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The Long and Winding Way to the Top Fifty (or so) songs that made Australia

In his foreword to this book, Jimmy Barnes notes that it has been written “With intelligence and humour, not to mention acid wit.” This is certainly the case. It is an exciting expose of Australian music. The author has (with great difficulty) chosen fifty songs that represent a period of time, or a transition in music styles, in the Australian music scene. Andrew Street gives his reasons for writing this book because so many people are trying to define “Australian Values, .. when patriotism is being weaponised into nationalism for short term political gain,” and Australians already have a lot of which to be proud.

 As a music lover, the author had the idea for this book and began preparing a rough list of songs to include. The original list had 476 titles and the first nightmare he faced, was trimming the number to a manageable size. This meant that each piece was crucial in some way, either to its genre, or to a period of time. The music influence from Great Britain and USA began to wane, as many local talents and groups were recognised for their quality. Country Music and Dance music have been ignored, just because there wasn’t the room to include them.

 Not surprisingly, the Chapters begin with Johnny O’Keefe. His introduction to Australian music lovers came as a huge change. This larger than life character fell in love with Bill Hailey and the Comets and this was to influence his style, and fling him into the spotlight. We learn all about J O’K, and his untimely end. “Wild One has become a touchstone for Australian rock’n’roll,” a song that was considered to be the template for rock in Australia.

 From the 1950’s, we move to 1963 when Little Pattie and the Statesmen introduced stomp to the public. The stomp was an uncomplicated dance, in which you just stomped! The unsophisticated artist sang for the troops in Vietnam and was also prevalent in the vocals for the “It’s Time” ad for the election campaign of Gough Whitlam. Jimmy Little is mentioned and shows “Exactly how Australian like their non- white people: neat, religious and unthreatening.”  The story of how Helen Reddy came to write her famous tune, “I am woman,” is interesting, as she had no further hits after that song.

 From AC/DC to Guy Sebastian, we are given a parcel of information which doesn’t get bogged down in detail, but outlines the music and the performer. The progress through time is fascinating; looking at social progress and political issues of the times, helps us understand why songs were of such great importance.  The urbanization of Sydney meant that garden sheds used for jam sessions were now vacated for more suburban and outlying venues.

 Even though “Redback on the toilet seat,” didn’t get a mention, the delight of reading about the chosen performers and their music is worth it.

 

AuthorAndrew P Street
PublisherAllen and Unwin
ISBN9781760293727
Websitehttps://www.allenandunwin.com
DistributorAllen and Unwin
ReleasedDecember 2017