Molly Meldrum

Ian Molly Meldrum

Ian "Molly" Meldrum (born January 29, 1946) is a popular Australian popular music critic, journalist, record producer, and musical entrepreneur, best known as talent co-ordinator, on-air interviewer and music news presenter on the seminal popular music program Countdown. He acted as talent co-ordinator for the show's entire 1974 to 1987 run; his on-air role was between the years of 1975 and 1986. Many consider Meldrum to be an icon in the Australian music scene.

During the Beatles' first tour of Australia in 1964, Meldrum was captured in infamy by TV cameras as the person climbing atop the bonnet of their car shortly after their arrival at Melbourne airport. Later, he was ejected from their Melbourne concert for being "too enthusiastic".

Meldrum began his music career in the late 1960s as a "roadie" for a band named the Groop. Sharing a house with singer Ronnie Burns, he was asked by a friend to write an article for Go-Set magazine, a new Australian pop music magazine. Soon he was writing for the magazine on a regular basis. It was during this period that he was given his nickname, "Molly", by his friend and fellow Go-Set writer Stan Rofe, a famous Melbourne radio DJ.

Around this time, "Molly" also began hanging out at a newly-opened Melbourne recording studio owned by Bill Armstrong, which soon became the leading pop studio in Australia. While he learned production and engineering techniques, he became involved with producing a number of artists including the Masters Apprentices, as well as working on Kommotion, a teen-oriented pop music "mime show" (where performers would mime to the latest overseas hits), which ended soon after when Actors Equity banned the practice.

In 1968 Meldrum became the manager and producer of solo singer Russell Morris, who had recently quit his previous band, Somebody's Image. Meldrum produced Morris' first solo single, a Johnny Young-composed song "The Real Thing". Young had written the song for Meldrum's friend Ronnie Burns, but when Meldrum heard Young playing it backstage during a taping of the TV pop show Uptight, he determined to secure the song for Morris, reportedly going to Young's home that evening with a tape recorder and refusing to leave until Young had taped a "demo" version of the song for him.

In collaboration with Armstrong's house engineer John Sayers, Meldrum radically transformed "The Real Thing" from Young's original vision of a simple acoustic ballad backed by strings, into a highly produced studio masterpiece, extending it to an unheard-of six minutes in length (with much encouragement from Stan Rofe) and overdubbing the basic track with many additional instruments, vocals and sound effects. To achieve this, they used the services of The Groop as backing band, with contributions from vocalist Maureen Elkner and Groop lead singer Ronnie Charles, guitarist Roger Hicks from Zoot — who played the song's distinctive acoustic guitar intro — and arranger John Farrar. The single is reported to have cost AU$10,000 — the most expensive ever made in Australia up to that time — and features one of the earliest uses of the studio technique known as "phasing" on an Australian recording. "The Real Thing" became a national #1 hit for Morris in mid-1969 and is widely considered to be one of the finest Australian pop-rock recordings of the era.

Meldrum also produced several other hits — including Burns' #1 single "Smiley" — while continuing to write for a variety of magazines. After splitting with Morris in ca. 1970, he travelled to the United Kingdom, where he began working for the The Beatles' company, Apple Corps. During this time he met Paul McCartney and John Lennon. One (possibly apocryphal) story is that Meldrum fainted when he met Lennon for the first time. His ssociation with The Beatles enabled him to score a scoop interview with Lennon and Yoko Ono, in which Lennon revealed publicly for the first time that the Beatles were breaking up.

Countdown years
After returning to Australia in the early 1970s, Meldrum continued writing for the music press as well as venturing back into television as the presenter of a shortlived TV children's show, where he met producers Michael Shrimpton and Rob Weekes.

Ca. 1974, Meldrum, Shrimpton and Weekes approached the ABC with the concept for a new weekly pop music show, based on the British show Top Of The Pops and on the Australian pop show Kommotion, on which Meldrum had appeared in the mid-1960s. Countdown premiered in November 1974, with Meldrum as the show's talent coordinator. He did not originally appear in the series, which had a different guest host each week; his first on-screen appearances were in the "Humdrum" music news segment in mid-1975, but by the end of that year he had become the 'face' of the series.

Originally broadcast weekly, early on Saturday evening for 30 minutes, Countdown was fortunate to have begun just before the introduction of colour television in Australia in March 1975. Equally crucial to its success was the move in January that year to the 6pm Sunday timeslot, with the show being extended to 60 minutes. Its reach was further enhanced by the fact that the Saturday timeslot was also retained and used to repeat the previous week's show. The combination of the ABC's nationwide reach, the novelty of colour broadcasting and the show's dual timeslot enabled Countdown to reach an unprecedented number of viewers. It soon became the most successful and popular music program ever made in Australia and exerted a massive influence on Australian music over the next decade.

The advent of colour TV coincided with a major change in the direction of Australian popular music, and it was vital in breaking the pop band Skyhooks among others, and making national stars of pop bands such as Sherbet.

Countdown benefited from the fact that it appeared just as the music video genre was taking off. Indeed, the show was instrumental in popularising the use of purpose-made promotional videos — which had previously only been a minor part of pop show programming — and its extensive use of film-clips and videos by both established and emerging overseas acts (who at that time toured Australia only rarely) made Countdown an important venue for breaking new songs and new groups.

The series is credited with giving early exposure to, and generating breakthrough Australian hits for, a number of major international acts including ABBA, Meat Loaf, Blondie, Boz Scaggs, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. Meldrum made many overseas trips and became personally friendly with many of the top pop and rock stars of the period, enabling Countdown to gain many international exclusives.

Meldrum's notoriety was at odds with his (oft-criticised) on-screen performances, and he became legendary for his rambling and sometimes incomprehensible commentaries and interview questions. He was also noted for several famous on-screen gaffes, including one famous incident during an interview with Prince Charles in which the clearly terrified Meldrum repeatedly bungled his lines and famously told the prince "I saw your Mum in her car the other day" — to which the prince is reported to have replied coolly, "Oh, you mean Her Majesty the Queen?".

Despite his apparent ineptitude, Meldrum soon became a major star in his own right and is now inextricably linked with Countdown. He was also notable as a tireless champion of local Australian talent and for his regular use of the show to pressure local radio to play more Australian music. As a result of his efforts, Countdown was soon in a position to make overnight hits with songs and performers it featured, and through the late 1970s and early 1980s it was arguably the key factor in determining the direction of Australian popular music.

After Countdown
After Countdown finished its run, Meldrum presented a regular segment for the popular but now defunct Australian variety show, Hey Hey It's Saturday through the 1990s, managed and produced a number of Australian artists, founded the Melodian label and continued to write for the music press.

Signing onto the Seven Network, he became a judge on Popstars Live, a variety program in the style of Pop Idol. As part of his contract to the network, he appears regularly on popular breakfast show Sunrise.

Meldrum's trademark headwear, still-rabid enthusiasm for popular music, and remarkably incoherent interviewing style remain well known. He is an amateur Egyptologist and a former member of Mensa. That his extensive general knowledge extended beyond popular music was perhaps less well-known until, as a contestant on a celebrity edition Who Wants to be a Millionaire, he won $500,000 for a charity, the equal biggest win on the Australian version of the program until October 2005. He appeared on the 4th series of the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars in 2006 and was voted off after the first round. He was also on an episode of Deal or No Deal (Dancing with the Deals) on the 13th of February 2006.

Meldrum is a prominent supporter of the St Kilda Football Club in the Australian Football League (AFL) and the Melbourne Storm in the National Rugby League (NRL).

Meldrum has long been open about his homosexuality; he lives with his long-time partner Rui in Melbourne. He is also close friends with Elton John and Michael Jackson. (Credit: Wikipedia)


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