Without doubt, John Farnham (b. 1949) is the most successful solo artist in the history of Australian rock and pop. He is a true pop phenomenon. The singer's first flush of success (when he was known as Johnny Farnham) came during the 1960s in the wake of his #1 hit, the innocuous novelty song `Sadie, the Cleaning Lady'. He was crowned King of Pop for five years in a row from 1969 to 1973. His subsequent stature as Australia's pre-eminent, adult contemporary performer of the 1990s outweighs his squeaky-clean pop idol image in terms of credibility.
Farnham's across-the-board appeal ensured sell-out concerts whenever he toured. Likewise, his albums invariably headed the best-seller lists. Yet, underneath all the trappings of success, Farnham has retained an affable sense of humour and a simple, unpretentious `everyman' charm which also makes him one of the most respected celebrities in Australian entertainment history.
The English-born singer's first job was as a plumber's apprentice. He began his musical career in the mid-1960s fronting Melbourne bands The Mavericks and Strings Unlimited. Farnham came to the attention of manager Darryl Sambell, who scored him a solo deal with EMI Records in September 1967. Over the next ten years, Johnny Farnham issued a string of enormous hit singles. He also tried his hand at musical theatre (Dick Whittington and His Cat, Charlie Girl and Pippin) and television (Opportunity Knocks, Bobby Dazzler and Survival with Johnny Farnham).
Farnham's singles discography to 1977 incorporates `Sadie, the Cleaning Lady'/`In My Room' (#1 in December 1967), `Underneath the Arches'/ `Friday Kind of Monday' (#6 in March 1968), `Jamie'/`I Don't Want To Love You' (#8 in July), `Rose Coloured Glasses'/`Scratchin' My Head' (#19 in October), `I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'/`The Little Boy that Santa Forgot' (November), `One'/`Mr Whippy' (#4 in August 1969), `Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head'/`Two' (#1 in December), `Comic Conversation'/`Pretty Things' (#10 in November 1970), `Happy Christmas'/`Ringing Reindeer' (December 1970), `Acapulco Sun'/`As Long as Life Goes On' (#21 in July 1971), `Walking the Floor on My Hands'/`My Favourite Occupation' (#25 in December), `Baby Without You'/`That's Old Fashioned' (duet with Allison Durbin; #16 in December), `Rock Me Baby'/`Nobody's Fool' (#4 in October 1972), `Don't You Know It's Magic'/`Sweet Cherry Wine' (#12 in January 1973), `Everything is Out of Season'/`It's Up to You' (#8 in April), `I Can't Dance to Your Music'/`Beautiful City' (#12 in September), `Shake a Hand'/`If You Would Stay' (#24 in January 1974), `Corner of the Sky'/`Morning Glow' (May), `One Minute Every Hour'/`Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me' (August), `Things to Do'/`To Be or Not to Be' (November), `Don't Rock the Boat'/`Running to the Sea' (October 1975), `You Love Me Back to Life Again'/`Call Me Back' (January 1977) and `Rock & Roll Hall of Fame'/ `Monkey See Monkey Do' (July 1977).
By the late 1970s, Farnham had moved into the cabaret/nightclub field, having lost his pop star footing. He had also become known as John Farnham. In 1980 he signed to the Wheatley Brothers organisation, a move which brought a reversal of his fortunes. The Graham Goble-produced Uncovered album included a dramatic rearrangement of The Beatles' `Help' which was issued as a single with `Back to the Back Wood' on the flip side. The single reached #8 in August 1980, while the album peaked at #20 in October. `She's Everywhere'/`On My Own' (September) and `Please Don't Ask Me'/`I Never Did Get Through' (December) followed, but neither made the Top 40.
Farnham's touring band at that stage comprised Tommy Emmanuel (guitar; ex-Southern Star Band), Mal Logan (keyboards; ex-Renée Geyer Band), Barry Sullivan (bass; ex-Chain) and Derek Pellici (drums; on loan from Little River Band), all of whom had played on the album. When Pellici and Logan had to return to their commitments with LRB, Sam McNally (keyboards; ex-Stylus) and David Jones (drums) joined the John Farnham Band. During 1980, Farnham also appeared in the ABC-TV series Farnham and Byrne with Debra Byrne. His two singles for 1981 were `Too Much Too Soon'/`Jillie's Song' (March) and `That's No Way to Love Someone'/`Blame It on the Weather' (September).
In February 1982, Farnham replaced Glenn Shorrock in Little River Band. Coincidentally, Farnham's manager Glenn Wheatley also managed LRB. Farnham stayed with that band for four years. While a member of LRB, Farnham issued one solo single through RCA, `Justice for One'/`The Quiet Ones' (September 1984). At the end of 1985, LRB collapsed in disarray and Farnham was without a record deal. With his fortunes at something of a low ebb, Farnham embarked on a new solo career that would take him to the top in his field.
First up was the enormously successful Whispering Jack album (October 1986), which went on to become the first local album to sell over one million copies in Australia alone. Whispering Jack and its first single, `You're the Voice'/`Going Going Gone' -(September), topped their respective charts simultaneously during November 1986. The album produced three more singles, `Pressure Down'/`Let Me Out' (#4 in February 1987), Gulliver Smith and Ross Wilson's `Touch of Paradise'/`Help' (#18 in March 1987) and `Reasons'/`One Step Away' (May 1987). The anthemic `You're the Voice' had been written by Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann's Earth Band), Andy Qunta (Icehouse), Keith Reid (Procol Harum; he wrote the lyrics to `A Whiter Shade of Pale') and New York session singer Maggie Ryder. When issued in Europe, `You're the Voice' sold over a million copies. It reached #6 in the UK during April 1987.
At the end of 1986, Farnham hit the road with the John Farnham Band which comprised David Hirschfelder (keyboards; ex-Little River Band), Brett `Rambo' Garsed (lead guitar), Greg Macainsh (bass; ex-Skyhooks) and Angus Burchill (drums). Farnham won the 1987 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Award for Best Male Artist. In Australia's Bicentennial year, 1988, Farnham was nominated Australian of the Year. It was the first time a pop artist had ever been elevated into the national consciousness in such a way.
Farnham followed up Whispering Jack with Age of Reason (August 1988), another #1 album of polished, high-tech synth pop with little in the way of lyrical depth. It went on to become the best-selling Australian album for 1988. It also yielded the singles `Age of Reason'/`When the War is Over' (#1 in July 1988), `Two Strong Hearts'/`It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock'n'Roll)' (#5 in October), `Beyond the Call'/`Blow by Blow' (November) and `We're No Angels'/`Listen to the Wind' (April 1989). Farnham's next hit was the duet `Communication'/`Attitude' with Danni'elle Gaha (#13 in September 1989). In March 1989, Farnham travelled to Moscow in order to join Peter Gabriel, The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, U2's The Edge, Eurythmics' Annie Lennox, Talking Heads' David Byrne and other top musicians for the launching of Greenpeace's album Rainbow Warriors in the USSR.
Farnham's fifteenth album, Chain Reaction, marked a departure for the singer. Gone were the slick, electronic sounds and occasionally overwrought arrangements which characterised its two predecessors. There was an emphasis placed on acoustic instrumentation and ensemble vocals. The title track was an almost threadbare rockabilly shuffle. Material for Whispering Jack and Age of Reason had also been commissioned from outside writers. Nine of the 12 tracks on Chain Reaction were co-written by Farnham in conjunction with long-time producer Ross Fraser and musical director David Hirschfelder. Guitarists Brett Garsted and Phil Buckle (from Southern Sons) also contributed strong rootsy rock backing.
Like Age of Reason before it, Chain Reaction made its debut at #1 on the national charts in October 1990, and was the biggest selling album in Australia for the year. It featured the hit singles `Chain Re-action' (#6 in September), `That's Freedom' (#6 in November), `Burn for You' (#5 in December) and `In Days to Come' (#49 in April 1991). Farnham completed 1990 by taking out his second Best Male Artist trophy at the ARIA Awards. `Burn for You' also won ARIA Song of the Year. Next up was the live album Full House from which came the single `Please Don't Ask' (#21 in December). Full House managed a relatively disappointing chart position of #2 in November 1991 (kept off the top spot by Jimmy Barnes's Soul Deep album). As it was, Farnham sang a duet with Barnes on Soul Deep, `When Something is Wrong with My Baby', which reached #3 when issued as a single (November).
In 1992, Farnham joined the Australian cast of the revived stage musical of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar, in the role of Jesus. Alongside Kate Ceberano (Mary Magdalene), Jon Stevens (Judas), Angry Anderson (Herod), John Waters (Pontius Pilate), Russell Morris (Simon Zealotes) and David Gould (Caiaphas), Farnham featured on the #1 charting Jesus Christ Superstar The Album issued by Polydor in July. He also sang on the hit single `Everything's Alright' (a national #6 duet with Ceberano during September).
Then Again . . . included the hits `Seemed Like a Good Idea' (#16 in September 1993), `Angels' (#36 in December), `Talk of the Town' (February 1994) and `The Reason Why' (May). Farnham won the Highest Selling Australian album (for the fourth time) at the 1993 ARIA Awards. Romeo's Heart (#2 in July 1996) produced the hits `Have a Little Faith (in Us)' (#3 in March) and `A Simple Life' (#29 in June). The album's third single, `Romeo's Heart' (August) was not successful. The album won Best Adult Contemporary release at the 1996 ARIA Awards. Farnham's first CD single for 1997 was `All Kinds of People' (June). His duet with vocal harmony group Human Nature, `Every Time You Cry', reached #3 in October. That same month the compilation Anthology 1 (Greatest Hits 1986–1997) hit #1 on the national chart.
John Farnham has always been able to surround himself with mature, seasoned musicians who added to his appeal. Throughout the late 1980s, as well as the members already listed, his backing band included the likes of John Clarke (percussion), Joe Creighton (bass; ex-Billy T), Lisa Edwards (backing vocals), Venetta Fields (backing vocals), Lindsay Field (backing vocals, guitar), Nikki Nicholls (backing vocals), Wayne Nelson (bass; ex-Little River Band), Bruno De Stanislo (bass), Derek Pellici (drums) and Sam See (guitar; ex-Flying Circus, Fraternity, Stockley See Mason Band). Since 1990, Jack Jones (guitar, backing vocals; Southern Sons), Phil Buckle (guitar; Southern Sons), Steve Housden (guitar; ex-Little River Band), Chuck McKinney (backing vocals; ex-Hot City Bump Band), Jamie Paddle (keyboards), Lisa Maxwell (backing vocals), Stuart Fraser (guitar; ex-Feather, Noiseworks) and Chong Lim (keyboards) have toured and recorded with Farnham.
By January 1998, Anthology 1 (Greatest Hits 1986-1997) was still sitting at #3 on the national album chart and had sold over 210 000 units. The two other albums in the series, Anthology 2 (Classic Hits 1967-1985 Recorded Live) and Anthology 3 (Rarities), had also reached #23 and #31 respectively on the national chart. Farnham’s popularity continued apace when he toured to full auditoriums, throughout October, November and December 1998, as part of The Main Event alongside Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow.
When issued as Highlights From The Main Event (November), the album made its debut at #3 on the national chart, selling over 70 000 units in the process (to quality for platinum status first week in). The album peaked at the #1 spot, and by the end of its Top 40 run some six months later, it had sold almost 350 000 units (five times platinum). It took out the award for the Highest Selling Australian Album at the 1999 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Music Awards.
John Farnham was back touring with his own band, during April and May 1999, celebrating his 50th birthday with the I Can’t Believe He’s 50 national tour. Supporting him were the likes of Kate Ceberano, Merril Bainbridge, Human Nature, James Reyne and Ross Wilson. Farnham’s new album, Live at the Regent, reached #7 on the national chart in September. His version of ‘Small One’ then appeared on the charity album, Spirit of Christmas (December).