Song Of The Day 7/7/2015: John Paul Young – “I Hate the Music” + “Keep on Smiling”

Australian Pop with Colin Donald: You might have thought John Paul Young (OAM) was taking a sardonic dig at his industry when he sang "I Hate The Music" or "Yesterday’s Hero," but in truth his style was pleasant, boppy and melodic. Just what one might expect for someone who came across as a good guy during the many TV appearances on Countdown early in his career. An unknown fact from that time in the 70’s was that his nationality was actually Scottish (arrived in Oz from Glasgow, aged 11). Still, he’s become an Australian icon with genuine citizenship conferred in 1994 and the awarding of national honours ‘Medal of the Order of Australia’ in 2012. He’s probably got that medal hanging next to his ARIA Hall of Fame award (2009) and numerous other accolades for sales of hit singles.

Himself included, many people use the moniker JPY or even Squeak – the latter being a nickname given by a record company PR agent to recognize his tendency of speaking in a high pitched voice. The middle name Paul (his communion name) was inserted to differentiate him from another John Young, a popular singer and host of talent shows. JPY served his musical apprenticeship as singer in a pub band (Elm Tree) before the time-honoured tap on the shoulder from a record producer (“Gonna make you a star, boy!”) and he found himself with a moderate solo hit in 1972, "Pasadena," for the Alberts label. This generated sufficient attention for him to be recruited to the Australian cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and for the next 2 years he was able to hone his stage craft amongst a musical theatre cast that was legendary for the number of Australian superstars it boasted.

Unemployment beckoned in 1974 but Alberts were keen for JPY to return to their label, where the song writing team of Vanda & Young (ex-Easybeats) were about to embark on an incredibly fruitful period of hit making. This was a BIG THING as Alberts was a modest family business with a canny knack of making huge successes out of the select acts they signed. Just ask AC/DC, or note this quote from a session guitarist, “We are so lucky to have gone through the best years of recording in Australia, and probably the world.” In this environment "Yesterday’s Hero" was born and the hits kept on coming. Paul’s SOTD nomination of "I Hate the Music" was a national number 2 in 1976, but his other pick, "Keep on Smiling," has quite a different history.

JPY was finding success in some European countries but when "Keep on Smiling" was sent to Germany the enthusiasm was for the B side, "Standing in the Rain." Forty weeks in the charts for that song put a great deal of self imposed pressure on Vanda & Young to write a follow-up single. Looking through their archives they decided to complete a half-finished idea called "Love Is in the Air." A behemoth was born; "Love Is in the Air" became the biggest selling Oz single of 1978 and 1992, featured in film, covered by just about anyone with vocal chords, performed at the 2000 Olympics and a Godsend to wedding singers worldwide. Sometimes history is writ large. [Note: "Love Is In the Air," which I'm sure my friends are humming right now, was also JPY's only American Top 40 hit, peaking at #7 in 1978. --P]

It was a busy time. There were tours with his backing band ‘The Allstars’ (which briefly included my all time favourite Aussie guitarist, Kevin Borich) and frequent hosting duties for the TV music show, Countdown. It was on this show he frequently had friendly repartee with the often inarticulate Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum and in one episode JPY uttered the fateful introduction, “Here comes Molly Meldrum with his humdrum.” Every utterance from Molly since has been known as Meldrum’s humdrum and the catchphrase is now probably a registered trademark. I like to indulge myself by mentioning this show, as I make the most fleeting appearance in the telemovie that is being made about the career of Molly Meldrum and the juggernaut that was Countdown.

Life hasn’t been all music and TV for JPY. For much of the 80’s he found an eager audience for his time as a radio personality in New South Wales (something I couldn’t experience from Melbourne). These days he’s just cruising along, occasionally answering the call of some music event or lending his face to some reality TV show as judge or contestant. Onya Squeak! (Onya being Australian for "Good on you.") -- Colin Donald
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