Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” Lyrics Meaning

Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” is a song which we can safely say first and foremost is encouraging social activism. More specifically, it is brought to us by an Australian band, and its sentimental foundation is in the plight of the people who are indigenous to that part of world. You see like many other native groups around the globe, Australian aborigines have suffered at the hands of European settlers. This includes being displaced from their lands, amongst other travesties. 

Thus many of the lyrics used in this song, such as Midnight Oil calling on to the audience “to pay the rent”, actually points to the idea of the White population of Australia giving back, if you will, to the aborigines. In other words, aboriginal activists have perpetually fought for rights such as economic independence and self-determination, and they have found vocal supporters in Midnight Oil.

As such, most people probably understand the title, as it is used in the chorus, to actually mean something other than what it does. They interpret it as alluding to the callousness of the dominant class (i.e. those of European descent) in the face of the suffering of aborigines. But according to Rob Hirst (of Midnight Oil), who contributed to the writing of “Beds Are Burning”, such is not actually the case. 

Lyrics of "Beds Are Burning"

Meaning of the Title (“Beds Are Burning”)

According to Hirst, the title is actually meant to highlight the richness of the aboriginal spirit. It is basically trying to say that despite all of the challenges which have thus far been thrown their way, nothing has been able to decimate their happiness. As such, even while their “earth is turning” or “beds are burning”, they are still able to respectively engage in productive or even joyous activities such as ‘dancing’ and ‘sleeping’.

Meaning of "Beds Are Burning"

So the purpose of this track is twofold. On one hand, it is definitely letting Australian citizens who have directly benefited from the mistreatment of the land’s native inhabitants know that they are logically indebted to the welfare of the aborigines. But secondly it is also a celebration of the enduring spirit of the latter. The band pays tribute to them for not letting such intrusive and harrowing circumstances destroy them.

Release Date of “Beds Are Burning”

“Beds Are Burning” was released during August of 1986. It was the second single from Midnight Oil’s album entitled “Diesel and Dust”.

Band’s Signature Song

Throughout the years, “Beds Are Burning” has been recognized as Midnight Oil’s signature song. Furthermore it has been placed onto a number of distinguished ‘greatest hits’ lists. Perhaps most notably amongst them is the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”. That coveted list was compiled by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Moreover in 2001, the song was placed at number 3 on the list of the Top 30 Australian Songs ever. This ranking was compiled by the Australasian Performing Rights Association based on the 75 years it had already been in existence up until that point.

Indeed “Beds Are Burning” has been certified Platinum in the Land Down Under. In addition to that, it peaked at number 6 on the Kent Music Report and won two Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards in 1988. It won in the categories of Single of the Year and Song of the Year.

Midnight Oil Performs “Beds Are Burning” at the Olympics

This classic was performed by Midnight Oil at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It was bit controversial since then-Prime Minister John Howard was apparently not sympathetic to the plight of indigenous Australians at all. But the band made it their goal to put the message of the song across as plainly as possible. They didn’t care even though they well aware that the Prime Minister was holding a prominent place amongst the listening audience.

Chart Performance

Chart-wise, “Beds Are Burning” actually performed better in some other countries outside of Australia. For example, it topped music charts in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

Moreover “Beds Are Burning” peaked at number 6 on the UK Singles Chart. It reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Iconic 2009 Cover of “Beds Are Burning”

A collective of international musicians, aided by the likes of international political icons Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu, covered this song in 2009. However, that time around its intended purpose was to focus on the issue of climate change.

Who wrote “Beds Are Burning”?

“Beds Are Burning” was written by Midnight Oil members P. Garrett, J. Moginie and R. Hirst.

Hirst and Moginie in particular had been writing songs together ‘since they were schoolboys’. This probably contributed to the success of this track.

And “Beds Are Burning” was produced by Warne Livesey.

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