"Cattle and Cane" is a song by the Australian alternative rock band The Go-Betweens, released as the first single from their second album Before Hollywood. It was released as a single in the United Kingdom by Rough Trade Records in February 1983 and reached #4 on the UK Independent Chart. The single and album were both released in Australia on Stunn, a small label allied with EMI. The Stunn pressings were of poor quality and their distribution limited.
Vocalist and bass guitarist, Grant McLennan, wrote the lyrics for his mother as an autobiographical description of his return home to a Queensland farm when a boy. He used Nick Cave's acoustic guitar while staying at Cave's London apartment. Vocalist and guitarist, Robert Forster co-wrote the song. Drummer Lindy Morrison also supplied backing vocals. The single and album both failed to appear on the relevant Australian Kent Music Report Top 50 charts. In May 2001 "Cattle and Cane" was selected by Australasian Performing Right Association(APRA) as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.
"Cattle and Cane" was recorded by Australian rock band The Go-Betweens in October 1982 at I.C.C. Studios in Eastbourne, United Kingdom with John Brand producing. Formed in Brisbane in 1977, the band signed with Missing Link Records in 1981 with the line-up of Robert Forster on vocals, lead guitar and rhythm guitar; Grant McLennan on vocals, bass guitar and guitars; andLindy Morrison on drums and backing vocals. Their debut album, Send Me a Lullaby, was released as an eight-track in Australia in November. It was expanded with four bonus tracks when released in UK on Rough Trade Records in February 1982.
The Go-Betweens released, "Cattle and Cane" in late February 1983, ahead of their second album, Before Hollywood which appeared in May. The single and album were both released in Australia on Stunn, a small label allied with EMI. The Stunn pressings were of poor quality and their distribution limited. The B-side on the Stunn recordings was "Man O'Sand to Girl O'Sea" with newly joined bass guitarist Robert Vickers on board, which freed McLennan for lead guitar work. The group recorded a video for the single in May, six weeks after its UK release. It was filmed in an antique shop in Fulham, with Vickers miming playing the bass guitar, in order to portray group solidarity, even though he didn't play on the actual recording.
"Cattle and Cane" is an autobiographical story of McLennan as a schoolboy embarked on a journey home, evoking memories of a "house of tin and timber", the train edging him closer to the past "through fields of cattle, through fields of cane". McLennan wrote it while using Nick Cave's acoustic guitar in Cave's London apartment, in 1982, whilst Cave was comatose due to substance use.
In 1983, McLennan described writing the song:
I wrote (the song) to please my mother. She hasn't heard it yet because my mother and stepfather live (on a cattle station) and they can't get 240 volts electricity there, so I have to sing it over the phone to her [...] I don't like the word nostalgic; to me, it's a sloppy yearning for the past, and I'm not trying to do that in that song. I'm just trying to put three vignettes of a person, who's a lot like myself, growing up in Queensland, and just juxtaposing that against how I am now.
"Cattle and Cane" reached No. 4 on the UK Independent Charts in 1983. The single and album both failed to appear on the relevant Australian Kent Music Report Top 50 charts. However, "Cattle and Cane"'s popularity saw it reach No. 96 on Australian radio station, Triple J's Hottest 100 in 1991 and was selected by NME writers in their '100 Best Indie Singles Ever' in 1992.
Arguably the band's absolute highlight of its earliest years and one of the early-'80s' utter classics, the combination of McLennan's nostalgia-laden but not soppy lyric, his flat-out lovely singing and overdubbed backing vocals, and the catchy, beautifully elegant acoustic/electric arrangement is simply to die for.
Fellow Australian musician, Paul Kelly recalled hearing the song for the first time while driving in Melbourne:
My skin started tingling, and I had to pull over ... [it] had an odd, jerky time signature which acted as a little trip-switch into another world – weird and heavenly and deeply familiar all at once ... I could smell that song ... What planet was this from? When did The Stranglers go to northern Queensland and get all arty?
(While there is no consensus among musicians on the exact nature of the time signature, most of "Cattle and Cane" appears to be a recurring pattern of three bars in 4/4, 2/4 and 5/4 time.)
The Go-Betweens members
- Robert Forster – vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar
- Grant McLennan – vocals, bass guitar, guitars
- Lindy Morrison – drums, backing vocals
- Robert Vickers – bass guitar on "Man O'Sand to Girl O'Sea"
- Producer – John Brand
- Engineer – John Brand, Tony Cohen
- Mastering – Ian Cooper
- Tape transfer – Ingo Vauk
- Studio – I.C.C. Studios, Eastbourne, England
|7" single||UK||Rough Trade||RT 124||February 1983|
|7" single||AUS||Rough Trade||RTANZ 007
|7" single||AUS||Stunn||BFA 952||1983|