Our Top 10 Midnight Oil songs looks at a very popular Australian rock band. People have described its music output as a mix of punk and pub rock. However, Midnight Oil can’t be summed up by a small collection of labels, not least because it has outlived more than one music movement throughout its existence. Specifically, the band’s initial run went from 1972 to 2002. Subsequently, the band had a full reunion in 2016 rather than just one of those reunions in which a band goes on tour all of the time.
We know this because Midnight Oil released a 12th studio album called The Makaratta Project in 2020 and a 13th studio album called Resist in 2022. The latter isn’t the happiest studio album ever released. If anything, it is on the depressing end of things because there is a real sense of failure running through it. Still, Resist‘s environmental message resonates more than ever, thus serving as a reminder that Midnight Oil remains surprisingly relevant.
Top 10 Midnight Oil Songs
#10 – Hercules
Hercules is a name that shows up in a wide range of places for a wide range of reasons. Here, it refers to the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, a military cargo aircraft used by not just American forces but also Australian forces. The song was penned at a time of high tension during the Cold War. Combined with its references to nuclear weapons, it isn’t hard to see how it became an anthem for the anti-nuclear movement in Australia. Sadly, “Hercules” has one of those subjects that seemed old and outdated until it wasn’t.
#9 – Blue Sky Mine
Mining tends to be hard, brutal work. As a result, it has inspired a lot of poignant songs. “Blue Sky Mine” refers to the mining for blue asbestos in Western Australia’s Wittenoom. The mining stopped in the mid-1960s because of unprofitability. Even so, it killed the town because of contamination. All asbestos can kill the people who breathe in the stuff. However, blue asbestos is even more dangerous than white asbestos.
#8 – Truganini
Midnight Oil has a longstanding interest in spreading awareness about Aboriginal Australian issues. “Truganini” refers to an Aboriginal Tasmanian woman who was one of the last people of purely Aboriginal Tasmanian descent. She is well-known. In part, that is because the Royal Society of Tasmania exhumed her skeleton, put it on display in a museum, and then held on to it until 1976. The whole thing is particularly ghoulish because Truganini had explicitly requested to be cremated. The body of her husband William Lanne had been mutilated for so-called “scientific” purposes, so she was keen to avoid the same.
#7 – Rising Seas
“Rising Seas” is the first song on Resist. That means it sets the tone for everything that followed on the studio album. Running throughout the song is the idea that Midnight Oil’s generation has failed today’s youth by failing to prevent climate change. Even so, it isn’t quite an admission of defeat. Their time is coming to a close, but there is still hope that others will take up the torch in their place.
#6 – Back On the Borderline
Midnight Oil’s debut studio album disappointed some listeners because it failed to capture the band’s energy at live performances. As a result, a lot of people consider the band’s second studio album a huge improvement on its predecessor because it boasted a harder, leaner, meaner sound. “Back On the Borderline” is one of the best examples of that change. Thanks to that, it remains one of Midnight Oil’s more memorable songs.
#5 – Forgotten Years
“Forgotten Years” is an interesting reminder that there is more to peace than just the mere absence of war. Its lyrics make it clear it is talking about the years after a hard-fought war. Despite that, there is a strong sense of unease that the peace isn’t quite as it should be, which comes with the strong implication that the sacrifices of a hard-fought war are going to waste. This is not a happy song, but this is nonetheless one of those songs that needed to be sung.
#4 – The Dead Heart
Good bands are capable of change, thus enabling them to keep up with the times. “The Dead Heart” stands out because it marked a warmer, more welcoming period in Midnight Oil’s musical output, which was a notable contrast from its earlier releases. Its lyrics are a heartening show of defiance. The band penned those words around the time when the Australian government returned the sacred site of Uluru to the Aboriginal Australians of the local region.
#3 – Beds Are Burning
It took Midnight Oil a long time to do so. Still, the band managed to become known to international audiences in the end. “Beds Are Burning” was the first song on the band’s sixth studio album Diesel and Dust. It is one of Midnight Oil’s best-known songs outside of Australia. As such, it played an important role in spreading awareness.
#2 – Only The Strong
The fourth studio album was the point when Midnight Oil started breaking through to a wider audience than ever before. Reputedly, the members of the band were extremely stressed out during its recording, so much so that the drummer Rob Hirst hovered on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Sometimes, that kind of strain can cause artists to soar a bit higher and reach a bit further, which seems to have been the case for Hirst and his bandmates. “Only the Strong” is one of the strongest songs on a strong studio album. It has intriguing energy enhanced rather than diminished by its pleasing complexity.
#1 – Power And The Passion
Speaking of which, Midnight Oil released three singles from the fourth studio album. The second of these singles was “Power and the Passion,” which is widely considered to be one of the best Australian songs ever released. It is a rallying cry against apathy. Moreover, “Power and the Passion” is specifically targeted at Australians, as shown by its opening line condemning people who can’t be bothered to care even though they were born into such a beautiful, bountiful land.
Top 10 Midnight Oil Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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