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  Specs
  • Full Frame
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Additional footage - Approximately one hour of interviews not seen on TV

Long Way to the Top

ABC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 412 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

There has long been an incredible need for somebody to put together some sort of televisual history of Australian popular music, something only reinforced by seeing the incredible 1996 BBC production Dancing in the Street. Finally somebody has had the good sense to do it, and naturally it's the ABC - so here we are with the six-part series Long Way to the Top.

This series may very well have been an incredibly daunting task for all those involved, our country not being renowned for placing much importance or cultural significance on musical endeavours. Still, some of the footage and even interviewees they have unearthed here are quite surprising and amazing. A true who's-who of the industry since its birth in the '50s appear through the various episodes, with newly taped interviews mixed in with classic ones from their time, loosely running chronologically until later episodes when classification becomes an altogether more difficult task with the great diversification that (welcomely) crept into popular music, so the years tend to overlap more.

Intriguingly the series is sub-labelled Stories of Australian Rock'n'Roll, whereas the DVD presentation has had New Zealand added to the title on all the packaging. This is incredibly misleading, as about 99.9% of New Zealand's entries into the genre are completely ignored - other than a couple of '50s and '60s folk pretty much all we get are a couple of brief snippets of the utterly seminal Split Enz, Crowded House donít rate a mention other than in bonus footage that is not a part of what is being aired on television (and they were two thirds Australian!), and as for the likes of Dragon, Shazza O'Neill, Mi-Sex, Dave Dobbyn, Headless Chickens, The Chills, Straitjacket Fits and countless others, well simply forget it.

These arenít the only omissions. Whilst understandably a daunting task to squeeze Australia's vast popular music history into a paltry six hours, I was absolutely stunned at some of those who have been entirely overlooked, or influential artists that just rated a snippet of video and no more. Of the latter just off the top of my head I can mention Hoodoo Gurus, The Church, The Sports, Sunnyboys, Flowers/Icehouse, Air Supply (ick, but anyway), Radio Birdman and Olivia Newton John - many of whom did a lot more for taking Australian music to the world than some of the acts given much greater prominence here (I mention this as WAY too much importance is placed on overseas success in the series). As for those who didnít rate a single syllable of mention, for starters just try Jo Camilleri (in any of his many incarnations such as Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons or The Black Sorrows), Renee Geyer, Richard Clapton, The Reels, Mondo Rock, Goanna, Little Heroes, Australian Crawl, GANGgajang, Machinations, Kids in the Kitchen, Kate Ceberano/I'm Talking, Big Pig, Noiseworks, Choirboys, The Stems, David Bridie/Not Drowning Waving/My Friend the Chocolate Cake, Severed Heads, Single Gun Theory and Died Pretty through to later people such as The Clouds, Falling Joys, Hummingbirds, Frente, Club Hoy, Caligula, Magic Dirt, Pollyanna, The Mavis's, Powderfinger, Jebediah, Something for Kate, The Living End, The Whitlams, Dirty Three, The Superjesus, The Avalanches and even Killing Heidi. I'm sure I missed a veritable million as well, it just seemed that too much prominence was given to the early days or rather obscure artists, and the final episode just tried to rush through way too much in way too little time - in the end quite disappointing really. And as for the obvious gender bias on display, well...

Anyway, here's what we get...

Episode 1: Bed of a Thousand Struggles 1956-1964
Featured interviews: Leon Isackson (Dig Richards and the R-Jays), Lonnie Lee, Harold Frith (The Thunderbirds), Johnny Greenan, John 'Catfish' Purser and Bob Bertles (The Deejays), Col Joye, Judy Cannon, Digger Revell, Johnny Devlin, Jimmy Little, Judy Stone, Slim Dusty, Ian 'Pee Wee' Wilson (The Delltones), Betty McQuade, Bosco Bosonac and Peter Hood (The Atlantics), Patricia Arquette (aka Little Patty), Stan 'the Man' Rofe (DJ), Bob Rogers (DJ), John Clare (music writer), Peter and Judy Page (TV producers), Kevin Jacobsen (promoter), Tony Brady (Festival Records).

Along comes rock'n'roll to disturb Australia's post-war calm, thanks in no small part to the film Blackboard Jungle featuring Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock. Teenage angst finds an outlet, with the many "teenage cabarets" held in clubs, and the eventual relaxing of a six o'clock bar curfew bringing live music to the pubs. We get our very own rock star in the shape of Johnny O'Keefe, surf culture, Bodgies and Widgies and our very own dance, the Stomp, the record industry wakes up (a little) and TV becomes a product for the masses.

Featured songs include Johnny O'Keefe's Shout, The Atlantics' Bombora and The Bee Gees' Spicks and Specks.

Episode 2: Ten Pound Rocker 1963-1968
Featured interviews: Billy Thorpe, Jim Keays (Masters Apprentices), Glenn Shorrock (Twilights, Axiom, Little River Band), Harry Vanda (The Easybeats, Flash and the Pan), Angus Young (AC/DC), Johnny Young, Dinah Lee, Doug Parkinson, Lobby Lloyd (The Purple Hearts, Wild Cherries), Normie Rowe, Bruce Woodley and Judith Durham (The Seekers), Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, Ian Turpie, Rob Lovett (The Loved Ones), Stan 'the Man' Rofe (DJ), Michael Chugg (promoter), Mike Browning (AC/DC manager), David Flynn (venue manager).

It's the era of the British invasion - The Beatles, snazzy suits and screaming hysteria, with visions of acts such as Billy Thorpe getting mobbed by fervent fans being quite amazing. Pop hits the telly with the likes of Bandstand, Go-Set magazine brings pop to the newsstands, cover versions rule the charts, radio's habit of ignoring local talent (save for a few pioneering disc jockeys) is rife even then, clubs come to prominence as musical outlets and then there's the Hoadleys Battle of the Bands - a perceived saviour for many acts with the first prize being a trip to try to break the UK - by boat.

Featured songs include The Easybeats' Friday on my Mind, The Loved Ones' The Loved One and The Seekers' The Carnival is Over.

Episode 3: Billy Killed the Fish 1968-1973
Featured interviews: Jim Keays (Masters Apprentices), Ross Wilson (Party Machine, Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock), Normie Rowe, Johnny Young, Billy Thorpe, Matt Taylor (Chain), Doug Parkinson, Lindsay Bjerre (Taman Chud), Wayne Duncan and Ross Hannaford (Daddy Cool), Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, Lobby Lloyd (The Purple Hearts, Wild Cherries), Idris Jones (The Mixtures), Mick Conway (Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band). Michael Gudinski (promoter), Michael Chugg (promoter).

The Vietnam War, hippies, drugs and beards all come to the fore, with the establishment rallying against them all (well, except the war). Australia's first Woodstock-like festival is held in Ourimbah, record companies try to get radio stations to pay-for-play international acts (a boon for local talent) and primitive video clips are being made. Radio generally remains ignorant to much of what is going on locally, preferring to remain with safe 'pop' play lists (some things havenít changed) as a whole prog-rock, bluesy subculture forms. Gough Whitlam's Labor party even use music to help their cause with their catchy It's Time tune, and sweep into power (however briefly) ending 30 years of Liberal control. We even get to see willies and boobs flying in the breeze, and hear a few rather naughty words.

Featured songs include Russell Morris' awesome The Real Thing (who'd have thought a Johnny Young penned tune produced by Molly Meldrum could be so amazing?!), Chain's Black and Blue, Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock and Spectrum's I'll Be Gone.

Episode 4: Berserk Warriors 1973-1981
Featured interviews: Les Gock (Hush), Angus Young (AC/DC), Angry Anderson (Rose Tattoo), Doc Neeson (The Angels), Jimmy Barnes (Cold Chisel), Greg Macainsh (Skyhooks), Ross Wilson (Party Machine, Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock), Harry Vanda (The Easybeats, Flash and the Pan), John Paul Young, Ted Mulry and Herm Kovak (Ted Mulry Gang), Michael Gudinski (promoter).

Yobbo culture and pub-rock come to the fore, but most importantly so does colour TV and... COUNTDOWN!!! The religion that causes youth Australia-wide to plonk themselves in beanbags right in front of the telly every Sunday at 6 o'clock, and an utter phenomenon for the local industry that could never be recreated. We get our own virtual equivalent of the Motown hit factory in the form of the Vanda and Young led Albert's stable, our own glam rock courtesy of the likes of Sherbet, Hush and even chancers like Supernaut, riots at the Star Hotel and the unfortunate "death by misadventure" of the phenomenally charismatic AC/DC singer Bon Scott.

Featured songs include Skyhooks' Livin' in the '70s, Stevie Wright's epic Evie, Cold Chisel's Khe Sahn and AC/DC's Let There Be Rock.

Episode 5: INXS, in Exile 1976-1988
Featured interviews: Brian Mannix (Uncanny X-men), Nick Cave (Boys Next Door, Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds), Glenn Wheatley (Masters Apprentices, Little River Band and John Farnham manager), Glenn Shorrock (Twilights, Axiom, Little River Band), Lindy Morrison (The Go-Betweens, Cleopatra Wong), Chris Bailey (The Saints), David McComb (R.I.P., The Triffids), Helen Carter (Do Re Mi), Andrew Duffield and Sean Kelly (The Models), Mental as Anything (all of them!), Chrissie Amphlett (Divinyls), Mark Seymour (Hunters and Collectors), Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil), Andrew and Tim Farriss, Kirk Pengilly (INXS), Tony Cohen (sound engineer), Michael Gudinski (promoter).

It's the '80s, everything has to be BIG, the world starts taking notice of Australia, via Paul Hogan advertisements for beer and travel, events such as the America's Cup, and the US success of our talent such as Men at Work, INXS and, umm, Little River Band. Punk rears its beautifully ugly head, in fact Brisbane's fabulous The Saints pre-dated the Sex Pistols by a number of years with their classic I'm Stranded. Music videos come to the fore, and so do their budgets, music becomes more of a product to record companies than ever, and radio remains as ignorant as ever. Luckily the advent of Sydney's 2JJ and Melbourne's RRR helps stem the tide, and gives an outlet for the incredible subculture of 'independent' bands that has sprung up and wonít go unheard. The Countdown backlash begins, with bands such as Midnight Oil refusing to appear on it.

Featured songs include The Go-Betweens' glorious Cattle and Cane, The Saints' Know Your Product, The Models' I Hear Motion and The Triffids' Wide Open Road.

"No one called Peter Garrett a poofter..."

Episode 6: Gathering of the Tribes 1984-2000
Featured interviews: Paul Kelly, Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil), Paul Mac (Itch-e and Scratch-e, and probably every second dance thing ever made in Australia), Tex Perkins (Dum Dums, Beasts of Bourbon, Cruel Sea), Peter Black and Ray Ahn (Hard-Ons), Kim Salmon (Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon, Surrealists), Ollie Olsen (Max Q, Third Eye), George Djilaynga and Neil Murray (Warumpi Band), Dave Graney, Janet English (Spiderbait, Happyland), David McCormack (Custard, The Titanics), Ben Gilles and Daniel Johns (silverchair), Mandoway Yunapingu (Yothu Yindi), Richard Kingsmill (DJ), Jac Vidgen (party organiser), Michael Gudinski (promoter), Ken West (promoter).

Diversity is the key, as alternative and mainstream cultures both thrive, and dance music comes to prominence like never before. Cover bands rear their hideous heads, taking gigs and punters away from actually talented, original bands, soapie stars rule the pop charts, ecstasy is the new drug of choice, and the saviour of the 'independent' scene is born when radio station JJJ goes national. Grunge is supposedly discovered in Seattle, even though bands such as our Scientists have been doing it for years, a healthy do-it-yourself ethic is born with computers giving anybody with the money the chance to make music, and the Big Day Out concerts wrest festivals back from the hippies.

Featured songs include Midnight Oil's The Dead Heart, Yothu Yindi's Treaty and The Cruel Sea's The Honeymoon is Over.

  Video
Contract

This is the type of thing you buy for the content more than the video quality, and considering the nature of much of the footage included it's just as well. Featuring everything from '50s vintage live stuff and ancient home video through to footage as recent as this year, via television presentations since the introduction of the medium in Australia and more, quality varies from what appears almost unsalvageable to absolutely pristine.

Anybody who's prepared to complain about this is a complete and utter idiot, as some of the things that have been unearthed for this presentation are an utter wonder, so much so that you canít help feeling if it weren't for this series being made it may have just become a victim of the ravages of time and disappeared forever - which naturally would have been an utter crime.

Considering all I've just said I feel it's a rather pointless exercise my going on about black levels, contrast, colour etc - suffice to say some of what we're given looks utterly appalling, some looks magical, and some things, especially much of the early Countdown footage, looks much better than I ever would have expected. Yes, there's some shimmering on occasions, even on some of the newly shot interview footage, but in all the actual program and what it presents rises above any issues of visual quality.

A quick mention must be given to the layer changes. Both of them are very noticeable, the one on the second disc being particularly clunky. With the quick chopping between segments of the feature it must have been difficult to find comfy places to stick them, however I canít help but feel a little more care could have been taken in their placement.

  Audio
Contract

Much of what I have mentioned in regards to the visual presentation also applies to the sound. Presented overall in Dolby Stereo, most of what we get, at least up until the '90s footage in the final episode, is simply in mono. Some of the very early stuff is crackly and ridden with sonic artefacts (for want of a better way to describe them), however once again simply look at the source material and just marvel at the fact that much of it even exists any more, especially considering much of it dates from a time when little value was given to the historical significance of our musical culture.

Needless to say most all the things we normally blab about in this section donít apply, I guess the only major issue is some of the live footage of certain songs in earlier episodes which have had the recorded versions dubbed over the top for some reason, causing some major synching issues at times. Overall the levels of narration versus music are beautifully balanced, and are clear at all times.

  Extras
Contract

Well, the menus are quite nice. Both discs feature static ones, the first having a '50s style radio, the second a '70s style receiver - both accompanied by snippets of classic (and laudably not so classic at times) songs mixed together as if we're running through a radio dial. Even the sub-menus receive this treatment.

Really the only extras are around ten minutes of bonus interview footage at the end of each of the six episodes, extended versions of those done for the main features, and not aired on television. Those included are:

Episode 1: Lucky Starr, Stan 'the Man' Rofe.
Episode 2: Billy Thorpe, Bruce Woodley and Judith Durham (The Seekers).
Episode 3: Ross Wilson (Party Machine, Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock).
Episode 4: Angus Young (Acca Dacca).
Episode 5: Nick Cave (Boys Next Door, Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds), Colin Hay and Greg Ham (Men at Work).
Episode 6: Paul Kelly, Neil Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House).

Some of these contain fascinating titbits of information, and a few even feature solo acoustic performances.

Mention should also be made that featured songs and the bonus interviews are given their own sub-menus so you can jump straight to them, so whoever was in charge of the presentation here did a pretty bang up job.

  Overall  
Contract

A series such as this was simply screaming to be made, and mercifully somebody finally did. Involving a huge array of musical expertise in its writing and research, and narrated quite brilliantly with a subtle line of irreverence by Chris Winter, whilst it has its limitations as mentioned above, it is still a fabulous historical document for any music fan. Besides offering an often-fascinating record of our musical heritage, it also gives us a potted history of general culture from the '50s until now, with popular music by its very nature almost always being inextricably linked to politics and current events. The biggest disappointment is the seeming rush at the end; another couple of episodes added to the series would have provided the justice that many of the acts that were entirely overlooked so richly deserved, and may have given space for New Zealand to get some coverage in the manner in which the set's packaging promises, but indeed doesnít deliver.

One thing of importance to note is that some of the footage contained in the TV version of Long Way to the Top doesnít feature on this DVD set due to "copyright clearance issues". At the time of writing this only the first episode of the series has gone to air, so it's hard to comment on what has been cut or altered, however the old soapbox must be hopped on to wish cancer on those money-grubbing arseholes responsible for these butcherings, those who only care about dollar signs rather than the preservation of important historical records such as these. Itís a beyond-pathetic attitude that sadly is an indictment upon all that is so very wrong with the local music industry currently, especially as an astounding amount of phenomenally talented Australian acts are struggling to survive or have simply ended up imploding as the record companies ignore them or simply drop them in favour of taking the easy option of pushing overseas "product" that has built-in pre-promotion, or only put the bucks behind TV-promoted 'popstars' and similar (hmm, not pointing the finger at a certain once great company that is now an absolute joke or anything), rather than getting off their bloated arses and doing it from scratch like happens in every other country in the world.

Unfortunately this set has been lumbered with a recommended retail price of around $80, which is completely, totally and utterly outrageous, and indeed a crying shame as it will deter all but the most fervent of music fans from purchasing what is, flaws and all, a remarkable, and dare it be said vital, historical documentary. Whilst the two discs themselves are packaged nicely in separate plastic cases with matching sleeves, the box it comes in is made of rather cheap and tacky cardboard that will be lucky to last five minutes. When you consider that the Buffy box sets for example contain three discs and much longer running times for around the same price, and are housed in beautiful quality glossy slipcases, it almost makes it appear as if the ABC doesnít actually wish to sell any copies of this. Greed may have been good in the '80s, but we're in the noughties now people - so get with the program!

In all if you're a Countdown kid such as myself Long Way to the Top is a must have, I just hope for your sake that you're well cashed up...


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      And I quote...
    "An often remarkable, and dare it be said vital historical documentary covering much of Australia's rich and varied rock and pop history..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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