Celebrating 30 Years Of John Farnham’s Chain Reaction

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Celebrating 30 Years Of John Farnham’s Chain Reaction

1990: picture the scene. Seinfeld was celebrating one year on the air, and Friends was yet to hit the airwaves. George Bush was running the US, and Bob Hawke was our PM. The world was on the cusp of getting a big dose of grunge in the form of Nirvana, and on the other side of the world, hip-hop and house music were growing stronger and stronger with each big release.


Farnsy, on the other hand, was on fire – a few years prior we were gifted his seminal track, ‘You’re The Voice’, and he was hot off the heels of a tour as the frontman of The Little River Band. 


In August that year, Farnsy shared the title track from his upcoming album. This track marked somewhat of a different sound to his previous releases, opting for more of an acoustic rock sound over the more pop oriented stylings we’d come to love from him. ‘Chain Reaction’ also marked a venture into more serious topics, his lyrical references to ‘the revolution’ alludes to the collapse of the Soviet Union – one of the biggest, musically inspiring moments of the ’90s.



September saw the Aussie King of Pop release the next single off Chain Reaction, ‘That’s Freedom’. Originally written and performed by American singer-songwriter Tom Kimmel, ‘That’s Freedom’ was a feel good track that would become a staple of his setlist for years to come, with Farnsy’s strong vocal performance asserting it as much more than just another cover.


Later that month, thousands of adoring Australian fans went to their local record stores and picked up Chain Reaction when it dropped in its entirety on September 24.  Perhaps to their surprise, fans were faced with a much more serious sound from the singer: ‘In Days To Come’ is a toned-down ballad with less of the vocal theatrics audiences had come to expect from Farnsy, but his emotion and conviction helped to drive the meaning of the song home, its message of unity and equality still ringing true even 30 years on today. 



Both the next track and next single from the album was ‘Burn For You’, a track Farnsy co-penned with long time collaborators, Phil Buckle and Ross Fraser about his eternal love for his wife and how he longed for her when he’d go on tour. Fans immediately took to this track, sending it skyrocketing up the charts to hit #5 after it was released as a single in December 1990. This too became a track that has remained on his setlist since its release.


‘See The Banners Fall’, as the name sort of suggests, is about navigating change, and observing the rapid social revolutions that were taking place in and around 1990. It’s a sadder song, but the uplifting and big chorus gives us a sense of hope. This track was written by Farnsy, Fraser, and Farnsy’s keyboard player and world renowned composer, David Hirschfelder. This sense of hope travels over to ‘I Can Do Anything’, a more soft rock ballad, that reminds us of the sounds of Farnsy’s early days. Legendary Aussie guitarist and good friend of Farnham Tommy Emmanuel features on this track, giving it his trademark creative flair and helping create a strong mid-point for the album.



‘All Our Sons And Daughters’ is a feel-good ’90s rock epic, complete with a Brett Garsed face melting solo that certainly gave many of the era’s hair metal bands a run for their money. Once again, this track talks about how the world needs to change for the next generation, with Farnham singling out the need to consider the future of ‘our sons and daughters.’


‘In Your Hands’ and ‘New Day’ saw Farnham further explore this theme, with ‘In Your Hands’ reminding us again of Farnsy’s early days as a pop hearthrob. ‘New Day’, on the other hand, is another rock epic, complete with a jazzy guitar solo courtesy of Phil Buckle, making the track one to remember for those guitar-loving Farnsy aficionados. 



The final few tracks of the album leave us with this hopeful note that has materialized throughout Chain Reaction. ‘The Time Has Come’ brings back that new, acoustic rock sound that was birthed on this record, with Southern Sons frontman Jack Jones featuring as a guest on the track playing guitar. This acoustic sound continues on ‘The First Step’, a soft rock track that echoes the sounds of Cheap Trick and Foreigner. The album concludes with ‘Time And Money’, which sounds like something that could have easily come out of an INXS album, but Farnsy’s distinct vocals make it his own, making for a great finish for the record. 


Chain Reaction was one of Farnsy’s best records to date, and as a result, struck a chord with fans and critics alike. Selling over 490,000 units domestically, it ended up being the highest selling record of Australia for 1990, and netted ARIA Awards at that year’s ceremony for Highest Selling Album, Best Male Artist, and Song of the Year for ‘Burn For You’.


Farnsy’s 1990 reign extended even further with his massive tour behind Chain Reaction, which reached its peak with the concert film Chain Reaction Live In Concert, filmed live from his stop at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. On top of playing the album in full, Farnsy snuck in all the hits we know and love, as well as a few cheeky covers to remind us all that there’s only one true king of Australian pop.



Chain Reaction was reissued and remastered in 2017 – revisit it here.