Click on the orange button to hear excepts from some of the recordings discussed.
The foundations of rock'n'roll in Australia were laid during the Second World
War when American servicemen brought the "jumpin' jive" of artists
like Louis Jordan to Australia. The other basic component of rock'n'roll,
country "hillbilly" music, was already well established here. When the two came together in
the mid-1950s, the new music quickly found an Australian audience and
performers. The trigger was Bill Haley's performance of Rock around the
Clock on the soundtrack of the 1954 movie, Blackboard Jungle.
Among the first performers were Allan Dale and the House Rockers and Johnny
O'Keefe and the Dee Jays. Both bands performed in the style of Bill Haley and Comets. Alan Dale
was really a big band singer performing rock music in a sophisticated, tuneful
style. Johnny O'Keefe, on the other hand was raw and brash - more like Little
These were soon followed by many other performers including:
Col Joye and the Joy Boys, who performed a kind of speeded-up
American country music (without the fiddles),
Lonnie Lee, who started out more in the ballad style of Johnny Ray
and Frankie Laine, and then added a rockabilly band,
Barry Stanton, an Elvis sound- and look-alike and
Lucky Starr, a rockabilly performer who had a huge hit with I've
All of these early groups started out performing in rough, brawling pubs
which gave parents some real basis for concern. Their response was to establish
"Teenage Cabarets" in Police-Citizens Boys Clubs and church venues. These, however, were often more like amateur nights than
The situation was wide open for a promoter who could put on
professional shows at large venues and Lee Gordon did just that. Gordon
was a rather shady American music promoter who used his contacts to
bring major stars like Frank
Sinatra, Johnny Ray, Frankie
Laine, Cliff Richard, Buddy
Holly, Bill Haley and Little Richard to perform in
Australia - initially at the Sydney Stadium. Gordon also started strip
clubs, Australia's first hamburger diners and even imported plastic
paint. He made and lost several fortunes in the process.
Lee Gordon's lead was followed by Col Joye and his brother, Kevin
Jacobson, who began organising tours of county towns by local rock bands
and, later, brought major acts to Australia.
The one major act that couldn't be lured
to Australia was Elvis Presley. As an alternative, Lee Gordon brought
Johnny Devlin, New Zealand's Elvis-like leading rock star here. Johnny
became a major rock star in Australia as well.
The first Australian rock recording is thought to have been the instrumental
Wild Weekend by the Thunderbirds. It was not a hit. The first Australian rock
record to be a hit was Johnny
O'Keefe Wild One in 1958. Col Joye's Bye Bye Love, later the same year, was the first to reach number one.
Most early Australian rock recordings were covers of American records. The
record companies often didn't release imported recordings for many months
although the records could be flown to Australia within a day or so of their
American release. This is exactly what happened. The records were then copied by
Australian bands. (Wild One was the exception. It was written by members
of Johnny O'Keefe's band and was covered by Buddy Holly's Crickets as Real
In the early 'sixties, American rock began
to lose its vitality and the stream of good material began to dry up. In
Australia, as in England, this encouraged local artists to develop their
own material. At the same time, the first 24-hour
pop music radio stations were introduced in Sydney and Melbourne,
greatly increasing radio's appetite for music.
The first flowering of this in Australia was in surf
music. Although following an American style, most Australian surf music
was original Australian material. Some new bands, like the Atlantics,
emerged but most of the hits came from established bands like the
Delltones and the Joy Boys. The surf music craze also produced
Australia's first indigenous dance craze, the Stomp.
The surf music fad was short-lived to be followed by the so-called
"British invasion". In fact, while English recordings replaced many
American ones in the pop charts, Australian records went from strength to
strength. The first new bands to emerge were Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and Ray
Brown and the Whispers. Both performed mostly American songs but with original
interpretations, rather than slavish covers of the originals.
Among the bands to have great success
performing their own material were the Easybeats the Bee Gees and the
Twilights. The Easybeats had a string of Australian hits in 1965 and
'66. They then moved to England where they recorded Friday on My Mind,
which became a worldwide hit. The band, which thrived on simple hard
rock, seem to lose its way as soft, psychedelic music came into fashion.
The band eventually returned to Australia where its two songwriter
members, Harry Vanda and George Young, organized a new band for which
they became songwriter/producers. The new band, AC/DC, featuring
George's brothers, Angus and Malcolm Young, had worldwide success
throughout the 'seventies and early 'eighties.
The Bee Gees had a number of minor hits in Australia but no major hit
until Spicks and Specks in 1967 - just at the time when they had decided
to move to England. They had major worldwide hits in the late 'sixties.
Despite many setbacks, the Bee Gees have continued to have successes up
to 2003 when Maurice Gibb, aged 53, died after suffering a heart attack during surgery.
The Twilights were a Beatles-sound band led by Glenn Shorrock which
had Australian hits in the mid- to late 'sixties. When the group broke
up in 1969, Shorrock formed a new group, Axiom, which also produced
Australian hits. When Axiom broke up, in 1975 Shorrock formed the Little
River Band which became the top-selling band in North America in the
The other Australian group to enjoy great success in the late
'sixties was the Seekers. The group recorded in England after being
employed as entertainers on a cruise from Australia. Their first single,
I'll Never Find another You, reached number one in England and number
four in America. For a time, they rivalled the Beatles in popularity in