Under the Milky Way

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"Under the Milky Way"
The Church Under the Milky Way single cover.jpg
Australian region version
Single by The Church
from the album Starfish
B-side "Musk", "Warm Spell"
Released 15 February 1988 (1988-02-15)
Recorded 1987
Los Angeles
Length 4:05, 4:57
The Church singles chronology
"Under the Milky Way"
"Under the Milky Way "

"Under the Milky Way" is a single by Australian alternative rock band The Church, released on 15 February 1988 and appears on their fifth studio album Starfish. The song was written by bass guitarist and lead vocalist Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend Karin Jansson (ex-Pink Champagne, Curious (Yellow)). It peaked at No. 22 on the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart, No. 24 on the United States Billboard Hot 100, No. 25 on the New Zealand Singles Chart and appeared in the Dutch Single Top 100. At the ARIA Music Awards of 1989, the song won 'Single of the Year'. It was issued simultaneously in both 7" vinyl and 12" vinyl formats by Arista Records (internationally) and Mushroom Records (Australian region).


In 1987 Australian alternative rock band The Church travelled to Los Angeles to record their fifth studio album, Starfish, and worked with producers Waddy Wachtel (Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Robbie Williams) and Greg Ladanyi (Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac).[1][2]

The Church's line-up for the album was Steve Kilbey on bass guitar and lead vocals, Peter Koppes on guitars, Marty Willson-Piper on guitars, and Richard Ploog on drums and percussion.[1][2] However, while recording "Under the Milky Way", the band were unable to get a drum track which sounded right with Ploog, so they played to a click track and later session musician Russ Kunkel was brought in to add drums and percussion.[3]


"Under the Milky Way" was written by Kilbey and Karin Jansson of Curious (Yellow).[4][5] Kilbey and Jansson had become friends in 1983 and lived together in Australia from 1986.[6] Kilbey said, "I smoked a joint and started playing the piano and she came in the room and we just made it up."[7] According to a press release issued with Starfish, the title is from an Amsterdam music and cultural venue, Melkweg (Dutch for "Milky Way"), which Kilbey used to frequent.[8]

I just stumbled upon it and for some reason it has struck this wonderful sense of universality with people that most of my songs don't.
Steve Kilbey[5]

"Under the Milky Way" features a 12-string acoustic guitar melody along with a solo composed with an EBow on a Fender Jazzmaster, and recorded on a Synclavier, leading to a sound reminiscent of bagpipes.[3] In October 1990 Jansson told John Tingwell of Drum Media about songwriting with Kilbey "it's a very spontaneous thing. It's not as if someone has put us together to write a hit song. It's more like sometimes when we write together, a song comes knocking on the door".[6] While in September 2008 Kilbey discussed the track with Iain Shedden of The Australian.[5]

Release history[edit]

"Under the Milky Way" was released on 15 February 1988 in both 7" vinyl and 12" vinyl formats by Arista Records (internationally) and Mushroom Records (Australian region).[9] The Church's fifth studio album, Starfish, was issued simultaneously with the single. In April the single was released in several formats worldwide including 7", double 7", 12", CD single, and compact cassette, using at least five different cover art designs.[10] The 12" B-sides were "Musk" and "Warm Spell", whereas the 7" B-side was "Musk".[10] Different Spanish versions added either "Anna Miranda" or "Perfect Child". The music video for the song featured on The Church's video compilation Goldfish (Jokes, Magic & Souvenirs).


On the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart "Under the Milky Way" peaked at No. 22.[9][11] However, it was not their highest charting single: "Almost with You" (1982) and "Metropolis" (1990) charted at No. 21 and No. 19, respectively, on the Australian charts.[9][11] In the United States it reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart.[12] Other charting peaks include No. 25 on the New Zealand Singles Chart,[13] No. 69 on the Canadian RPM 100,[14] No. 70 on the Dutch Single Top 100,[15] and No. 90 in the United Kingdom.

At the ARIA Music Awards of 1989 "Under the Milky Way" won 'Single of the Year',[16] though Kilbey refused to attend the award ceremony. He said, "You will note that I didn't collect the award. I don't give a fuck about winning that award. I've been a big critic of the Australian music industry. I think the whole thing is utterly embarrassing and repulsive."[7]

In 2006 Kilbey said of the recording, "It's actually flat lifeless 'n' and sterile. Great song, sure, but the performance, the sounds are ordinary. We coulda got that in Australia in a week or two for a 20th of the money we spent. Hey, it's sold almost a million in the US alone, but we'll never see any money 'cause it cost so much to make".[17] Kilbey's assessment ignored its second life as a much-licensed track. In December 2011, he told News Limited reporter, Cameron Adams:

"There is almost nothing, except for maybe a cigarette ad, I'd say no to 'Under the Milky Way' being used for [...] It was used for a car advertisement in America, very lucratively for me. You'd think people would think it's been overused, but the more it's used the more people seem to want to use it. I'm signing off all the time for TV shows or chocolate bars using it. Sure, have it, it's just a song, do whatever you like with it. You can hear it wasn't written for profit. It's an accidental song I accidentally wrote and accidentally became a single and accidentally became a hit. It's been a nice earner [...] I've written 2000 songs. Thank God one of them came through! [...] The others aren't pulling their weight. They sit and grumble about 'Under the Milky Way' and I say, 'Well, boys, go out and earn the same dough as that one'. I never see 'Under the Milky Way' – it's so busy out there working..."[18]

In 2001, the song was featured in the soundtrack for the movie, Donnie Darko. In 2006, it was performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Kilbey said after the performance that it was as if the song had been made for the occasion, though in his blog he was critical of the Commonwealth Games as an event.[19] In September 2008, readers of The Weekend Australian Magazine voted it as the best Australian song of the last 20 years.[5] Sheet music for "Under the Milky Way" was published by Hal Leonard.

In October 2010, The Church's Starfish was listed in the top 40 in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums.[20] The authors, John O'Donnell, Toby Creswell and Craig Mathieson, described "Under the Milky Way" as "[The Church's] signature track ... [which] caught them at their peak of guitar-fuelled creativity ... [it is] the elegiac centrepiece of the record ... sounded like an induction, with its soft, monkish keyboard washes and ringing guitar chords, but it never reaches the point of transition where one world gives way to the next ... possibly concerned with drugs, but it transcends any single setting or worldview".[20]

Track listing[edit]

12" Australian region version
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Under the Milky Way" Steve Kilbey, Karin Jansson[4] 4:57
2. "Warm Spell" Kilbey, Marty Willson-Piper, Peter Koppes[21] 4:35
3. "Musk" Willson-Piper, Richard Ploog, Kilbey, Koppes[22] 3:55

Cover versions[edit]

"Under The Milky Way [27]"
Under the Milky Way by Sia (cover).jpg
Single by Sia
Released 26 January 2010 (2010-01-26)
Format Digital download
Recorded 2009
Length 3:34
Label Rhino Records (Warner Music Group)
Sia singles chronology
"You've Changed"
"Under The Milky Way [27]"
"Clap Your Hands"
"You've Changed"
"Under The Milky Way"
"Clap Your Hands"


TV/film appearances[edit]

"Under The Milky Way" was featured in the season 1 episode of Scorpion titled "Charades",[29] the episode "Asian Cut" in Season 5 of Miami Vice, and also in the 2001 Jake Gyllenhaal movie, Donnie Darko.[30]


  1. ^ a b McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Encyclopedia entry for 'The Church'". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 4 June 2004. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Holmgren, Magnus. "The Church". Australian Rock Database. Magnus Holmgren. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Lurie, Robert Dean (2009). No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and The Church. Portland OR: Verse Chorus Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-89124-122-2. 
  4. ^ a b c "'Under the Milky Way' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Shedden, Iain (20 September 2008). "Milky Way Judged the Best Song from Down Under". The Australian. News Limited (News Corp Australia). Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Tingwell, John (16 October 1990). "Karin Jansson Talks About Charms and Blues". Drum Media. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Tracee Hutchison (1992). Your Name's On The Door. Sydney, New South Wales: ABC Enterprises. p. 167. ISBN 0-7333-0115-0. 
  8. ^ Mathieson, Craig (2009). "Answers First, Questions Later". Playlisted: Everything You Need to Know About Australian Music Right Now. University of Sydney, NSW: UNSW Press. pp. 144–148. ISBN 978-1-74223-017-7. 
  9. ^ a b c Hung, Steffen. "The Church – 'Under the Milky Way'". Australian Charts Portal. Hung Medien (Steffen Hung). Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Grimm, Don; Skjefte, Morten; Allen, David; Marshall, Kevyn; Fulmer, Mike (8 August 2000). "The Church Discography – Singles: 'Under the Milky Way' (1988)". Mike Fulmer. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book Ltd. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.  Note: Used for Australian Singles and Albums charting from 1974 until Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) created their own charts in mid-1988. In 1992, Kent back calculated chart positions for 1970–1974.
  12. ^ "The Church – Charts & Awards | Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Hung, Steffen. "The Church – 'Under the Milky Way'". New Zealand Charts Portal. Hung Medien (Steffen Hung). Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  14. ^ "RPM100 Singles". RPM. Library and Archives of Canada. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  15. ^ Hung, Steffen. "The Church – 'Under the Milky Way'" (in Dutch). Single Top 100 (Media Control Charts). Hung Medien (Steffen Hung). Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  16. ^ "Winners by Year: 1989". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  17. ^ Jenkins, Jeff; Meldrum, Ian "Molly" (2007). "40 Great Australian Songs". Molly Meldrum Presents 50 Years of Rock in Australia. Melbourne, Vic: Wilkinson Publishing. p. 301. ISBN 978-1-921332-11-1. 
  18. ^ Adams, Cameron (14 December 2011). "The Church Milk Their Own Song". News Limited. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  19. ^ Kilbey, Steve (16 March 2006). "The Games People Play Now ... Everynight n Everyday Now". The Time Being: Being the Diary of a Certain Mister Kilbey. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  20. ^ a b O'Donnell, John; Creswell, Toby; Mathieson, Craig (October 2010). 100 Best Australian Albums. Prahran, Vic: Hardie Grant Books. pp. 106–107. ISBN 978-1-74066-955-9. 
  21. ^ "'Warm Spell' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  22. ^ "'Musk' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  23. ^ "'Anna Miranda' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  24. ^ "'Antenna' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  25. ^ "'Destination' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  26. ^ "'Perfect Child' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  27. ^ "Under the Milky Way - single". iTunes Australia. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  28. ^ Grimm, Don; Skjefte, Morten; Allen, David; Marshall, Kevyn; Fulmer, Mike (8 August 2000). "Covers of Songs by The Church". Mike Fulmer. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  29. ^ ""Scorpion" Charades (TV Episode 2015) - Soundtracks". IMDb. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  30. ^ "Donnie Darko (2001 Movie) - Soundtracks". IMDb. Retrieved 9 February 2016. 

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