God was a short-lived underground rock band from Melbourne, Australia. Their debut single, "My Pal," was written by 15-year-old frontman Joel Silbersher and went on to become a punk rock classic. The lyrics lament a one-sided friendship: "You're my only friend, you don't even like me."
Silbersher talked to Australia's Double J
about writing the song: "It was extremely easy. It was the first good song I ever wrote. And it was extremely easy to write the music. I thought up that line that goes through the whole thing and I was trying to think of another one, and then went... oh no, if you just do this... that's a song. That's a whole piece of music.
And then I had the 'You're my only friend / You don't even like me' bit but then it took a while to erode the other lyrics into it. Which is funny when people think it's about some specific incident. Because you go, 'Okay, got enough words now.'"
The single was released through Au Go Go Records, a small label run by Bruce Milne. Milne told Double J what it was like hearing the song for the first time: "I remember playing the tape. It was a cassette in those days, of course. And I don't think I even got towards the end of it before I just said 'I've got to put this out.' There was no doubt it was going to be a renowned record, if not necessarily a huge seller. It was just one of those records... The reason why you start a record label is for those sort of golden moments."
Much to his parents' dismay, the original pressings included the Silbersher family's home address printed on the back. "I assume Joel didn't ask his parents if he could put their address in fairly big lettering on the back of the record," explained Dave Laing, a record producer who would later work with members of the band. "So I don't know if they ended up having GOD groupies camping out on their front lawn. But maybe they were scared of that."
Bassist Matty Whittle recalls the iconic track was just supposed to be a demo and only cost a couple hundred bucks to produce. He added: "It was a fairly low budget recording. Joel's dad put up the money for that. It wasn't a very labored-over process."
Despite the song's enduring popularity, Silbersher insists that the song could have been better. In fact it was better in its first mix, a version now lost: "Actually, the first mix of 'My Pal,' which I don't what the issue was... It was something with the test pressing. The first mix we had which I've never been able to get a hold of again, was better than the one that's on the record. It had a deeper snare sound, and just a bit of weird reverb on that feedback guitar that I do."
The band began to resent the song and its popularity with fans because it overshadowed the rest of their repertoire. Silbersher explained: "Man, I was made to feel ashamed of that song. I mean I understand that the other guys, and me a bit as well, were irritated that audiences were... Like, you'd play it, and sometimes a few songs in they'd go 'My Pal!' and we were like, 'yeah, we opened up with that one.'
We stopped playing it in political revolt. Yeah, I was made fun of. I was kind of made to feel ashamed of that song for a while. In the band that played it."
Dave Laing thinks this has stood the test of time because it has something for everyone. "I think one of the things with the song is that it kind of crosses across so many musical boundaries. 'My Pal,' for indie kids it's an indie song, for punk kids it's a punk song, for rock'n'roll people it's a rock'n'roll song. It can be a pop song if you want it to be. It just seems to appeal to everybody in the alternative kind of world. It just covers all those bases. So I think that's part of its resonance as well."
Several Australian acts have covered this, including Magic Dirt, Violent Soho, Peabody, and The Drones.
This was included on the 2008 soundtrack for the Australian true-crime TV series Underbelly.