Video may have killed the radio star for the MTV generation, but during the 1960s in Australia, radio stars became household faces when they appeared on the small screen.
In New Zealand the 1960s pop programmes In the Groove, Let’s Go, C’mon and Happen Inn (then Free Ride in the early 70s) by producer Kevan Moore – appointment viewing for a young audience wanting to see their music – gave viable, if sometimes undeserved, pop careers to artists such as Sandy Edmonds, Allison Durbin, Bobby Elliot and many others.
Television brought Ray Columbus, Dinah Lee, Mr Lee Grant, The Librettos and dozens of others to national attention. Across the Tasman the hour-long music show Bandstand – which first screened in November 1958 and ran until June 1972 – was the platform for pop performers.
At the start it was a tele-illiterate TV show of clean-cut teens dancing awkwardly to American hits, drinking the sponsor’s product (Coke, of course, with pimple-cleansing Clearasil in the background) and kids being given free records while a parade of aspiring stars came on singing covers.
So does anyone here remember Lucky Starr, Lane Goddard or Ken Corbett? Yet the real thing (Col Joye, Johnny O’Keefe, the young Bee Gees singing ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ among them) were also introduced.
Bandstand was where many great Australian acts (Johnny O’Keefe to the Easybeats) and a surprising number of New Zealand artists appeared. Among our local exports were Johnny Devlin and the Devils, Dinah Lee, and Bill and Boyd.
For New Zealanders looking to the bigger time, Bandstand was the gateway to Australian audiences.
Johnny Devlin and the Devils had already established Johnny’s shirt-tearing, energetic rock’n’roll credentials in New Zealand before their appearance on Bandstand in early 1960. And in the context of the mainstream Australian acts on the show at that time Devlin looks every inch the post-Elvis rock’n’roll star who is assured and sullen on the menacing Roy Orbison/Norman Petty/Jim Scott-penned ‘Cast Iron Arm’.
He got into a more dramatic ballad persona in ‘What Am I Living For?’ by Conway Twitty and, on the same broadcast, his younger brother Rob Devlin – just 17 – sings Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ (looking a little uncomfortable but getting the knee movements down perfect).
However, with Johnny, buttoned-down host Brian Henderson knew he had real talent on the show and he brought him back – after another costume change – for a third song right at the end, a cover of Presley’s ‘Stuck on You’, which was No.1 in the US that week.
The following year in the Best of Bandstand special, host Henderson – who favoured “swinging” songs, and looked like he could sell life insurance more successfully than pop music – would describe Devlin as “a regular star” on the programme, a reminder to New Zealanders just how big Devlin had been when he left this country after a furious 12 months of fame.
Unfortunately, on that “best of” show he departed from his many Elvis covers and performed a gimmicky original ‘Zack in the Back of My Pocket’, a Devlin original but not his finest moment. It wasn’t the only novelty song he did in those early shows.
As with most pop music shows, Bandstand worked a studio formula in which local acts would cover recent international releases. In those days – before radio and the charts unified around pop music – there would be country songs and close harmony Everly Brothers-styled hits alongside mainstream ballads, show tunes and jazz standards (all usually delivered with doe-eyed sincerity).
These early and now available episodes show us new dances such as The Twist and uncomfortable interviews with Frank Sinatra, Adam Faith, Pete Seeger (singing Dylan’s ‘Who Killed Davy Moore?’) and other internationals. But the bonus is seeing New Zealand artists such as Red Hewitt and others acquitting themselves with assurance, which is remarkable given they’d had very little prior television experience.
Of course, once New Zealand artists enjoyed more live performance experience at home and became comfortable on Kevan Moore’s programmes, they arrived in Australia fully formed.
Witness Dinah Lee’s incendiary live performance for Bandstand in March 1965 at the Myer Music Bowl before over 35,000.
In a show notable for elements of emerging garage band blues-rock (the Flies tearing apart ‘Around and Around’ and ‘Ain’t That Just Like Me’) and worthy gospel folk (Judy Jaques with ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’), Dinah Lee – “the whirlwind” says Henderson – exploded on the stage with ‘What Did He Say?’, ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and a thrilling treatment of her hit cover of Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’. She far surpassed UK import Millie (‘My Boy Lollipop’) Small, who followed her.
The audience of young women and girls down the front scream approval, wave and dance in their seats. It was the defining performance of Lee’s career.
Lee would appear on Bandstand a number of times and in May 1966 she opened and closed the studio show as, says Henderson, “someone who was originally a Kiwi and now just about settled in Australia”. She kicked off with a funky, raw and distinctively-Dinah treatment of Ray Charles’ ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’ and as the episode closed, fired off the powerful ballad ‘Not In This Whole World’ and a playfully slinky version of Charles’ ‘Hallelujah I Love Him So’. These revealed another side of her stage persona.
By this time New Zealand had lost Lee to the bigger market, but her rawness was also a bit lost to mainstream entertainment, as seen on her 23 July 1966 appearance when, after her spot (‘Night Time Is the Right Time’ again and ‘Summertime’) she was part of a silly salute to the Roaring Twenties and the era of the Charleston (with host Henderson doing a lame version of ‘I Love Onions’, known in New Zealand for Sandy Edmonds’s cover).
Other New Zealand regulars on Bandstand were Bill & Boyd, who opened the 22 May 1965 show with ‘Sing Sing Sing’, and would appear in November of the following year with the Monkees’ ‘Last Train to Clarksville’, the Hollies’ ‘Stop Stop Stop’ and ‘Let the Sunshine In’ from Hair.
On the same show – an episode billed as Sing Sing Sing – there was another Kiwi act which cut a deeper swathe through Australian rock music: Max Merritt and the Meteors. On that show they offered a tame ‘Heatwave’ but then on 27 November they open the first live Bandstand in Perth with a fiery version of ‘‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ which had been re-popularised by the Beatles on the Help! soundtrack a few months previous.
Another Kiwi who appeared on Bandstand in the mid-to-late 60s was Britain’s Tommy Adderley, who had adopted New Zealand as his homeland.
Adderley was included on New Year’s Day in 1966 when the programme looked back at the previous year in a compilation show. The lineup included a Dinah Lee performance (the MOR disappointment of ‘You Came a Long Way from St Louis’) alongside big Australian names such as Normie Rowe, Helen Reddy and Lucky Starr as well as briefly acclaimed international folkies Nina and Frederik.
A truncated version of Adderley’s ‘Mr Jinx’ was bracketed between an earnest folk song by Australian Garry Shearton and some couple doing a terribly energetic and overwrought version of the novelty hit ‘Along Came Jones’. It will make you proud that Adderley was billed as a New Zealander, until you learn that the couple was too: Anne and Jimmy Murphy.
Not every New Zealand performer on Bandstand was exceptional. But there were some who were captured by Australian television for us when the NZBC either didn’t, or wiped the tapes.
Among the Bandstand delights are the great Rim D Paul (formerly of the Quin Tikis) who appeared on a July 1967 salute to Frank Sinatra. And in the context of ephemeral pop and rock, this show has endured because of the timelessness of the material and Paul delivering a wonderfully effortless ‘I’ve Got the World on a String’ which slides behind the beat. Paul wears a long button-down collar and three-piece suit few could carry off. He is pure class and while others “sing” Sinatra’s songs, Paul inhabits them when later he steps up for ‘That’s Life’ and ‘Come Fly With Me’.
Another of our great balladeers – Toni Williams – appeared on Bandstand, and of course so did Maria Dallas with her crossover country-to-pop hit ‘Tumblin’ Down’ which appeared in Bandstand’s look back at 1967. This episode opened with a farewell to Bill & Boyd and wishing them success in America (they sang ‘America’ from West Side Story and the Pete Seeger/ Lee Hayes-penned folk song ‘If I Had A Hammer’).
It is a programme which shows how out of touch Bandstand was getting, with artists doing covers of Cockney Tommy Steele’s ‘My Old Man’s Dustman’ and ‘What a Mouth’ from a lifetime before the Beatles, who were now psychedelic. Somehow Dallas’ ‘Tumblin’ Down’ works because it transcended the acid-infused counter-culture generation.
It was a hit and she sells it by doing little more than singing it straight to camera while wearing a dress which looks conservative by the standards of the times.
The Bandstand programmes are a look back at what once was (and yes, they can be funny and cringe-inducing) but they allow an appreciation of how our artists fared in that much tougher and more crowded market.
Just take one programme by way of example. In July 1970 the show opened with a populist medley from the scrupulously multi-racial, 30-piece vocal group The Young Americans – MOR hitmakers from, you guessed it – but then Henderson introduces Rim D. Paul by saying, “he doesn’t just sing, he’s a more than competent arranger and this bracket of Jimmy Webb songs is all his own work”.
And then, before sharing the same screen space as the great Lou Rawls, Paul delivers that magnificent voice and takes a journey through his jazzy arrangements of ‘Didn’t We Almost Made It This Time’, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’, ‘MacArthur Park’ and ‘Arizona’.
Okay, they are covers. But that was what the programme mostly required, and Rim D. Paul does them justice in his own way.
Want to see New Zealand pop artists from the Sixties on screen? Check out Australia’s Bandstand, a website that has the first eight years of programmes thoroughly indexed and viewable, albeit in a slow-to-load format. Among the offerings are John Rowles singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ in the “1967 in Review, part one” episode – and the Rolling Stones performing five songs in a Harry M Miller touring artists’ special on 2 July 1966.