Jo Camilleri’s old gang released their breakthrough album 40 years ago. Featuring the classic singles “Hit & Run” and “Shape I’m In”, and the first cover of a Paul Kelly song, Screaming Targets is an Australian classic and we are here to tell you why!
One of the most popular bands on the Melbourne pub scene since forming in 1976, Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons might’ve thought they were never going to make it until they signed to Mushroom Records in early 1979. After three years with EMI, on Ross Wilson & Glenn Wheatley’s Oz imprint, they had two albums to their credit, neither of which, consensus held, captured the magic of their sweat-inducing live show. (This writer maintains however that the first album Don’t Waste It in particular, stands up really well, and that the songs it featured from original Falcons songwriter/guitarist Wayne Burt, like “King of Fools”, are amongst Australia’s most undeservingly-overlooked songs). They’d released a well-received live 12” EP – Live!! Loud & Clear – and then a fine mini-LP called So Young, which gave the band a moderate hit single with the classic title-track, but also caused a blow out with the record company overpricing. Joe and the boys weren’t really happy campers...
Their signing to old mate Gudinski’s label made complete sense – Gudinski was the Melbourne scene Kingpin, and the Falcons’ pals in The Sports were doing particularly well under Mushroom’s auspices. It was announced with a full-page ad in national music press showing Joe Camilleri holding a wad of cash and a gun held to the head of bigger than life picture of Gudinski. Had Gudinski be seen in the picture responding to the gun it could have been a cool cover for the forthcoming album, which was to be called Screaming Targets!
Setting the same course that had worked for the Sports, Mushroom hooked the band up with young UK Producer Peter Solley, a former member of Procol Harum who had been doing some work for Stiff Records in the UK. Stiff of course was the label that discovered Elvis Costello, as was a big fave of every not-quite young artist looking to get a grip on the demands of the New Wave. Solley had achieved success with Sports and their breakthrough second album Don’t Throw Stones at the start of the year, but the slickness he imbued on that record didn’t actually sit well with Stiff, who were looking at signing Sports at the time. (That full story and the resulting Stiff-sponsored re-recordings of material can be found on Festival Records 2014 expanded edition of Don’t Throw Stones). This is what assumedly spurned Solley to strive for a slightly rawer sound with the Falcons; a sound that became evident to all who heard the pre-album single release of the catchy, reggae-infused “Hit & Run“. (Reggae was a prime Falcons’ influence alongside Stonesy R&B; Joe had followed his old mentor Ross Wilsons’ lead and was hungry to hear everything he could, new or old, coming out of Jamaica).
Of course, Screaming Targets gave the Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons their first two proper hit singles – the aforementioned “Hit & Run” and “Shape I’m In” – both written by the band’s new songwriter team of Camilleri and guitarists Jeff Burstin and Tony Faehse. The trio also contributed other fan favourites including “Don’t Wanna Come Down” and “Close to the Bone”.
Two of the album’s finest tracks were from outside writers; “You Made A Fool Out Of Me” from the pen of Stiff Records’ beloved pub-rocker Mickey Jupp, and “Only The Lonely Hearted”, by a young singer-songwriter who was making waves in Melbourne with his band the Dots - Paul Kelly. Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons’ Kelly cover was the first mainstream release of a Paul Kelly song: the Dots had only recently released four of them themselves on a self-financed 7” EP. “Only The Lonely Hearted” was a super-catchy rocker that deserved to have been a single itself.
Screaming Targets not only delivered the hits, it was rapturously received by Australian press. Mushroom highlighted the reviews, which undoubtedly help drive sales, with a neat series of ad’s spread out through the September issue of Roadrunner:
The success of Screaming Targets in Australia, and the cutting edge new wave directions it reflected, combined with the old school R&B firepower the band maintained live, helped the Falcons seem a reasonably safe bet for record companies internationally too. Before they knew it, the group had themselves a deal with Columbia in the US and Warner in the UK & Europe and Japan. The band would soon be playing the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in France – no doubt jazz freak Camilleri was pinching himself – and the Bottom Line in New York. The international release of the album ditched “You Made A Fool Out Of Me” in favour of a new and less reggae-inflected recording of “So Young”, a song which was around the same time being recorded by Elvis Costello & The Attractions for possible inclusion on their soul-infused Get Happy album.
Alas, their stab at international success amounted to little. Indeed their failure to continue the momentum they locally once they hit overseas markets seemed to sap the strength of the band, whose next album, Hats Off Step Lively, found Camilleri wanting to start moving in new directions, as evidenced by the very poppy (very Costello-esque actually) “All I Wanna Do”. But that’s another story...
Just before the release of Screaming Targets, the band’s old label EMI threw a spanner in the works with the release of an unauthorised live album from the Falcons. Aimed either to cash in on the band’s assumed pending success or to fool their fans into buying the wrong record, Let’s Drip Awhile was taken from the same live show at Martini’s in Carlton that had been utilised for the previously released Live!!! Loud & Clear EP. Shoddily packaged, the LP pissed off the band no end and was universally slagged by their friends and fans in the media. Let’s Drip Awhile stands however in the cold light of day as a remarkable document of a great live band firing on all cylinders.
To combat the EMI live album, Mushroom came up with the idea of a bonus live album to come with the initial pressing of Screaming Targets. It featured a great version of old Otis Redding song “Security”, which they’d originally recorded for their first album, a fine version of “So Young”, a stomping “Mona” that showed off their Rolling Stones roots, a growling cover of “Not A Woman, Not A Child”, taken from Dave Edmunds’ latest Trax On Wax 4 LP ( and which had become a feature piece for singing bass player John Power), and a side-long version of Joe’s show-stopping sax instrumental “The Cthulhu”. The limited nature of the bonus record ensured the band’s fans were quick to buy, giving the album a strong early chart run.
Festival/Warner’s 2014 Expanded Edition of Screaming Targets is an essential purchase for any Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons who have yet to get it. A 2CD set, it includes the original album, the live bonus album, the re-recorded “So Young”, a great dub version of “Shape I’m In”, and a rare Camilleri track, all on the first disc. The second disc adds another 80 minutes of excitement. Combining a mix of demos and live tracks from throughout the band’s career, it is highlighted by several tracks from a La Trobe University show that followed Screaming Target’s release. These are perhaps the ultimate Falcons’ recordings, and include an absolutely storming version of the band’s much-loved cover of Scottish singer Frankie Miller’s “Ain’t Got No Money”, which has to be about the hardest driving and most intensely joyous six and a half minutes of rockin’ rhythm & blues ever recorded in Australia.
The entire Expanded Edition of Screaming Targets can be streamed on Spotify here.
And on Apple Music here.