COUNTDOWN SPECIAL – PART 2

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Stimulation (P Gray) and I Could Make You Love Me (P Gray) and Sugar Free (P Gray) – Wa Wa Nee 1986 

Wa Wa Nee were a funk-pop dance band who graduated from the pub rock circuit in Sydney to a broader audience by exploiting a bubblegum pop aesthetic wrapped up in a glossy pop star package, perfect for the Countdown audience and the adolescent female teen market.

Songwriter Paul Gray (keyboards/keytar) and lead guitarist Steve Williams (guitar) were the creative nucleus of the band who were well-coiffured, stylish, and good-looking, their glittery synths and cool base -driven songs were imbued with a Prince-like ambience, and they enjoyed almost instant success. Their touring band included Mark Gray (bass), Elizabeth Lord (keyboards, vocals), and Chris Sweeney (drums) and on their debut album Peter Gray (keyboard/vocals) and Peter Bondy (synthesizer) were also credited.

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The band’s eponymous debut album was recorded at Studio 301 (Syd.) and all ten songs were written by Paul Gray, the album charted #29 nationally and spawned no less than four top twenty hit songs in the period 1986 -87.

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Stimulation was the first single released and it propelled the album to platinum status, its funk/synth/pop blend became a dancefloor anthem, and in retrospect it rates right up there with great Australian dance tracks by such artists as Kylie Minogue, the Avalanches, Flume, the Presets and Madison Avenue. It climbed to #2 nationally and was quickly followed by I Could Make You Love Me which hit #5 locally.

The hits kept coming from the debut album as the third single Sugar Free became their third consecutive top ten hit as well as their breakthrough international hit at #35 in the USA, the fourth single released in May 1987 was One and One (Ain’t I Good Enough) which peaked at #19 locally.

The band released their second album Blush in 1988 and the first single lifted from it was Can’t Control Myself which peaked at #39, but Wa Wa Nee disbanded in 1989, after which Gray concentrated on work as a keyboard player, musical director, songwriter and producer.

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He collaborated with many highly successful Australian artists, including Tina Arena, Kate Ceberano, Deni Hines, and Bardot and appeared in the Countdown Concert series in Australia between late August and early September 2007 as a performer and musical director. The band re-formed briefly in 2012 and 2014 to support Rick Astley on his Australian tours, but Paul Gray sadly passed away in 2018.

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