The power of music crosses the decades
My childhood memories are peppered with musical signposts. First up, there’s Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ The Night Away. This golden oldie is the first pop song I remember. Whenever I hear it, I’m right back in 1962.
I’m five years old and I’ve just finished grade one. Thanks to Dick and Dora, and their animal companions Nip and Fluff, I’ve learnt to read quite well.
But the Happy Venture Readers have been packed away, along with the slates and slate pencils, because it’s the school break-up party.
All the mums and dads are there. We’ve played games and eaten our fill. Then out of nowhere the music starts to play.
The desks are hastily pushed aside to make a dance floor – and we’re all twistin’, twistin’, twistin’ the night away.
I’m ashamed to admit that the Beatles’ visit to Australia in 1964 simply passed me by unnoticed. We didn’t have a television or a radiogram. Just a wireless that Dad said could pick up only one station, the ABC.
So the next stop on my musical memory tour is 1969, which was a turning point in popular music. It was the year 400,000 people converged on a 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, known simply as Woodstock.
Unfortunately, I missed the legendary Woodstock line-up that included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez and Santana and the playlist that would indelibly influence music around the globe.
No Woodstock and no Beatles for me.
In 1969, I discovered Australian music, courtesy of Ross D. Wyllie and Uptight, a four-hour music marathon every Saturday from midday on Channel O.
It was a rare treat having the TV to myself, but there was no competition for it on a Saturday afternoon on the farm. After lunch Dad would have a “camp”, an essential restorative for a dairy farmer who’d been up since 4am. He’d listen to the horse races and fall asleep reading the paper. (How he could sleep and snore with the broadsheets stretched across his face, I’ll never know, but he did.)
Mum would put her feet up too since she’d been up before dawn with Dad.
My brother played sport – tennis in winter and cricket in summer – so on Saturday afternoon I had the TV all to myself, which is how I came to be an Uptight fan.
I loved Ross D. Wyllie. Originally from Brisbane, he had a top 20 hit in 1969 with his cover of Ray Stevens’ song Funny Man. It was a song of unrequited love that tugged at my pre-pubescent heart strings:
There goes the funny man
The life of the party, that’s me
And they’d never guess
That I had a care
They’d be amazed to see me cry
When the party’s through
Cry over you.
Ross was clean cut and wore a suit and tie – just the sort of bloke Mum approved of – but some of his guests on Uptight and its successor Happening 70 were not so conservative.
Take Australian singer Russell Morris for instance. His debut single The Real Thing, released in 1969, was positively psychedelic.
Produced by Ian “Molly” Meldrum and written by Johnny Young of Young Talent Time fame, it was a huge hit in Australia and in my lounge room on those long Saturday afternoons watching Uptight.
The Real Thing went on and on and on – for six minutes and forty seconds – about pretty much nothing, but I loved it…Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow, Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow, Oo-mow-ma-mow, Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow, ma mow.
Final stop is 1971. I’m 14 and clueless, but merrily singing along to a cassette tape of Lola, by The Kinks, which a classmate, who was allowed to shave her legs and wear a bikini, had recorded for me from the radio.
The words of the song have me puzzled, so I am trying to write them down in an exercise book. Play, rewind, play, rewind, play.
Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walks like a woman and talks like a man
Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola
Well, I was dumb – or, more correctly, naïve – and couldn’t make hide nor hair of the song.
It never occurred to my innocent heart that it was about a romantic encounter between a young man and a transvestite called Lola.
But isn’t there something precious and lovely about the innocence of youth, dear Readers? As we all know, experience and maturity come soon enough.