The availability of US electric guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computer but then, thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The single greatest influence came from a specky, geek from Newcastle, UK with the unlikely name, Hank Marvin.
Although there had been many singer guitarists before him, he was the very first non American, guitar hero in rock’n’roll. His playing style and the Shadows music gave inspiration to countless young musicians across the Commonwealth.
Local dance bands in Australia and New Zealand played a wider variety of musical styles and musicians would have hundreds of songs in their repertoire. This included popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties as well as the very latest tunes. Many were from jazz, influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy. Notable alternatives to the mainstream pop emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne). Many of these bands later evolved into top Australian groups of the next decade, by merely adding a lead singer. (The Atlantics and Johnny Reb).
The most successful of the Australian surf groups was The Atlantics who wrote their own material and scored an international hit with Bombara (1963).
Many people thought The Atlantics were an American band which actually was an advantage since deejays have confessed that if they had known they were Australian they would not have played their records. No matter The Atlantics became the first international rock act from Australia. Their success mirrored Slim Dusty who scored an international hit with Pub with no beer, in 1959.
The Atlantics shared the international spotlight with other young Australian artists. Frank Ifield (country balladeer) and Rolf Harris. In the UK, Frank epitomized the all Australian male, a handsome new age guy that could yodel and Rolf; the quirky Australian artisan that could capture the public attention with his good humoured novelty and artistic originality. All had a place in the pop charts and all three enjoyed international stardom. The most collectable Beatles’ album is a compilation with Frank Ifield which was released on limited edition in the US. At the time Frank was more bankable star than the Fab Four.
Sun arise, which I rate as one of the best Australian pop songs ever recorded, was orchestrated by Johnnie Spence and produced by (Sir) George Martin. Rolf could not play the didgeridoo nor was there a player in England at the time so the didgeridoo sound was simulated by eight bass fiddles. If longevity is a mark of success and originality these three pioneers are perfect examples, because they all continued to record and perform long after the 60s.
Back in Australia several things were happening which would influence the music, yet to come? The Second World War had brought strong bonds with the US with thousands of military personnel stationed in Australia and New Zealand. Regular troop movements meant entertaining the boys when they were on shore leave. The home base situation continued long after the end of the war, into the cold war, with agreements such as ANZUS (1951), the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), 1954, the Antarctic Agreement (1961), and the Vietnam War. With virtual occupation status, local musicians forged music to suit and naturally absorbed popular stylistic influences such as Motown, soul music and funk genres into their live club performances.
It is impossible to consider Australian rock without reference to New Zealand and to acknowledge the role of New Zealand musicians have played in the development of art form. Many jazz and rock musicians came through exactly the same experiences in Kiwi land (especially Christchurch) before they made the journey across the Tasman Sea to become established acts in Australia like Max Merrit and Dinah Lee.
By the time the Mersey sound had arrived (many of the English beat groups were veterans of the German Club scene) local Australasian musicians were in complete sympathy with contemporary pop mod culture. A quarter of a million British born migrants arrived in Australia in the late fifties and early sixties most of which settled in the east with many in Adelaide. The 17, 412 American born new Australians preferred Victoria. When the more recent arrivals they had just come from seeing the Stones, The Who, and the Beatles so their influence on Australian bands was immense. Once Australian artists started to write their own material with Stevie Wright, Harry Vanda and George Young good creative examples the Easybeats was the first Australian band to consistently top the charts with their own compositions.
Inspiration to others like Johnny Young from Perth, who saw the window of opportunity and was soon knocking out Australia pop tunes.
Despite their immense success the Easybeats enjoyed in Australia they had only moderate success overseas. The same cannot be said for the Seekers and arguably the most successful of all Australian exports in the 60s, the Bee Gees.
Worth a listen:
Pub with no beer (1959)
Max Merrit and the Meteors
Get a hair cut (1959)
Sun Arise (1962)
I remember you (1962)
Don't You Know Yockomo (1964 )
Billy Thorp and the Aztecs
Poison Ivy (1964)
I’ll never find another you (1964)
Friday on my mind (1966)
New York Mining Disaster (1967)