Australia’s Kings Of Pop - Part 1

Australia’s Kings Of Pop - Part 1


(Normie Rowe in London, 1965. Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Last month we looked at the amazing women crowned “Queen” at the TV Week “King of Pop Awards” in the ‘70s, as well as some of the other local ladies making the charts at the time. This time around we look at the fellas; those who were actually crowned, and some of the other popular stars of the period.

To recap: The King of Pop awards began as an extension of the Go-Set Awards, in 1967. Go-Set, of course, was the weekly pop newspaper of the day. When Normie Rowe was voted most popular performer by Go-Set’s readers in 1967, Channel O’s Go!! Show decided to crown him on air. In the following years, TV Week took up the televised awards and emulated what they’d been doing for years with the Logies – encouraging their readers to vote by mailing in a form.  The King of Pop Awards ceremony was broadcast by the 0–10 Network from 1967 to 1975, and from 1976 to 1978 by the Nine Network.

Let’s look at the blokes.

Normie Rowe – KING 1967-67

The great Normie Rowe was our inaugural King of Pop in 1967. That same year he also came second in the Top Male Singer category in the prestigious Go-Set Awards, having already won it in 1966. Normie would win the Go-Set award again in ’68, when he was also crowned King of Pop for the second and last time. Whilst he did rank in the Top 5 in the Go-Set awards in 1969 and 1970, it was clear his time away – he’s been conscripted in early ’68 and sent to Vietnam in early ‘69 – was sadly damaging his career. Let’s check out his last #1, the wonderful big ballad “Ooh La La”.

Johnny Farnham  - KING 1969-70

Another fresh-faced Melbourne boy took the crown from Normie in 1969, and would dominate the local pop scene for the next few years. Young Johnny was a singer of whimsical pop songs – ‘Farnsey’ wouldn’t evolve until decades later – and the little girls and their mums loved him. Johnny was crowned King of Pop every year from 1969 through to 1973.

Ronnie Burns

Ronnie appeared on the scene in early Beatles wannabes the Flies, and then notched up a number of solo hits (including a couple with help from his pals the Bee Gees). Sadly he did not win any King of Pop Awards (he made his run too early perhaps), but he was awarded Top Male Singer by the readers of Go-set in 1967, and rated #3 four years in a row, from 1968 to 1971. On the cusp of the ‘70s he released the powerful and beautifully produced (by Ian Meldrum) single “Smiley”, written by Johnny Young and apparently about Normie Rowe being shipped off to Vietnam. I was 5 years old when this was released and I remember it vividly - it painted a sad and moving picture of loss and worry. It’s a great record.

Russell Morris

A man who has had as many career reinvigorations as Johnny Farnham, Russell came to prominence up front of Somebody’s Image and of course is best known for the epic Meldrum-produced single “The Real Thing”.  On the back of that he was voted Best Male Vocalist by Go-set in 1969, and he would come second to Johnny Farnham for the next three years. The early ‘70s saw Morris push himself as a singer-songwriter and release some great self-penned records like “Mr America”, which won him Best Songwriter at the King of Pop awards in 1971.

Jeff Phillips

TV host and pop singer, Jeff was something of a perennial might-be on the scene. He was voted 5th Best Male Vocalist by Go-Set in 1969, and reappeared in 1972 at #4. He also won Best Dressed Male at the 1972 King of Pop Awards, and, probably a little bit more significantly,  a Logie, for Best New Talent in 1970, for hosting his own ABC-TV pop show, Sounds Like Us. He subsequently hosted Happening '71 and Happening '72. Here’s Jeff, with guest Elton John, hosting the 1971 TV week King of Pop awards, followed by his first single “Baby It’s You”.

Ted Mulry

Better known for his rockin’ TMG stuff, Brit-born Ted started off very much as the pop balladeer. He was voted #4 in Best Male Vocal in the Go-Set awards in 1971, no doubt on the back of his self-composed 1970 hit “Julia”, and this one from 1971, written by Vanda & Young…

Hans Poulson

#5 behind Ted in 1971, Hans was a successful Melbourne singer-songwriter who has been dubbed “the Australian Cat Stevens”. He’s best remembered for his 1970 hit “Boom Sha La La Lo”.

Rick Springfield

Rick, who was surely born to be a pop star, came out of Zoot into a ready-made solo career. He was a regular at the Go-Set Awards – best guitarist for Zoot in 1971, and the second best songwriter, second best album and third best male vocalist in 1972, all on the back of his new career as a solo artist. He was also awarded Most Popular Australian Musician at the King of Pop Awards in ’72. Indeed by the time of the awards he’d already moved to the US...

Keep an eye out for Part 2 next week...

 - Dave Laing



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