In 1972 Billy Thorpe’s message was loud and clear, guitar supremo Lobby Lloyd had encouraged Billy to learn the guitar and take his music in a direction away from pop to something altogether harder and louder. The new Aztecs would dominate proceedings at the first Sunbury Rock Festival with a serve of high-octane, no-nonsense- four-on-the-floor heavy rock for the masses. Their concert set included such highlights as Mama where each member of the band indulged in an extended solo piece; Ooo Poo Pah Do was a turbo-fueled, call-and-response, audience -participation tour de force which threatened to “create a disturbance in your mind” and of course the highly original F..k On Stage (whaddaya mean I can’t say f—k on stage!?) kept the fun police busy at live venues, stamping out lewd behavior and profanity. Thorpe would continue to write and perform some of the rawest, lewdest, heavy blues music in the country in the next few years, the albums Thumpn’ Pig and Puffn’ Billy (Downunda) in 1973, a collaboration with Billy and Warren “Pig” Morgan, and the legendary More Ar-e Than Class in 1974, with the Sunbury Aztecs, which charted #14 in 1974. (For a review of Billy Thorpe at Sunbury see the 4TR blog dated Feb.7th 2019)
But by 1975 Thorpie was seguing from manic, denim-clad rock warrior, to a stylish, sophisticated, adult-oriented funk rock performer, firmly targeted on the US market. His first album of this period, was immodestly-titled Million Dollar Bill, which featured the self-penned and gloriously jazz-inflected It’s Almost Summer .
Clearly Billy was heading into MOR adult contemporary territory here, when he entered Festival’s Studio 24 in Sydney to record this track where he assembled a fine group of session musicians, Billy Kristian (bass), Gil Matthews (drums), Jack Hislop (electric piano), Billy Thorpe (guitar/vocals), Warren Morgan (keyboards), Don Wright/Tony Buchanan (Saxophone), William Morzing (synthesisers), and the backing singers Alison McAllum, Janice Slater, and Kerrie Biddell.
Produced by Peter Dawkins (above), it was the first record on which Thorpe had used open guitar tunings, in similar style to the G-chord tuning of Keith Richard’s five string guitar on Honky Tonk Women, Brown Sugar, and Start Me Up; and the D-chord tuning of Bob Dylan on many of his recordings. This tuning imparted a unusual ambience to the guitar riffs, not unlike that of a lap steel guitar sound, Billy was in fine voice too, his vibrant tenor and falsetto wrap around the languid, summery lyrics, “And you-ou-ou my lady/ I’m makin’ love in the sand, while the surf keeps time…” to produce a wistful, languid ode to summer, as timeless and euphoric as the rolling surf and sun-drenched days.
The promo clip by David Westray intercut beach scenes shot in the 70’s at Kiama (NSW), there wasn’t a smart phone or laptop in sight, but you can see the single fin boards without leg ropes, and almost smell the coconut oil tanning lotion, it was the quintessential family beach scenario of another era.
Billy claimed full authorship of this song, saying he wrote it when in Melbourne, waiting for summer to arrive, but others have also claimed to have submitted a demo of this song to Billy’s manager in the late 1960’s, without registering copyright, and further claimed that Billy said it was not his style, and was more suitable for The New Dream (a bubblegum group), but he obviously had a change of heart. One of the best songs about summer, it was under-appreciated and charted #44 in December ’75, Billy would record several highly praised albums later in his career in an effort to penetrate the US market including Children of the Sun (’79) and Time Traveller (’80) which were minor hits here
Billy Thorpe was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame along with Glenn Shorrock, Pete Pawson and Don Burrows in 1991, and sadly passed away in 2007.