John Farnham and his family emigrated from the London suburb of Dagenham (UK) to Australia in 1959, Farnham was ten years old and after the family won £10,000 in the local Tattersalls Lottery they settled in a new home in the south eastern suburb of Noble Park (Melb), and John attended the local Lyndale Primary School. His early musical influences were Jim Reeves, the Everly Brothers and Cliff Richard, and upon his transfer to the Lyndale High School he became the lead singer of a garage band there known as the Mavericks in 1964, at the age of fifteen.On the recommendation of Hans Poulsen (above), who had seen John perform with the Mavericks at the local shopping centre, he was invited to become lead singer with Strings Unlimited, who performed regularly at the Hampton Hotel (Melb) and Georges Hotel in St. Kilda (Melb), and also appeared on Kommotion and came second in an edition of the New Faces TV talent show.Strings Unlimited were often Bev Harrell’s backing band, and her manager/boyfriend was Darryl Sambell (above with Johnny), who was impressed with Farnham’s vocals and stage presence, and following the breakup of Strings Unlimited, Sambell became Farnham’s manager, and got him signed to a recording contract with EMI in 1967. The Melbourne plumber’s apprentice with the winning smile and engaging personality emerged in 1967 with his debut single, an innocuous novelty music hall -style song, which had been suggested by either DJ Stan Rofe (above with Johnny), EMI’s Cliff Baxter or Darryl Sambell, as all claimed to have “discovered” the song. Sadie became Farnham’s first #1 hit, sold an unheard of number of copies, 180,000, became the second best-selling record of 1968, after the Beatles Hey Jude/Revolution; and remained the biggest-selling Australian single for another twelve years until Mike Brady’s Two Man Band notched up 300,000 copies of Up There Cazaly in 1979.Two of the composers John Madara (right above) and Dave White (left above) were prolific songwriters in the rock and roll era with such hits as At the Hop (Danny and the Juniors), You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore), One, Two Three (Len Barry) and Pride (Ray Brown and the Whispers) to their credit.EMI’s in house producer David McKay (above) helmed the production, it was a pastiche of music hall/country influences with banjo and fiddle, a string arrangement arrived at the bridge, followed by some mop, bucket and vacuum cleaner sound effects, a tinkling piano joined the fiddle, banjo and drums to take the song to the outro. A monochrome promo clip featured a clean-cut Johnny in white slacks, tie and blazer giving it all he’s got, while dancers in French maid outfits cavort around the set looking way more glamorous than the poor old bedraggled Sadie with the “red detergent hands”, depicted in the song. It was corny and lightweight, but also incredibly sweet and catchy at the same time.
The song was relentlessly promoted by Farnham’s manager Darryl “Sadie” Sambell who arranged for the ABC ‘s This Day Tonight to shoot “a day in the life of Johnny Farnham” segment. This featured Farnham doing the rounds of the radio stations promoting the record and included DJ Stan Rofe and Go-Set journalist Ian Meldrum, alternately pretending to damn or praise the song, and surprisingly a vacuum cleaner salesman Mr. Jolly, who was even credited on the record as providing the “vacuum solo.” Sadie was a massive hit, stayed at #1 for five weeks, becoming the biggest-selling Australian record of the 1960’s, there were also cover versions recorded in Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Finland. The B side was the ballad In My Room which had been penned by Farnham.The ever-enterprising Frankie Davidson even recorded a parody entitled Hector the Trash Collector, which ended up on the reject pile. Farnham would follow up with the double-A side hit Underneath the Arches, an old Flanagan and Allen song from the 1930’s backed with Friday Kind of Monday which was a more contemporary song and would point the way forward for Farnham in the future, the record charted #6 nationally and was a solid follow up to Sadie. Over the years Johnny gradually learned to embrace the dorkiness of this song, and even though he had to bear the “novelty record curse” for some time, Sadie was ultimately the catalyst for an incredible career in popular music for John over the next 40 years. The late Mike Furber famously declined to record this song when it was offered to him.