Beds Are Burning

Beds Are Burning.jpg

Date Aired
December 1, 2016
Running Time
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Todd plays "Beds Are Burning" on the piano.

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at bands and artists who are known for only one song. And today, we finally - finally - finish off the requests that I sold off on Patreon, thank God. [Screenshot of Todd's Patreon] I will do it again next time I'm absolutely desperate for cash, so probably soon. I accidentally sold way too many, though, so next time, it's gonna be, like, stupid expensive. [chuckles] Geez. Requests, requests. Well, anyway, on to the episode. And you know? [clips of "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and "The Safety Dance"] It seems like I do a lot of 80s new wave bands on this show, so after all that, it's finally time to end on something...

Todd: ...a little different. An 80s alternative band! And those are absolutely not the same thing!

Video for "Beds Are Burning"
Peter Garrett: Out where the river broke

Todd (VO): Billboard started the alternative rock charts in 1988, as it became not just an underground thing, but a force in its own right, [clips of "Stand" by...] with REM, ["Trouble Me" by...] 10,000 Maniacs and [and "Knock Me Down" by...] the Red Hot Chili Peppers all becoming big deals. But one of the biggest hits of that genre that year...

Todd:...actually came from our good friends down under, a nice intersection between the rise of college rock and the [picture of Crocodile Dundee poster] weird Australian craze of the eighties.

Midnight Oil: How do we sleep while our beds are burning

Todd (VO): Yes, the band we are talking about is Midnight Oil, named after the nightly application of baby oil that keeps the lead singer's head so shiny. These Aussie rockers, led by what looks like a hulked-out John Malkovich, were big in their native country, but...

Todd: the U.S., they only notched one top 40 hit.

Todd (VO): One of those wacky '80s novelty hits about that most hilarious subject: [picture of Colonisation by Lawry Love] horrible human rights abuses.

Todd: Heh, heh, heh, what a goofy decade, am I right?

Peter: It belongs to them, we're gonna give it back

Todd (VO): Ha, yeah. I would love more than anything to avoid heavy topics right now, but just fair warning, this is gonna be a fairly dense episode.

Todd: I didn't pick it. Don't blame me! Blame the [picture of] Australian government! There's blood on your hands, [picture of...] Sir Robert Menzies!

Midnight Oil: The time has come

Before the hit

Todd: Okay, before the hit, [picture of Midnight Oil performing live] they were Midnight Oil, founded in 1978 in Sydney, Australia. And they released [picture shows...] eleven albums. No joke, this band has the most extensive and substantial discography I've ever covered on this show since [album cover of Tubthumper by...] Chumbawamba. Once again, you guys have handed me an actual, legit band. What am I gonna do with you guys?

Clip of "Used and Abused"
Peter: I was taken downtown for my part in the demonstration

Todd (VO): Like here they are right when they started out in the late '70s. I have to say, I think a big part of the appeal is Peter Garrett, the giant mutant who was the frontman. This guy, uh...kind of looks like [picture of] Michael Stipe on steroids. [Live footage] Kinda dances like [brief clip of REM - "Losing My Religion"] Michael Stipe on steroids, too. That's a striking image for a band, you gotta admit.

Clip of "The Power and the Passion"
Midnight Oil: Oh, the power and the passion

Todd (VO): They toiled in the underground for a while. They really started hitting it big in 1982.

Todd: And by "big," I mean Australia big.

Todd (VO): Like, there's a whole music scene down there that we know absolutely nothing about.

Todd: I mean, my image of Australian music has been largely formed by...well, this.

Clip of Men at Work - "Down Under"
Men at Work: I come from a land down under

Todd (VO): But that's the cartoon version of Australia; there's a lot more going on down there.

Todd: Like, you know how Australia's so [world map with Australia in red, followed by map of wildlife of Australia] isolated and weird that its environment brought us such oddities as [pictures of...] the platypus and the echinda and the drop bear?

Clip of "Put Down That Weapon"

Todd (VO): Well, that's a lot like what's going on down there musically. There's a lot of stuff down under that just doesn't make it up over.

Todd: But why Midnight Oil specifically? Why did it take them so long to cross over? After all, they were writing about such a universal topic: [Clip of...] Australian politics.

..."Read About It"
Midnight Oil: Hammer and the sickle, the news is at a trickle

Todd (VO): Yeah, they were very, very earnestly political. They strike me as kind of an [picture of...] Australian U2. And that comparison will probably be helpful in describing why Midnight Oil was strictly regional for a long time.

Todd: Now, let's take a look at one of U2's angriest songs, "New Year's Day."

Clip of U2 - "New Year's Day"
Bono: All is quiet on New Year's Day

Todd (VO): You know, the holiday that's supposed to give us a clean slate and start fresh.

Bono: Nothing changes on New Year's Day

Todd (VO): That punches right through the bullshit, right? Very direct.

Todd: Now, let's compare that to one of Midnight Oil's hits that similarly takes down the hypocrisy of [single cover of...] Armistice Day.

Clip of "Armistice Day"
Peter: You're watching people fighting, you're watching people losing
On Armistice Day

Todd (VO): You know, Armistice Day?

Todd: Look, I don't know what prompted them to write this, but I do know that Armistice Day is really important in Australian history because it celebrates the end of

News footage of...

Todd (VO): ...World War I, and World War I is a huge turning point for Australia because they lost hundreds of thousands of men in history's [The Onion headline: War Declared by All] all-time stupidest war for no reason other than the King of England told them to.

Todd: And that's basically when Australia started to realize that this whole [meme of the flags of the British Empire] being an appendage of the British Empire thing, this whole relationship's not working out.

Peter: ...looking for a war, and the only guns I saw
Never used in anger

Todd (VO): So I guess that's why Midnight Oil decided to write about it. You know, sang about "this day when we remember the fallen soldiers, you know, bullshit, most of you never saw any fighting. It's all hollow."

Todd: Of course, that's a lot of context I had to add for one song here. I mean...

Todd (VO): didn't know any of that; I had to look it up. It's all fairly Australian, is my point. Most of us don't know that much about Australia.

Todd: Name me an Australian prime minster. Can you? I can't. [Picture of...] Master Blaster?

Performance of "When the Generals Talk"
Peter: This song is especially for those people who are sitting on the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast or the cannabis coast or the cane coast or the, watch it disappear, dangery coast or whatever, and are a little concerned about the disappearance of natural things.

Todd: I...have no idea what you're talking about, dude.

Todd (VO): The song they're introducing has nothing to do with the environment, by the way. Another thing that may have limited their appeal.

Todd: They may have been just too edgy.

Clip of "U.S. Forces"
Peter: U.S. forces give the nod
It's a setback for your country

Todd (VO): Certainly, I don't think Americans in the Reagan Era were ready for this. The market for left-wing protest songs in the early '80s was not that big.

Clip of "Best of Both Worlds"

Anyway, by the mid-'80s, they were really coming into their own, becoming big damn deals in Australia, and they were trying to reach into America...

Todd: ...and the UK, but it just wasn't happening yet.

Todd (VO): Also, around this time, get this, [picture of Peter at speech] Garrett ran for the Australian Senate.

Todd: Didn't win, obviously, I mean. What kind of backwards-ass country lets its celebrities with no political experience get elected to office? Am I right?

Clip of "Short Memory"
Peter: This one's for Henry Kissinger, who got the Nobel Peace Prize for bombing the living daylights out of Cambodia.

Todd (VO): My God, it never ends with these guys.

Peter: The Zulu and the Navajo
The Belgians in the Congo
Short memory

Todd (VO): I think even Rage Against the Machine would be like, [brief clip of live Rage performance] "goddamn, don't you guys talk about anything else? Can't we just watch a football game or something? Why does everything have to be so heavy all the time?"

Todd: But anyway, I think we've finally made it to 1987, when they released the album that would break them overseas, [album cover of...] Diesel and Dust. [Book cover of The 100 Best Australian Albums] And according to this book, see this, Diesel and Dust is [Page listing Diesel and Dust as...] the greatest Australian album of all time. Seriously, [Covers of AC/DC's...] Back in Black is #2, Kick by INXS is #11, Air Supply doesn't even show up at all!

Clips of...

Todd (VO): And of course, by this point, being political is [...Bruce Springsteen's...] starting to get cool again in America. "Born in the USA" and [...and U2 - "Where the Streets Have No Name"] The Joshua Tree are huge hits, so the time is right for the Oils and their...

Todd: album, which would bring them their biggest hit of all time: "The Dead Heart."

Clip of "The Dead Heart"
Midnight Oil: We carry in our hearts the true country
And that cannot be stolen

Todd (VO): The biggest hit in Australia, I should say. It actually crept onto the Hot 100, too. It's about the plight of aborigines.

Todd: Coincidentally, that was also the major theme of their second single, which was...

The big hit

Video for "Beds Are Burning"

Todd: I love this intro, hold on.

Todd (VO): Okay, that is totally the [album cover for the music from] Peter Gunn theme...or close enough.

Peter: Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak

Todd: [with Aussie accent] Desert oak!

Todd (VO): Garrett's singing on this one is, like, halfway between [pictures of...] Johnny Rotten and [Fred Schneider] the guy from the B-52s.

Midnight Oil: How do we sleep while our beds are burning

Todd (VO): Okay, anyway, about the beds. Why are they burning? Is this, like, about that [poster of The Burning Bed] Farrah Fawcett movie where she burns her abusive husband alive?

Todd: No, no, no, it's's actually much uglier than that.

Todd (VO): Okay, now, you know how in America, we have this thing where we [picture of school segregation protest] tend to screw over black people and [painting depicting the Trail of Tears] screw over the natives?

Todd: Okay, well, in Australia, [picture of three aborigines] the black people are the natives, so they were able to screw them over much more efficiently than we did.

Todd (VO): And by the '80s, there was a big push towards reparations or something.

Midnight Oil: The time has come
To say fair's fair

Todd (VO): I...I think that was pretty common knowledge in the '80s. Even a total backwater hick like [clip from...] Crocodile Dundee was supportive of some kind of compensation.

Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan): Aborigines, well, like all God's creatures, they just want the right to roam across the earth and be left in peace.

Todd: While the history of aboriginal people getting boned is pretty extensive...

Todd (VO): ..."Beds Are Burning" is about a specific part of that shameful history, and...

Todd: [nervously chuckling] ...get ready, 'cause it's pretty bad.

Clip of the launch of the Blue Streak missile

Todd (VO): Yeah, the Australian government wanted to test some missiles, but the site they wanted to use had a bad infestation of...

Todd: ...people.

Todd (VO): So, you know, just blowing them all up, that would've been too evil; but doing the tests somewhere else wouldn't be evil enough, so they just rounded everybody up and shipped them away and compensated them with a nice, fat check for zero dollars, and then they put them in these badly made, cheap-o government camps. Oh, and they also stole children from their parents like...

Todd: ...forever. So it was a really bad deal.

Midnight Oil: How do we sleep while our beds are burning

Todd (VO): So the chorus, I'm not sure exactly what that metaphor means, might not be a metaphor at all. I think, you know, beds might literally be burning with, you know, [picture of missile explosion] the missiles.

Todd: Yeah, how can you dance when all these bad things are happening?

Todd (VO): Okay,'re dancing. You're dancing right there to this song.

Todd: Whatever.

Todd (VO): But you can see why they were upset, right? "Beds Are Burning" is the ultimate song of white guilt. Not every left-wing song about injustice is...

Todd: ...meant to make you feel bad, but this one is.

Peter: The time has come
To say fair's fair
To pay the rent
Now, to pay our share

Todd (VO): It's about, you know, us, we, what we did wrong and what we need to do. But of course, you know, it's bouncy and it's upbeat, and that makes it go down easier, I guess.

Todd: Plus, the solution they propose seems...seems so easy.

Peter: Let's give it back

Todd: I mean, let's give it back. [Clip from SpongeBob SquarePants] Give 'em back the land. It's that simple.

Clip from performance at 2000 Olympics

Todd (VO): Of course, no, it is not. It's almost 30 years later, and that fight's still happening. Midnight Oil performed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. You can see they're wearing those shirts [note: the band members are wearing shirts with the word "sorry" emblazoned on them] because, at that point, they were just trying to get the natives an official apology.

Todd: They did eventually get that, by the way, and...

Todd (VO): ...some of the natives just moved back onto their old lands anyway, government be damned.

So yeah, that's a big deal, but it's all very specific to Australia. I'm not sure how many people knew any of that stuff.

Todd: I think they just liked the groove. Gotta admit, it's pretty tight.

The failed follow-up

Clip of "Dreamworld"

Todd (VO): Look, when I started this show, I had this solid idea for the structure based on what I thought was the career path of the one-hit wonder.

Todd: And more and more, I'm finding it not useful. "Failed follow-up."

Clip of Muse - "Uprising"

Todd (VO): Muse has never had a pop hit. No one goes, "man, those Muse guys are huge failures!" [Chapter card crossed out all over: STUPID] This is a stupid structure. Stupid, stupid, I need to revamp this show entirely.

Todd: Christ. I suck.

Video for "Blue Sky Mine"

Todd (VO): Anyway, Midnight Oil never made the Top 40 again, but they were seen pretty often on the alternative rock charts. In fact, their biggest rock hit might actually be their first song from their follow-up album. It's called "Blue Sky Mine."

Peter: But if I work all day at the blue sky mine
Midnight Oil: There'll be food on the table tonight

Todd (VO): You see, there was this...

Todd: ...this asbestos mine, and...

Todd (VO): ...mining company was a little lax with the safety standards, and...didn't go so well for the miners. Gosh, researching this band has taught me so much about all the awful things in Australia's history.

Todd: [giving a thumbs-up] Good ambassadors, you guys. [Picture of Immortan Joe] Starting to wonder if the Mad Max universe isn't an improvement.

Todd (VO): Yeah, like I said, this was #1, [cut to...] as was its follow-up.

Video for "Forgotten Years"
Midnight Oil: The hardest years, the darkest years, the roarin' years, the fallen years

Todd (VO): This is my favorite of their songs, actually. The reason you've never heard of any of these songs is that...

Todd: ...pretty much the entire pre-Nirvana alt-rock scene has been erased from history.

Todd (VO): Unless you were one of the really huge bands like REM or the Cure, it's like you never existed. [Album covers by...] World Party or the Hoodoo Gurus, they were doing...

Todd: ...really well. [Clip of Nirvana - "Smells like Teen Spirit"] And then, Kurt Cobain had a mosh pit at a pep rally, and it all went away.

Clip of "Truganini"

Todd (VO): Anyway, that's what killed them over here. And they were still doing decently well in Australia through the '90s, but, you know, they'd been going for a long time. Eventually...

Todd: ...the hits dried up.

Did they ever do anything else?

Clip of "Underwater"

Todd (VO): Well, the band broke up in 2002 'cause Garrett wanted to keep [brief clip of political ad for Garrett] pursuing that career in politics.

Todd: And get this: he did it.

Footage of Garrett

Todd (VO): He got elected to Parliament. And then, he was appointed Minister of Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts.

Todd: Which is a weird combo of responsibilities.

Todd (VO): And later, he was Minister of Education. So yeah, here's an instance where music did verifiably make a difference, so...

Todd: ...who knows? Maybe someday, we'll end up with [pictures of...] Senator Eddie Vedder or something. Can't be any stupider than what we have now.

Live performance

Todd (VO): Anyway, he's left the government, they've all reunited, and Garrett has released a solo album, so...

Todd: can check all this out on your own time.

Did they deserve better?

Todd: Usually when I cover these bands who are huge in their home country, I say, "you know, they did so well that they didn't need to do better," but here, I'm saying yes, they deserved way better.

Midnight Oil: How can we dance when our Earth is turning

Todd (VO): Now, this was a good damn band with a serious legacy, and they are absolutely worth your time. So do you like political music? Are you into '80s college rock? Are you okay with some of the topics being a little obscure to your little northern hemispheric mind?

Todd: Well, check these guys out right away.

Video ends

Closing tag song: Novaspace - "Beds Are Burning"

"Beds Are Burning" is owned by Columbia Records
This video is owned by me


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