JOHN FARNHAM 1967-1997 – PART 1.


One (H Nilsson) and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (B Bacharach/H David) – Johnny Farnham 1969

In 1968 Johnny Farnham took three songs into the national top ten, Sadie (The Cleaning Lady), Underneath the Arches/Friday Kind of Monday, which  was followed by an Everly Brothers cover, I Don’t Want to Love You backed with Hans Poulsen’s Jamie, which climbed to #6. Farnham followed up with another Poulsen song, Rose-Colored Glasses, which Johnny performed on the TV show Uptight, and took it to #19 nationally, for his fourth consecutive hit record. Johnny’s success had encouraged an army of fans to stake out his parents Noble Park home, so in 1969, at the age of twenty, Johnny decided to leave home and share a flat with Masters’ Apprentices bassist Glen Wheatley, whom he had befriended. Wheatley would become a trusted confidante and Farnham’s manager, and they would look out for each other throughout their lives.farnham12Despite the teen adulation Johnny Farnham still had a lot to learn about being a professional entertainer, his manager Daryll “Sadie” Sambell had a master plan to promote the young singer that often pushed Farnham beyond his abilities. A Channel 0 Music Special in April 1969 was a case in point, Farnham was described as wooden and unconvincing, miming songs and not singing them in front of a live audience, and appearing in a comedy sketch dressed as Robin Hood, which was described as embarrassing.farnham16Farnham’s next single was designed to continue his development as a capable singer of songs with real emotional depth and musical complexity, and they chose to cover the Harry Nilsson (above) song One, which had been a #5 US hit for the Three Dog Night only two months before. The song opens with a bold and resonant piano riff and a constantly recurring rhythmic ostinato bass pattern, which involved duplicating the electric bassline on a piano and then double tracking it. It was Nilsson’s intention to create the sound of an engaged telephone line to underscore the loneliness of the sound of an unanswered call. Johnny invested real emotion and gravitas into his interpretation of the song, the production was classy with a hint of psychedelia, and it charted #4 nationally, despite the B-side being the appalling product placement drivel Mr Whippy.

By 1969 Hal David and Burt Bacharach (below) were one of the supreme pop songwriting teams in the world, only rivalled by Motown songwriting royalty Holland, Dozier, Holland, and the stalwarts of New York’s Brill Building who were still churning out the hits – Carole King and Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. Singer-songwriters were also dominant, none less than Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Neil Diamond, and the Gibb brothers.farnham15David and Bacharach were scoring the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a dream pairing of the two most popular and handsome leading men in Hollywood at the time – Paul Newman and Robert Redford.farnham13Director George Roy Hill needed musical accompaniment for a romantic bicycle ride Newman takes with co-star Katherine Ross and wanted music that was evocative of the 1850’s period in which our two train robbers were notorious. Unusually for the songwriting duo, Bacharach came up with the title of the song and although lyricist David tried to change It, he couldn’t do better, both the title and the lyrics are unusual and off-kilter, but ultimately the song and the bicycle sequence became a highlight of the movie.farnham14Bacharach had originally intended the song for Bob Dylan and wrote it sympathetically in his key, but Dylan famously rejected the offer, the second person offered the song was Ray Stevens, who also declined to record it, it seemed that there wasn’t much love for this song. The song was then offered to BJ Thomas (above), who had scored recent hits with Mama and Hooked On A Feeling and he gleefully seized on the opportunity to record a new Bacharach/David song. Thomas had just come off an extensive touring schedule and was suffering from acute laryngitis, but he nailed the recording on the sixth take and the movie studio was impressed at how his husky vocals sounded like Paul Newman!

Farnham covered the song locally and stuck pretty much to the original arrangement, ukelele and piano at the opening with strings and more extensive orchestration than the original version, which had used trumpets more prominently. There were two versions of the original, the soundtrack version which included the zany up tempo razzamatazz piece at the bridge, which was the version recorded by Farnham, and another which did not include the zany insert. The song won the 1970 Academy Award for Best Original Song, Farnham’s cover version outsold BJ Thomas’s version in Aust charting at #1 and becoming the 10th biggest-selling record of the year. Farnham was the reigning King of Pop and his likeable persona and resonant tenor voice would continue to deliver the hits until 1975, when his career trajectory would nosedive.farnham11

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