Australian Anthems: Throw Your Arms Around Me
An article reflecting on the greatness of the song Throw Your Arms Around Me.
Author: Brigid Delaney, The Guardian.
Date: 25 February 2014.
Both a booty call and a memento mori, played at weddings and funerals, fewer songs have a greater claim to being Australia’s secular hymn
Loaded with sexual intent: Hunters and Collectors.
Throw Your Arms Around Me – released as a single in 1984 – was one of the most popular songs in Australia for many years. Performed by Hunters and Collectors, it was voted in the top five on the Triple J Hottest 100 in 1989, 1990 and 1991 (before the chart changed from a “best ever” to a “best of the previous year”). It came second in Triple J’s Hottest 100 of all Time in 1998, and has been covered several times, notably by Crowded House and Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder described it recently as the song he sings around the campfire.
The song came from the Melbourne band’s excellent album Human Frailty. Singer and lyricist Mark Seymour said: “I was in a relationship with a woman I was very much in love with and she was the inspiration. I wrote virtually all the lyrics on Human Frailty about my relationship with her […] Throw Your Arms Around Me was the first song I wrote that wasn’t angry.”
It starts almost as a growl, loaded with sexual intent – “I will come to you at night time”. Then there is a plea for contact, for connection – “For we shall never meet again/So shed your skin and let’s get started” – but as the song swells to its final exultant chorus you realise the song is about more than sex.
For me, the words delivered in Seymour’s urgent vocals have always connected with the most open, most tender part of drunkenness, grief, or euphoria. The song’s subtext is that life is short, our time here brief.
We could take refuge in Larkin:
In time the curtain-edges will grow light
Till then I see what’s really always there
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now
But I prefer lyricist Seymour’s less melancholy, more sensual response to our brief transit time. Our mortality is an opportunity to be seized – to get closer to each other, to connect, to fuck.
The lyrics cut through something – the resistance to shedding our skins in order to reveal ourselves, to be vulnerable, to grasp something fleeting, even if it is just the sexual or fraternal pressing of another warm body against ours. Because isn’t this the deep subterranean truth, that all we have that’s meaningful in this life is each other?
The lines in this song are so universal and authentic that it is played at both weddings and funerals. How few songs sound utterly appropriate at both? Maybe Ave Maria or Amazing Grace, but rock’n’roll that sounds right for both the coffin and the bridal train is a rare beast.
There is nothing that comes closer to Australia’s secular hymn (but also an enticing booty call) than this song.
Maybe Throw Your Arms around me fits so well at life’s milestones is because this song takes us to the edge of life – and of course at this edge is where energy and life force and the realisation of the whole shebang’s frivolity burns and flares together. You dance on the edge but you do not dance alone.
Even when Throw Your Arms Around Me is played at the pub, it breaks through the solipsism inherent in the way Australians dance together; in the group, circle dancing. This is how I’ve done it – all of us facing each other, jiggling feet to the beat, waving our arms a bit, piles of handbags on the ground. Together, alone.
But then the song comes on, and it barely takes a bar before we’re all moving as one entity. You know what comes next … you’ve done it before on the best nights. You move closer and take the song literally. You’re all howling the words, because you know them by heart, and you’re armpit to shoulderbone, the song is a trigger for love, surges of it that feel so powerful and real. So many times in the pubs of my country town, I’ve screamed into the next ear – “I love you man,” while listening to this song, and meant it.
It works well, that song – when you are together, encircled.