Last year’s debut of The Set on ABC television – a house party style music variety show, with the tagline “live music has a new home” – was an attempt to plug a gaping hole in the national broadcaster’s programming: for a long time, live music had indeed lacked a home on our television screens.
The gap had grown so wide that it had generated its own nostalgia. We’ve had a TV mini-series on Countdown’s Ian “Molly” Meldrum, as well as Classic Countdown, and a recent documentary on the ABC’s late-’90s music television program Recovery (to go along with its reboot on YouTube, Recovered, with original hosts Dylan Lewis and Jane Gazzo).
As the Guardian takes a deep dive into the defining moments of Australian TV history – for better or worse – here are five from the glory days of local music programming. Please add your own favourites to the comments below – or nominate them in our poll.
#5: A water cooler moment: Madison Avenue at the 2000 ARIAS
Award shows are usually predictable affairs, and the ARIAs are no exception: little is left to chance and controversies – such as when Itch-E & Scratch-E’s Paul Mac thanked the dance duo’s ecstasy dealers in 1995 – often hit the cutting room floor before broadcast. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been the occasional WTF moment, and the strangest was Madison Avenue’s dance of the water glass at the 2000 awards.
Halfway through a medley of Everything You Need/Who The Hell Are You, Cheyne Coates gestured for some liquid refreshment. Before imbibing, she placed the glass directly in front of her, and she and her dance troupe continued to shimmy and shake. The camera, meanwhile, remained fixated on the glass. Buzzfeed has tried to paint this as some kind of unrequited love affair, but Coates eventually did get to take a sip, at 3.22.
#4: “The blues is number one!”: Jon Spencer destroys the Recovery set
The much-missed tonic for Saturday morning hangovers, Recovery added an extra element of risk in that musical performances were genuinely live, rather than mimed. Like Countdown, though, it was recorded early in the morning – a challenging time slot for any band, let alone a high-energy act like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who – in September 1997 – were themselves recovering from a show the night before, at the end of a long tour.
From the depths of exhaustion, Spencer went berserk: mics were thrown, props torn down, cameramen shoved aside, and host Dylan Lewis sat upon, before the singer waded into the audience as bandmates Judah Bauer and Russell Simins maintained maximum rock & roll behind him. If excitement was the sole criteria, the JSBX’s performance would top this list, as Spencer channelled the spirit of Little Richard and the young Elvis.
#3: “Shock, horror Aunty”: Lubricated Goat play In The Raw, in the raw
This was Australia’s Filth and the Fury moment. 11 years after the Sex Pistols’ expletive-flecked confrontation with Bill Grundy on the UK’s Today Show, Sydney noise-rock band Lubricated Goat’s nude performance of In The Raw on Blah Blah Blah – hosted by a young Andrew Denton, and aired on 2 November 1988 – fried the ABC switchboard, became front-page tabloid fodder, had national shock jocks foaming, and inspired its own documentary.
Blah Blah Blah was actually set up as a replacement for Countdown by that show’s former producer, Michael Shrimpton. It was an edgy late-night variety show for young people – “The Don Lane Show on acid”, in Denton’s words – and was designed to push the envelope. The theme of the episode on which Lubricated Goat appeared was censorship: the album Lubricated Goat were promoting at the time was titled Paddock Of Love.
#2: “Hiya Dogface!”: Iggy Pop fails to behave himself on Countdown
Countdown’s best and worst bits have been endlessly listed, repackaged and resold over the years, so there’s no need to go over them again. But Iggy Pop’s deranged appearance on the show in 1979 remains the best demonstration of how unpredictable it could occasionally be, depending on the intoxication levels of its guests or, occasionally, host Meldrum.
In a 2013 interview on The 7.30 Report, Iggy said his performance was “a pretty successful attempt to allude to the fact that I thought I was on a silly show, without being a grump … I could have gone out there and spat at the guy, but I didn’t do that.” Instead, viewers were treated to Iggy gurning, grinding his teeth and blowing raspberries, before terrorising the teenage audience with a microphone stand during a performance of I’m Bored.
#1 (with a bullet) “The honeymoon is OVER!”: Tex Perkins’ finger
Tex Perkins had every reason to be angry when he took the stage this New Year’s Eve for the ABC’s live broadcast. Back in November, he’d evacuated his family and animals in northern New South Wales as bushfires raged around them, and had begun to put together a benefit for the beleaguered NSW RFS. That was before the south-east corner of the state caught alight; before Scott Morrison’s holiday in Hawaii.
So Perkins dedicated the Cruel Sea’s biggest hit The Honeymoon Is Over to the prime minister, flipping the bird to Kirribilli. For his trouble, he was depicted as a drunk by Bill Leak’s less talented son Johannes in the Australian, raised the ire of regular ABC viewer Eric Abetz, and was absurdly accused of “giving the finger to middle Australia”. It’s unlikely the former frontman of groups like Thug, Toilet Duck and the mighty Beasts of Bourbon cared.
First published in the Guardian, 19 January 2020