1963 was the year the big waves washed over Australia. For the first time it was kids’ music which dominated the charts, and it didn’t come from the expected direction of rock and roll, it came from the beach or, more precisely the surf.
Number one hits included ‘Surfside’ by Digger Revell’s Denvermen, ‘Pipeline’ by the Chantays, ‘Surf City’ by Jan and Dean, ‘Wipeout’ by the Surfaris, and ‘Bombora’ by the Atlantics. Little Pattie almost made it to the top but stalled at number two with her double-sided hit ‘Stompin’ at the Maroubra’/’He’s My Blond Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy’.
Perhaps the most remarkable hit of ’63 was Kyu Sakamoto’s ‘Sukiyaki’, sung in Japanese. The song’s real title, ‘Ueo Muite Arukou’, would have ensured it never got airplay, but some smart cookie decided ‘Sukiyaki’ was one of the very few Japanese words that western DJs could handle.
The inexorable rock-and-roll march continued with big hits like ‘Tell Him’ by the Exciters, ‘Ruby Baby’ by Dion, ‘How Do You Do It?’ by Gerry and the Pacemakers and ‘And Then He Kissed Me’ by the Crystals.
None of this meant we’d lost our taste for novelty songs, because ’63 saw the release of Sheb Wooley’s ‘Hootenanny Hoot’, ‘Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh’ from Allan Sherman and ‘On Top of Spaghetti’ by Tom Glazer.
The real excitement on the music scene in 1963 was caused by the Fab Four, though at this stage they were not quite fab. In September they reached number three on the national charts with ‘She Loves You’, then just before Christmas the surf wave which had started the year turned into the Merseybeat tidal wave when ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ swept all before it to top the charts.
Every Top 40 radio station in Australia jumped aboard the Beatle wave and rode it for all it was worth. In fact, because of the enormous excitement and publicity they’d created in Britain and Europe, the Beatles were famous in Australia before their music had even been heard here, thanks to the popularity of fan magazines or ‘fanzines’.
Any serious observer would no doubt agree that in Australia the music world changed over the summer of 1963-64. During the Christmas holidays, the Beatles were horrifying parents all over the country with their number one hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. The release of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was an event of national significance, at least for the younger portion of the population, and every self-respecting teenager in the country had a spotty ear glued to the tranny.
Parents pretty much wrote off the Fab Four as ‘those long-haired gits’, or with ‘they can’t sing, otherwise why would they go on with all that yeah, yeah, yeah nonsense?’
But we could hear what the Beatles were singing about, and we loved what we heard. And, at least in those early days, there was nothing remotely subversive or sinister about their songs, they were basically fairly straightforward and simple little love songs, delivered in a way that no one had before.
The pop ship entered somewhat murkier waters in the first week of 1964 when Roy Orbison’s Christmas hit ‘Pretty Paper’ displaced the Beatles, but the tide had at last turned, and what the Americans described as the British Invasion was about to sweep over Australia as well.
The Sixties is available from Fremantle Press.