How three Australian global hits became cultural icons
The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia has inducted three “culturally and historically important” Australian masters into history books.
Three of the tracks were global hits and recognised as part of local pop culture, defined as sound recordings that have “helped shape our nation’s culture.”
They are John Farnham’s ‘You’re The Voice’ (1986), Savage Garden’s ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ (1997) and Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta’s ‘You’re The One That I Want’ (1978), written by Melbourne-born Los Angeles-based John Farrar.
Interestingly, all three might have only become hits by chance.
As the tale goes, Farnham, his manager Glenn Wheatley, musical director David Hirschfelder and producer Ross Fraser, had gone through 2,000 songs for his comeback album, Whispering Jack.
At the time Farnham’s recording career was all but dead, and radio kept its distance.
‘You’re The Voice’ was written by singer Maggie Ryder, one time Icehouse bassist Andy Qunta, UK-born New Zealand raised singer Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and poet, Keith Reid, who wrote the weird-ass lyrics to Procol Harum’s ‘60s acid anthem ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’.
The single was the biggest seller of the year, charting in 10 cities, reaching top spot in Australia, Sweden and West Germany.
The album had a number of other hits, but it’s doubtful it would have reached the 1.7 million sales mark without ‘Voice’ and the phenomenon that followed.
Watch ‘You’re The Voice’ by John Farnham:
‘You’re the One That I Want’ was one of the two songs, along with ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, that Farrar wrote specifically for Newton-John’s appearance in the film adaption of Grease, and not been in the original stage musical.
The film’s director Randal Kleiser didn’t like the song, because it didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the soundtrack by Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs.
Paramount Studios was not keen about it in the beginning, according to Newton-John. The singer didn’t want to be in the movie either
Last year, in an interview with Forbes, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Grease, she recalled: “Actually, I was the only one who was very nervous about making the movie. My musical career was doing well at the time.”
However, she’d had a bad experience with a science-fiction musical called Toomorrow some years before.
It was produced by Don Kirshner (The Monkees) and James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman.
The plan was for the three of them to make a series of musicals together but Toomorrow had been a flop.
“So, understandably, I was a little sceptical and nervous about doing another musical movie,” Newton-John’s told Forbes.
“I was the one that insisted on a screen test and told them I couldn’t do it if they made me American so they agreed to me being Australian and they had me do a screen test.
“It’s really kind of funny when I look back at it. I almost talked my way out of one of the best things to happen to me.”
Watch ‘You’re The One That I Want’ by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John:
‘Truly Madly Deeply’ was Savage Garden’s third single off their worldwide self-titled hit album.
It won the 1997 ARIA for Single of the Year, Highest Selling Single and was nominated for Song of the Year.
The song was about Darren Hayes feeling homesick for Brisbane and his then-wife as they lived in Sydney for much of the year recording the album.
Initially, his writing partner, Savage Garden guitarist Darren Jones, was not happy with the chorus saying it didn’t fit the song or the rest of their material.
Over dinner they came up with a replacement, “I want to stand with you on a mountain, I want to bathe with you in the sea, I want to lay like this forever until the sky falls down on me.”
When they played it to producer Charles Fisher, he told them it would be a #1.
It was in Australia, as well as in the US, Canada and Germany, and #2 in Ireland, Italy, Austria, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden.