14 January 2008

Young Charlatans

Independent, 1978

"I've been contemplating suicide/ But it really doesn't suit my style/ So I think I'll just look bored instead." You'd be hard-pressed to find a more fitting slogan for disaffected young rock stars than the opening lines of 'Shivers'. I first heard the song in its incarnation as a Top 40 ballad performed by local pub-rock heroes The Screaming Jets while growing up in Newcastle in the early '90s. It had been recorded 15 years earlier by Nick Cave's first group Boys Next Door and somehow survived the Jets' blokeish butchery to become a guilty favourite of mine on cassette. Neither version had anything on the original, though.

'Shivers' was written by Rowland S Howard and recorded with the Young Charlatans as a demo in '78. The version on Inner City Sound is drowned in so much tape hiss that it's impossible to listen to with headphones worth more than $10. When Howard reaches the chorus – "My baby's so vain she is almost a mirror/ And the sound of her name sends a permanent shiver/ Down my spine" – his voice becomes so piercing that it literally does give you shivers. His nasal wailing bursts out of the song and stabs you in the eardrums.

The year it was recorded, Howard found himself in a taxi with a singer wearing stovepipe pants and a polka-dot shirt boasting about "the best and loudest song in the world". The singer was Nick Cave and the song was 'Sex Crimes'. Howard was suitably impressed when the Boys Next Door played it that night at a Melbourne venue called Bananas and eventually joined the band, lending his guitar to the group's drug-fuelled attack on music.

With Howard on board, Boys Next Door recorded a version of 'Shivers' as sung by Cave for their album Door, Door. In comparison to the Young Charlatans demo it was almost embarrassingly melodramatic and hinted at the style of bombastic ballads Cave would spend his later years pursuing. After the band reinvented themselves as The Birthday Party, increasing tension between Howard and Cave contributed to the group's break-up. "The songs I used to write were really personal songs, and Nick said he couldn't sing them because it was too embarrassing," he told NME in 1983. They split the year after.


  1. i wish you had put up the young charlatans version of the song. everybody's heard the nick cave version to death. i've been lucky enough to hear rowland's version live and also to have his blessing when doing my own version.

    i've been unlucky enough to have my ears tortured to death by the screaming jets version and i've forgotten the dogs in space one.

    please put up the original. who gives a toss about the hiss. it would be worth it to hear the birth of the song.

  2. I didn't put up the Young Charlatans version because it's not on YouTube!

    I'll learn how to put it there myself when I get a chance, and then embed it here.

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Eeg-JqSO5c