#13: The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil

City: Calgary, Alberta
Radio Station: CFCN
Peak Month: August 1988
Peak Position in Calgary ~ #7
Peak position in Vancouver ~ #35
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #53
YouTube.com: “The Dead Heart
Lyrics: “The Dead Heart

Peter Garrett was born in suburban Sydney, Australia, in 1953. He learned to play harmonica and sing. In 1972 Garrett met drummer Robert Hirst in Sydney. Hirst was also born in suburban Sydney in 1955. In the early 1970s, while still in school, Rob Hirst played in a Beatles cover band named Schwampy Moose. His bandmates were keyboard and guitar player Jim Moginie, and bass guitar player Andrew “Bear” James. Moginie was born in 1956 in Kalamuda, Western Australia.The band changed their name in 1972 to Farm. In 1976 they were joined by Peter Garrett and changed their name to Midnight Oil. The following year the added Sydney born Martin Rotsey on guitar.

In 1978, Midnight Oil released their debut self-titled album. Another album was released in 1979 and Andrew James left the band in 1980 due to ill health. James was replaced by Peter “Giffo” Gifford from 1980 until 1987 when Bones Hillman replaced Giffo Gifford in 1987. Born Wayne Stevens in New Zealand, in 1958, Bones Hillman was in the latter 1970s – a member of the punk band the Masochists, the Suburban Reptiles and the Rednecks. In 1979 he joined a rock band named the Swingers with ex-Split Enz musician Phil Judd. After the Swingers spit up in 1983, Hillman pursued other musical interests until he joined Midnight Oil in 1987.

On the Midnight Oil website, the band recalls “Before they took it global, Midnight Oil’s early spiritual home was the Royal Antler Hotel, Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches. It was there that ‘the Oils’ fan base swelled from a handful to a thousand – in a space intended for half that number. Between 1976 and the very early 80’s, these five young men played out this blistering ritual almost 1000 times.”

In 1983, the band’s single “Power And Passion”, from their fourth album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, climbed to #5 on the Alternative Rock station CFMB in Montreal. The single climbed to #4 in New Zealand and #8 in Australia.

In 1984 Midnight Oil released their fifth studio album Red Sails in the Sunset. It included a track about the Domesday Clock titled “Minutes to Midnight”. The Domesday Clock is a symbolic timepiece published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which represents the proximity of nuclear war (or more generally “catastrophic destruction”), designated as “midnight”. Nuclear confrontation was pertinent at the time of this song, the clock having regressed to a mere “three minutes to midnight” in 1984 from some 12 minutes in the preceding decade.

American President Ronald Reagan, while running for re-election, was preparing to make his weekly Saturday radio address on NPR. As a sound check prior to the address, Reagan made the following ‘joke’ to the radio technicians: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Reagans’ words were caught on the radio and a song titled “Five Minutes” by a band named Bonzo Goes to Washington sampled Reagans’ gaffe. In 1985 Sting released a track titled “Russians”, whose lyric was a critical commentary the then-dominant Cold War foreign strategy and doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) by the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1986, Midnight Oil released their sixth studio album titled Dust And Diesel. The debut single release was “The Dead Heart”. Though, the second single, “Beds Are Burning” ended up charting prior to “The Dead Heart” in Calgary.

The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil

“The Dead Heart” was written by the bandmates in Midnight Oil. This song was written from the perspective of the original Aborigine inhabitants of the Australian continent. It was penned by the band in response to the Australian government’s return of the sacred monolith Uluru (known to us as Ayers Rock) to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines. When Ayers Rock was given back to its traditional owners, they tasked the political band to write a song for a film that was being made about the occasion. Midnight Oil was invited to go on tour of remote Indigenous communities with the Aborigine rock bands Warumpi Band and Gondwanaland.

“The Dead Heart” peaked at #2 in San Francisco, #3 in Calgary, and #13 in Houston.

In 1990 the band released Blue Sky Mining. The album was “more defiant and outspoken” than their previous work. The single “Blue Sky Mine” was released in February.

While “Blue Sky Mine” was charting in Vancouver, Midnight Oil gave a concert at the Thunderbird Stadium on June 26, 1990.

In 1993, Midnight Oil released their eighth studio album Earth and Sun and Moon. The lead single on the album was “Truganini“.

Subsequent albums Breathe (1996), Redneck Wonderland (1998), and Capricornia (2002) were all Top Ten albums in Australia. However, they received little notice beyond New Zealand and Switzerland. On November 15th and 16th, 2001, Midnight Oil came to Vancouver to perform athlete Commodore Ballroom. On May 11 and 12, 2002, Midnight Oil gave two more concerts at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver.

That year Midnight Oil released their first studio album since 2002. Titled The Makarrata Project, the album shot to number-one on the Australian album chart. Late in 2020, Bones Hillman died at the age of 62 of cancer.

Over the years, Midnight Oil performed in concert in Calgary on a half dozen occasions. This includes their debut concert in Calgary on April 24, 1988, at MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary.

September 25, 2023
Ray McGinnis

Jackson Barron, “Legendary Midnight Oil Bassist Bones Hillman dies aged 62 after Battle with Cancer as his Bandmates Lead a Heartbreaking Tribute to the Man with ‘the Beautiful Voice’,” Daily Mail Australia, November 7, 2020.
Paul Cashmere, “Midnight Oil Prove Why They Are The Greatest Live Band On Earth,” Noise11.com, Melbourne, Australia, March 22, 2021.
Ally Foster, “Tourists flock to ‘Australia’s Chernobyl’ despite health risks,”  news.com, Sydney, Australia, July 21, 2019.
Midnight Oil – Concert Dates – Canada,” setlist.fm.
Joshua Dowling, “Vale Holden: End of the road after 72 years,” Car Advice, Sydney, AU, December 31, 2020.

The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil

CFCN 1060 AM, Calgary, Alberta, August 21, 1988


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