This list is intended as something of a cultural artefact and a tribute to arguably Australia’s greatest songwriter.
I’ve never met the guy, though not for want of trying: I even bullied my way into an invitation to a 2013 election night party at his St Kilda house in the hope that Tony Abbott’s election as prime minister might be heralded by an intimate rendition of “Careless”, “Dumb Things” or perhaps “Feelings of Grief”. Alas, he wasn’t home. It was around that time that I began this project, which has meant looking in all kinds of obscure places for Paul Kelly songwriting credits. It hasn’t been a chore.
To make this list, Kelly must get a writing credit, and the song must have been published and released – so songs in films and plays that never made it onto a soundtrack (such as most of the songs Kelly wrote for Roger Bennett’s 1992 play Funerals and Circuses) aren’t included here. I’ve also left off covers and the many poems Kelly has set to music in recent years. There are bound to be some errors and some songs I haven’t discovered. Feedback and queries are very welcome.
403. “Ain’t No Scene”
Only about 30 seconds of “Ain’t No Scene” – which largely has Kelly repeating the title over and over again – made it onto the Fred Cassette Co’s cobbled-together collection of recordings from various Melbourne venues. Appears on History Pt 1 (1979) by the High Rise Bombers.
402. “International Kapital”
The audio quality on the only release of this rock song (on History Pt 1) is pretty poor, but Kelly’s voice is definitely there.
401. “I Hate to Watch You Loving Him”
One of Kelly’s early portraits of jealousy; he nails it much better later. And is it just me, or could the refrain slide much too easily into “Achy Breaky Heart”? From Talk (1981).
400. “She’s the One”
What happens when a three-note sax riff takes over the whole song. On History Pt 1.
399. “I Smell Trouble”
A confusing mix of discordant sounds; not to be confused with the 2017 track with the same title. Appears on the Fireflies soundtrack (2004).
398. “Please Send Me”
One of the forgettable early ones, from Talk.
397. “Radio Show”
Woah, that sax! History Pt 1 again.
396. “Sailing for Dead C”
Again, poor audio quality on the recording, but Kelly is recognisable. History Pt 1.
395. “She’s Got It” Not the Little Richard song. On History Pt 1.
394. “Forbidden Street”
One of those early efforts Kelly would probably prefer the world forgot: “I love the trash on Forbidden Street / I love the trash, it smells so sweet.” Fair enough. Appears on Manila (1982), co-written with Chris Langman.
Nearly three minutes of suspenseful scoring for the Lantana soundtrack (2001).
392. “Through the Window”
Another two-and-a-half minutes of scoring for Lantana.
A six-and-a-half-minute rock instrumental, from the “Deeper Water” single release (1995).
390. “The Long Walk”
Sung by Vika and Linda Bull, who included it on their “Love Comes Easy” single release (1996). It’s a lament of a promised bride, co-written by Kelly and Ashley Cadell.
389. “Preaching to the Converted”
As the B-side to the “Darling It Hurts” single release (1986), it’s not difficult to understand why this one never appeared on an album.
388. “Things We Said in the Dark”
From Stardust Five (2006), co-written with the Boon Companions (Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly, and Dan and Pete Luscombe), who sometimes call themselves Stardust Five. I’m sure glad Paul doesn’t often let himself sound like this.
387. “I Know Where to Go to Feel Good”
This was written for Vika and Linda Bull, who put it on Vika and Linda (1994). Kelly doesn’t often get this poppy.
386. “Self Deceiver”
Kelly co-wrote this with Jenny Morris for her second album, Shiver. There’s a little bit of reggae, there’s a little bit of ’80s synth pop, there’s a little bit of Billy Joel vowel. It’s a bit of a mess.
385. “Porno Rose”
An old High Rise Bombers favourite, included on History Pt 1.
384. “I See Red”
Energetic, rocking and not the Split Enz song released in 1978. History Pt 1 again.
383. “Pussy Got Your Tongue”
In 1994, Kaarin Fairfax, who’d recently married Kelly, directed Tania Lacy in a one-woman show that became the basis for her future comedy career. Lacy went on to write and perform in the short film Pussy Got Your Tongue (1997), which won her a Best Actress award at Tropfest. Kelly and Lacy share songwriting credits for the song, which appears on Stardust Five, with Kelly providing backing vocals to Lacy’s lead. Also on The Video Collection 1985–2008 (2008).
382. “Melbourne Girls”
Performed live at The Athenaeum in May 1992, and included on the single release of “The Song from the Sixteenth Floor” (1994). Kelly abandoned the lyrics, but he retained the riff for future use.
381. “You Bring These Things”
Co-written with Chris Langman for Karen Marks and her Cold Café EP, which was recorded in 1981 but not released until 2019.
380. “When the Girl’s Not Even English”
Co-written with Chris Langman for the Dots’ Manila. The kind of album-filler that Kelly would leave off later releases.
379. “Angel in Me”
Released as the B-side on the Paul Kelly and the Dots single “Seeing is Believing” (1980). An earlier recording by the High Rise Bombers – with Kelly singing lead – appears on History Pt 1.
378. “I’ve Come For Your Daughter”
From Gossip (1986). Kelly would return to the same territory much more successfully in later years.
377. “The Way I Love You”
Sung without accompaniment by Ursula Yovich on the Jindabyne soundtrack (2006).
376. “It Wasn’t Day or Night”
A collaboration with Megan Washington for the soundtrack of the play Sundowner, by Kate and David Denborough, about Alzheimer’s disease. The music was released as a fundraising CD for Alzheimer’s Australia in 2011.
375. “Let Me In”
Kelly wrote this for Vika and Linda Bull, who recorded it with a pop arrangement for Two Wings (1999).
374. “Last Train”
A very ’90s pop-duet with Christine Anu, released as a single in 1993 and then on her Stylin’ Up (1995). Kelly co-wrote it with Angelique Cooper and Peter Crosbie.
373. “Seeing is Believing”
The very first Paul Kelly and the Dots single release, from June 1980. It never made an album cut.
372. “I Need Something Inside Me”
An energetic rock song that’s never been recorded in a studio, but Kelly and the Dots did perform it at the 1982 Rocking Australia Live concert.
371. “Habit of Love”
Fairly standard hard rock, from History Pt 1.
370. “Oh, Death”
On Professor Ratbaggy (1999). Professor Ratbaggy was a character created by Ernie Carroll for TheTarax Show, which aired on Channel 9 between 1957 and 1969. Carroll went on to collaborate with Daryl Somers on Hey, Hey, it’s Saturday (Carroll had his hand up the ostrich), and the good Professor was forgotten – though not by Kelly and fellow musicians Steve Hadley, Bruce Haymes and Pete Luscombe, who occasionally perform under that name and produce dub/funk/groove sounds – like “Oh, Death”.
369. “Some Guys”
Surely we’re all glad Paul’s singing voice developed from whatever Dylanesque sound he was trying to emulate in the early days. From Manila.
368. “State of War”
On History Pt 1 by the High Rise Bombers.
367. “Touchy Babe”
Again, Kelly would return to similar territory later with some better arrangements. From Manila.
366. “Hard Knocks”
The only original song on the Hard Knocks soundtrack (1980) was contributed by Kelly and the Dots, who also included it on their debut album Talk.
365. “Alive and Well”
“Tell a nurse / You’re through the worst / Yeah, cancel that hearse”. Some early Kelly rhyme play, from Manila.
364. “Moni, Make it Good”
Some more Ratbaggy ensemble output, from Professor Ratbaggy.
363. “White Trash” Professor Ratbaggy.
362. “Rise and Shine” Professor Ratbaggy.
361. “Standing on the Street of Early Sorrows”
Appears on Post (1985), then on The A–Z Recordings (2010) and Live Apples (2011). The “Julie” in the song is Kelly’s teenage crush.
360. “Promise Not to Tell”
From Talk. Almost great.
359. “What’s Happening to Us?
Some gentle scoring by Kelly, Shane O’Mara, Steve Hadley, Bruce Haymes and Pete Luscombe for the Lantana soundtrack.
More gentle scoring for Lantana.
357. “True to You”
The only new song on Please Leave Your Light On (2020), Kelly’s collaboration with Paul Grabowsky. Nice in a background-jazzy kind of way.
356. “My Way is to You”
Paul gets romantic. Appears on Ways & Means (2003), then on The A–Z Recordings. Co-written with Dan Kelly.
Pure nostalgia. Recorded as a duet with Monique Brumby, and appears on Words and Music (1998).
354. “It Matters to Me”
A country collaboration between Kelly and Ross Wilson for Wilson’s album Country & Wilson (2003). (Wilson sings by himself.).
353. “Lady With Dog”
“Have you seen my black dog?” Co-written with the Stardust Five collective, for Stardust Five.
352. “Mannish Woman” Professor Ratbaggy.
351. “Please Myself”
Reminiscent of Robert Johnson’s lyrics in “Travelling Riverside Blues”: “Squeeze my lemon till the juice run down my leg, baby, you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.” Yep, I reckon we do. On Professor Ratbaggy, then on The A–Z Recordings.
350. “The Cake and the Candle”
A slow crooner originally written for Kate Ceberano, and recorded on Kate Ceberano and Friends (1994), on which Kelly plays guitar. Renée Geyer covered it on Sweet Life (1999), and Kelly himself recorded a version as part of The A–Z Recordings.
349. “Only the Lonely Hearted”
An early Kelly rocker, originally recorded by Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons on their Screaming Targets (1979). Kelly performed his own version with the Dots at the 1982 Rocking Australia Live concert.
348. “I’ve Had You”
Kelly co-wrote this with Jenny Morris, who included it on Honeychild (1991). It’s recognisably Kelly.
347. “Jump to Love”
Kelly wrote this for Christine Anu, who asked for another song like “Beat of Your Heart” – the similarities are no coincidence. Anu released her dance version on Come My Way (2000), then Kelly slowed it down and recorded his own versions for The Gift That Keeps on Giving EP (2002) and The A–Z Recordings.
346. “Lonesome But Free”
A slightly too introspective country tune, co-written with Troy Cassar-Daley for his Brighter Day (2005), and covered by Busby Marou on Deadly Hearts 2 (2019).
345. “Los Cucumbros”
A slow waltz co-written and performed with the Boon Companions for the Fireflies soundtrack and for their Stardust Five album, with Sian Prior on vocals.
344. “Lost on the River”
A slightly too earnest country tune, co-written with Peter Blakeley for his Harry’s Café de Wheels (1989). Later covered by Graeme Connors on Kindred Spirit (2013).
The Boon Companions chilling out as Stardust Five, on Stardust Five.
One of the better Dots songs, from Talk.
341. “For Eleanor”
A slow, reflective piano piece for the Lantana soundtrack.
340. “Train of My Youth”
A two-guitar instrumental for the soundtrack to Alkinos Tsilimidos’s brutal and claustrophobic Pentridge film Everynight … Everynight (1994, from Ray Mooney’s play).
339. “The Worm Turns” Everynight … Everynight.
338. “Labour Yard” Everynight … Everynight.
337. “The Trap” Everynight … Everynight.
A haunting violin solo by Helen Ayres, set to a score by Kelly and James Ledger. From Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds (2019).
335. “Black Swan”
An evocative cello instrumental by Tim Nankervis, to a score by Kelly and Ledger. From Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds.
Score by Kelly and Ledger, performed by Alice Keath and the Seraphim Trio (Helen Ayres, Anna Goldsworthy and Tim Nankervis). From Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds.
333. “Can’t Fake It”
Typical of the Ratbaggy ensemble’s songs: instrumental, dub/funk, reggae/groove. Appears on Professor Ratbaggy and The Video Collection 1985–2008.
As above, on Professor Ratbaggy.
331. “The Way Love Used to Be”
Does this occasionally recall The Mixtures’ “The Pushbike Song”? From Talk.
330. “Last Resort”
Early Kelly chillout music. Co-written with Alan Brooker, Michael Holmes, Tim Brosnan and Tony Thornton, and appearing on Manila.
Kelly carried this one from his High Rise Bombers days (there’s a very low-fi recording on History Pt 1) into his breakthrough with the Dots, with Talk. The Dylan influence is obvious.
328. “Cry One More Time”
Kelly included this five-minute alt-rock track on a UK-issued CD single release of “Sure Got Me” (2003), and it was later covered by Renée Geyer, who converted it into a pop song, on Tonight (2005).
327. “Skidding Hearts”
The beginning of something great. From Manila.
326. “See You in Paradise”
Kelly really had something going here. Also on Manila.
325. “Fall Guy”
Reggae-inspired pop from Kelly’s first album, Talk.
324. “On the Cross”
One of Kelly’s vocal contributions to the soundtrack of Alkinos Tsilimidos’s film Everynight … Everynight.
323. “Too Many Movies”
The title track from Mary-Jo Starr’s only album (1990). Starr was actress Kaarin Fairfax’s country-and-western alter ego, and Fairfax was then in a relationship with Kelly, who wrote five of the album’s 12 songs.
On Wanted Man (1994), the Jindabyne soundtrack and finally Death’s Dateless Night (2016) with Charlie Owen. Kelly borrowed the word from Ngarrindjeri, the people and language of south-eastern South Australia, while he was writing songs for – and acting in – Roger Bennett’s play, Funerals and Circuses (1992).
321. “Crosstown” Under the Sun (1987), and covered by Dan Kelly for Before Too Long, Triple J’s tribute concert (2010). The driving beat – typical of the entire Under the Sun album – lifts this ode to a cross-town commute above its station.
320. “Change Your Mind”
From Nothing But a Dream (2001), and then on The A–Z Recordings. Soft lullaby on guitar.
319. “Clean This House”
Kelly briefly worked as a cleaner after first moving to Melbourne in the late 1970s: he’d progressed enough as a songwriter even by 1982 to successfully use it as a metaphor for drugs, with which he still had a pretty steady relationship. From Manila.
On History Pt 1 with the High Rise Bombers, then re-recorded with the Dots for Talk. Of all the Bombers’ recordings, this is the one that most resembles Kelly’s later work with the Messengers.
317. “Hard Love”
Kelly wrote this catchy pop song for Vika and Linda Bull, who recorded it for Vika and Linda and then Live & Acoustic (2000). “I don’t want a love melting like a snow / You know I want the kind of loving that’s always there and doesn’t come and go.” Kelly is yet to record it himself.
316. “Summer Leaves”
One of the few occasions a Kelly metaphor seems a little too tortured. He wrote this one for The Blackeyed Susans, who recorded it on their Hard Liquor…Soft Music album in 1994.
Kelly’s soulful ode to the Golden State, with some harmonica thrown in for good measure. From Deeper Water.
314. “Faster Than Life”
Classic rock with a deep hook, from History Pt 1.
313. “So Soft”
Haunting score music by Kelly and Dan Luscombe for the Jindabyne soundtrack. Vocals by the Melbourne-based group Soteria Bell, or by Luscombe.
312. “The Rocks” Jindabyne.
311. “Body Drop” Jindabyne.
310. “Claire on the Road” Jindabyne.
309. “Night River” Jindabyne.
308. “Morning Fishing” Jindabyne.
307. “Going to Susan’s” Jindabyne.
306. “Power Lines” Jindabyne.
305. “Stewart and Claire” Jindabyne.
304. “Mirror” Jindabyne.
303. “The Chimes at Midnight”
From Conversations with Ghosts (2013), with music co-written by James Ledger for the theatrical production. Haunting musical poetry.
From Professor Ratbaggy. Among the best of the Ratbaggy arrangements, it was remixed a number of times and later improved – largely by the introduction of an oboe – as one of The A–Z Recordings.
301. “Cradle of Love”
Kelly wrote this slow country love song for Anne Kirkpatrick (Slim Dusty’s daughter) and her Game of Love album (1993). It was later covered by Kelly Willis on What I Deserve (1999), before Paul finally recorded his own versions for The Gift That Keeps on Giving EP and The A–Z Recordings.
300. “Thank You”
It’s got all the ingredients for a Kelly masterpiece, but the fact that this one doesn’t quite work demonstrates just how often they do. From The Merri Soul Sessions (2014).
299. “Blues for Skip”
From Post. Kelly also recorded versions for the 1999 compilation Liberdade: Viva East Timor (though of all his songs, it’s not immediately clear why this heroin-inspired track – “Babe I can’t find a vein / I’m digging and I’m digging, I got the shaft again” – was relevant to that struggle) and The A–Z Recordings. Jeff Lang covered it for Stories of Me (2003).
298. “Too Much Lovin”
Fun rock’n’roll, written for Kaarin Fairfax (as Mary-Jo Starr) on Too Many Movies.
297. “Rocking Institution”
Kelly and the Dots contributed this B-side to Jo Kennedy’s single release of “Body and Soul” (1982), which itself came from the Starstruck soundtrack. “Rocking Institution” didn’t make it to the soundtrack, but it plays in the film as background music while Jackie (Kennedy) and Angus (Ross O’Donovan) are at the Lizard Lounge.
296. “Road to the North”
A chilled-out jam from Stardust Five.
295. “One More Tune”
The only recording so far of this end-of-the-party wind-down is on The A–Z Recordings.
294. “We’ll Get Over it Somehow”
An acoustic lament, included on the single release of “Love Never Runs on Time” (1994).
293. “Boon Companion”
Nice-sounding background music from the Fireflies soundtrack. A song about loneliness and the need for a close friend.
292. “Bound to Follow”
From Conversations with Ghosts, and re-recorded for Nature (2018) with Kate Miller-Heidke providing the backing siren vocals, and some mildly menacing music co-written with Dan Kelly.
Kelly mines Shakespeare here, and not for the last time. Appears on Under the Sun, then on The A–Z Recordings and covered by Hazrat on Thorn in the Hay (1993).
290. “Lenny (To Live is to Burn)”
This was perhaps Kelly’s first biographical song, written about the American countercultural comedian Lenny Bruce, who died of a morphine overdose in 1966 aged 40, and who gets a co-writing credit thanks to some clips of his stand-up. Appears on Manila.
289. “Feel the Spirit”
Kelly co-wrote this fast gospel tune with Vika and Linda Bull and Renée Geyer; the only recording so far is by the Bull sisters, on their Live & Acoustic album.
288. “Billy Baxter”
On Talk, and performed live with Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons for the Mushroom Evolution Concert in 1982: I prefer the live version. Paul Kelly and the Dots had their fans, despite Kelly’s subsequent wish to bury those years and their two albums – and among those fans “Billy Baxter” was a favourite track. The Dots performed it live on Countdown in November 1981, which was Kelly’s first TV appearance. Baxter, of course, became a founding member of ABC Radio’s Coodabeen Champions, but this song was released before the Coodabeens, and even before Baxter’s work with short-lived Melbourne bands Ghetto Blasters, Big Fans of Jesus and The Hollow Men. Kelly sang: “I want to be like Billy Baxter and do imitations / Billy’s got a thousand faces, he’s a lover and a gambler too.” Dots guitarist Michael Holmes now calls the song “fucking horrible”, and drummer Tony Thornton says Paul Kelly “hated” it.
287. “See the Birdie”
From Professor Ratbaggy, co-written with the ensemble.
286. “Better Prospects”
Powerful sounds with a guitar, a piano and a violin, from the Silent Partner soundtrack (2001), co-written with Gerry Hale.
285. “Now’s Not the Time For a Hot Sea Bath”
Some seriously impressive bluegrass scoring involving two guitars and some strings by Kelly and Gerry Hale for the Silent Partner soundtrack.
284. “Is it a He or a She?” Silent Partner.
283. “Silver Turns to Lead” Silent Partner.
282. “Silver’s on the Line” Silent Partner.
281. “Silver’s Theme” Silent Partner.
280. “Ain’t Got the Constitution” Silent Partner.
279. “Royal Road” Silent Partner.
278. “Forest Funeral” Silent Partner.
277. “Silent Partner” (and the reprise) Silent Partner.
276. “The Gatekeeper” Silent Partner.
Written for Renée Geyer, who included it as the opening track on Difficult Woman (1994).
274. “Play Me”
Kelly also wrote this for Geyer, and performed a duet with her on Sweet Life.
273. “Last Orders”
A four-and-a-half minute ambient rock instrumental co-created with Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly and Dan and Pete Luscombe for Stardust Five.
272. “Let’s Fall Again”
A surf-rock instrumental – or mostly instrumental – written by Kelly, Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly, and Dan and Pete Luscombe. On Ways & Means.
Kelly gives more than a glimpse of his future as frontman on this tight rock song, from History Pt 1.
270. “Just Like Animals”
Pretty self-explanatory. Appears on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992 (1992) and Live at The Athenaeum (1992), then into the studio for Wanted Man and finally Live at the Continental and the Esplanade (1996).
269. “Mi Camion Mi Casa”
An energetic Stardust Five jam, on Stardust Five.
268. “Humming Way”
Another slow, reflective piano piece for the Jindabyne soundtrack, co-written with Dan Luscombe, which features some humming and a few words.
267. “Big Heart”
Pop-rock song with the arresting chorus line: “Your big heart’s gonna break your little body.” From Under the Sun. Later covered by Parading for their 2016 album Jungle Songs.
266. “Beat of Your Heart”
A funky dance/pop number at the beginning of Kelly’s experimentation with electronica. From Words and Music, with vocals by Renée Geyer and Rebecca Barnard, then covered by Christine Anu on Come My Way. Anu’s version was later included on the collection of Kelly covers, The Women at the Well (2002).
“I don’t want to change the world / I’m not looking for an answer / I’m just trying to steer this boat.” Co-written with Dorland Bray and Deborah Conway for Conway’s debut album, String of Pearls (1991).
264. “Lonely Boy”
Kelly co-wrote this reflective country song with Sherry Rich and Garth Porter for Rich’s Courtesy Move (1997).
263. “Lovers’ Field”
Co-written with the Boon Companions – temporarily calling themselves Stardust Five – for Stardust Five.
262. “Just a Phase He’s Going Through”
A waltz of despair, sung by Kelly’s then partner Kaarin Fairfax as Mary-Jo Starr on Too Many Movies. There’s a lot going on, and the sax may be one piece too much.
261. “She Answers the Sun”
From Words and Music, as a duet with Rebecca Barnard of Rebecca’s Empire.
260. “You’re Draggin’ Me”
Kelly and Phil Kakulas wrote this for Kakulas’s band The Blackeyed Susans and their greatest-hits compilation Reveal Yourself 1989–2009.
259. “Blue Stranger”
Nice, melancholy pop. From Comedy (1991). Also on The A–Z Recordings.
258. “Difficult Woman”
A curiously literal song from the master of the metaphor. Written for Renée Geyer, who used it as the title of her 1994 album and then recorded it acoustically for Renéessance (2009), which is a better version. Kelly recorded it himself for Deeper Water and The A–Z Recordings.
257. “Don’t Wait For Tomorrow”
Kelly and Kutcha Edwards co-wrote this folk-plea for Edwards’ debut album Cooinda (2001).
256. “Hidden Things”
Kelly wrote this straight-up country song for Kaarin Fairfax as Mary-Jo Starr on the album Too Many Movies. Kelly Willis also included it on her second album, Bang Bang (1991). Paul has never recorded it himself, but he did use its title for his 1992 collection of singles.
255. “Please Leave Your Light On”
Another one Kelly wrote originally for Renée Geyer (it’s on Dedicated, 2007) before he took it back: Stolen Apples (2007), Live Apples and Please Leave Your Light On with Paul Grabowsky.
254. “Want You Back”
The pain of an ex-lover. From Talk.
The power of sexuality. Appears on Under the Sun, and covered by Kate Ceberano – performing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra – on Kate Ceberano Live (2006).
252. “She’s Rare”
Kelly does strange things with his voice, but the song’s pretty good. From Wanted Man and Live at the Continental and the Esplanade, then covered by Rebecca Barnard (of Rebecca’s Empire) for The Women at the Well.
251. “Tighten Up”
I don’t know, this is pretty tight already. From Gossip.
250. “We’ve Started a Fire”
Kelly wrote this for Vika and Linda Bull, who recorded it for their debut album, Vika and Linda, which appeared in May 1994. Kelly had his own version out there within a couple of months, on Wanted Man (July 1994). The Bull sisters later also recorded it on their Live & Acoustic album.
249. “Just About to Break”
One of the many songs Kelly began with just a line. Appears on Nothing But a Dream and The Video Collection 1985–2008, and acoustic versions on the Just About to Break EP (2002) and The A–Z Recordings.
248. “One Night the Moon”
A five-verse lullaby sung in progressive harmony – first by Kelly’s daughter Memphis, then with her mother Kaarin Fairfax, and finally with Paul joining in for the last two verses – shouldn’t work as well as it does. From One Night the Moon (2001).
247. “Morning Storm”
Pure poetry, from Nature.
246. “Last to Know”
A gently comforting sad song, co-written with Deborah Conway, who included it as the last track on her debut solo album String of Pearls (1991).
245. “I Won’t Be Torn Apart”
Classic Kelly rock, from Gossip.
244. “Lantana Part Two”
Ambient, 16-and-a-half-minute rock score, co-created with Shane O’Mara, Steve Hadley, Bruce Haymes and Pete Luscombe for the Lantana soundtrack.
243. “The Boat”
Kelly’s collaboration with the pioneering Cambodian Space Project and its lead singer Kak Channthy appears on the compilation Key of Sea: Volume 2 (2012), all proceeds of which went to migrant and refugee causes in Australia. Kelly and Channthy teamed up again in 2017 to record a cover of Lee Hazlewood’s “Summer Wine”, before she was killed the following year in Phnom Penh when a car collided with the tuk-tuk she was travelling in.
242. “Time and Tide”
Kelly’s only songwriting collaboration so far with Alan Pigram is many kinds of wonderful. Appears on Spring and Fall (2012), then rearranged with Paul Grabowsky for Please Leave Your Light On.
241. “Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall”
Co-written with Renée Geyer for her Difficult Woman album, with Dori Caymmi on backing vocals.
240. “There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Wrong Sometimes”
Co-written with Kate Ceberano, who sings it on The Women at the Well compilation.
239. “Would You Be My Friend?”
Wondering about the limits of friendship in a vulnerable moment. Appears on Nothing But a Dream, the Silent Partner soundtrack and The A–Z Recordings.
238. “What You Want”
Classic soul written by Kelly and Dan Sultan for Vika Bull to belt out during The Merri Soul Sessions.
On Post, and deservedly revived for The A–Z Recordings.
236. “The Ballad of Good and Evil”
A previously unreleased demo, included on the 2014 compilation When the Sun Sets Over Carlton: Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene of the 70s. A rock song co-written by Kelly, Chris Langman and John Dowler, and recorded by the Glory Boys, one of Nick Seymour’s earlier bands (he later became bass guitarist with Crowded House).
235. “Laughing Boy”
Kelly wrote this wonderful shanty for Weddings Parties Anything, who recorded it for Roaring Days (1988).
234. “I’d Rather Go Blind”
A jealous rock song, and an homage to mix tapes. From Words and Music, then on The A–Z Recordings.
233. “Whistling Bird”
One of Kelly’s more musically complicated songs. From Smoke (1999) with bluegrass band Uncle Bill.
232. “With the One I Love”
Life is short. From Nature.
231. “Everybody Wants to Touch Me”
A comment on the frustrating side of fame. From Wanted Man, then Live at the Continental and the Esplanade and on The A–Z Recordings. Covered by Deborah Conway on The Women at the Well and the Fireflies soundtrack, by Paul Capsis on Everyone Wants to Touch Me (2007) and by Missy Higgins on Oz (2014).
Kelly initially released this piano lamentation on his website in 2002, under the longer title “I Guess I Get a Little Emotional Sometimes”, as a musical protest to the Howard government’s then-extraordinary treatment (though mild by more recent standards) of refugees at Woomera Detention Centre. It was later released on the Won’t You Come Around EP (2003) and the Fireflies soundtrack, and also appears on The A–Z Recordings.
229. “Last Train to Heaven”
Entrancing. From Gossip.
228. “Gutless Wonder”
Hostile. Appears on Words and Music, the Fireflies soundtrack and then covered by Renée Geyer – with a lyrically cleaner version – on Tonight.
227. “When We’re Both Old and Mad”
Kelly’s original contribution to his third greatest hits collection – Songs from the South (Volume 3): 1985–2019 – is a fun duet with Kasey Chambers.
226. “Most Wanted Man (in the World)”
Kelly takes the metaphor perhaps slightly too far, but then, what are metaphors for anyway? Appears on So Much Water So Close to Home (1989), then Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum and on The A–Z Recordings.
225. “I Wish I Was a Train”
A thigh-slapping country duet with Troy Cassar-Daley, on his Long Way Home (2002) and The Video Collection 1985–2008.
224. “Shane Warne”
The music isn’t Kelly’s – it’s Aldwyn Roberts’, from a 1948 calypso song called “London is the Place for Me”, which Roberts performed under his stage name, Lord Kitchener. The story goes that Kelly was listening to the song while the Ashes were on, “Lon-don” became “Shane Warne”, and that was the innings all wrapped up. The story also goes that Warne kind of stopped replying to Kelly after Kelly sent Warne the song. Included on the second volume of the Songs From the South greatest hits compilation (2008) and The Video Collection 1985–2008, and later on The A–Z Recordings.
223. “After the Show”
A guttural, jazzy number that captures something of a performer’s post-performance passions. “After the Show” dropped off subsequent releases of Gossip before being restored to the double-CD version in 2003. Also on The A–Z Recordings.
222. “The Execution”
From Gossip. Kelly riffs on the phrase “voici le temps des assassins”, a line of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry from Illuminations, and also the title of the film known in English as Deadlier Than the Male (1956).
221. “Throwing Good Love After Bad”
Tough words for a frustrating friend. From The Gift That Keeps on Giving EP, which is hard to find, so it’s also on the Home Grown Roots Volume 4 compilation (2009).
220. “Where Were You When I Needed You”
Another waltz of despair from The Merri Soul Sessions, performed by Clairy Browne.
219. “You’re So Fine”
Straightforward attraction. From Roll On Summer EP (2000) and The Video Collection 1985–2008, co-written with Pete Luscombe.
218. “Love is the Law”
Written as the theme for Quentin Masters’ film Midnite Spares (1983), and released as a promotional single the same year. Kelly later included it on Nothing But a Dream, The Video Collection 1985–2008 and The A–Z Recordings, and performed it live with Neil Finn for Goin’ Your Way (2013).
217. “Little Wolf”
Kelly carries us to a lonely mountain lodge for this spooky fairytale. From Nature.
The saxophone does its sweet work on this one, which lives somewhere in the back of a dark bar. Co-written with Renée Geyer, it appears on Wanted (1994), then on The A–Z Recordings. There’s also an instrumental version on the “God’s Hotel” single release (1994).
215. “Surely God is a Lover”
Perhaps controversially, I’m counting this as a Paul Kelly original: he adapted John Shaw Neilson’s 1910 poem into song, first recorded to a Richard Pleasance arrangement by Jimmy Little on Resonate (2001), then later by Kelly and the Stormwater Boys on the Foggy Highway limited-edition bonus disc (2005).
214. “Beggar on the Street of Love”
Kelly originally wrote this pop song for Jenny Morris, who included it on her second album, Shiver (1989). Kelly then recorded a version with Weddings Parties Anything, which he included on his Most Wanted Man in the World EP (1990) and then the Hidden Things compilation (1992). The best version is probably Morris’s rearranged version on her Clear Blue in Stormy Skies (2006), and Kelly also re-recorded it for TheA–Z Recordings.
213. “When a Woman Loves a Man”
Kelly wrote this gentle waltz – an inversion of the 1966 Percy Sledge hit – for Renée Geyer, who recorded it on Dedicated. Kelly then included it on his Spring and Fall song cycle, and recorded another version with Paul Grabowsky for Please Leave Your Light On.
212. “I Won’t Be Your Dog Anymore”
You can hear Kelly’s earlier influences in the background of this strung-out, bluesy track. First recorded live with the Messengers for The Most Wanted Man in the World EP and then for Comedy; also on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum and The A–Z Recordings.
211. “South of Germany”
Kelly turns a family legend into a beautiful ballad. From So Much Water So Close to Home, then on The A–Z Recordings.
210. “Young Lovers”
Began as a collaboration between Kelly and his nephew Dan in the lounge room, before Dan Luscombe added some chords and it earned a spot on Ways & Means. There’s also an acoustic version on The A–Z Recordings, and a new one with a jazzy piano accompaniment by Paul Grabowsky on Please Leave Your Light On.
209. “Cities of Texas”
Kelly first recorded this yearning poem with the Messengers for So Much Water So Close to Home, and then again with the Stormwater Boys for Foggy Highway, which is probably the better version. Live versions on Live at the Continental and the Esplanade and The A–Z Recordings.
208. “Down on My Speedway”
This Kelly-penned, Cold Chiselesque rock track was first recorded by the Olympic Sideburns, which included ex-Dot and long-time Kelly collaborator Maurice Frawley, for their eponymous 1985 album. Kelly himself then recorded it with the Messengers on Gossip.
207. “Lantana Part One”
As far as classic rock instrumentals go, this 16-minute effort from the Lantana soundtrack is difficult to beat. Co-created with Shane O’Mara, Steve Hadley, Bruce Haymes and Pete Luscombe.
206. “The Gift That Keeps on Giving”
A folk lullaby. From The Gift That Keeps on Giving EP and on The A–Z Recordings; also covered by Bic Runga on The Women at the Well.
205. “Made For You”
Co-written with Thelma Plum for her much-anticipated debut album, Better in Blak (2019). The story goes that producer David Kahne was in a New York studio when Paul McCartney wandered past, liked what he heard, and offered to “lay some guitar down”. McCartney now shares the songwriting credit.
Co-written with Chris Coyne. The track that gives the album its title features some excellent songwriting, but it’s the audacious brass riff that creates the talking point.
203. “If I Had My Way”
Co-written with former Frente! bass guitarist Bill McDonald for his new band Four Hours Sleep and their album Love Specifics (2006), which featured lots of collaborations – including this one.
202. “The Lion and the Lamb”
Began as a jam with the Boon Companions (Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly, and Dan and Pete Luscombe), who share songwriting credits. Appears on Stolen Apples and Live Apples.
201. “Bleeding Heart”
On Highlights of a Dangerous Life (1986) by The Johnnys, a Sydney band that partly grew out of the Hoodoo Gurus. Kelly co-wrote this energetic rock song with The Johnnys, and it could easily be a Gurus effort.
200. “It’s All Downhill From Here”
One of Kelly’s many explorations of the lives of the downtrodden: the influence of Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan is never far from the surface. From Comedy.
199. “Imagine the World”
Kelly and Martin Armiger co-wrote this for the Seven Deadly Sins soundtrack (1993), for which it was performed by Deborah Conway and Renée Geyer, with Kelly on backing vocals. Probably the closest Kelly gets to Phil Collins.
198. “Satisfy Your Woman”
“Brothers let me tell you / A thing or two I know / If you don’t treat your woman right / Out of the blue one day she’s gonna go.” Sage advice. From Post.
197. “Everybody Loves You Baby”
A disillusioned lover’s angry letter to a charismatic charmer. On Stardust Five, and covered by Megan Washington for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute concert.
196. “Can’t Help You Now”
This is probably about as typically Kelly as Kelly gets – anger, delivered as a pop song with rock overtones and a harmonica, that builds and contains one or two surprises. From Ways & Means, co-written with Dan Kelly.
195. “Big Fine Girl”
An upbeat folksy homage to Kelly’s great-grandmother Catherine. From Ways & Means, also on The A–Z Recordings. Later covered by Chris Wollard and Addison Burns for their eponymous 2011 EP.
194. “I Didn’t Know Love Could Be Mine”
Kelly wrote this old-fashioned rock number for Vika and Linda Bull, who recorded it on their debut album, Vika and Linda.
193. “Beautiful Promise”
Slow rock with beautiful lyrics, written for the Fireflies soundtrack, and also on The A–Z Recordings. “Fireflies dance in the shadows / Love don’t shine steady, it waxes and wanes.”
192. “The Governor’s Wife”
Electric and acoustic guitars in duet. From the Everynight … Everynight soundtrack.
191. “Day in the Life”
Mesmerising dual-guitar instrumental. Everynight … Everynight soundtrack.
190. “Everynight … Everynight”
Another spellbinding guitar instrumental, featuring the melody to “The Cake and the Candle”. Everynight … Everynight soundtrack.
189. “A Bastard Like Me”
Kelly’s homage to Charles Perkins, whose 1975 autobiography provides the song’s title. From Nature.
188. “Love Letter”
“This is my only plea: I want to make a deep connection between you and me.” From the Fireflies soundtrack, recorded with the Professor Ratbaggy ensemble.
187. “Don’t Break it I Say”
From the Seven Deadly Sins soundtrack, co-written by and performed with Renée Geyer, Deborah Conway and Martin Armiger. Kelly and co go Latin, with accents and everything. Well, it was 1993…
186. “I Don’t Know What I’d Do”
Written by Kelly and sung by Kira Puru for the Merri Soul Sessions: a woman’s fears that her relationship could fail.
185. “Happy Slave”
One of Kelly’s many paper-thin metaphors for sex. From Under the Sun.
184. “One Blood”
The second collaboration between Kelly and Mandawuy Yunupingu, for Yothu Yindi’s One Blood (1999). It’s no “Treaty”, but it’s pretty fine.
183. “Little Bones”
Co-written with Mairead Hannan and sung by Kaarin Fairfax for the One Night the Moon soundtrack. It appears in the scene after the mother discovers the bones of her missing child.
182. “Keep it to Yourself”
Do we need to confess every little thing we do? Or even every big thing? Kelly doesn’t think so. From Comedy, then Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992 and Live at The Athenaeum.
181. “I Close My Eyes and Think of You”
A heart-wrenching song about grief. In his memoirs, Kelly recounts that his mother, Jo, talked to her husband, John, “every day for thirty-two years after his death, never doubting his place in heaven”. From Nothing But a Dream, then on The A–Z Recordings.
180. “Little Decisions”
Kelly just doesn’t want to hear it. From Post and Hidden Things, and covered by Wooden Wand for Steals the Covers (2020).
179. “White Train”
Another overdose song. From Post, then rocked-up for Gossip.
178. “Hey Boys”
Kelly and Mark Seymour (of Hunters & Collectors) co-wrote and co-performed this poignant homage to garbage collectors for the Garbo soundtrack (1992): “Take a look and throw it away / Down the road to the end of the day / Out of mind, out of sight, before you can say / Hey boys, we got a lot of dirty work to do.”
177. “Don’t Say I’m No Good”
Kaarin Fairfax sings this (as Mary-Jo Starr) on Too Many Movies, but it’s so quintessentially Kelly – from his Messengers period – that the songwriting credit is almost superfluous.
176. “The Ballroom”
Pacy pop-rock expressing the narrator’s anguish about meeting his ex’s new partners, and includes the great line: “I was accused of being deliberately downhearted.” From Gossip.
175. “Winter Coat”
Kelly’s tribute to Frank Sinatra. Appears on Comedy, Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum, The A–Z Recordings, Live Apples, Goin’ Your Way and Please Leave Your Light On. There’s also a cover by Jenny Queen on Stories of Me.
Kelly teams up with Joe Camilleri for the Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons album Cha (1982). Its energy is pretty irresistible.
173. “Sweetest Thing”
“You’re the sweetest thing that ever happened to me.” From Stolen Apples and Live Apples, co-written with the Boon Companions.
172. “So Blue”
Apparently Paul is singing about Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie, France, but I reckon there’s something deeper going on here… From Gossip.
171. “No You”
Grief that hits you like a freight train. From So Much Water So Close to Home, then on The A–Z Recordings.
170. “Gonna Be Good”
Kelly included this vow near the beginning of his Spring and Fall song cycle, just after the narrator finds a new relationship, and just before it all falls apart again. The inevitability is implicit in the repeated phrase: “I’m gonna be good from now on.”
Petrichor is the smell of rain on dry soil. Kelly not only puts it in a song, he makes it rhyme. From Life is Fine (2017), then Live at the Sydney Opera House (2019) and finally Please Leave Your Light On with Paul Grabowsky on piano.
A pretty stunning opening to the B side of Comedy’s first LP.
167. “Rock Out on the Sea”
Turmoil. From Life is Fine, co-written with Bill Miller.
166. “I’ve Been a Fool”
A very Kelly folk song, about the tangles we get ourselves into. From Deeper Water, co-written with Randy Jacobs.
165. “Somewhere in the City”
Captures that state between jealousy and loneliness, when the other person is out and you’re not. Appears on Nothing But a Dream and The Video Collection 1985–2008, then live on Rove: Some Music (2001), and finally on The A–Z Recordings.
164. “What Do You Know”
A lament, and a challenge. From One Night the Moon, co-written with Kev Carmody and Mairead and Deirdre Hannan.
Written by Kelly and his Boon Companions – Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly, and Pete and Dan Luscombe – specifically for Kelly’s A–Z shows, which were about to commence without a “Z” song. They recorded a version with Dan Luscombe on vocals for Stardust Five; Kelly’s recorded version is on The A–Z Recordings.
162. “Suit Your Style”
Kelly collaborated with Mark Seymour on this great Hunters & Collectors song, recorded for Juggernaut (1998).
161. “You Broke a Beautiful Thing”
Kelly says he woke up in the middle of the night with the chorus and melody fully formed, and knowing it was a song for Renée Geyer. She took some persuading, but it appears on her album Sweet Life. Kelly later took it back for Ways & Means, The A–Z Recordings and a promotional single release with Paul Grabowsky in 2020.
160. “Give in to My Love”
An urgent song full of desire. From Deeper Water, then covered by Fruit for Stories of Me and by Dan Sultan – whose souled-up version is the best one – for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute album.
159. “Going About My Father’s Business”
One of three mid 1980s songs about dead fathers: “I woke up one summer morning he was gone / Soft light through the window breaking for my son / Going about my father’s business / Doing my father’s time / What’s done to me I’ll do to mine.” On Gossip, then revived for Live Apples and The A–Z Recordings.
158. “(You Can Put Your) Shoes Under My Bed”
When he pitched this to a music publisher in Nashville, Kelly was advised to change the line “No one else could have such grace and be so spastic.” He agreed, but he left it in when he recorded it with the Messengers on Post and Comedy (the best version). The Sydney-based FourPlay String Quartet also left it in when they performed their cover for Stories of Me. So did Missy Higgins when she performed it at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute concert. It was still there when Kelly took it back for The A–Z Recordings. “It may be defective,” he wrote then, “but it’s where it belongs and it has all my love.” So there it stayed during Neil Finn’s cover during the Goin’ Your Way performances in 2013, and even for Kelly’s collaboration with Paul Grabowsky on Please Leave Your Light On.
157. “Nothing On My Mind”
Kelly goes back a decade, with the benefit of experience: “I never did one good thing till I was over 30.” Appears on Words and Music and The Video Collection 1985–2008.
156. “Gathering Storm”
A slow, reflective mood piece co-written with Mart Saarelaht, appearing on Deeper Water, then re-recorded with Uncle Bill for Smoke, which is the better version. Also on The A–Z Recordings.
155. “She’s a Melody (Stupid Song)”
Kelly on simile. So Much Water So Close to Home, Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum and on The A–Z Recordings.
154. “Lucky Bastard”
Channels just a little bit of Leonard Cohen at his most playful. Co-written with Colin Hay for his solo album Company of Strangers (2002).
153. “Righteous Woman”
The power of a woman’s desire. From The Merri Soul Sessions.
152. “Little Bit o’ Sugar”
It seems like Paul’s out of sugar? From Ways & Means, co-written with Dan Kelly.
151. “Words and Music”
Could this be Paul Kelly’s most autobiographical song? From Words and Music.
150. “Seagulls of Seattle”
The heartache of love lost. From Nature.
149. “Ninety-Nine Years”
A delightful Gaelic-inspired song about a woman who will remain beyond the reach of her suitor. Co-written with Vika and Linda Bull for their debut album, Vika and Linda.
148. “Right Outta My Head”
It’s not the least destructive way of getting over a relationship, but we’re not interested in minimising damage here. Appears on Stolen Apples and Live Apples, co-written with Dan Kelly.
147. “Roll On Summer”
Infectious. From the Roll On Summer EP, with Kirsty Stegwazi on lead vocals and Kelly on backing.
146. “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”
Kelly shouting from the rooftop when he’s in love. Appears on Words and Music, The Video Collection 1985–2008 and on The A–Z Recordings.
145. “Little Boy Don’t Lose Your Balls”
Kelly the Wise issues a word of warning to the next generation. On Comedy, then recorded again for the Live at The Athenaeum VHS, the Silent Partner soundtrack, Foggy Highway (it’s on the bonus disc) and The A–Z Recordings.
144. “Thoughts in the Middle of the Night”
Those 3am blues. From Songs from the South: Volume 2 (2008), then on The A–Z Recordings and finally Forty Days (2020).
143. “Letter in the Rain”
“I remember her dark stare / And a braid of nut-brown hair / All the rest is just a letter in the rain.” From Life is Fine and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
142. “Sometimes My Baby”
Don’t let the breezy country waltz fool you into thinking this isn’t a song about depression. From Spring and Fall.
141. “Let’s Tangle”
Probably the most recognisable section of scoring from the Lantana soundtrack, by Kelly with Shane O’Mara, Steve Hadley, Bruce Haymes and Pete Luscombe.
140. “Jindabyne Fair”
A slow country-folk song for the Jindabyne soundtrack, sung by Katie Brianna.
139. “Don’t Start Me Talking”
A cliché reworked as a pop song, Kelly-style. Appears on Comedy, Live at The Athenaeum and The A–Z Recordings.
138. “Stolen Apples (Taste the Sweetest)”
Kelly goes right back to the beginning. Appears on Stolen Apples and The Video Collection 1985–2008, then on Live Apples and The A–Z Recordings. Jane Tyrrell (of The Herd) recorded a cover for her debut solo album, Echoes in the Aviary (2014).
137. “Randwick Bells”
Inner Sydney, a weekend lay-in. Appears on Gossip, then on The A–Z Recordings. Also famously covered by Jimmy Little on Messenger (1999), then by Sally Tims and Jon Langford on Songs of False Hope and High Values (2002).
136. “The River Song”
Take “Randwick Bells”, now fast forward a decade or two, move to the river, and settle down. From Nature.
135. “Summer Rain”
Australia in a song. From Wanted Man, then Live at the Continental and the Esplanade and on The A–Z Recordings.
134. “(I) Keep on Coming Back for More”
Kelly recorded this for The A–Z Recordings, but the best version is on The Merri Soul Sessions with Clairy Browne (of the Bangin’ Rackettes) on vocals.
133. “Night Ride”
We’re right there in the car with Kelly. From Conversations with Ghosts, with music co-written by James Ledger.
132. “Somebody’s Forgetting Somebody”
Paul’s mum’s favourite Paul Kelly song. Appears on Gossip, Live at the Continental and the Esplanade and The A–Z Recordings.
131. “Someone New”
“There is no reason to do our love wrong / When we’re together it’s sweet and strong / It’s where I belong / But I just want to sleep with someone new.” Forbidden thoughts. From Spring and Fall.
130. “Midnight Rain”
“Something woke me up / Must have been the rain / And for no good reason here you are / Inside my head again.” From Nothing But a Dream, then on Live Apples and The A–Z Recordings.
129. “You’re Still Picking the Same Sore”
Kelly in the middle. From Wanted Man.
128. “Heavy Thing”
Evocative, grungy and horny. From Ways & Means, co-written with Dan Kelly.
127. “Tease Me”
Also evocative, grungy and horny. From Words and Music and The Video Collection 1985–2008, then into the ABC studios for Triple J Live at the Wireless 4 (1999).
126. “These are the Days”
Just a wonderful love song, from Ways & Means. “She don’t believe in God / Or Jesus Christ our Lord / But she likes to call their names.”
125. “I Smell Trouble”
A great sense of impending doom. From Life is Fine and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
124. “I’ll Be Your Lover”
Kelly also does pop songs pretty well. From Words and Music, The Video Collection 1985–2008 and Live Apples.
123. “I’m on Your Side”
A warm folk song about friendship, co-written with Dan Kelly for Spring and Fall. Archie Roach also included his own version on Into the Bloodstream (2012).
122. “Cold as Canada”
There must be millions of songs in the world about relationships failing. How does Kelly continue to make them so fresh, and so cutting? From Spring and Fall.
121. “It Started With a Kiss”
Romance, nostalgia, suspense and great storytelling, all wrapped up in a pop song. From Words and Music and The Video Collection 1985–2008.
120. “Taught By Experts”
Cutting. An acoustic version appears on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992 and Live at The Athenaeum, a bluegrass version with Uncle Bill is on Smoke, and a rock version with the Boon Companions is on the Fireflies soundtrack.
119. “Teach Me Tonight”
Bluegrass romance, on Smoke and the Silent Partner soundtrack.
118. “Don’t Explain”
Kelly first performed this gender-switch song – in which the voice of an older woman reassures her younger lover, in answer to Billie Holiday’s 1946 jazz song of the same name – on his first Live album and VHS (both 1992) and then again for The A–Z Recordings, before Linda Bull took over for Life is Fine and then Live at the Sydney Opera House.
117. “Special Treatment”
Kelly cleverly inverts one of the cut-through phrases of the white backlash against the Aboriginal rights movement. It was first released as the B-side on the “Careless” single (1989); that version’s on Hidden Things. There’s also a live recording on Building Bridges: Australia Has a Black History (1989), and another one – with Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore – on Two Roads: Live in Australia (1990).
116. “I Don’t Know Anything Anymore”
In the 1930s, a young child had gone missing from a station near Dubbo. The child’s father refused to allow Aboriginal people onto “his” land, so Alexander Riley, an expert tracker, was excluded from the search. The child’s remains were only found years later, after the father had died and his widow finally allowed Riley onto the property. The case continued to haunt Riley and his family. Six decades later, Riley’s grandson, Michael Riley, made a documentary – Black Tracker (1997) – which aired on the ABC. Singer-songwriter Mairead Hannan saw it, and set about assembling a creative team including Kelly, Kev Carmody, Alice Garner, Rachel Perkins and John Romeril. Perkins and Romeril wrote the script, which was filmed in the Flinders Ranges in mid 2000, and One Night the Moon aired to critical acclaim. “I Don’t Know Anything Anymore” is the father’s suicide note, delivered after he’s realised how his own racist obstinacy killed his child. The song was also including on The A–Z Recordings.
115. “Ghost Town”
Kelly first recorded “Ghost Town” with the Messengers for the B-side to the single release of “Sweet Guy” (1989), which later appeared on Hidden Things. He then re-recorded it with the Stormwater Boys for Foggy Highway. It’s a heavy song, whose narrator is living in a fog after the death of a child, but the delivery is typically upbeat: Kelly often uses that combination.
114. “New Found Year”
A happy song about life’s harmony. From Spring and Fall, then on Goin’ Your Way. Co-written with Dan Kelly.
113. “Glory Be to God”
Worshipping a woman and thanking god: classic Kelly. “She’s got a smile to change the sun / Glory be to god / Undoes her buttons one by one / Glory be to god / On my knees before her splendor / Glory be to god / She knows she’s a natural wonder / Glory be to god.” From Words and Music, then on The A–Z Recordings.
112. “For the Ages”
A love song that warms the heart, co-written with Dan Kelly. From Spring and Fall, then performed live with Neil Finn on Goin’ Your Way.
111. “Don’t Let a Good Thing Go”
Dan Sultan sang this one, by Kelly and Bill Miller (formerly of The Ferrets), for TheMerri Soul Sessions.
110. “Don’t Harm the Messenger”
Kelly gives the world another ear-worm. The other voice on the Gossip recording is the late Grant McLennan, from the Go-Betweens. Also on The A–Z Recordings.
109. “Down on the Jetty”
Gentle grieving song written by Kelly and Linda Bull, and performed by Linda and her sister Vika for TheMerri Soul Sessions.
108. “Smoke Under the Bridge”
Kelly wrote this after spending four hours in a car with Neil Murray on their way back from Banjo Clarke’s funeral in western Victoria. Appears on Nothing But a Dream and The A–Z Recordings.
107. “The Pretty Place”
This should be on every driving songs compilation. From Nothing But a Dream, then on The A–Z Recordings.
106. “Keep on Driving”
This should also be on every driving songs compilation. From Stolen Apples and Live Apples.
105. “Maybe This Time”
Kelly and Martin Armiger wrote this Latin pop song for the Seven Deadly Sins soundtrack; Vika Bull sang it. Then Kelly reworked it almost entirely for Wanted Man.
104. “Passed Over”
Another biblical borrowing. Appears on Foggy Highway with the Stormwater Boys, then on Forty Days.
103. “Curly Red”
This is hardly the only song about the grief of love lost, but very few of them sound like this. From Ways & Means.
102. “Crying Shame”
Kelly getting all sultry-grunge, and not for the first time. From Ways & Means, and performed live on Live Apples. Co-written with Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly, Dan Luscombe and Pete Luscombe.
101. “Heartbreak Heartmend”
Kelly wrote this duet for himself and Kasey Chambers, which she included on the limited-edition bonus disc accompanying her debut album, The Captain (1999). Performed with Uncle Bill, it’s solid bluegrass/country.
100. “Maralinga (Rainy Land)”
The British nuclear tests at Maralinga were in the news in the mid 1980s, thanks to the Kerr committee and the McClelland Royal Commission: Kelly credits Bob Ellis in the National Times for sparking his interest, which extended to this remarkable song. Appears on Gossip, Live at the Continental and the Esplanade and The A–Z Recordings.
99. “I Had Forgotten You”
Life – messy and unpredictable and pleasantly surprising – in a pop song. From So Much Water So Close to Home.
98. “I’m Not Afraid of the Dark Anymore”
A simple folk song that ends with a menacing musical twist by James Ledger to close out the Conversations With Ghosts song cycle.
97. “Killer Lover”
Kelly wrote this killer song for Renée Geyer, who included it on Sweet Love (1999) and Tenderland (2003). One can imagine it on the soundtrack to The Bodyguard.
96. “Other People’s Houses”
Essentially a piece of short fiction about class, drawn from Kelly’s experiences cleaning houses in Melbourne, set to music with a repeated one-line chorus. Simple, but damn effective. Was the B-side on the single release of “Pouring Petrol on a Burning Man” (1990), which was later included on Hidden Things; then on Live at The Athenaeum and The A–Z Recordings.
95. “Forty Miles to Saturday Night”
This might be Cold Chisel territory, but Kelly owns it: “Danny brings the Bedford round / A three-ton girl with a ten-foot tray / And she knows the way to town / So we kiss goodbye to two weeks’ pay.” Appears on Under the Sun, The Video Collection 1985–2008 and The A–Z Recordings.
94. “Foggy Highway”
Kelly first introduced “Foggy Highway” on his live performances in 1992, recorded on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992 and the Live at The Athenaeum VHS. Renée Geyer then took it over for the Seven Deadly Sins soundtrack and Difficult Woman before Kelly took it back with the Stormwater Boys and recorded a bluegrass version – the best one – for Foggy Highway. Also on The A–Z Recordings.
93. “Sure Got Me”
Great pop. From Ways & Means, co-written with the Boon Companions.
92. “Pouring Petrol on a Burning Man”
The pain of unrequited love in a rock song. Originally released as a single in 1990, and included on Hidden Things and Live at the Continental and the Esplanade. Later covered by the Detroit group the Boneshakers, who retitled it “Pouring Gasoline on a Burning Man” for their album Shake the Planet (1998).
91. “Shy Before You Lord”
An instant bluegrass classic. From Smoke, with Uncle Bill.
90. “Ball and Chain”
A hurt, angry, bluesy rock song with a driving beat. From Wanted Man, co-written with Randy Jacobs. Later covered by the Boneshakers on Shake the Planet.
89. “Before the Old Man Died”
One of three songs in two years about a dead father. From Gossip.
88. “Brand New Ways”
Kelly does soul pretty damn well. Originally the B-side on the “Keep it to Yourself” single (1991), later included on Hidden Things and performed on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992.
87. “Extra Mile”
An incredible baseline. Co-written with Randy Jacobs for Deeper Water.
86. “The Foggy Fields of France”
This beautiful country folk song builds on E. E. Cummings (“the root of the root and the bud of the bud”) and carries you away. From Stolen Apples, then Live Apples and The A–Z Recordings.
85. “Charlie Owen’s Slide Guitar”
Kelly’s tribute to the multi-instrumentalist Owen, and in particular to his slide guitar, which later accompanied Kelly for the Death’s Dateless Night album and tour. From Words and Music, then on The A–Z Recordings.
84. “He Can’t Decide”
A Latin contribution to the Seven Deadly Sins soundtrack, co-written by Kelly and the late Martin Armiger, who played together in the High Rise Bombers before Armiger left for The Sports and then wrote music for dozens of Australian films and TV series – including Seven Deadly Sins. “He Can’t Decide” also features the voices of Renée Geyer, Deborah Conway and Vika Bull.
83. “I Wasted Time”
Just what a folk song should be. From Nothing But a Dream, then on The A–Z Recordings.
82. “Stumbling Block”
Bluegrass meta. From Foggy Highway, then Forty Days.
81. “I’ll Forgive But I Won’t Forget”
The cliché at the bottom of this song – the jealousy produced by “the oldest story in the book” – is only the foundation for some complex songwriting. From Deeper Water.
80. “Your Little Sister (is a Big Girl Now)”
Any song about a bloke getting the hots for his wife’s little sister (“She was standing fully grown / Peaches hanging on the tree”) is perhaps a little bit too far along the creepy spectrum. It may not be much of a defence to point – as Kelly does in How to Make Gravy – to the long line of similarly themed songs, from Elvis’s “Little Sister” and Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons’ “The Girl Across the Street (Just Turned 18)” to Dragon’s “Are You Old Enough?” and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl”. But the spirit of Eros rarely obeys the rules, and that’s often the stuff of songwriting – creepy or not. From Comedy, then on The A–Z Recordings.
79. “Forty-Eight Angels”
What much folk music aspires to be. From Ways & Means, then on The A–Z Recordings.
78. “Know Your Friends”
“Know your friends / You gotta have one, one to lean on.” From Under the Sun.
77. “King of Fools”
Remarkably evocative. From Ways & Means, then on The A–Z Recordings.
76. “Your Lovin’ is on My Mind”
The beautiful sickness of love. Appears on Ways & Means and The A–Z Recordings; also covered by Paul Dempsey (of Something for Kate) for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute.
75. “I Was Hoping You’d Say That”
Kelly first recorded this recounting of an improbably positive romantic encounter on his 1992 Live album and VHS, and didn’t make a studio recording until the 2000 Roll On Summer EP. Its humour is enhanced by the audience response on the live version.
74. “God Told Me To”
A fictional character, John Johanna, descends into madness. Appears on Stolen Apples, The Video Collection 1985–2008, Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
“All I want, I confess / I just want to see her blush.” From Deeper Water, and then on Live Apples.
72. “You’re 39, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine”
The Sherman Brothers’ “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine)” was a big hit for Johnny Burnette in 1960, and an even bigger one for Ringo Starr in early 1974. Kelly inverted it for the Tex, Don and Charlie supergroup – that’s Tex Perkins of The Cruel Sea, Don Walker of Cold Chisel and Charlie Owen – and their third album All is Forgiven (2005). Kelly then took it back for Stolen Apples, Live Apples and The A–Z Recordings.
71. “My Man’s Got a Cold”
Kelly has long written songs to be sung by women. Often he sings them himself. Sometimes, as with this one, Vika Bull’s voice seems made for the occasion. From Life is Fine, and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
70. “We Won’t Cry”
A song of true friendship. Co-written and performed as a duet by Kelly and Archie Roach on Roach’s Into the Bloodstream.
69. “Until Death Do Them Part”
Kelly wrote this wedding song for Roger Bennett’s race relations play, Funerals and Circuses (1992), for which he was musical director. (Kelly’s soundtrack for the play has never been released, but segments of it were recorded for the ABC radio series “The Songs and Stories of Australia”. The Funerals and Circuses tapes are apparently missing from ABC archives.) Kelly first recorded “Until Death” on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, before creating a bluegrass version with Gerry Hale’s Uncle Bill in the studio for Smoke. Also on The A–Z Recordings.
68. “Smells Like Rain”
Written by a powerhouse trio – Kelly, Kev Carmody and Dan Sultan – and sung by Linda Bull. From The Merri Soul Sessions.
67. “Unfinished Business”
Kelly and Kev Carmody repeat the format they use for “This Land is Mine”, but this time it’s the missing child’s mother trading worldviews with the tracker. The title, repeated as the song’s chorus, is the political statement. From One Night the Moon.
66. “None of Your Business Now”
That moment after a breakup, when we realise we can’t even show regard for the person whose life we shared. From Spring and Fall, then Live at the Sydney Opera House.
65. “Little Aches and Pains”
Kelly in a reflective mood as he ages. From Spring and Fall.
64. “Leah: The Sequel”
From Life is Fine, brilliantly borrowed by Kelly and Bill Miller (of The Ferrets) from Roy Orbison’s B-side on the “Workin’ for the Man” single release (1962).
Kelly does a surf music instrumental. Appears on Ways & Means, The Video Collection 1985–2008, then performed live on Live Apples. Co-written with Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly, Dan Luscombe and Pete Luscombe.
62. “Take Your Time”
From Comedy, and appears, most famously, on the 1997 film The Castle, which – criminally – didn’t get a soundtrack release. Covered by Emma Russack and Lachlan Denton on Keep on Trying (2018).
61. “Same Old Walk”
Covers the same territory as “I Can’t Believe We Were Married” and “The Ballroom” – and covers it damn well. From Under the Sun, then Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992.
60. “Hasn’t it Rained”
A genuinely thigh-slapping gospel collaboration between Kelly and Bill McDonald, Pete Luscombe, Cameron Bruce, Vika and Linda Bull, and Ash Naylor for TheMerri Soul Sessions, and then Live at the Sydney Opera House.
59. “Song of the Old Rake”
It’s difficult not to imagine Cleaver Greene singing this in his old age. From Foggy Highway and The Video Collection 1985–2008.
58. “Won’t You Come Around”
The hopeful beginnings. From Ways & Means, The Video Collection 1985–2008 and The A–Z Recordings.
57. “To Be Good Takes a Long Time”
But to be bad takes no time at all. From Ways & Means.
Kelly’s having fun here; the song – and the album – has the feel of a true celebration. From Life is Fine, then Live at the Sydney Opera House.
55. “Darling it Hurts”
Co-written by guitarist Steve Connolly from the Messengers, who died aged 36 at the end of 1994. Classic Kelly rock song that’s on its way to becoming an Aussie standard: “Darling it hurts to see you down Darlinghurst tonight.” On Gossip and The Video Collection 1985–2008, and versions on Live at the Continental and the Esplanade and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Also covered by Magic Dirt for The Women at the Well and the Screaming Jets on Gotcha Covered (2018).
54. “Behind the Bowler’s Arm”
Kelly’s second cricket song was on the “Deeper Water” single, and later re-recorded for The A–Z Recordings. This evocative homage to watching Test cricket at the MCG has some typically Kelly humour: “If we’re lucky we might see / Someone make a ton or a slashing fifty / Yeah, if we’re lucky there might be / A bowling spell of sheer wizardry / But most probably / Nothing much will happen at all.”
53. “You Can’t Take it With You”
Paul gets philosophical. Appears on So Much Water So Close to Home, then a couple of bluegrass versions with Uncle Bill on Smoke and Silent Partner (instrumental only), an acoustic version on The A–Z Recordings, and a cover version by Kelly Willis on Easy (2002). Also on The Video Collection 1985–2008.
52. “Rally Round the Drum”
Kelly produced Archie Roach’s first album, Charcoal Lane (1992), then both singer-songwriters went on tour together. In a hotel room in Perth, Roach began telling Kelly about his time in Billy Leach’s boxing troupe in the 1970s, when he fought under the name “Kid Snowball”. (The full story is in Roach’s 2019 book Tell Me Why.) They wrote “Rally Round the Drum” together. Kelly recorded it first, as an acoustic B-side on “When I First Met Your Ma” (1992). That version also appears on Hidden Things. The better version is the one he recorded with the Stormwater Boys for Foggy Highway. Kelly and Roach later recorded a duet for Roach’s Tell Me Why album (2019).
51. “Sleep, Australia, Sleep”
Kelly takes on climate change and, in particular, Australia’s increasingly unique attitude to it, in a streamed single released in 2020.
Kelly subverts rockabilly convention to make a song out of what remains of an under-told story of perhaps Australia’s greatest hero. Kelly came to the history of Aboriginal resistance via Henry Reynolds’ The Other Side of the Frontier (1981), and to Tjandamurra via Colin Johnson’s Long Live Sandawarra (1972), which fictionalised the real-life warrior’s story. From So Much Water So Close to Home, then on The A–Z Recordings with the title reversed.
49. “Madeleine’s Song”
A love song to Kelly’s then-toddler daughter Madeleine – now a singer herself – and an ode to parenthood. “When I dream at night it’s you I see walking / And in the dream I hear you laughing and talking / My sweet Madeleine / You never let me sleep.” On Deeper Water.
48. “Beautiful Feeling”
The narrator rejoices at the fact his love is now out in the open. The song was used as the theme song for the 22-episode ABC series Fireflies, about a group of CFS firefighters in the fictional town of Lost River. From Ways & Means, and the Fireflies soundtrack. Co-written with Bill McDonald, Dan Kelly, Dan Luscombe and Pete Luscombe.
47. “Nothing But a Dream”
A nice fantasy, co-written with Dan Kelly. From Ways & Means, then on The A–Z Recordings.
46. “Incident on South Dowling”
An overdose song, and the transition point between Kelly’s early work with the High Rise Bombers and the Dots, and his more confident songwriting with the Messengers (originally “the Coloured Girls”, after a line in a Lou Reed song). Appears on Post and Gossip.
45. “Invisible Me”
Kelly’s never been far from his Irish roots: this is pure magic and deep loneliness. From Comedy, and Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992.
44. “Anastasia Changes Her Mind”
A catchy, evocative rock song, whose narrator struggles with said Anastasia’s capricious attitude to love. On Deeper Water and The A–Z Recordings.
43. “The Oldest Story in the Book”
In How to Make Gravy, Kelly likens songwriting to solving puzzles. Can he write one with “June” and “moon” in it, and at the same time is “a buddy song, a love song, a song about being in a band and a song about songwriting”? He sure can! From Ways & Means, then on The A–Z Recordings. Co-written with Dan Luscombe.
42. “Little Kings”
Kelly riffs on Donald Horne: “I was born in the lucky country / Every day I hear the warning bells / They’re so busy building palaces / They don’t see the poison in the wells.” From Words and Music, and on Live on The Panel (1999).
41. “Song from the Sixteenth Floor”
A perennial crowd favourite, co-written with John Clifforth (of Deckchairs Overboard). From Wanted Man, but it’s even better live – on the Just About to Break EP (2002), and on Live Apples. Also on The Video Collection 1985–2008.
40. “The Ballad of Queenie and Rover”
Kelly first learned of Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas, pioneering Warmun artists, in the mid 1990s. This powerful ballad, demonstrating Kelly at the peak of his powers, came too late for the artists themselves, who both died in 1998. But it did earn him an invitation to perform in Warmun during the 2007 dry season. Appears on Stolen Apples, Live Apples and The A–Z Recordings.
39. “Look So Fine, Feel So Low”
Has become something of a Kelly standard. From Post, then improved – with a rock beat – on Gossip, and a live version appears on Live at the Sydney Opera House. Also covered by Dave Steele (of Weddings Parties Anything) for Stories of Me and by Dan Sultan at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute.
38. “Meet Me in the Middle of the Air”
Kelly wrote this biblically inspired gem while scoring Alkinos Tsilimidos’s film Tom White (2004) with the Boon Companions. The film’s score has never been released as a soundtrack, but Kelly included “Meet Me in the Middle of the Air” on Foggy Highway, The Video Collection 1985–2008, The A–Z Recordings, Death’s Dateless Night and Live at the Sydney Opera House. It’s also been covered by Megan Washington for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute and Perfect Tripod on Australian Songs (2013).
37. “Leaps and Bounds”
This very quickly became an anthem and a staple of Aussie rock: Kelly’s association with the MCG is immortalised. Co-written with Chris Langman, it appears on Gossip, The Video Collection 1985–2008 and The A–Z Recordings. Kelly performed it live at the Mushroom 25 Live concert, then at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute, with Neil Finn on the Goin’ Your Way tour and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Covered by Xanthe Littlemore on Stories of Me and the Trews on Thank You and I’m Sorry (2012).
36. “Our Sunshine”
The best Ned Kelly song out there takes its title from Robert Drewe’s novel, and appeared before Peter Carey’s. Paul remains within the Irish tradition and is sympathetic to his namesake. Co-written with Mick Thomas (of Weddings Parties Anything), it appears on Smoke and The Video Collection 1985–2008 with Uncle Bill, with live versions on the Just About to Break EP (2002), The A–Z Recordings, the Exile concerts (2018) and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
35. “I Don’t Remember a Thing”
A song about the worst kind of domestic violence – the narrator has murdered his wife and blocked out all memory of doing so – delivered in quintessentially Kellyesque bluegrass-country style. From Under the Sun, and then Smoke with Uncle Bill.
34. “This Land is Mine”
A decade after “From Little Things”, Kelly and Kev Carmody teamed up again to create this stunning anthem of unreconciled Australia. It’s a duet – really more a battle – featuring a white farmer and a tracker, each singing about his relationship to the land. “This land is mine / All the way to the old fence line / Every break of day / I’m working hard to make it pay” sings the farmer, to an anxiously thin violin accompaniment. Then the violins stop suddenly, the didgeridoo and guitar kick in, and the tracker responds: “This land is me / Rock, water, animal, tree / They are my song / My being is here where I belong.” Kelly performed it with Kelton Pell for One Night the Moon. Then Dan Sultan and his band member Scott Wilson performed it for the Cannot Buy My Soul tribute album (2007). And Kelly also performed a version on stage with the Black Arm Band Company for Dirtsong (2009).
33. “Every Day My Mother’s Voice”
Kelly and his nephew Dan penned this remarkable anthem for The Final Quarter (2019), the Adam Goodes documentary by Ian Darling. The original recording by Kelly and Dan Sultan appears on Kelly’s Songs from the South: Greatest Hits 1985–2019, and a new duet by Kelly and Jess Hitchcock is on Music from the Home Front (2020).
32. “Be Careful What You Pray For”
A great Kelly cautionary tale, from the Silent Partner soundtrack. Originally written for Vika and Linda Bull and their third album, Two Wings. Also on Vika and Linda Bull’s Live & Acoustic, and Kelly’s The A–Z Recordings.
31. “Stories of Me”
Now this is songwriting. From Gossip, with that great saxophone; then Comedy, as a rock song; acoustically on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum and The A–Z Recordings; and done bluegrass-style on Smoke with Uncle Bill. There’s also a cover version by Frank Jones on the 2003 Stories of Me compilation.
30. “Down to My Soul”
A simple, extraordinary love song. From Foggy Highway, then The A–Z Recordings. Also performed live by Dan Kelly for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute.
29. “From St Kilda to Kings Cross”
The first single from Post, this is the song that kicked off Kelly’s career as we know it today. We’re right there in the bus Kelly’s been on for 13 hours. Soft rain is falling as he arrives in Sydney, when “everything shines just like a postcard” and “all around me felt like all inside me”. We also feel the yearning, desperate refrain: “I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour / All that land and all that water / For that one sweet promenade.” Kelly recorded another version, which appeared as the B-side on the “Don’t Start Me Talking” single (1991) and on Hidden Things, and a third version appears on The A–Z Recordings, but the original is the most instantly recognisable. Also on The Video Collection 1985–2008. Stephen Cummings and Chris Abrahams covered it for an ABC compilation, Late Night Café (1993), and Bob Evans of Jebediah did a version for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute.
28. “Sweet Guy”
From So Much Water So Close to Home and Hidden Things. The main character is a woman in a violent relationship, so over the years there have been covers by Renée Geyer (on Difficult Woman), Adalita (at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute), Vika Bull (on the 2010 RocKwiz National Tour, and on The Merri Soul Sessions). Kelly has also recorded live versions on Tram Tracks (1993), Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
27. “Finally Something Good”
Kelly turns sublime poetry into perfect pop: “You’re a long cool drink of water on a blazing summer’s day / You’re autumn trees undressing in the month of May / Even in the wintertime, we don’t have to turn on the heat / You’re early springtime blossoms floating on my street.” And then the chorus, which makes you want to jump for joy. From Life is Fine, and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
26. “I Can’t Believe We Were Married”
A remarkable, wistful retrospective on a failed relationship and the buried emotions that bubble to the surface out of shared but suppressed history. “We say hello, then we have to go / You send your regards to all my family / And the years have changed even the sound of your name / I can’t believe we were married.” From Comedy, re-recorded as bluegrass with Uncle Bill for Smoke, and also on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum and The A–Z Recordings.
25. “Don’t Stand So Close to the Window”
A quintessential cheating song. Appears on Under the Sun, then on Foggy Highway with the Stormwater Boys (the best version), with Neil Finn on Goin’ Your Way, and by himself on Live at the Athenaeum and The A–Z Recordings. Co-written with Alexander McGregor.
24. “Firewood and Candles”
The anticipation of preparing for a cozy date, captured in a grown-up rock song: “Firewood and candles on a winter Friday night / Waiting for my sweetheart, I wanna set the scene just right / Wine in the bottles, paella cooking in the pan / Elvis on the stereo, I’m a man with a plan.” From Life is Fine and Live at the Sydney Opera House.
23. “Night After Night”
Does anybody write grief quite as well as Paul Kelly? From Smoke, co-written with Gerry Hale, performed with Uncle Bill.
22. “Rising Moon”
Kelly has a penchant for powerful starts, and this one pumps. From Life is Fine and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Co-written with Bill Miller.
21. “Sydney from a 727”
This is a song about plane travel, yes – but it’s that moment on the journey that’s the most full of hope. First appears on Comedy, but Paul’s upgraded to a 747 ever since, for Smoke with Uncle Bill, The A–Z Recordings and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Merril Bainbridge recorded a version for the Olympic Record compilation (2000), and Ozi Batla reverted to a 727 for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute.
20. “Love Never Runs on Time”
Since it appeared on Wanted Man, this song of wry regret has become a Kelly standard. He’s performed it on Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings and Live at the Sydney Opera House, and it’s been covered by Glenn Cardier for Stories of Me and by Bob Evans for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute. The video is on The Video Collection 1985–2008.
Kelly left Adelaide for good in 1977, when he was about 22, and settled in Melbourne. Adelaide was where he’d been dux of Rostrevor College and in its First XI and First XVIII. It was also where his father had died of Parkinson’s when Kelly was 13: “Dad’s hands used to shake / But I never knew he was dying / I was 13 / I never dreamed he could fall.” Adelaide, the city, has felt wounded by this song since it appeared in 1985: “All the king’s horses, all the king’s men / Wouldn’t drag me back again / To Adelaide…” Best version: The A–Z Recordings. Also on: Post and Gossip. Co-written with Maurice Frawley.
18. “Feelings of Grief”
Like Peter Gabriel’s “I Grieve”, Kelly takes on grief directly, with a pulsing, multidimensional song that grows and changes, like the emotion. A stunning opening to Stolen Apples. Also appears on Live Apples.
17. “Moon in the Bed”
From So Much Water So Close to Home, though it has the energy of the earlier Under the Sun.
16. “Every Fucking City”
One of Kelly’s funniest songs – about a backpacker who’s chasing a dying relationship all over Europe – has become a favourite. From the Roll On Summer EP, then on The A–Z Recordings, and covered by Katy Steele for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute.
15. “If I Could Start Today Again”
We first heard this perfect song of aching remorse on Vika and Linda Bull’s Two Wings; they also recorded it for their Live & Acoustic album. Then Kelly did a version for Nothing But a Dream, and what a version. Also on The Video Collection 1985–2008. Covered by Catherine Britt for Stories of Me, Missy Higgins at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute and Agitated Radio Pilot for their A Little Respect EP (2011), and Kelly himself provided another two recordings: on The A–Z Recordings and with Paul Grabowsky on Please Leave Your Light On.
14. “They Thought I Was Asleep”
A moment in a child’s night. From Foggy Highway, then Live Apples and The A–Z Recordings; a live version recorded at the Enmore Theatre is on The Video Collection 1985–2008, and Jae Laffer (of The Panics) covered it at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute.
Kelly’s second biographical ballad summarises the early career of the Boy from Bowral, Donald Bradman, with verses recounting his debut for St George and then New South Wales, his first, inauspicious Test performances in 1928–29, his sparkling English summer of 1930 and the Bodyline series, before finishing with a dose of Kellyesque nostalgia. Originally released as the B-side on the “Leaps and Bounds” single (1986), later included on a reissue of Under the Sun, collected on Hidden Things and re-recorded for The A–Z Recordings. Also on The Video Collection 1985–2008.
12. “Before Too Long” Gossip’s first single was one of those rare beasts: an instant hit. Has long since entered the pantheon of Australian rock. Also on The Video Collection 1985–2008. Live versions on (at least) Rock the Millennium (2000), Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings, Goin’ Your Way with Neil Finn and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Covered by Chrissy Amphlett on The Women at the Well, Ash Naylor on Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute album and Missy Higgins on Oz. Also included on pretty much every variation of “Best Aussie Pub Rock”, “Best Aussie Beer Songs”, “Best Aussie Truck Songs” and “Best Aussie Anthems” ever released.
11. “When I First Met Your Ma”
First released as a single in 1992 (which led to its inclusion on Hidden Things), and recorded on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992 and Live at the Athenaeum the same year, “When I First Met Your Ma” has become a fan favourite: a father singing to his child about the way he met the child’s mother. There are acoustic versions on Triple M Cordless (1993) and The A–Z Recordings, and live versions with band on Live at the Continental and the Esplanade and Live Apples. Covers by Jae Laffer for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute album and by Rob Joass on Pencarrow (2019).
An apology, and one of Kelly’s most popular songs, for good reason: “I saw worry in their eyes / It didn’t look like fear to me.” Appears on So Much Water So Close to Home and The Video Collection 1985–2008, and performed live on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum, Live at the Continental and the Esplanade, Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings, with Neil Finn on Goin’ Your Way, and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Covered by Renée Geyer on Difficult Woman, Angie Hart on The Women at the Well, Dave McCormack of Custard on Stories of Me and Ozi Batla live on Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute album.
9. “Dumb Things”
An instant hit and the opening track of Under the Sun, the song was made even more famous when it showed up on the soundtracks of Yahoo Serious’s Young Einstein (1988) and the Hollywood rom-com Look Who’s Talking Too (1990). Kelly has since performed it live practically everywhere: Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum, Live at the Continental and the Esplanade, The A–Z Recordings, Live Apples, Goin’ Your Way, and Live at the Sydney Opera House. It’s also on The Video Collection 1985–2008. Has been covered arguably more often than any other Kelly song: by Lash on The Women at the Well, by the Cat Empire on their Live on Earth Sampler EP (2009), by Paul Dempsey at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute, an instrumental jazz version by Monique DiMattina on Welcome Stranger (2010) and by the Yardbombs on Ebolapalooza (2018). And, of course, there was that collaboration with AB Original, which features on Triple J’s Like a Version volume 13 (2017).
“Well I heard it on the radio / And I saw it on the television.” After Bob Hawke promised a Treaty at the Barunga Festival in 1988, nothing much happened. Nothing much, that is, except Yothu Yindi’s first two albums. Kelly had first met Mandawuy Yunupingu and his band in Chicago. Mandawuy said he liked “Under the Sun”. Later he invited Kelly to Yirrkala – the origin of the most famous of the bark petitions to Canberra – and they got to work. Mushroom released “Treaty” as a single from Yothu Yindi’s second album, Tribal Voice (1991), but few noticed. Then some Melbourne-based producers calling themselves Filthy Lucre remixed it, and suddenly Yolngu was being heard on dance floors around the world. (“Treaty” reached number 6 on the Billboard dance chart.) The song became an anthem, and went into the National Film and Sound Archive’s “Sounds of Australia” registry in 2009. Writing credits are shared by Kelly, Mandawuy, Gurrumul, Milkayngu Mununggurr, Banula Marika, Peter Garrett and Stuart Kellaway. Yothu Yindi released “Treaty ’98” on their One Blood album (1998), and Garrett eventually performed the song with Midnight Oil and Yirrmal Marika – grandson of Yothu Yindi founding member Witiyana Marika – at Sydney’s Domain in November 2017; the recording is on Armistice Day (2018).
Very few people write political songs as well as Kelly does. Released the year before the celebrations commemorating two centuries of British colonisation, and the same year that the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody commenced public hearings, the chorus leaves no doubt about Kelly’s own thoughts about it all: “Take me away from your dance floor / Leave me out of your parade / I have not the heart for dancing / For dancing on his grave.” Appears on Under the Sun, and covered by Mia Dyson on Stories of Me.
6. “Everything’s Turning to White”
The song is adapted from Raymond Carver’s short story, which provides the album’s title, So Much Water So Close to Home. Kelly introduced Ray Lawrence to the story, which he later adapted into the film Jindabyne; Kelly (of course) provided the music. If anything, Kelly might even improve on Carver’s story of a woman who learns that her husband has continued fishing with his friends after they discover the body of a dead woman floating in the river: “When he holds me now I’m pretending / I feel like I’m frozen inside / And behind my eyes, my daily disguise / Everything’s turning to white.” Also appears on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum and The A–Z Recordings. Covered by Kasey Chambers on The Women at the Well and Storybook (2011), and by Adalita for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute concert.
5. “Under the Sun”
Fading summer nostalgia in a remarkable four minutes of rock music: “We were microscopic, swarming in the honey sun / We thought we were endless, couldn’t see our friendship undone / Colourful and strange, a kind of life endangered / On the turn, under the sun.” From Under the Sun and Live Apples.
4. “From Little Things Big Things Grow”
Kelly and Kev Carmody wrote their remarkable folk ballad – about the nine-year strike by Gurindji stockmen for equal wages and then land rights – on a camping trip. It first appeared on Kelly’s 1991 album Comedy. Carmody waited for the buramaji following Vincent Lingiari’s death before including his own version on Bloodlines (1993), and Kelly performed it on Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum, The A–Z Recordings and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Along the way there have been covers by the Waifs on Cannot Buy My Soul and Live from the Union of Soul (2009), by Archie Roach and Sara Storer on RocKwiz Duets II (2007), and by John Butler, Missy Higgins and Dan Sultan for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute concert. Memorably, Kelly and Carmody performed the song together at Gough Whitlam’s memorial service. This year, Ziggy Ramo put his own lyrics between the choruses: “Gather round people and I’ll tell you a story / Two hundred years of history that’s falsified / British invaders that we remember as heroes / Are you ready to tell the other side?”
3. “Deeper Water”
An instant hit that captures life’s joy, pain, inexorability, hope and cliché in four minutes. Appearing on the album of the same name, then on Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings, Goin’ Your Way with Neil Finn and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Covered by Clare Bowditch for Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute concert.
2. “How to Make Gravy”
A sleeper hit if ever there was one. Kelly initially provided “How to Make Gravy” as an original contribution to the annual Myer compilation, Spirit of Christmas ’96, and recorded it again for Words and Music. Since then, it’s taken on a life of its own. Covered by James Reyne for Stories of Me and And the Horse You Rode In On (2004), Chris Paulson for Walkin’ (2005), John Butler at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute concert and Luca Brasi on Triple J’s Like a Version 12 (2016). Fans now demand he performs it wherever he goes, so live versions can be found on The Video Collection 1985–2008, Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings, RocKwiz: The Christmas Album (2011, performed with Dan Kelly and Ash Naylor), Goin’ Your Way and Live at the Sydney Opera House. The song has established itself in the national culture, with December 21 increasingly acknowledged as “Gravy Day”.
1. “To Her Door”
Lists of bests are always subjective, and valid arguments can be made for any one of about 150 of Kelly’s songs to get top billing. But it’s remarkable just how many people nominate “To Her Door” as their favourite Paul Kelly song: it’s by far his most popular song on Spotify. That’s self-perpetuating, of course, but that’s also how pop culture works. Maybe this song says something about Australia, or about humanity. Or maybe it’s just a good tune.
Appears on: Under the Sun, Paul Kelly: Live, May 1992, Live at The Athenaeum, Live at the Continental and the Esplanade, the Mushroom 25 Live concert, Cold: LiVe at the Chapel, the Rock the Millennium New Year’s Eve 1999 concert, The Video Collection 1985–2008, Live Apples, The A–Z Recordings, Goin’ Your Way and Live at the Sydney Opera House. Covered by Clare Bowditch at Triple J’s Before Too Long tribute concert, by Alasdair Murray aka Illy as part of his Ausmusic Month medley (on Like a Version 10, 2010), and by Celsi, Bragg and Maitland on The Road to Glasgow (2017).
Russell Marks is a lawyer and an honorary research associate at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015).
This list is intended as something of a cultural artefact and a tribute to arguably Australia’s greatest songwriter.
I’ve never met the guy, though not for want of trying: I even bullied my way into an invitation to a 2013 election night party at his St Kilda house in the hope that Tony Abbott’s election as prime minister might be heralded by an intimate rendition of “Careless”, “Dumb Things” or perhaps “Feelings of Grief”. Alas, he wasn’t home. It was around that time that I began this project, which has meant looking in all kinds of obscure places for Paul Kelly songwriting credits. It hasn’t been a chore.
To make this list, Kelly must get a writing credit, and the song must have been published and released – so songs in films and plays that never made it onto a soundtrack (such as most of the songs Kelly wrote for Roger Bennett’s 1992 play Funerals...
Nothing without context. Politics, society, culture.