Five of the Best: Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly is one of Australia’s best singer/song writers. More than a singer, he is a storyteller and his live performances must be seen to be believed.

Everyone must see Paul Kelly live at least once in their lifetime. To celebrate the music of this incredible performer, we have chosen him to feature in this edition of Five of the Best. Such was the admiration – not to mention back catalogue – for Kelly, we considered changing this edition to 10 of the Best, but we have stuck to the rules and narrowed it down to just five. We hope you enjoy the list.

5. Leaps and Bounds

Leaps and Bounds was written by Paul Kelly and Chris Langman when they lived together in a small South Yarra house between 1977 and 1978. The fact that it was written in inner-city Melbourne should not be a surprise given the references to being high in the hill, the MCG and the clock on the Nylex sign. While the song was written a long time earlier, Kelly did not release it until 1987 after hearing it on a cassette tape after he and Langman went their separate ways. They continued to work on the song together until it sounded a little like this…

Paul Kelly - Leaps And Bounds

4. They Thought I Was Asleep

If you are anything like the people in the Ticketmaster office, the story in They Thought I Was Asleep will mesmerise you, but also leave you wanting to know just what Paul Kelly is singing about. Melodic and beautiful, the songs is also heart wrenching and emotional. It tells the story of a child who overhears his mother and father talking and crying while they think he is asleep in the back of the family car. They Thought I Was Asleep was included on Sounds of the South Volume 2 and was released in 2005. We think is it Paul Kelly at his absolute singing, song writing and storytelling best – we hope you agree. 

Paul Kelly - They Thought I was Asleep (Live)

3. When I First Met Your Ma

Yet another song from Paul Kelly that tells a story – however this one is a true story, written by Kelly for his son Declan who was born in 1980. It is a song written by a father for his son and it is about the child’s mother, Hilary Brown. Kelly and Brown separated in 1984. When I First Met Your Ma was featured on the 1992 album, Hidden Things, and remains one of Kelly’s best-loved songs. We hope you agree.

Paul Kelly - When I First Met Your Ma (Live)

2. To Her Door

To Her Door was the first single released by Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls (later changed to Paul Kelly and the Messengers) and appeared on the 1987 album Under the Sun. The song describes young love gone wrong but also ends on a hopeful note of reconciliation. As with many of Kelly’s songs, To Her Door tells a story, which gives it an intimate tone. It is emotional yet beautiful and the song is filled with local references such as the ‘Buttery’, a Sydney rehab clinic, Silver Top, the taxi company and Olympic, a bus company.

Paul Kelly - To Her Door (Live)

1. How to Make Gravy

How to Make Gravy was released in 1996 and was nominated for Song of the Year at the ARIAs and the APRA music awards. A non-traditional Christmas ballad, How to Make Gravy is about a man in prison, Joe, who writes to his brother lamenting the fact he will not be home for Christmas. In the letter he includes his gravy recipe – which was a genuine recipe Kelly got from his first father-in-law. Kelly was asked to perform a song for a Christmas album and chose to write How to Make Gravy instead of covering an existing Christmas Carol. The song – like so many of Kelly’s – is descriptive and emotive and is a definite favourite of ours.

Paul Kelly - How To Make Gravy

Paul Kelly will perform the Merri Soul Sessions at the Powerstation on April 12. Click here to purchase tickets.