|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975|
Australasian popular music of the 1960s and 1970s -- an overview
Nowadays Australian and New Zealand rock and pop music is well known throughout the world, thanks to acts like INXS, AC/DC, Crowded House, silverchair and Kylie Minogue -- but this is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Although Aussie bands of the '60s and '70s were demonstrably as good as (and often better than) their English and American counterparts, few had the chance to prove themselves to world audiences, and the wealth of Australasian pop and rock produced in this era remains one of the music world's best-kept secrets.
The First Wave, 1955-1963
When rock'n'roll first emerged in the mid-50s, it was an exotic import, something strange and dangerously alluring to the young musos and fans who saw and heard the American originals. Through most of the '50s, '60s and early '70s Australia was thought of as a musical backwater -- if we were thought of at all. This was in most cases far from the truth.
Broadly speaking, the so-called "First Wave" of Australian rock and pop music in the '50s and early 60s stayed fairly close to its American roots. But there were some notable exceptions. Leading the charge in the late 50s was Aussie rock'n'roll pioneer Johnny O'Keefe. Inspired by the original rockers like Elvis Presley and Little Richard, he carved out a unique career and became a legend of Australian music. O'Keefe could -- and should -- have been an international star, and no less a figure than Iggy Pop acknowledged JOK's importance when he recorded a version of Real Wild Child. For a few years, O'Keefe and other local rockers like Lonnie Lee & The Leemen, Digby Richards & The R'Jays, Col Joye & The Joy Boys, Alan Dale & The Houserockers, Ray Hoff & The Offbeats, Digger Revell & The Denvermen and New Zealand's Johnny Devlin & The Devils whipped up excitement on a par with their American inspirations.
By the early '60s the first wave of rock'n'roll was fading fast. Between O'Keefe's last major hit in 1961, and Billy Thorpe's first hit in 1964, the local pop scene became insular, conservative and rather bland. The scene was dominated by clean-cut acts, like the members of the "Bandstand family" -- but there were some exciting undercurrents.
A notable exception to the MOR fare was the emergence of instrumental and surf groups like Sydney's The Atlantics and The Denvermen. They were inspired by figures like American surf guitar king Dick Dale, and above all by the all-pervasive popularity of The Shadows, whose influence on Sixties rock has been drastically underrated and whose lead guitarist Hank Marvin has inspired more budding pickers than any other figure in music. Many of these outfits survived into the Beatles era and evolved into some of the top bands of that next wave. Surf music and dance crazes like "The Stomp" were hugely popular at the time, even though they rarely rate a mention these days.
Jazz was another strong but often underrated influence. Many leading dance bands of the time such as Melbourne's The Thunderbirds grew out of the local bebop and modern jazz scene, typified by the styles played at Melbourne's fabled Jazz Centre 44, and and strongly influenced by the recordings of black 'jump' and R&B originals like Louis Jordan. Many of these bands, including Johnny O'Keefe's backing group The Dee Jays, featured players who had cut their teeth on the jazz scene. This influence continued into the Sixties and Seventies, and many important players of that era who worked in rock and pop -- Stewie Speer, Bob Birtles, Bruno Lawrence, Bobby Gebert, John Sangster and Bernie McGann -- were primarily jazz musicians.
Although almost all the Aussie and New Zealand music of this era went unheard by international audiences, it's also worth noting that a few local acts were beginning to make an impression overseas. It should always be remembered that Australian singer Frank Ifield was one of the very first Australian performers to gain widespread international fame. Frank was hugely successful in the UK in the early Sixties, becoming the first performer to have three consecutive #1 hits in Britain, and his biggest hit, "I Remember You" went to #1 in the UK and was also Top 5 in the USA. Comedian, singer and artist Rolf Harris also had several novelty hits during these years and went on to become a fixture on British television with his own popular variety show.
"The Second Wave", 1964-67
As rock historian Glenn A. Baker has observed, the entire Australian and New Zealand scene changed irrevocably, and virtually overnight, when the Beatles' made their historic Australian tour in June 1964. The effect of the Fab Four was profound, and it combined with the influence of other new UK groups like the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things, to create a huge new wave of 'beat' and R&B groups. With amazing speed, Aussie and Kiwi beat fans proved that they could write and perform just as well as their overseas rivals/inspirations. It's now part of OzRock legend that Billy Thorpe's breakthrough single Poison Ivy topped the charts around Australia right in the middle of The Beatles' tour, a feat that earned him an invitation to the Fabs' inner sanctum at Sydney's Chevron Hotel.
The period that followed -- which has been dubbed the "Scream Years" of Australian pop -- was a brief but glorious boom of 'beat' music. It lasted only about three years but produced some of classics of the Australian music, climaxing in the international chart success of The Easybeats with "Friday On My Mind" in early 1967.
Critics have often claimed that many accounts of Australian rock history reflect a 'Sydney-centric' bias, and it's fair to say that in some cases this is true. Since this author was born and raised in Sydney, MILESAGO may be also guilty of perpetuating that bias to some extent. As Australia's largest and most populous city and the headquarters for most of the big recording companies and TV networks, there has been a definite tendency for such accounts to reflect the assumption that Sydney was the hub of the Australia music scene.
The fact is -- and it needs to be stated unequivocally -- that Melbourne was the undisputed epicentre of Australian popular music in the Sixties and Seventies. The dance and discotheque scene there was booming throughout the Sixties, with as many as one hundred dances being held there every week. Australia's best discotheques -- Berties, Sebastian's, The Thumpin' Tum, Catcher -- were there. Virtually all the major pop acts of the day either came from there, or they moved there. The top independent studio (Armstrong's) was there and the most important pop TV shows of the period -- Kommotion, The Go!! Show, Uptight -- all emanated from Melbourne. Fashion was another important but often overlooked feature and many of the best boutiques and designers -- like Prue Acton -- were in Melbourne. The central importance of the Melbourne music scene continued into the Seventies and beyond with Sunbury, Mushroom Records and Countdown.
The "Scream Years" honour roll includes many legendary Australasian acts. Some became nationally successful, some were popular mainly in their home cities, some had local cult followings. Among them were:
Melbourne: Bobby & Laurie; 18th Century Quartet; Lost Souls, The Pink Finks; The Cherokees; Normie Rowe, The Flies/Ronnie Burns, Lynne Randell, The Strangers, The Groop, Somebody's Image; The Seekers; The Loved Ones and countless others who gravitated there
Brisbane: Tony Worsley & The Fabulous Blue Jays, MPD Ltd, Mike Furber & The Bowery Boys; Bay City Union.
Sydney: Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Ray Brown & The Whispers, The Easybeats, The Missing Links, The Id, Steve & The Board; The Throb; The Allusions; Ray Hoff & The Offbeats.
From Adelaide: The Twilights; The Masters Apprentices; James Taylor Move
From Perth: Johnny Young, The Valentines
New Zealand acts played a vital role, and it's no exaggeration to say that New Zealand has exerted a similar influence over Australia as Canada did over the United States through artists like The Band, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. New Zealand of course had its own booming music scene, ranging from small-town dances to the thriving clubs and discos in the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and especially Christchurch, hometown to many trans-Tasman stars. The history of NZ music of this era has been lovingly chronicled in print by John Dix in his definitive 1988 book Stranded In Paradise and on the web by Bruce Sergeant's fantastic site New Zealand Music of the 60s and 70s. Many acts crossed the Tasman in search of wider success and they or their various members became central figures on the Australian music scene. The roll-call of Kiwis who had further success in Australia includes many famous '60s names like Ray Columbus & The Invaders, The La De Das/Kevin Borich, Chants R&B/Mike Rudd, musician-actors Bruno Lawrence and Andy Anderson, Max Merritt & The Meteors, "Dynamic" Dinah Lee, Dave Miller, top producers Howard Gable, Peter Dawkins and John Sayers, and even Bandstand host Brian Henderson. And of course, there were many more in the '70s and beyond, including Dragon, Mi-Sex, the Split Enz/Swingers/Schnell Fenster/Crowded House axis, Mark Williams, Sharon O'Neill and Jon Stevens, to name only a few.
And of course for every chart-topping name we can mention, there were scores of other lesser known bands and singers slogging it out night after night at dances and discos around the country.
Australian radio was slow to pick up on rock’n’roll (compared to the US) but the impact of The Beatles was inescapable and by 1964 commercial stations in each major city had switched to a "pop" format and were running their own Top 40 charts. DJ’s like Melbourne’s Stan "The Man" Rofe and Sydney’s Ward "Pally" Austin began to champion local acts, becoming stars in their own right. 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 1966 was a figure that would not be equalled for years to come.
The Australian and New Zealand live music scene in this era was without doubt one of the most vibrant and exciting in the world, and it’s a fascinating part of our recent social history that cries out to be better documented. In almost every city and large town, a lucrative circuit of discotheques, clubs and dances sprang up. It was a huge circuit, and there is really nothing like it today. As noted above, in Melbourne and southern Victoria alone, there were literally hundreds of dances being run every week. The rock'n'roll and pop music being played was a new phenomenon, but the dances themselves were part of a continuous tradition of local dances run by church and community groups that extends back to the 19th century.
The character of these dances was largely determined by the nature of the venues. Dances were typically held in church, municipal and commnunity halls and Police Boys' Clubs. The other key factor was the restrictive liquor licensing laws of the time. It's important to realise that most discotheques and all the local dances were strictly alcohol-free and supervised, thereby making them open to all ages. Through the 60s and into the early 70s, this circuit was so large and popular that the most popular bands could easily earn considerably more than the average weekly wage, and it was possible for them support themselves purely by playing music. Indeed, bands typically worked almost every night of the week, playing dozens of gigs per week, and in the major cities the big bands would regularly play three or more shows per night, every night.
In the 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. Around 1965, Festival installed Australia’s first four-track machine in its Pyrmont studio. The first 8-track recorder didn’t arrive until in 1969 -- by comparison, The Beach Boys were using 8-track as far back as 1965! The first 16-track recorder was installed in Bill Armstrong’s Melbourne studio in late 1971. Fortunately, our best studio people were second-to-none and we more than made up for the lack of new technology thanks to these inventive and dedicated producers, engineers and arrangers. 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.
But one truly regrettable downside of the "technology lag" was the lack of good-quality portable recording equipment. As a result, very little live music from this era has survived, and it wasn’t until the very late Sixties that adequate technology became available to record live shows. Sadly, this means that some of the most exciting music making of the era was never recorded.
TV also responded, slowly, and in predictably conservative fashion, and a string of mostly mainstream pop shows came and went during the 60s and early 70s. The ABC and the Nine network led the charge in the early 60s. Johnny O’Keefe took on a new role, hosting his legendary shows Six O’Clock Rock and Sing! Sing! Sing! (which featured jazz as well as rock'n'roll), Jimmy Hannan compered the teen-oriented Saturday Date, and the debonair Brian Henderson took the helm of the Nine’s long-running Bandstand, which became a fixture throughout the Sixties.
But the beat boom and the advent of a third commercial TV network in the capital cities ushered in a succession of more exciting pop shows, most of which emanated from Melbourne -- Kommotion, The Go!! Show, Teen Scene, It’s All Happening, It’s A Gas (later retitled Dig We Must), and 0-10’s fondly remembered 4-hour Saturday morning show, Uptight (1968-70). These were followed in the early 70s by the ABC’s pioneering GTK -- our first truly national music show -- and the 0-10 Network’s Happening 70s series (1970-72).
Sadly, only a fraction of this visual history has survived. Australian TV stations did not acquire videotape recorders until the early 1960s, so most of the first few years of Australian TV simply disappeared into the ether. Early pop shows were broadcast live, and although episodes of some shows -- such as Six O'Clock Rock -- were recorded using the telecine method, most of these films were later destroyed. With the advent of the Beat Boom, pop music rapidly became a significant part of the broadcast schedule -- by the mid-Sixties, Channel 0 Melbourne was broadcasting around 16 hours of pop programming each week -- and most of these programs (e.g. The Go!! Show and Kommotion) were recorded on videotape for rebroadcast in other states. Regrettably, most of these recordings were later erased or disposed of, along with many early promotional film-clips (the forerunners of modern music videos).
There were several explanations for this, but the main reason was simply that "pop" music was seen as ephemeral teenage entertainment and with home video technolgy still decades away, the middle-aged men who ran the TV networks saw no need to preserve it. The economincs of storage was another factor -- in the 1960s and beyond, TV stations erased or destroyed recordings of programs simply because the were unwilling to set aside space to store the reels of tape -- has been cited as the reason that most of the tapes of the legendary Steve Allen Show in the USA were subsequently
One regrettable case was the infamous cost-cutting purges at the ABC in the late '70s and early '80s. Victims of this 'video pogrom' include almost all the tapes of the first 100 episodes of Countdown (along with scores of other shows). In an incredibly shortsighted decision, these shows were deliberately erased, simply to save money on buying new tape. Another famous victim was the ABC's acclaimed '70s drama series Certain Women -- according to author Bob Ellis (whose wife wrote for the show) less than half a dozen of the more than 300 episodes made still exist.
However, there is one rather thrilling footnote to this sad story. We have recently learned that a major proportion of GTK -- most of which was long thought to have been erased -- has in fact survived. Since its move from the old Gore Hill studios in Sydney, the ABC has been underatking a major archive review and Simon Kain, manager of ABC Library Sales, has kindly informed Milesago that, out of the 972 ten-minute episodes made, at least 700 episodes still exist in the ABC archives. Regrettably it appears that most of the 1969-70 shows are gone (although more may yet be found), but what remains comprises a priceless visual archive, -- over 110 hours of footage from this booming period of Australian music in the early Seventies, including many legendary GTK live-in-the-studio performances, footage of concerts and other events, and interviews with local and overseas stars.
It's easy to be beguiled by the charm of the early pop shows, but as musician Keith Glass has pointed out, the surviving visual material has to be viewed in context. It has become a habit for Australian TV producers to slap together 'quickie' nostalgia specials, throwing in some old film-clips of a few well-known faces (often old network favourites) and passing these off as some kind of representative document of the '60s pop scene in Australia. It makes for cheap programming, but this revisionist tendency has to be resisted. In fact, the vast majority of bands who slogged it out night after night at discos and dances never made it as far as a TV studio. True, some TV regulars were genuinely popular at the grass roots level, and occasionally even "left field" acts like The Missing Links or The Wild Cherries were granted a rare appearance. But to be frankt, a lot of the performers that featured regularly on these TV shows could be described as "variety" fare, chosen to entertain the greatest number of viewers and offend as few as possible.
Collusion and cronyism was as rife in TV as elsewhere. The intimate connection between Bandstand and Festival Records is a case in point, and much of Bandstand’s content in the early to mid-Sixties was arguably little more than free advertising for the Festival roster. Likewise, it was no coincidence that much-hyped Melbourne band Procession were able to make regular weekly appearances on Uptight in the late '60s thanks to the fact that the show's producer David Joseph also happened to be Procession’s manager. Another little-known aspect of Uptight’s "talent" policy (revealed to us by Rod Stone of The Groove) was that bands who appeared were obliged to buy advertising time on the show. Not surprisingly, this charge exactly equalled Uptight’s appearance fee -– thus, those bands that did appear did so for nothing! So it’s no surprise to find that what remains to us of the visual history of Australian pop is a tiny and a highly selective sample.
Gradually though, some of the video and film that has survived is finally making its way out of archives and private collections and becoming more widely available. Long-forgotten glimpses of our pop-culture history -- like Peter L. Lamb’s classic 1966 documentary on the Melbourne youth scene, Approximately Panther -- are helping to build a broader picture. The long-awaited video on The Masters Apprentices is a welcome addition, containing many of their purpose-made promotional film-clips, some of which had never been screened in this country before. The ABC's LONG WAY TO THE TOP has also made an important contribution to recording the stories of the people and places of that exciting era.
In print, the '64-'75 era was defined by Go-Set magazine, first published by Monash University students Philip Frazer and Tony Schauble in early 1966. Go-Set was Australia’s music bible until its demise at the end of 1974. Over its ten-year life, many leading figures in Australian music wrote for the paper, including Molly Meldrum, Stan Rofe, Wendy Saddington, Jim Keays and Greg Quill. There were other important publications too –- the teen-oriented Everybody’s, Frazer’s late-60s experiments Revolution and Gas, Michael Gudinski’s short-lived Daily Planet among them –- and we hope to look at them all in due course.
In any overview of Australian music, it's essential to acknowledge the tremendous influence of "new Australians". So many of the leading names in Aussie music -- Billy Thorpe, Olivia Newtown-John, The Twilights, The Easybeats, Hans Poulsen, Lynne Randell, Beeb Birtles, Johnny Young -- were recent immigrants to Australia. As noted above, there was the equally crucial, but often overlooked, migration of outstanding musical talent from New Zealand. Over the last forty years, hundreds of Kiwi performers have crossed the Tasman in search of fame and fortune in Australia. In the process, these groups and artists -- Ray Columbus & The Invaders, Max Merritt & The Meteors, Dave Miller, "Dynamic" Dinah Lee, Allison MacCallum, The La De Das, Mike Rudd, Garth Porter (Sherbet), Split Enz, Dragon, Mother Goose, Mi-Sex, Bruno Lawrence, Sharon O'Neill, Jenny Morris, Mark Williams and Jon Stevens, to name just a few -- have made incalculable contributions to our musical culture.
The role and importance of women performers in Australian pop music is another area that has been unfairly overlooked. Obviously, pop music was (and still is) a male-dominated industry. While it's impossible to do the subject justice in such a small space, it has to be addressed. Pioneering female pop performers like Lynne Randell and "Dynamic" Dinah Lee blazed the trail and had a huge impact, but their careers were limited by the very nature of the industry and society at the time. Like the fashion scene, it was mostly middle-aged men who controlled the pop industry. The target audience was teenage girls and the main marketing tool was a group of young men with guitars. To carve out a niche for themselves in this highly competitive field, women faced challenges that were in many ways greater than those of their male counterparts, and their success is all the more admirable for that.
As noted in the BBC's examplary series "Dancing In The Street", the British invasion" disrupted the success of the so-called 'girl groups' of the early '60s, and the new musical realm opened up by the beat boom was almost totally a man's world. Almost every aspect was geared towards men: the male look, the male voice and the male point of view. The major groups of the mid-60s -- The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, and The Byrds -- were all male. There were of course many prominent women performers on the folk scene -- Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Janis Ian -- and also in gospel and jazz. But the pop/rock scene was long considered a separate world, and with pop success generally regarded as a sell-out by folkies (and even considered sinful by some gospel singers!) it wasn't until the '70s that there was any significant crossover for female artists in these fields. Internationally, there was only a handful of female artists who could serve as role models for women in pop music in the early to mid-60s. Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Dionne Warwick, The Supremes and Nancy Sinatra led the small group of female performers who had any lasting success in pop in the mid-60s.
The fact was that choices for female musicians were very limited back then -- in the pop world ca. 1965 the only acceptable role for a woman was to be a 'chanteuse'. It was almost unheard of for a woman to play drums or electric guitar. Drummer Maureen "Mo" Tucker (The Velvet Underground) and trumpeter Cynthia Robinson (Sly and the Family Stone) were virtually the only female instrumentalists of any note in the pop-rock field in the 1960s -- and it's doubtful if either was known at all in Australia at the time. It wasn't until the late '60s that performers like Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and Grace Slick -- and in the 70s, Suzi Quatro -- began to establish a strong and assertive presence for women in the pop/rock field. We consider it an essential part of our task at MILESAGO to highlight the great names -- and voices -- of women in Australian popular music -- Dinah Lee, Lynne Randell, Marcie & The Cookies, Judy Stone, Pat Carroll, Bobbi Marchini, Allison Durbin, Wendy Saddington, Jeannie Lewis, Alison McCallum, Debra Byrne, Linda George, Maureen Elkner, Marcia Hines, Renee Geyer and many more.
Through most of the 60's all eyes were firmly set on London, and those who could made their way there in hopes of sharing in some of the massive success that the Beatles and The Stones had shown was possible. America was important, of course, but for Australians, London was as much the centre of the pop world as it was for most other aspects of culture. This view was reflected in the fact that the major prize in the famous Hoadley's Battle Of The Sounds band competition was a trip to London. The Seekers, The Easybeats, The Twilights, Normie Rowe, The Groop, The Groove, Johnny Young, The La De Das and others made the trip and worked long and hard to gain recognition, seeking that vital breakthrough onto the UK charts which (they hoped) would launch them onto the world stage. Except for a few brief, glorious exceptions -- The Seekers, The Easybeats -- success eluded them all.
As the beat boom faded during 1967, most of the Aussie and Kiwi acts who had tried their luck overseas foundered, or came back empty-handed. The international music scene overseas was changing radically in the wake of Sgt Peppers and Monterey, and many of the top overseas acts inlcuding Dylan, The Beatles and The Stones were withdrawing to the studio to escape the intolerable pressure (and the considerable danger) of touring. One by one, the major Australian bands from the first wave of beat groups broke up. Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Ray Brown & The Whispers and Tony Worsley & The Fabulous Blue Jays had all split by the end of the year. In 1968 The Seekers, our only group to have continuing overseas success, broke up in the UK. Later that year our No.1 teen idol Normie Rowe was called up for National Service and sent to Vietnam, dramatically ending his pop career. The Groop and The Twilights both abruptly split in early 1969, The Groove and The Easybeats slowly faded from view, and all were gone by the end of that year.
The Late Sixties
1967-70 was a period of experimentation, change and uncertainty in pop music. "Pop" -- which had previously been considered as a single entity -- began to diversify. New publications like Rolling Stone and OZ began to take a more serious and critical view of the pop scene and new genres like bubblegum, psychedelia, soul, funk, heavy metal and progressive rock began to emerge. As the Beat Boom acts fell by the wayside, a "second wave" of performers quickly rose to take their place – Russell Morris, Axiom, Zoot, The Valentines, The Flying Circus, Jeff St John, Chain, The Dave Miller Set, Freshwater, Tamam Shud and Tully, to name just a few.
On the live scene, a minor revolution was taking place, this time centred on Sydney, and to a lesser extent Melbourne. In 1960 the small New Zealand city of Christchurch, on the South Island, experienced this phenomenon on a reduced scale. The United States government embarked on a para-military project to establish an American Antarctic base and Christchurch had the only airfield in the region capable of handling the huge transport planes used to supply the base. Hundreds of support staff were brought to support the project, dubbed "Operation Deep Freeze", and this influx of American personnel -- with their records and musical instruments -- gave the Christchurch music scene a unique spin. It's no coincidence that the booming local music scene there spawned many of the top NZ acts of the Sixties.
This experience -- greatly magnified -- was repeated in Australia in the late Sixties. As the Vietnam War escalated tens of thousands of American troops regularly descended on Australia, and Sydney in particular, for "R&R" -- Rest and Recreation leave. Their presence sparked a short-lived boom on the local music scene, focussed on the licensed clubs and discos of the inner city, especially around Kings Cross. The groups who performed there had to cater to a whole new clientele with often radically different interests from the young crowds at the suburban dances. The US servicemen, many of whom were African-American, wanted to hear the latest funk, soul and R&B, the new "heavy" sounds of English acts like Cream, Jimi Hendrix and the new wave of US acts like The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and The Mothers Of Invention. The Sydney bands of in this period -- Mecca, The Dave Miller Set, Gus & The Nomads, Little Sammy & The In People, Levi Smith's Clefs -- are sadly little known today. But many of the players who cut their teeth on this vibrant circuit went on to acclaim in some of the most interesting progressive bands of the early '70s including Kahvas Jute, Pirana, Fraternity, Tully, Galadriel, Melissa and Blackfeather.
This phenomenon also had one highly undesirable effect. It's now well-accepted that the R&R circuit became a major conduit for heroin and other drugs and enabled the Sydney organised crime scene to forge strong links with the American Mafia and the South-East Asian drug trade.)
During this period there was a thriving "underground" scene in Sydney. The key band here was the great Tamam Shud, who were perhaps the first local act to absorb and interpret the influences of the American West Coast scene and psychedelic music. Alongside The Id, Tully and The Nutwood Rug Band, they enjoyed a close relationship with pioneering lightshow and film collective, UBU, who promoted a series of innovative "Underground Dances" at Paddington Town Hall and the Sydney Showground. The UBU circle included many significant figures -- Aggy Read, David Perry, Garry Shead, Albie Thoms, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford and Philip Noyce.
Through 1969 the scene underwent some dramatic changes. Many of the leading acts of the Sixties broke up, including our two top groups, The Easybeats and The Twilights. By 1970 Max Merritt & The Meteors, The La De Das and The Masters Apprentices were virtually the only major bands remaining out of the scores that had burst onto the scene in '64/65. Many solo artists like Normie Rowe and Judy Stone would find themselves out of place in this changing environment, and moved with their audience towards "middle-of-the-road" music and careers on the club/cabaret circuit and on TV variety shows. New and surviving acts tried many directions -- soul, psychedelia, country-rock or even 'bubblegum' pop -- and there was always new talent bubbling up.
One area of the music scene in need of far more detailed and critical examination is that of promoters, artist management and booking agencies in the Sixties and Seventies. I preface these remarks by saying there were of course many loyal and dedicated managers and agents who worked long, hard and honestly for their artists. Some critics have argued that the Australian artists of that period didn't make it overseas because they simply weren't good enough -- but even on the evidence of the recordings alone, that assertion is patent rubbish. As Dave Miller has emphatically stated, the most cogent explanation for why Australian acts of that era didn't make it overseas, why so many could not develop continuing local careers, and why so few were ever fairly paid for their concerts and recordings, is because of the generally deplorable standard of management.
The lamentable fact is that there was evidently no-one managing pop and rock groups in Australia in the Sixties who could compare with major overseas managers like Albert Grossman or Brian Epstein. Indeed there were -- and still are -- evidently far too many who gladly shared the 'get-rich-quick' mentality of notorious rip-off merchants Mike Jeffries (Hendrix), Don Arden (The Small Faces) and Tony Secunda (The Move) -- managers who essentially treated their clients as disposable cash cows, and who accordingly milked their clients for all they were worth. And even with the best intentions, the loyal and honest ones frequently made unwise or shortsighted decisions that ultimately hurt their clients. Often it was because the managers themsleves were being misled, or because they felt it was better to take something, however trifling, rather than to hold out for more and risk getting nothing ... or simply because no-one at the time thought the pop boom was going to last.
Indeed, it wasn't until the emergence of a new generation of smart and dedicated managers and agents like Michael Chugg, Roger Davies and Glenn Wheatley (who was schooled by ripoffs he endured in The Masters Apprentices) that Australian rock and pop acts began to achieve broad and lasting success -- and make money.
These management problems were compounded by the collusive and exploitative behaviour of booking agents and venue owners, the shoddy treatment and penny-pinching contracts grudgingly handed out by the major labels, and the feeble support offered by local radio and TV. The combined effect nobbled the careers of countless groups and solo artists who otherwise might have enjoyed considerable and lasting success.
The history of the local music scene of the '60s and early '70s is littered with countless sorry tales of rip-offs, shakedowns, broken promises, bad deals and unpaid debts. We understand that, to this day, the members of Tamam Shud have never seen a cent in royalties from the tracks they contributed to the multi-gold-selling soundtrack of the surf film Morning Of The Earth. Speaking of his groundbreaking 1969 album The Age Of Mouse, singer-songwriter Doug Ashdown has commented -- with understandable irony -- that individual copies of this rare LP (Australia's first 'pop' double album) are now changing hands on the Internet for prices far in excess of what he was paid to record it!
"The Third Wave", 1970-75
As the 70s began, newer acts rose alongside the survivors of the beat boom, who had regrouped with new bands and a new purpose. Performers like Blackfeather, Billy Thorpe & The New Aztecs, Daddy Cool and Spectrum led a "third wave", ushering in a more confident and mature era of original Australian music. Over the next five years bands like The Aztecs, Spectrum, Company Caine, Kahvas Jute, Ariel, Tully, Daddy Cool, Jeff St John & Copperwine, Tamam Shud, Chain, The La De Das, Madder Lake, Blackfeather and many others produced some of the finest rock music ever committed to record. A major Part of our task is to celebrate that music.
But major changes were afoot in 1970. These were heralded by an event that is poorly documented, even thought it had a profound effect on the Australian music industry -- the infamous 1970 'Radio Ban'. Like the "pay for play" dispute over the issue of payment for video clips that erupted in the 1980s, the Radio Ban came about because a group of major record companies (including market leader EMI, Festival, and the three American-owned major labels Warner, RCA and CBS) decided to scrap a long-standing agreement with the commercial radio sector. They demanded a new royalty payment for songs played on commercial radio, amounting to 1 percent of commerical radio's annual revenue. Radio naturally baulked at this, arguing that they provided free promotion for record company products, and when negotiations broke down in May 1970 the radio industry responded by banning the records of all the major companies. Significantly though, for reason not yet clear, American record companies were excluded from the ban. For many Australian acts the Ban was a disaster -- acts who were signed to or distributed by the majors, and had already had hits, suddenly found themselves out in the cold, and the Ban unquestionably killed the careers of several leading acts, like The Dave Miller Set. Perversely, though, the effect of the Ban -- radio's desperate need for alternatives to major label material -- enabled independent labels like Sparmac and Fable to finally get a foot in the door with commercial radio. Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock was a classic example of a record from a small, independent label that broke through to become a major national hit. The Ban also brought about a brief boom in locally-recorded covers of overseas hits that had been excluded from airplay -- a case in point being Autumn's hit cover of the song Yellow River. Another oddity was The Masters Apprentices, who still managed to have a major hit with Turn Up Your Radio, even though their singles, released by EMI, were officially 'banned' by commercial radio.
As well as the development of the pub circuit in Melbourne, which soon expanded to other cities, the early 1970s was the era of the big festivals, symbolised by the first Sunbury in January 1972. In the major cities the booming dance circuit, the 'engine-room' of 60s pop, was slowly winding down as the teen audiences of the Sixties aged into adulthood. While Melbourne was still going strong, the Sydney inner city club circuit gradually faded as American and allied troops withdrew from Vietnam and the R&R phenomenon came to an end. The Sydney live scene went into a relative decline until the pub circuit there took off in the mid to late '70s.
After the brief Beat Boom of 1964-67, where Sydney was the focus, Melbourne had become the epicentre of the pop industry. Its live scene had thrived throughout this period and as the R&R phenomenon waned in Sydney, Melbourne witnessed a new and exciting period from 1969 to 1972, the heyday of progressive acts like Spectrum, Company Caine, Wendy Saddington, Jeff Crozier and Captain Matchbox. The Melbourne scene was similar in many ways to the "underground" scene in late 60s Sydney. It was based in the inner city "head" venues -- discos like Berties, Thumpin Tum and Garrison, and larger public concert halls like those used by the promoters of the famed T.F. Much Ballroom and its successor the Much More Ballroom. Like the synergy between Sydney progressive bands and the UBU collective of the late 60s, this Melbourne new 'stream' had close links to the local performing arts scene, notably the La Mama and Pram Factory theatres and La Mama's resident company, the Australian Performing Group. The music was experimental and progressive, complemented by lightshows, films and performance art. Audiences sat and listened, and the drug of choice was cannabis, and also hallucinogens like LSD, that were by then making becoming more widely available.
With changes to the licencing laws in Victoria in the early '70s, a new field opened up -- the pub circuit, which in many ways took over from the old dance circuit as the 'engine room' of rock music. With the pub circuit came a different attitude, a different social scene, a new style of stronger, harder-edged music, and a different drug: alcohol, which was cheap, plentiful and above all legal. It was also a period of rapid development in amplification and PA systems, enabling huge outdoor festivals to be staged successfully and allowing even pub bands to play at unprecedented volumes.
The 'new' Aztecs and Chain are usually held up as the exemplars of the era, and their raucous, high-powered 'blues'n'boogie is often cited as the prevailing style. But in fact the scene was far broader than that. Healing Force, Friends, Madder Lake, MacKenzie Theory, Sid Rumpo, Country Radio, Captain Matchbox, Spectrum and its successor, Ariel, Country Radio and its successor The Dingoes all came to the fore in this period. Their individual stories and their recordings demonstrate that there was a lot of exciting, innovative music being made at this time.
Unfortunately, the excitement of this new music was all too often confined to the stage and the recording studio. Ironically, while Australian musicians were pursuing new visions, outlets for their music were rapidly contracting. New Australian music (and a lot of new music from overseas) was being excluded from commercial radio. There were some vital avenues outside the commercial sphere and ABC-TV's pioneering GTK and ABC Radio's Room To Move were crucial to the music of this period. But commercial stations were still by far the biggest outlet, and they were turning their backs on Australian music.
The Radio Ban was significant, and its effects are yet to be fully evaluated, although they seem to have been relatively short-lived. The major change in commercial radio was more gradual, but more pernicious. In the 1960s, DJ's like Stan Rofe and Ward Austin were directly involved in choosing the music played on-air and they were recognised for breaking many local acts. But from the late 60s, radio began narrow its programming focus, and this trend was reinforced in the early 70s when commercial stations around the country began falling under the sway of a new trend in commercial programming.
It was spearheaded by Digamae, a consultancy headed by three former commercial radio DJs, Rod Muir, Trevor Smith and Hans Torv. Digamae based their approach on American Top 40 radio. They adapted and promoted a range of US programming fads like "focus groups", and even tests of galvanic skin response to music, all aimed at working out the precise programming mix to capture and hold a target audience. This new style rapidly took hold across the country. By the mid-Seventies it was Digamae's consultant programmers, rather than individual station DJs, who decided what would be played. The play-lists concentrated on a small number of high-rotation commercial pop singles. In the case of major stations like Sydney's 2SM, this was reputedly as few as fifteen songs at peak times, and it was not uncommon to hear a given hit song at least three times in one hour.
Whether by accident or design, this led to a crucial change in the composition of the play-lists -- a huge swing away from Australian music. A quick comparison of the charts from 1966 and 1973 show this clearly. Around 1972 Digamae pioneered their "More Music" programming on Sydney's 2SM with tremendous success, and other pop stations across the country quickly adopted the new format. It was undeniably a ratings winner and it proved vastly profitable both for the stations and for Digamae. It was also a goldmine for those few lucky local groups like Sherbet who had an astute manager and a powerful label (in their case Festival) behind them to push their music to programmers, and the talent to produce the kind of concise, high-quality pop that the programmers favoured. But the deplorable result was that, overall, variety and diversity were sacrificed in favour of conformity and repetition. Consequently, some of the most innovative and exciting new Australian music of the early 70s -- basically anything too "weird", "uncommercial" or longer than 3-4 minutes in length -- was rarely played on Australian commercial radio, and almost never during prime time. Progressive music and the emerging country-rock style were notable casualties and without airplay, bands like The Dingoes floundered despite almost unanimous critical acclaim.
The result was inevitable. Without consistent radio support, records went unheard and unsold, and by 1975 much of this adventurous "third wave" -- groups like Spectrum, Tully, Tamam Shud, Daddy Cool and Madder Lake -- had fallen by the wayside. Seeing no future at home, other leading acts like Billy Thorpe, The Dingoes, Flying Circus and Greg Quill left the country.
1974-75 was a period of dramatic changes in the media and the music industry. The Whitlam government revolutionised radio, ending the decades-long oligopoly of the commercial sector by licensing a string of new community FM radio stations in each city, and approving the establishment of the world's first 24-hour non-commercial rock music station, Sydney's 2JJ - Double Jay. One simple gauge of how moribund Sydney radio in particular had become by the fact that Double Jay was given the first new AM radio licence issued in Sydney since the 1930s.
The effects of the Gorton government's innovations in the film industry were also beginning to be felt and by the end of 1975 the revival of the local industry was being openly proclaimed. It is significant that many of the directors involved, like Peter Weir and Tim Burstall, were part of the experimental/underground scenes of the late 60s and early 70s in Sydney and Melbourne. However it must be noted that these innovations can be interpreted in different ways. Commercial radio largely ignored Australian music in the early '70s and it wasn't until the changes of 1974-75 that they were effectively obliged to start taking notice again. The film revival had some great outcomes, but those who did not fit the new style -- like Sandy Harbutt, director of Stone, or Bert Deling, director of Dalmas and Pure Shit -- were left out in the cold. It’s a telling fact that Harbutt, whose film is the most successful independent feature ever made in this country, has never made another movie. Many sought their fortunes overseas and a handful -- Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, Phil Noyce, Tim Burstall and Fred Schepisi -- eventually met with tremendous success. There's a wry irony in the fact that the earlier films by these directors -- like The Adventures of Barry MacKenzie and Alvin Purple -- were savaged by local critics for their 'ocker vulgarity' despite the fact that they weere achieving major box-office success with Australian films for the first time since the 1930s.
These changes also have to be seen in a broader political context. Many media historians believe that the changes to radio and film in the late '60s and early '70s constituted a "quick fix", intended to stem the growing unrest over the issue of local content and local production in the media, by diverting attention away from the sector that needed the most drastic overhaul -- television.
Go-Set, Australia's music bible and our only national pop magazine for a decade, ceased publication at the end of 1974 and the focus almost immediately settled on a different medium. With the advent of colour TV, the gap left by Go-Set's demise was quickly filled by Countdown. With its national reach and huge audience -- estimated at 10% of the population at its peak -- Countdown ushered in a new era of pop music promotion based on TV and video clips, rather than radio airplay. The success of Sherbet and Skyhooks -- in which Countdown played a vital role -- created a new paradigm for the Aussie music scene.
Perhaps the clearest signal of the changes was Skyhooks, regulars on Countdown, and the first act to be featured on the first show in late '74, and on the famous first colour edition in March '75. Their legendary debut LP Living In The '70s (produced by Daddy Cool's Ross Wilson) broke all previous sales records and became the biggest-selling local album ever released up to that time. The importance of Countdown -- and to a lesser extent Double Jay -- can be gauged from the fact that Skyhooks were able to achieve such unprecedented success even though six of the ten tracks on their album were banned by commercial radio. It's no secret that the combination of Skyhooks and Countdown saved Mushroom Records, who had been floundering, largely due to radio's lack of support for their acts.
Soon other acts like Sherbet, Hush and TMG were touring regularly throughout the country, their profiles boosted by the invaluable exposure on Countdown, which was estimated to reach 2 million people each week -- the equivalent of 20 years' gigging for Aussie bands at that time! In many cases, these tours were the first time pop bands had visited country towns since the mid-60s.
When Sherbet scored a UK No.1 hit with "Howzat" in 1976, international success seemed assured, yet within a few years the group had split, unfairly written off as glam-pop "has-beens". Ultimately though, America proved to be the key in breaking Australian rock onto the world charts. The door was opened even further by the international success of John Paul Young, and this paved the way for the gigantic American breakthrough of The Little River Band in the late '70s, and then AC/DC. These acts in turn opened the door for the bands that followed, like Men At Work and INXS. But it must be stressed that these successes were a direct outcome of the hard lessons learned over the previous decade.
It's no coincidence that key members of LRB were all veterans of the 60s pop scene: Glenn Shorrock was the former lead singer of The Twilights and Axiom; Beeb Birtles was a member of Zoot and he and Graham Goble were both in Mississippi, and of course LRB's manager Glenn Wheatley was the bassist in the illustrious 1969-72 lineup of The Masters Apprentices. The same was true of the production team behind AC/DC -- former Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young. These veterans from major Aussie groups of the '60s learned from their mistakes and helped the new groups to succeed where they had failed. Another major run of international successes emanated from the small group of former Australian Sixties popsters who moved to the UK and became extremely influential in British music, inlcuding John Farrar (The Strangers), Alan Tarney and Trevor Spencer (James Taylor Move) and Terry Britten (The Twilights).
The importance of this formative '64-'75 era cannot be underrated. Yet the sad fact is that most of these superb bands and solo performers are quite unknown to younger generations of Australians. This was a crucial time, when these pioneering performers, writers, producers and engineers of the late '60s and early '70s enabled Australian music to absorb and expand on overseas influences so creatively, and to forge a distinctly Australian style and feeling. The loyal and discerning Australian audiences were equally instrumental in making these bands the great live acts they were - and still are. INXS acknowledged the importance of that formative era by recording covers of The Easybeats' Good Times and by twice covering The Loved Ones' classic single The Loved One in the 1980s -- yet how many pop fans of that time had ever heard the originals?
There are many more 'unsung heroes' and we want to celebrate and salute them all. But finally, let's not forget that many of these outstanding musicians are still out there doing what they do best. We exhort all Australian music lovers to get out there and support live music. These people didn’t suddenly stop being great in 1975; they are still writing, performing and recording fine music, and in most cases are playing and singing better than ever. Let’s honour them in the most practical way -- by going to see them play as often as possible!