Monday, July 23, 2012

ROLF HARRIS - TIE ME KANGAROO DOWN SPORT (Original Version)

I recently read an interview with one of the guys from Def Leppard who said that the band was re-recording the classic tunes from their back catalog to sell on iTunes. Mr. Leppard also said that the songs, though re-recorded, would sound EXACTLY like the originals. Now the obvious question is, why re-record the songs to sound exactly like the originals when the originals are widely available? The Leppard man gave a refreshingly honest answer - because they'd OWN 100% of the new recording, as opposed to a small piece of the original. That doesn't make Def Leppard any less mercenary, but at least they admit that they are.

To be honest, we shouldn't judge at all. We've been dealing with re-recorded versions of oldies for YEARS, thanks to companies like Gusto and Big Seven Music, who drag old geezers out of retirement to go through their old hits one more time (with awful "karaoke"-style backing music) for an oldies compilation LP. Usually it's pretty easy to tell the original from the "new" version, especially if the guy recorded the original when he was 16 and made the re-recorded version at 63.

Once in a blue moon, however, we get tricked, especially when the supposed "original" isn't the original at all!

One of the weirdest records of 1963 was made by an Australian singer/comedian (by way of the UK) named Rolf Harris. It was called "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". Released on these shores by Epic, the record introduced a lot of Aussie terms to the US, not to mention the "wobble board" effect (actually a piece of MDF). The record was a sensation, hitting the Top Ten in the US and inspiring a cover version by Pat Boone (which has to be heard to be believed - I'll post it someday). Rolf Harris became an international star, and that was that.

But it wasn't that simple. The hit record that Epic put out was a re-recorded version. It wasn't even the first time that "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" was released in the US.

Rolf Harris (b. March 30, 1930, Wembley Park, Perth, Australia) is something of a Renaissance man. A champion swimmer in his teens, he also displayed a knack for art and music. He moved to England in his early 20s for art school, and from there went into TV work as a cartoonist (appearing live on TV drawing characters with a puppet named "Fuzz"). He later got into acting, appearing on several British TV programs and films. He also appeared at a club in London called The Down Under, which catered to Australians and New Zealanders who missed their homeland. It was at this club where Rolf first sang "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport".

In 1960, Perth, Australia formed its first TV station, and they called Rolf to come back and do a children's TV show and a variety show at night. Rolf accepted, and one night, after a taping, Rolf sat down with four local musicians in the empty TV studio and recorded "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport". The recording was released by EMI in Australia in the summer of 1960 and became a #1 hit there. It also became a #1 hit in the UK when released there. The record was also released in the United States on the 20th-Fox label, but didn't sell.

One possible reason for the single's failure in the States was the quality of the recording. It was crude, to put it mildly - it made Gary (US) Bonds' records sound state-of-the-art. Another reason was the Aussie terms used in the song (like "abo" - short for aborigine - and "didgeridoo") - no one knew what Rolf was talking about, especially in 1960.

After a residency in Vancouver, Canada for most of 1961, Rolf returned to the UK, where producer George Martin had Rolf re-record all his songs for a greatest-hits LP, and also produced his new single, "Sun Arise", which became a huge hit in the UK, and also got some chart action when released in the US on Epic in early 1963. Epic released the George Martin-produced LP shortly afterwards (as "Sun Arise"), and DJs began playing "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" off of the LP. The cut became so popular on US radio that Epic pressed a single, and THAT one became the big hit that we all remember.

It just wasn't the original.....

Rolf Harris - Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport (20th-Fox 207) - 1960

2 comments:

  1. Hey - I live in the Perth suburb where Rolf Harris grew up - Bassendean. One of the local greasy spoons sells Rolf Harris burgers. Occasionally he comes back and I've met people who've bumped into him down by the Swan River in Bassendean.

    His story is certainly interesting, so thanks for writing about it. Until ACDC came along he was the biggest selling Australian artist!

    Jeremy

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    1. Thank YOU for reading my blog! I appreciate the support I've gotten from Down Under! Thanks again!

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