Weekend Rewind: The songs of Westside

By Nicky Harrop

It shares its name with one of the most famous musicals of all time (Westside Story), and TV3’s new season of Westside has its own selection of great music. NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop highlights some of the Kiwi classics featured on the show.
A scene from season two of Westside.
A scene from season two of Westside.

The new series of Westside is soundtracked by some fantastic local tunes, helping in a big way to recreate the show's setting, during the tumultuous times of 1981 New Zealand.

Pre-1981, the term 'riot squad' wasn't exactly in common usage in NZ. All that changed with the July arrival of the hugely controversial Springbok rugby tour. Police and protesters clashed throughout the country, as the Springboks moved from game to game. The unrest also gave rise to a hit for Auckland band The Newmatics. Written in 1980, their single Riot Squad had been penned in response to a police raid on a local punk venue, but was quickly adopted as a tour anthem.

Watch the video for The Newmatics Riot Squad here:



1981 also saw the debut album release from Herbs, the politically charged What's Be Happen? Single Azania (Soon Come) brilliantly captured the tensions of the time - an impassioned anti-apartheid song written for the band by law student Ross France. Lyrics name-checked Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, and the chant "Angola! Mozambique! Zimbabwe! Azania!" was quickly incorporated into anti-tour protest marches.

See Herbs performing Azania here:



Mining somewhat different lyrical content, Th' Dudes were also riding high with their final single Bliss. With a chorus to do any rugby terrace proud, the legendary Kiwi drinking song was in fact conceived in Sydney, a tongue-in-cheek ode to the hard-drinking pub crowds the band encountered there.

Watch the video for Bliss here:



Many Kiwi males of 'a certain age' still harbour fond memories of Sharon O'Neill's Asian Paradise music video. While the song spoke of romance in foreign climes, the video conjured some great 1980s exoticism courtesy of footage of O'Neill in a spa pool (wonderfully date-stamped by her singular shark tooth earring).

Watch the video for Asian Paradise here:



With an all-star lineup - including singer Jenny Morris, guitarist Fane Flaws, and Bruno Lawrence on drums - The Crocodiles scored a big early 80s hit with Tears. A Top 20 chart placing was followed by a win of the prestigious APRA Silver Scroll award. Sadly the band dissolved soon after.

See the video for Tears here:



The Androidss' Auckland Tonight has become a time-honoured Kiwi punk classic, yet it started its life as a B-side to the (Christchurch) band's only single. Extolling the virtues of a night on the town, with mentions of Proud Scum and Toy Love playing at the Windsor Castle, it's a perfectly preserved time capsule of a 1981 good time.

Watch the video for Auckland Tonight here:



Anchoring Westside's soundtrack is series theme tune Watch Your Back, taken from Hello Sailor's debut album. This Ready to Roll performance sees Graham Brazier and band talking tough about danger on the streets, and "nights like a razor blade" - a perfect fit for Westside's crime gang terrain.

See Hello Sailor perform Watch Your Back here:

Watch Your Back

You can see more songs from Westside here, in NZ On Screen's Spotlight collection.

- NZ Herald

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