Song Lyric Sunday: Beds Are Burning

The task for us to today on Song Lyric Sunday is to play a song by an Australian artist. For the full details, check out Jim’s post, Down Under. As Jim says, there are a huge number of candidates for this, and he mentions many of them, including the ones I’m playing. I was faced with a difficult choice for this as there have been many great Australian songs that have been successful over here and in the wider world: The Easybeats, The Bee Gees, The Seekers, Kylie, ONJ, INXS, the list just goes on, though I didn’t even begin to think of playing anything by the disgraced one. In the end I got it down to a shortlist of two bands and – much though I love AC/DC – I decided to go with the other one. Here is today’s tune:

And here are its lyrics:

Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty five degrees

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep while our beds are burning
How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep while our beds are burning

The time has come to say fair’s fair
to pay the rent, now to pay our share

Four wheels scare the cockatoos
From Kintore East to Yuendemu
The western desert lives and breathes
In forty five degrees

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep while our beds are burning
How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep while our beds are burning

The time has come to say fair’s fair
To pay the rent, now to pay our share
The time has come, a fact’s a fact
It belongs to them, we’re gonna give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep while our beds are burning

Writers: GARRETT, PETER / HIRST, ROBERT / MOGINIE, JAMES 
Copyright: Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Midnight Oil were formed in 1972, and originally went by the name of The Farm, which they changed in 1976. They comprise Peter Garrett on vocals and harmonica, Rob Hirst on drums, Jim Moginie on guitar and keyboard, and Martin Rotsey on guitar. Their longstanding bass player, Bones Hillman, died in 2020. This was a track on their sixth album, Diesel And Dust, which was released in August 1987 and was the one that gave them their big breakthrough outside Australia. It was their second #1 album in their homeland, and also topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand. In the UK it peaked at #19 and in the US at #21. This was the second single from the album: it was released to coincide with the album’s launch and reached #1 in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, and #6 in Australia. It wasn’t issued as a single in the UK and US until the following year, when it made #17 in the US and #48 in the UK. On re-release in 1989 we eventually did it justice here in the UK, though, taking it to #6.

As you have probably noticed, there is an important message lurking underneath that catchy chorus. The band always had a strong political and social conscience which was reflected in many of their songs. This was particularly true of Peter Garrett, who put the band on hiatus in 2002 when he took up a political career: between 2007 and 2013 this saw him elected as a Member of Parliament and appointed to two Ministerial roles, firstly in charge of Environment, Heritage and the Arts, and then of School Education, Early Childhood, and Youth. He left politics in 2013 after becoming disillusioned with the way the government was going, and went back to music. He released a solo album in 2016 and then got back with the band: they released two further albums, in 2020 and 2022, the second of which was a posthumous release for Hillman, who played on the recordings before he passed.

This song is about ‘Reconciliation,’ ie the act of returning Australian lands to their original owners, which you can read about here. The band toured through the Outback in 1986, playing to remote Aboriginal communities and seeing first hand the seriousness of their health and living conditions. Garrett, Moginie and Hirst wrote the song to criticise how these populations were often forcibly removed from their lands. The band played it at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympics, with the word SORRY conspicuously printed on their clothes, as a form of apology to indigenous people for their suffering under white settlement and to highlight the issue to John Howard, the Prime Minister, who was in the audience at the Olympic Stadium: an estimated one billion people watched on television.

It’s not often that I play a song with such a strong political message, but this just seemed right for today’s prompt instead of all of the more pop-based songs I could have chosen. I love this band and everything they stand for, and their albums often accompanied me during the days when I had a long commute around London’s North Circular Road. I would imagine that there are some fellow drivers who are still traumatised at the sight of me singing along at the top of my voice but, to borrow Midnight Oil’s word, all I can say to them is ‘SORRY!’

See you again soon 😊🎶🤘

41 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday: Beds Are Burning

  1. Pingback: When September Ends | Take It Easy

  2. Pingback: Song Lyric Sunday: Beds Are Burning – MobsterTiger

  3. Glad you picked this band, it was a catchy tune with an important message. A new band to me, but definitely better than AC/DC. LOL! Sorry, do not care for them. My husband likes them . Will have to ask if he heard of Midnight Oil.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This may be the only song I remember from Midnight Oil. I feel like a big dufus. I’ve listened to and enjoyed AC/DC for years, and I didn’t know they were Australian.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Always liked the song, bought it in ’88 when it came out. It reminds me of different places and people, and it was such an intriguing and intoxicating chorus. If you’re only going to have one big hit, it may as well mean something worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If you don’t pay attention to injustice, it will continue to spread. I am not a big fan of political messages in songs, but when a band has a big repertoire of music, I think it is perfectly OK for them to slip in a political message in a few of their songs. Nice choice Clive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jim, and for a good prompt. I think it depends to an extent on the message and how much we agree with it, plus the way in which it is conveyed. A protest against injustice, like this one, is fine by me too, especially with such a catchy tune.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. not familiar with this band.

    but it’s a catchy tune, but with an important message. I like when musicians use their platform to try and make the world a better palce. Kudos to Peter for trying to make a difference by running for office. Too bad it didn’t work out like he hoped.

    Liked by 1 person

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