Celebrating 40 Years Of Shivers By The Boys Next Door

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Celebrating 40 Years Of Shivers By The Boys Next Door

boys next door shivers
(Photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

This month marks the 40th Anniversary of the release (as a single) of one of the most significant songs in Australian rock history; a song that is both a perfect time capsule and a timeless classic.  The Boys Next Door's "Shivers" is a song that has grown in stature over the years along with the respective reputations of its singer and its songwriter – Nick Cave and Rowland S Howard.

Let's look at both the creation and the ongoing influence of Rowland S Howard's classic song, and the birth of the band that recorded it. We check out seven different versions, including the Boys Next Door's definitive reading, earlier and later versions sung by Rowland, and covers by the Screaming Jets and Courtney Barnett. 

When punk became a 'thing' in 1976 along with the release of the first Ramones album and the emergence of the Sex Pistols in London, Brisbane already had the Saints and Sydney already had Radio Birdman. To be a first generation punk band really meant you had to have formed in 1974 or 1975; if you came after the Ramones and the Pistols you were next generation. Melbourne, despite, or because of its thriving inner-city underground scene at the time, didn't really have a first generation punk band; not one of note anyway. Street-wise underground bands like the Bleeding Hearts and Stiletto had more in common with Skyhooks than they did the Stooges. 

Nick Cave's mates the Reals were probably as close as Melbourne came to a first generation punk band. The Reals were fronted by Garry Gray, who went on to the Sacred Cowboys, and featuring Chris Walsh (later of the Moodists with Dave Graney) on bass and Ollie Olsen on guitar – Ollie would soon ditch his guitar and pioneer the post-punk electronic scene in Melbourne, and most famously partner with Michael Hutchence as Max Q. The Reals knew their Stooges but were really just kids when they came together mid-decade. They really didn't play out until punk was already established overseas.  Nick and his mates, including guitarist Mick Harvey, bass player Tracey Pew, and drummer Phill Calvert, had already been making noises for a bit by that point too, but, again, it wasn't until they'd learned a Ramones tune or two that they went public with it. And while both Nick, Mick, Tracey & Phil's band the Boys Next Door quickly found their feet on the back of punk's ascent, they had yet to find their voice. They knew they needed to find some originality but didn't know where to find it.  

The Boys Next Door's first single was a lumpy and rather leaden cover of the 1966 Nancy Sinatra hit "These Boots Are Made For Walking". It tried hard to sound punk but didn't really cut it. They had a sellable image though – and were obviously trying very hard - so Michael Gudinski decided to keep them on, even after his short-lived punk label Suicide Records had been forced to the ground by the contempt and ridicule of the audience it was aimed at. In June 1978 - only 9 months or so after they played their first gig - the band recorded an album, but before it was released, they added another member, guitarist Rowland Howard, from The Young Charlatans.

With Rowland on board, the band decided to ditch some songs and record some new ones. And so Door Door was eventually finalised and readied for release. In May 1979, just ahead of that release, "Shivers" came out as the first single. 

Originally sung by Rowland in The Young Charlatans (who had also featured the aforementioned Ollie Olsen on guitar) "Shivers" started life as that fairly rare thing, a punk ballad. (A rough early demo of the Young Charlatans' version was released in 2005 on the Clinton Walker-compiled Inner City Sound 2CD.) Melancholy and melodic, the song features the memorable refrain "My Baby's so vain she is /Almost a mirror...", which clearly echoes by the refrain of "My baby's so lazy she is/Almost unable..." in the 1973 Brian Eno song "The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch". 

The Boys Next Door's version was certainly more polished than the Young Charlatans' version. Kicking off with a sombre 2-note piano pattern, it was highlighted by a haunting and memorable guitar figure intertwined with a low key synth line played by soon-to-be-Models keyboard player Andrew Duffield. And Howard's brooding lyrics found a perfect vehicle in Cave's melodramatic voice; making the record the ultimate soundtrack to the brooding affectations of the immediate post-punk scene as it played out in Melbourne. It remained a huge favourite on the alternative Melbourne scene, even as the band soon ditched it in their quest for new styles. Today "Shivers" remains one of the city's quintessential songs.  

The album Door Door was finally released mid-year. Much of it was unrecognisable as the band that had recorded "Shivers"; songs like "The Nightwatchman" and "Somebody's Watching" are basically punk-pop. Dark and arresting punk-pop – this is Nick Cave we're talking about of course – but punk-pop none the less. "After A Fashion" is perhaps more adventurous; although it borrows a guitar figure from Television's "Marquee Moon" it's possible to hear the more jagged terrain the band would soon traverse with their next release, the Missing Link Records 12" EP Hee Haw.

While neither "Shivers" or Door Door sold in huge numbers, they had an immediate and lasting impact. "Shivers" especially would have a substantial afterlife; such was the ongoing demand for it as a single that the 7" release was still in print nearly a decade later. And it featured prominently in the iconic 1986 film Dogs In Space starring Michael Hutchence; both the Boys Next Doors' version and a new version by Marie Hoy, another early Melbourne punk figure who worked with Ollie Olsen. (Ollie and Hutchence's' musical relationship began with the Dogs In Space soundtrack.)  And then it crossed into the mainstream, as so much of alternative culture did in the 90s, when third generation Aussie pub rockers the Screaming Jets had the first ever hit with the song, misheard lyrics and all, in 1992. 

ILYOS Presents "Shivers" down the ages, including the classic original film clip; a live version by the Boys Next Door, recorded just after Rowland Howard joined the band and gave them song; the original version by the Young Charlatans; and a fantastic version from Rowland himself, two decades later,  recorded for ABC TV's Studio 22 after he had reclaimed the song for himself. We finish with a surprisingly little-heard version recorded by Melbourne's Courtney Barnett in 2015 for Jack White's Third Man Records label. 

The Young Charlatans 

Boys Next Door live 

Boys Next Door official film clip 

Marie Hoy 

Screaming Jets 

Rowland S Howard 

Courtney Barnett 

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