|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975
|Groups & Solo Artists
Fourth House was a fictitious studio group, created for just one single -- a cover of the Cat Stevens song "Wild World" which was a national Top 20 hit in early 1971. The single featured an uncredited lead vocal by renowned singer Danny Robinson (former lead singer of the Wild Cherries and the Virgil Brothers), with backing by anonymous Melbourne session musicians. Rock historian Noel McGrath gave Fourth House a brief entry in his 1978 Encyclopedia, but most of it was rather innaccurate. However, thanks to Melbourne musician Kevin Curley, who has worked extensively with Danny, we have been able to learn much more about the background to this project.
"Wild World" was of course written by Cat Stevens (now known as Yusef Islam) and a pop-reggae version by Jamaican singer-songwriter Jimmy Cliff was a Top 10 UK hit around the same time. Cliff's version also had success in Australia (where it competed with the Fourth House version), making the Top 10 in both Sydney and Adelaide. Cat Stevens' own version, which first appeared on his very successful Tea For The Tillerman LP, subsequently became a hit in the USA after it was released there as a single in late 1970.
The Fourth House version was one of many Australian covers of British hits that were recorded during the controversial 1970 Radio Ban, one of the most intriguing episodes in the history of Australian popular music. In early 1969, following the enactment of the new Copyright Act, 1968, a group of recording companies (Festival, Polygram, EMI, RCA, CBS and Warner) decided to scrap a long-standing agreement with Australian commercial radio stations, which had been made back in 1958. The record labels wanted commercial radio to pay a new levy for pop records played on air, which was to be set at 1% of the commercial radio sector's combined annual revnue. After talks on this "pay-for-play" dispute broke down in May 1970, the record labels imposed a six-month long embargo on the supply of free promotional records to radio stations, and radio responded by boycotting all new major label releases and refusing to include them in their weekly chart surveys.
Because the Ban involved the giant British company EMI -- the market leader in Australia at that time -- EMI recordings were supposedly banned from pop radio, so many British hits like The Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" and Mary Hopkins' "Knock, Knock, Who's There?" gained only limited exposure, even though they had been major hits in the UK. This enabled a few enterprising Australian labels -- especally Fable, which had refused to participate in the Ban -- to rush out versions of the banned songs, performed by local artists, and these were picked up by commercial radio and played without much inteference from the original recordings.
Noel McGrath claimed that the project was produced by former EMI house producer David Mackay but this is incorrect, since David was by that time working for EMI in London. According to Kevin Curley, the Fourth House project was in fact produced by Ron Tudor, owner of Fable Records. The story goes that Ron had planned to record "Wild World" with Mike Brady (ex MPD Ltd) singing the lead vocal. Ron recorded the orchestrated backing track, but when Mike Brady heard it he realised it was slightly too high for his vocal range, so he asked Ron to re-record the track and drop the arrangement down a semitone. As Kevin Curley wryly comments:
"I'd imagine that Ron would have turned
to bankroll the orchestra for a second time, however the song ... had
done well for Cat Stevens
(and Jimmy Cliff) so the formula had been hot run tested and was a
winner in the marketplace in the UK and Europe, so Ron capitulated ...
and recorded the orchestra
backing track for the second time."
"As with all well-laid plans, things got confused and the orchestra took it up a semitone in the second backing track. This then put the recording totally out of reach, as it was then a full note too high for Mike Brady. There was only one set of tonsils that could successfully reach the notes ... and that man was Danny Robinson. Dan was asked to come down to the studio and record the track as Fourth House. He was given a bottle of Scotch and twenty quid for his one-take vocal on the product."
Danny's fine rendition under the "Fourth House" moniker was well received, charting in Sydney and Adelaide. It made the Top 40 in Melbourne (where it ony reached #30) but did significantly better in Sydney (#10), Brisbane (#11) and Adelaide, where it reached #5. It was co-listed with Jimmy Cliff's version on the national Go-Set chart, peaking at #19. However, unlike similar projects such as Love Machine and Pastoral Symphony, and despite the success of the first single, the Fourth House concept was not followed up. The original single is now a minor collector's item and sells for around $20.
Noel McGrath claimed that after "Wild World", Danny more or less retired from regular performance and supposedly had no interest in getting back into the pop field. This was not correct -- in fact, Dan continued performing thereafter (as he still does). As well as his unmistakeable session contributions to recordings like Company Caine's A Product of a Broken Reality (notably his thrillling backing vocals on the classic track "Woman With Reason") Danny sang the lead vocal on some of Australia's most successful commercial jingles, including a well-known confectionery product (which allegedy helped you "work, rest and play"), which played on Australian radio and TV for many years. This was of course the era before session musicians were paid "residuals" for work like ads that was frequently played and according to Kevin Curley Danny's recompense for the session was a 'generous' supply of the chocolate bar being advertised.
Dec. 1970 (Fable FB-035)
"Wild World" (Cat Stevens) / "Swampy Crocodile" (instrumental)
#19 nationally, 14 weeks (#5 Adelaide, #10 Sydney, #11 Brisbane, #30 Melbourne)
Jointly charted with Jimmy Cliff's version on the Go-Set chart
The Fourth House version of "Wild World" is available on the 2CD compilation The Fable Years, released in 2006.
References / Links
Many thanks to Kevin Curley and Danny Robinson for additional information.
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock (Outback Press, 1978)