MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 65: JOHN FARNHAM

Longevity is hard to come by, especially in music. I dunno if you’ve seen a pattern, but what I’ve seen is this- for an average career in music, you’d get pretty much a decade. A decade of radio hits, of albums that hit a niche market…mind you, it’d be less if you’re only ‘ok’ and then if you’re competing in a digital space and medium where there’s heightened competition, or more if you’re really, really good and your music actually speaks for itself. And in the context of Australia, artists have either come and gone, or they’ve stayed for quite some time, delivering great songs to people over the years. And usually it’s pretty hard to know from the get-go if this artist is going to make it big or not. Nevertheless, even though as a whole, Australian artists don’t necessarily get as much exposure to the international market compared to artists from other countries; there is still a big pool to choose from if you’re looking for Australian artists to listen to and want to branch out into music from artists not from the U S of A. Artists like Delta Goodrem, Guy Sebastian, The McClymonts, Missy Higgins, Daryl Braithwaite, Jessica Mauboy, Kasey Chambers, Slim Dusty, Ricki-Lee Coulter, Natalie Imbruglia, Tina Arena, Marcia Hines, Newsboys, for KING AND COUNTRY, Rebecca St. James and Kylie Minogue, are just some of the many artists from Australia that have had varying degrees of success over the years. And while a lot of music at the moment is very much America-based, we must not forget that music can still be good and not be from America…shudder to think, right? Because honestly, if we get most of our movies and TV shows from America, then surely the music from America is the best, right? Not necessarily.

Throughout my own blog series (of which it has been one and a half years, and counting), I’ve realised this one thing- that more often than not, it is the music artists that aren’t necessarily within this ‘America’ spotlight, that offer music of a much more poignant and heartfelt variety than a lot of the artists within either one of the 50 states that make up America. There, I said it. Music from America isn’t necessarily what it’s cracked up to be, and music from outside of America is much more impactful and emotive than what we’ve been lead to believe. I know such a thing that was said is indeed a controversial topic, but nevertheless it’s what I’ve seen and observed. Yes, American music is great, but to ignore and discount everything else from every other country, can seem like a bummer, too. And so for this week’s artist, I’ve decided to delve into an artist…you guessed it, not from America! Yes, this Australian artist has been around for quite some time, and has led the charge in creating music that is now considered some of the most classic and chart-topping anthems of modern Australian history. No it’s not Slim Dusty, nor Olivia Newton-John (also those two will be discussed in another blog series later on next year maybe?). I am about to unpack however, John Farnham and his music, ‘You’re the Voice’ included!

Yes, I’ve gone there. John Farnham is by far one of Australia’s founding music icons of the 1980s, and if anyone, not just in Australia but around the world, hasn’t heard of John and his music…well, there’s nothing much more to say, than to actually say ‘where have you been living, for all this time?’. Because that’s true- it has been and will always be ‘You’re the Voice’ that has catapulted John to become one of the most recognisable Australian contributors to music, and a man who’s music has reached people by the millions, decades upon decades upon decades. And even internationally…I reckon that people may have heard about John Farnham overseas. They may not know who he is, but they know his songs. I know I did back in the day when I was growing up. I was hearing John Farnham songs left, right and centre on the radio, and even though I didn’t know who these songs were attributed to, I did recognise these songs years upon years later as I was listening to these melodies, in preparation for this blog post. These songs for me have harkened back to my very own childhood and teenage years, and a reminder that an artist like John Farnham (it can be someone else for you) can still evoke emotions and memories, good ones, even years later. Music has the power to unlock feelings and channel through emotions you may not even know that you’ve had, and that in and of itself is a good, good thing.

‘…dare I say, that now with Michael into his early sixties, that he could become the Christian version of either Rod Stewart or Johnny Farnham, a man well into his years delivering great hits with no intention of retiring?…’ This is what I wrote all those months ago, when I was discussing about Michael W. Smith, popular CCM artist and my first blog post as I embarked on this music-broadening exercise. In my first blog post, I wrote about a seemingly evident correlation in lyrical and musical undertone, between Michael W. Smith and John Farnham, that musically and lyrically (if we move all of the ‘religious’ undertones aside), Michael and John’s music are very much similar, in tone, passion, enthusiasm and icon status. And now hearing John’s music for a while, I’d have to say that this comparison that I made a while back, is most certainly true, even without me even realising it or even knowing how much gravity there was in such a comparison as this. Because Michael’s presence and involvement in music for all these years, have made me assert that he, alongside Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman, are some of the founding fathers of CCM in the modern music era. And so if this correlation is the case, then maybe, just maybe, that alongside Olivia Newton-John and Slim Dusty, amongst others, does John Farnham have a title of being a founder of Aussie pop as it is right now? Maybe, maybe not. But this one thing I know is true- John’s impact and influence within the Australian music industry is unparalleled. With his career spanning from the 1960s and 1970s (when he was writing teen pop under the name ‘Johnny Farnham’), to the 1980s, 1990s and the 2000s (under John Farnham), it was the songs like ‘Pressure Down’, ‘A Touch of Paradise’, ‘That’s Freedom’, ‘The Age of Reason’, ‘Two Strong Hearts’, ‘Reasons’, ‘Angels’, even John’s cover of The Beatles’ ‘Help’, the emotive and poignant melodies ‘A Simple Life’ and ‘No Ordinary World’, not to mention John’s collaboration with Human Nature in ‘Everytime You Cry’, that have carved the career of John Farnham over the decades. And revisiting some of these songs even now, we see the timelessness of the themes depicted in these tracks. ‘Pressure Down’ imparts a theme of being cool, relaxed and worry-free, as this ‘pressure’ as presented in this track can come in the form of stress, worry, uncertainty, external pressure, pressure from self, or something just plain expected of us, from unseen and unsaid things around us that contribute to us feeling very pressured in situations and circumstances. ‘A Touch of Paradise’ is a romantic song with John himself singing to a special someone, saying that being in a situation with them is a ‘special touch of paradise’; while ‘Reasons’, quite criminally underrated, speaks of the motivation behind what we do, and why we do what we do. ‘Reasons’ encourages us to have reasons for the decisions that we make, and not just excuses, to not dwell on the past and worry about the future, but to make the best informed decisions about the now, but with real reasons to back them all up.

‘Two Strong Hearts’ is John’s ode to relationships that last, and remind us all that a union in every sense of the word- be it through marriage, or at various other stages- boy/girl friend, fiancé’s; is one where two hearts become one, in a sense that these two people coming together are in sync on a mental, emotional, and maybe even a spiritual level, something that can’t necessarily be faked. ‘Two Strong Hearts’ gives people hope that there’s a person for us out there- may not be perfect; but would still be perfect to us when we find them. ‘Age of Reason’ speaks of this topic of history, and learning from it, and seeing what has gone before, and how we as people of today can better tomorrow from viewing yesterdays mistakes; while songs like ‘That’s Freedom’ and ‘Angels’ are covers from American singer-songwriter Tom Kimmel- both songs being chart-toppers by John, and both songs being so iconic, that fortunately (or unfortunately whichever way you see it), these two songs are now attributed to John Farnham and his music career. ‘That’s Freedom’ is a song about freedom, and a patriotic song at that, while ‘Angels’ has more of a spiritual element to it. The song itself allows us to ponder about the other-earthly things and moments we partake in, as we wonder if the physical and tangible is all there is to society. ‘Chain Reaction’ is a song that imparts the general theme that situations and circumstances are more linked together than we often realise, that what we do and say on a daily basis can impact and affect people we are in communion and conversation with, more so than we care to admit; while the song ‘Burn for You’ is a love song at its finest, declaring that we are going to burn for this person we are in love with, that often to explain who we burn for (either as an infatuation or as a deeper love) can’t be articulated into coherent words- it just is.

 

 

‘Seemed Like a Good Idea (At the Time)’ is a song of reflection, realisation and regret as we look on the decisions we have undertaken, often with good intentions, but still going awry, and we understand that we have messed up, even though it seemed like a good idea at the time, while ‘Have a Little Faith In Us’ speaks about sticking together through marital problems, as we see that the song is a longing and a yearning to get back to a union between lovers more than what is currently- a broken relationship where mistrust and uncertainty ring more true than love without condition that marriages were based upon before. ‘A Simple Life’ and ‘No Ordinary World’ both bring things down thematically, as these songs speak about the simplicity of life, and that being with people we love, showcases what is really needed in this one life we live- friends, family, God, and this realisation and understanding that to life an ordinary life isn’t what we’ve been called to. God came in the form of Christ, so that we can have life to the fullest, and these two songs are both reminders of this very fact- this life we live with our friends and family ought to be an extraordinary life, and thus, ‘No Ordinary World’, and ‘A Simple Life’, are songs of reflection and hopefully positive change for everyone who hears the songs, myself included. John also collaborates with Aussie legends Jimmy Barnes and Human Nature in the songs ‘When Something is Wrong with My Baby’ and ‘Every Time You Cry’ respectively, as both these two songs tell of poignant messages we need to hear, especially in this time of 2020- the Jimmy Barnes duet reminds us all of this unification that happens between two loved ones- that when something is wrong with my ‘baby’, there’s something wrong with me, because they are a part of me and the love of my life; while the Human Nature collab is just a great encourager- being there for someone who is crying, and being present in someone’s life who needs it the most, even if they themselves believe they don’t. John also brings to us all, renditions of fan-favourites that we know and come to love- John presents a collaboration with Queen on ‘We Will Rock You’, an AC DC cover in ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)’, even a Beatles cover with ‘Help’. It is in these three covers where we see John’s musical versatility and his vocal prowess, a reminder that good songs (just because they are) transcend the artist every time. In fact, is it a good (or bad) thing if I say that I enjoy John’s version of these three songs way better than the originals? Because I do!

HE’S the voice, and it seems his contemporaries do not need to try and understand it, they just accept it. John Farnham has blitzed our poll of Australia’s most popular singer as voted by Australian singers. The result sees Farnham, 63, confirming his status as the singer’s singer. “John Farnham could sing the phone book and it would sound great,” Jimmy Barnes says. “He is shy and unsure of his abilities sometimes but we mere mortals will probably never know this because his voice is so damn good.” Delta Goodrem said she will forever be inspired by Farnham’s voice. “He has timeless songs and a range that is out of this world.” Farnham’s voice left many vocalists in awe. “For a man to be able to sing that high with such ease is just not normal,” Ricki-Lee said. “His range is incredible but it’s the tone of his voice that gets me the most, it’s so smooth and evokes so much emotion.” David Campbell said Farnham was “the man who showed boys they could use their range” and pointed to 1980’s Please Don’t Ask Me as an example of his power. “The years in theatre and that extraordinary range help communicate a simple pop song to epic heartbreak.” “When it comes to male singers, you don’t get better than John Farnham in this country…. End chapter, close book!,” Anthony Callea said. Missy Higgins summed up a general feeling on Farnham’s prowess by stating “I mean, nothing can touch Farnsey. He’s the voice!” Ross Wilson, who wrote Farnham’s A Touch of Paradise, said he was “freaked out” by the way Farnham sings so effortlessly. “Yes, he is The Voice and that fricking TV show full of wannabes ought to find a new name and restore his title.”

This above quote, pulled from a news.com.au article way back in 2013, is a great reminder of how one man’s musical career can impact and ripple through a lot of a particular industry. In this case, it’s John Farnham’s music career, and his impact throughout all of Australian music. Being voted as one of Australia’s most distinct and important voices of modern Australian music history, John’s career seems to be waning at the moment, but he’ll forever be remembered for these songs I aforementioned, and many, many more. But I guess if you were to pick one song above any other, that has been synonymous with John and his music, that embodies everything that John’s music does…it’s ‘You’re The Voice’. Yes, it’s the very iconic song, the one where we see John himself declare out to the masses that we are the ones that will make the change in the world we live in. An anthem mixed with a political statement, John Farnham will forever be remembered for this track- and it’s a good one too. Covered by Aussie CCM artist Rebecca St. James on her 1996 album God, John’s track that has defined his whole career, is one of hope, passion, enthusiasm and joy as we see lyrics that can hopefully transform and challenge as we hear this iconic 5 minute song of motivation and heart. Read the lyrics below, and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean!

We have the chance to turn the pages over
We can write what we want to write, we gotta make ends meet, before we get much older
We’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son
How long can we look at each other down the barrel of a gun?
You’re the voice, try and understand it, make a noise and make it clear
We’re not gonna sit in silence, we’re not gonna live with fear
This time, we know we all can stand together
With the power to be powerful, believing we can make it better
Ooh, we’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son
How long can we look at each other down the barrel of a gun?
You’re the voice, try and understand it, make a noise and make it clear
We’re not gonna sit in silence, we’re not gonna live with fear
Ooh, we’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son
How long can we look at each other down the barrel of a gun?
You’re the voice, try and understand it, make a noise and make it clear
We’re not gonna sit in silence, we’re not gonna live with fear

‘You’re the Voice’ is a song of hope and positivity, but also of determination and a destination in mind. We see what is wrong with the world, and have hopefully the gumption, the resolve and the determination to make tomorrow better than today. It is in this understanding of what the song is about, that we see the song take on a new form, and be amazed at how even God can use such a song as this, to bring about positive change in the world today. Even one of today’s up and coming artists, Mitch Tambo (who received his big break from the talent competition, Australia’s Got Talent), created his own rendition of the John Farnham classic, singing in his own native tongue of Gamilaraay- first on the talent competition program, and then second, releasing a studio track as well. He then also collaborated live with John Farnham as one part of many artists dedicating themselves in a music fundraiser for the Australian hellish bushfires in early 2020. And as we see from a few video clips below, Mitch’s passion and vocals are unparalleled, indicating that Mitch himself may be one of the future people to inspire others with music not necessarily in English, but still equally as profound and passionate. A reminder through Mitch’s renditions of the song, of how powerful and cross-language this song ‘You’re the Voice’ really is, we see such a song challenge us all to become better versions of ourselves, striving to make a difference, not necessarily in the whole world (because that can be very overwhelming), but in the world that we live in. ‘You’re the Voice’ is a song for a generation, and many have even touted the song as an unofficial Australian Anthem (alongside the other standout song of Australian history, ‘Waltzing Matilda’). A song that will forever be remembered, John has created a career around a song that can hopefully remind people of the challenge they have of creating a space and place where community, camaraderie, joy, hope, love, connection, honesty and realness is what is championed instead of fear, misunderstanding, assumptions, worrying and uncertainty. If there is one song to listen to from John Farnham, this’ll be it. No question.

Of all that John Farnham has undertaken in his career thus far, let me say this one thing- his influence is far greater than maybe he himself realises. For an artist to start off in the industry in the 1980s (as John Farnham) and in the 1960s (as Johnny Farnham), and still be active right now, is nothing short of miraculous and awe-inspiring. I’m not sure if there are any other Australians that have undertaken such a feat- Jimmy Barnes would have to be the next cab off the rank on this. For that observation alone, John’s music should be listened to, at least once. John has indeed worn his heart on his sleeve- a lot of his music has had meanings and messages we as people hear, and so if you want to hear a very universal and broad appeal, with songs having double or triple meanings, then John may not necessarily be your guy. What John sings about is the transientness of surface relationships, and the necessity to find something that lasts for longer than we often settle for. It is his boldness for messages that can often be deemed as ‘political’ (‘You’re the Voice’ is a good example of this), that will continue to create opportunities for influence both now and into the future. And while I still haven’t heard much of John’s albums in full- just standout radio songs here and there; this undertaking of this blog has made me appreciate much of John’s earlier music, far more than if I hadn’t undergone such a task.

John Farnham’s music has made me realise the importance and power of songs and music from the place in which you have grown up in. Being Australian myself, it wasn’t until this blog series where I’ve listened on a consistent basis to Australian artists and their music. People like Guy Sebastian, Delta Goodrem, Newsboys, for KING AND COUNTRY, Keith Urban, The McClymonts, Hillsong, Tina Arena, Natalie Imbruglia and Rebecca St. James have all carved out a career in music, and have all had varying degrees of success here in Australia and around the world. And it wasn’t until 2019 where I started to hear these artists, that I really became appreciative of music from Australia. Australian music is good; and is indeed criminally underrated. And all my life listening to music other than Australian…I’ve now come to realise that there’s a certain power and connection that comes with listening to music artists that are of the same nationality as you. It’s what has happened all the times before with Australian artists of the past, and John Farnham and his music, is no different. There’s some sort of kinship there- a connection that maybe is God-intended, dunno about that; but when I hear Australian music, especially John’s…well, let’s just say that it makes me proud to be Australian. John Farnham is the epitome of what Australian music is and should be like- each artist after John is probably trying to aspire to be him, and maybe even other artists around the world wish that they could be him. Regardless of whether you have heard much of John’s discography or even a little, there’s no denying his staying power in music, full stop. John’s presence in delivering quality music cannot be denied, and even if his music releases aren’t as frequent nowadays, his impact from albums from the 1980s onward, especially his albums Whispering Jack, Age of Reason and Chain Reaction; is something that we can see now in 2020, as evidence of John’s longevity in a music industry as short and fickle-minded as it is. John’s music is a treasure, and if you’re not sure, just listen to ‘You’re the Voice’ again. You’ll thank me later.

Does John Farnham and his music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Pressure Down’, ‘Reasons’, ‘That’s Freedom’ or ‘You’re the Voice’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *