As an area that has long attracted artists, writers, bohemians and musicians, it’s no surprise to find many songs have been written about Potts Point, Kings Cross and Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
We uncover the stories behind some of the best-loved songs inspired by our area.
Breakfast at Sweethearts – Cold Chisel
Jimmy Barnes’s band Cold Chisel has plenty of songs about Kings Cross in its repertoire. Chisel songwriter and keyboardist, and former Kings Cross local Don Walker has been particularly inspired by the Cross. Fellow musician and songwriter Richard Clapton were quoted as saying, “Don just digs being a sort of Beat poet, who goes around observing, especially around the streets of Kings Cross. He soaks it up like a sponge and articulates it so well.”
Walker’s best-known song about the Cross is Breakfast at Sweethearts, released by Cold Chisel in 1979. It’s also been described by author Louis Nowra, also a long-time resident of Kings Cross, as “the most immediately identifiable song about the Cross”. It’s about a café called Sweethearts, which was nestled amongst the Cross’s strip clubs and sex shops. Walker would apparently eat there often alongside the prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers. The song’s lyrics refer to waitress Anne-Maria, inspired, Walker says, by “a beautiful middle-aged woman who used to serve coffee there and never said anything, and she was reputed to be the girlfriend of quite a dangerous guy.”
Other Cold Chisel songs about Kings Cross include The Mansions, about the old pub on Bayswater Road, Letter to Alan, Metho Blues and Plaza, and about the Cross’s Plaza Hotel, where Walker lived in the late 1970s.
From St Kilda to Kings Cross – Paul Kelly
While a Kings Cross local wrote breakfast at Sweethearts, From St Kilda to Kings Cross comes from a musician usually associated with Melbourne – Paul Kelly. But there’s a fascinating connection between the two songs. Kelly, introduced to Don Walker by his ex-wife’s sister, wrote From St Kilda to Kings Cross in 1984 while living at Walker’s Kings Cross flat.
The song was written after Kelly moved from Melbourne to Sydney following the breakup of both his marriage and his band. He had borrowed his father-in-law’s Holden, packed all his worldly goods in a trailer, and driven from St Kilda to Kings Cross. He had a cold that affected his voice when he recorded the song, but he felt it suited a track written during such a bleak period of his life. He was quoted as saying of the song, “From St Kilda to Kings Cross was a fairly early song for me. I felt that I was on to something, and it was … I was very aware that it was more like a Chuck Berry song where you named names and places – you named sounds and cities. I thought it was interesting to get words into songs that people hadn’t got in before.”
In the years since, From St Kilda to Kings Cross has been named by music critics as both one of the top songs about Sydney, immortalising Kings Cross, and an iconic Melbourne anthem.
Girls on the Avenue – Richard Clapton
This 1975 song is widely believed to have been written about the red light district in Kings Cross, but songwriter Richard Clapton says it was actually written about three girls who lived on The Avenue in Rose Bay. He lived on the next street over at the time.
Although he was aware that the song was being misinterpreted, he didn’t move to clear up the misunderstanding, apparently saying, “my manager at the time simply said ‘Sex sells. Let that urban myth keep festering out there, and you’ll sell a lot of records.’ And I did.” Girls on the Avenue eventually reached number four in the charts, Clapton’s highest-ever chart performance, and is still a radio staple today.
Darling It Hurts – Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls
Written by Paul Kelly and lead guitarist Steve Connolly in 1986, Darling It Hurts is about a man who discovers his former lover has turned to prostitution.
The ‘Darlinghurst’ of the chorus (“darling it hurts to see you down Darlinghurst tonight”) is Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, which was, at the time, a red light district. Kelly has said the song’s title was inspired by a mural of the same name painted by Toby Zoates on the walls of a squat on the corner of Stanley and Bourke Streets, Darlinghurst. Darling It Hurts reached number 25 on the Australian music charts and number 19 on the Billboard charts in America.
Wedding Cake Island – Midnight Oil
Wedding Cake Island, possibly one of Australia’s best known instrumental tracks, is named after the rocky outcrop located about one kilometre out to sea southeast of Coogee Beach. When conditions are right, there’s good surfing to be had there.
Released by the Oils in 1980, the version of the surf guitar instrumental we know today doesn’t feature any vocals. However, legend has it, frontman Peter Garrett did, in fact, write lyrics for the song, and although the band recorded a version with words, it was never released. The song, written by guitarists Martin Rotsey and Jim Moginie, has since become the unofficial surfers’ anthem for Wedding Cake Island. Both Garrett and Rotsey spent time living in Coogee, which is thought to have inspired the song.
It seems fitting, then, that Midnight Oil was one of the last bands to ever play at Selina’s, the legendary live music venue in the Coogee Bay Hotel before it closed in the mid-2000s. Throughout the 70s and 80s, and even into the 90s, Sydney’s pub rock scene was huge, and Selina’s was one of the top venues. Countless big Sydney bands made their name there, and overseas acts played there, too, including Nirvana on their only Australian tour in 1992.
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