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10 Best Dave Dobbyn Songs

If you’re not from Australasia, chances are that you’re not familiar with Dave Dobbyn – he’s ubiquitous in New Zealand, but obscure everywhere else. When a panel selected the New Zealand’s best ever popular songs in 2001, five Dave Dobbyn songs were included in the top 30 (and ‘Outlook for Thursday’ was at #31). Dobbyn beats out internationally successfully compatriots like Neil Finn and Lorde for the title of New Zealand’s songwriter.

Dobbyn started his career as the guitarist in pub-rock band Th’ Dudes in the late 1970s. Contemporary UK artists like Elvis Costello and Graham Parker make a good frame of reference for Dobbyn. He went on to front DD Smash in the early 1980s, before going solo. He showed a flair for kooky arrangements in the 1980s, with songs like ‘Slice of Heaven’ and ‘Outlook for Thursday’. He toughened his sound for the 1990s, peaking as an album artist with records like Lament for the Numb and The Islander.

I haven’t connected with Dobbyn’s 21st century work, although I appreciate the anti-racism sentiments of 2005’s ‘Welcome Home’. Dobbyn’s never gained an international profile, so he remains an overlooked treasure. In particular, his sheer musicality is sometimes forgotten – he’s a talented guitarist and an imaginative arranger.

Here are my ten favourite Dave Dobbyn songs:

#10 – Outlook For Thursday (DD Smash)

non-album single, 1983
The weather forecast is a big preoccupation in New Zealand – we’re a largely coastal nation, and the weather can change quickly. ‘Outlook for Thursday’ is our best known weather song not by Crowded House (who recorded ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ and ‘Weather With You’ on the same album). Dobbyn shows his flair for arrangements with the horn section – his characterful voice keeps ‘Outlook for Thursday’ from descending into 1980s kitsch.


#9 – It Dawned On Me

from Twist, 1994
Dobbyn returned home to New Zealand after a decade in Australia, and recorded Twist with Neil Finn – Finn and Dobbyn attended the same Catholic high school, Dobbyn a couple of years older than Finn. ‘It Dawned On Me’ is a gorgeous track, with a lovely minimal arrangement – Dobbyn’s voice is accompanied by piano, bass, and Don McGlashan’s euphonium. “Blood red bloom- pohutukawa” is a beautiful lyric to open the second verse.


#8 – Don’t Hold Your Breath

from Lament for the Numb, 1993
Dobbyn joined forces with producer Mitchell Froom and Elvis Costello’s rhythm section for Lament for the Numb. The raw and edgy record is a severe contrast with Dobbyn’s quirky 1980s material. ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’ features an amazingly restrained performance from Pete Thomas. The drums are absent for the first three and a half minutes; Thomas suddenly drops a dramatic fill then falls silent again, only joining again near the end. The lyrics are as bleak as the music – Dobbyn suggests solutions for various world problems, then intones “don’t hold your breath”.


#7 – Be Mine Tonight (Th’ Dudes)

from Right First Time, 1979
Dobbyn started his recording career as the guitarist for Th’ Dudes, with Peter Urlich serving as lead vocalist. Dobbyn stepped up to the microphone for this classic slice of Kiwi pub-rock. It’s famous for its opening phrase “Asian cigarettes”. Dobbyn later confirmed to the Sunday Star Times that the line referred to an experience with Thai marijuana – he spent hours in front of an open fridge, trying to decide what to eat, while listening to Brian Eno.


#6 – Loyal

from Loyal, 1988
On his first solo album proper, Dobbyn unleashed the beloved ballad ‘Loyal’. It’s his signature piece, a nuanced, bittersweet song of devotion. In this writer’s opinion, it’s a great song trapped in a mediocre arrangement. It drags on over four and a half minutes, and the chiming keyboard countermelody is an essential musical element but sounds dated – it would have sounded nicer on a piano.


#5 – Maybe The Rain

from Lament for the Numb, 1993
One of the biggest issues in New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s was our relationship with the French. France was conducting open-air nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, and Greenpeace was protesting. In 1985, their ship Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland harbour by French operatives. Dobbyn protested the testing with the raw and emotive ‘Maybe The Rain’, opening with the line “Well this is horror show time in the heart of the Pacific.”


#4 – Beside You

from The Islander, 1998
The Islander is my favourite Dave Dobbyn record, capturing him in predominantly acoustic-folk mode. Especially gorgeous and introspective is lead single ‘Beside You’. It’s an apology to a loved one – whether it’s autobiographical or fictional, Dobbyn’s remarkably contrite. His falsetto is lovely.


#3 – Slice of Heaven

from Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale, 1986
After he was charged with inciting a riot during a 1984 DD Smash concert, Dobbyn rehabilitated his reputation with this soundtrack for a movie about New Zealand’s iconic cartoon dog. ‘Slice of Heaven’ is another of Dobby’s quirky arrangements; the combination of a synthesised Japanese flute (made with an E-mu Emulator II) and the Polynesian backing vocals of the band Herbs give ‘Slice of Heaven’ an utterly unique sonic palette. ‘Slice of Heaven’ topped the NZ charts for 8 weeks.


#2 – Lap Of The Gods

from Twist, 1994
Dobbyn brought a psychedelic sensibility to Twist, influenced by the mid-1960s Beatles. Some of Twist was written on Karekare Beach, the same place where Jane Campion filmed The Piano and Crowded House recorded Together Alone. The guitars twist through


#1 – Whaling (DD Smash)

from The Optimist, 1984
Perhaps due to its long coastline, there’s a plethora of famous New Zealand songs about the sea – Che Fu’s ‘Waka’, The Mutton Birds’ ‘Anchor Me’, and Split Enz’s ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’ are all notable examples. Dobbyn’s contribution is ‘Whaling’, which uses maritime metaphors to explain personal striving. The lovely fiddle playing makes ‘Whaling’ feel like a sea shanty.

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18 thoughts on “10 Best Dave Dobbyn Songs Leave a comment

  1. I did listen to him a bit a while ago and I liked him. A Slice of Heaven I remember. It has a slight…very slight Jimmy Buffet feel to it. Maybe the Rain and Loyal I liked on first listen.

    I was looking for Radio Birdman and The Rumour songs and I found Dave Dobbyn. Some great pop/rock…you may have pointed him out also when I asked about different artists. I do like his music. There is a treasure trove worth of vintage pop/rock from there.

    I’ll get stuck on youtube listening to the New Zealand and Australia playlists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d definitely take him before Tim (especially as a lot of my favourite Tim stuff is in tandem with Phil Judd). He’s kind of a singles artist in the 1980s and an album guy in the 1990s – Lament for the Numb is raw guitar rock, Twist is kind of psychedelic, The Islander is more singer-songwriter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had never heard of Dave Dobbyn before. I found most of the tunes you highlighted in the library of my streaming music provider and thought they sounded pretty pleasant.

    It’s remarkable how certain artists become very popular in their country but stay largely obscure beyond the borders – of course language can be a barrier, though given Dobbyn sings in English, obviously that cannot be a factor in his case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for listening. It was pretty hard for NZ artists to break into the US market in the past – even Crowded House struggled. We’ve actually had more success in the past ten years – Kimbra (as a guest artist) and Lorde have both had chart-topping singles in the US, something that’s never happened before.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can think of one other New Zealand artist who had a number one hit in America. Gale Garnett. Way back in I think it was 63 or 64. And I think it’s one of my favorite singles of all time. You always see her classified as Folk but it doesn’t sound like folk to me. It’s actually very famous here even to this day. We’ll Sing in the Sunshine it’s called. It has a really glorious and unforgettable Melody and I still listen to it once in awhile even though I first heard it when I was a kid. I think she later became an actress or something like that in the states.

    Liked by 1 person

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