To celebrate what would have been Michael Hutchence’s 61st birthday last week, we’re taking a deep dive into his work with fellow Aussie pop rockers, INXS. Over ten albums (we’re disregarding Switch and 2010’s Original Sin because they were released after Hutchence’s death in 1997), the band have released a slew of singles – most of which broke the charts aross the globe. With charismatic frontman Michael behind the microphone, and a group of talented, mischievous musicians beside him, it’s going to be tough to pick just ten tracks above all else. But we’re nothing if not brave here.
Without further ado, my pick for the ten best songs INXS ever released, compiled from hours of listening. And hours of enjoyment.
10. Burn For You – 1983’s The Swing was arguably the album that showcased the band as they finally found their feet; leaving behind the years of new wave and punkish undertones for more Kick-esque dance numbers and lascivious synth. The Swing is home to a great many numbers, but ‘Burn For You’ always comes out on top. It’s got a healthy dose of early ’80s pop, romantic message and infectious beat. ‘Burn For You’ was the opener of INXS’ incredble ‘Rocking the Royals’ show at Melbourne, 1985. And what better number to play in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales?
9. Bitter Tears – Never before has multi-instrumentalist Kirk Pengilly been so iconic behind the mouthpiece of that sax. Michael may be hurting in this one, but the chart-stomping hit from X rocks and rocks. The chorus erupts into a real powerhouse of mainstream pomp. As Hutchence screams, ‘And I thought I was-a doin’ no wrong!’ down the mic at the two-minute-thirty mark, you’re already swaying your head back and forth. Just groovy.
8. Need You Tonight – Such a simple chord structure. Such a simple beat. It was the band’s highest-charting song in both the US and the UK. It fits Michael Hutchence down to a tee. You can practically feel that irresistable, sexual power drip from his sweat-soaked body, more than even ‘Taste It’ could. As the story goes, songwriter Andrew Farriss came up with the instantly recognisable riff as he was waiting for a cab. I guess that kind of genius just comes naturally to some. The hit remained a live staple of INXS’ live shows, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s just flawless.
7. Hear That Sound – I always felt the album tracks of Kick’s follow-up, X, deserved more limelight. ‘Hear That Sound’, X’s closer, is full of such hope, and an epic sense of grandeur. Especially live, it delivers punchy verse after verse, with every member of the band at their best. ‘Hear That Sound’ has an echo of INXS’ early, new wave sound – only turned up to 11. That last minute in particular is nothing short of legendary.
6. I’m Just A Man – 1997’s Elegantly Wasted is similar to T. Rex’s Dandy in the Underworld, in a way. Both were albums that closed the careers of big bands; both tried to recapture the spirit of earlier successes when recent efforts went unnoticed. And both, very tragically, were released before their respective frontmen died. Elegantly Wasted actually does a neat job with fusing 90s INXS with the mainstream power pop of Kick, and features a slew of more than listenable tracks. ‘I’m Just A Man’ just beats them all, though. It’s raw, it’s emotional, and it thunders into its finale with such, such power. Hutchence really sounds vulnerable here, and it makes for one hell of a song. ‘I’m just a man; my will is so strong.’ is delivered time and time again with Hutchence’s vicious energy. A great version of the song comes when the band performed it in the 643rd ‘2 Meter Session’ – a Dutch television show – in 1997.
5. Kick – The fact that ‘Kick’ wasn’t even put out as a single from its own album is a testament to how strong this record was, and still is. Rallying trumpets, bluesy sax and explosive chorus; ‘Kick’ has it all. It’s a real anthem that builds you up and lets you know that whether you win or lose, you’ll always carry on. There’s not much more to say than that. It’s just catchy. Sometimes that’s all a song needs.
4. Mystify – Kick really is so good it deserves another mention. ‘Mystify’ was my window into INXS, but even in its own merit remains a standout against the likes of ‘Need You Tonight’, ‘New Sensation’ and ‘Never Tear Us Apart’. The opening piano of Andress Farriss is nothing but haunting; before slamming into the raucous backbeat of brother Jon. ‘Mystify, mystify me…’ – Hutchence pours his charisma into this one, and it cuts through the song’s crackling energy like a knife.
3. The Stairs – I, somehow, wrote ‘The Stairs’ off when I first heard it. True, it takes over one-and-a-half-minutes for Hutchence to moan seductively into the microphone, but when it gets going, it gets going. A heartfelt tale on the slives people have and how they pass eachother so constantly (Story to story, building to building, street to street, we pass eachother…), Jon Farriss’ drumwork keeps us hooked and tapping throughout. ‘The nature of your tragedy is chained around your neck. Do you lead, or are you lead, are you sure that you don’t care?’ is masterful songwriting. I always go back to this one.
2. Time – Even as deep cuts go, this one is deep. But ‘Time’ remains possibly the best track of INXS’ later career. At just under three-minutes, it’s an infectious tour-de-force of high-voltage guitar and some of Hutchence’s best vocals yet. It builds and builds, and makes the perfect climax to ‘Make Your Peace’ (which bleeds into the opening of ‘Time’). It was released as a single only in Japan and Australia as promotional material for the ‘Dirty Honeymoon’ tour, but really it should have received better treatment. 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts is a mixed bag. But ‘Time’ single-handedly makes it worth a full listen.
1. Suicide Blonde – It has to be my favourite. It just has to be. ‘Suicide Blonde’ is timeless in every way. From that incredible, 10-hole harmonica, unmistakable riff and tell-tale, temptress lead line. Hutchence warns us to be wary of that ‘colour of deception’. ‘Suicide Blonde’ is deliciously lustful, tastefully bluesy and impossibly groovy. Whether in the studio or on the stage, this track takes its parent record, X, from lofty heights to the peak of Mount Olympus.
Shine Like It Does – Listen Like Thieves, 1985
Guns In The Sky, Devil Inside, Tiny Daggers – Kick, 1987
Elegantly Wasted – Elegantly Wasted, 1997
And there we have it; the ultimate picks from a plethora of complex, outstanding tracks. INXS as a whole are ineffable – but Michael Hutchence is something else. And in every song he poured a world of emotion; of heartfelt pain and raw, unrefined love. He will be forever missed, and his mark shall never fade.
Happy 61st, Michael.