Rachel (R Froggatt) 1970 and Sweet, Sweet Love (R Morris) 1971 and Wings of An Eagle (R Morris) – Russell Morris 1972.
Russell Morris (1948) was raised in the working-class suburb of Richmond (Melb) and attended Richmond Technical School and later Swinburne College where he studied accounting; but he was more interested in rock and roll than debits and credits, and formed his first band, Somebody’s Image in 1966. With support from Ian Meldrum the band was able to secure a contract with EMI Records, Meldrum became their manager and producer, and they released their first top 40 entry, a cover of Joe South’s Hush in 1967 for a #15 hit.
They regularly appeared on the thriving Melbourne disco circuit and followed up with a #28 charter a year later, with the nursery-rhyme- simple lyrics and music of Hide and Seek, written by local musicians Doug Trevor and Marty Van Wyk of the Cherokees. Morris decided to pursue a solo career and set about doing so in emphatic style, by taking his first two solo records to #1, the first was the 7-minute psychedelic extravaganza The Real Thing, followed up by yet another Johnny Young composition Part Three Into Paper Walls backed with the sweetly-appealing The Girl That I Love, which made it a double-A side hit for Morris.
Ian Meldrum (below) and Morris would fall out over Meldrum’s insistence that Morris pursue his career in the USA and not the UK, but like many local singers at the time, London and the UK was seen as the place to be, and Green Card permits to work Stateside were notoriously difficult to acquire.
But in retrospect many local bands had disappeared into obscurity after trying their luck in England – The Groop, Axiom, Twilights, Groove, Masters Apprentices, Sherbet, Mississippi, etc – and Meldrum’s belief that the States offered more opportunities, was certainly accurate, as later proven by LRB, Men At Work, and Air Supply and such solo performers as Olivia Newton-John and Helen Reddy.
By 1970 Russell Morris and Johnny Young had temporarily relocated to London following the outstanding local success of Morris’s first two singles, to look for new material and a shift in style and sound, that would better capitalize on Morris’s pure tenor voice, without all the special effects and extravagant production techniques that had previously featured in his first two hits – Rachel was a timely choice. A poignant anti-war ballad penned by Englishman Ray Froggart, it captured the pathos and grim reality of war, as a nurse in the battle zone writes home to her family and laments the loss of life and the futility of her efforts. Morris made a recording of the song in London with expatriate Aussie guitarist Vince Melouney who was with the Bee Gees at the time, however the London recording of the song was not released as Morris was unhappy with the quality of the producer’s mix.
Morris returned home in 1969 and went into the TCS recording studio with Howard Gable to re-record Rachel, the lush orchestration coaxed an emotional vocal performance from Morris to take this simple song into the charts.
The record paralleled Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war and became the follow up to the huge success of The Real Thing and Part 3 Into Paper Walls (both #1 nationally), Rachel charted #25 locally, and #1 in NZ. Morris would follow up in December 1970 with Mr America, a riff-heavy, gospel-tinged song with a soaring female choir backing which climbed to #8, and continued Morris’s golden run.
Russell now turned his attention to recording his debut solo album, and with the assistance of Brian Cadd, Billy Green, Rick Springfield and Chain, he recorded Bloodstone, with producer Howard Gable at the Channel 9 TCS Studios (Melbourne), and it was acclaimed as one of the best releases of 1971.
The hit single, Sweet, Sweet Love was lifted from the album, a plaintive, introspective, and beguiling ballad which built the tension and drama throughout the arrangement by tempo shifts and volume changes to adroitly engage the listener throughout. The record charted #7 nationally in July, and since departing Somebody’s Image, Morris had emerged as a creative solo singer/songwriter of considerable skill and vocally his songs were more nuanced and emotionally connected to their lyrical content, than his earlier psychedelic hits had been. Famously, Morris had offered this song to Johnny Farnham first, who declined because he said, “it takes too long to get to the chorus”, Phil Manning of Chain delivered exemplary lead guitar riffs on Sweet Sweet Love.
Sweet, Sweet Love would make it four top ten hits in a row for Morris, and he quickly followed up with his fifth consecutive top ten hit with Wings Of An Eagle, an elegant, soaring self-penned ballad by Morris which charted at #9 nationally, and continued his golden run through the early 70’s.
This song represented the peak of Morris’s 1970’s discography to that time, it was re-recorded with producer Ed Germano in 1975 at the Hit Factory Studio in New York (US) when it was included on Morris’s eponymously-titled second studio album (above), which also included a re-recording of another previous hit, Sweet, Sweet Love.
The orchestration on the album version is lush with beautiful strings by the Al Brown String section, and the vocals are pure and crystalline, there is a reverent quality and spirituality at the beating heart of this song, which was inspired by Aboriginal culture, that would not be evident in Russell Morris songs again until the release of his comeback album Sharkmouth forty years later.
Morris would marry his first wife Paula in the 1970’s and they would have two children a daughter Jaime, and son Luke, but they would later be divorced, and a second marriage would also fail. He would maintain a strong live presence over the intervening years and return to chart prominence in the 2000’s with a trilogy of bluesy hit albums – Sharkmouth(#6, 2012), Van Dieman’s Land (#4, 2014) and Red Dirt, Red Heart (#21, 2016) which saw him return to a version of Australian blues similar to that pioneered by Chain, featuring outback cadences, and inspired by the aboriginal mythology, that he had sampled in Wings Of An Eagle. In 2008 Russell Morris was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame along with Dragon, The Triffids, Max Merritt, and Rolf Harris (subsequently withdrawn in 2014), and he has performed solo and in association with such other local artists as Jim Keays, Darryl Cotton, Ronnie Burns, and Brian Cadd over the past twenty years.