Without question, Jet changed the course of mainstream Aussie rock, with Are you Gonna Be My Girl and are worthy inductees into the ARIA Hall Of Fame, especially given the massive export success of their debut album.
On the weekend however, we mourned the sad passing of Screaming Jets founder Paul Woseen and we think the time has come to right the historical wrong of the ignoring of The Screaming Jets in ARIA history. Newcastle heroes The Screaming Jets were born out of the 80s pub rock culture, but were a crucial bridge to the rock scene that would emerge in the 90s and ultimately to the pub scene that saw the rise of Jet themselves.
It has been said that their success came a bit late, with their first record sneaking in just before the crest of the grunge wave broke, but for Australia, we’d argue The Screaming Jets were exactly where they needed to be to impact Australian rock culture.
The first step to righting a historical wrong is to understand it in the first place. Unbelievably, The Screaming Jets have NEVER won an ARIA Award. They have been nominated for four awards, although two of those were ‘Highest Selling’ which aren’t peer voted. The other two were for Best New Talent in 1991 and Best Rock Album for 1998’s World Gone Crazy.
The band have NEVER been nominated for best group. In the 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 years when the band were at their commercial peak, the band were usurped by the voting panel’s love affair with The Black Sorrows and The Cruel Sea as well as the sheer unstoppable force of Inxs, Midnight Oil and Crowded House.
In 1994 when Helping Hand was nominated for APRA Song of the Year, it still couldn’t get an ARIA nomination.
In fairness, the Best Rock Album award was only started in 1998 and there was some stiff competition in the early 1990s, but the ARIA tally of 0 is in no means indicative of the band’s success and influence on the Australian music scene. Especially in the wake of the sad passing of Paul Woseen, it’s time for ARIA to recognise the band for their important place in Australian music history.
THE SUCCESS CASE
This is a band that have been touring for thirty four years and released nine studio albums. Four of their albums have gone gold or platinum and all but one of them reached the ARIA top 30. They’ve scored seven top 50 ARIA singles chart positions and been one of the most played Australian acts on commercial rock radio. They’ve cracked the Triple J Hottest 100 despite their biggest song coming before the countdown began.
Triple M listeners voted Dave Gleeson the 148th best rock singer of all time earlier this year. In 2018 their list of the top 100 Australian songs ever had TWO entries with Better at #15 and Helping Hand at #58. In 2019’s top 500 songs of all time, they had three entries (the aforementioned along with their ripping cover of Shivers). In 2022 their ‘Quarantine 1000’ countdown included FOUR (once again the aforementioned, plus Eve Of Destruction).
For a generation of Australians, Better is every bit the rock anthem that Are You Gonna Be My Girl was to the next.
Many will be scratching their heads when I put artistic merit, culture and The Screaming Jets in the same sentence. To many, the band are just another ‘bogan pub rock band’, but when you scratch the surface, the band were an important bridge from the masculine 80s pub rock scene. The flipside is that the phrase ‘artistic merit’ would be choked on by many Jets fans.
The cultural influence of the Jets in fact is built around that.
The Screaming Jets were arguably one of the last big ‘working class’ rock bands. They weren’t better than you. They WERE one of you. As the 90s and 00s progressed, the Australian rock scene moved towards an industry that struggled to believe there was anyone living further out than Newtown, Richmond or Bulimba. The Screaming Jets created and played music for the suburbs and they didn’t give a fuck what the industry thought of it.
The would hardly be a suburban 90s gig-goer who didn’t find themselves rocking out to a Screaming Jets gig at some point. There’s a generation of bands that would have gotten together after watching Dave Gleeson’s blistering frontman act, Grant Walmsley’s epic guitar riffs and Paul Woseen’s driving bass.
But the real impact was in watching the band reflect the society around them. In the 80s a bogan rock band was all about the chicks, the booze and the drugs. I’m sure the Jets had their share of that too, but musically, the band started approaching topics like mental health that reflected and in some ways started conversations for men who until the 90s had been taught not to talk about it.
A song like Helping Hand and Sad Song discussed depression and reaching out to your mates. Later on, songs like Individuality told the message of being who you want to be and accepting people no matter what. The band’s largely male audience would hear the sermons of Rev. Gleeson and whether consciously or subconsciously, the band helped shepherd in the positive change that was coming.
And most importantly, the band never lost sight of who they were. For 34 years they have been playing pubs in cities, towns and suburbs right across Australia.
The artistry of The Screaming Jets is the art of the simple. They aren’t writing Shakespeare, but the words they speak are simple and hit home to a wide audience. There wouldn’t have been a teenager picking up an electric guitar in the early 90s that didn’t learn the riff to Better. The sheer skill in turning that simple riff into a blistering top five hit that took Australia by storm is art. It wasn’t trying to be too clever, it was trying to inspire the audience to pick up a guitar.
When you have a massive riff-filled hit like Better, it would be easy to churn out album after album of the same (we’re looking at you AC/DC), but The Screaming Jets weren’t afraid to mix it up.
Helping Hand was one of the band’s biggest hits, after a shaky run of initial singles from their second album Tear Of Thought. Helping Hand’s horn section and haunting verse structure (written by Paul Woseen) might have been seen as a little left of centre for the Jets audience to digest, but the fans loved it, pushing the album to platinum status, the biggest album of their career, showing the Jets mastery of taking their audience on a journey, not talking down to them, but still giving them what they want. Once again, the band managed to mask what is quite a complex song with genius instrumentation through layering on one of the most singable choruses in the Australian songbook.
The band did it again on their 1997 album World Gone Crazy with the acoustic jam October Grey. One of the biggest hits of the year on Triple M, the song had a very simple strumming riff that had fans all across the country picking up their acoustic guitars.
The band were also adept at picking covers. While purists will lament that The Boys Next Door’s (later to become the Birthday Party) version of Shivers was better, it’s undeniable that The Jets version would have been the first touchpoint to Rowland S. Howard for a large slab of a generation. Their version of 60s protest song Eve Of Destruction was another key moment for the band, slipping easily into their canon.
Whether the band would like the categorisation, their music was the perfect sugar that made the medicine go down. Pogniant lyrics, undeniable hooks and the ability to simply rock out hard. They were masters of pop wrapped in one of the most accomplished rock exteriors Australia has ever seen.
There’s an easy answer to this, given Paul Woseen’s passing, but it’s more than that. It would be a very special moment to honour the band. Yes, the group continues and has a new album coming very soon, but Woseen leaves only Gleeson as the remaining original member.
The band’s core heart was the original trio of Dave Gleeson, Grant Walmsley and Paul Woseen. The three were the key ingredients that made the songwriting recipe work. Without Walmsley we wouldn’t have Better or Sad Song. Without Woseen we wouldn’t have Helping Hand. Without Gleeson we wouldn’t have C’Mon and of course the voice that punctuates them all. Walmsley unfortunately departed the band after a falling out in 2007 and while fans have always hoped for a reunion of the trio, the passing of Woseen now makes that impossible. While The Screaming Jets may well continue on, to honour that original lineup would be a special event.
But it’s more than that. Right now we are discussing why Australian music is not cutting through to Australians. Our charts are filled with international content while our labels are bending over backwards to find local artists they can export. As an industry we’ve given up on servicing our local market, because we forgot there was an audience beyond Newtown, Richmond and Bulimba.
Exporting Australian culture is important. But so to is growing it here at home. While Jet were able to have an important but short cultural moment overseas, The Screaming Jets show the other side of the coin. A band never focused on cracking America when there was a perfectly good audience right here in the suburbs ready to support them, listen to them and grow up with them.
ARIA should take the opportunity to remind Australia that domestic success is just as important as international. That’s what will turn our charts around as we honour artists who have spoken the language of Australian music to Australians. We should honour bands like The Screaming Jets so that in doing so, we show that as an industry we’re ready to reconnect with the suburban audience they have served for over three decades and continue to serve to this day.