Wayne Mason, keyboard player with the Fourmyula, wrote ‘Nature’ in 1969, the year of Woodstock, the film Easy rider and the Beatles' album Abbey road.
Hear the Muttonbirds' 1992 version of ‘Nature’:
In 2001, to celebrate 75 years of its existence, the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) invited its members and an academy to vote for what they believed to be New Zealand’s top songs of all time.
The clear winner from 900 entries was ‘Nature’ by Wayne Mason. It reached number one on the charts in January 1970 and became a hit again in 1992 when it was recorded by New Zealand band the Mutton Birds. Mason was impressed with the Mutton Birds’ rockier version, though the hard guitar lines upset a few people, including Mason’s mum.
Mason’s band, the Fourmyula, which was from Upper Hutt, had already established itself as the most creative and energetic local band of its day. The band recorded a string of original compositions that changed the face of local pop. They missed out on a debut number one in 1968 when ‘Come with me’ unluckily came up against the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’.
In November 1969 they recorded a new album, Creation, which included Mason’s folk-tinged ‘Nature’, with its uniquely gleeful sing-along chorus. For the song, the band chose autoharp and soft percussive effects rather than a full drum kit. ‘We decided to use a wooden organ lid as the kick drum, the sole of a leather shoe as the hi-hat and a full box of matches for the snare drum. People were laughing deliriously in the control room as we took off our shoes and beat them with a stick, trying to find the right sound,’ Mason recalled.
Producer Peter Dawkins played back the track and knew it would be the band’s next single. Mason was shocked. He didn't think it was a commercial number at all. Dawkins was adamant, even though Mason believed the single would flop.
A month later, while touring England, the Fourmyula learned that the song had reached number one on the New Zealand charts, with sales of around 17,000. ‘Nature’ earned Mason the APRA Silver Scroll in 1970 before winning the ultimate accolade 31 years later.
Somewhat ironically the Fourmyula never played ‘Nature’ live. Mason argued that local audiences weren't ready for local bands performing original material, but the amplification equipment also made it nearly impossible for live bands to use acoustic instruments on stage.
‘Nature’ was written in the height of 1960s pop culture. The fashion was shoulder-length hair, exotically motley dressing and expanding the mind. Mason's song echoed the psychedelic, pastoral imagery of the times with lyrics like ‘turning breeze to speech’ and ‘nature’s own voice I hear’, but the Fourmyula never identified with the so-called counter-culture. ‘We were just a bunch of well-adjusted teenagers in love. I wrote "Nature" in an hour on the front porch of my mum’s house, looking out on a beautiful day with trees and stuff. Bees were buzzing and my heart was fluttering,' Mason recalled. It was ‘a nice, happy song which I wrote as a 19-year-old. I do sort of cringe a bit at the words. But the fact that it’s been successful twice does prove something. If someone covers your song and it still does well, it must have something.’
The original 'Nature':