The 1970’s would see a flowering of Australian popular music, and a whole new outpouring of something which, while it may have seemed at times dangerously close to patriotism, could more correctly be characterized as the unlocking of creativity and activity in live and recorded music, in song writing, in broadcasting, and in a growing confidence to take original Australian music to the world.The 1970’s were a decade of breathtaking musical fluidity, as one genre after another competed for our attention – pop, bubblegum pop, disco, heavy metal, glam rock, reggae, soul, progressive rock, punk rock, greaser rock/doo wop, psychedelic rock, jug band, country rock, and others who all had their exponents at the local level.
As the 70s began, newer acts rose alongside the survivors of the beat boom, who had regrouped with new bands and a new purpose. Performers like Blackfeather, Billy Thorpe & The New Aztecs (above left), Daddy Cool and Spectrum led a “third wave”, ushering in a more confident and mature era of original Australian music. Over the next five years they would be joined by such bands as Company Caine, Kahvas Jute, Tully, Jeff St John & Copperwine, Tamam Shud, Chain (above right), The La De Das, Madder Lake, and many others who would produce some of the finest rock music of that generation.
The Radio Ban of 1970 as discussed in the previous installment of 4TR’s review of the decades (1950’s and 1960’s), was a major force for change in the local market, as new independent labels sprung up to challenge the stranglehold on the local market held by such major companies as EMI, Festival, Warner, RCA, and CBS, as the new kids on the block -Sparmac, Fable, Du Monde, Image, and Chart – gleefully plundered the market for singles banned from airplay because of the dispute and simply signed local acts to produce cover versions, which were generally of excellent quality, and then got their foot in the door with commercial radio stations, currently starved of product by the big labels. The notable chart successes at this time were Liv Maessen who respectively covered Mary Hopkins (Knock, Knock, Who’s There) and Anne Murray (Snowbird), The Mixtures who covered Mungo Jerry (In The Summertime), Jigsaw who covered Christie (Yellow River), The Strangers who covered Edison Lighthouse (My Melanie Makes Me Smile), Fourth House (which was Danny Robinson) who covered Cat Stevens (Wild World), Flake who covered Julie Driscoll, and Brian Auger and Trinity (Wheel’s On Fire) and Frankie Davidson who covered The Pipkins (Gimme Dat Ding).
But the Radio Ban had whetted the appetite for local artists, in 1970 no less than seven local acts featured in the best -selling top 25 hits of the year, several were covers of those UK songs that had been banned, but others had success with local original songs – Old Man Emu (John Williamson), Smiley (Ronnie Burns), and I Thank You (Lionel Rose).
A year later in 1971 two classic original songs would dominate the charts and become iconic musical signposts for Australians throughout the 1970’s and beyond – Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool, and Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone, 1971 also saw an amazing flowering of local talent, as recording techniques advanced and local original songs stormed the charts here and overseas in a manner not seen before – Golden Miles (Healing Force), Speak To The Sky (Rick Springfield), Black And Blue (Chain), Seasons of Change (Blackfeather), Come Back Again /Hi Honey Ho! (Daddy Cool), Sweet Sweet Love (Russell Morris), Because I Love You (Masters Apprentices), Toast and Marmalade (Tin Tin), Looking Through A Window (Wendy Sadington), Lonely Days/How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (Bee Gees) and many more.The 1960’s had ushered in the era of big rock and pop festivals around the world at such locations in the UK as the Isle of Wight, Reading, Leeds and even Hyde Park and in the US at Newport, Monterey and most famously Woodstock and most disastrously at Altamont.
In 1970 the Pilgrimage for Pop at Ourimbah (NSW) was our first local rock festival, others followed at Myponga (SA), Launching Place (Vic), Wallacia (NSW) and A.N.U. (Canberra), and the inaugural Sunbury Festival was held over the Australia Day weekend in January 1972.Sunbury is recognized as the archetypal Australian rock festival, it featured only local performers, attracted crowds of more than 35,000, and ran continuously between 1972-75, located in a picturesque natural amphitheatre, on farmland owned by one George Duncan, near Sunbury, actually at a location called Diggers Rest, just north of Melbourne, it became the nation’s premier pop festival destination. In 1972 the promoters were Odessa Promotions Ltd, and for the princely sum of $6 you could acquire a 3-day pass to enjoy 41 hours of non-stop entertainment.
The Aztecs topped a bill that included such blues/rock luminaries as Spectrum, the La De Das, Max Merritt & the Meteors, the Wild Cherries, Chain, Pirana, SCRA, Greg Quill’s Country Radio and many others. John Dixon filmed a documentary which captured all the performance highlights, spirit, and excesses of the event and particularly the dynamic, turbo-fueled star turn of the show – Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, amps turned up to 11!With changes to the licencing laws in Victoria and then other states in the early ’70s, a new field opened up — the pub circuit, which in many ways took over from the old dance circuit as the ‘engine room’ of rock music. With the pub circuit came a different attitude, a different social scene, a new style of stronger, harder-edged music, and a different drug: alcohol, which was cheap, plentiful and above all legal. It was also a period of rapid development in amplification and PA systems, enabling huge outdoor festivals to be staged successfully and allowing even pub bands to play at unprecedented volumes, this would be the beginning of the Pub Rock era in Australia. Originally not thought of as a specific genre, more a throwaway line to describe the music being played increasingly in large, outer suburban pubs who were experimenting with ways to attract clientele – it would become a genre of its own.The Great Australian Pub Rock movement, saw bands moving through sweaty, testosterone – charged, often violent, nicotine-stained, overcrowded, beer barns of the country, playing alongside fellow travelers like AC/DC, the Angels, Rose Tattoo, Midnight Oil, Chain, and Cold Chisel. Pub rock was characterized by thunderously loud music played fast, chanted vocals and catchy choruses, all the songs were linked, there were no spaces in between, no loss of intensity, also no encores, the bands held nothing back for a contrived or planned finale, bands quickly adapted their live shows to this format, and honed their live performance skills accordingly.
It was instantly appealing, anti-establishment, also often good-humoured, its musical origins came from garage rock and R&B, its roots were firmly planted in the foot-stomping boogie of Billy Thorpe’s Aztecs and Lobby Lloyd’s Coloured Balls, early practitioners also included bands like Buster Brown led by Gary “Angry” Anderson, who claimed that theirs was the music of the downtrodden working class, Rose Tattoo adopted the same credo when Angry relocated there, and AC/DC were quick to see that this was their sort of music anyway.
Notable pub rock venues included the Largs Pier Hotel (above left) and the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel (Adelaide), the Royal Antler Hotel (Narrabeen), the Bondi Lifesaver (above centre), and the Civic Hotel in Sydney’s city centre, the Star Hotel (Newcastle,NSW), and in Melbourne the Station Hotel (above right), the Whitehorse Hotel, the Village Green, and Poynton’s Carlton Club. Others decried the rise of pub rock, John Pinder, proprietor of the TF Much Ballroom (Melb) described pub rock venues as “ giant drinking farms where people can only come in their Holden Monaros, to listen to that very aggro, negative music which is popularized within an environment which promotes the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.”
For a time pub rock co-existed in Melbourne with inner city “head “ venues such as the TF Much Ballroom, Garrison, Berties, and the Thumpin’ Tum, which featured such acts as Spectrum, Company Caine, Wendy Sadington, Jeff Crozier, Split Enz, and the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band (above left). In reality musical styles were much broader than a straight diet of raucous, high-powered pub rock, Healing Force, Friends, Madder Lake (above right), MacKenzie Theory, Sid Rumpo, Country Radio, Captain Matchbox, Spectrum and its successor, Ariel, Country Radio and its successor The Dingoes, and Ol’ 55, all came from diverse backgrounds – progressive rock, country rock, blues, jug band, psychedelic rock, greaser rock/doo wop, and they brought these influences to their live music and in some cases their recordings, the drugs of choice also varied, and included cannabis and hallucinogens like LSD, and not just alcohol.At a time when live music was thriving in this country, radio stations began to adopt a very narrow programming focus which would mean the increasing exclusion of local content from commercial radio station playlists. Based on American radio programming strategies, the so-called Digamae Consultancy, which comprised three former commercial radio DJs, Rod Muir, Trevor Smith, and Hans Torv, aped the pseudo-science of American programmers who claimed to have perfected a precise programming mix based on “focus group” research and even galvanic skin test responses to music, that would identify and hold a target audience. The highly influential DJs of the past, like Stan Rofe and Ward Austin, who regularly plugged local content, no longer held sway, play-lists became concentrated on a small number of high-rotation commercial pop singles. In the case of major stations like Sydney’s 2SM, and Melbourne’s 3UZ, this was reputedly as few as fifteen songs at peak times, and it was not uncommon to hear a given hit song at least three times in one hour.
Such programming was successful for a time, but its implications for local music were disastrous, if local acts were not producing concise, predictable, high quality, virtually sanitised pop music, then they would not get airtime, some groups like Sherbet, Ted Mulry Gang, and Hush thrived, but others just left the country – the Dingoes, Greg Quill, Billy Thorpe, while others like Spectrum, Daddy Cool. Tully, and Taman Shud simply disbanded. But 1974-75 would be a period of dramatic change as the Whitlam government revolutionized radio, winding back the decades-long oligopoly of the commercial sector by licensing a string of new Community FM radio stations in each city, and approving the establishment of the world’s first 24-hour non-commercial rock music station, Sydney’s 2JJ.
These changes would ultimately benefit new local record labels like Mushroom (offices in Dudley St West Melbourne, above right) which had been established in 1972 by the ebullient Michael Gudinski but was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1974. But he struck gold with the Skyhooks albums Living In The 70’s and Ego Is Not a Dirty Word; and subsequently added more talent to his roster with Split Enz, Joe Camilleri, Kylie Minogue, The Models, Jimmy Barnes solo and Paul Kelly, to name but a few, then sold half of the company to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 1993, and the remaining 50% to Murdoch in 1998.
Go-Set, Australia’s music bible and our only national pop magazine for a decade, ceased publication at the end of 1974 and the focus almost immediately settled on a different medium. With the advent of color TV, the gap left by Go-Set’s demise was quickly filled by the advent of a new pop show on the ABC. For over a decade, between 1975-1987, at 6.00 pm on Sunday evenings, Australians were tuning their television sets into ABC’s national music show Countdown for their weekly fix of hits, misses, pop star gossip, video clips, and the tortured malapropisms and meandering diatribes of the show’s ringmaster – Ian “Molly” Meldrum. The advent of Countdown also saw the demise of music festivals such as Sunbury, and new groups like Skyhooks and Sherbet appeared who were a comfortable fit within the medium of color television, and a younger fan demographic quickly emerged to whom Countdown catered.At its peak our local version of the Brits Top of the Pops, had a weekly viewing audience of over 3 million people, about one-fifth of the entire population of the country, who found the show a curious and fascinating mix of the hilarious, arresting, annoying, embarrassing, shocking and engrossing. It encapsulated everything that was musically relevant in sixty gloriously live and unedited minutes – it was beautiful, ugly, energetic, has-been, wannabe, talented, meritless and sometimes amazing – and as a cavalcade of live, mimed and filmed musical interludes shone light and for the first time color into our homes, we were transfixed.
Countdown changed the face of the local music industry, played a crucial role in moving the focus of pop music marketing away from radio to TV, provided a national platform for performers to reach the most remote parts of the country, and ushered in the music-video era both in Australia and overseas, so creating a new paradigm for the international music scene.
Original music was proliferating, in 1971 Daddy Cool would release their debut album Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, which became the first local album to hit #1 and sell 100,000 copies, it was full of great singles, including the double-sided smash hit Eagle Rock/Bom Bom (#1),Come Back Again (#3), Hi Honey Ho #16), and their second album Sex, Dope and Rock and Roll – Teenage Heaven (#15) was also a local landmark. Spectrum took their hippie anthem I’ll Be Gone to #3 in the same year, and scored with their first two albums Spectrum (Part 1, #21) and Milesago (#16).The Mixtures continued the jug band style they had artfully appropriated from Mungo Jerry, for their second local #1 hit with The Pushbike Song, which also raced to #2 in the UK, only blocked from the top by George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord.Internationally other artists were also breaking through, Helen Reddy had her first hit with the Mary Magdalene torch song from Jesus Christ Superstar “I Don’t Know How to Love Him (#2 Aust, and #13 USA), and throughout the 70’s she would take her feminist anthem I Am Woman to international acclaim, anchor her own network TV show in the States, take three songs to #1 there, become the first Australian artist to take a self-penned song to #1 in the US, and sell a million copies, and be the first Australian recipient of a Grammy award, for Best Female Vocal Performance. Olivia Newton-John would follow the path so emphatically blazed by Helen Reddy when in 1971 she broke through with If Not For You (#7 Aust, # USA), and then quickly followed up with hits around the world for the next decade, starring in the megahit musical Grease, and amassing global sales in excess of 100 million records.Little River Band would rise from the ashes of Mississippi and Axiom to dominate US charts throughout the 70’s, taking no less than five songs into the top ten there with their Eagles-influenced soft rock, Air Supply too would break through in the States in the late seventies and take five songs into the top ten in the period 1978-85. AC/DC under the guidance of George Young and Harry Vanda, and the support of Ted Albert’s family music business, would develop the signature hard rock sound that would see the band dominate this genre internationally and over the next thirty years notch up sales in excess of 200 million records. Vanda and Young would also emerge as the country’s premier song writing and production team, churning out hits for Alison McCallum, John Paul Young, Rose Tattoo, The Angels, William Shakespeare, Cheetah, Ted Mulry, as well as their alter egos Flash and the Pan, and the Marcus Hook Roll band.
The Saints from Brisbane would release one of the first punk records of that genre in 1977, preceding the UK punks and having a local hit with I’m Stranded, Rick Springfield would notch his first solo hit with Speak To The Sky in 1971 (Aust #6, USA # 12) , and emerge in the 80’s as a regular hit maker in the US. Adelaide’s Sister Janet Mead crashed into global charts in 1973 with her toe-tapping version of the Lord’s Prayer (#3 Aust, #4 USA), and became the first Australian to sell a million copies of a record in the USA, while globally her song notched up total sales in excess of 3 million.Locally Mike Brady’s Two Man Band wrote and released Up There Cazaly, and cleverly merged our love of AFL football with music, in a celebration of the national game, that set a new record of 250,000 sales for a single, a fact that quickly resonated with the Mojo Singers and later The Twelfth Man, who would similarly rejoice in the quirkiness and delights of cricket, via huge record sales.
The Dingoes, Russell Morriss, Blackfeather, Renee Geyer, Marcia Hines, Sherbet, Skyhooks, all continued to hit the charts during the decade, although none of these bands would survive to perform beyond 1985. The Kiwis were a continued presence with Split Enz, Dragon, Max Merritt and the Meteors, having hits throughout the 1970’s and being followed into the 80’s by other expat Kiwis including Sharon O’Neill, and Jenny Morris.Brisbane’s Mike Chapman (above right) would emerge as a major international songwriter and producer in partnership with Brit Nick Chinn (above left), as the “ChinniChap” sound of Suzie Quatro, Smokie, New World, Sweet, and Mud, attacked the charts, and in so doing, pre-empted the song factory success of Stock, Aitken, and Waterman by a decade. In 1978 the Sydney duo of Kym Ryrie and Peter Vogel (left and right below) invented the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Implement), the first commercially available digital sampling instrument in the world, it was the moment when sampling as we know it began. Electronic music pioneers such as Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, Peter Gabriel, and Jean Michel Jarre would be the first to purchase a Fairlight, and record sounds from numerous sources, which they could now reproduce, in any key on a keyboard.The 1980’s would see the emergence of performers who would take our music to the world, INXS, Midnight Oil, Air Supply, Men At Work, Icehouse, Kylie Minogue, and on the local scene Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl, Mental As Anything, Hoodoo Gurus, The Models, Divinyls, Triffids, Eurogliders, Goanna, Mondo Rock, Rose Tattoo, Black Sorrows, and the Sports would all continue the evolution of Ausmusic and imbue it with a discernible spirit and dynamism, unique to this country.