Australia's Midnight Oil brought a new sense of political and social immediacy to pop music: not only did incendiary hits like "Beds Are Burning" and "Blue Sky Mine" bring global attention to the plight of, respectively, aboriginal settlers and impoverished workers, but the group also put its money where its mouth was -- in addition to mounting benefit performances for groups like Greenpeace and Save the Whales, frontman Peter Garrett even ran for the Australian Senate on the Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket.
The band formed in Sydney in 1971 as Farm, and originally comprised guitarists Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey, drummer Rob Hirst, and bassist Andrew "Bear" James; Garrett, a law student known for his seven-foot-tall stature and shaven head, assumed vocal duties in 1975, and the group soon rechristened itself Midnight Oil. After months of sporadic gigs, they began making the rounds to area record companies; following a string of rejections, the group formed its own label, Powderworks, and issued their self-titled debut -- a taut, impassioned collection of guitar rock which quickly established the Midnight Oil sound -- in 1978.
After declaring their independence from the music industry, Midnight Oil grew increasingly active and outspoken in the political arena; after performing in opposition to uranium mining, they supported the Tibet Council before turning their attentions to the unfair practices of the local music industry, and formed their own booking agency in response to the monopoly exerted by area agents and promoters. With their 1979 sophomore effort, Head Injuries, the band scored their first hit single, "Cold Cold Change," and earned a gold record. James left the band the following year due to health problems; with new bassist Peter Gifford, they cut the EP Bird Noises, another chart success.
With 1981's Place Without a Postcard (recorded with producer Glyn Johns), Midnight Oil achieved platinum status on the strength of the smash "Armistice Day," which won the group an American deal with Columbia Records. Their follow-up, 1983's 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, spent over two years in the Australian Top 40; after 1984's Red Sails in the Sunset, Garrett made his run at Senate, losing by only a narrow margin. Participation in the Artists United Against Apartheid project followed, leading directly into Midnight Oil's increased interest in the battles of Australia's aboriginal settlers and a tour, dubbed "Black Fella White Fella," with the aborigine group the Warumpi Band.
The aborigines' plight came to the fore on 1987's Diesel and Dust, the Oils' breakthrough record; sparked by the hit single "Beds Are Burning," the album reached the U.S. Top 20 and made the band a household name. After bassist Dwayne "Bones" Hillman (ex-Swingers) replaced Gifford, Midnight Oil returned with 1990's Blue Sky Mining, which they followed with a concert outside of the Exxon corporation's Manhattan offices in protest of the company's handling of the Alaskan oil spill. (A film of the performance titled Black Rain Falls was later released, with profits going to Greenpeace.) The album Earth and Sun and Moon appeared in 1993, followed three years later by Breathe. Midnight Oil next resurfaced in 1998 with Redneck Wonderland. The Real Thing, only available in Australia, followed in 2001. It was a solid collection of new songs and live tracks from Midnight Oil's magnificent run at the Metro Theatre in Sydney. Capricornia, issued on Liquid 8 in spring 2002, marked the band's 14th album of their career. In December, Peter Garrett announced his split from the band after 25 years. Garrett, who left Midnight Oil on good terms, wished to pursue other challenges. ~ Jason Ankeny