How I wrote ‘Beautiful Girl’ by INXS’ Andrew Farriss
The Australian rock band’s songwriter and keyboardist discusses his intimately personal song which their iconic frontman Michael Hutchence did justice
Songwriter and keyboardist Andrew Farriss was an essential part of INXS’s monster success. Together with singer Michael Hutchence, he co-wrote some of the band’s best-known numbers. Songs like Need You Tonight, New Sensation and Suicide Blonde which remain as iconic today as they were when they came out in the 1980s, so much so that, back in January 2020, their 2011 compilation The Very Best Of INXS was named as the Australian Album of the Decade by the Australian Recording Industry Association.
Farriss also took sole writing responsibility from time to time, including Beautiful Girl, a song inspired by the birth of his first child. Taken from his band’s eighth album, Welcome To Wherever You Are, its touching lyrics and matching video (which was nominated for a Grammy award) show a different side to the bombastic band behind so many memorable songs…
“I wrote because my eldest daughter Grace was born on 10 June 1991 and three weeks after that we were performing at Wembley Stadium. I didn’t live in England at that time so for me to leave my first child to go and perform was a big thing. Leaving the intimacy of my family to go to a foreign country – which England was and wasn’t at that stage, we loved the Brits, always did – but the point was when I wrote the lyric for that song I started off writing about Grace.
“Then when Michael came round to my house back in Sydney, where we were writing the songs for the album, I played it for him and I told him that lyric idea and he said, ‘You should sing this song and you should write this song,’ and I said, ‘I agree,’ and so I wrote it.
“It started on the guitar as a rhythm guitar part and I added the piano as an overdub, that melody I wrote on a piano. But the chord changes I thought worked really well with the melody and lyric
“In hindsight, I think I should have sung it. I’d sung Questions, the first song on the record. Most people don’t realise that, they think it’s Michael but I probably should have done Beautiful Girl too. I had the demo which I think I must have recorded at home in Sydney and played to Michael. Then when I got to the studio the producer of the album, Mark Opitz, said, ‘Well Michael’s not here,’ and I said, ‘Well this is how the vocal goes,’ and I sang it. Now that I’m talking about it, I really want to hear what I sang. You’ve got me thinking about it now and I want to hear it, but I’m glad Michael sang it.
“I think Michael Hutchence is one of the top five singers and performing artists of all time, as well as a great songwriter and lyricist. He never played an instrument but his voice was his instrument and his pen was mightier than the sword. He wrote great lyrics and was very articulate and I think he was ahead of his time in many ways. He was a bit different and I mean that in a good way. I’d tracked the guide vocal for Beautiful Girl and he heard it when he walked through the door and he liked it and wanted to do it justice, which he did. I love Michael as a singer, we were mates, it wasn’t a competition. I respected him and he respected me. I miss him.
“We released the album in 1992 and Beautiful Girl in 1993 and it hit home for that next generation of artists coming up; people like Pat Monahan from Train, Brandon Flowers from The Killers and Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty who have all said to me independently that they loved our music from that era because we weren’t making the same music as everyone else.
“INXS experimented and deliberately tried to work outside the comfort zone of where we’d worked previously. We could have easily just gone in as rock/pop/funk artists and continued to make the same song but we didn’t, we were a bit dangerous. The record label didn’t understand us in that sense, they’d say, ‘You guys are nuts, you don’t follow the same formula each time you put out an album, you’re a bit quirky and weird.’ But I think that same thing endeared us to both fans and other musicians.
“Beautiful Girl has been covered by other artists and was also Grammy-nominated and it’s a very personal song, being about my eldest daughter. It meant a lot to me and still does. Grace loves the song, she’s actually starting to release her own music as Grace Farriss. I think it took a long time for my kids to understand that ‘Dad’ is one thing and my career is a separate thing. I love my children and try to be a good father, which is completely different to being a good artist, especially in the music industry which is a whole other deal. I love Grace and I’m so proud of Beautiful Girl and so fortunate to have been in such an awesome band as INXS with an incredibly talented singer to sing my song.”