In 1970 Springfield turned 21 and he became aware of concerns within his family for the health of his father Norman (below), who had developed a serious stomach ulcer which had attached itself to a major artery. Whilst in hospital for treatment the ulcer burst, and the 51- year-old haemorrhaged and was clinically dead for 15 minutes. Although he was revived, he sustained serious brain damage from which he did not fully recover, and was confined to home care for the rest of his life. Rick and his family were devastated at the sad transformation of their lively and loving husband/father who was also a respected senior army officer, so when Rick entered the recording studios in Melbourne to cut his debut solo record, concerns for his father weighed heavily on his mind.
Former teen idol Rob EG, now better known as Robie Porter (below), was now managing Springfield and had secured a record deal for him in the US, Porter was in partnership with Steve Binder of T.A.M.I. show fame, and after Springfield submitted around 50 demos of his songs for possible release Speak to the Sky was chosen.
Recorded on Porter’s local Sparmac label, and re-recorded and released in the US by Capitol Records a year later, there was discussion at the time about the theme of the song which was quite spiritual, espousing the power of prayer, and Rick sounded more like a revivalist tent show evangelist, than a worldly guitar-slinging rock star.
But the song had been inspired by the devastating illness that Rick’s father had experienced at the time, and the aftermath of that illness which adversely affected the lives of Rick and his family, and particularly his mother who was nursing a man whose mental age had regressed to that of a 5-year-old (Rick’s parents above). The song was a young man’s naïve hope that his father would find a way back from his brain injury and reconnect with his loved ones “Speak to the sky whenever things go wrong/ And you know you’re not talkin’ to the air, to the air/ And the world will look better from up there.”
Speak to the Sky was a hit in Australia at #6 and a year later in 1972 climbed to #14 in the US, for Rick’s first international chart success.
During early 1972 Rick recorded his debut album Beginnings at Trident Studios in London; he featured on lead vocals and played many of the instruments including keyboards, guitar, and banjo, in May he travelled to Japan to represent Australia at the Tokyo Song Festival with Speak To The Sky, the album produced two additional Australian hits Hooky Jo (#16 in ’72) and What Would The Children Think? (#38 in ’72).
Rick’s doe-eyed good looks and the record company’s determination to push him as a teen pop idol, enabled Rick to quickly become a favorite of such American teen publications as 16 Magazine, and his record sales increased rapidly despite the fact that the album was given very little airplay. His image was carefully curated by Capitol as the heir- apparent to David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, and Rick’s lack of experience meant that he relinquished control of his image-making to Robie Porter and Capitol Records, so taking him towards a soft pop musical market, a genre which he would ultimately grow to detest.
Beginnings was selling very strongly — 300,000 copies in the United States — and Speak to the Sky was climbing the charts when a rumour began to circulate that Capitol Records were artificially inflating the sales of the album, which brought Rick’s chart ascent to a crashing halt — radio stations refused to play his songs and the momentum died overnight. In the recording studio Rob had rebelled with his next album, 1973’s Comic Book Heroes which was a harder -rocking affair, hardly teenybopper pop, which failed to resonate with his pre-pubescent fanbase. Plans for another album in 1974 were shelved, commencing a long period of chart absence for the singer, only relieved to some extent when became a heartthrob star in a popular American soapie – General Hospital.