(Various Australian Artists)
When we hear the word 'Countdown' we all of course think of Ian 'Molly' Meldrum
On any given Sunday night from 1974 to 1987 Molly was loved, loathed, reviled, respected but above all, watched. Molly had a real passion that connected with his audience and co-workers at Studio 31 in Ripponlea. He wasn't perfect. He was like one of those World War II fighter pilots you read about, flying by the seat of their pants, half-cut from a late night in the officers' mess but somehow managing to fly his 'crate' of string, wire and balsa wood across the heavens, week in, week out. If the job of a TV host is to present with a detached poise then Molly will be judged a complete failure. But if it's more important that a host promote, provoke, perplex, perspire, inspire and embody the program itself, then Molly was an outstanding success. You simply couldn't ignore Molly and neither could the Australian music industry.
Everyone has a Molly story, even those who've never met him. Many of them are outrageous. Most of them are true. The most commonly parleyed anecdote concerns an incident at Los Angeles Airport and goes something like this: Late and argumentative as usual, a Melbourne-bound Molly has completed his formalities and received his boarding pass when he reaches for the briefcase that is no longer by his feet. Fleeced of all essential possessions, he is subsequently denied entry to a PanAm Jumbo. "Without your passport Mr Meldrum," he is sternly advised, "you wont be allowed into Australia and we will be liable to bring you back here."
Molly yells, Molly screams and then Molly applies the cunning that has kept him firmly in the public eye since 1966. He dashes over to the passengers awaiting boarding, people he doesn't know from Adam, and says "Do you know me?". "Yea, you're Molly," they chorus. He gets to fly home.
It's an ideal household name, one which rolls off the tongue like Ita, Hoges, Edna, Hawkie, Barnsie and Deek. Molly the mouth, Molly the mumbler, Molly the unlikely media mainstay. It's known from Albury to Zealand and is likely to come tumbling from the lips of Madonna, Elton John, David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart at the most unexpected moments. Molly. He has helped to shape the opinions of up to five distinct 'generations' of Australian youth. Outside of Ross Wilson and Glenn Shorrock, no local pop star has outlasted him; he even predates the chart career of John Farnham.
Molly has very definite ideas about how the pop business should work; after all he's helped determine its modus operand since the sixties. Music is not something that Ian Meldrum ever just listened to. Left on his own as a child, he would crank up West Side Story, Oklahoma or a piece of opera on the family gramophone and madly flail away with a makeshift baton. At the first Melbourne concert by The Beatles in June 1964, Meldrum and mate Ronnie Burns were tossed out of Festival Hall by over-zealous security men just before the final song, for screaming too loudly, and spent the duration of Long Tall Sally pounding on the back door in a tearful state of near-collapse.
Two years later, while juggling law studies with a job as ace pop reporter on Go Set magazine, Molly covered the walk-out of the miming stars of the Kommotion pop television show and found himself recruited as a replacement. "I'd refused," he recalls, "but Phillip Frazer, my editor, said 'It will be good for the magazine, do it'. So I became the fool. I mimed to things like Winchester Cathedral, Lady Godiva and something called Why Don't Women Like Me?... ..(laughs fitfully) although I didn't even realise myself at that stage!"
After traveling to London with The Groop in 1968 and landing a short stint actually working within the Beatles' Apple organisation, Meldrum was ready to stop promoting other people's music and start creating his own. He produced a hit for the Melbourne group Somebody's Image and persuaded lead singer Russell Morris to pursue solo fame. Before EMI Records had realised what was happening, Meldrum had spent $10,000 of their money (sufficient budget for 2-3 albums at that time) recording a wizard's brew of swirling electronic noise and mesmerising chants — a spectacular six minute epic which the distraught company presumed to be a B-side.
He was sacked from the project but refused to let go and when a corporate decision was made to release the single only in Victoria, hit the road to Sydney with Morris to persuade influential disc jockeys Ward Austin and Groover Wayne to air the song. In April 1969, "The Real Thing" was number one around Australia and by the end of the year the pair had been awarded a rare gold disc. After that, there was no looking back.
Molly is now an Australian fact of life but although he may insist "I give everyone a fair go, bloody everyone, there's no grey area on that score", one could not fairly describe him as well loved, at least not within the close confines of Australia's fairly claustrophobic music industry. The Great Unwashed is another matter entirely. "I can't assess what I mean in this country," he says coyly, "I'm so used to it. I enjoy people smiling. I shouldn't take everything as seriously as I do. I was booked onto the Air India flight that crashed into the Irish Sea and didn't make it because Rod Stewart and his old manager, Billy Gaff, after a lot of argument, got me to stay over in London for a dinner party. By the grace of God I'm still here. That's the way you've got to look at life. As long as I'm enjoying this, we'll all have a giggle."
There was really only one question left to ask: As the producer of a decent handful of classic Australian hits, with a reputation for blowing out more budgets than a housewife with a purse full of credit cards, will Molly be producing records for Melodian? His retort came before I was able to get all the words out. "I'd never be that stupid, not with my own label!" [extracts from Countdown "The Wonder Years 1974-87' by Dave Warner, 2006, p131-133 and "External Combustion" by Glenn Baker, 1990, p77-81]
Interestingly enough, it was only when I decided to post this album, that I became aware of a misconception that I have had with one of the featured artists for more than 30 years. I had always thought that Billy Field was an American artist, yet he is 100% Home Grown and therefore an Aussie artist. Not sure how I missed this one, but I would like to dedicate this post to Billy in recompense for my ignorance.
Anyhow, in the famous words of Molly himself, 'Do Ya Self A Favour', and grab a copy of this awesome compilation today.
LP1 - Side1
1 - Evie (parts 1, 2 & 3) - Stevie Wright (11.24)
2 - It's a long way to the top - AC/DC (5.10)
3 - I'll be gone - Spectrum (3.25)
4 - Help is on it's way - Little River Band (4.04)
5 - I honestly love you - Olivia Newton-John (3.38)
6 - Don't fall in love - The Ferrets (3.12)
7 - The loved one - The Loved Ones (2.50)
LP1 - Side2
1 - The Boys light up - Australian Crawl (3.48)
2 - Heading in the right direction - Renee Geyer (2.58)
3 - Eagle Rock - Daddy Cool (3.50)
4 - Eleanor Rigby - The Zoot (4.40)
5 - Turn up your radio - Masters Apprentices (3.33)
6 - Speak to the sky - Rick Springfield (3.00)
7 - Most people I know (think that I'm crazy) - Billy Thorpe (4.17)
8 - You weren't in love with me - Billy Field (3.24)
LP2 - Side3
1 - April Sun in Cuba - Dragon (3.24)
2 - The real thing - Russell Morris (6.20)
3 - Howzat - Sherbet (3.39)
4 - Horror movie - Skyhooks (3.47)
5 - I go to Rio - Peter Allen (3.22)
6 - Spicks and Specks - Bee Gees (2.52)
7 - I got you - Split Enz (3.28)
8 - Such a lovely way - The Groop (3.16)
LP2 - Side4
1 - No secrets - The Angels (4.17)
2 - Yesterday's heroes - John Paul Young (3.43)
3 - Friday on my mind - The Easybeats (2.48)
4 - Here I am - Air Supply (3.51)
5 - One - Johnny Farnham (2.46)
6 - We can get together - Icehouse (3.46)
7 - Hollywood seven - Jon English (4.52)
8 - Cheap wine - Cold Chisel (3.10)
9 - Who can it be now - Men at Work (3.20)
Molly's Aus. Evolution LP1 (FLACs) New Links 18/10/2015
Molly's Aus. Evolution LP2 (FLACs)
Molly's Aus. Evolution LP1/2 (MP3) New Link 27/09/2015