This post features some of my thoughts on one of the country’s best songwriters – and I think it would be fair to say one of the more underrated.
The names that are likely to come up are Tim Finn and Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn. There’ll be Shayne Carter too; maybe Martin Phillipps. There’s David Kilgour and Don McGlashan and Graeme Downes. There are two other Graemes I can think of that could figure on a list of the greats too…
And of course that’s just the icing on the icing. We haven’t even gotten to the icing on the cake yet.
Tell me (once again) I have no/bad/poor taste. Tell me (once again) I don’t know what I’m talking about. But you know what, I’m convinced that one of the country’s greatest songwriters, on the day maybe my favourite, is Jordan Luck.
Luck is the lead singer/songwriter for The Exponents. They used to be called The Dance Exponents.
You might think of them as the band that refused to die; that launched two dozen reunion New Year’s Eve gigs on provincial beaches; that indirectly birthed the feelers (that’s if you’re particularly cruel); that launched a thousand “Shazzas” screaming out lyrics to all of those question-mark songs: Why Does Love Do This To Me? – Who Loves Who The Most? – Whatever Happened To Tracy?
And sure, with the re-brand to The Exponents and the release of 1992’s Something Beginning With C there is some truth to those charges; The Exponents did become (almost) all of that.
But there were still some great pop songs. And before that, back in the Dance Exponents daze Luck had his finger on the pulse. The Dance Exponents weren’t just pub-rock (not that there’s anything wrong with the best, er, exponents of that). They were new romantic, they were post-punk, they were up with what was happening.
But as Luck would have it, the band created a New Zealand identity in the songs. We think of the hits – so it’s all those songs I’ve just mentioned and from the earlier days, Victoria and I’ll Say Goodbye (Even Though I’m Blue). But there are so many other great examples of a band somewhat ahead of its time.
I’d be giving the bands that win the NZ music awards these days a copy of the Greatest Hits – let them have a listen to Airway Spies and Your Best Friend Loves Me Too. Let them understand Know Your Own Heart and Greater Hopes Greater Expectations. Get them to attempt to process what seems so effortless with All I Can Do, Sex And Agriculture and Christchurch (In Cashel St, I Wait).
In fact a copy of debut album, Prayers Be Answered might be the ticket. What a ripper. It holds up too, song-wise.
And I have no shame in saying that a lot of the later Exponents material catered to its market very well – there are still some great songs, not only on Something Beginning With C but also on 1994’s Grassy Knoll. Oily riffs, anthemic choruses, something slippery and elusive to start – and then something to latch on to.
It’s become easy to look at Jordan Luck The Rock Star – but Jordan Luck The Front Man/Jordan Luck The Songwriter was important in establishing a vestige of our culture, musically. It may have morphed into the ugly side – but assessing the songs, rather than the baggage, these are lean, sharp pop-rock ditties. They’re full of what you need in a good song: hooks.
The Dance Exponents pushed new ideas, kept up with overseas trends, forged an identity for themselves – no mean feat/s.
For that I’m calling Jordan Luck New Zealand’s Best Songwriter. Of course I like a lot of the material by everyone else I named and loads of other talented songwriters. And of course, even though I’ve just said that, you’ll ridicule me for my choice; for stating my opinion.
Who’s with me? And just on the very slight off-chance that you’re not 100% behind me here – who would you nominate instead as New Zealand’s best/most underrated songwriter?