Nature’s Best? 30 Great New Zealand Songs (part 2)

This post is part of the collaborative blog series on compilations organised by Vinyl Connection.

Welcome back for the 2nd examination of New Zealand’s 30 greatest songs, as voted by APRA in 2001. Today I’ll count down from #25 to #16 on the original list:

#25 – I Hope I Never – Split Enz (1980)
‘I Hope I Never’ is a pretty piano ballad, about Tim Finn’s ongoing resentment of Phil Judd, but it’s not top 30 material for me, especially when there’s a Finn quota. OUT.

Replace with:
Down In Splendour – Straitjacket Fits (1990)
Straitjacket Fits’ second banana Andrew Brough stepped into the limelight for ‘Down In Splendour’. It’s a great showcase for the uneasy synergy between Brough and Shayne Carter – Shayne Carter’s stinging guitar solo adds some bite to a dreamy song.


#24 – (Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy – Shona Laing (1986)
In 1973, a teen-aged Shona Laing had a #4 hit with ‘1905’. ‘(Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy’ is strong enough to hold up under the dated mid-1980s production; indeed the echo effect on the “loaded gun” line is a key component of the song. IN.


#23 – Dominion Road – The Mutton Birds (1992)
‘Dominion Road’ is a great song, an ear-worm that stands up to re-listening with a great guitar-hook. But as I can only have one Mutton Birds’ song, I’m taking the sweeping drama of ‘Anchor Me’ instead. OUT.

Replace with:
Anchor Me by The Mutton Birds (1994)
Lots of nautical metaphors (New Zealand’s a small country with a lot of coast-line), and a crashing, rousing chorus.


#22 – Chains – DLT featuring Che Fu (1996)
Che Fu’s first recording after leaving Supergroove, ‘Chains’ is a collaboration with the Upper Hutt Posse’s DLT. IN.


#21 – Drive – Bic Runga (1996)
I’ve covered all of Bic Runga’s albums on this blog, and her 1997 debut Drive is my least favourite. These are good tunes, delivered with her beautiful, crystalline voice, but the arrangements aren’t interesting enough for the long running times. Plus it’s the second song Bic Runga song in this list. OUT.

Replace with:
In The Morning – Anika Moa (2005)
Anika Moa’s first album attempted to break her as a pop star, but on her second record she was able to reconnect with her Maori roots and write personal songs. And songs don’t come much more personal than ‘In The Morning’, about an abortion that Moa had at the age of 20.


#20 – Blue Lady – Hello Sailor (1977)
Hello Sailor have a reputation as New Zealand’s most dangerous, sleaziest rock and roll band, like New Zealand’s answer to The Rolling Stones. Maybe I need to listen past the singles, but all I hear is a competent pub rock band who’d benefit from a rougher studio sound. OUT.

Replace with: Jailhouse 4.00am by The Verlaines (1997)
This song is so obscure it’s not even on Youtube – it’s a beautiful 1997 song from this literate Dunedin band’s 1997 album Over The Moon. Here’s their most famous song, ‘Death and the Maiden’ from 1982:


#19 – Lydia – Fur Patrol (2000)
I think ‘Lydia’ from Wellington band Fur Patrol benefited from recency bias when the list was compiled in 2001. I heard it lots when it was released, but it hasn’t stuck in my mind at all. OUT.

Replace with:
Scorpio Girls – Supergroove (1993)
Despite their success in New Zealand, Supergroove didn’t make the original top 30 list – they make fun music, which possibly precludes them from serious lists. But there’s lots going on musically; Karl Steven is a charismatic front-man, the bass player is a monster, and there’s a horn section and a soul singer, adding extra dimensions to their sound. Generally I disdain adolescent orientated rap/rock hybrid bands, but Supergroove are too fun to ignore, releasing a string of irresistible singles in the early 1990s.


#18 – Dance All Around the World – Blerta (1972)
A twee piece of hippie claptrap with a poem in the middle? OUT.

Replace with: Poi E – Patea Maori Club (1984)
Organised by the larger than life Dalvanius Prime, ‘Poi E’ was so culturally significant that there’s been a documentary made about it. Blending the Maori language with pop instrumentation spawned an unlikely New Zealand #1 hit.


#17 – Blue Smoke – Pixie Williams & The Ruru Karaitiana Quartet (1949)
I agree with the APRA list’s compilers that ‘Blue Smoke’ is the one New Zealand pre-rock song that deserves inclusion – it’s difficult to include earlier songs that pre-date the era of recorded music. A home-sick war ballad, ‘Blue Smoke’ was later recorded by Dean Martin.


#16 – “Weather with You” – Crowded House (1991)
It hurts to cut this song; weather is such a quintessentially New Zealand concern, and it’s one of the more internationally successful songs on this list, reaching the top 10 in the UK. But I’m only allowing one Neil Finn song and one Tim Finn song. OUT.

Replace with:
Home, Land, and Sea – Trinity Roots (2005)
Generally I find most of the New Zealand reggae bands of the early 21st century shallow and uninteresting. Trinity Roots are the exception for me, because there’s a spiritual element to their music that gives it more gravitas than their “Barbecue Reggae” contemporaries.

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  1. These 1 per artist rules are harsh! But I like that, if I had a Top Canadian songs list and allowed multiple tunes by artists, I think a handful would dominate the entire top 30

  2. I’m about half way through listening to them. Highlights for me are that lo fi Verlaine’s tune, the Straightjacket Fits dreampop song, and Dominion Road’s guitar hook (best song so far). How did that awful song with the Kennedy speech in the middle ever chart? The rap/reggae/dancehall/world music song by DLT didn’t grab me either.

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