“I just feel that I’m getting better,” James Reyne says. “I’m a better singer and a better songwriter.”

“I just feel that I’m getting better,” James Reyne says. “I’m a better singer and a better songwriter.”

It’s a simple statement, but also remarkable – considering that this is an artist who has sold more than two million albums and written some of the most memorable Australian songs of all time.

For more than four decades, James Reyne’s songs have provided the soundtrack to endless Australian summers, including ‘The Boys Light Up’, ‘Reckless’, ‘Beautiful People’, ‘Lakeside’, ‘Daughters Of The Northern Coast’, ‘Fall Of Rome’, ‘Hammerhead’, ‘Motor’s Too Fast’ and ‘Slave’.

James has been a part of our lives since making an unforgettable debut on Countdown in 1979, with both arms in plaster (the result of being hit by a car, crossing Swanston Street in Melbourne).

“Lucky for the Australian music industry that James Reyne chose to strut through its door in 1979,” Wendy Milson and Helen Thomas wrote in their 1986 book Pay To Play. “His was exactly the profile … an injection of chutzpah to recharge a listless business burdened with hard-to-market punk acts.”

In her 1992 book Your Name’s On The Door, Tracee Hutchison noted that Australian Crawl “boldly explored an ‘Australian-ness’ that was unique at the time and which broke a lot of ground in the development of an Australian ‘sound’.”

James was a member of Australian Crawl for seven years, releasing four studio albums in five frenetic years in the ’80s. 

He’s been a solo artist for more than 30 years, releasing 12 studio albums, plus four live albums. 

Fun fact: Australian Crawl had just one Top 10 single (1983’s chart-topping ‘Reckless’ from the Semantics EP), whereas James has had five Top 10 solo hits. 

Overall, James has had 19 Top 40 singles (seven with Australian Crawl, nine solo, and three as part of Company of Strangers) and 11 Top 10 albums. Australian Crawl sold more than one million albums in Australia, placing six albums in the Top 5, including 11 weeks at number one. 

Thirty years after it was released, Australian Crawl’s debut album, The Boys Light Up, was featured in The 100 Best Australian Albums. “Australian Crawl would never have gone much beyond their living rooms on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula,” the authors stated, “had it not been for singer/songwriter James Reyne … a keen observer of human nature and a man with a vitriolic wit.”

“A master of irony,” Debbie Kruger called James in her book Songwriters Speak.

James’ songs have been covered by Paul Kelly and John Farnham, while his distinctive diction has also attracted attention. Semantics producer Mark Opitz says: “No one else sings like James Reyne. He is unique, and you don’t want to lose that.” While critic Ed Nimmervoll noted that it’s a voice “as familiar to us as the taste of Vegemite, as essentially Australian”.

Author Craig Mathieson wrote about the enduring appeal of ‘Reckless’ in his 2009 book Playlisted, calling it “as haunted and impervious an Australian classic as you will ever hear”. In 2016, American artist Ryan Adams tweeted a link to ‘Reckless’ and exclaimed, “HOLY CRAP – consider me obsessed.”

But James has never worried much about accolades or awards. His most treasured musical possession is not a Countdown Award or a platinum album; it’s a photo with John Lee Hooker (the blues legend and James were both signed to the same US label in the ’90s).

And James knows that playing live makes everything else worthwhile. Post-Covid, he continues to do nearly 200 gigs every year. “I realise how lucky I am to have such a solid fan base and people who are very supportive of me,” he says.

His powerful live show and masterful songwriting has earned James the respect of his peers. “I think James is one of Australia’s best, if not the world’s,” says Vika Bull. “He’s just a brilliant writer. He can still sing great, and his band still rocks.”

“There’s a really strong sense of character in James,” adds Mark Seymour. “He’s got a very powerful character that he can’t help – it just comes out of him. And, to me, that’s a real mark of honesty and truthfulness.”

2020 saw the release of James’ 12th solo studio album, Toon Town Lullaby, as well as the 40th anniversary of Australian Crawl’s landmark debut album, The Boys Light Up.

Put simply, James Reyne is a legend of Australian music. But he continues to do things his own way.

As the Rolling Stone editors explained in 1985’s The Big Australian Rock Book, “Australian Crawl has become a major fixture of the Australian music industry without ever really becoming a part of it.”

More than four decades after his first release, James remains defiant. “I’m still tilting at those windmills,” he sings on Toon Town Lullaby, “and shouting at the rain.” 

“James is his own worst enemy,” younger brother David believes, “and I’m proud of him for that. He’s unbelievably uncompromising, and all that matters to him is recording, writing and performing.”

Any day above ground is a good day,” James observed on his third solo album. And every day, he is scavenging, foraging, searching, observing … confident that the next song he writes will be his best.