Nature’s Best? 30 Great New Zealand Songs (part 3)

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

Welcome back for the 3rd installment of New Zealand’s 30 greatest songs, as voted by APRA in 2001. Today I’ll count down from #15 to #7 on the original list:

#15 – Jesus I Was Evil – Darcy Clay (1997)
This lo-fi 1997 surprise hit is punchy and menacing. Clay committed suicide a year after the song’s release, and never recorded a full length album, making him New Zealand’s greatest one hit wonder. IN.

#14 – Pink Frost – The Chills (1984)
I’m sure for a newcomer to New Zealand music, it’s hard to tell all these guitar bands apart. Fronted by Martin Phillipps and quintessentially Flying Nun, ‘Pink Frost’ is both beautiful and creepy. The group have some terrific pop songs too, but this darker track is a great pick: IN.

#13 – Not Given Lightly – Chris Knox (1989)
Chris Knox is the Godfather of alternative music in New Zealand, emerging from Dunedin with The Enemy and Toy Love during the punk era. His Tall Dwarfs were one of the first acts to record on the indie label Flying Nun. But despite lots of lo-fi hi-jinks, his best known song is a straightforward declaration of love. IN.

#12 – Whaling – DD Smash (1983)
Five Dave Dobbyn songs were included in the Nature’s Best top 30, but since my self-imposed rules only allow me to select one, ‘Whaling’ is my pick. I find that a good dose of nautical metaphors helps a song to feel even more Kiwi, and the violin part is also pretty. IN.

#11 – I Got You – Split Enz (1980)
‘I Got You’ was the breakthrough hit for Neil Finn, fuelling sales of Split Enz’s popular True Colours album. It’s simple and effective, but it’s hard for it to stand up against Finn’s more sophisticated later work. OUT.

Replace with:
French Letter – Herbs (1982/1995)
The French weren’t particular popular in the 1980s in New Zealand, with their open air atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean, while in 1985 their deliberate sinking of a protest ship resulted in the death of a photographer. Herbs recorded this protest song twice, in 1982 and 1995. Herbs are a long running reggae band, active since 1979; they’ve had 10 top twenty hits in New Zealand, and Joe Walsh was once a member.

#10 – April Sun in Cuba – Dragon (1977)
Dragon started as a progressive rock band, but moved towards pop music with the recruitment of keyboard player Paul Hewson. I don’t care for most of their other hits, especially the icky ‘Are You Old Enough?’, but the huge chorus on ‘April Sun In Cuba’ is undeniable. IN.

#9 – She Speeds – Straitjacket Fits (1987)
The most commercially viable of all the Flying Nun bands, Straitjacket Fits were built around the tension between their two guitarists’ approaches; the abrasion of Shayne Carter and the prettiness of Andrew Brough. It’s illustrated well on this song, which explodes from terse verses to a glorious chorus coloured by Brough’s celestial backing vocals. ‘She Speeds’ also sounds ahead of its time – it could easily be 1990s alt-rock, but it was recorded in 1987. IN.

#8 – Victoria – Dance Exponents (1982)
Timaru’s Jordan Luck is basically the master of the expertly written pub-rock singalong, and ‘Victoria’ is my favourite of his crowd pleasers. “Vic-tor-WEA what do you see in him?” IN.

#7 – Slice of Heaven – Dave Dobbyn with Herbs (1986)
This goofy mixture of synth pop and Herbs’ distinctive backing vocals is a stone cold classic, but I’ve only got room for one Dobbyn song. With regret – OUT.

Replace with:
Screems From Tha Old Plantation – King Kapisi (2000)
King Kapisi’s video for ‘Screems From The Old Plantation’ is filmed in Samoa, and his lyrics are concerned with cultural identity as people leave the Pacific Islands and settle around the world. His “Overstayer” t-shirt is his own clothing line, referring to New Zealand’s infamous dawn raids of the 1970s.

I’ll be back in a few days with the final episode.


  1. Most of these are new to me. The 80s choices interest me the most, love music from that decade. Pink Frost – The Chills was a nice find and I like the darker mood. The vocal of DD Smash reminds me slightly of Nick Cave. Look forward to part 4!

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