Cold Chisel: lyrics any copywriter can learn from

November 9, 2006 •

You may have noticed in the About page for this blog that I threatened to occasionally chat about the lighter side of writing. Well, given the dry nature of my recent SEO copy posts, I’ve decided that the time has come to carry out my threat!

So I’m gonna talk about the lyrics of perhaps Australia’s greatest pub rock band, Cold Chisel.

Anyone who’s heard Jimmy Barnes sing/scream might instantly ask, “what’s that got to do with copywriting?” Many would also ask, “why discuss the lyrics of a screaming pub-rock band?”

My answer? Cold Chisel’s songwriters – particularly Don Walker and Ian Moss – were excellent writers; I wish I were half as good! And they’d have made awesome copywriters.

The very fact that you might question my choice shows how good they are; Cold Chisel enjoy the status of one of Australia’s greatest ever pub rock bands, but most people – even fans – overlook the quality of their lyrics. That’s because the lyrics do their job so well. They’re elegant without being pretentious, and evocative without being ‘soft’. They meet the needs of their audience perfectly. (And isn’t that what every writer aspires to?)

Take, for example, “Bow River” (the song that inspired me to write about Cold Chisel today). Penned by Ian Moss, Bow River celebrates an escape to the Australian desert and the northern tropics.

But what’s important about this song isn’t so much the destination – although many Australians do identify with the Australian outback; it’s the way in which Moss strikes a chord with the Australian working class. He successfully combines youthful romanticism, profanity, escapism, contempt for authority, slang, and visual, aural and tactile imagery. The result is an elegant piece of writing that captivates its target working class audience, yet still lends itself to fast-paced, raucous vocals and a hard rock arrangement.

Take a look at the lyrics below (quoted from the Cold Chisel website). Of course, as with all good song lyrics, you have to hear them in context to fully appreciate their inherent meter and timing, so whether it’s your first time or – like me – you’re revisiting after a long absence, it’s well worth a listen…

Bow River
Ian Moss

Listen now to the wind babe
Listen now to the rain
Feel that water lickin’ at my feet again
I don’t wanna see this town no more
Wastin’ my days on a factory floor
First thing you know I’ll be back in Bow River again

Anytime you want babe, you can come around
But only six days separates me and the great top end
I been working hard, twelve hours a day
And the money I saved won’t buy my youth again
Goin’ for the heat babe, and a tropical rain
In a place where no man’s puttin’ on the dog for me
Waitin’ on the weekend, set o’ brand new tyres
And back in Bow River’s just where I want to be

Listen now to the wind babe
Listen now to the rain
Feel that water lickin’ at my feet again
I don’t wanna see this town no more
Too many years made up my mind to go or stay
Right to my dying day
I don’t wanna see another engine line
Too many years and I owe my mind
First set o’ wheels headin’ back Bow River again
First thing you know I’ll be back in Bow River again

Got the motor runnin’, got the rest of my days
Sold everything I owned for a song
So anytime you want babe, you can come around
But don’t leave it too late you just might find me gone

Listen now to the wind babe . . .

I don’t need the score
I’m goin’ through the door
Gonna tell the man I don’t want no more
Pick up a fast car and burn my name in the road
One week two week maybe even more
Piss all my money up against the damn wall
First thing you know I’ll be back in Bow River again

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Odessa wrote on November 21st, 2006

Absolutely, thoroughly agree with you. When my Dad got a job in Queensland and I didn't want to leave Melbourne, he played me this song (him being a huge Chisel fan) and suddenly I understood why he had to go, and why I was going to go with him. I knew I could come back to my Bow River, just as he was going back to his. I don't know if Bow River is a real place, but I do know that it's sort of like a mythological place - everyone has a Bow River, but most people don't know they have a Bow River until they hear this song.

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on November 29th, 2006

Hi Odessa. Thanks for your comment. Apparently Bow River is an actual place and Ian Moss never actually went there. I read that his brother used to live or work there. I think you're right, though. Everyone has their own Bow River, and that's one of the things that makes the song so universal.

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Divine Write Copywriting Blog : Blog Archive : Songwriting that connects – What lyrics can copywriters learn from? wrote on December 1st, 2008

[...] A while back, I discussed how effectively the lyrics of Cold Chisel’s ‘Bow River’ captivate the band’s target audience. And how we copywriters could learn a thing or two from Ian Moss. Today, I’d like your opinions. [...]

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Divine Write Copywriting Blog» Blog Archive » Songwriting that connects – What lyrics can copywriters learn from? wrote on December 18th, 2008

[...] while back, I discussed how effectively the lyrics of Cold Chisel’s ‘Bow River’ captivate the band’s target audience. And how we copywriters could learn a thing or two from Ian Moss. [...]

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unconfoupet wrote on July 8th, 2010

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Leonie Shephard wrote on July 13th, 2010

Hi Glenn, My partner and I are in week 24 of 52 that we are spending traveling around Aus, and were recently in Bow River on the south coast of WA. I have been singing this song in my head ever since and was sure that that Bow River was the one from the chisels song. I decided today to google it to see if i was right and now i am not so sure since finding out that there are 2 Bows in WA. I guess when i see the other one I may be more able to decide since i will never be able to ask Ian. I'm glad I stumbled over your site and will check it out again I'm sure. Thanks for the insight. *L*

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The Ox wrote on February 16th, 2011

I have always loved this song, but only recently sat down and listened tithe words. Suddenly the meaning changed from a bloke heading back to his youth, to his dying words. "first thing you know I'll be back in Bow River". When this meanig hit me, I was struck in the heart, reminding me of my own grandparents in their dying days. The song changed from being a hard rock, raucous song to something very personal. You are absolutley correct in saying that Ian moss is one of the great writers of our era. So profoundly good that most of his listeners don't even notice. CHISEL ... You. Are the best.

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on February 16th, 2011

Wow! Have to admit, I'd never read it that way, but it's a very powerful way to read it. I'm gonna have to revisit it now. Very nice!

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Songwriting that connects – Lyrics copywriters can learn from wrote on April 22nd, 2015

[…] while back, I discussed how effectively the lyrics of Cold Chisel’s ‘Bow River’ captivate the band’s target audience. And how we copywriters could learn a thing or two from Ian Moss. […]

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Andrew Cameron wrote on August 21st, 2017

Bow River flows through Lissadell Station and into Lake Argyle. If you ever get the chance to visit the area, then you'll understand what the lyrics are about (especially if you have worked on a factory floor!). Absolutely beautiful country.

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Tracy wrote on October 30th, 2018

Saw the sign for bow river..didn't make it there though...wish I had. THE best song by chisel!

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 31st, 2018

Argh! That's a shame! Although, I've never been there myself, either, so maybe it's not a shame! :-P (And yep, best Chisel song IMHO.)

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