Song Of The Day 7/5/2015: The Sports – “Who Listens to the Radio”

Australian Pop with Colin Donald: (Exactly two years ago this week, flush from rather invasive browsing I did on certain unsuspecting YouTube accounts, this blog ran Australian ’70s Music Week, one of the very first theme weeks I ever did that wasn’t connected with a religious holiday or accounting practices. The music fascinated me because it was faithful to the aesthetics of the time, but most of the biggest hits never made it outside the continent. Knowing nothing about most of it, I managed to get in touch with a real live Australian named Colin Donald, actor, writer and raconteur, who graciously provided us with a week’s worth of great insight.

(After landing upon an exhaustive and revelatory box set of more Australian pop hits from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s earlier this year, I was primed to do another week of music from Down Under, with a larger time frame. And again, I wondered if Colin would be down to performing some unpaid labor in educating us all about the songs coming up this week. With a decency and enthusiasm that shames me, he said yes, so he’s back and badder than ever. Enjoy. And now, here’s Colin.)

Being offered a return gig as Australian correspondent for Paul’s redoubtable blog has me as nervous as a band confronting the challenges of the always notorious second album. But as my first task is to give a downunder report on The Sports, I am at least familiar with one of the notable bands of my youth. Who indeed listens to the radio? It was video that brought The Sports to popular notice on the TV music show, Countdown. Such was the influence of this show in the 70’s it was a case of ‘be seen on Sunday – sell records on Monday’. Don’t be surprised if Countdown is referenced frequently in the coming days.

The Sports’ first single in 1978, “Boys! (What Did the Detective Say),” was reminiscent of early Elvis Costello, even down to the clunky title. However, a definition of their sound has to be much wider and when I found the quote ‘mercurial rockabilly-cum-soul-pop’ I think it might be simpler to say “unique”. When “Who Listens to the Radio?” aired as their third single in the same year the band was already well known to television viewers.

Formed in 1976, The Sports were always the band of front man, Stephen Cummings. That’s not to say he was the only performer of quality in the band – many musicians with significant careers in other Australian bands could add their time in The Sports to their resume (e.g. Andrew Pendlebury, Freddie Strauks, Red Symons). After they disbanded in 1981 Cummings became a prolific solo singer and writer to this day. In May 2015 The Sports reunited for three gigs to commemorate their achievements of 30 years ago and reviews cite the excellence of the music but also the edginess between Cummings and band mates.

Stephen Cummings
If you want to play the dangerous game of rating bands against each other over time and genres, The Sports’ 1979 album Don’t Throw Stones slots in at 51 in the book The 100 Best Australian Albums, while Cummings himself manages to best his prior work, coming in at number 40 with his 1988 solo album Lovetown.

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