Best appreciated from a distance

There have been three big NZ music compilations in the past 20 years, the Kiwi Rock compilation of 1990 which was updated by the comprehensive APRA collection Nature’s Best in 2002, and now The Great NZ Songbook. The songs on these albums represent the best of NZ pop and rock – not always the most innovative or original or New Zealandy tunes this country has produced*, but the most popular. The stuff that expats yearn for, seeing as the proper way to appreciate NZ is from a distance. The three collections only have five songs in common**, but you can probably name them off the top of your head:

Nature ~Fourmylua (1969)
April Sun in Cuba ~Dragon (1978)
Counting the Beat ~The Swingers (1981)
Slice of Heaven ~Dave Dobbyn with Herbs (1986)
For Today ~Netherworld Dancing Toys (1989)

Nothing controversial there, but the selection for The Great NZ Songbook, out for NZ Music Month with a lavishly-produced book, has not been without its detractors. Usually a national songbook is a collection of popular standards that any strong singer could tackle, so the songs can’t be specifically linked to a particular singer. America is particularly good at the concept of differentiating between the song and the singer, which is why the Great American Songbook can been successfully mined by diverse artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson and, er, Rod Stewart.

But, and this is where it’s time to start up those tractors, of the 42 songs on The Great NZ Songbook, only the standard ‘Pokarekare Ana’ and ‘Nature’ has been successfully covered by another band. Most of the rest are sung by pub bands every weekend, but can you really imagine someone else having a hit with ‘Not Many’ or ‘My Delirium’?

So, is it a Kiwi greatest hits instead? Many of the song choices seem to be compromises – obviously there have to be songs by Dobbyn and the Finn brothers, but are those their best songs? Dividing the discs between the 20th and 21st centuries is at least a novel idea, but maybe they should’ve just repackaged the 7-disc Nature’s Best collection, especially when you consider that 20 of the same songs (15 of the 21 songs on the first disc) are repeated.

So, our new national compilation is a combination of classic middle-aged white rock chestnuts from the eighties, a few gems and one-hit-wonders from recent years as the industry got on a sounder commercial footing but creatively went to hell, a few oddities which will soon look as incongruous as Fur Patrol and Darcy Clay on the first Nature’s Best CD, FOUR expat-friendly songs with “Home” in the title, and almost nothing from the alternative scene or the nineties or the Dunedin Sound, that most identifiably New Zealand of our popular music sounds (apart from unthreatening dub). All of them, arguably, great songs***. But best appreciated from a distance.

*Flying Nun? What that?
**Only one of these bands is technically a one-hit wonder… despite appearances!
***Except for the sodding Feelers.

3 Responses to “Best appreciated from a distance”

  1. Am I alone in feeling that $99 is simply excessive for the book+2CD package?

  2. thomsedavi Says:

    I think it’s more of a $99 display of your appreciation of New Zealand music than a $99 double-CD and book. Actully, it’s a $99 way of showing you don’t care about New Zealand music enough to actually explore it and find things you like yourself, only what you can universally agree with all the other people who don’t care is a ‘New Zealand Classic’.

    It even has the most generic possible of Dick Frizzell art on the cover. Just to rub the point in.

  3. It’s a very nice book, but you could always just buy the $30 2CD package.

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