The facts: 1976 is the year that the historians generally nominate for the commencement of the Midnight Oil juggernaut, because that was the year that guitarist Martin Rotsey joined forces with three other lifetime members: Jim Moginie, Rob Hirst and Peter Garrett. The band, called Farm, had existed in various forms since 1971 - but in '76 they changed their name to Midnight Oil. Their first, self-titled album (nicknamed "The Blue Meanie" by old fans and friends) came out in 1978, to be followed in '79 by another release, Head Injuries (October, 1979). Both albums went some way towards capturing the awesome crushing force of the band's live work, although anyone who was around then will tell you that they didn't quite succeed.
1980 saw a lineup change (original bassplayer Andrew James being replaced by Peter Gifford) and an LP called Bird Noises (November 1980). In 1981 the band traveled to London to record with legendary British producer Glyn Johns (The Who, Rolling Stones) and returned with an album called Place Without a Postcard(November, 1981). With powerful songs like "Armistice Day" and "Don't Wanna Be the One," Postcard is often cited as Midnight Oil's first turning point; the moment where the band mastered the inherent challenges of studio recording and began to write songs that captured not just the energy and anger of their live show, but also the intelligence and political viewpoint of the band.
1982 saw a return to London to record - only this time they made a critical decision to work with a young hotshot by the name of Nick Launay. Launay's yearning for weird, digital sounds and studio experimentalism meshed perfectly with the band's emerging musicianship and songwriting prowess. Still one of the most incredible albums recorded by any band, anywhere, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 (November, 1982) turned Midnight Oil into superstars in their homeland. Songs like "Power and the Passion," "US Forces," and "Short Memory" became instant classics.
1984 saw the release of another album, again produced by Nick Launay, but this time recorded in Japan. The work of a group in a state of cultural displacement, intense personal crisis (and perhaps not so coincidentally, great creativity), Red Sails in the Sunset (October, 1984) spawned some wonderful tracks, including "Kosciusko" and "Best of Both Worlds." The following year, after a tumultuous period in history both for Australia and the Oils that saw Peter Garrett running for election on a Nuclear Disarmament ticket, the band spat out a killer EP called Species Deceases (December, 1985) that included one of their most memorable anthems, "Hercules."
What happened next was a revelation -- a watershed event in the history of Midnight Oil. In 1986 the band undertook a tour of remote outback settlements with Aboriginal rockers The Warumpi Band. The tour -- which ultimately became the subject of both a book and a TV documentary -- exposed the group to experiences, both positive and negative, that left a profound impact. The resulting album, Diesel and Dust (August, 1987) -- recorded with British producer Warne Livesey -- reflected these experiences in extraordinary songs like "Beds Are Burning," "Dead Heart," and "Dreamworld."
With Diesel and Dust clocking up multi-platinum sales all over the world, the band was now a major commercial success story -- and following a bout of international touring -- they returned to the studio with the same producer to make another incredible album, Blue Sky Mining (March, 1990). Tracks like "One Country," "Blue Sky Mine," and "Forgotten Years" revealed the band taking on new international perspectives whilst losing none of their passion, commitment or songwriting ability. The album was also the first to feature the talents of Midnight Oil's third bass player, the effervescent Bones Hillman.
The pace of releases slowed for Midnight Oil in the 90s -- entirely understandable given the energy the band had put into touring and recording over the preceding 15 years. In 1992 The Oils released a blistering live set, Scream In Blue (Live) (May, 1992), which was followed in 1993 by an album that reflected a refreshingly human side of the band, Earth and Sun and Moon (February, 1993). Recorded partly live with analog instruments in a decidedly low-tech studio, Earth and Sun and Moon set a new musical course for the Oils which was continued with their 10th album, Breathe (October, 1996).
In 1997 the band released 20, 000 Watt RSL-The Midnight Oil Collection, which featured sixteen of the best songs from the Midnight Oil catalog while introducing two new songs -"What Goes On" and "White Skin Black Heart". 20, 000 Watt RSL-The Midnight Oil Collection entered the Australian national ARIA chart at number one proving without doubt that they are one of Australia’s most potent rock forces.
In 1998 with a ferocious re-alignment of the band’s sound Midnight Oil delivered Redneck Wonderland their tenth studio album which saw them re-enlist producer Warne Livesey. Redneck Wonderland, exposed the dark underbelly of Australia and saw Midnight Oil back fully venting their anger in troubled economic rationalist times. The band toured the album with a powerful punch selling out yet another national tour.
The year 2000 saw Midnight Oil re-group after a year long break in which all members pursued their own interests. The kicked the year off to record ‘Say Your Prayers’ a brand new track which featured on the East Timor benefit album ‘Liberdade’. Whilst in the studio the band took the opportunity to record a few more new tracks including the classic Australian 1968 hit ‘The Real Thing’. The album of the same title includes special recordings of existing material as well as other new tracks. A major highlight during 2000 was Midnight Oil’s performance of ‘Beds are Burning’ at the Closing Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games, televised to millions of people around the world.
In 2002 Midnight Oil released their final album Capricornia and toured Australia and the USA. It was to be the band’s last album and as it turned out, the last chance for most to see them perform live. In December 2002, Peter Garrett announced his resignation from Midnight Oil.
“The last 25 years have been incredibly fulfilling for me, and I leave with the greatest respect for the whole of Midnight Oil. The band has brought a lot of pleasure and meaning to people’s lives, including my own. Who could ask for more? But it is time for me to move on and immerse myself in those things which are of deep concern to me and which I have been unable to fully apply myself to up to now”
The final show by Midnight Oil was, true to form, a benefit concert. On 29 January 2005, The Sydney Cricket Ground became the venue for the tsunami relief concert ‘Waveaid’ at which many great Australian bands performed. The stunning final set by Midnight Oil had the entire SCG singing along to every note. It was to be the band’s last performance.
“We’ve had a unique relationship and special chemistry for many years, one too good to lose. We want to thank our families, all fans worldwide, our crew and the Office team for their enormous support over the years. It’s been a great ride together. Many, many thanks."