James Reyne didn't think The Boys Light Up had the makings of a hit single when he wrote it more than four decades ago.
Then again, he didn't think any of the songs from Australian Crawl's debut album of the same name would be popular. Reyne wrote, and still writes, music for the music's sake, rather than with an audience or record label in mind.
The Boys Light Up was released in 1980 on EMI and also featured songs Indisposed, Downhearted, Beautiful People and Hoochie Gucci Fiorucci Mama. Over the years Australian Crawl also gave us anthems including Oh No Not You Again and Errol.
As a solo artist, Reyne also made his presence felt on Australia's music scene. Slave, Motors Too Fast, One More River, Fall of Rome, Hammerhead and the unforgettable Reckless are among his most-loved songs.
Reyne has had 19 top 40 hits (nine solo, seven with Australian Crawl, and three as part of Company Of Strangers) and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1996. But he is not one to dwell on the past.
Writing the songs always comes, I hope, from a genuine place. I still don't think I write songs thinking about a specific person or reason.James Reyne
"That was then, this is now," he sings in A Little Ol' Town South Of Bakersfield from 2020's Toon Town Lullaby. "Don't make the past your sacred cow."
Sung in his distinctive tone, Reyne's songs are quintessentially Australian and timeless in their appeal. Don't ask him why, though. He's just the guy who writes them.
"I honestly don't know why people react to my lyrics and my songs the way they do," he says. "I do think I write better songs now than when I started but that's just the nature of the craft.
"The more you do it, the better you get."
Toon Town Lullaby, his first studio album in eight years, coincided with the 40th anniversary of The Boys Light Up. Reyne penned the songs in Nashville.
"Writing the songs always comes, I hope, from a genuine place. I still don't think I write songs thinking about a specific person or reason," he explains.
"If it starts to work for me I just continue until I finish writing the song."
In the early days with Australian Crawl, when the band started to make the odd dollar here and there playing live, they put it straight back into the band.
"We weren't thinking about building an empire. Most of us were doing some kind of tertiary study at the time and we all just went 'Bugger it, let's commit to the band'. It was as simple as that. Making a decision and giving it two years and waiting to see what happened. Then it all started moving forward of its own accord."
Reyne had started an arts/law degree at university but traded it in for drama school.
"I didn't have any plans, really, I was just rolling along, but I was always drawn to writing," he says. "That and performing. Acting. For some reason I was always drawn to that."
He says he honed his "bullshit detector" very early on in his career.
"It's one of the things you need to sort out if you're in showbusiness. The bullshit. That's not to say I haven't been sucked in by people along the way, but those who make a career out of music tend to work things out quickly."
Music promoter Michael Gudinski, who died in March at the age of 68, raised not a single blip on Reyne's bullshit detector. Gudinski was, he says, "the real deal".
"Michael was a music fan first and foremost and I don't think he ever lost that. I was lucky enough to know him and he was a force to be reckoned with, a very funny guy, a really bright guy, a fantastic person. His influence, both here and overseas, cannot be overstated."
Reyne is celebrating The Boys Light Up milestone with a tour of the same name. I ask if he's surprised to see people singing along to every word after all these years.
"I'm always surprised that people like my songs," he replies with a laugh. "Music is my job and I've done it for a long time now so I can't really be objective, but if you'd said to me many years ago that this was going to be my career I would have called you crazy."
Catch James Reyne at Toronto Hotel on November 26. Tickets are on sale now (his June show is a sell-out).
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