INXS (pronounced “in excess”) were an Australian rock band, formed as The Farriss Brothers in 1977 in Sydney, New South Wales. The band’s founding members were bassist Garry Gary Beers, main composer and keyboardist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, lead singer and main lyricist Michael Hutchence, and guitarist and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly. For twenty years, INXS was fronted by Hutchence, whose “sultry good looks” and magnetic stage presence made him the focal point of the band. Initially known for their new wave/pop style, the band later developed a harder pub rock style that included funk and dance elements.
In 1984, INXS scored their first number-one hit in Australia with “Original Sin“. The band would later achieve international success in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s with the hit albums Listen Like Thieves, Kick, and X, as well as the singles “What You Need“, “Need You Tonight” (the band’s first and only number-one single in the United States), “Devil Inside“, “Never Tear Us Apart“, and “Suicide Blonde“.
Following Hutchence’s death from suicide in November 1997, INXS made appearances with several guest singers and toured and recorded with Jon Stevens as lead singer beginning in 2002. In 2005, members of INXS participated in Rock Star: INXS, a reality television series that culminated in the selection of Canadian J.D. Fortune as their new lead singer. Irish singer-songwriter Ciaran Gribbin replaced Fortune as lead singer in 2011. During a November 11, 2012 concert, INXS stated that the performance would be their last, though they did not announce a permanent band retirement.
INXS won six Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) awards, including three for ‘Best Group’ in 1987, 1989 and 1992; the band was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2001. INXS has sold over 60 million records worldwide.
The origins of the band began with Andrew Farriss convincing his fellow Davidson High School classmate, Michael Hutchence, to join his band, Doctor Dolphin. The band contained two further classmates, Kent Kerny and Neil Sanders, as well as Garry Beers and Geoff Kennely, both from a nearby high school, Forest High School. In 1977, Tim Farriss, Andrew’s older brother, invited Andrew, Hutchence and Beers to join him and his schoolmate Kirk Pengilly. Tim and Pengilly had been playing together since 1971 as either an acoustic duo, Kirk and Tim, or as a four-piece band called Guinness (named after their bass player’s dog). Together with younger brother Jon Farriss they formed the Farriss Brothers, who consisted of Garry Beers on bass guitar, Andrew Farriss on keyboards, Jon Farriss on drums, Tim Farriss on lead guitar, Michael Hutchence on lead vocals and Kirk Pengilly on guitar and saxophone. The band made their debut on 16 August 1977 at Whale Beach, 40 km (25 mi) north of Sydney.
The parents of the Farriss boys relocated to Perth, Western Australia in 1978, taking Jon to continue his schooling and, as soon as Hutchence and Andrew finished school, the rest of the band followed. They briefly performed as The Vegetables, singing “We Are the Vegetables”, before returning to Sydney ten months later, where they recorded a set of demos. At a chance meeting in the car park of the Narrabeen Antler, a pub in Narrabeen on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, New South Wales, Tim was approached by Gary Morris, the manager of Midnight Oil.
The band began to regularly support Midnight Oil and other local bands. Morris advised that a member of the Oils crew had come up with a new name and suggested they change it to INXS. The name INXS was inspired by English band XTC and Australian jam makers IXL. Pengilly later explained that Morris was interested in turning the group into a Christian band, which the band briefly considered before rejecting the idea.
The band’s first performance as INXS was on 1 September 1979 at the Ocean Beach Hotel in Umina on the Central Coast of New South Wales and by the end of 1979, after passing on the Christian band image, they hired Chris “CM” Murphy as their manager and continued taking on the Oz pub circuit. Murphy was an adept business manager and negotiator and by early 1980 the band had signed a five-album record deal with a Sydney independent label, Deluxe Records, run by Michael Browning, a former manager of AC/DC.
INXS released their first single, “Simple Simon“/”We Are the Vegetables“, in Australia and France in May 1980. The single had its debut TV performance on Simon Townsend’s Wonder World. Their self-titled debut album, INXS, was recorded at Trafalgar Studios in Annandale, Sydney, it was co-produced by the band and Duncan McGuire (ex-Ayers Rock), with all songs attributed to the entire band, at the insistence of Murphy. Deluxe gave them a budget of $10,000 to record the album, so to keep within the budget they had to record from midnight to dawn, usually after doing one or more performances earlier that night. The album was released in October 1980. It featured “Just Keep Walking” which was their first Australian Top 40 single, with the album peaking in the Top 30 of the Kent Music Report for Australian albums. The album eventually went gold (selling over 35,000 units) but it took a number of years to do so.
These early records demonstrated their new wave/ska/pop style, and were followed by near constant touring with almost 300 shows during 1981 as the band developed their status as a live act. In 1981, they signed Gary Grant as their tour manager, who then became co-manager a year later. Between touring commitments, the band released their third single in May 1981, “The Loved One“, which was a cover of a 1966 song by Australian group The Loved Ones. The song was recorded at Studios 301 in Sydney, produced by Richard Clapton, and peaked in the Top 20.
The success of the single led to Clapton and the band returning to Studios 301 between July and August 1981 to create an album. In October 1981, their second album Underneath the Colours was released and became a hit in Australia peaking at No. 15.
Soon after recording sessions had finished, band members started work on outside projects. Beers, Jon and Andrew Farriss played on Clapton’s solo album, The Great Escape. Hutchence recorded “Speed Kills”, written by Don Walker of Cold Chisel for the soundtrack of the film Freedom directed by Scott Hicks. It was his first solo single and was released by WEA in early 1982. In January, INXS toured New Zealand as support act for Cold Chisel. Band manager, Murphy, became convinced their future no longer lay with Deluxe Records. RCA (who distributed Deluxe) had employed music lover Rockin Rod Woods, who had been promoting Eric Clapton, Split Enz and some of the worlds biggest acts.
Woods was passionate about the band and brought key music people along to their gigs. He encouraged RCA to sign them worldwide because Murphy had played him some demos. Deluxe had been unable to attract international interest, and decided to record a new song, “The One Thing” at their own expense, with Mark Opitz at Paradise Studios. The song turned out so well that Murphy hired Opitz to produce three more songs. Murphy approached WEA Australia with copies of the song, leading to INXS signing a recording deal in July 1982 with WEA for releases in Australia, South East Asia, Japan and New Zealand, Atco Records (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records) for North America and Polygram for Europe and the UK.
Murphy and the band were not entirely convinced that Opitz could produce an entire album that would attract international interest, so prior to recording their third album Pengilly, Hutchence and Andrew Farriss visited the UK and USA, with a view to selecting a suitable producer, only to find that no one they wanted was available and that most people advised them that Opitz’s work on their single was as good as they could wish for.
In mid-1982, they began recording at Rhinoceros Studios, with Opitz. In October 1982, Shabooh Shoobah was released internationally on Atlantic/Atco Records, peaking at No. 52 on the US Billboard 200 and No. 46 on the Hot Pop Albums chart. In Australia it peaked at No. 5 and remained in the albums charts for 94 weeks. The single “The One Thing” brought them their first Top 30 hit in United States peaking at No. 30 on 28 May 1983, it was a Top 20 hit in Canada, and peaked at No. 14 in Australia on 23 August 1982. “One Thing” was their first video to air on the fledgling MTV and significantly added to the ultimate success of the single.
INXS undertook their first US performance in San Diego in March 1983, to a crowd of 24 patrons. Their first tour was as support for Adam and the Ants, then support for Stray Cats, The Kinks, Hall & Oates followed by The Go-Go’s. INXS played alongside many of their contemporaries on New Wave Day in May 1983, at the US Festival in Devore, California. It was during this time that Grant, their co-manager, relocated permanently to New York to ensure a continual presence in the northern hemisphere. The band remained on the road in the US for most of the year, including support for Men at Work and by mid-1983 were headlining venues such as The Ritz in New York.
INXS started out as a new wave act, but gradually moved in a more straight-ahead rock-oriented direction through the first half of the 1980s.
Following a performance in Toronto, Canada, the band was approached by producer Nile Rodgers; by September 1983, the band had recorded “Original Sin” (originally entitled “Brand New Day”) at New York’s Power Station Studios. Three tracks from Shabooh Shoobah were featured in the soundtrack for the 1984 film Reckless. The band then travelled to the UK to begin sessions on their fourth album with Nick Launay at the Manor Studios in Oxford.
The album The Swing, released in April 1984, received significant attention from around the world, as “Original Sin” became the band’s first No. 1 single in Australia and was popular worldwide with fans and reviewers. During 1984, the single reached no. 1 in Australia (for two weeks in January), Argentina, and France; No. 6 in New Zealand; No. 11 in Canada; No. 23 in Switzerland; No. 31 in the Netherlands; and No. 58 in the U.S. Yet “Original Sin” was largely ignored in the U.K., where INXS was described in New Musical Express as a “depressingly definitive example of excruciating, boring, incredibly unimaginative MTV rock”; INXS did not have any Top 50 chart success in the United Kingdom until the 1985 album Listen Like Thieves.
During 1984, INXS toured non-stop, performing across Europe, the UK, the US and Australia. By December 1984, The Swing had gone double platinum, making it one of the five biggest domestic albums in the history of Australian music at the time.
In March 1985, the band re-entered Sydney’s Rhinoceros Studios to record their next album, together with producer Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols, Pink Floyd, The Pretenders, Elton John). As the band was finishing the recording sessions, Thomas stated that the album was not good enough and still had no “killer” track. Andrew produced a demo tape of a funk song he had been working on called “Funk Song No. 13” and evolved it into “What You Need“.
On 19 May 1985, INXS won seven awards at the 1984 Countdown Music and Video Awards ceremony. They performed “Burn for You“, dressed in Akubras (hats) and Drizabones (outdoor coats/oilskin jackets). The band performed five songs for the July 1985 Oz for Africa concert, in conjunction with the Live Aid benefit. Two INXS songs, “What You Need” and “Don’t Change“, were also in the BBC broadcast and are contained on Live Aid’s four DVD boxed set released in 2004.
Listen Like Thieves was released in October 1985 to critical approval, reaching No. 3 on the Australian charts and No. 11 on the US charts. With the release of Listen Like Thieves, the band developed a rock sound influenced by Led Zeppelin and XTC while remaining true to the band’s original roots in Aussie pubs. It was also the first album to feature songs written by a combination of band members, with Andrew Farris and Hutchence becoming the primary songwriters in the years to follow. The first U.S. single from the album, “This Time“, stalled at No. 81 in late 1985, but the next single, “What You Need”—released there in early 1986—became a top five Billboard hit, bringing INXS its first break-out US success. The single was also a top 20 hit in Canada and reached No. 2 in Australia (September 1985), but only reached No. 51 on the UK charts. The British press dismissed the album, with New Musical Express calling the band ‘INX-cusable’ and a reviewer declaring Listen Like Thieves to be a ‘complete and utter turkey’. In the United States, however, Rolling Stone wrote: “INXS rocks with passion and seals the deal with a backbeat that’ll blackmail your feet.”
In August 1985, INXS toured ahead of the release of Listen Like Thieves, touring South America before returning to Melbourne to play for Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Wales at a concert. The concert was filmed and later released on a home video entitled Living INXS; an edited version of the concert was played on MTV in the U.S. in 1985 on its Saturday night concert series. In November, December, January, and February, INXS toured North America, Europe, and New Zealand. The band then took a two-month break, with Andrew Farriss writing and producing “You’re Gonna Get Hurt” for Jenny Morris (who had previously been a backing vocalist with the band), and Hutchence featuring in Richard Lowenstein‘s second feature film Dogs in Space. Lowenstein had previously made the video clip for “Dancing on the Jetty”. Whilst a song from the movie, “Rooms for the Memory”, written by Ollie Olsen, with vocals by Hutchence charted, the movie was received well by critics but was not a commercial success. Beginning in May 1986, the band performed 32 European shows (including support for Queen at their Live at Wembley ’86 concert on 12 July), 42 U.S. shows, and 12 Australian shows. America’s influential Musician magazine called INXS “the best live band in the world.”
Whilst on an eight-month break before beginning work on a new album, their manager Murphy decided to stage a series of major outdoor concerts across Australia, featuring INXS, Jimmy Barnes, Models, Divinyls, Mental as Anything, The Triffids and I’m Talking. To promote the tour INXS recorded two songs with Jimmy Barnes of Cold Chisel: The Easybeats cover “Good Times” and “Laying Down the Law” which Barnes co-wrote with Beers, Andrew Farriss, Jon Farriss, Hutchence and Pengilly. “Good Times” was used as the theme song for the Australian Made series of concerts in the summer of 1986–1987.
It peaked at No. 2 on the Australian charts, and months later was featured in the Joel Schumacher film The Lost Boys and its soundtrack, allowing it to peak at No. 47 in the US on 1 August 1987. After the success of “What You Need” and Listen Like Thieves, the band knew their new material would have to be even better and wanted every song on the album to be good enough to be a single. They recorded Kick in Sydney and Paris, and it was produced by Chris Thomas. Atlantic Records was not happy with the result; the label offered the band $1 million to go back to Australia and record another album, but the band declined.
Despite Atlantic’s protests, Kick was released in October 1987 and provided the band with worldwide popularity. The album peaked at No. 1 in Australia, No. 3 on the US Billboard 200, No. 9 in UK and No. 15 in Austria. It was an upbeat, confident album that yielded four Top 10 US singles: No. 1 single “Need You Tonight“, “Devil Inside“, “New Sensation“, and “Never Tear Us Apart“. “Need You Tonight” peaked No. 2 on the UK charts, No. 3 in Australia, and No. 10 in France.
The band toured heavily behind the album throughout 1987 and 1988. The video for the 1987 INXS track “Mediate” (which played after the video for “Need You Tonight”) replicated the format of Bob Dylan’s video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues“, even in its use of apparently deliberate errors. In September 1988, the band swept the MTV Video Music Awards with the video for “Need You Tonight/Mediate” winning in 5 categories. Kick was, by far, INXS’s best-selling album of all time.
During 1989, Hutchence collaborated with Ian “Ollie” Olsen on a side project, Max Q, the two had previously worked together on Lowenstein’s film Dogs in Space. The rest of the band also took a break to work on side projects, but soon returned to the studio to record their follow-up album to Kick.
On 22 November 1997, Michael Hutchence was found dead in his Sydney Ritz-Carlton hotel room. On 6 February 1998, New South Wales State Coroner Derrick Hand presented his report, which ruled that Hutchence’s death was a suicide while depressed and under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Despite the official coroner’s report, there was continued speculation that Hutchence’s death was accidental.
80s Studio albums
- INXS (1980)
- Underneath the Colours (1981)
- Shabooh Shoobah (1982)
- The Swing (1984)
- Listen Like Thieves (1985)
- Kick (1987)