New Zealand's best songwriter

Last updated 08:38 18/02/2011

I know there's no such thing as a best - it's all opinion. I know that. I write these posts and offer my opinion (note to any Rock listeners still reading: they're blog-posts/opinion pieces, not "articles", not "news stories") and then you offer yours. A snappy title helps give away what the blog for the day will be about.

Today's post features my thoughts on one of the country's best songwriters - and I think it would be fair to say one of the more underrated.

The names that are likely to come up are Tim Finn and Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn. There'll be Shayne Carter too; maybe Martin Phillipps. There's David Kilgour and Don McGlashan and Graeme Downes. There are two other Graemes I can think of who could figure on a list of the greats too.

And of course that's just the icing on the icing. We haven't even got to the icing on the cake yet.

Tell me (once again) I have no/bad/poor taste. Tell me (once again) I don't know what I'm talking about. Tell me once again I should stop writing these posts and that Stuff.co.nz should employ you - someone who considers correct spelling/punctuation optional. But you know what, I'm convinced that one of the country's greatest songwriters, on the day maybe my favourite, is Jordan Luck.

Luck is the lead singer/songwriter for The Exponents. They used to be called The Dance Exponents.

You might think of them as the band that refused to die; that launched two dozen reunion New Year's Eve gigs on provincial beaches; that indirectly birthed the feelers (that's if you're particularly cruel); that launched a thousand "Shazzas" screaming out lyrics to all of those question-mark songs: Why Does Love Do This to Me? - Who Loves Who the Most? - Whatever Happened to Tracy?

And sure, with the re-brand to The Exponents and the release of 1992's Something Beginning with C there is some truth to those charges: The Exponents did become (almost) all of that.

But there were still some great pop songs. And before that, back in the Dance Exponents daze, Luck had his finger on the pulse. The Dance Exponents weren't just pub-rock (not that there's anything wrong with the best, er, exponents of that). They were new romantic, they were post-punk, they were up with what was happening.

But as Luck would have it, the band created a New Zealand identity in the songs. We think of the hits - so it's all those songs I've just mentioned and from the earlier days, Victoria and I'll Say Goodbye (Even Though I'm Blue). But there are so many other great examples of a band somewhat ahead of its time.

I'd be giving the bands that win the NZ music awards these days a copy of Once Bitten, Twice Bitten - let them have a listen to Airway Spies and Your Best Friend Loves Me Too. Let them understand Know Your Own Heart and Greater Hopes Greater Expectations. Get them to attempt to process what seems so effortless with All I Can Do, Sex and Agriculture and Christchurch (In Cashel St, I Wait).

In fact a copy of debut album, Prayers Be Answered might be the ticket. What a ripper. It holds up too, song-wise.

And I have no shame in saying that a lot of the later Exponents material catered to its market very well - there are still some great songs, not only on Something Beginning With C but also on 1994's Grassy Knoll. Oily riffs, anthemic choruses, something slippery and elusive to start - and then something to latch on to.

It's become easy to look at Jordan Luck The Rock Star - but Jordan Luck The Front Man/Jordan Luck The Songwriter was important in establishing a vestige of our culture, musically. It may have morphed into the ugly side - but assessing the songs, rather than the baggage, these are lean, sharp pop-rock ditties. They're full of what you need in a good song: hooks.

The Dance Exponents pushed new ideas, kept up with overseas trends, forged an identity for themselves - no mean feat/s.

For that I'm calling Jordan Luck New Zealand's Best Songwriter. Of course I like a lot of the material by everyone else I named and loads of other talented songwriters. And of course, even though I've just said that, you'll ridicule me for my choice, for stating my opinion.

Who's with me? And just on the very slight off-chance that you're not 100 per cent behind me here - who would you nominate instead as New Zealand's best/most underrated songwriter?

And here's one more great Dance Exponents song

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125 comments
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maz   #1   08:46 am Feb 18 2011

I saw The Exponents at San Fran a few years back. The crowd was really in to it, the band was really into it, and I had a good position at the front (after some tall guys let us go in front of them, bless).

Lots of good songs, and I heard all of the ones that I wanted.

As for best songwriter, meh I don't know enough about these things to pass judgement.

Sam   #2   08:58 am Feb 18 2011

Absolutely agree.... Airways Spies is one of the all time greats...."Once Bitten Twice Bitten" has been stolen from me 4 times.... must be good!

Cedric   #3   09:00 am Feb 18 2011

You think! I personally think The Dance Exponents are overrated! I will admit that they wrote good pop songs catchy to some but that’s not saying they’re the best songwriters well Jordan!! I think there is a hell of a lot more better songwriters; but he is different from all other "kiwi" writers i will admit and isn’t all about kiwiana as most of the older writers are! Dave Dobyn makes me sick and if i was to pick one from the above selection i would go for Jordan Luck. If i was to pick any kiwi songwriters however it would be Edward Knowles of the Checks! Post-punk? Damn straight these guys have no punk veins in their music at all!

fizzleplug   #4   09:07 am Feb 18 2011

Paul McLaney

Tim   #5   09:11 am Feb 18 2011

Finn Andrews from The Veils is a brilliant songwriter

40ozCount   #6   09:13 am Feb 18 2011

Jordon Luck is a deadset legend. The only name I'd want to chuck in the mix would be Jon Toogood, Shihad have been around for over 20 years now and have crossed over so many rock genres in that time. Toogood's songwriting has been pretty solid throughout. From Industrial metal to Pop rock and stadium anthem rock, Shihad have a pretty amazing array of tunes.

Davo   #7   09:16 am Feb 18 2011

I'm with you on this one. I grew up listening to "Prayers Be Answered", and the follow up "Expectations", not to mention "Amplifier" and "Live At Mainstreet". They were all magic. i have lost count of the times i have seen them live. But the songs are up there with anything by any of those others you have mentioned. You could also have included "La La Lulu", "Like She Said", "The Summer You Never Meant", "Do You Feel Love" etc. I had this crazy, surreal moment at the "Band Together" concert last year, when i was up near the front with my daughter on my shoulders, and looked up to see the huge smile on her face as she was singing along with the songs. That's when i realised these songs may just stick around for a lot longer than i ever thought as a 15 year old at the Christchurch Town Hall jumping around to "Airway Spies".

Lisa   #8   09:18 am Feb 18 2011

I've always been a huge Jordan Luck fan and have followed them right from their early days as Dance Exponenets. Can't remember how many times I've seen them live but they've always been great !! I agree that Jordan Luck has been undervalued as a songwriter, he's very gifted.

Robbie   #9   09:18 am Feb 18 2011

Simon: It's rare I'll read one of your pieces and agree with you, but here I do. Jordan Luck has written the most widely relatable songs in New Zealand history.

Matt   #10   09:19 am Feb 18 2011

Blah blah blah, you're wrong. Blah blah blah Head like a hole. Blah blah blah, I should work for Stuff.co.nz. Blah blah blah.

...for what its worth, I totally agree. Though I would put Jordan Luck on par with the Finn brothers and Don McGlashan


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