mtd music: Split Enz

For my first mtd music series entry in a long while, I’m going with the 70’s/80’s alternative art rock band, Split Enz, who gave themselves the misspelling as far as the N and the Z as homage to their native New Zealand.

The first time I heard Split Enz was in the mid 80’s after purchasing some random 80’s compilation tape. The tape had a couple good songs and a couple not so good songs. One of the good ones was the Split Enz’s “I Got You,” an incredibly memorable track from 1980 about some deeply disturbed guy obsessing and probably stalking some unsuspecting girl. We’ve all been there before. I kid. Anyway, this was a great song and great sampling of the Enz.

Later on, working somewhat backwards… As a child I had always been a fan of Crowded House, owning their first few tapes and absolutely loving about half the songs on each of them. It wasn’t long before I stumbled on the connection between the two bands. And of course that connection is the immensely talented Finn brothers, Neil and Tim. In 1991, for Crowded House’s third tape Woodface, his brother, Tim, joined his brother Neil, one of the founding members and the backbone of Crowded House. Through a bit of research here and there, I gleaned that this was not unlike the move in 1977 when, in reverse, Neil joined Tim’s band, Split Enz, creating a distinct and different sound compared to earlier version of the band, pre-1977.

Prior to 1977, Split Enz was much more artsy-fartsy, with extremely extravagant stage productions and loads of makeup and wild costuming. In listening to several tracks from this time period, I have to admit, I’m a bit lost. Not to mention a little freaked out. But maybe this was the band’s intention in the first place.

When 1977 rolled around, original singer/songwriter and guitarist, Phil Judd, left Split Enz and Neil Finn, who wasn’t even 20 years old and could barely play the guitar, joined the Enz. Neil Finn’s suspect guitar playing was of little concern, however, when it was soon realized Neil Finn was and would become one of the most gifted singer/songwriters of our generation.

Adding Neil’s rising talents as a singer/songwriter to Tim’s, who was an accomplished singer/songwriter in his own right, and the maniacal and masterful instrumentation of the other members of Split Enz, namely Eddie Rayner on keyboards and Nigel Griggs on bass, the Split Enz sound was complete. This is when the Enz started making their impression on the world, far beyond Australia. Unfortunately, the peak of success came with their lone hit in the US, the above mentioned, 1980’s “I Got You,” penned by Neil Finn. Split Enz called it quits in 1984, and Neil Finn promptly formed Crowded House, the band that would enjoy much more success than the Enz ever did.

To everyone’s delight, America is not the end-all and be-all. Although the Enz only had a couple small splashes of success in America, the rest of the world got to enjoy the wild and crazy and sometimes addictive sounds of the Split Enz. Thank God for the greatest hits tape I bought in the mid-90’s, based purely on how much I liked “I Got You.” Otherwise, I never would have known about such incredible songs as “One Step Ahead,” “Message To My Girl,” “Six Months In A Leaky Boat,” “History Never Repeats,” and so on. And if it wasn’t for my many hours of late-night exploring on Youtube, I never would have heard even more great songs like, “Bold As Brass,” “Things,” “Famous People,” and other songs I’m still getting acquainted with.

Split Enz may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you give them a sip, you might find that you, too, will love the bejesus out of them. It could happen!

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