Style: Like Sha Na Na and Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids in the USA, Australia's own rock'n'roll revival act, Ol'55, enjoyed enormous popularity with a style that bordered on parody. Under the direction of astute manager Glenn A. Baker, however, the band managed to combine novelty kitsch with clever theatrics, a keen sense of pop dynamics and an acute understanding of the rock'n'roll form.
Ol'55 emerged out of Sydney band Fanis which had formed in 1972. Former chartered accountant Peter Bryan joined Fanis at the start of 1975, and rock writer Baker created a whole new image for the band based around good-time American rock'n'roll. The band took its new name from the Tom Waits song (as covered by The Eagles), dressed in authentic rocker gear, and played vintage 1950s material and appealing originals in the same style (mostly written by Manzie). Having created the flamboyant Frankie J. Holden persona (FJ Holden, geddit?), Bryan proved to be a hyperactive, motormouthed frontman with a natural flair for outrageous showmanship. Ol'55 made its live debut in July 1975 and by September had issued its first single on the Mushroom label, Paul Anka's `Diana' backed with The Spaniels' `Goodnight Sweetheart'. Wilbur Wilde (sax) completed the classic Ol'55 line-up when he joined in October 1975.
`Diana' had been a minor hit in Sydney, but the follow-up, `On the Prowl'/`This Little Girl', took the band into the national Top 20 (#18) during June 1976. At the same time, the band's debut album Take It Greasy peaked at #2 on the national album chart, eventually attaining double platinum status (over 140000 copies sold). With two more hit singles, `Looking for an Echo'/`Doin' Fine' (#14 in August) and `(I Want a) Rockin' Christmas'/`Little Saint Nick' (#8 in November), Ol'55 took its place alongside Skyhooks, Sherbet, Hush, the Ted Mulry Gang, John Paul Young and Supernaut in the vanguard of Australian mid-1970s pop. Plummer left Ol'55 in January 1977 to be replaced by Geoff `Spud' Peterkin (ex-Springwater). One month later, the band's fifth single, `C'Mon Let's Do It'/`Teenager in Love', reached #18 on the national chart. Frankie J. Holden also issued his debut solo single, `My Right of Way'/`Chartered Accountant Blues', in April. Written by Jimmy Manzie, it was the theme song to the Australian feature film The FJ Holden.
Frankie J. Holden left the band in May 1977, followed one month later by Wilbur Wilde who joined Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons. Ol'55 unveiled its revamped line-up in August with new singer Mikey Raffone (microphone, geddit?; real name Paul Stevens, ex-Silver Studs). The band's second album Fiveslivejive (featuring the original line-up) failed to chart. In the meantime, the new line-up's debut single, `Stay (While the Night is Young)'/`Caught in the Curl', reached #11 in November 1977. Bruce `Tangles' Allen (sax) expanded the line-up at the end of 1977, but by February 1978 Mikey Raffone had left. The band continued as a five-piece with Jones, Drummond and Manzie sharing lead vocals. `(Feels Like a) Summer Night'/`He's Gotta Go' reached #23 in May 1978, but the band's next single, `Time to Rock'n'Roll'/`Homework's Done', on the Junction label (October 1978) failed to chart. Likewise, the band's third album, Cruisin' for a Bruisin', was not successful.
`Ruby'/`Nobody Should be Kissing My Baby' returned Ol'55 to the national Top 40 (#36) in February 1979, followed by the unsuccessful `Living for Your Smile'/`Shaggy English Sheepdog' (April 1979). In March Ol'55 signed overseas deals with PolyGram for the release of Cruisin' for a Bruisin' in Europe and with CBS for release in Canada. Unfortunately, a split in the band's ranks prevented any follow-up on the deal. For some time, Manzie had been steering the band in a more pop-oriented direction, and this caused friction with Rockpile Jones and Patrick Drummond, who wanted to continue in the rock'n'roll vein. The two guitarists left the band in June 1979 amid much acrimony, taking with them the rights to the name of Ol'55.
Jones and Drummond recruited original Ol'55 drummer Geoff Plummer, Rob Drummond (bass) and Bob Tawney (guitar) in a new line-up and started from scratch. By the end of the year, Ol'55 had signed a new deal with RCA. Terry Bellew replaced Rob Drummond on bass. Ol'55 issued the unsuccessful single `Comic Book World'/`Peek-a-Boo' (February 1980), followed by its eighth hit, Lou Christie's `Two Faces Have I'/`The Fool' (issued on the Leo label through PolyGram), which reached #15 on the national chart during September (Top 10 in Melbourne and Sydney). The Vault album produced one more single, `Anywhere the Girls are'/`You've Got What It Takes' (December), but Ol'55 split up soon after.
Meanwhile, Manzie and Peterkin had formed a more contemporary-sounding rock band by the name of The Breakers. Jarryl Wirth (guitar; ex-News, The Lonely Boys), Scott Douglas (rhythm guitar, vocals; ex-Class) and Martin Fisher (keyboards) completed the line-up. The Breakers were described as `heavy metal pop that combined Beach Boys vocals, Ramones guitar riffs and Buggles synthesisers'. From early on, the band was highly touted; indeed, the single `When I'm on TV'/`Lipstick and Leather' (August 1980) was tough guitar pop in the style of UK outfit The Motors. Nevertheless, The Breakers did not get the chance to fulfil any early promise because the band broke up a year later. Manzie concentrated on his production duties (Innocents, Loaded Dice, Choirboys).
Of the other members, Frankie J. Holden issued a second solo single in October 1980, `Boom-erang'/`Dinkie Di (Bob's Your Uncle)', and was the narrator for the stage musical Best Little Whore House in Texas. Bruce Allen joined Sydney R&B band The Dynamic Hepnotics in 1980. In April 1981, Patrick Drummond issued a solo single, `The Chippendale Song'/`The Lucky Country', and in 1982 joined Skool Daze. In December 1981, RCA issued an Ol'55 12-inch single containing three medleys, `Ol'55 on 45', `Four Seasons Medley' and `Summer of Ol'55'. In January 1982, Holden, Manzie, Wilde, Jones, Plummer and newcomer Gunther Gorman (guitar; ex-Home, Daddy Cool, Sherbet) reconvened as The Fives to appear at the Mushroom Evolution Concert to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the label. Three tracks, `C'mon Let's Do It', `On the Prowl' and `Goodnight Sweetheart', appeared on the live, triple album of the event, The Mushroom Evolution Concert.
Since then, there have been various re-formations under the monikers of Ol'55, Frankie J. Holden and the Fives, and in the mid-1990s Ol' Skydaddys. The last named comprised Holden and Wilde from Ol'55 plus Bongo Starkie and Freddy Strauks from Skyhooks plus Wayne Duncan and Ross Hannaford from Daddy Cool. Holden has also pursued an acting career which has taken in television roles in C/o the Bartons (1988), Embassy (1990), Late for School (1992) and Police Resuce (1995), plus roles in the feature films Gillian Armstrong's Hightide (1987) and Ray Argall's Return Home (1990). He showed his cabaret/television variety skills when he took on the compere role for the Nine Network's In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) in 1995. As well as working with his own jazz band, Wilbur Wilde's Blow-Out, Wilde appeared in Brian Trenchard's low-budget feature film Dead End Drive-In (1986). He has also been a member of the studio band for popular television variety show Hey Hey It's Saturday since the mid-1980s.