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45 at 33: Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning

Australian rockers Midnight Oil had been churning out incendiary tunes for almost a decade before they made a meteoric impact in America with the surprise crossover hit Beds Are Burning, the lead single from their breakthrough 1987 album Diesel And Dust.

Despite being about as far away from a typical 1987 pop song as you can get, Beds Are Burning was a hit Down Under and clawed its way to No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100, with Britain taking longer to crack (finally reaching the Top 10 in May 1989).

Peter Garrett, the band’s imposing bald frontman, croaks out the lyrics in a voice that sounds like it’s been parched out in the outback for months without water.

The song is about the Pintupi, and aboriginal people from Australia’s western end who had been forcibly removed from their native lands. Garrett’s passion for the issue about which he sings is obvious. A three-chord exclamation of guitar and brass opens the song, introduces the anthemic choruses, and provides the finale.

Throughout Beds Are Burning a ratcheting guitar and elastic bass play in tandem, giving it motorik power. It’s superbly produced with immaculate attention to detail — give it a good listen on headphones sometime.

Viscerally exciting, emotional, instilled with real inspiration, it‘s arguably the apex of Midnight Oil’s career.

Steve Pafford

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