“It was really unexpected. It was just the first song I wrote for the ‘difficult second album’,” he laughs.
The song was created as part of an “incredible explosion” of musical technology at the end of the 1970s, when Iva Davies accidentally happened to be part of a series of firsts.
Great Southern Land was written on a Prophet-5 synthesiser, Davies said.
“It was one of the first synthesisers where you could play more than one note at a time. Flowers (Davies’ band before Icehouse) had a mini-Moog where we could play one note at a time,” he said.
“The Prophet-5 was revolutionary because it meant you could play a five-note chord and Great Southern Land was built on me – and my clumsy keyboard technique – and developed through some happy accidents.
“It was deliberately fragmented lyrically because I knew I couldn’t sum up Australia in four minutes so I elected to use the cut-up lyrics method that (author) William Burroughs championed.
“Then I picked out those three-word phrases or capsules that I thought were loaded with multiple meanings and that was my main driver in writing the lyrics.”
American beat writer Burroughs – most famous for his 1959 novel Naked Lunch – pioneered a literary technique where a writer would write out phrases, cut them out and then reassemble them to explore new possibilities of meaning and expression.
Davies’ second choice is Man of Colours, the autobiographical fourth single from the album of the same name released in September 1987.
He recalled that all the other songs on that album were torturously hard to write without feeling he was repeating himself.
“But Man of Colours just fell into my lap,” he said.
He said he was still wearing a dressing gown in a Sydney two-bedroom flat waiting for his songwriting partner at the time (guitarist Robert Kretschmer) to arrive from Melbourne.
“While he was still in the shower, the idea came to me,” he said.
“It was as if it existed in a parallel universe. It was as if a wormhole opened and it just arrived complete in my lap.”
It was influenced by his relationship with a woman he was engaged to marry at the time – as were most of the songs on Icehouse, Primitive Man, Measure for Measure and Man of Colours.
“She was, in hindsight, my muse,” Davies said.
“And throughout that whole period she was probably completely unaware that she had anything to do with my songs and yet in almost all of them, she was kind of the starting place.”
The third song he nominates is the slightly lesser known single Don’t Believe Anymore, from their 1984 album, Sidewalk, which included Joe Camilleri’s haunting saxophone solo.
“It is the song over which I have had the most correspondence over any song I have written,” Davies said.
“The conversations generally go along the lines that ‘I was 16 years old when I first heard this song’, or ‘my father was sexually abusing me’, or ‘I was having suicidal thoughts and when I heard your song it made me believe that someone else in the world was as unhappy as I am’.
“And ‘that song saved my life’.”
The song was later used by the Salvation Army as it tried to tackle youth suicide rates in regional Australia. Davies said he explained the song’s impact in the New South Wales Parliament.
“What I said was that, on a number of occasions in my life, people who contacted me had pretty much said to me that song Don’t Believe Anymore had saved their life.
“What I told the the Parliament was that thread can be as fine as just a song.”
Icehouse performs at the Nine Telethon concert at Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall on November 16 with Sheppard and ARC. Tickets can be purchased here.
Tony Moore is a senior reporter at the Brisbane Times