Prayers on Fire
Studio album by
Released6 April 1981 (1981-04-06)
RecordedDecember 1980 – January 1981
StudioA.A.V. Studio 2 and Richmond Recorders, Melbourne, Australia
LabelMissing Link
ProducerTony Cohen, The Birthday Party
The Birthday Party chronology
The Birthday Party
Prayers on Fire
Drunk on the Pope's Blood

Prayers on Fire is the debut studio album by Australian rock group The Birthday Party, which was released on 6 April 1981 on the Missing Link label in Australia, later licensed to the 4AD label. This was the band's first full-length release on an international record label and the first after changing the group's name from Boys Next Door to The Birthday Party. It was recorded at Armstrong's Audio Visual Studios in Melbourne and Richmond Recorders in the nearby suburb of Richmond, between December 1980 and January 1981.


In February 1980 Melbourne-based new wave group, The Boys Next Door, changed their name to The Birthday Party.[1] They consisted of the same lineup of Phill Calvert on drums, Nick Cave on vocals, Mick Harvey on guitar, Rowland S. Howard on guitar and Tracy Pew on bass guitar.[1] They relocated to London and soon signed with the 4AD label which issued the extended play, The Friend Catcher in the United Kingdom. In July, their Australian label, Missing Link Records, released "Mr Clarinet" from the EP as a single.[1] In November Missing Link followed with a compilation album, The Birthday Party under the band names The Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party, which combined previously issued EP and singles tracks with some previously unreleased material.[1]

Also in November 1980, The Birthday Party returned to Australia and toured.[1] According to Australian music historian, Ian McFarlane, "It was during this time that the band cemented its reputation as a peerless live act, with its omnipresent influence settling over the Melbourne scene".[1] On 6 April 1981 they issued the album and followed in June with its lead single, "Nick the Stripper".[1] The group returned to London.[1]

Members of Melbourne jazz rock band Equal Local contributed the brass section to "Nick the Stripper" – tenor saxophonist Mick Hauser was mis-credited as Mick Hunter. Equal Local had formed in 1980 by Dean Richards on guitar, Philip Jackson on synthesisers, trumpet and rhythm generator, Melissa Webb on synthesiser and piano, Bryce Perrin on acoustic bass, and Hauser.[2] Richards and Jackson were bandmates from post punk rockers, Whirlywirld and contemporaries of The Boys Next Door.[2] Equal Local disbanded in early 1982.[2]

Composition and recording

In Melbourne, in December 1980 and January 1981, they joined engineer and producer, Tony Cohen, in Armstrong's Audio Visual Studios (A.A.V. Studio 2) and Richmond Recorders, to record their tracks.[1] Music journalist, Toby Creswell, noted that the band "struggled with creating their own identity some of them also began indulging an appetite for alcohol and heroin".[3] Cave was embarrassed by "Zoo Music Girl" but noted "we were digging for something and we kind of just found it with some songs" and cited "King Ink" as an example of "a certain kind of sound that we wanted to work with on records after that".[3] Eight of the eleven tracks on Prayers on Fire were written or co-written by Cave, "[it] was a kind of reaction to the major disappointments we felt when we went to England... [we] began to see a vision and I don't think we were positively influenced ... we didn't want to be like the English New Wave pop groups of the time".[3] Pew observed "[it] stinks, quite honestly ... The engineer slept through the entire session for a start".[3]


Professional ratings
Review scores
The Austin Chronicle[6]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[7]
The Great Rock Discography8/10[7]
MusicHound Rock4.5/5[7]
Record Mirror[9]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[10]
Spin Alternative Record Guide9/10[11]'s Anthony Carew felt Prayers on Fire was able to "capture the qualities of their infamous live-shows on record ... the evocatively-produced set dared dress key cuts in blaring brass; giving a sense of perverted-cabaret to their mordant racket, turning Cave from nihilist, self-destructive savant to theatrical, flamboyant showman".[4] AllMusic's Greg Maurer found "a fascination with the dark, (self-)destructive side of religion is more than evident in his later work... While there might not be any of the explicit Biblical imagery on [the album] that Cave would later ejaculate, the title ... is apt".[5] Ian McFarlane stated it showed the band was "irrevocably and unashamedly changing for the better, being more aggressive than anything they had ever recorded".[1] SoundStageDirect described it as "a creepy carnival of tribal rhythms, wonky discordance and garbled surrealism".[12] Music critic Ed St John summarised, "this is an expression which ebbs out beyond the confines of proficiently played music ... [it] is akin to watching a film of Jackson Pollock painting or listening to Dylan Thomas in full alcoholic flight".[3]

The track "Ho-Ho" is featured in the 2004 German film, Head-On.


Publication/Source Country Accolade Year Rank
Neil Strauss US The 100 Most Influential Alternative Albums 1993 -[13]
Sounds UK The Top 80 Albums from the '80s 1989 43[7]
The Guardian UK 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die 2007 -[14]
Uncut UK The 100 Greatest Debut Albums 2006 93[15]
The Ultimate Record Collection - The 1980's 2018 -[16]
Rockdelux Spain The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s 1990 57[17]
Rolling Stone Australia Australia The 100 Greatest Albums of the 80s 1990 33[7]
Triple J Australia Hottest 100 Australian Albums 2015 66[18]
Paste US The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums 2016 37[19]
PopMatters US The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever 2017 41[20]

Track listing

No.TitleLyricsMusic byLength
1."Zoo-Music Girl"Nick CaveRowland S. Howard2:38
3."Capers"Genevieve McGuckinHoward2:39
4."Nick the Stripper"CaveCave3:52
6."Figure of Fun"CaveCave, Howard2:48
7."King Ink"CaveCave, Howard4:41
8."A Dead Song"Anita LaneCave2:13
10."Dull Day"HowardHoward3:04
11."Just You and Me"CaveMick Harvey2:03
CD reissue bonus tracks
No.TitleLyricsMusic byLength
13."Kathy's Kisses"CaveCave4:05


The Birthday Party members[21]
Equal Local members on "Nick the Stripper"
Recording details
Art work

Chart positions

Chart (1981) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[22] 96
UK Independent Albums (Record Business)[23] 4


  • McFarlane, Ian (1999). "Whammo Homepage". Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-072-1. Archived from the original on 5 April 2004. Retrieved 26 May 2012. Note: Archived [on-line] copy has limited functionality
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j McFarlane, 'The Birthday Party' entry. Archived from the original on 9 August 2004. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  2. ^ a b c McFarlane, 'Equal Local' entry. Archived from the original on 13 August 2004. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Creswell, Toby (2007) [2005]. 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them (RocKwiz ed.). Prahran, Vic: Hardie Grant. pp. 324–325. ISBN 978-1-74066-458-5.
  4. ^ a b Carew, Anthony. "Definitive Albums: The Birthday Party 'Prayers on Fire' (1981)". Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  5. ^ a b Maurer, Greg. "Prayers on Fire – The Birthday Party". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  6. ^ Stegall, Tim (27 June 1997). "The Birthday Party: Junkyard (2-13-61) / Hee-Haw (2-13-61) / Mutiny/The Bad Seed EP (2-13-61) / Prayers On Fire (2-13-61)". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e "The Birthday Party: Prayers on Fire". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  8. ^ "Nick Cave - Birthday Party - biografia, recensioni, streaming, discografia, foto". OndaRock.
  9. ^ Total, Mark (16 May 1981). "The Birthday Party: Prayers on Fire". Record Mirror. p. 21.
  10. ^ Sisario, Ben (2004). "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 151–152. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  11. ^ Reynolds, Simon (1995). "Birthday Party". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 43–44. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  12. ^ "Prayers on Fire (180 Gram)". SoundStageDirect. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
  13. ^ Schinder, Scott, ed. (1996). "100 Most Influential Alternative Albums". Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-a-Rama. Delta. ISBN 0-385-31360-8.
  14. ^ "1000 albums to hear before you die – Artists beginning with B (part 1)". The Guardian. 17 November 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  15. ^ "Uncut's 100 best debut albums". Uncut. 8 May 2015. p. 2. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  16. ^ "Ultimate Record Collection: 1980s". Uncut. 2020.
  17. ^ "Lo mejor de los 80: 100 álbumes internacionales". Rockdelux (in Spanish). April 1990. Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  18. ^ "Industry Results | Hottest 100 Australian Albums Of All Time". Triple J. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  19. ^ "The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums". Paste. 13 July 2016. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  20. ^ Fitzgerald, Colin (22 January 2017). "The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party". PopMatters. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  21. ^ Prayers on Fire (liner notes). The Birthday Party. 4AD. 1981. CAD 104.((cite AV media notes)): CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 35. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ Lazell, Barry (1997). "The Birthday Party". Indie Hits 1980–1989: The Complete U.K. Independent Charts (Singles & Albums). Cherry Red Books. ISBN 0-95172-069-4. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2014.