Lil Sprout: Oakie Doke’s “April Sun in Cuba pt2”

Written by Fenn Idle

“April Sun in Cuba” is a song recorded by the New Zealand group Dragon, released in October 1977. It first charted on 7 November 1977, peaking at #2 on the Australian Singles Chart and staying on the chart for 22 weeks. “April Sun in Cuba pt2” is a song recorded by Wollongong musician Oakie Doke, released in July 2021. It, unfortunately, never charted. On the surface, the two songs seem to have little in common. Sure, Oakie Doke borrows the initial guitar pattern of Dragon’s original, but he quickly transforms the rhythm into something more syncopated and displaced while extending the phrase to an irregular length. The melody, structure, and overall vibe are different.

The 70s version begins with the line, “I’m tired of the city life.” A relatively innocuous lyric until you read that when Dragon moved to Sydney in 1975, they had all their gear stolen, their drummer died of a heroin overdose, and two band members were in a car crash. Oakie Doke’s song begins in a similarly downbeat fashion. “You cannot be able / To be safe and stable / All the time.” The words feel like an unfinished self-help mantra – an acknowledgement of bad feelings without a concrete solution. Like Dragon, Oakie moved to Sydney and lived there for several years before moving back to his hometown. His disillusionment with the city is chronicled on the 2021 album Things To Do in Sydney, which contains songs about the evil of real estate agents and references to a 2010s series of “coward punch” manslaughters within the city. Living in Sydney, it seems, is enough to make anyone feel unsafe and unstable.

While Dragon yearned for an escape to the April sun in Cuba, Oakie’s track explores a different kind of escapism. A blaze of double-time drums, guitar shredding, and lyrics about Red Bull suddenly stop halfway through, giving way to a gentle melody backed by consonant guitar chords and metronomic pedal point. On top of this, Oakie yearns for the age of physical media and longer attention spans (“When’s the last time you read a book / Do you remember the time it took”) while criticizing the Daily Mail-ification of the internet (“Remember the ads on each page / Specifically tailored to your taste”). Although the last lines spoken are depressing (“The old book smell became a digital hell”), the song ends with a triumphant 30-second instrumental, including a ludicrous hair metal guitar solo. We may be living in hell, Oakie seems to be saying, but we can still rock out.

Fenn Idle is a musician from Sydney who makes bedroom pop under the name Fenn is cool. He has a degree in composition and was shortlisted for the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer Competition in 2012.

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