Little River Band would be the first Australian band to break through in the US while doggedly remaining resident here in Australia, other Aussie acts had or would completely relocate to the States, and sometimes take out US citizenship, and enjoy success there – Helen Reddy, Olivia Newton-John, Diana Trask, Peter Allen, Rick Springfield, the Bee Gees, and more recently Gotye, Sia, Iggy Azalea, and 5 Seconds of Summer have all relocated. To maintain an effective presence in the cutthroat US market meant extensive promotion and a grueling touring schedule of American venues for over a decade for LRB. Band members below, left to right- Beeb Birtles (seated), David Briggs, Glenn Shorrock, George McArdle, Derek Pellicci (seated), and Graeham Goble.But by the early 1980’s LRB was fracturing, they were never a homogenous group of people, Graeham Goble was a pedantic perfectionist, obsessed with numerology, who had even inserted a redundant letter “e” into his first name, Beeb Birtles and George McArdle, were more spiritually inclined, and played it pretty straight, while Derek Pellicci was a hypochondriac. Glenn Shorrock was a mouthy, cheeky, party animal, who aligned himself with David Briggs, and Roger McLachlan, there were smokers and non-smokers, the single tour bus became two buses – God’s Bus and Pete’s Disco. Manager Wheatley was constantly resolving disputes and stroking inflated egos, there were signs that the camaraderie within the group was beginning to fray. There were also artistic disagreements over whose songs merited release as singles or inclusion on albums, with four songwriters competing at one time – Shorrock, Goble, Birtles, and Briggs – these sessions could be quite brutal and would ultimately lead to Shorrock’s sacking from the band in the near future.Cool Change was lifted from the First Under the Wire album, and while it failed to chart as a single locally, it scored heavily in the USA where it made #10. The expression “cool change” is also a metaphor for changes in our lives, those that can be anticipated, enjoyed, or even regretted, but never forgotten “And now that my life is so prearranged/ I know that it’s time for a cool change.”The band members were all experiencing loneliness, missing their families and being homesick, the songwriters within the group started to focus on these issues so much in tracks such as Home on a Monday, Days on the Road, The Drifter, Take Me Home and even Cool Change, that their record company had rejected an earlier album because it was too depressing.
Glenn Shorrock had written the song in 1977/78, when he was in Melbourne, motivated by mixed emotions – frustration about internal band politics, fatigue from touring, and growing environmental concerns “I know it may sound selfish/ But let me breathe the air.” The song was not included on the next LRB album which was Sleeper Catcher and did not make the cut until 1979, much to Shorrock’s chagrin.There is a breezy elegance to the arrangement, the listener can almost feel the change moving in as the tempo shifts and the orchestration segues from the subtle acoustic piano of Peter Jones and bass of Mike Clarke to a tenor sax flourish from Bill Harrower- it was highly accomplished song writing, arranging and production. Glenn Shorrock recalled that the harmonies on the outgoing choruses of this song were sung around one microphone and then triple-tracked, infusing them with a richness and intimacy that was unique.LRB had real momentum in the US at this time, this record had been preceded by several other top 10 US hits including Reminiscing (#3 1978), Lady (#10 1979) and Lonesome Loser (#6 1979), and the First Under the Wire album was their first million-selling album in the US.
But there were serious divisions within the band, Goble and Shorrock were in dispute over song choices, and Shorroock’s preference to insert some comedy/cabaret into the band’s stage act, as he had done with both the Twilights and Axiom, was also a point of contention. Wheatley sensed that there was a move within the band against Shorrock; Goble and Birtles had taken all the songs that their LRB bandmates had rejected and released them on a Birtles/Goble album, The Last Romance, along with several singles, the most successful being I’m Coming Home, which climbed to #6 locally in 1979. Not to be outdone Glenn Shorrock released a cover version of the Bobby Darin hit Dream Lover for his own #8 local hit in 1979.
Ultimately Cool Change got the recognition that it deserved here when APRA released their list of the top 30 Australian songs of the period 1926- 2001 and Cool Change was justifiably included, it was the only LRB song so honored. In 1982 Glenn Shorrock was replaced as lead singer by John Farnham, maybe this was the cool change that he had been subconsciously looking for when he wrote this song anyway, although he did return to the fold several years later and briefly resumed duties as LRB front man, after Farnham’s departure.
LRB did conquer the US market and remarkably achieved a top 20 hit in the USA in every year from 1977 – 82 including no less than six consecutive top ten hit records from 1978- 81. The band’s chart success in Australia during the same period was more muted, in 1977-82 the band scored with only two top ten hits – Help Is on Its Way (their only #1 hit locally in “77) and Down on The Border (#7 in “82) when Johnny Farnham was lead singer.They were artful appropriators of the US West Coast sound, and never traded on an overt Australianness as Graeham Goble confirmed in David Nichols “Dig- Australian Rock and Pop Music 1960-1985 “from the very beginning we wanted to be more than just a local band, … we’ve been labelled American because our harmony style could have come out of the West Coast quite easily… I don’t think our music is uniquely Australian.”The post-breakup years of LRB were punctuated by accusations by band members of mismanagement by Wheatley, claims and counter-claims and litigation between original band members and Stephen Houseden, latter-day lead guitarist with the band and ultimately the sole owner of WeTwo Pty Ltd, the holding company in which the LRB name and distinctive platypus trademark were vested. In a staggering misstep Wheatley, Goble, Birtles and Shorrock somehow managed to sign away their rights to trade as the Little River Band to Stephen Houseden, who had joined the band in 1981. He promptly re-formed LRB, bringing former member Wayne Nelson back into the fold in the 1990’s, Houseden retired in 2005 but Nelson has doggedly and successfully, exploited the LRB name and musical heritage for all that its worth, mostly in the large US market, ever since.This legal blunder has effectively deprived the original Australian band members from touring the lucrative heritage rock circuit in the US as the Little River Band, but there was some consolation for the classic LRB lineup when the band was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2004 – for this occasion, and for only 24 hours, Houseden permitted the band to appear as the Little River Band and perform one song – Shut Down Turn Off would have been the ironic choice, but Shorrock, Goble, Birtles, Pellicci, Briggs and McArdle, turned back the clock with a nostalgic reprise of Help is On Its Way. Wayne Nelson (centre) with the current band touring the world as LRB, do you recognise any of them?