I first heard The Sunnyboys one Saturday morning in 1981 when bug-eyed Sounds Unlimited TV host Donnie Sutherland raved breathlessly about the band’s first single, Happy Man.
“I gotta hang up, I can’t communicate. I gotta hang up but I’m a happy man,” Jeremy Oxley sang before a searing guitar solo closed out the three-minute pop gem.
The follow-up, Alone With You, still a radio regular, proved even catchier, if a little dark with lines like “all I have is alcohol to let me go”.
Th Sunnyboys had me hooked and I quickly bought a cassette copy of their self-titled debut with its primitive cover art of the band tacked on to a blue background.
As I absorbed the album’s intense guitar rock, songs like Trouble In My Brain and the brooding Doors-like swirl of Gone, seemed to hint at something deeper, something darker behind Oxley’s songwriting smarts. By 1984 The Sunnyboys split after three albums while Oxley spent two-plus decades battling various health issues including schizophrenia.
Thirty-three years on and The Sunnyboys debut has been reissued in an expanded edition to mark their return to playing live shows. Fans have been spared little thanks to a thorough trawl through the vaults with B-sides, covers and live tracks bolstering the album’s original 12 songs. To sweeten things, a second disc of 17 unreleased songs from a January 1981 demo session adds to an already impressive package.
Guitarist Richard Burgman, also ex-The Saints and Weddings Parties Anything, says the demos are closer to the band’s live sound: “In some ways they’re closer to how the songs sounded to me than the versions we later did for the first album. There’s a strength and surety to them that comes from just playing them straight up, with no special effects or extra instruments. That’s why they sound so good.”
Perhaps Paul Kelly best assessed the magic of The Sunnyboys debut when he said the songs were “beautifully arranged with no waste”. As it stands this is one timepiece where the music still seems youthful, fresh and ageless.
* The Sunnyboys (Warner) deluxe edition is out now.
* The Sunnyboys, supported by retro rockers The Stems, will play The Tivoli in Brisbane on Friday night and Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on Saturday night.