Crowded House 1986 Album

Don't Dream It's Over by Crowded House

Neil Finn joined the band Split Enz as a guitarist when he was still a teenager. His brother Tim was the band’s leader, writing most of their material, but Neil Finn wrote many of the band’s successful singles in the 1980s including ‘I Got You’, ‘One Step Ahead’, and ‘Message to my Girl’. By 1984, his older brother Tim had left the band, leaving Neil as the leader; Neil decided that Split Enz was too unwieldy and broke up the band.

Finn instead retained Split Enz drummer Paul Hester and recruited bassist Nick Seymour to form Crowded House. Their breakthrough hit was ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, written by Finn. Its distinctive rhythm guitar uses the “Maori strum”, in which the guitarist uses their hand to strum, dampening the strings and creating a percussive effect. The song was written at Tim’s house in Melbourne, while Neil and Paul were visiting; when friends of Paul’s showed up, Neil retreated to his bedroom and wrote ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ in less than an hour.

The song was recorded in sessions for the band’s first album, before they had a name. It was recorded in a couple of takes with the band hungover, and after a fight between Finn and Hester, during which Finn threatened to hit Hester with his guitar. Hester later said: “We immediately got this beautiful tempo, with this sad tragedy to it”. Additionally, the Crowded House album was accidentally slowed down during mixing, giving ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ a slightly melancholic feel.

Producer Mitchell Froom resisted the temptation to convert ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ into a 1980s power ballad, and also added the organ solo. He’d been playing Hammond organ while touring Elvis Costello’s King of America, and added a solo inspired by Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, which dramatically launches following a bar of 2/4. Another feature of the song is Seymour’s R&B influenced bass-line, unexpected territory for Crowded House.

I’ve never regarded Finn as a great lyricist, but ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ contains one of his best lines:

In the paper today tales of war and of waste
But you turn right over to the T.V. page…

Don’t Dream It’s Over

‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ climbed to number two on the US singles chart, unprecedented ground for a New Zealand act. Capitol Records later regretted not adding a “(hey now)” to the song’s title, feeling it may have helped to push the song to number one.

Crowded House never matched the success of ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ and the 1986 Crowded House album in America, but enjoyed success in the UK and Europe in the 1990s. Blue-eyed soul singer Paul Young covered ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ in 1991, and Crowded House capitalised on its success by reissuing their own version on the b-side for their 1991 single ‘Fall at Your Feet’. When Crowded House announced their initial breakup in 1996, Don’t Dream, It’s Over was a witty headline.

References: Crowded House: Something So Strong by Chris Bourke

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18 Comments

  1. A fine tune – and that “Maori strum” pattern is just one of the highlights!

    • I’ve been doing some work on another song (not from New Zealand) that uses the Maori strum. It became immensely popular in New Zealand and it’s obscure everywhere else.

  2. These guys had a lot of hits on continuous rotation on Much Music( Canada’s version of MTV) back in the day. Nice pick for a throwback tune.

    • Cool! It’s my duty as a New Zealander to feature them (although their nationality is debated since they were formed in Australia and the other two members are Australian).

  3. Decent tune, I see what you mean with the Whiter Shade of Pale influence on the organ.

  4. A well put together song. I like those lyrics.
    I also like “Bring life to frozen ground” from Something So Strong.

    • He has his moments as a lyricist – just think he’s much better at composition, singing, guitar, and piano!

      • I agree with that. He has a good pop sense.
        Off Topic… This is an off the wall question. Is Peter Jackson still trying open a movie museum in New Zealand?

        • I’m not sure where it’s at right now. Jackson was actually able to influence the Wellington mayoral campaign late last year – the Jackson-backed candidate won, which might help Jackson’s project to go ahead.

          • Thanks I appreciate it. All I could find was he thought he had it but it fell through. Cool.

  5. Perfect review of a great song. There’s not one flawed moment in this tune. It’s one of those songs that sounds like it wrote itself. I quote that lyric all the time, BTW. I’m a guitar player and I never heard that Maori expression before. Interesting

    • Thanks! The Maori strum will come up again in about a month. In my understanding it can be used for different strumming patterns, but it’s just about deadening the strings and hitting the body of the guitar on the upbeat. It’s interesting hearing Maori buskers at the market – they love their laid back guitar grooves. Lots of Bob Marley and Sultans of Swing.

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