Under The Milky Way

Album: Starfish (1988)
Charted: 24
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Songfacts®:

  • This haunting song was by far the biggest hit by the Australian new wave band The Church, although they've had a long career. Steve Kilbey, the band's frontman, co-wrote this song with bassist and then-girlfriend Karin Jansson. The pair was visiting Kilbey's mother in New South Wales when an after-dinner smoke (a "special musicians' jazz cigarette") under a blanket of stars inspired the ethereal tune.

    As for the song's meaning, "It's not about anything," Kilbey told the Guardian Australia. "Like all my songs, it's a portal into your own mind where I give you a guided meditation. It's a blank, abstract canvas for people to lose themselves in."
  • Kilbey wrote the song near the end of the recording sessions for Starfish, and the rest of the band didn't like it. Fortunately, the band's manager sensed its hit potential and insisted they record it. His hunch was proven correct when Arista head Clive Davis praised the song during a listening session. Kilbey recalled to Elsewhere: "All his henchmen shook my hand and said, 'It's a hit' and they made it a hit."
  • The success of the single proved to be a blessing and a curse for the band. "It changed everything in our lives, it put me on a new level of temptation and opened more doors that maybe shouldn't have been opened... and made a lot of money and so we did a lot of touring," Kilbey told Elsewhere. "But saying that, the guys in the band all hated each other and they all hated me. Instead of being grateful that I'd written this song which had dragged them into the spotlight they were sort of envious and miserable about it as well."
  • "Under The Milky Way" is perhaps the most famous pop song with a bagpipe solo, although there were no actual bagpipes involved. According to Kilbey, he used a sampler called a Synclavier, running an "African bagpipes" sound backwards. "I put it on the demo as a joke," he told the Financial Review. "Just to wake the rest of them up!"
  • Tired of playing "Under The Milky Way" gigs, where fans would leave after the band played their big hit, The Church refused to perform the tune for a while in the early 2000s.
  • This was used in several TV shows, including Miami Vice ("Asian Cut," 1989), Cold Case ("Family," 2005), Prison Break ("Map 1213," 2006), and Here and Now ("Yes," 2018). It was also featured in the 2001 movie Donnie Darko.
  • Sia recorded "Under The Milky Way" for a Lincoln MKT commercial in 2009. Her version was released as a single in 2010 but failed to chart. It's also been covered by Jimmy Little, Rick Springfield, Grant Lee Phillips, Josh Pyke, and The Killers, among others.

Comments: 7

  • John R. Leveling Up from Durham NcThe song was a great backdrop in the movie "Donnie Darko" as well as the rest of the soundtrack...
  • Scott from Sunshine CoastI Understand the lying "under the Milky Way"after a herbal cigarette ( 3 papers) , but Memphis , the curtain down , Elvis ? One of the great enduring songs , love to play it.
  • Susan from Airdrie, -I loved this song in the 80s. Received little airplay in my city because they were all into the American & "big name" artists at the time. Real shame. :(
  • Brian from Boston, MaMan what a song! I love this tune .It really is one of my favorites. It sounds best played on a 12 string.I was a senior in high school when this song came out. I loved it Immidiatly.One of the first songs I learned to play on guitar
  • Sean from Boca Raton, FlI just saw the Killers and members of the band Chairlift do an amazing version of this song in Miami on 10/3/2009. Brought back some good memories.
  • Davem from Solihull, United KingdomA wonderful song but then it is from the greatest band in the world.
    Please check 'em out. www.thechurchband.com
    You won't regret it.
  • Shanice from Sugar Land, TxLove love love love love this song. Only heard about it on the top onehit wonders of the 80's but couldn't believe that I missed it in Donnie Darko. Great song, great movie
see more comments

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