|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975
|Groups & Solo Artists
THE ALLEN BROTHERS / PETER ALLEN
There are few stories in Australian popular music as remarkable as that of singer, songwriter and pianist Peter Allen. Although his life ended tragically early, his amazing career took him from a troubled childhood in country New South Wales to international stardom and worldwide success as a recording artist and concert performer. Peter was also a renowned composer and the songs he wrote -- many in collaboration with longtime collaborator Carole Bayer Sager -- became international hits for Peter himself and for other famous artists, and many are now rightly regarded as standards of modern popular music. Peter Allen is also probably the only Australian performer to have won both a Grammy and an Oscar.
The Allen Brothers, 1960-1970
For his first decade as a professional musician, from 1960 to 1970, Peter Allen was half of a duo called The Allen Brothers. Like many "brother" and "sister" acts (e.g. The Walker Brothers) the two members were not related.
Peter was born Peter Allen Woolnough on 10 February 1944 in the country town of Tenterfield, NSW. He grew up in Armidale, and was raised mainly by his mother, grandmother and three aunts. His father and uncles were away at the war when he was born, but after they returned his father Dick became a violent alcoholic, probably as a result of his wartime experiences.
As he grew up Peter escaped from his troubled home life by developing a passionate interest in music, helped and encouraged by his mother Marion, who sent him for piano and dance lessons. He was a born performer with a precocious talent and gave his first public performance, aged 5, in a school variety show. In the 1983 biography Peter Allen, his mother Marion recalled an incident that alerted the family to his innate musical ability talent; they went visit friends and after they arrived Peter wandered over to their piano and began tinkering quietly, with the adults taking little notice. After about half an hour he began to play in earnest and amazed the group by picking his way through a note-perfect two-handed rendition of the Teresa Brewer hit "Music, Music, Music". He soon learned to sing all the hits of the day and taught himself how to play the accompaniment, and also spent many hours at the local cinema, devouring Hollywood musicals.
Peter soon began competing in local talent quests. It was common in those days for cinemas to also present live entertainment and children's talent competitions -- The Bee Gees, for instance, gained their first live experience as performing in children's talent quests at their local theatre in Manchester -- but Peter won the quest so so often that the theatre eventually hired him to perform professionally on Sunday afternoons. He was playing regularly at the local pub by the time he was ten, accompanying his dance teacher on piano and entertaining the locals with his spirited Fats Waller and Jerry Lee Lewis song-and-dance performances.
Peter's world was shattered by tragedy when he was 13. First his beloved grandmother died, a loss that affected him deeply, but worse was to come. Soon after, Dick Allen shot himself and the scandal of suicide saw the family ostracized, so Peter and his mother left town and settled in Lismore, on the far north coast of NSW. It was here that the teenager was captivated by the piano-based music of touring rock'n'roll stars Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. He left school at 14 and and was soon playing at dances and clubs in beach towns between Lismore and the Gold Coast, performing an act loosely based on Little Richard. It was during a stint on the Gold Coast that he met another aspiring young performer, singer-guitarist Chris Bell, whose father helped them get established as a folk-pop nightclub duo.
They made their professional debut at the Grand Hotel in Coolangatta and scored their first TV appearance on ATN-7’s afternoon 'teenage' show Teen Time in 1959. They relocated to Sydney in early 1960 where they were spotted by a friend of Brian Henderson, host of the TV pop show Bandstand, and they became regulars on the show over the next two years and part of the "Bandstand Family". This early live TV experience stood him in good stead when he became a solo artist (not to mention making film clips) and it also brought him into contact with top stars and other up-and-coming young performers like Olivia Newton-John, who became a lifelong friend.
Soon after the Allen Brothers' song "First Kiss" was published, Johnny O’Keefe signed them to the Leedon label and produced their first recordings. Their first Leedon single was "Bells Bells Bells" / "Summer Clouds" (Apr. 1960), followed by "There's No Need" / "Busy Lips" (June). They then moved to the shortlived Australian Pye label for whom they recorded four singles -- "First Kiss" / "My Secret" (July 1960), "Pretty Keen Teen" / "There's No Need" (Sept. 1960), "Too Much" / "Ever Since" (Oct. 1960) and "No Hesitation" / "Knocking on the Right Front Door" (shared with The Barry Sisters, Dec. 1960). They scored several hits on the Sydney charts -- "First Kiss" reached #11, "Pretty Keen Teen" made #14 and "No Hesitation" reached #19.
"First Kiss" was their only Melbourne chart entry, reaching
#32 in August 1960, but it didn't chart in other cities. This
was a common situation in the Fifties and early Sixties in Australia, because
parochial nature of local radio and record companies at the
time -- there was no official national chart until Go-Set
began its national singles chart in 1966 and there were no
national commercial radio networks. Many
acts who scored major hits in Sydney would not chart at all (or even be
given airplay) in Melbourne, and vice versa.
The Allen Brothers switched labels again in 1961, releasing three more singles on EMI's HMV label: "No Fooling" / "Be An Angel Darling" (December 1961), "Baby Loves Me" / "Firefly" (Feb. 1962) and "There's Never Been a Girl Like You" / Ain't Misbehaving'" (Aug. 1962). In January 1962 they played Tweedledum and Tweedledee in William Orr’s production of Alice in Wonderland at the Phillip Theatre in Sydney, while at night they worked at Chequers nightclub as a support act for the veteran American performer Frances Faye, whose flamboyant act was a strong influence on Allen. They left Australia in April 1962 for what was supposed to be a three-week engagement in Tokyo, performing a Las Vegas-style nightclub act but they proved so popular that they toured around south-east Asia for next two years, playing in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines and Hong Kong.
While performing in the Starlight Room at the Hong Kong Hilton, The Allen Brothers were spotted by superstar Judy Garland, who was in Hong Kong on her way back to London following her disastrous Australian tour for promoter Harry M. Miller. Despite warnings from the producer of her recently-cancelled CBS TV series, Miller brought Garland to Australia for concerts in Melbourne and Sydney. She gave triumphant performances at the Sydney Stadium, but at her Melbourne show was a disaster -- she reportedly hadn't slept for two days before the show and arrived at the theatre an hour late, apparently bombed on pills and booze. The hapless star lurched through a shambolic performance that provoked slow hand-claps, catcalls and walk-outs, and she eventually walked off. On her arrival in Hong Kong she took a near-fatal overdose of tranquillisers.
While she recovered, the indomitable Garland went to the Hong Kong Hilton, where she spotted the Allen Brothers. She was so impressed that she became their manager, promised to arrange bookings for them and hired them as her opening act for an upcoming concert at the London Palladium, which must have been a dream come true for the starstruck young Peter. Garland also introduced Peter to her daughter Liza Minnelli, and they were subsequently engaged (despite his reported earlier relationship with Bell). In 1965 The Allen Bros premiered on American TV with Garland on CBS's On Broadway Tonight, and they supported her in concert in Canada and the USA. They made their American club debut supporting Garland in Miami in December 1964 and for the rest of the 1960s, they based themselves in New York, performing in clubs around the US, notably at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Clubs. They also recorded two singles and an album over the next three years.
Peter and Liza married on 3 March 1967. Although such matters were rarely discussed in the media in those days, Peter's sexuality was no secret within the industry, and he and Chris Bell were rumoured to have been an item for several years. If Liza was aware of this, it did not dissuade her from marrying. Her father, acclaimed movie director Vincente Minnelli, is reported to have been bisexual so (assuming Liza knew this) it's unlikely that she would have been shocked by Peter's sexuality.
It would be grossly unfair to characterize the union simply as a marriage of convenience, and it must be remembered that homosexuality was still illegal in most western countries in those days. The legal penalties were extremely severe -- up to and including imprisonment with hard labour -- and it was common in those days for gay men to marry a sympathetic female partner in order to shield themselves from possible exposure. In career terms, the marriage also undoubtedly proved of immense help to Peter because it gave him permanent residence status.
In June 1968 Minnelli made her first visit to Australia, accompanied by The Allen Brothers, and they played a hugely successful season at Sydney's Chequers nightclub. During the 3-week engagement PM John Gorton visited Minnelli in her dressing room, and in March 1969 a British gossip tabloid claimed that Minnelli and Gorton had had an affair in Bali and Canberra and that she had "told all" in an article. Much was made of this and other events -- including a controversial late night visit to the American Embassy in the company of 19-year old reporter Geraldine Willessee -- by Gorton's opponents, notably by maverick NSW Liberal MP Edward St John.
Meanwhile, The Allen Brothers career continued with moderate success. A one-off single "Middle Of The Street" / "I Owe Everything To You" was released on the Ampar label in 1966. They signed an album deal with Mercury Records in 1968 and recorded their debut LP Chris & Peter Allen's Album #1. The single, "Ten Below" / "Just Friends", was lifted from the LP, and this was also released in Australia on the Philips label.
Solo Career, 1970-1992
By the late Sixties the duo were well-established as a cabaret act, but Peter was growing disenchanted with the more conventional side of show business, and the duo eventually broke up at the end of the decade. Peter was greatly attracted to the vibrant Greenwich Village music scene and off-Broadway theatre. He was encouraged to write by Liza, and during the early '70s, after an abortive theatrical debut, he decided to concentrate on songwriting and worked on developing his skills as a solo performer, playing mostly in small clubs. He gradually picked a cult following in New York, partly because his flamboyant stage presence provided an interesting contrast to the sensitive and introspective nature of many of his songs. Beginning with a stint opening for rising star Bette Midler, Allen rose to prominence as a solo performer and became a leading figure in the cabaret revival in New York in the early 1970s.
The end of the Sixties brought dramatic changes in Peter's life and career. On 22 June 1969 his mother-in-law Judy Garland died in London, aged only 47. The official cause of death was "accidental barbiturate overdose", but it came as no surprise -- Judy had long been trapped in a destructive downward spiral of amphetamine, barbiturate and alcohol dependence, which had begun during her early years as a movie star. It's been claimed that, during her years as a teen star, studio doctors would inject her with amphetamines to keep her 'perky' during the long hours on-set, and her substance abuse problems escalated in the 1950s. Her brilliant performance in the 1955 remake of A Star Is Born proved to be her last major movie role, and the studios then effectively black-listed her as being "too difficult"; by the time of her disastrous Australian tour in 1964 the producer of her . Although Judy could still stage occasional returns to form, many appearances during her last years -- including the disastrous 1964 Melbourne concert -- were marred by her drug and drink problems.
Peter and Liza separated at the end of 1969 (they were divorced in 1974) and the Allen Brothers broke up in early in the new year; Chris Bell reportedly quit show business and became an airline pilot. On 24 June 1970 Peter played his first solo show as at the famous Bitter End nightclub in Greenwich Village. During this period he also wrote songs for productions at La Mama, the famous off-Broadway theatre which was the inspiration for the Melbourne theatre of the same name. Peter studied acting with Uta Hagen and made his less-than-auspicious Broadway debut on 12 January 1971 in a rock opera called Soon, which featured Richard Gere, Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Nell Carter. The ill-fated show struggled through 21 previews and closed after only three official performances.
Peter's songwriting enabled him to get his foot in
as a writer. He excelled at composing introspective ballads
bittersweet love songs, and he was
fortunate that his emergence as a composer coincided with the
singer-songwriter vogue of the early '70s, exemplified by artists like
Elton John, James Taylor and Carole
King, which in turn fuelled the popularity of these introspective
ballad-style songs, which were often performed by solo vocalists -- an
early version of the "power ballad" phenomenon of the '80s and '90s.
Peter began to write more commercially-oriented material and
scored a job as a staff writer at Metromedia Music. It was here that he
met and began working with
songwriter Carole Bayer-Sager, and they soon
developed into a successful and productive productive songwriting
Carole Bayer Sager: "It was in New York, 1970-ish. Somebody had mentioned that there was a really good publisher who really understood songs ... (called) Metromedia Music. I went up there, and they listened to some of my songs. (They) liked me very much and said, 'We have a songwriter here that it might be worthwhile for you to hook up with and see what happens.' And that was Peter Allen. He had done one record -- they had a record label as well -- just called Peter Allen. We met and we instantly hit it off. We started to write together on a very regular basis, about the same time I met Melissa Manchester, maybe a year later. For me the ’70s were either writing with Peter or writing with Melissa. The early ’70s for sure. We had a great friendship as well. Peter was funny; he was vastly talented. We hung out a lot. We had a similar pace in terms of writing."
One of Peter and Carole's first collaborations was "Jennifer", a song written for a telemovie called Getting Together that starred popular singer-actor Bobby Sherman, who performed the song in the show. Sherman recorded it for Metromedia as a single and it became Peter's first hit for another artist, making the US Top 40 in the autumn of 1971.
On the strength of this success, Metromedia allowed Peter
to record his self-titled debut album, and during 1971 he Allen
returned to Australia for a Bandstand
reunion (the show would be cancelled the following year). It included
songs co-written with Bayer
Sager, "Don't Cry Out Loud" and "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love",
both of which would become big hits in later years for solo artists. It
by the album Tenterfield Saddler in 1972, which
included the title track, Peter's moving tribute to his grandfather
Carole Bayer Sager:
"When Melissa had the hit with "Don’t Cry Out Loud", clearly
we knew we had the ability to write a hit song. But we had been
writing so much. It’s interesting, because some of those
songs were not hits, and yet one of my favorite songs of anything
I’ve ever written is a song I wrote with Peter
called "I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love" ... "
"... When we heard Frank Sinatra was going to record "You and Me, We Wanted It All", I guess we felt we had something going. Plus his albums were starting to have a following. The thing with Peter was -- I always said that my lyrics with Peter had the most sophistication because Peter brought that into a room too. Since I knew he would perform a lot of them, I tended to try to write things that he would feel as well. The songs with Peter had a sense of irony and fun, sometimes a little edge, as well as heart. Clearly it was in that period of time that he wrote "I Honestly Love You" which I didn't write with him. Ours were from Continental American, about the days of (the New York club and disco), 'Arthur', to "Quiet, Please, There's a Lady Onstage"."
Peter returned to performing in 1973 with an appearance at the popular New York nightclub Reno Sweeney's. He quickly built up a cult following, partly because of his flamboyant stage antics, and it wasn't long before other singers were picking up songs from his albums and performing them -- among them, his old friends Olivia Newton-John and Helen Reddy, both of whom had recently become recording stars in America.
Peter's major commercial breakthrough as a songwriter was thanks to Olivia's cover of "I Honestly Love You", a song co-written with Brill Building legend Jeff Barry. Olivia's version became her first #1 hit in the U.S.A. reached #2 in Australia and also made the Top 40 in Britain in October 1973. It furnished Olivia with an historic win in both the 'Record of the Year' and 'Best Pop Vocal Performance' categories at the 1974 Grammy Awards, making her only the second Australian performer (after Helen Reddy) to win a Grammy. Her success it turn earned Peter a contract with A&M Records, for whom he recorded his third album, Continental American, which included his own version of "I Honestly Love You" and another classic Allen-Bayer Sager collaboration, "Everything Old Is New Again".
After years away from home, Peter returned home in September 1975, supporting Helen Reddy on her tour of Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. To the Aussie public would have been remembered mostly for his Bandstand days, his much-publicised marriage to Minnelli, and the hit he had written for Olivia; as a solo performer he was an unknown quantity in his homeland. But the Reddy tour marked a turning point for Australian audiences, with Peter consistently outperforming his better-known headliner and winning over audiences with his dynamic showmanship and vivacious personality, earning him glowing reviews.
After he returned to the USA, A&M sent Peter
out on tour
with a rising rock rising group also singed to the label. Unfortunately
for Peter, it was one of the more spectacularly
mismatched double-bills in history -- he supported The
Tubes, the outrageous Los Angeles art-rock band. Not
surprisingly, Peter went over like a lead
balloon with the Tubes' hard-core audiences -- his material
were utterly out of place as a prelude to the notorious Tubes, whose
circus-like stage show
featured simulations of sex, S&M and drug-taking, performed to
a repertoire of songs like "Mondo Bondage" and "White
Later in the year his career was given another significant boost when he signed with powerful artist manager Dee Anthony, who also handled Peter Frampton, The J. Geils Band and Gary Wright, three of the biggest American rock acts of the period. In 1976 Peter recorded what proved to be his breakthrough album, Taught By Experts, which included his biggest hit, "I Go to Rio", and another classic collaborations with Carole Bayer Sager, "Quiet Please, There's a Lady on the Stage", their poignant tribute to Judy Garland.
"I Go To Rio" was the most important single of Peter's career, and it was one of the classic 'sleeper' hits of the Seventies -- it was ignored on its first release in 1976, but became a major hit when re-released a year later. The key factor was that the 1977 re-release was accompanied by a vibrant promotional video clip. The video could hardly have been simpler -- it was just Peter (in his customary loud Hawaiian shirt), playing his piano, singing and dancing around the studio with a pair of marraccas -- but his irrepressable personality and showmanship shone through. The clip was picked up in Australia by the ABC's TV pop show Countdown, who gave it strong support. Thanks to the effectiveness of the video and Countdown's huge national audience, "Rio" shot to the top of the Australian charts, reaching #1 in July 1977, and its infectious cha-cha feel made it a dance-floor favourite at discos. It charted for 19 weeks and became one of the biggest-selling singles of the year in Australia.
Peter became a major star virtually overnight, and the impact of the "Rio" film-clip also conclusively demonstrated both the enormous influence that Countdown now exerted over the Australian pop market and the rapidly growing importance of music video as a means of marketing new songs and acts. Like many other songs that Countdown championed, the success of "Rio" in Australia led to the single being picked up and becoming a hit in other countries.
Peter returned to Australia in September 1977 for a wildly successful headlining tour promoted by Kevin Jacobsen, which ended with a free concert in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, and he was also celebrated in a episode of Nine's This Is Your Life. His next single, a cover of the popular standard "The More I See You" b/w "I Honestly Love You" reached #11 in Australia in October, and the Taught by Experts album made the Top 10. Peter's next LP was the appropriately titled live double album It Is Time for Peter Allen (October 1977). Culled from performances on his successful 1977 US tour, it is perhaps his strongest all-round recording, capturing him at the peak of his performing career, showcasing the cream of his material, and also highlighting what an excellent pianist he was.
Peter made his London cabaret debut in 1978 and his newfound fame led to his first and only film role in 1978. Unfortunately, he could scarcely have chosen a more ill-fated vehicle, but luckily his part was a brief cameo and he escaped the odium that attached to the film and tainted the careers of its stars. It was of course the infamous fantasy film musical Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and George Burns. On paper, the project looked like it couldn't miss. It was being produced by Robert Stigwood, who was riding high on the success of two consecutive movie mega-hits (Saturday Night Fever and Grease); it was to be directed by Michael Schultz, who'd scored a cult hit in 1976 with the disco musical Car Wash. The soundtrack, produced by George Martin, consisted of new versions of classic Beatles songs, performed by an all-star lineup including The Bee Gees and Frampton, Aerosmith, Earth Wind & Fire, Alice Cooper and Billy Preston. The film featured cameos galore by movie and music stars including Frankie Valli, Frankie Howerd, Steve Martin, Barry Humphries (as Dame Edna), Paul Nicholas, Donald Pleasance, Keith Carradine, Carol Channing, Bonnie Raitt, Anita Pointer, Helen Reddy, Johnny Rivers, Tina Turner, Wolfman Jack, Gary Wright and of course Peter himself.
What happened next became the stuff of film legend. Even before shooting had begun, original director Chris Bearde (of Laugh-In fame) was sacked. The Bee Gees, seeing what was coming, begged Stigwood to be taken off the project to no avail, and Barry Gibb reportedly spent the rest of the shoot in a marijuana-induced haze. Despite the wealth of talent involved, the film turned out to be a chaotic, embarrassing, self-indulgent mess. Released in the middle of 1978, it was universally derided by critics and proved a catastrophic failure at the box office. Still widely considered to be one of the worst musical films ever made, it effectively wrecked Frampton's career for years and severely dented the credibility of the Bee Gees, who only two years before had recorded the biggest-selling soundtrack album in history. They later described it as the worst thing they were ever involved in and even publicly apologized for being in it!
Luckily for Peter Allen, the movie's failure had little significant effect on his career. Later in 1978 singer Melissa Manchester (an old friend and colleague of Carole Bayer Sager) scored a US Top Ten hit with her cover of "Don't Cry Out Loud", the song Peter had originally recorded on his 1971 debut album. Peter subsequently recorded a new version of the song for his fourth A&M album, the cheekily titled I Could Have Been a Sailor, released in February 1979.
Peter's success continued through 1979-80 -- I Could Have Been a Sailor became his first LP to make the American album charts, soft-rock group Pablo Cruise scored a hit with their version of "I Go to Rio" and at the end of the year Rita Coolidge made the American Top 40 with her rendition of "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love", another Allen-Bayer Sager ballad from Peter's first LP, and the song Carole nominates as her favourite among their collaborations.
In 1980 Peter fulfilled a long-held ambition when he devised and headlined in his own hit stage show, "Up in One: More Than a Concert", an ambitious presentation which won rave reviews and toured extensively including seasons in New York and Los Angeles. Later in the year he toured Australia with the show for Pat Condon, Garry Van Egmond and Kenn Brodziak, to universal acclaim. This visit also led to the creation of one of the best-known of all his songs -- "I Still Call Australia Home".
The story of how the song came to be written is fascinating. During the Up In One Australian tour, Peter often finished the show by telling the audience "I still call Australia home". According to Peter Cox's book on Festival Records, Peter had no intention of writing a song by that title, but during the tour he was approached by a Festival Records executive, who had picked up on the remark. He suggested that it would make good 'hook' for a song, one which would have an evocative appeal to expatriate Australians.
Peter thought this was a good idea, and he dashed the song off in a few minutes during an intermission. He sang it for the first time on the tour's closing night in Melbourne. It was so well received that he recorded it for Festival before he left Australia. Later in the year, Peter returned to appear in the Royal Variety Command Performance at the Sydney Opera House. Backed by the SSO and a 400-voice choir, Peter performed the song with his old friends Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton-John as the concert's rousing finale, and from this point on its success was assured. No doubt helped by its resemblance to "Waltzing Matilda", it caught on immediately and has since become an unofficial Australian anthem, with its popularity boosted even further through its use in a QANTAS advertising campaign.
In early 1980, along with I Could Have Been a Sailor LP and the title-track single (backed by "Tenterfield Saddler"), A&M issued Peter's Tenterfield Saddler album, which had not previously been released here, and he returned to Sydney for a Royal Command Performance at the Opera House on 27 May, attended by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Peter's fifth A&M album Bi-Coastal came out in late 1980 and it too made the American album charts. Although his high-camp theatricality left little room for doubt about his sexuality, Peter wittily explained away questions about the title as a reference to the fact that he divided his time between New York and his home in San Diego.
Three singles were lifted from the Bi-Coastal album — "Bi-Coastal" / "Simon" (September 1980), "Fly Away / Planes" (January 1981) and "One Step Over The Borderline" / "I Could Really Show You Around" (May 1981); only "Fly Away" made the US pop charts but "One Step Over The Borderline" later became a big hit for. By this time Peter was drawing full houses at major US venues like the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, New York's Copacabana Club and the legendary Radio City Music Hall, where he headlined during 1981, dancing with the Rockettes and riding a camel across the stage during "I Go to Rio".
One of Peter's biggest career achievements came in 1981,
although it happened more or less by accident. Legendary composer Burt
Bacharach -- to whom
Carole Bayer Sager was married at the time -- had been hired to write
the score for a new comedy film, Arthur, starring
Dudley Moore and John Gielgud. As Carole
recounts (see below) she and Burt collaborated with singer Christopher
Cross on the theme song for the film, but during the writing sessions,
Carole remembered a
phrase from one of Peter's old songs, and they ended up using it as the
tag line for the chorus. Arthur of course went on
to become one of biggest films of the year
and the theme-song, performed by Cross, was a huge international hit
single in late 1981, a success capped in early 1982 when it earned the
four composers the
Academy Award for 'Best Original Song'.
Carole Bayer Sager:
"We had a misunderstanding over :Arthur's Theme" ... I always felt torn
-- not torn. I felt Peter was absolutely entitled to be a writer on
"Arthur's Theme". I just felt it was a difficult thing, because I was
married to Burt, and the misunderstanding was that years ago in the
'70s Peter and I had written a song called "The Moon and New York
City". And it was a terrible song. But the title was Peter's. It came
about because he was stuck in a holding pattern flying into New York,
and when we got
together, he said, 'I was stuck in this holding pattern, and I wrote
down, "When you get caught between the moon and New York City". Do you
think that's a good title?' I
said, 'I like it, let's write it.' So we wrote "When you get caught
between the moon and New York City, you might as well fall in love", or
something like that.
(Years later) Burt had been hired to score the film Arthur. And he kept looking at the opening sequence over and over again. And I'm trying to come up with a lyric, and the only thing that I keep hearing, as I'm watching Dudley Moore driving around New York, is this line from this song of Peter's and mine. So I said to Burt, 'You like this line?' He said, 'Yeah, I think it’s great.' And he got the melody off of that. So I called Peter and I said, 'Hey, listen. We’re writing this song, and I keep hearing this line, do you want to write this song with us?' He said, 'Sure!' He was living down near San Diego at the time. He had a wonderful little house on a cliff that looked over the water, and it was actually his favorite place for years. He lived there with (his longtime partner) Gregg, and it was his very favorite place to be when he wasn’t performing or in Australia or in New York or running around. I think it was a place he could be peaceful. And it was the place where he spent the end of his life. But anyway, Peter said he couldn’t come up that week, but he'd come up the following week and write the song with us. And then Christopher Cross, who had the hit with the song, wanted to hear it. He came over to our home, and the song wasn’t finished but we had the chorus, and he proceeded to fill in the rest. So the three of us finished the song without Peter."
"I said to Peter, 'Hey, I don't know how to tell you this, but we finished the song. But do you want a credit on it?' And he said, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'OK, you're a fourth writer, then' which I felt was more than fair. (But) I think Burt felt a little like, Hey, people give people lines all the time. Maybe he didn’t quite realize that it was Peter's line, not my line. If it were my line from a song that Peter and I wrote, I think I wouldn't have felt that I needed to give Peter a credit. But it was the key line of the song.
... "When Bette Midler read the nominees that year for the Oscar, right before we won, she was very funny. When she got to our song , she called it "Arthur’s Theme", also known as "The Best That You Can Do", also known as "that song about the moon in New York City", also known as "Four on a song". We won, and it was great. What's the difference how many people it takes to get something great?"
In August 1982, The Very Best of Peter Allen reached #9 on the Australian charts. Its success was in no small measure due to the presence of "I Still Call Australia Home" -- a track which A&M had resisted including on the album. Meanwhile Peter toured North America before returning to headline again at Radio City in September. He also travelled to the UK to play the Pirate King in a British television production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, which starred expatriate Australian actor-singer Keith Michell. At the end of 1982 he appeared with the Alvin Alley Dance Company in a one-off fundraising gala, winning a rave review from The New York Times, who hailed him as a "superb communicator".
When his A&M contract expired, Peter to moved to Clive Davis' Arista Records, for whom he released his ninth album Not The Boy Next Door in March 1983 to coincide with another Australian tour for Dee Anthony and Dennis Smith, which included a performance at the gala opening concert at Sydney’s new Entertainment Centre on 1 May 1983. Resplendent in an Australian flag vest, Allen stopped the show with his rendition of "I Still Call Australia Home", backed by a 400-voice choir.
Not The Boy Next Door reached #24 on the Australian album charts and yielded the singles "Not the Boy Next Door" and "You Haven't Heard the Last of Me". In America, the singles "You Haven't Heard the Last of Me", "Once Before I Go", and "You And Me (We Wanted It All)" all made the adult-contemporary charts. Peter continued to tour extensively, and also released his next LP Making Every Moment Count and he returned to New York for a run of seven sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall in September, which were recorded and later released on the 1985 Arista album Captured Live at Carnegie Hall. During this period he also made his first appearances in dramatic TV roles in The First Olympics (1984) and an episode of the popular cop show Miami Vice (1985).
During his 1984 concerts, Peter performed several numbers from
a musical he was writing. Titled Legs Diamond, it
was based on the 1960 Warner Brothers
gangster flm The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,
which itself was loosely based on the life of Depression-era New York
gangster John "Legs Diamond, who was
gunned down in 1931. It would be four years before Peter achieved the
long-cherished dream of having his musical produced on Broadway but
sadly it turned out to be
one of the few major flops of his career.
It was reportedly around this time that Peter was infected with HIV. After he was diagnosed, he told a few close friends including Carole Bayer Sager, but he decided not to make the news public and asked his friends to do the same. This was not because he was ashamed, but because, as Bayer Sager told interviewer Anne Stockwell:
"... he didn’t want people thinking about the fact that he had AIDS when he’s standing on a piano singing "I Go to Rio". (He thought) that people would be feeling sorry for him as opposed to letting him enjoy entertaining them ..."
After completing another stint at Radio City and another Australian tour in August 1988, Peter threw himself into preparations for the opening of his musical. Legs Diamond premiered at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York on 26 December 1988. The lyrics and music were by Peter, from a book by Harvey Fierstein and Charles Suppon. Peter starred in the lead role, with Julie Wilson, Joe Silver, Brenda Braxton, Randall Edwards, Jim Fyfe, Christian Kauffmann, Pat McNamara and Raymond Serra. Unfortunately, Legs Diamond was not well-received -- it went through 72 previews but it was slammed by the critics and ran for only 64 performances, losing US$7 million although a cast album was recorded and released on RCA.
Carole Bayer Sager: "Way before he got sick, he did Legs Diamond on Broadway, and that was one of the hardest things in the world, to tell him how bad it was. I mean, I went backstage, and I didn’t know how to say -- I first asked him how much time he had, cause I thought I could help fix it, although it was almost unfixable. But he didn’t have that much time. How much do you say when you know that it’s unfixable? But I didn’t lie to him. I said, 'You know, I think you just bit off an awful lot.' It was misguided, which is such a shame, because he did belong on Broadway. When he did Up in One on Broadway he was spectacular -- when it was his own show. But (laughs ruefully) so much was wrong with this show. But he recovered from that, and a couple of good songs came out of that show that he wrote."
Bitterly disappointed but undaunted, Peter went back to what
he did best. He recycled some of the Legs Diamond props for his
revamped concert act and then embarked on a three-month US
with Bernadette Peters. He returned to Australia for a season at the
Sydney Hilton in January 1990, and in the Queens Birthday Honours in
June he was made a member of the Order of Australia. His next (and last) studio album was Making Every Moment Count, released later in 1990, and featuring Melissa Manchester and Harry Connick Jr.
Peter returned for another Hilton season in January 1992 but it was to be his last tour -- he fell seriously ill during the engagement and it had to be cut short. It was at this time that it was publicly revealed that Peter was suffering from AIDS-related throat cancer. He received treatment in Sydney before returning to America, but his conditions deteriorated rapidly and he died at his home in San Diego, California on 19 June 1992, aged 48. His ashes were scattered at sea.
Peter was posthumously inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame at the sixth annual Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards ceremony in 1993. In 1995 Stephen McLean's documentary on Peter, The Boy From Oz was released and McLean's biography (with the same title) was published the following year. Although Peter's own musical was a failure, the story of Peter's own music and life became the inspiration for Australia's most successful musical. In 1998 The Boy From Oz (The Peter Allen Story) opened in Sydney. Written by the late, great Nick Enright, produced by Ben Gannon and Robert Fox and directed by Gale Edwards, it starred Todd McKenney in the title role, Angela Toohey as Liza Minnelli, the legendary Jill Perryman as Peter's mother Marion, Robyn Arthur, Murray Bartlett, Lisa Callaghan, Deb Mitchelmore, Cherine Peck, Garry Scale and Chrissie Amphlett (Divinyls) as Judy Garland.
The Boy From Oz was a runaway success -- it played to packed houses for two years, and at the 1998 ARIA Awards the soundtrack picked up the award for Best Original Cast Recording. The show's ultimate triumph was one that would surely have delighted Peter. It premiered on Broadway in 2003 with Hugh Jackman in the title role, and became the first Australian music to become a hit in the USA -- it was a sell-out success and ran for a year and gained universal rave reviews, and Jackman's bravura performance earned him Broadway's highest accolade, the coveted 'Tony' award for Best Actor in a Musical. A Japanese version was staged in June 2005.
The production, with Hugh, returned to Australia in early 2006 and enjoyed another sell-out theatrical season, followed by several 'arena' presentations (this time with Colleen Hewett in the role of Marion Allen) giving local audiences the chance to see Jackman in his star turn and allowing them to once again appreciate the huge and enduring musical talent of Peter Allen.
In 2006 the executors of Peter's estate donated Peter's extensive collection of personal and musical memorabilia to the Performing Arts Collection at the Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne.
Coming soon ...
References / Links
Encylopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Frank Van Straten
Peter Allen biography
Live Performance Australia Hall of Fame
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock (Outback Press, 1978)
Peter Allen Biography
Spinning Around: 50 Years of Festival Records (Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 2001)
Dreams, Fantasies & Nightmares Australia (Borderline Books, 1999)
Harry M. Miller (with Dennis someone)
My Story (
Peter Allen article on the All Music website
Chris Spencer, Zbig Nowara
& Paul McHenry
Who's Who of Australian Rock (Five Mile Press, 2002)
"Remembering Peter Allen, the real boy from Oz"
Interview with Carole Bayer Sager
Peter Allen on YouTube: