Before the release of You’re the Voice, John Farnham was in serious financial difficulties, he had sold his house and car and was living with his family in a rented property in Bulleen (Melb). He had departed the Little River Band after a four- year stint between 1982-86 with only minor professional success, little to show financially, and his solo career was non-existent. He barely survived twelve hitless years between 1974 -86 with the minor exception of a #8 single in Australia with a histrionic cover of the Beatles Help! in 1980, the RSL clubs and vintage rock tours were beckoning.Farnham’s teenage pop domination of the Sadie era had become a monkey on his back, although he was a more mature performer and still possessed an impressive voice, he was regarded as uncool by hip FM radio stations, record labels saw no future for him, and songwriters never sent him great songs to record.You’re the Voice was written by four British music industry insiders with impressive credentials – Chris Thompson, former lead singer/guitarist with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (Blinded By The Light) and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (Thunder Child) had been inspired by a 100,000 strong Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament march to Hyde Park in London on October 25th. 1985 (below), and this provided the impetus for him to write about using your own voice to make a change.On that day Thompson met with former Cockney Rebel keyboard player Andy Qunta (below) who had also written sings for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, and Eurhythmics backing singer Maggie Ryder at his Hendon studio to write a hit song, they all belonged to the same music publishing company Rondor Music.Thompson recalled how the day unfolded “I’d overslept and didn’t make the march. We were watching it on TV. I was annoyed at myself and that’s where the idea for You’re the Voice came from. If you want to do something you have to go out and do it yourself.” After Qunta and Ryder (below) left at around 5.00pm, Thompson came up with the ‘Wo-oh-oh-oh’ hook in the chorus, then Ryder called saying she’d come up with an idea for the chorus, a melody line which worked perfectly before his idea. “After that we never got in the same room again, “ said Thompson, they spoke on the phone about lyrics but he kept working on it in his studio, as it progressed he got the title You’re the Voice and had verse lyrics and chorus lyrics. “I thought it was a good song but the lyrics weren’t as good as the music.” Thompson said, so he used a go-between to contact lyricist Keith Reid (below), who had co-written Procul Harum’s 1967 anthem A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Reid came up with some very important lines including ‘We’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son’, and beefed up the general feeling and emotional content of the song, removing several overly sentimental lines.The anthemic quality of the melody was undeniable, it was a protest song, but the lyrics weren’t as defiant or assertive as other protest songs of the early 1980’s, such as 99 Luftballoons (Nena), Sunday, Bloody Sunday (U2), Biko (Peter Gabriel) or Straight to Hell (The Clash), so the vocal interpretation and quality and impact of the recording would be important to lift it to major hit status.Chris Thompson, who had grown up in New Zealand, became aware that Farnham wanted to record the song and flatly refused to allow it, he recalled the cringe-worthy Sadie and vetoed the deal.The song was to be included on Thompson’s upcoming album, but his record company rejected it because they believed there was no market for protest songs such as You’re the Voice.Andy Qunta had been working in Australia with Icehouse (see above, Andy is far right) on their upcoming releases, he co-composed Crazy, a hit for Icehouse in 1987, heard that Farnham was still looking for material for his upcoming album, so he gave the cassette tape of Chris Thompson’s demo of You’re the Voice to Farnham’s team.They were ecstatic as the song had hit written all over it, which was fortunate, as Farnham had previously passed on the song From A Distance, a big hit for Bette Midler several years later, which had been written for John to record, but he couldn’t relate to the message inherent in the lyrics “God is watching us from a distance”. Wheatley and Farnham had also rejected an offer to record We Built This City which became a US #1 hit for Starship (above), so there was a lot riding on the final decision to make You’re the Voice the centre-piece of the album, Whispering Jack.Record companies were not so convinced, Farnham’s manager, Glenn Wheatley, had to set up Wheatley Records, and mortgage his house in Toorak, to raise the money to record the album Whispering Jack, from which You’re the Voice was lifted. The Whispering Jack moniker was inspired by Farnham’s clever impersonation of Pot Black’s “Whispering Ted Lowe” during pool games in the local pub.
The album had been demoed on Farnham’s basic four-track recording equipment at his rented home, he had agreed to work with Ross Fraser (above), but this was the first album Fraser had ever produced, RCA had no local artists on their books at the time, but agreed to distribute the record, so all the stars would have to align for the album and the single, You’re the Voice, to succeed.The anthemic power ballad, complete with handclaps in the intro, a skirl of bagpipes, slamming car doors doubling for sampled percussion, and some inspired application by David Hirschfelder (above) of the latest Australian invention; the Fairlight CMI synthesizer, the brainchild of two Sydney tech whiz kids Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie; ensured that the buzz around this Farnham comeback record kept mounting. A cheap $10,000 promo video shot in Melbourne’s Ormond Hall, featured Farnham in a convincing impression of newsreader Brian Henderson as images of war and conflict raged behind him, as the video progressed Derryn Hnch and his then-wife Jacki Weaver appear as a warring couple in the suburbs, Skyhooks bassist Greg Macainsh, Pseudo Echo drummer Vince Leigh and Farnham’s agent Frank Stivala also completed the cast of friends and relations who made up the cast.
Impressive booming vocals by Farnham and excellent backup vocal support from Rozzi Bazzani, Sandy Weekes, Helen Cornish, Penny Dyer, and Colin Setches, lifted “the little record that could”, to become the Aussie battler international hit of the year. Wheatley’s marketing strategy to promote Farnham and the album was pure genius, revealed to the public via an extended appearance on the most popular show on national Saturday night television, Hey Hey It’s Saturday with 1.5 million viewers, for the first time Farnham appeared in a full-length Driza-Bone with long wind-swept hair, he seemed to completely embody the spirit of the anthemic song.
The following day radio stations were bombarded with requests for the song and forced to add it to their playlists, this was followed by the national Jack’s Back tour which played to 120,000 people, the album which had cost $150,000 to make, sat atop the Australian album charts for 25 weeks, and ultimately grossed $57 million from global sales.You’re the Voice and Whispering Jack won the Aria Awards for Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Best Male Artist, Highest Selling Single and Album, and Best Contemporary Album in 1987, it charted #1 nationally and in Germany and Sweden, as well as top ten in three other European countries, #6 in the UK and top 20 in Canada. Whispering Jack was the first million-selling domestic album in Australia, ultimately topping out at 1.7 million copies, You’re the Voice, was successfully covered by Heart in the US in 1991 who took it into the top 20 there. Farnham’s career was re-ignited, the Whispering Jack album proved to be the vanguard of the Farnham career resurrection, and he would continue to storm the charts over the next decade, no longer concerned about whether he was called John or Johnny, because he was Whispering Jack.