Darren Hayes: Records that changed my life

Alice Gawthrop 8 July 2022

Ahead of his upcoming UK tour, Darren Hayes, award-winning singer and one half of the globally revered Savage Garden, talks us through the records that changed him

Sign “O” the Times, Prince

The first album that I remember defining me was Sign “O” the Times by Prince. It was a double album released in 1987. Now, if someone looks at your Spotify playlist, people sort of get a sense of who you are, but when we bought physical records back in the day, it was different. You would carry around a Walkman so you couldn’t have your entire collection with you. So that one record that you had was a statement. 

It was an obscure record; Prince’s hair was longer, he looked like a hippie, he’d released this video which he wasn’t even in. I decided that I was just going to invest in this really interesting Prince album. 

It really shaped not just my life back then, but the music that I have made throughout my whole life. Even my new album is influenced by this record. This was the first time that Prince was on the back of the album, where it says “produced, composed and performed by Prince”. It’s taken me 25 years to do the same thing. 

"There’s a song called “Adore”, which was on my wedding mixtape"

He also did this really extraordinary thing where he sang in this androgynous voice. He sang a song called “If I Was Your Girlfriend”. It blew my mind! It was way before anyone knew anything about gender norms and gender neutrality. We know that Prince was a heterosexual man but back then it was like, Who is this man who’s wearing makeup and dressing up in fishnet stockings, and he’s dating women, but he’s released this song called “If I Was Your Girlfriend”? My teenage brain was blown away. 

I revisit it all the time, it’s got some of my favourite ballads on there. There’s a song called “Adore”, which was on my wedding mixtape. It's just a stunning, stunning record. A lot of the recording techniques that he used, I ended up learning how to do those. I apply some of them on my new record. That’s from 1987 and now we’re in 2022, that’s how far-reaching that record is!

Like a Prayer, Madonna

This particular record came out in 1989. It was my final year of high school. I love it because it was really rebellious at the time. The first single outraged the Catholic church! 

The video was the beginning of Madonna always standing up for minorities—in this particular case it was about the wrongful incarceration of Black men. Thirty years ahead of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, she was confronting police brutality. She even had imagery of her dancing in front of KKK crosses. The video was banned and Pepsi revoked this huge deal that they had with her.

I also remember the physical product of that record. It was scented with patchouli oil, and to this day I still wear patchouli oil. I wear rosary beads because of Madonna, too. Rosaries, crucifixes and crosses were always a part of her imagery. In this video, in that era, everything was about her sort of falling out of love with the church, it was like a post-divorce record. 

"The album was scented with patchouli oil, and to this day I still wear patchouli oil"

In the song “Like a Prayer” she equates her faith and her love of Jesus with a love of a person. One of the most beautiful melodies, it’s like it surrenders. She says, “I hear your voice, It’s like an angel sighing, I have no choice, I hear your voice.” It’s so universal to me, that feeling when you’re in love and you feel like you’re falling.

Another incredible thing about that record was that it came with an insert about AIDS, which at the time nobody was talking about in the United States. Ronald Reagan had famously refused to acknowledge HIV or AIDS. Madonna included a pamphlet that said AIDS does not discriminate. AIDS is a disease and this is how you can catch it, that the only way you can prevent it is by wearing a condom. Now, these are not things that anyone wanted to talk about, but she aligned herself with it back then.

Aerial, Kate Bush

When Aerial came out, I was nervous because Kate hadn’t put an album out in so long. The first single seemed to be about Elvis Presley, and I was thinking, what is she on about? I have a theory about it now: I think Kate was referencing herself and people’s perceptions that she had gone slightly mad, just hidden herself away, like Elvis at the end of his life.

Aerial is a concept album where, essentially, it’s a day in the life of a woman, just an average woman who ends up being an extraordinary woman. Everyone is expecting this glamorous pop star of the 1980s, eyeshadow and wind machines. But she’s like, “No, do you know what I am, I’m a mother of a child. And I do the washing. But I still exist and I still have feelings.” 

"A lot of that time she spent washing…but do you think Kate Bush is going to not find that interesting? "

She talks about this in a song called “How to Be Invisible”. It is so powerful and so cutting, it’s just all of the thoughts that go through a woman’s mind during the day. She’s essentially running around the house and she feels invisible. Back then her son was nine or ten, and she’d spent all this time giving over her body and her life lovingly to raise a child. A lot of that time she spent washing—washing clothes, washing diapers—but do you think Kate Bush is going to not find that interesting? 

One of my favourite songs on the album is one that she wrote for her son, “Bertie”. It has the most beautiful, clever line in there, musically and lyrically. In the chorus, she just says, “You bring me so much joy, and then you bring me more joy”. And that line just repeats, but it repeats in a melody that’s never ending. It’s an eternity. You could just continue to sing that melody and say that loop, which is such a beautiful expression of love. To me, it is saying, “You will never stop being the source of my enduring love and joy just because you exist.” I think that’s extraordinary. 

Hounds of Love, Kate Bush

This was one of the first concept albums I ever heard. It came out in 1985. Everything was very electronic then, Duran Duran existed, Culture Club existed, Cyndi Lauper was a thing. Everything was neon. Yet Kate was making art rock in leotards. 

The first half of the record is pop genius. The second half is just a story about a girl that gets lost at sea, and she is in and out of consciousness. It’s just fascinating. What I love about the album is that it was recorded on a Fairlight CMI synthesiser. Kate was one of the first people in the world to get one of those. They are so expensive! In today’s dollars, they would cost about a million dollars. 

In 2007, I bought one on eBay for 5,000 quid and I made an entire album, which was also a concept album. It’s called This Delicate Thing We’ve Made. In my mind, what I did was I imagined what would happen if someone made a sequel to Hounds of Love. I pretended that it was Kate’s Fairlight and she’d left it in the studio and switched it off. And I went back in and I switched it back on and I said, “I still have more to say.” I inhabited her psyche in some ways and was just really inspired by her—her boldness, her experimentation, her creativity, her complete disregard for commercial considerations on that record. Such a wonderful record. 

Darren Hayes is touring the UK in March and April 2023 to celebrate 25 years of Savage Garden, his well-established solo career and more. Tickets are on sale on his website, darrenhayes.com

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