One Track Mind: Billy Thorpe, "Children Of The Sun" (1979)

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“Naw man, don’t buy that record, the rest of the album is no good,” said the long-haired, moustached guy at the record store.

I had just heard Billy Thorpe’s “Children of the Sun” on the local album-rock radio station and I just knew that the long player of the same name was going to be the next Fragile. Or Boston’s self-titled. I’d even settle for 2112, or something. I was going to get it, and I headed to the off-campus record store where the hipsters who knew everything about anything that was relevant about cool music worked.

At least that is what I believed. They talked me out of it, and I walked away a little disappointed thinking I had mistakenly latched on The Next Big Thing. But was one song gonna make anyone The Next Big Thing, anyway?

Nonetheless, it was…and still is…a pretty powerful song. Issued in the midst of the whole Star Wars/Star Trek movie craze, the extended intro was worthy of those movies known among other things for their groundbreaking special effects. Following some ominous-sounding electronic buzzing and hissing, the drummer’s explosive opening statements are heavily processed, magnifying the impact (back when processing music actually seemed cool). Then you hear wave after wave of the sounds of spacecraft barrelling through sky and then Thorpe’s four-chord riff entering on the edge of perception, coming in closer and closer. When it finally arrives, the electronics show leaves for the time being as Thorpe begins to lay out the plot. And you just knew the topic was gonna be about outer space:

People of the earth can you hear me
Came a voice from the sky on that magical night
And in the colors of a thousand sunsets
They traveled to the world on a silvery light

The people of the earth stood waiting
Watching as the ships came one by one
Setting fire to the sky as they landed
Carrying to the world children of the sun, children of the sun

Thorpe’s high-register warble fits in nicely with the urgent theme, and ultimately, he brings those knob-twiddling effects back, only more tactfully this time:

…then a beam made of light hit the ground *squirgle*

And finally, those big, phase-shifting drums are brought in to, you know, keep a beat, but Thorpe had you fixated on the FX, his shrill voice and that magic-guitar riff to the point where you weren’t exactly missing it. Then he launches into the obligatory guitar solo — actually two competing ones — which is OK, but the fireworks had by that time been mostly uncorked. After a few choruses of “Childrenofthesun, Childrenofthesun,” the song halts, vanishing quickly into a void like someone had unplugged the stereo.

As for the rest of the record, I finally did hear it a few years ago. Those long-haired hipster dudes from ’79 were right about it; it’s nothing special. Not to sound so much like a Mark Saleski Luddite, but I kind of miss those record-store days, and some of the big, bodacious sounds that emanated from them. Like this one song by Billy Thorpe.

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