Geelong, 1981

 

University students like a drink. Short on money and clarity, we drank. We drank to socialise, we drank to dance, we drank to meet people and to (try to) have sex with them. And when that sought-after connection failed and hearts were broken or bodies left lonely, we drank. Cask wine, beer and cider. Anything cheap. Drank like fish, as they say.

 

The next morning… well, you know the story. In my student house thumping heads replaced the boom of last night’s kick drums, booze inspired swagger became an alcoholic stumble, and the scent and promise of clean and perfumed bodies morphed into the smell of stale nicotine and the odour of regret. Never again, we’d moan. Too many times.

 

With no money left for Berocca, we’d sit around the kitchen table and grizzle and laugh and boast and rib each other about last night’s exploits. The late breakfast of watery instant coffee couldn’t save us from the inevitable hangover.

 

And for a while, it was huge, reckless fun.

 

With news yesterday of Andrew “Greedy” Smith’s death (at 63, of a heart attack), I’m drawn back to this time in the early 1980s when his band, Mental As Anything, were at their popular peak. The key song from that era for me was Smith’s hit, Too Many Times.

 

It was the perfect song of cheap excess. It fairly skips out of the starting blocks with an almost unbearable, early morning bounce and chirp. Then comes the lyric of regret, full of self admonishment and resignation, casting a shadow over the poppy tune. The genius bridge is one of the greatest in pop music:

 

What is there left to do

But to drink and watch the view

I think that it might rain this afternoon 

 

It’s kitchen table music, shot through with laconic wisdom. The lyrical sequel to The Nips are Getting Bigger.

 

Greedy was the biggest dag in a band full of dags. They looked like they didn’t take anything seriously, yet they made some ripper records. They were particularly skilled in the fine art of the hit single. Twenty of them made it inside the Top 40, more than Sherbet, Skyhooks, Cold Chisel or Midnight Oil and just behind INXS. In a band that boasted four very different lead singers, it was Smith’s dry and unadorned voice that lead the Mentals to international chart success. 

 

Too Many Times charted in our house too… many times. 

 

ABC News report

Stephen Andrew is a psychotherapist, writer and musician. A former contributor to Rolling Stone Australia, Rhythms and Juke, he is also a multi-instrumentalist of The Stereo Stories Band. Guitar, bass, vocals, drums...