Sure, the origins of the Finn brothers and Lorde are still up for hot debate, but I think we can all agree that Australia has claimed Dragon as one of the best Trans-Tasman bands of the 20th century.
After initially starting the band in Auckland, New Zealand back in 1972, Dragon were immediately adopted by Australian audiences when they made the big move to Sydney in 1975, and despite their onstage antics and issues with substance abuse, enjoyed significant success on the charts with records like Running Free, The Body and the Beat and O Zambezi.
Today, we're taking a look at some of Dragon's finest songs and the stories behind them, celebrating the songwriting legacy of one of the most loved Antipodean groups of the 20th century.
'April Sun In Cuba' - Running Free (1977)
This is probably the one song that everyone has drunkenly belted out at 1am in a packed function room at some point in their lives, and for good reason. The late, great Marc Hunter bemoans the cold city life, and how he’s got to get his fun. A holiday in the sunny time warp that is Cuba is Hunter’s destination of choice, where he meets Fidel Castro in an alleyway, and the two discuss the Missile Crisis (as you would on any normal holiday).
Robert Taylor’s Hawaiian-style slide guitar is a clever inclusion on this track, and really gives it that sunny vibe. Songwriter Paul Hewson’s keys add some extra glimmer, while Marc Hunter gives us a howling middle-eight part. The rest of the band sound as tight as ever, on a track that is a bona fide Trans-Tasman classic.
'Are You Old Enough?' - O Zambezi (1978)
Upon hearing this track for the first time on Gold 104.3 many years back, I naively pondered: “Old enough for what? Driving? Buying liquor?” Turns out I was very much mistaken, and that the lyrical content of this tune is considerably off-colour by today’s standards. But let’s focus on the music; this is a superbly well-written track filled with layered harmonies, lush strings and a typically ripping vocal take from Marc Hunter.
Dragon had a knack for delivering the unexpected; right on the three minute mark we go from a full on “wall-of-sound” to just keys, bass and voice. Renee Geyer’s backing vocals provide some next-level finesse throughout the final chorus, cementing this as one of Dragon’s finest pieces of music.
'Get That Jive' – Sunshine (1977)
The second single from their 1977 LP Sunshine, ‘Get That Jive’ peaked at #13 on the Aussie charts, and is jam-packed with quality moments from the NZ-Aussie outfit.
Featuring more cowbell than that famous Saturday Night Live sketch, the track features some of keyboardist Paul Hewson’s best playing – this bloke had the Midas touch, and could make a simple G to D piano vamp sound a million bucks. Taylor’s crunchy lead guitar lines are a focal point of the pre-chorus, before Hunter and his trusty team of backing vocalists give us that catchy-as-hell chorus.
'O Zambezi' – O Zambezi (1978)
It’s unclear why Dragon decided to name their fifth studio album after the fourth-longest river in Africa, but as we’ve established, there’s only so much one can delve into the topical themes on this album. Hunter sings about clouds and stars fighting, as well as cane toads spitting tears – it appears as though the boys from the band may have ingested some of these toad tears, because this track is a trip into another dimension.
‘O Zambezi’ is an unusually funky moment from the band: it begins with a wicked guitar riff, alongside some jaunty piano work. Guitarist and songwriter Robert Taylor infuses the track with a smooth jazz progression, with an ARP-sounding string line that hovers above. Kerry Jacobson’s drums are the real highlight, locking in super tight with the bass and keys, making for an unsung classic from the NZ-Aussie legends.
'Rain' – The Body And The Beat (1984)
Originally released as a single in July 1983, ‘Rain’ is one of the only songs I can think of where the verse, pre-chorus and chorus melodies are equally as catchy as each other. The song peaked at #2 on the Aussie charts and stayed there for some 26 weeks, and the band had every inkling that this was going to be the case throughout the writing process.
The story goes that bassist Todd Hunter, on one rainy day in Bondi, was stuck indoors working on a yet unnamed instrumental track. His girlfriend then jokingly sang the nursery rhyme ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring’ which thus provided Todd with the lyrical theme of the song. Hunter took the blueprint of the song to the studio, and the band spent a gruelling day recording it. At the end of the session, all involved sat down and agreed that ‘Rain’ had #1 written all over it, and they weren’t far off. ‘Rain’ is a timeless gem that epitomises the songwriting greatness of Dragon. While most of the original members have unfortunately passed away, their legacy will remain ingrained in the Trans-Tasman musical fabric forever.
Discover ten more Aussie rock deep cuts from the '70s here.