Image: Screen shot from the Australian 'Maxine' Music Video
A song about a King’s Cross prostitute may not exactly be a classic example of New Zealand music, but Sharon O’Neill’s Maxine is arguably one of New Zealand’s most bewilderingly underrated songs.
It all starts with an eighties bass line, a cymbal crash and a saxophone, carving a dark and dirty track that is about as far away from the music of New Zealand’s prodigal sons (Finns, Dobbyn, et al.) as you could possibly get.
It was something of a hit in its day – it reached number 16 on the New Zealand and Australian music charts and was responsible for spawning one of our most iconic music videos. Not that you’d know it from watching the New Zealand version, a PG rip-off that makes only the briefest reference to the subject O’Neill is singing about. Early eighties New Zealand clearly wasn’t ready to deal with the [fictional] gang rape and murder of a sex worker.
O’Neill, whose career was abruptly put on hold by her record company when they entered a period of legal wrangling, wrote the song about a "working girl" she’d often see when she’d stay in Sydney’s Kings Cross. One wonders whether the sex worker (who was likely not called Maxine) ever realised that the hit song was written about her.
Sadly, 33 years after its release, sexual violence perpetrated against sex workers is still an issue we’ve yet to effectively address.
The song deserves a play this NZ Music Month, and the [Australian] video, a watch. Forewarning: get ready to have the hook stuck in your head for days.