When Mental As Anything performed on Countdown for the first time, doing their debut single, The Nips Are Getting Bigger, an ABC crew member cruelly remarked, “Don’t give up your day job, fellas.”
Problem was, they didn’t actually have day jobs. And the band had the last laugh – Andrew 'Greedy' Smith never had to get a day job, touring with Mental As Anything non-stop for the next 40 years. Indeed, Greedy was on the road when he died of a heart attack this week. He was 63.
Greedy loved life on the road, saying, “It’s a great way of being on a permanent holiday." Mental As Anything were due to do a gig at Belgrave’s Sooki Lounge on Thursday, and gigs were booked through to the end of the year.
It’s easy to forget just how many hits Mental As Anything had. Only one Australian act, INXS, had more top 40 hits in the ’80s. The Mentals' singles are a roll call of good times and great memories, including If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too? Too Many Times, I Didn’t Mean To Be Mean, You’re So Strong and Live It Up.
As fan Dave Graney noted, “Mental As Anything are a unique entity in the Australian cultural scene because they seem to be able to exist as a form outside of time and space, outside the vicissitudes of the Australian record business and they seem to delight in creativity, movement and action. I think that’s probably the attitude that brought them together, keeps them together and produces their work.”
“I think one of the things that set us apart from a lot of other groups at the time was the fact that we never took ourselves too seriously,” Greedy once said.
Mental As Anything – who were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2009 – did their first gig the night Elvis died in August 1977. Their early gigs were at the Unicorn Hotel in Sydney, with the stage on top of the pool table.
Andrew Smith got the name Greedy after the Mentals did a lunchtime gig at a teachers’ college in Sydney. With his right hand, Greedy played his Farfisa organ, with his left, he ate 16 pieces of KFC. Guitarist Reg Mombassa then dubbed him “Greedy”.
Alongside Martin Plaza, Reg Mombassa, Peter O’Doherty and Wayne 'Bird' Delisle, Greedy enjoyed 20 top 40 singles and four top 10 albums with Mental As Anything.
Greedy wrote the band’s biggest hit, 1985’s Live It Up.
After Too Many Times became a top 40 hit in Canada (a song that Greedy wrote after a big night with Swanee [John Swan] at Macy’s in Melbourne), the Mentals toured Canada, where on a “long, boring stretch of road”, Greedy came up with the words and chords to Live It Up. “It took me about two minutes to write it in my head … it then took me about two years to get it right".
The song became a smash hit in Europe after being featured in Crocodile Dundee. The Mentals had contributed an instrumental track called Sloppy Croc to the movie, and then Paul Hogan decided to also include Live It Up. It reached #3 in the UK, #4 in Norway and #6 in Germany.
Mental As Anything did gigs all around the world, including a US tour with Men At Work when Men At Work were on top of the charts. Greedy fondly recalled meeting a young band in Los Angeles, who asked, “Who does your styling?”
“We just laughed. We just did what we did. And then American bands were asking us how we did it. They thought our op-shop clothes were heavily styled.”
At a club gig in Austin, Texas, Greedy was perplexed when the guys in the crowd kept requesting Iron Maiden and Judas Priest songs. The promoter later explained there had been a misprint in the local paper – they had been billed as Metal As Anything.
Greedy was a wonderful storyteller and one of the most likeable guys in rock, though, unwittingly, he became embroiled in a feud with Billy Joel. Hosting Countdown one night, he back announced one song, saying, “For better or worse, that’s Billy Joel’s new song". Later in the show, when Molly quizzed him about his indifference to the American artist, Greedy said, “I heard he was a failed boxer, so it’s good to see he’s made a go of the music industry".
Unbeknownst to Greedy, Billy Joel was touring Australia and watching Countdown. And the next day, live on radio, he said: “Failed boxer? I’ll go a few rounds with him".
The Mentals' manager told the press: “Greedy will go a few rounds with Billy – a few rounds of sandwiches".
Greedy Smith grew up in Sydney, where he went to North Sydney Boys High with Allan Border. He enjoyed telling a story about his brush with fame in the UK. When Live It Up was riding high in the charts, Greedy did an interview on BBC1. Then he was invited back for another interview a few days later. The record company was buzzing. “Gee, you’ve really kicked some goals here. No one ever gets invited back for a second interview in the same week.” Greedy returned to BBC1, excited. He was introduced to the station’s sports guy, who asked him: “What was it like going to school with Allan Border?”
Greedy Smith was a charming man. Personable, endearingly daggy and entertaining. As Dave Graney said, “I’m grateful to be part of an Australian music scene that has people like Mental As Anything, who aren’t afraid to be intelligent, funny, have a lot of pizzazz and exist just because they want to.”
Greedy Smith is survived by his fiancée Fiona and son Harvey.