There was a seismic change in the local music scene on July 3, 1963, when Australian promoter Ken Brodziak made a deal with a London booking agent to secure an up- and- coming band called the Beatles for a national Australian concert tour for a fee of a £2,500 per week. Within the next 6 months the band exploded internationally, and Beatlemania was rife. American promoters were now offering £50,000 per show, but the deal had already been done and in June 1964 the Beatles arrived in Australia. Below L-R Beatle fans mass in Melbourne, Adelaide, and stake out the Fab Four’s accommodation – The Chevron Hilton, Potts Point – Sydney. Above Beatles L-R – Jimmy Nicol (temporary replacement drummer), George, Ringo, Paul, and John.
Thousands of teenagers defied their parents and greeted the band at the airports, lined the streets along the route to their hotels, and then amassed outside the band’s hotels waiting for a glimpse of their idols, 20,000 massed outside the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne, 300,000 lined their route from the airport to the city in Adelaide, which was one-third of the entire population of the city! At the concerts, the band was barely audible above the hysterical cries from the audience, even though Jimmy Nicol was playing drums as a replacement for Ringo Starr who was ill with tonsillitis. After the band had gone, there was an immediate change in the local music scene from rock and surf music to Beatles flavored R&B pop, every band wanted to be the Beatles, and every teen wanted to be in a beat band.
Few of the early beat group sensations in Australia wrote their own material – Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Ray Brown and the Whispers, Normie Rowe and the Playboys, MPD Ltd., Ray Colombus and the Invaders, simply re-birthed standards and obscure songs in the new Mod rock tradition. Original song writing was limited to the more innovative individuals and groups such as the Bee Gees, the Easybeats, the Loved Ones, the Masters’ Apprentices, the Groop, Axiom and Melbourne duo Bobby and Laurie. Below L-R Easybeats, Loved Ones, Masters Apprentices
Migrant hostels proved to be fertile breeding grounds for new beat groups in Melbourne (MPD Ltd), Sydney (Easybeats, the Throb) and Adelaide (Twilights, Masters Apprentices) who all coalesced around a love of beat music and the inspiration of the Beatles, to pursue a dream of success in the emerging Australian pop music scene. The beat music playbook was quickly absorbed and practised, a strong backbeat with an emphasis on all beats of a 4/4 bar, vocal harmonies as personified by the Fab Four were important too, the lead singer and guitarists all had to front the microphone and sing in harmony, it became imperative for bands to recruit capable front men like Billy Thorpe, Ray Brown, Jim Keays, Glen Shorrock, Stevie Wright, Danny Robinson, Russell Morris, and the incomparable Gibb brothers. Below L-R Danny Robinson, Stevie Wright, Glenn Shorrock.
Poison Ivy by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs became the benchmark beat breakthrough hit in this country in 1965, it was a revelation, and although a beat cover of an old Coasters song, it signalled the advent of the “scream years” in local pop music, and was the 18th biggest-selling record of ‘64. The Beatles were touring Australia at the time and the Aztecs knocked the Fab Four’s EP Beatles Requests off the top of the charts, and were granted an audience with John, Paul, George and Ringo at the Sheraton Hotel in Kings Cross. The beat music scene exploded across Australia, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs became the kings of John Harrigan’s Surf City disco in Sydney, and they would soon perform in front of 60,000 fans at the Melbourne Myer Music Bowl.
By the mid 1960’s Melbourne had emerged as Mod Rock HQ, the city was in the grip of a beat music boom, clubs and discos were mushrooming all over the city – Catcher, Biting Eye, Thumpin’ Tum, Sebastians, Berties, Opus, Powerhouse, Garrison were but a few, and local bands were copying the look and the sound of their British- invasion beat group heroes – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Small Faces, Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Who and the Pretty Things – and feverishly scanning obscure B-sides and album-only tracks that could be re-invented and given the beat treatment.Below – The Kommotion team with Ken Sparkes, centre of the bottom row.
The first independent recording studio was established in Melbourne by Bill Armstrong, and the most important pop TV shows of the period – Kommotion, The Go!!Show, Uptight all emanated from the ATV 0-10 Network in Melbourne. The Go!! Show, based on Britain’s Ready Steady Go, attracted over 400,00 viewers per week at its peak, until it was replaced by Uptight in 1967. Kommotion was based on the American pop show Shindig and featured go-go dancers and mixed live performers with lip sync personalities who would mime the songs of international artists. Grant Rule and Ian Meldrum were lip syncers, with Molly specialising in novelty tunes like Peter and Gordon’s Lady Godiva and A Knight In Rusty Armour often with Tony Healey, and Jillian Fitzgerald (Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin) and Norman Willison (Otis Redding and James Brown) specialised in soul numbers, despite the fact that both were white! Actors Equity ultimately banned miming on music TV shows by such lip syncers in 1967 when Kommotion folded, Meldrum and Rule would go on to create Countdown in 1975, and Kommotion regulars, dancer Denise Drysdale, and mimer Bob Pritchard would record several hit records and develop future careers in acting and the media. Below L-R Ian (Molly) Meldrum, Prue Acton, Go-Set logo.
Local designer Prue Acton was the equivalent of London’s Mary Quant, and the first pop magazine Go Set was founded by two Monash University students Philip Frazer and Tony Schauble in 1966, and kickstarted the careers of Ian Meldrum and Greg Quill and provided a forum for Australia’s most influential DJ of the 1960’s Stan Rofe, to promote local talent.
The major record companies began to pick up local acts, independent labels like Leedon, Sunshine, Clarion, Go!! and Spin carved out their own niches in the market, and the airwaves were soon buzzing with home-grown talent. The years from 1964-70 were in many respects the golden age for Australian pop music on radio, indeed, the percentage of local acts that made the Top 40 charts in the peak year of 1965 was a figure that would not be equalled for years to come, in that year nine local records were listed in the best-selling records of the year, including the top two – Que Sera / Shakin’ All Over (Normie Rowe) and The Carnival Is Over (The Seekers).
Local original songs were also hitting the charts, I Belong With You (Bobby and Laurie), Spicks and Specks (Bee Gees), The Loved One, Everlovin’ Man, Sad Dark Eyes (The Loved Ones), She’s So Fine, Wedding Ring, Women, Come And See Her, Sorry, I’ll Make You Happy, Friday On My Mind (Easybeats), The Real Thing, Part Three Into Paper Walls, and The Girl That I Love (Russell Morris), Woman You’re Breaking Me, Such A Lovely Way (Groop). The Easybeats and particularly the Bee Gees would enjoy international success with their music, while AustraIia’s most successful group at this time were the Seekers, who dominated the Australian and British charts in the period 1965-67 with a succession of folk/pop songs written for them by Tom Springfield All their hits featured the stunning vocals of Judith Durham, and the group would sell 50 million records in an era when their competition included the Beatles and the Rolling Stones at the zenith of their popularity.
In the recording studio, Australia consistently lagged several years behind the U.S. and the U.K. in recording technology. Up to the mid-Sixties, almost all pop recordings were made on mono or two-track recorders, they were essentially recordings of live performances, until 1965 when Festival installed Australia’s first four-track machine in its Pyrmont studio. The first 8-track recorder in the country was installed at Armstrong’s studio in 1969, in contrast to the Beach Boys who had been using 8-track equipment as far back as 1965, and the first 16-track recorder was installed at Bill Armstrong’s Melbourne studio in late 1971.Below L-R – Ted Albert, Pat Aulton, Bill Shepherd.
Despite technical inadequacies our local professionals improvised and adapted brilliantly and a dedicated group of skilled and inventive producers, sound engineers, and arrangers, emerged to create many world-class local recordings. Studio legends like Bill Armstrong, Pat Aulton, Bill Shepherd, David McKay, Ted Albert, Roger Savage, David Woodley-Page, John Sayers, John French and Ernie Rose cut their teeth in these frantic years, overcoming the limitations of primitive equipment and substandard studios, and producing some of the most vibrant and inventive music ever recorded. Bill Shepherd would arrange and produce all the Bee Gees early hits even after they relocated to the UK right up until 1972; Roger Savage was a Londoner who had produced the Rolling Stones first record, Come On, at the Olympic Studios there, and he relocated here with his Australian girlfriend in the 60’s, his first two local recordings – Bobby and Laurie’s I Belong With You and the Easybeats She’s So Fine – were both landmark hits for the local industry.
Migrants to this country were a tremendous influence on local music, the migrant hostels of Fisherrmans Bend (Melb), and Villawood (Syd) and the mostly migrant community of Elizabeth (Adelaide), were fertile breeding grounds for beat groups of the future, and post-war arrivals to this country included the Twilights, the Easybeats, Billy Thorpe, Olivia Newton-John, Hans Poulsen, Jim Keays, Lynne Randell, Beeb Birtles, Johnny Young, John Farnham, the Bee Gees, and many more. There was also an invasion of talent from New Zealand as many artists crossed the ditch in search of fame in our burgeoning pop market – Max Merritt and the Meteors, Dinah Lee, Ray Colombus and the Invaders, the La De Das, Allison MacCallum, Mike Rudd, Mother Goose, Allison Durbin, Garth Porter (Sherbet), Split Enz, Mi-Sex, Sharon O’Neill, Jenny Morris, and Mark Williams to name but a few.
There were fewer role models for women in the new beat era of music, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Dionne Warwick, The Supremes and Nancy Sinatra, led a small group of female performers who had any lasting success in pop/rock in the 60s. Few women played instruments in bands, so the likes of drummers Maureen Tucker (Velvet Underground) and Honey Langtree (The Honeycombs), bass guitarist Megan Davies (Applejacks), and trumpeter Cynthia Robinson (Sly and the Family Stone) were indeed exceptions to the rule. Below L-R – Cynthia Robinson, Megan Davies, Honey Langtree
But women certainly had hits during the 60’s including Dinah Lee, Lynne Randell, Marcie Jones and the Cookies, Alison Durbin, Judy Stone, and Pat Carroll. But it would not be until the 1970’s when such international female performers as Australia’s Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton-John, along with Suzie Quatro, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin and Carole King began to establish a strong and assertive presence for women in the pop/rock field, that the scene started to change, and their local contemporaries – Renee Geyer, Wendy Sadington, Allison McCAllum, Debra Byrne, Linda George, and Marcia Hines – quickly followed in their lead. Below L-R Olivia Newton-John and Pat Carroll, Lynne Randell, Dinah Lee.
The history of Australian popular music in the 1960’s and 1970’s is littered with stories of promising local groups who naively made the pilgrimage to London seeking international fame and fortune only to find that they were unappreciated in a highly competitive and ever-changing musical scene that barely tolerated amateurish Antipodean intruders.
The Battle of the Sounds was originally conceived in 1964 by Everybody’s magazine as a talent search to unearth unsigned bands nationally, Hoadley’s took over sponsorship of the event in 1965 and the inaugural winners were the Twilights who promptly headed off on an all-expenses paid trip to the UK, to crack the big time.
For every success story – the Bee Gees and the Seekers were highly successful in the UK at this time, the Easybeats had scored a hit record and AC/DC were set to emerge in the next decade – there were many other Aussie groups whose spirit and resolve was crushed trying to sustain a precarious existence living in dingy squats, scrambling for poorly-paid gigs, combating union resistance to overseas acts, and surviving the English weather while coping with homesickness. Axiom, Sherbert, Twilights, Masters’ Apprentices, Mississippi, Groove and the Groop all returned home wiser but no wealthier, and promptly split up.
In the period 1967-70 pop music began to diversify, new genres such as bubblegum, psychedelia, soul, funk, heavy metal and progressive rock began to emerge, beat boom acts disbanded or regrouped and re-surfaced with different line ups – Russell Morris departed Somebody’s Image, and went solo, Little River Band rose from the ashes of Mississippi and Axiom, the Valentines, the Flying Circus, Jeff St. John, Doug Parkinson, Chain, the Aztecs, Daddy Cool, and Spectrum all emerged after re-forming elements of other bands. The advent of a new decade would be marked by a bitter dispute between commercial radio stations (Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters) and record companies (Australia Performing Rights Association), who insisted on being paid a fee by radio stations to play their records, so that all UK and original Australian songs were banned from airplay, until the matter was resolved in late 1970.
We will review the songs of many of the groups who formed the vanguard of the beat boom era in Australia, in the coming weeks, we at 4TR are refreshed from our brief vacation and looking forward to engaging with our many followers again in the coming months.