If you're an Aussie there are arguably only two terms that you ever needed to use in reference to the music industry and music journalism in general - at least up until the nineties.
Molly or the Pop Guru.
Despite his tendency to mumble, stutter and basically get all his words mixed up when he speaks, or perhaps precisely because of this, Ian "Molly" Meldrum endeared himself to Australia, and to the music industry from early on.
He got his start in the sixties as a dancer, columnist and emerging figure on the Melbourne and London scenes.
But his ability to endear himself to so many was his calling card and soon enough he was approached by the Australian ABC to come up with a youth oriented program. From there, the phenomenon that was Countdown was born.
It was an hour long show in prime time which was a sort of a Top of the Pops scenario. It had a huge hand in making Australia, one of the least populated countries in the Western World, one of the ten biggest record buying markets around the world. Aussies today remain some of the biggest record buyers worldwide.
Molly opened the doors to the Australian market to anyone that was remotely pop oriented, and although he tended to be on the supportive side, he rarely championed artists or acts that he didn't believe in. He broke artists like Madonna to their first mainstream audiences and a performance or appearance on Countdown would routinely drive record sales up by up to 400%. In fact one of the criticisms of the show was that it completely dominated the record industry in Australia, its playlist often defining the following week's charts.
Countdown from its 1974 inception to its 1987 demise was a national institution and although it didn't make into the nineties and beyond, Molly endured.
He's just had a fall in Bangkok, but Australia is not having any difficulty in jumping all over his enduring legacy. His long awaited autobiography The Never, Um, Ever Ending Story is currently a best seller and a TV miniseries on his life is about to hit the airwaves, preceded by a 3 disc compilation album which has already reached the Australian top ten.
I read the 500+ page tome on the plane ride home. It was lightweight, nostalgic and very Countdown centric (it's focused mostly on his Countdown years). But there were a few really lovely moments such as the quote by Jim Keays of The Masters Apprentices.
I used to have a go at Molly for always pushing lightweight pop stuff. But one day he told me that acts such as Kylie are the catalyst that got young kids in music. For a long time, I didn't see it, but he's absolutely right. And now I realise how important that is. He is fostering the acts that will get people involved in music.
Molly and Countdown were huge influences on me growing up in Australia. I initially wanted to be a music journalist when I was younger and back then some of my friends used to joke that I was a pop guru in the making.
I never pursued that path, but I made sure to make numerous references in Vinyl Tiger to Molly, Countdown and the state of the music industry in Australia in what were my formative years.
Get well Molly! You're a stumbling, bumbling national treasure.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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