On the heels of a run of Sunday night repackagings of the second most important music show in Australia (after Rock Around The World – come on, Basia and Annette ruled!), the year ends with a Countdown revival show at the Sydney Opera House.
In this piece written for the Opera House website I ask, when it comes to retro music nights ….
…. ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY PUNK? WELL, ARE YOU?
If Countdown was a film it would be a Clint Eastwood one.
No, not A Fistful Of Dollars or For A Few Dollars More: the ABC budget never really seemed to reach even the level of Channel 9’s Friday executive bar tab. Those sets weren’t going to wobble on their own you know.
In any case, half of what they had likely was spent on counselling sessions for the young girls who watched Iggy Pop perform I’m Bored in nothing more than tight silver pants and a lascivious grin.
Nor would it be Unforgiven. As the recently ended 13-week run of Classic Countdown episodes showed, all our prejudices, gripes, memories and loves are seemingly unchanged in 30 years. In fact, maybe enhanced.
Wars have been started for less than some of the provocations exchanged on social media between feuding parties on otherwise quiet Sunday evenings recently.
While there’s a lot of love for his 1970s work, is it ever a good idea to play an Elton John song from the ‘80s, such as Kiss The Bride? Can you watch Duran Duran’s My Own Way and not bicker over who was the prettiest in Duran Duran? Does wearing a blue singlet on national television while singing Say Goodbye make Hunters & Collectors the most Aussie band that every Aussied ever?
And of course there’s the still vivid memories of fans who can still feel the slights thrown in the schoolyard about their worth as humans for writing that singer’s name (Nik Kershaw singing Wide Boy? Marty Rhone’s penchant for Denim & Lace? Bay City Rollers’s tartan fetish during I Only Want To Be With You? Abba busting through with Waterloo?) on their pencil case.
If Countdown was a Clint Eastwood film it would be The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. And gloriously so.
From the sublime – The Reels’ Quasimodo’s Dream, Aha’s Take On Me , Deborah Conway up front of Do Re Mi singing Guns And Butter - to the ridiculous – Painters And Dockers’ Nude School, Pussyfoot’s Ooh Ja Ja or the merest hint of Village People - was not just a cliché; it was the way of life each Sunday during the 13 years of Countdown.
And let’s not forget the moments which were sublime and ridiculous: Devo singing Whip It; Kate Bush on another plane with Hammer Horror; any time Sherbet appeared with satin jackets over bare chests.
There were bands you loved, bands you loathed, artists you couldn’t get enough of, artist you couldn’t ever understand, singers never seen before, singers never seen again. Speaking of which, what did happen to Joe Dolce after Shaddap You Face?
When there were four TV stations (“Four? Luxury!” cry all those who grew up outside the capital cities) and half a dozen music stations (“What? More than one? Don’t believe you!,” say all those who grew up outside the capital cities).
When you could see live music almost every night of the week at a pub or bar nearby (“Oh, look, now you’re trolling us,” say all those who grew up outside the capital cities) the world was small enough to be captured and close enough to mean everything.
Nothing will ever be like that again, for good and bad. We’ve all grown up some, technology means “local” is almost global, music doesn’t have to be filtered through a really narrow funnel of essentially one man’s tastes or predilections, and you can drive for an hour in any direction from many suburbs now and not see a venue putting on original music.
Which is why a concert on the northern side of the Opera House, not that far really from where a radio rival to the show, 2SM, once staged Rocktober concerts on the steps, is so perfect it could hurt.
For the younger end of the audience: they’ll come to realise that their parents’ dress sense and musical oddities were not a one-off but shared by a whole generation. Embarrassment! IKR.
And then realise that actually they’ve always loved some of these songs. Yes, even the silly ones. No, especially the silly ones. Who doesn’t get up and shake their thing when the B-52s’ Rock Lobster comes on? Does anything beat the bagpipes climax of You’re The Voice?
For the older end of the audience: it’s a chance to see out the old year with the old music so they can stay connected to days of future past (and if you can remember to what that refers you are the right age, if not necessarily the right musical alignment, for this concert).
Maybe the best idea is to make a resolution to get some new music into your life and make room alongside that inner 13-year-old who still knows every word of Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?
Do yourself a favour though, don’t ask the DJ to Play Misty For Me. No one, not Clint, not Molly, can save you there.
The ABC will celebrate Countdown again this New Year's Eve on the Opera House's Northern Broadwalk.