Record Review: The Go-Betweens – “1978-1990” – A Focus On The Rarities

go-betweens 1978-1990 cover art
Vertigo | CAN | CD | 1990 | 842 644-2

The Go-Betweens: 1978-1990 – CAN – CD [1990]

  1. Hammer The Hammer
  2. Cattle And Cane
  3. Man O’Sand To Girl O’Sea
  4. Bachelor Kisses
  5. Draining The Pool For You
  6. Spring Rain
  7. The Clarke Sisters
  8. Right Here
  9. Bye Bye Pride
  10. The House That Jack Kerouc Built
  11. Streets Of Your Town
  12. Love Is A Sign
  13. I Need Two Heads
  14. When People Are Dead
  15. People Say
  16. World Weary
  17. Rock And Roll Friend
  18. Dusty In Here
  19. Second-Hand Furniture
  20. This Girl, Black Girl
  21. Don’t Call Me Gone
  22. You Won’t Find It Again

even I was a Go-Betweens fan having heard the group first in their “Spring Hill Fair” era [“Bachelor Kisses”] and I climbed aboard once “Liberty Belle + The Black Diamond Express” was released. I bought all of their albums on CD from that point until their apparent dispersal after “16 Lover’s Lane” came and went by 1990. I vaguely remember seeing this compilation album at the time on LP and CD at Murmur Records, but I assumed that it was compiled from a lot of material I already had. At the time [pre-internet] I had no idea that there were two albums [“Send Me A Lullabye” and “Before Hollywood“] prior to “Spring Hill Fair;” an album I didn’t see my first copy to buy until three years ago.

All of that changed when commenter KeithC sent me a package of CDs that he slipped a copy of the Canadian CD of this title in with the other things he had sent me. It was a little surprise from his point of view. He had an extra copy of the CD and thought I might be open to it. The big surprise from my end was that the CD was salted with so many unreleased and B-side tracks that accounted for half of its songs. If I had only known that before, I might have already owned this little gem. As there may come a day when I discuss the albums, we’ll discuss the rarities here today.

I typically think of Grant McLennan’s songs in The Go-Betweens to be the straightforward and tuneful offsets to the more obscure and introverted work from Robert Forster’s pen. But that’s a knee-jerk reaction. “Hammer the Hammer” was something closer to a TVLKING HEVDS track from the first two album period with McLennan occupying a David Byrne-like space in the compulsive and relentless music.

It’s kind of amazing to think that the band managed to issue a single on Scotland’s Postcard Records during their initial trip to shake up some interest in the UK. The resulting single was like a quixotic blend of the Velvet Underground and more current New Wave with unusual synthetic handclaps courtesy of borrowed drummer Steven Daly from Orange Juice. The metaphors such as “The best detective is a child detective” don’t make Forster’s intentions easy to parse.

It seemed in other Forster songs, that he was obviously painting pictures from life. “When People Are Dead” gave what felt like very real memories a setting in the plaintive, mournful music, but the B-side to “Right Here” actually sported a lyric by Marion Stout; a poet he met in London.

go-betweens people say cover artThe band’s second single, 1979’s “People Say,” was a release steeped in the retro 60s keyboards sound more common to Elvis Costello + The Attractions with Forster’s friend from school Malcolm Kelly, guesting on piano and Hammond organ. They would never feature this sound again and the organ rink finale might be the reason why. This was never a band about keys, but that doesn’t stop this record for exchanging hands for a hefty three figures. The two copies sitting in Discogs now are a hefty four figures.

By the time of the bands fourth single, they had finally recruited Lindy Morrison from Xero to be their drummer going forward and the difference was palpable. Ms. Morrison’s more aggressive drumming at this stage definitely gave the sound some Post-Punk chiaroscuro on the brief, 1:41 song.

go-betweens - was there anythign I could do cover artWe next got a massive uptick in production values as the B-side selection catapulted nearly a decade for the filpside of “Was There Anything I Could Do.” The resulting “Rock And Roll Friend” played like one that got away from the productive “Tallulah” sessions. Subtle, shimmery keyboards and evocative bass from Robert Vickers gave Forster’s listing melodies a lovely setting. I loved Forster’s double tracked choral vocals. This was a song that could have lasted all summer. As most of my favorite Go-Betweens songs date from the “Talullah” sessions, I can only say that even the B-sides were tremendous songs. The band’s self production was also something to write home about.

“Second-Hand Furniture” was a Grant McLennan track from the band’s Peel session that figured nowhere else. “This Girl, Black Girl” was a B-side from the group’s Rough Trade era of ’82-’83. It’s fascinating that the band dabbled with all the right indie labels back then but that one even minor hit single managed to always avoid clicking. It couldn’t be for the lack of a suitably majestic modulating guitar hook that wove its spell throughout this lovely song.

go-betweens - right here cover art
Beggar’s Banquet | UK | 2×7″ | 1987 | BEG 183D

I have to admit something most wouldn’t expect from these corners. I was thoroughly charmed by the country duet between Grant McLennan and Amanda Brown from the B-sided to the “Right Here” single that was pure George Jones + Tammy Wynett pastiche. Shot through with Ms. Brown’s spirited fiddle playing. Country music doesn’t usually click with me, but this one sounds like it could sit on a shelf next to “Jackson” by Cash/Carter.

“You Won’t Find It Again” was a great acoustic demo from McLennan that only appeared here, thank goodness. It served as a warning that I should really start investigating the Grant McLennan solo material that I haven’t really expended any energy in finding. I never really noticed the solo material when the band split, but this one showed that McLennan plus some acoustic guitar got across very well.

It was valuable getting this previously ignored disc as a surprise gift in the mail since it was practically an album’s worth of A/B-sides by the Go-Betweens that I did not have elsewhere. And the band’s hefty, expensive BSOGs are probably not destined for the Record Cell any time soon and that seems to be a pity. I would definitely scrapr three figures for a Go-Betweens box with no redundant vinyl that was packed with material of this caliber.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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11 Responses to Record Review: The Go-Betweens – “1978-1990” – A Focus On The Rarities

  1. diskojoe says:

    This is exactly the same & only Go Betweens CD that I have for the past 20 odd years. I should get some more Go Betweens albums.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      diskojoe – The Beggars Banquet run was peerless pop. It’s CD got some, but by no means all of the highlights. I’m most taken with “Tallulah.” Adding an oboist to the band sent my senses reeling.


  2. Jon Chaisson says:

    Read Robert Forster’s ‘Grant & I’ a while back, it’s a great memoir of the band.


  3. Bridget says:

    Had never heard of this band or their music, but interestingly when I did some youtubing they sounded like a ‘Men-at-Work’ ‘The Cure’ mash-up for some of their music..and I love the album cover on “People Say” a very modern riff on Van Gogh’s Sunflower series. I found this BBC interview with Robert


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Bridget – I can sort of see the Men At Work Angle to a degree. The Go-Betweens were pop music in that vein, but with an arty edge that reminded me more of The Velvet Underground than The Cure [but both bands are related]. This was not a band that recorded dancefloor fillers, to put it mildly! A little proto-Americana in their comfort with guitar twang. Forster claims that “Spring Rain” was his “Creedence Clearwater Revival” moment.


  4. KeithC says:

    Glad you enjoyed the CD PPM; small token of my appreciation for your efforts on the blog.

    This release is still in my top 5 CDs that I can have on repeat all day long and never get tired of (with the exception of ‘Hammer the Hammer’ as that ear poison always gets skipped thanks to the thoughtful Sony engineer that included track programming on my vintage 80’s Discman). So many amazing songs on this beyond the brilliant ‘Cattle and Cane’, ‘Spring Rain’ and ‘Streets of Your Town’. I’ve come to appreciate it even more after purchasing the Go-Betweens documentary that you posted about back in early 2018 ( and listening to the band members discuss group interactions including the nuances re the broken relationships. More startling is just how good this band was over its discography and how little relative success they achieved.

    And yes those CDs in the 2 box sets are very good; I was so frustrated I couldn’t find anyone willing to split the set between the CDs and the vinyl before they were sold out. Luckily I was able to get a hockey buddy let me “temporary” evaluate them all via Mp3.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      KeithC – I’m thrilled to finally have “Cattle And Cane” in the Record Cell! I only heard [herd?] it for the first time in that documentary and it’s been coursing through my skull for days now! I was looping it in my head as I checked the comments just now.


  5. Mel Creighton says:

    Grant’s solo stuff is really great. Start with Horsebreaker Star. It will be a very rewarding endeavor!


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