Cold Chisel came to Australia’s attention with a bang in April 1978 with the release of the Khe Sanh single, which was instantly banned. Censors took offence to the line “and their legs were often open, but their minds were always closed”.
The song was off the air for a while, but Don Walker’s tale about a Vietnam veteran became a live favourite.
Glasgow-born vocalist Jimmy Barnes (the original ‘working class man’) also gained a reputation, partly for his ferocious vocal attack and partly for his on-stage alcohol consumption. Whether playing in stadiums or small pubs, Cold Chisel turned every gig into a party, an event or a riot . . .
Songwriter Don Walker, Ian Moss and Les Kaczmarek formed Cold Chisel in Adelaide during September 1973. The line-up was completed by volatile ex-pat, Jim Barnes and Liverpool-born drummer Steve Prestwich. Their early repertoire was peppered with Deep Purple and Free covers, which earned them a cult following around the local pubs.
In 1975 Barnes left the band to join fellow Adelaide band Fraternity as a replacement for Bon Scott (who had joined AC/DC). He returned to Cold Chisel six months later, and when Walker moved to NSW to attend university, the band moved with him – with Phil Small eventually replacing Kaczmarek on bass.
In 1977 the band signed to Warner/Atlantic and released Khe Sanh. Their eponymous debut album failed to capture the live firepower but did achieve gold status and launched the group into the major league.
The single Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye) failed to chart but the live EP You’re Thirteen You’re Beautiful And You’re Mine reached #35 on the singles charts in December 1978. It captured the band in their element with raucous versions of Merry-Go-Round, and Wild Thing.
The follow-up album, Breakfast At Sweethearts, reached #4 in March 1979 and was the top selling Australian album for the year. Two singles were released from the LP – Breakfast At Sweethearts and Shipping Steel.
The Mark Opitz produced East (June 1980) was a confident work of tremendous scope. Among its delights were the singles Choir Girl, Cheap Wine and My Baby. The album reached #2 in the charts and sold over 200,000 copies in Australia.
The double live set Swingshift (March 1981) made its debut at #2 (on its way to number one) and yielded the 12″ single Don’t Let Go. In April 1981, Cold Chisel caused havoc at the Countdown Music Awards ceremony by smashing up the stage set in protest.
In July 1981 they toured the USA where East and the single My Baby had been issued. East peaked at #173 on the Billboard chart and the band supported Cheap Trick, Joe Walsh, Ted Nugent and Heart across the States.
The Barnes-penned You Got Nothing I Want (December 1981) was the first single from the classic album Circus Animals. The LP made #1 in Australia and produced two more singles, Forever Now and When The War Is Over.
During May 1982, Cold Chisel returned to the USA and then toured Europe and the UK. Ultimately the band achieved little impact outside Australia and the failed attempt to crack the USA was a major blow.
In early 1983 Prestwich was forced to leave the band due to back injuries sustained in a car accident and his place was taken by Gary Young (ex-Daddy Cool) who filled in for a six-week tour. By June, Ray Arnott had taken over on the drums. Then in August, Cold Chisel announced they were breaking up.
Prestwich rejoined the band for ‘The Last Stand’ tour in October, which marked the band’s 10th anniversary. On 12 December 1983 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, Cold Chisel played their last show together. The monumental series of farewell gigs produced two albums – The Barking Spiders Live and The Last Stand (also a video).
With live commitments out of the way, the band settled in to complete the lacklustre Twentieth Century album. The LP debuted at number one and produced three singles; Saturday Night, Only One and Flame Trees.
Before the dust had even settled, Jimmy Barnes had launched a successful solo career.
In 1985, WEA issued Radio Songs (Best Of) which reached number one. Another compilation, Chisel, was released in 1991 and reached #3, and a collection of 33 previously unissued tracks called Teenage Love was released in 1994.
Drummer Steve Prestwich died on 16 January 2011 from a brain tumour. He was 56.