The diminutive JPY (he is 1.69m or 5ft 6 inches tall) was one of the most popular stars of the 1970’s via his regular Countdown appearances and a string of sprightly and extremely catchy pop hits crafted by the venerable team of Vanda and Young. These hits included Yesterday’s Hero, The Love Game, I Hate the Music, Keep On Smilin’, Standing In The Rain, I Wanna Do It With You, and his biggest hit Love Is In The Air.
He was extremely popular in South Africa at a time when the apartheid regime was in place, many artists boycotted tours to this country unless their audiences were fully integrated, as JPY did, but his intentions were thwarted by the economic realities of being black person under a racist regime, and simply not being able to afford to buy tickets to a John Paul Young concert there. JPY would take no less than five songs into the South African top ten in the period 1975-77 – Yesterday’s Hero, Keep On Smiling, I Hate the Music, I Wanna Do It With You, and Love Is In the Air.
Vanda and Young (below) had noted the success of their previous hit Standing in The Rain in Europe, and were aiming for something similar here, fusing their familiar drum loop with the popular Euro disco sound and a catchy ascending chord progression, with some Georgio Moroder -inspired electronic clicks and buzzes thrown in. Lyrically the song’s development is fascinating as described by John Tait in his book “Vanda and Young- Inside Australia’s Hit Factory”- “Vanda and Young had been toying with a verse starting with “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around…” but they needed a “musical staircase that lifted the song up to the chorus … when they got it to the studio, the full chorus had not actually been completely written, so they told John to sing “whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa”. It sounded so good that it remained that way.”
A similar magic moment had happened during the recording of The Real Thing by Russell Morris when Morris had temporarily dropped some “ooh mow ma mow mows” in as filler until a suitable guitar riff could be added, but producer Ian Meldrum had the nous to realise that the improvisation was unique, and he left it in. Phil Spector did likewise with the Righteous Brothers on their classic hit You‘ve Lost that Loving Feeling when he got Bill Medley to throw in some bass baritone “whoa, whoa, whoas”, just before Bobby Hatfield took that song up a notch with his plaintive tenor. John Farnham would similarly replicate the “whoa, whoa, whoas”, in his classic comeback hit You’re the Voice.
The opening lines to the song are delivered so casually, it’s almost as if you have just walked into someone else’s conversation and they are sharing an attitude about how they feel with you, it is complicit in an unusual way, and it connected with fans all over the world who found it completely accessible and unforgettable. “Love is in the air/everywhere I look around …”. There is also an innocent quality to the lyrics with vague and wistful references to “the whisper of the trees” and “the thunder of the seas”, as the song lopes along at a slow disco beat, which was only accelerated in later versions.
Fellow producer Mark Opitz worked with Vanda and Young on the record, but it was Ted Albert who ultimately nominated the final tape mix, as he did with all Alberts Music productions. The song was a huge international hit, charted #1 in South Africa and Asia, top 10 in Australia, Europe, the UK and #7 in the USA and was revived as a top 10 hit again in 1992, when included on the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s acclaimed film Strictly Ballroom, where everyone linked it with the plot of the movie and Scott and Fran’s glorious triumph in the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dance Contest. This version featured a new intro based on David Hirschfelder’s score for the movie, a beefed- up version of the original arrangement and a heavenly backing choir.
The original promo clip was hastily shot in the recording studio with JPY resplendent in a souvenir T-shirt from Cape Town, with a cheetah emblazoned on the front, he also appeared on London’s Top of the Pops on May 4, sharing the bill with the Boomtown Rats, Donna Summer and the Stranglers.
Love Is In The Air was the 23rd biggest-selling record locally in 1978 and won the APRA Award for Most Performed Song Overseas in both 1992 and 2004 with the release of Strictly Ballroom – The Musical, a nine- minute “Olympic Samba” version of the song was featured in the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. Love Is In The Air has been covered over 500 times and global sales are in excess of 2 million copies, John Paul Young was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2009, along with Kev Carmody, the Dingoes, Little Pattie, and Mental as Anything.
In 2018 Boomerang Investments, representing the estates of Vanda and Young, took action against the US duo Glass Candy (Johnny Padgett and Lori Monahan) and Air France for copyright infringement of Love Is In The Air, when Glass Candy’s 2011 song Warm In The Winter, was used in a 2015 advertising campaign for Air France as “France Is In The Air”. The court found that there was flagrant copyright infringement by Glass Candy in regard to the melody and chord structure of their song, found in favor of Vanda and Young, and placed an injunction on further use of the song by Air France, while damages are still being assessed at this time. Harry and George had previously turned down several offers for the exploitation of the song with certain products, including one proposal from a grooming aids company for a Hair Is In The Air promotion.