Saturday, May 10, 2014

Melbourne song of the month: 'Chicago'/The Purple Hearts (April 1967)

Here’s a challenge for you: whack this baby on your car stereo and try to stick within the speed limit. Released in April 1967, three months after they’d broken up, The Purple Hearts’ version of “Born in Chicago” (under the abbreviated title “Chicago”) is a rip-roaring, faith-restoring joyride that leaves The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s original pirouetting in the dust. Goddamn, I love it!

Unfortunately, I can’t find an online link to include in this post, so unless you’re lucky to own the original 7” (on Sunshine Records - anyone have a copy they want to sell me?), your best bet is the brilliant Half A Cow anthology, Benzedrine Beat.

Originally from Brisbane, The Purple Hearts relocated to swinging Melbourne in early 1966. Their second and third singles, “Early in the Morning” and “Of Hopes and Dreams and Tombstones” (killers in their own right) were recorded at the popular Armstrong’s Studio in South Melbourne, so I’m making an educated guess and assuming “Chicago” was too. 


The Purple Heart’s reputation as one of Melbourne’s most dynamic live bands comes across loud and clear in this recording. Frenetic but full of swaggering groove, totally unhinged but perfectly tight, its only fault is that it leaves you gagging for more after a measly 2:21 minutes. Sure, a short song is a good song, but this takes the whole ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’ ethos to another, altogether sadistic level!

Like so many Aussie bands of the 1960s, The Purple Hearts didn’t write their own material, opting instead to cover the r’n’b and blues classics they dug so much. But their creative take on these tracks ensured they ended up with a totally different beast at the end of the process. 

“Chicago” is way tougher-sounding than the original; faster and wilder. Swinging between a soulful falsetto and a deep throaty growl, Mick Hadley’s vocals are impassioned (to say the least) and his harmonica brutal; Lobby Loyde’s guitar, meanwhile, prowls around in the background like a tiger waiting to pounce – which it eventually does, in a lead break so freakin’ cool it hurts. Meanwhile, the turbo-charged rhythm section of Tony Cahill, Rob Dames and Fred Pickard doesn’t let up for a millisecond. If this isn’t a band at the peak of its powers, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the band playing it at a reunion gig in 2006 (I was there! Great gig, so much love in the room – I even managed to give Lobby a hug afterwards). It’s not quite the original line-up, but it’s still got that joyous energy….“Lobby, give it to me!”

RIP Lobby Loyde and Mick Hadley 

Related post:
Melbourne song of the month: 'The Real Thing'/Russell Morris

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