What About Me (G Frost/F Frost)– Shannon Noll 2004
It was November 2003 and over 2,000 people had turned up at the Sydney Opera House to cheer on their favourites in the final of the debut season of Australian Idol, a TV audience of 3 million had also tuned in, a record number for a talent quest final in this country.
Guy Sebastian with his disarming smile and flamboyant Afro sang Get You Along, by Robin Thicke, while the laconic country boy from Condobolin (NSW), with his “flavour saver” goatee sang the Moving Pictures 1982 smash hit, What About Me.
Sebastian won and went onto a successful recording career, the loveable larrikin Shannon Noll then blazed his own trail through the pop firmament taking his first ten singles into the top ten as well as his first four albums, he certainly didn’t look or sound like a guy who had just lost the biggest talent show contest in the country.
Following the Idol finale Noll went into Studio 301 and Eargasm Studios (Syd) with Bryon Jones (Rockmelons) to record his debut album, from which his cover of the Moving pictures hit What About Me was pre-released in 2004. The original version of this Gary Frost song was a melodramatic power ballad that featured the booming vocals of lead singer Alex Smith, pounding tympanic percussion and a grandiose orchestral arrangement, it was a #1 hit locally and charted overseas, Shannon Noll was about to bring this song back to the charts with a vengeance.
Noll was quick to realise that his appeal was linked to a country boy relatability that resonated with fans, in his early videos he wore flannel shirts, jeans, workboots and looked like the wheat and sheep farmer that he used to be, sporting an uncomplicated haircut and singing in a voice “that came from you and me”, to quote Don McLean’s description of Bob Dylan’s voice in his classic song American Pie, his fan base quickly swelled.
He was so damned ordinary, unpretentious, unprepossessing, and unthreatening, that he became the battler underdog that Australians love to embrace – and they did.
He cannily chose the song he had performed in the Idol final as his first single release, he was aware of his vocal limitations, not for him a song like Guy Sebastian’s debut hit Angels Brought Me Here from the Cheiron Stockholm hit factory, with its upper register key changes that were perfect for Sebastian’s tenor voice, but beyond the range of Noll, who would ultimately aim for a vocal style somewhere between Bryan Adams and Keith Urban, a vocal bridge between rock and country, that would serve him well.
In Noll’s hands What About Me was a more restrained, less emotive version than Alex Smith’s dramatic interpretation of the song, the tympanic melodrama was dialed back, and the video had a folksy feel to it. Filmed in Condobolin, Noll’s home town, it recreated the scene at the “counter of a corner shop” and in the finale united what looked like the whole township in the main street, to cheer on their local hero, it was sentimental and manipulative, and very effective, the song went straight to #1 and stayed there for four weeks.
In Australia the record sold over 300,000 copies, was a #2 hit in Ireland and top ten in NZ, his debut album That’s What I’m Talking About, a mixture of rock, pop and country tracks, also debuted at #1 and sold over 350,000 copies, he would lift another two songs from this album in 2004, Drive and Learn to Fly, and take them both into the national top five.