Split Enz True Colours

10 Best Split Enz Songs

Split Enz first reached New Zealand’s attention with an appearance on the New Faces talent show in 1973, where they finished second-to-last. Their early material was too weird for the mainstream, comparable to early Genesis or Roxy Music, and Phil Judd was a creepy frontman. When the band later broke through in the late 1970s with hits like ‘I See Red’ and ‘I Got You’, they were considerably more streamlined. Their most successful lineup featured Neil and Tim Finn, keyboardist Eddie Rayner, percussionist/costume designer Noel Crombie, and the English rhythm section of Nigel Griggs and Malcolm Green.

Split Enz served as a launching pad for a generation of New Zealand talent. Founding member Phil Judd later formed The Swingers, with their hit ‘Counting The Beat’, while Neil Finn formed Crowded House. Original bassist Mike Chunn became the New Zealand director for the Australasian Performing Right Association, while Tim Finn has enjoyed success as a solo artist. Early drummer Emlyn Crowther invented the HotCake distortion pedal.

In high school, the Split Enz compilation History Never Repeats was all I played for a couple of weeks. It only featured one song from Split Enz’s early art-rock years, instead focusing on the Neil Finn era when the band played new wave pop. There was no room on this list for a bunch of hits from their commercial prime, like ‘One Step Ahead’, ‘I See Red’, ‘Poor Boy’, or ‘I Got You’. The latter is the most obvious hit the band ever released, but it’s so minimal that it doesn’t stand up to repeated listens as well as some of their other material.

#10 – History Never Repeats

written by Neil Finn, from Waiata/Corroboree, 1981
Waiata reunited the Enz with producer David Tickle, who’d helmed the breakthrough True Colours. ‘History Never Repeats’ was the second single from the album. It’s power-pop, with the focus on Neil Finn’s guitar rather than Rayner’s keyboards. It has some interesting features for a pop song – the bridge is instrumental, and it closes on an optimistic verse rather than a chorus.

There was a girl I used to know
She dealt my love a savage blow


#9 – Spellbound

Split Enz The Beginning of the Enz

written by Phil Judd and Tim Finn, from Mental Notes, 1975
Several songs on Split Enz’s debut Mental Notes were inspired by English author Mervyn Peake, including ‘Spellbound’. There are two available versions – a 1974 version featured on The Beginning of the Enz has a Tim Finn lead vocal, while Mental Notes has Judd’s bleating voice. It utilises the distinctive rhythm guitar Maori strum, which Neil Finn would later use for Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’.

Chances are, it’s not that far to go
Chances are, there’s not that much to know


#8 – Another Great Divide

written by Phil Judd, Tim Finn, Eddie Rayner, and Robert Gillies, non-album single, 1977
The non-album single ‘Another Great Divide’ was Split Enz’s last release with Mike Chunn and Phil Judd still in the band. As such, it marks the end of an era but it’s a fine way for Judd to sign off. Judd left the band suddenly after a US tour and was replaced by 18-year-old Neil Finn.

She neurotic, psychotic
You name it, she’s got it


#7 – Take A Walk

Split Enz Time and Tide

written by Neil Finn, from Time and Tide, 1982
The strongest album from the Enz’s pop phase, Time and Tide brings back some of their early artiness while retaining the pop hooks. Tim Finn wrote the first three singles, leaving Neil’s excellent ‘Take A Walk’ as a deep cut. There’s great interplay between Rayner’s jaunty piano and Finn’s angular guitar.


#6 – Dirty Creature

written by Tim Finn, Neil Finn, and Nigel Griggs, from Time and Tide, 1982
‘Dirty Creature’ is a metaphor for Tim Finn’s panic attacks, and he likens them to a threatening creature like a taniwha. The song worked as therapy – Finn later said “as soon as I had the song written, I much more control over it”. It’s the funkiest song the Enz ever recorded, and Finn’s high register sounds great on the chorus hook.

I need a dragon-slayer who can save me from myself


#5 – Time For A Change

written by Phil Judd, Tim Finn, Eddie Rayner, from Mental Notes, 1975
Tim Finn’s pure tenor takes the lead on this song from their debut. The lyrics are arguably pretentious nonsense, but the melody is gorgeous and the symphonic parts are lovely.

You act as though you were a blind man who’s crying
Crying ’bout all the virgins that are dying


#4 – Six Months In A Leaky Boat

written by Tim Finn and Split Enz, from Time and Tide (1982)
Tim Finn suffered from a nervous breakdown and the end of a marriage in late 1981. These experiences fed into ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’, a salty epic with undeniable pop hooks. The song reached the top ten in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Unfortunately, its release coincided with the Falklands Wars and the sinking of the Argentine boat General Belgrano – the song was black-listed in the UK.

Aotearoa
Rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl
At the bottom of the world


#3 – Late Last Night

written by Phil Judd, from Second Thoughts, 1976
The band’s second album is a confusing affair – half of the songs are re-recorded from Mental Notes. But the new material is excellent, like Judd’s ‘Late Last Night’. Judd’s always an unsettling presence and on ‘Late Last Night’ he plays a creepy Bryan Ferry-ish persona, a smooth barfly.

I saw you standing there at the bar
Your eyes were glazed with passion


#2 – Message To My Girl

written by Neil Finn, from Conflicting Emotions, 1983
Conflicting Emotions marked the end of Split Enz’s chart-topping era in Australasia. Tim had released the solo album Escapade and his contributions to Conflicting Emotions were weaker than before. The slick, sophisticated pop of ‘Message to My Girl’ is far removed from Split Enz’s early weirdness, but it’s gorgeous. Built around a lovely piano riff from Eddie Rayner, Finn delivers some of his sweetest lyrics.

It’s no new year’s resolution, it’s more than that

#1 – Sweet Dreams

Second Thoughts Split Enz

written by Phil Judd, from Second Thoughts, 1976
‘Sweet Dreams’ features Judd’s most memorable chorus for Split Enz. Rob Gillies’ sax playing is great, as is Judd’s propulsive acoustic guitar and Rayner’s piano. Split Enz enjoyed much more substantial hits afterwards, but they were never quite so vibrant than on the early records.

I fell for your etiquette
The first time we ever met

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Aphoristical
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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42 Comments

    • Cool – I was five when they broke up, so I’ve never seen them (even though there have been various reunions).

  1. I Got You doesn’t stand up to repeated listenings??? Are you crazy?? Lol. It’s one of the greatest singles ever. I could never get tired of hearing it.
    I had that album True Colors and also the one after it. I think it was the one after. The one with Six Months in a Leaky Boat. Which is their other truly great song. And also Sandy Allen. History repeats is pretty good but not as awesome as the other ones. I never heard most of the ones you named I don’t think. I should hear more of their stuff.

    • There’s an album in-between True Colours and Time and Tide (the one with Six Months in a Leaky Boat and Hello Sandy Allen). It’s called Waiata in New Zealand and Corroboree in Australia, and has One Step Ahead, History Never Repeats, and Hard Act to Follow.

      I tend to gravitate more toward the Phil Judd era nowadays – I Got You would easily get into a Neil Finn-era list, although I think the b-side Semi-Detached would be the next cab off the rank.

    • Finn did a bunch of albums with Split Enz before he started Crowded House. He wrote a lot of their most successful songs like ‘I Got You’ and ‘One Step Ahead’.

      • I’m pretty sure True Colors was a big hit in the states, and I Got You definitely was, because I used to hear it all the time on oldies radio and oldies radio doesn’t play anything that wasn’t a big hit.

          • Oh. The album did better than the single. Number 40 is pretty good in the U.S. for an album.

          • The single might have benefited from a clearer title – I Got You isn’t in the chorus. But “Sometimes I Get Frightened” is an unwieldy title.

          • Ha ha. Yeah, that would be a little awkward for a title. I can understand why they called it I Got You instead: did you ever notice that when people don’t know the real title of a song they just call it by whatever the first few words of the song are?

          • It’s not a super clear or distinctive first line though. Finn reckoned Don’t Dream It’s Over might have made it to number one in the US (it peaked at number two) if he’d included Hey Now in the title.

  2. Wait, “I hope I never” doesn’t make an appearance, wow.

    Also would have considered “One step ahead” and “Hard act to follow”

    Very happy “Message to my girl” did make the list tho.

    • I’ve never liked I Hope I Never that much – it’s interesting that it’s about Phil Judd rather than about a romantic relationship though.

  3. Every time you write about Neil Finn, Crowded House or Split Enz your enthusiasm for them shines through. Great top ten. Mine would be a little different but that is the ecclectic strength of Split Enz songs. I would say Neil elevated them to stardom more so than Tim.

    • I think Tim held the band together and did some great stuff, but generally he’s the band’s third best writer behind Neil and Phil. Neil has the knack of writing simple and effective tunes.

  4. Six Months In A Leaky Boat was the one song by them that I knew the best. I do like the pop stuff I’ve heard but the early art rock songs are hit and miss.

    • It took me a while to warm to the art rock stuff – ‘Late Last Night’ stuck out like a sore thumb on the compilation I had as a teenager, but I grew to love it.

      • They are on my list to explore more. I guess when Neil joined it slanted toward more traditional pop…I say that without knowing.

        • The first LP with Neil is very much still art-rock, although the singles like Bold As Brass and My Mistake are a bit more succinct. Neil was into The Beatles and Elton John and probably enjoyed the new direction, but it was also about punk hitting in the UK and changing the musical fashions.

  5. I Got You is great, however my favourite is Six Months in a Leaky Boat, pure art pop perfection. I knew of this song as Tim Finn performed it with the Wiggles

  6. You may be interested to know I attended this Split Enz gig in 1977 (see the link) although I am sorry to say I have only vague memories of it – a) Split Enz looked decidedly weird and b) I was too busy with a girl to pay much attention…

    Within a month back then I saw Split Enz, The Ramones, Ian Hunter, Tom Petty and The Kursaal Flyers – all in my comparatively small home town. Incredible. How goddamn lucky I was. On the site via the link take a look at the “phase three” gig list, or the previous two phases for that matter. My era was phase three.

    https://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk/splitenz77.html

    • Looks like you caught them with Phil Judd and Neil Finn both in the band? I don’t think that lasted for very long.

      • I remember seeing something where they were dressed up in clown costumes or something like that. I don’t remember if it was an old video or just a picture somewhere or an album cover or what. Maybe it wasn’t clowns but it was something like that. With all kinds of make-up and shit.

        • Yup, percussionist Noel Crombie designed colourful costumes for them. They ditched them when punk hit and they transitioned into a new wave band.

    • Stuff and Nonsense never really jumped out at me until I heard the remastered version of Spellbound – there’s some lovely acoustic guitar that didn’t come through very clearly on my old cassette tape of Frenzy. I also like the b-side Semi Detached from that era.

  7. I’m not very familiar with Split Enz’ discography, though I have heard ‘I Got You’. Your post made me listen to more of their songs, and I like them. ‘Message To My Girl’ is great.

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