Even if they never really got the recognition they deserved, the Australian Go-Betweens are simply one of the best rock groups of all time. As their fans know, they recorded many great songs during their career but the reason why I keep returning to “Was There Anything I Could Do?” so very often is because it’s not just one their best songs; it’s one of the best pop/rock tracks out there - and what’s more, it’s timeless.
What fascinates me about the Go-Betweens is that their songs are mostly what the great John Lennon once labeled as “me music.” For the most part, their songs do not include imagined stories, social commentary or political views. Rather, they deal with their author’s real-life experiences. Says Grant McLennan in an interview published in the Skyscraper Magazine in 2004:
I don’t sit down and say I am going to write a song about what it’s like in Baghdad at the moment. Maybe I should. But I’ve never been to Baghdad. I don’t have any friends in Baghdad. So I would feel phony doing it.
Sonically, the interesting thing about “Was There Anything I Could Do?” is that it actually sounds like something Dylan could have recorded in the 1970s. In fact, it could have easily been on Bob’s 1976 album "Desire". The only difference is that the Go-Betweens did not record this track in a hurry. In addition, to these ears at least, Grant McLennan is a considerably better singer than Dylan. The Go-Between’s performance on this track is tight, flawless and filled with energy. It’s one of those songs with an incredible melody and a mood that just captures you and doesn’t let you go until the last second of the fadeout has become inaudible.
However, it is not just its driving energy that makes “Was There Anything I Could Do?” so special. The lyrics are a triumph. As in so many other McLennan-penned tunes, they do not only portray a story but rather place the listener in a pensive mood and remind us of the realities of life: people die, relationships end and not all endings are happy. Neither life nor love is easy. In fact, they both get harder and harder to navigate the older you get. McLennan, regardless of his young age, seems to have known this already in the late 1980s, way before his own life span irreversibly out of control leading to his untimely death at the age of 48.
I actually had the pleasure of seeing these guys live in Chicago in 1999. They put on an amazing show and yes, they played “Was There Anything I Could Do?” The curious thing is that I didn’t really know who they were when I walked into a concert venue called Double Door in June 1999. A friend of mine from work had an extra ticket, so I went. I didn’t know any of the songs, couldn’t sing along, but became a devoted Go-Betweens fan that night.
As I was driving home from the gig, I decided that the next time the Go-Betweens are in town, I’ll go see them. Little did I know that the next time they were in town, in June 2005, I was living half-a-world away in Finland. “Perhaps I’ll catch them in England next year,” I thought. It wasn’t meant to be. Grant McLennan died at his Brisbane home on 6 May 2006.
Check out this incredibly moving essay by Robert Forster, the co-founder of the Go-Betweens, on his late friend Grant McLennan:
And here’s a link to the official music video of “Was There Anything I Could Do?":
In addition, read the AllMusic review of “16 Lovers Lane,” an album featuring “Was There Anything I Could Do?”:
You can learn more about The Go-Betweens here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.