Well isn’t this ironic. Countdown in part wrecked my career and now it might be reviving it. I have been commissioned by ABC Books to “author” a book about Countdown. In fact, “author” is a bit of a misnomer. My role will be more to edit the book about the immensely popular show that ran from 1974 to 1987 on Australian TV. The book won’t be an academic treatise but rather a big bumper fun, coffee table book with lots of pics, quizzes and some behind the scenes anecdotes.
I think I may have seen the early Countdown shows that screened in late 1974, just before I headed off to Europe for a year but my first definite, clear Countdown memory was when I returned in 1976 and saw the Ol ’55 clip of On The Prowl. One of the reasons it’s so clear in my memory was because while I had been away my parents had bought a colour TV.
[pullquote]If you have any memories of being on Countdown as fans, or artists, or even just in your loungeroom watching it, let us know on [email protected] If you have photos of yourself dressed as Kiss, or Olivia or Jimmy Barnes even, send them along if you have a digital copy. [/pullquote]I was very excited to see an Australian band with a “real” film clip, in colour, but my excitement didn’t last long. I couldn’t stomach the big-haired, satin shirt, puffy-sleeved nancy-boys that the show promoted: JPY, Hush, William Shakespeare, Roger Voudouris et al. And I was very disappointed in Ian Meldrum. I had been a big fan of Molly’s ever since he’d been a dance on the show Kommotion and announced he was a St Kilda supporter. From far away Western Australia, I’d followed St Kilda since 1963 while everybody else in WA supported Geelong because local stars Polly Farmer and Denis Marshall had gone to pay for them. Then Meldrum had produced the only Australian song that ever got really close to classic psychedelia “The Real Thing” and his stature in my mind became legendary. But here he was pushing teenybopper bands and bands like Little River Band that were doing their best to sound un-Australian.
When The Suburbs started playing live in pubs in WA I denounced Countdown as cultural treachery, albeit in more direct, common-usage words. But Countdown did begin to change putting on original Australian acts that rocked and something to say: Cold Chisel, The Angels, The Sports, Australian Crawl, Flowers and others. My record company boss Michael Gudinski kept pressuring me to appear on the show but like Midnight Oil I kept resisting, pointing out that my blue-collar male and campus fans would react badly even though Countdown had changed and was now showcasing other bands like Chisel. My objection wasn’t any longer to Countdown per se, that had changed, sure, but my worry was how I would be perceived. Mushroom records bought my argument during Suburban Boy where Countdown not only played the clip but praised it.
But with the follow up Nothing To Lose Gudinski made it very clear that if I didn’t appear on Countdown, Mushroom would do no promotion. So I was stuck whichever way I turned, and moreso than many other acts because I had financed my own albums by putting in every spare dollar I had. We appeared in Countdown once, with Plastic Bertrand of Ca Plane Pour Moi. Immediately there was a backlash from the core of our followers without us picking up any teeny-boppers anyway. It was a dumb move and one for which I don’t even blame Michael Gudinski but myself. I should have called Mushroom’s bluff. My admiration for Midnight Oil in sticking to their guns only increased. I believe from that moment we lost incredible support from campus and independent radio and the band lost momentum.
But hey, that’s nearly 30 years ago and the fact is that even in the days I loathed Countdown, I still watched it. Later, as I matured, I loosened up and got to see Countdown for what it was: a very good, energetic, unique pop show. So here I am now, actually enjoying the process of digging through old Countdown files and photos to create what I reckon will be a big, kitsch, fun Christmas book. I’m even hoping the response from old Countdown fans will be strong enough for ABC TV to do a Countdown 30 years on special.
Maybe the show that helped bury the messiah can resurrect him.