Reckless – The Sports (Festival/Warner) and Don’t Throw Stones – The Sports (Festival/Warner)
There’s too much here to consume in one sitting or even two. Reanimator To The Stars (by Royal Appointment), Sir David Laing, has packed these deluxe editions of The Sports’ first two albums with enough bonus material to weigh down a Melbourne Cup certainty
For the uninitiated or the downright forgetful, The Sports sprang out of Melbourne’s fertile Carlton Scene in 1976 and petered out in 1981, but only after a run of four albums that spawned a slew of catchy Australian chart singles.
Headed by kinetic frontman Steve Cummings and populated by some sharp guitarists (second album recruit Martin Armiger the most notable), The Sports were lumped in with new wave by the critics but never fitted snugly into any pigeonhole.
Cummings once told Toby Creswell he wanted to push the band towards the sound of the MC5, which might come as a surprise. Surely the MC5 of “Back In The USA”? Frankly, The Sports might have had pop smarts and a groove but the jams they did not kick out, motherfuckers. The Sports' brand of pop-rock had strong rockabilly traits and a deep appreciation for R & B and rock and roll’s earliest roots. You can make a case that they were more like the Flamin’ Groovies – although without the trademark jangle and Byrds harmonies or the latter-day Beatles fixation – and a lot like the Easybeats in their pop aspirations.
(Let's not get too revisionist here but if you're the sort of music fan who didn't like The Sports back in the day - which means you were probably from Sydney, were a punk or maybe both - you might take stock of the fact that one of their cover songs was "When You Walk In The Room" which was a live staple for the early X. Which really says that X were reluctant punks and more accurately huge rock and roll fans. Like The Sports.)
The Sports story paralleled that of the Saints in that a friend passed on a copy of their “Fair Game” EP to a writer on the UK’s New Musical Express. Like the Saints, the glowing write-up tied the band’s fortunes to success in the Old Dart. Like the Saints, success failed to follow. You can understand the Brisbane band’s failure to a degree. By 1978, Anarchy in the UK was a slogan and punk was mostly consumed by fashion. Sports signed to Stiff and had a strong base laid down by pub rockers like Dr Feelgood. Maybe it was the accent, maaaaate?
The Sports were a Big Deal in Australia and one of the handful of acts that made it to air on taste-shaping TV showcase Countdown that you or I should give a rat’s arse about. If you were in any doubt on that score, these albums should get you over the line.
The first single, "Boys! (What Did the Detective Say)”, still makes a strong case for stardom in its own quirky way (even if it confused Elvis Costello and The Attractions fans who were busily watching detectives of their own) and the Joe Camillieri-produced debut LP “Reckless” from 1978 has aged well. There’s none of the looming ‘80s production excess and the economical guitar sounds of Andrew Pendlebury and Ed Bates are up-front, if sometimes a little too clean.
A range of lesser-heard delights await on the companion disc to “Reckless”, as well as a bunch of covers. Two live sets and the band’s earliest recordings bump the re-issue out to a whopping 48 tracks.
1979’s “Don’t Throw Stones” is where the band took off commercially and it’s hard to resist “Who Listens to The Radio?” and “Don’t Throw Stones” as urgent, hooky pop singles. “Hit Single” isn’t far behind either.
Pete Solley’s production was a glossier affair so caveat emptor if you’re disinclined to, er, listening to the radio. The songwriting is top notch (and probably reflects, in part, Armiger’s signing on) but you might go directly to Disc Two where versions of albums tunes that were re-recorded in the UK sit with killer live versions. These underline what a strong act The Sports were. Reference the sizzling cover of “Wedding Ring” if you want proof.
This is how re-issues should be done. The only regret is that The Sports inspired the impenetrable stilted vocals of Australian Crawl’s James Reyne. Now there’s an excuse for a mercy killing.
1/2 - Reckless
- Don't Throw Stones