"This gal comes walking up towards me and she's topless, but she had these incredibly blue eyes and I was trying my best just to look at her eyes": The unexpected story of how John Oates and Iva Davies wrote Icehouse's Electric Blue

Iva Davies with Icehouse and John Oates
(Image credit: David Redfern/Redferns and Larry Busacca/WireImage (Getty Images))

The '80s were an interesting time for songwriting. Studio technology was moving at a pace where the gear could inform creativity like never before. But songwriting is always about connections – and not just the visceral one between artist and listener. Collaborative writing feeds off of chemistry; one person's idea becoming bigger as it bounces off another's creativity. 

But when the two parties are already successful artists in their own right, there's pressure. With the best will in the world, these songwriting partnerships can go either way – and it very nearly went south for John Oates and Icehouse's Iva Davies.   

Davies' band were already four albums into a successful career in Australia when the singer and guitarist met John Oates by chance. The band's 1982 album Icehouse under their original name Flowers was very much a reflection of the technology-led creativity that would help define the first half of the decade at least. And it resulted in impressive results; its opening Gary Numand and David Bowie-esque title track was an illustration of those breakthroughs in synth technology driving new sounds and songs. 

"Icehouse was one of the earliest of those very particular moments where a piece of technology completely dictated terms to me," Davies told Noise11 over a decade ago. "We had bought this new string synthesizer, I brought it home and stayed up all night with it and a tape recorder and by the morning had the entire song. And it was purely a byproduct of having this new gadget to play with." 

I knew Ice House and I was a fan of the band

John Oates

By the time Davies was thinking about what would be the band's fourth and best-selling album, 1987's Man Of Colours, he found himself in the US touring its 1986 predecessor Measure For Measure and having a chance encounter with a mutual musician fan. While he sitting at the bar of the Mayflower hotel in New York City, he received a phone call. The barman told him it was John Oates.  

"I knew Icehouse and I was a fan of the band and we started talking," John Oates recalled to Jeff Mosenbaum for his podcast, Inside Of You. I was kind of in a little bit of downtime, and I wasn't really working too much at that moment. And he said, 'Hey, would you ever want to come to Australia and maybe we could write something.'

Davies remembers it differently. "He said, 'We have to write songs together,' and I'm a very nervous collaborator – I'm not comfortable in that situation," the Icehouse frontman shared on their official YouTube channel in 2012. "I made every excuse I could to get out of it – 'We're in the middle of a tour… I've got to go back to Australia.'"

Things weren't clicking

John Oates

Oates ended up visiting Davies in Sydney with plans to just stay for five days to see what they could come up with. And to begin with, the chemistry between the two as songwriters wasn't quite coming together.

"We were messing around and things weren't clicking… I was getting a little nervous because he brought me all the way down there and I felt like I wasn't delivering in a sense." Then something happened – inspiration came in an unlikely form.

"It was the beginning when people had just started windsurfing," recalled Oates. "So he was into windsurfing and [Ivor] said, 'Let's just got to the beach and clear our heads. I'm gonna go windsurfing and you can go hang out on the beach or whatever.' So we went to the beach, and back in those days all the beaches were topless in Australia and I was sitting on the beach while he was out there windsurfing. So I'm sitting there and this gal comes walking up towards me and she's topless but she had these incredibly blue eyes and I was trying my best just to look at her eyes – at her face and keep my eyes focussed on her face.

"Then it just popped into my head – electric blue. I went, 'Oh ok' and then when we went back to the studio afterward I said, 'Look, I've got this idea', and I told Iva and he laughed. I said, 'Let's write a song about this girl's eyes that just penetrate you.' And that was it – we wrote it in like two hours."

John Oates is a man who clearly knows a hit where I didn't

Iva Davies

Not completely. At that point Davies wasn't convinced what they'd come up with had the makings of a hit, let alone one that would break into the US top 10.  

"John Oates is a man who clearly knows a hit where I didn't," Davies admitted to Noise11. "In fact if you asked me, what song would you have voted least likely to succeed then it probably would have been Electric Blue."

Part of the reason for that is when Oates had to leave to return to the US, Electric Blue was still an unfinished song in Davies' mind.

"At the point at which we had finished working on it as much as we were going to – he came out to Australia for a week," adds Davies. "It was a very unfinished song – there were large gaps in it, I had certain bit of melody line, we had the title, a couple of lines like 'all over you' and so on. But at that point, even in a skeletal form, John Oates said to me, 'This will be a hit – you make sure you record it. If you don't, Hall & Oates will and we'll put it out as a single and it will be a hit."

Davies kept a promise to Oates and recorded it, fulfilling the potential the latter saw in the song all along. A slice of '80s pop-rock perfection, full of hopeless romantic longing with Davies sporting a majestic mullet in the video, Oates providing the falsetto backing vocals he tracked early on and Simon Lloyd the inspired sax break. 

 It's the song Icehouse is most known for worldwide (though in their home country it's Great Southern Land that is their anthem) and The Killers even paid tribute to it with a respectful cover during the lockdown.

"It's absolutely my favourite cover version that's ever been done of any of our songs," Davies told Triple M Rock in 2020. "I watched it with my partner and she turned to me and said, 'You can really tell that Brandon Flowers invested an incredible amount of concentration in singing it properly and doing a great version.' 

Davies himself is one of Australia's most respected musicians – outside of spanning pub-rock and synth with Icehouse, the classically-trained musician has enjoyed success as a composer for television and film – notably for the Russell Crowe film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Electric Blue's two writers would eventually reunite to perform the song together at Madison Square Garden and then the Sydney Opera House in 2017. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.