Remembering the music of the '60s in Australia

The 1960s started with Australian audiences wanting more rock ‘n’ roll but Elvis Presley was in the army, Buddy Holly was sadly dead, Chuck Berry was in jail, Jerry Lee Lewis was in disgrace and Little Richard was in church.

While British and American audiences were listening to the tremendous catalogue of African/American music in Australia the record companies were reluctant to release these records, they thought rock ‘n’ roll was a passing fad after all. All that was changing with British migrants arriving with suitcases full of LPs and by the mid-’60s making their own brand of music.

Between 1957 and 1972 Johnny O’Keefe had 35 hit records in Australia and hosted two popular TV shows, Six O’Clock Rock on ABC and The Johnny O’Keefe Show on channel 7 (re-named Sing Sing Sing in 1963). Yet, his career took a nosedive through a series of tragedies from 1960, including a car crash that seriously disfigured him, a breakdown in 1962, the sudden death of his friend Lee Gordon in 1963. These misfortunes were compounded by a drug addiction and a psychiatric disorder and a divorce in 1966.

Before we had pub rock, teenagers filled rooms in coffee shops, school halls, town halls, church halls, converted theatres, ballrooms, police boys clubs, RSL clubs and surf clubs… anywhere they could play and listen to rock ‘n’ roll and dance.

Australian women began to emerge and at the age of 16 Patsy Ann Noble was a regular on Bandstand and had a hit with ‘Good Looking Boy’ in 1961. Changing her name to Trisha Noble she achieved considerable fame and fortune internationally as did other talented Australian women including Diana Trask, Lana Cantrell, Helen Reddy, Lynne Randell, Olivia Newton-John and Kerrie Biddell whose band The Affair won the Hoadleys Battle Of the Sounds in 1969 and gave them the opportunity to travel to London and play there.

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Other winners of this prestigious award were The Twilights (1966); The Groop (1967); The Groove (1968); The Flying Circus (1970); Fraternity (1971) and Sherbet (1972).

The Melbourne based folk/pop band The Seekers, featuring Judith Durham, Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley and Athol Guy, were the first Australian group to achieve national and international success in the United Kingdom and United States.

While most Australian acts went overseas to seek fame and fortune John Farnham stayed and had the biggest selling record of the decade with ‘Sadie The Cleaning Lady’ in 1967 and was rewarded with the crown of the King of Pop in 1969, his career is still going strong nearly 50 years later.

Johnny Young’s career started in Perth with a band called The Nomads and in 1966 his recording of ‘Step Back’ coupled with “’Cara-Lyn’ became a national number one and he became a household name as host of Channel 9’s TV show Young Talent Time.

The guitar sounds of American Dick Dale and the British band The Shadows led by Hank Marvin inspired many Australian bands and the surfing scene became a national phenomenon. Sydney band The Delltones hit the national top ten in 1963 with ‘Hangin’ Five’. The Atlantics were the leading exponents of instrumental surf music and hit the top with ‘Bombora’ as did The Denvermen with ‘Surfside’.

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Out of the surf scene came the Australian dance craze The Stomp, prompting Little Pattie to hit the charts with ‘Stompin’ At Maroubra’.

With the introduction of the British beat, surf band The Aztecs added Billy Thorpe to its line-up and had the distinction of knocking The Beatles off top spot with their version of ‘Poison Ivy’ in 1964. Other major Australian acts enjoying the British Invasion as it was known, were Dave Bridge, Bobby and Laurie, Ray Brown and the Whispers, The Loved Ones, The Masters Apprentices, MPD Ltd, Mike Furber and the Bowery Boys, Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris, Ronnie Burns and Ray Hoff and the Off-Beats.

New Zealanders also having a major impact were Max Merritt and the Meteors, Mike Rudd, Dinah Lee, Ray Columbus and the Invaders and Bruno Lawrence. One of the most successful artists of the era and crowned King of Pop in 1967 and 1968 was Normie Rowe backed his band The Playboys had a string of number one hits with ‘Que Sera Sera’; ‘Shakin’ All Over’; ‘Oh La La’, ‘Ain’t Nobody Home’ and ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’.

Influential bluesy bands on the scene were Chain, Head (later to become Buffalo), The Missing Links, The Purple Hearts, Spectrum, The Sunsets (later to become Tamam Shud), The Wild Cherries, The Throb and The Creatures. Some of the most successful bands were led by British immigrants the Bee Gees, The Easybeats, Bernard ‘Doc’ Neeson from The Angels, Jimmy Barnes and Steve Prestwich from Cold Chisel, John Swan (Jimmy Barnes’ brother) from Swanee, Angus and Malcolm Young and Bon Scott from AC/DC.

The now legendary Albert Productions was founded in 1966 with the signing of Billy Thorpe and The Easybeats and Harry Vanda with George Young both from The Easybeats going on to write a lucrative catalogue of songs for the company, including their ground breaking production of the work in the ’70s for AC/DC and Rose Tattoo.

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The number one hit singles in Australia in the 1960s

1960: ‘It’s Now Or Never’, Elvis Presley
1961: ‘I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door’, Eddie Hodges
1962: ‘Good Luck Charm’, Elvis Presley
1963: ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, The Beatles
1964: ‘I Feel Fine’, The Beatles
1965: ‘Help’, The Beatles
1966: ‘Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby’, The Beatles
1967: ‘The Last Waltz’, Engelbert Humperdink
1968: ‘Hey Jude’, The Beatles
1969: ‘Ob La Di, Ob La Da’, The Beatles

The top Australian singles in Australia in the 1960s

1960: ‘Yes Sir That’s My Baby’, Col Joye and the Joy Boys
1961: ‘I’m Counting On You’, Johnny O’Keefe
1962: ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’, Lucky Starr
1963: ‘Bombora’, The Atlantics
1964: ‘Poison Ivy’, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs
1965: ‘Que Sera Sera’, Normie Rowe and the Playboys
1966: ‘Step back/Cara-Lyn’, Johnny O’Keefe
1967: ‘Georgie Girl’, The Seekers
1968: ‘Sadie the Cleaning Lady’, John Farnham
1969: ‘The Real Thing’, Russell Morris

Do you remember these hits from the 1960s? Which was your favourite? Where were you in the ’60s?

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