, Forster said that, “Sometimes I think this is the best song I’ve ever written.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s got a great old time organ throughout and the line “The clouds lie on their backs, rain on everyone, But you always stay dry, You got your own private own sun” which is a classic. Not bad for the second single out of the gate.
3. Darlinghurst Nights (Go-Betweens – Oceans Apart -2005)
If under duress and I had to pick a favorite Go-Betweens album, I might pick their final album Oceans Apart. That is due to the number of high quality Forster songs on it. The best one is Darlinghurst Nights, which is a tour through the past that begins with an acoustic guitar and Forster opening a notebook and progresses into a frenzy of horns while people and places streak by. It’s a glimpse of the past that like all great songs, provides more questions than answers.
2. Lee Remick (Go-Betweens first 7″ single -1978)
Forster wrote both sides of the first Go-Betweens single. This was the A-side. A Two and a half minute ode to a screen jem of the past. “She was in The Omen with Gregory Peck, She got killed, what the heck?!” Not taking himself too seriously, and not knowing that he had a written a classic song at his first go. The song that launched a thousand indiepop groups.
1. Draining The Pool For You (Go-Betweens – Spring Hill Fair -1984)
Forster as the pool boy. Not for long, because he knows that he’s too smart for this kind of gig. Of course it’s analogy for many of life’s unfair predicaments. Here Forster takes the mundane experience of pool cleaning and makes it into an ode of contempt. He’s draining the pool, but not the way you think. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, knowing that these Hollywood stars could just as easily be draining the pool for him.