“Follow” was featured on side B of INXS’s 1981 Underneath the Colours album, the quick follow-up to their self-titled debut which had been released a year before. This sophomore album was written during a period of heavy touring and increasing popularity throughout Australia, but before the band had “broken” internationally. As such, it is an exuberant collection of songs full of creative energy, but is relatively unknown.
Considered by many fans to be INXS’s most political album, the title track references the “red, blue and white” of the Australian flag, and the lyrics throughout reveal an insight into individual and societal folly. Recently, Jon Farriss has acknowledged this album for it’s meaningful and currently relevant messages.
It could be said that the entire album captures the spirit of a “young” adult generation that questions the political, economic, and philosophical rationale for seemingly senseless policies and practices made by their forebears. This youthful insight is as old as time, but is resonating exponentially now as the Internet spreads ideas. Statistics show increased support among millenials for Democratic Socialist policies, the kind of policies Hutchence explicitly endorsed. For example, he mentions voting for the Labour party on several recorded occasions.
“Follow” is a lyrically striking example of the implicit rationale for these political beliefs, predating “Listen Like Thieves” as a mantra of the rejection of the status quo; of self-expression, authenticity, and independent thought, a mindset which is arguably coming to fruition in the current Information Age.
“NEVER HAD A SPANNER ON HER/ SAYS SHE SEES IT STRAIGHT/ NEVER TOOK THE DETOUR/ ALWAYS LICKS HER PLATE
GOT A STICKY FINGER/ ON SOMEONE I KNOW/ BEST OF EVERYTHING NOW/ SEE THE MONEY ROLL
STUPID PEOPLE I WON’T FOLLOW/ STUPID PEOPLE I WON’T FOLLOW
BUILD A BETTER COUNTRY/ FIGHT A WAR OR TWO/ YOU ALWAYS NEED SOMETHING/ JUST TO GET YOU THROUGH
STUPID PEOPLE I WON’T FOLLOW/ STUPID PEOPLE I WON’T FOLLOW
TEN TIMES I SHOUTED AT HIM/ SAY IT OVER AGAIN AGAIN/ WORDS JUST MELT AROUND YOU/ YOU’RE LIKE A PIG IN A PEN”
“Spanner” literally means “wrench” but is used in Australian slang to mean different things, including: “very ugly,” “any cause of confusion or impediment” “fool” or “weak individual” (similar, perhaps, to the American term “tool”), so “never had a spanner on her” implies that this female individual believes no one has ever fooled or used her. She tries to convince herself and others that she is aware of reality, “says she sees it straight,” but the implication in saying that she “says” so is that she doesn’t. “Never took the detour,” seems to describe someone who has always followed the path laid out for her by society, and “always licks her plate” someone who consumes every bit of what she is given.
The second verse presumably continues to describe the individual in question. “…a sticky finger” is an expression indicating a habitual propensity to covertly steal, “on someone I know,” implicating a personal acquaintance. On a deeper societal level, the “someone I know” may also imply a false familiarity, the media personalities we relate to. The “sticky finger” could symbolize the idea that the elites are stealing from the citizens by using our tax dollars, labor, and resources to invest in themselves via banks and wars instead of in programs and policies that would help the majority achieve a genuine form of self-determination (healthcare, free college tuition, livable minimum wage, clean drinking water, etc). This “sticky finger” occurs while the culprit/s endear themselves to the the exploited as someone they “know.” Apparently the continual theft is materially effective: “best of everything now,” and “see the money roll” describes the state of being caught up in the capitalist cycle, trying to get the next biggest and best thing.
In order to hide their exploitative transgressions, our sticky-fingered friends manage to convince us that we, in the “first world” have it better than those elsewhere because we have the “best of everything” and are considered a developed country where “the money rolls,” no matter that the majority of it ends up “rolling” to the 1% in order to achieve large financial gains at the world’s expense. It could also be said that we “see the money roll” right into the hands of these thieving profiteers but then do nothing about it, as we continue to let ourselves be fooled that politicians and media pundits have our best interests at heart, and let ourselves be entertained by “the best of everything.”
The chorus “Stupid people I won’t follow” is an unambiguous indictment and rejection of this type of intellectually dishonest, superficial way of living. It is a call for us to question the paths and policies laid out for us by mainstream society and not to succumb to the idea that we must become another cog in the perverse wheel of capitalism with its dependency on materialism and consumption.
The next verse starts “Build a better country” followed by the casual line, “fight a war or two” elicits the idea that government officials think nothing of invading and exploiting other countries for their resources, especially if it helps them “build a better country.” Here, war as a business model for economic profit is highlighted, where the military industrial complex and weapons manufacturers are major players. “You always need something just to get you through” could point to the idea that government elites are like junkies entering into cash-flow producing wars. The public is made to “follow” with some sort of publicized justification, even if it’s a fabrication, (as was the case in the Iraq War with WMDs or in Vietnam with the the Gulf of Tonkin, and the list goes on for every war).
The last vocalization of the chorus indicates a palpable frustration on behalf of the individual who refuses to “follow,” presumably because he is trying to repeatedly admonish others about not perpetuating the vicious cycle of consumerism, greed, and endless war. “10 times I shouted at him, say it over again again” Unfortunately, this nonconformist’s efforts seem to fall on deaf ears because when he tries to talk to others, “words just melt around” them. The use of the metaphor “You’re like a pig in a pen” could relate to the idea of a capitalist pig who is unaffected by the filth in its pen(greed) and who chooses to maintain his/her superficial lifestyle and follow down the path laid out for him by a corporate, mainstream culture. The symbolism of the pen could also indicate someone who is trapped, which in this case connotes someone who has given into the trappings of materialism and his own selfish ends.
The song ends with an unambiguous “NO!”