Kiwi Love Songs

NZ On Screen has selected this collection of 30 Kiwi love songs, which spans 50 years of music. The list ranges widely — from an early Loxene Golden Disc winner for Ray Columbus and the Invaders, to Dragon in the 70s, and in the 80s, everyone from Blam Blam Blam to Prince Tui Teka. Entries from later decades include Tiki Taane and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. That's not even the half of it: along the way, check out a trio of classics whose take on romance is positively oceanic: 'Anchor Me', 'Sway' and 'Not Given Lightly'. 

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Anchor Me

The Mutton Birds, Music Video, 1994

Don McGlashan’s anthemic plea for safe harbour — written for band The Mutton Birds — won him his first APRA Silver Scroll songwriting award, and began a life of its own. It was used in the soundtrack of a short film (Boy), a movie (Perfect Strangers) and was given all star treatment by Greenpeace. But TVNZ’s use of it on National Party conference footage was a step too far for McGlashan, who took very public offence. Director Fane Flaws places his video — a nominee for an NZ Film and TV Award — in the eye of a mermaid rather than a storm, but plenty of perils await.

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Not Given Lightly

Chris Knox, Music Video, 1989

Chris Knox directs his own face in this video for his classic Kiwi love song. The camera gradually pulls out from an extreme close up of Knox's face to a living room full of family and friends. Jump-cutting on the beat, Knox, with trademark simple-but-effective style, effectively fuses lyrics, song and an impassioned performance. Interestingly, in his ScreenTalk interview, Knox says he now regrets using a solarising video effect in the later part of the clip.  

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John Rowles - 'Cheryl Moana Marie'

Television, 1976 (Excerpts)

These two clips provide a handy introduction to a Kiwi musical classic. The first clip sees John Rowles showing how he can hold the long notes, as he performs 'Cheryl Moana Marie' on a self-titled live special from 1976, made for state television. In the second clip — an excerpt from 2008 Buto Productions documentary The Secret Life of John Rowles — the singer recalls coming up with the chart-topping 1969 ballad, an array of Kiwi musicians provide their own take on it, and Rowles' sister talks about the ups and the downs of finding fame as a child, through someone else's song. 

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Message to My Girl

Split Enz, Music Video, 1984

‘Message to My Girl’ finds Split Enz in a time of transition — foreshadowed here when the Finn brothers walk past each other in opposite directions. Tim has just completed his solo album and will shortly leave, while Neil is coming into his own as the band’s new leader. The track is an unabashed love song to his wife. The accompanying video was shot in two extended takes, with the only edit obscured halfway through — and staged in what looks like a theatre set storage area. New drummer Paul Hester makes his debut but no Noel Crombie suits this time, just civvies.

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Sway

Bic Runga, Music Video, 1997

The third single from Bic Runga's 1997 debut album Drive got to number seven in the NZ charts, 10 in Australia and 26 in Ireland. It nudged the UK charts at 96, and was included on the soundtrack of hit comedy American Pie. Directed by UK photographer/video director Karen Lamond and made to showcase Runga internationally, the video shows the singer shyly stalking the hipster of her 90s dreams, as he stocks the shelves of an Italian deli. Back at her place, the camera pulls back for an unexpected end. An earlier video for the single also exists, directed by Kiwi talent Joe Lonie.

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Pokarekare Ana - A Māori Love Song

Television, 2002 (Full Length)

This 2002 documentary explores the stories behind one of Aotearoa’s most beloved songs: ‘Pokarekare Ana’. Claims for the authorship of the waiata aroha are examined, and Kiwis famous and lesser known reflect on the song’s place in the culture. Directed by Chas Toogood, the doco features classic performances: from St Joseph’s Girls’ Choir singing in the Waitomo Caves in 1960, to Inia Te Wiata going low in English, Kiri Te Kanawa soaring in concert, Hinewehi Mohi enlisting a 30,000 strong league crowd as backing singers, and sailing away in a 1987 America’s Cup campaign song. 

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Always on My Mind

Tiki Taane, Music Video, 2008

The fourth single from Tiki Taane’s first solo album, ‘Always on My Mind’ is an unadorned, heartfelt love song featuring Tiki accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. It became his breakthrough hit, a chart topper and the first Kiwi digital single to achieve platinum sales. The video is one continuous shot set in an imagined “Heathcote Valley Hall” (a nod to the Christchurch suburb where Tiki grew up) with Tiki unplugged, a shimmering floor and a backdrop inspired by Elvis Presley’s legendary 1968 Comeback Special. It won Best Solo Video at the 2008 Juice TV Awards. 

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Through the Eyes of Love

Television, 1998 (Excerpts)

Kiwis are often accused of not being very good at expressing their feelings. This documentary (made for TV One's Work of Art programme) offers striking evidence to the contrary, using some of our favourite love songs as proof. A roll call of New Zealand's best-known musicians and songwriters talk here candidly about love, and play some of the songs inspired by their experiences. The result is a film that shines a light on love Kiwi-style, and provides a fascinating survey of New Zealand pop music from the last 30 years along the way.

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Why Does Love Do this to Me?

The Exponents / The Dance Exponents, Music Video, 1991

This infectious song about the heartache of love took Jordan Luck roughly five minutes to write, in an east London squat. It was the band's first release in their new career after a brief name change to Ampllfier, then a shortening to The Exponents. Despite its unlikely origins and subject matter, it has become an enduring NZ sports stadium sing-along (rivalling Dave Dobbyn's 'Loyal' for unofficial national anthem status). The song's simplicity is matched by director Kerry Brown's video, which allows the band to do what they do best, in scenic spots including Waiotapu hot springs.

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E Ipo

Prince Tui Teka, Music Video, 1983

Music legend Prince Tui Teka performs his greatest hit ‘E Ipo’ in this excerpt from a TVNZ special recorded at Auckland’s Mandalay Ballroom. Based on a traditional Indonesian folk melody, ‘E Ipo’ was written by Teka with Ngoi (‘Poi E’) Pewhairangi, when he was courting her niece (and his future wife) Missy. The two join Tui Teka on stage (along with Pita Sharples’ Te Roopu Manutaki cultural group) for a rousing rendition performed with his trademark verve and humour. The song reached number one, following te reo-dominated chart-toppers 'The Bridge' (sung by Deane Waretini) in 1981, and Howard Morrison's 1982 version of 'How Great Thou Art'.

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Oughta Be in Love

Dave Dobbyn, Music Video, 1986

The Footrot Flats soundtrack marked Dave Dobbyn's first steps as a solo artist. Inspired by his love of 50s crooners, 'Oughta be in Love' accompanied Wal Footrot's wooing of Cheeky Hobson (but sung, perhaps mercifully, by Dobbyn and not Footrot's voice, John Clarke). The video shows Dobbyn hard at work as a jobbing soundtrack composer on a song that has taken on a life of its own. Winner of a Silver Scroll and Single of the Year, it has become a Dobbyn classic and perennial wedding favourite (even gracing Hayden and Loretta's nuptials in Outrageous Fortune).

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I Need Your Love

Golden Harvest, Music Video, 1977

'I Need Your Love' marked the biggest hit for the Kaukau brothers, and vocalist Karl Gordon. This performance sees Gordon grooving in satin blue waistcoat and bellbottoms, while Kevin Kaukau sneaks in a few guitar tricks inspired by Jimi Hendrix, on a guitar with an unusual attachment. Rip it Up writer Ken Williams described how the song's "ethereal, even fragile, drone jumped off the radio". It was judged Single of the Year at the 1978 NZ Music Awards; the band can be seen winning the award in the closing minutes of the Ready to Roll telecast from which this clip is taken.

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Still in Love With You

Dragon, Music Video, 1978

‘Still in Love With You’ dates from 1978's O Zambesi, the album that yielded Dragon ‘Are You Old Enough’, their first (and only) number one hit in Australia. One of a series of hook-laden singles penned by keyboardist Paul Hewson, 'Still in Love' became another live staple for the Auckland prog-rockers turned Aussie pop stars. A straight down the line performance video shot against a white-washed studio, the video works thanks to the star power of lead singer Marc Hunter, who brings to the party all of his swagger, charisma and coiffed hair. The band bring their sunnies.

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Love Love Love

Avalanche City, Music Video, 2011

A delightful animation accompanies this number one single from folk-poppers Avalanche City. With its big, catchy, chorus, the song delivers the feel-good factor and the video captures its quaint essence perfectly with its cast of storybook pirates and penguins. Mass exposure for the song came when it was used for TV2 promos and it took off on release, going gold in four weeks (despite being earlier available as a free download).

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'Till We Kissed

Ray Columbus and The Invaders, Music Video, 1965

Another black and white prototype music video from Ray Columbus and the Invaders. Ray and the band planned and directed this one themselves, at Peach Studios in Auckland. The song is a ballad, and it's a more restrained performance than the clip for She's a Mod, but the 1960s zoot suits and aloof rock star poses are still there. 'Till We Kissed' was a Top 10 hit, and won the first ever Loxene Golden Disc Award in 1965.  

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Something in the Water

Brooke Fraser, Music Video, 2010

'Something in the Water', from singer-songwriter Brooke Fraser's third album Flags, is a giddy, infectious love song with a rollicking country/folk setting. It was voted Most Performed Song of the Year at the 2010 APRA Silver Scrolls. The partly animated video, made by the Special Problems production team of Campbell Hooper and Joel Kefali, loosely recasts the song as Homer's Odyssey with a multi-costumed Fraser as Penelope waiting for her Odysseus to return from across the water (but not above a playful poke of the tongue to finish off proceedings).

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Sophie

Goodshirt, Music Video, 2002

How long does it take to remove all the furniture and fittings from an apartment? If you’ve got band Goodshirt on the case, apparently three minutes and 45 seconds. One of a series of Goodshirt music videos directed by Joe Lonie, all of them filmed in one continuous take, this clip highlights the dangers of having the volume up too loud. As a young woman listens to Goodshirt’s latest single, she is unaware she is being robbed her of everything she owns. Sophie took away three gongs at the 2003 NZ Music Awards: Best Video , Best Single and Songwriter of the Year.

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Don't Fight it Marsha, It's Bigger Than Both of Us

Blam Blam Blam, Music Video, 1981

Blam Blam Blam’s second hit from 1981 was angular and artsy, hook-filled but unsettling: all qualities captured in a theatrical video, directed by Andrew Shaw. Clowns, magicians, fire-eaters and trick cyclists join the band, while actors play out the saga of ‘Don’t Fight It, Marsha’. The actors — including Phillip Gordon (Came a Hot Friday), Michael Hurst and Donogh Rees (Constance) — were directed by Harry Sinclair, who would later join Blam band member Don McGlashan in The Front Lawn. The Len Lye-style scratch effects were by Jenny Pullar, the Blams’ lighting designer.

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Like Water

Ladi6, Music Video, 2011

This smoky, soul-inflected love song comes from hip hop diva Ladi6's second album The Liberation Of... (winner of the 2011 Taite Music Prize). Water might be the chosen metaphor for love here but director Faye McNeil provides no glimpses at all of the wet stuff. Instead, the deep blue oases are graphical — the work of street and graffiti artists The Cut Collective. The sands that Ladi6 treks across are dunes at Te Paki in the Far North (where it rained for all but five hours of the three day shoot). It was a Best Video finalist at the 2011 NZ Music Awards.

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One Day

Opshop, Music Video, 2007

The third single from Opshop’s triple platinum-selling second album Second Hand Planet reached number three on the NZ singles chart, and became the theme song for a string of heart string-pulling NZ Post adverts with its lyric “one day / you’ll realise how much you have me”. Director Luke Sharpe’s video has the band in semi-darkness, accompanied only by a smoke machine and the odd dreamy projection. Lead singer and New Zealand’s Got Talent host Jason Kerrigan’s vocals are harmonised by Dianne Swann from When the Cat’s Away and The Bads.  

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1905

Shona Laing, Music Video, 1972

Shona Laing's long musical career began with '1905', a song dedicated to Henry Fonda. At 17 years old, Shona took the song to second place on talent show New Faces in 1972. Early the following year it rose to number four on the NZ top 10. This short live clip, thought to be filmed at Christchurch Town Hall, captures Shona in extreme close-up, serving to magnify the emotional intensity of the song. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a mimed performance; her voice is absolutely spot-on, and the crowd reacts with rapturous applause.

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Multi-Love

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Music Video, 2015

For Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s third album, frontman and songwriter Ruban Neilson didn’t have to go far for inspiration. The 'Multi-Love' of the title track refers to an emotionally fraught and short-lived ménage à trois between Neilson’s wife Jenny and “Laura”, a fan who took up lodgings at the couple’s Portland home. Director Lionel Williams takes an abstract view of the singer’s situation, with a 3D tour of a mutating, multi-level psychedelic funhouse. A playable version of the experience was released as an app for both Mac and PC.

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Nobody Else

Tex Pistol and Rikki Morris, Music Video, 1988

For this lush, spacious ballad, then teenage director Paul Middleditch continues the striking visual style he had established a year earlier with his video for previous Tex Pistol hit, 'The Game of Love'. Tex (Ian Morris) wears the same outfit, while his brother Rikki is clad in the reverse — white shirt and black jeans. Backing vocalist Callie Blood appears again (although she didn't actually sing on this recording), a choir of children is added, and some behind-the-scenes shots of the crew — but the set is free of surface water or falling rain this time.

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I Got You

Split Enz, Music Video, 1980

This Neil Finn number finally turned Split Enz into chart-toppers in Australasia, and gave them an entree to the vital North American market. It was graced with Noel Crombie's most ambitious video to date and became an MTV favourite. Curtains on the outside? Just one of the many innovative design elements in a clip, which explored Neil's inner torment as he withered under the scrutiny of giant eyes, an Orwellian flat screen television, and his creative paranoia at being shunned by the rest of the band — unable to infiltrate the clique. Heavy stuff!

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Beth

Voom, Music Video, 1994

A song about how hard it is to say goodbye, 'Beth' became a student radio fave and has been known to make some listeners feel a little teary. Perhaps sensing the potential for emotional meltdown, the makers of the music video introduce a touch of the oddball, with Voom long-stayer Buzz Moller flying to the moon in his pyjamas and meeting the rest of the band in an underground cavern, all the while addressing his beloved, “who went to Australia”. Moller finds his guitar in time for the amped up, I still care about you climax. The track is sometimes titled ‘Beth’s Song’.

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I'll Say Goodbye (Even Though I'm Blue)

The Exponents / The Dance Exponents, Music Video, 1983

A young, blonde and big-haired (it was the early 80s) Jordan Luck and his fellow band members hang out in Auckland's old Leopard Tavern for this sing-along classic. Model Debra Mains — star of a number of DD Smash videos of the time — smoulders as the spurning lover. A rest-home of elderly extras join in for the famous chorus. The dial phone looks positively pre-industrial. The song was voted number 89 in the APRA Top 100 New Zealand songs of all time; the Dance Exponents' debut studio album Prayers Be Answered stayed in the charts for a year.  

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Falling in Love Again

Anika Moa, Music Video, 2002

This Anika Moa video puts the drama of her early rise in a nutshell; after being signed to Atlantic, the American label flew a director down to New Zealand to monitor proceedings, and ensure that the singer looked as slim on screen as possible. The video sees Moa lusting after every male she passes, singing beside some rugby posts, and taking a ride in a taxi driven by actor Antony Starr (Outrageous Fortune). As for Moa, she soon returned home from the US; the local top five hit ended up on the soundtrack of Catherine Zeta-Jones/Julia Roberts romance America’s Sweethearts.

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Don't Dream It's Over

Crowded House, Music Video, 1986

Neil Finn has described the lyric to this song as "on the one hand, feeling kind of lost and, on the other hand, sort of urging myself on". The wistful single was Crowded House's breakthrough, hitting number two in the US (and the top spot in Aotearoa, after local radio earlier showed little interest). Australian director Alex Proyas (The Crow) based his video on locations from the band members' childhoods. As Finn walks from room to room, the video also neatly reinforces the band's name. 'Don't Dream It’s Over' remains one of the biggest international hits penned by a Kiwi.

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Mercy of Love

Shona Laing, Music Video, 1992

One of the gentler songs on Shona Laing's 1992 album New on Earth, this warm, Latin-tinged number is in polar opposition to the staunch, synth-laden stylings that won attention on her previous release South. Karyn Hay's purposefully minimal clip concentrates exclusively on Laing, highlighted by red and blue filters as she plays acoustic guitar. Elsewhere, the stylised symbols seen on her face form part of an interstellar background. Laing has called New on Earth "the best record I ever made". Mercy of Love won Laing her second Silver Scroll songwiting award in 1992. 

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Don't Let Love Go

Jon Stevens and Sharon O'Neill , Music Video, 1980

In the decades between the Sinatras' version of 'Somethin' Stupid' (1967) and 2009's 'Empire State of Mind', someone had the bright idea of pairing two Kiwi singers, and kitting them out in matching green and black. Fresh from two consecutive number one singles, ex Upper Hutt record factory worker Jon Stevens takes lead vocals on this breakup duet, which sees the magical arrival of Sharon O'Neill, 50 seconds in. The result got to number five on the local charts. This clip featured on after school show Tracy '80. 

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Land of Plenty

OMC, Music Video, 1996

'Land of Plenty' is a love letter to Aotearoa, featuring another take on the conversational vocal stylings heard on global smash 'How Bizarre'. Channelling his Niuean father's love of NZ, Pauly Fuemana namechecks favourite streets, Mt Ruapehu, white water and "open caves that glow supreme". Taisha Khutze (now in The Lady Killers) supplies some impressive vocal stylings of her own. In 2013 co-writer Alan Jansson joined Fuemana's widow in criticising what they saw as "noticeable similarities" between this top five hit, and the song for a 'Land of Plenty, Land of Quattro' car ad.