Rachel (R Froggart) 1970 and Mr. America (R Morris) – Russell Morris 1970.
The blaze of publicity that had engulfed a young Russell Morris following two consecutive #1 hits which ignited his solo career, certainly had a disorientating effect on the young man, he privately questioned his future direction, “I was just standing on stage like a statue, singing other peoples’ songs and not doing anything worthwhile. I loved The Real Thing when I first heard it but in the end it drove me crazy. It was a big gimmick, a big commercial commodity that was forced on everyone and it almost killed me.” Morris wanted to earn credibility as a songwriter but he was touring incessantly and feeding the publicity machine that was grinding away inexorably behind him under the control of manager/ringmaster Ian Meldrum. He was also soon to wed his first wife Paula, so the juggling of personal and professional commitments became even more challenging, and the relationship between Morris and Meldrum would quickly deteriorate. Below L-R – RM, Ian “Molly” Meldrum, RM Go-Set article
Meldrum had been encouraged by the initial chart success of The Real Thing in the USA, and was convinced that this was the market that he and Morris should target, and had planned a promotional tour Stateside following the completion of the Operation Starlift Tour here in 1969. But the conventional wisdom of the time was to follow the path of the British Invasion bands back to the UK, and attempt to break into that market, there were no Green Card entry barriers as applied in the US, and there was probably a misplaced colonial affection about returning to England, and “making the scene.” In retrospect Meldrum’s judgement about prioritising the US market was astute, local bands would alarmingly disappear into obscurity after trying their luck in England – The Groop, Axion, The Twilights, The Groove, Masters Apprentices, Sherbet, Mississippi, etc- while Australian acts such as LRB, Men At Work, Air Supply, Olivia Newton-John, and Helen Reddy all enjoyed successful careers in the USA throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s. Below L-R – Johnny Young, Vince Melouney, Ray Froggart
Ultimately Russell and Johnny Young would leave for the UK in the time-honoured amateurish fashion – not preparing a marketing campaign, nor securing financial support from a record label, nor arranging recording sessions, and not locking in firm gig dates and media exposure opportunities, and Meldrum was incensed at what he regarded as an act of blatant self-sabotage “I can’t say that the last eight months have been happy days for either Russell or myself. There were times when we hated each other’s guts.” With time on his hands in the UK Russell worked on several new songs with expat Aussie guitarist and Bee Gee member Vince Melouney, including a cover of a song entitled Rachel. Despite recording this song and others in London Morris was unhappy with their quality and upon his return to Melbourne in 1970 he re-recorded Rachel with EMI house producer Howard Gable at Armstrong’s Studio.
Rachel was yet another shift in style for Morris who was seeking a sound, that would better capitalize on his pure tenor voice, devoid of all the special effects and extravagant production embellishments that dominated his first two hits- Rachel was a timely choice. Written by Birmingham tunesmith Ray Froggart, who had penned hits for Cliff Richard and The Dave Clark Five, it was a poignant anti-war ballad that used orchestration and heartfelt lyrics to capture 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 as a caregiver. “The men here die like flies ma/I bandaged their blinded eyes ma/And the kids with their aching feet/Ain’t got nothing to eat ma”
Australia was engaged in the Vietnam war at the time so the song resonated with locals and vocally Russell did a fine job on a record that was also well-produced, but it was released in April 1970 which unfortunately coincided with the Great Australian Record Ban when radio stations and record labels were in dispute over pay-for-play arrangements locally. This resulted in major UK and Australian songs being refused airplay, including Morris’s Rachel, released on EMI, which stalled at #23, while it was a #1 hit in NZ; other performers simply delayed the release of their records until the dispute was resolved later in 1970, two of these songs were Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock and Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone.
Russell’s first solo self-penned composition to hit the charts was the riff-heavy protest song Mr. America, released in 1970 when the influence of US foreign policy on this country was quite profound, as the incumbent Liberal government had famously proclaimed Australia’s unreserved support for the incumbent President Lyndon Baines Johnson with the call to arms of “All the Way With LBJ” and promptly sent hundreds of our young soldiers to wage war in Vietnam. In style Mr. America reflected the southern rock/gospel style of Delaney and Bonnie, one of the few white performers to record with Stax Records, and lyrically it has been compared to American Woman by Canadian group Guess Who [‘70], who also protested the Vietnam War, conscription of soldiers or “the draft”, and the global influence of the USA military-industrial complex on other countries, particularly Canada. Recorded at Armstrong Studios with producer Howard Gable, the song used both electric and acoustic guitar riffs, and a soaring female chorus to underwrite the ironic lyrics “Mr. A, can’t you put your weights away, can’t you just keep away, can’t you leave us alone… Hello Mr. America, hello and how do you do, I hope you like me as much, as I like you…”, it took Morris back into the top 10 when it climbed to #8 and occupied the charts for 20 weeks.