Alison MacCallum (1951) was raised in Maroubra (Syd), and began her music career in 1967, at the age of 16, as the singer in a succession of Sydney bands. Her influences included legendary American blues singers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, and gospel singers Clara Ward and Marianne Williams. Her early live appearances were with the Geoff Bull Jazz Band, and the York Gospel Singers, but as musical trends changed her gutsy soulful voice soon led to a change in direction and she joined the Big Apple Union, a soul band, which evolved into Dr Kandy’s Third Eye, in which she shared lead vocals with Gulliver Smith (later of Company Caine).
She would later front This Hallelujah Chorus and in 1970 joined the soul-pop band Clear Water as their front woman, a position held by few female performers in Australia at the time, other female contemporaries of Alison were Wendy Saddington, Renee Geyer, and Colleen Hewett. McCallum’s hard rock, howling blues style was unique, and she eschewed the mini-skirts and long gowns of many of the female performers for jeans, T-shirts, and leather shorts, she was favorably compared to Tina Turner and Janis Joplin, and projected a luminous sexuality that endeared her to fans. She would emerge in 1972 with her debut hit single Superman as well as her debut album Fresh Water which featured some racy topless cover shots (above) and charted #42.
McCallum was emerging as a soul/blues stylist of considerable flair and passion, and following a brief stint with Ray Brown’s One Ton Gypsy, she released her debut single, a stirring rendition of Vanda and Young’s Superman, a driving soulful rocker with a feverish, frenetic beat, chanted bluesy vocals, with a strong chorus that built to a wild climax, it had big band authority stamped all over it, Superman climbed to #8 nationally and looked to be the hit that would propel Alison’s career into the future. Below Simon Napier-Bell.
The original demo version of this song had been recorded by the then London-based songwriters Harry Vanda and George Young, Harry’s soulful vocals and George’s driving rhythm guitar on the demo, provided the template for a gutsy rock song, which demanded a similarly full-blooded vocal treatment when recorded at Alberts Music in Sydney. The producer was Englishman Simon Napier-Bell who was working for Alberts in Sydney at the time, he was a seminal influence in the UK music industry in the 1960s and 70’s, having co-composed Dusty Springfield’s first major hit You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, produced hits for the Scaffold, Peter Sarstedt and the Average White Band, and managed the careers of the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan, and would manage such acts as Wham!, Boney M, Ultravox and Candi Statton in the future. Whilst in Australia he also produced several hits for John Paul Young, including his debut hit Pasadena, and JPY credited Napier-Bell with much of his early success.
Napier-Bell quickly realised that the young session singer, Aison McCallum, had the perfect voice to make the song soar, he added brass and strings to the original demo score, and further enhanced the record with the exemplary guitar of Chain’s Phil Manning, to create a debut top ten hit for McCallum.
McCallum was also remembered as the lead vocalist for the ALP’s It’s Time election theme song, which was a catchy addition to to Gough Whitlam’s successful 1972 federal election campaign. It’s Time was written by ALP campaign director Paul Jones and advertising jingle writer Mike Shirley, and produced by Sunshine Records Pat Aulton, in the ATA studios (Syd). The promo clip featured a who’s who of show business personalities at the time, including such local luminaries as Bobby Limb, Dawn Lake, Graham Kennedy, Bert Newton, Little Pattie, Ted Hamilton, Hazel Phillips, Tony Barber, Barry Crocker, Chuck Faulkner, Jimmy Hannan, Brian Henderson, Maggie Tabberer, Jack Thompson, Judy Stone, Col Joye, and the cast of the ABC series Bellbird. Below Gough Whitlam with Little Pattie, he wasn’t really a T-shirt kinda guy.
Some of the celebrities suffered a negative backlash after appearing in the ads, Stone recalled “we didn’t get paid for it, but we certainly lost a lot of work over it…Some of us were black banned from clubs, and I had garbage thrown all over my lawn. And I wasn’t the only one singled out”.
In October 1974 MacCallum released her next solo single, Excuse Me, which peaked at #29 and spent 41 weeks in the top 100, it was followed by her second solo album, Alison, in July 1975 which spent only two weeks on the Top 100 Albums Chart
In the late 1970s Alison MacCallum concentrated on session work, providing backing vocals on John Robinson’s Pity for the Victim and for other artists including Billy Thorpe, Doug Parkinson, and Mark Holden. Superman was re-released in 1979 by RCA together with a compilation album of the same name to cash in on the then-popular 1978 Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve.
In a surprise announcement Alison McCallum appeared after more than 30 years absence from the stage at a Ted Mulry Tribute show at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre in August 2021. Emceed by Glenn A Baker, Alison was joined by fellow blues/soul songstress Bobbie Marchini, Peter Cupples (Stylus), Tony Romeril (Autumn), Gary Dixon (TMG), Harry Young (Sabbath), and performed both Superman and that record’s B-side, Take Me Back, a Ted Mulry composition, and was warmly received.