Countdown commenced in 1974, replacing the excellent un-hosted GTK. Why do you need a host? Just play the music and cut out the middle man.
I did not like Countdown. I didn't like the mostly rubbish music acts; the live screaming teen audience that yelled the same high-decibel hysteria for every performance no matter how good or bad; the jabbering host who was always one jaw-drop away from actual dribbling; and the terrible theme music, if you could call it that.
In other words, I was a music snob.
Or was I?
I looked up Thomas J. Guest’s very important reference work, Thirty Years of Hits: Melbourne Top 40 Research, to see if the music at that time was as bad as I remembered.
Turning to the year Countdown first screened, 1974, I ran my eye down the ten best-selling singles of that year. Let's have a look.
At the top of the list - 1974's best-selling song - was 'My Coo Ca Choo' by Alvin Stardust. That is not a joke. It might sound like a satire on – or an outright theft of – glam rocker David Bowie's Ziggie Stardust persona. But no. Alvin Stardust was a real singer and 'My Coo Ca Choo' dogged the airwaves for sufficient weeks in 1974 to make it a huge, enormous, mammoth hit. But utter rubbish nonetheless.
Number two for 1974 was 'Seasons in the Sun' by Terry Jacks, sporting such lyrics as 'we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the ...'. No, I can't even bring myself to type the stupid rhyme.
Third for the year was Stevie Wright's 'Evie', a reasonable three part ballad/rocker. Debbie Byrne's tired cover of 'He's a Rebel' came in at No. 4, followed by another local cover, the cheesy 'Hey Paula', performed by TV talk-show hosts Ernie Sigley and Denise Drysdale. Enough said. On air, you could imagine the opening bars of that track accompanied by the sounds of thousands of listeners punching their radio off-button.
Sixth biggest song of 1974 was 'The Lord's Prayer' by real nun Sister Janet Meade, whose rock-mass trilling was responsible for thousands of churches abandoning Palestrina, Byrd, Victoria and Allegri, their organists - and possibly even their organ itself - and replacing them with amateur rag-tag 'choristers' who thought they could play guitar, turning every response into twanging dissonance and reinventing church music into contemporary 'hymns' that were kind of faintly deified versions of post-flower-power pop songs minus the drug and free love references. It was vile.
Then came Paper Lace's frothy 'Billy Don't Be a Hero' followed by William Shakespeare (correct) who sounded like a cross between Gene Pitney and Bon Scott while burbling in falsetto a forgettable song entitled 'Can't Stop Myself From Loving You'. Shakespeare had been groomed into a glam rocker by his handlers, and subsequently mirrored Gary Glitter's career in more than just costume.
Daniel Boone (it was the year of wacky pop star names) was ninth with his tacky 'Sky Diver'.
That leaves the tenth biggest song of the year. David Bowie's 'Sorrow' was head and shoulders above the first nine, yet it was the only one of the ten not to top the charts during the year, peaking in second spot in January.
There's proof! Extrapolating that top ten result, only 10% of songs in 1974 were any good. In 1974, those nine frightful songs beat offerings from Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, several Beatles, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, the Hollies, Grand Funk Railroad, Billy Thorpe, the Steve Miller Band, the Bee Gees and many more class acts.
And given that Countdown picked up on every novelty hit and fleeting musician who came along, let's hear what Lobby Loyde had to say about the show, if not the music industry more broadly at that time:
" ... the death of music ... definite Satan land ... a shit show ... the beginning of the f..king end."I had to laugh reading that. I've spent the last thirty years thinking I was a music snob, only to discover that one of Melbourne's best musicians agreed with me. Cop that, Countdown fans!
(The jabbering host, Ian Meldrum, was paradoxically a very good music producer, having delivered one of Australia’s all-time great songs, the mind-bending eight-minute colossus, Russell Morris's 'The Real Thing', a track that sounds fresh even today. The ABC couldn’t find a professional host for Countdown - reputedly suggesting the aforementioned William Shakespeare for the job - but ended up leaving Meldrum floundering in the job for more than twenty years.)
The Never, Um, Ever Ending Story: Life, Countdown and Everything in Between. By Ian 'Molly' Meldrum with Jeff Jenkins. Allen & Unwin, 458pp, $39.99 (HB)
Buy it for your parents for Christmas. They probably watched Countdown and will enjoy the nostalgia, even if they hated the show.