Countdown Memories

 An interview with MOLLY MELDRUM by Jason

On the morning of Thursday 19th August 2004 I did a phone interview with the face of Countdown and Australian Pop Culture, Mr Ian “Molly” Meldrum. It was a great pleasure to speak to Molly and hear about his view on the Countdown years and some of his experiences. Molly opened many doors for music in this country and gave great exposure to many artists and bands through Countdown from Australia and overseas by expressing his great determination and passion for music. Many thanks to Sido from Channel 7 for making this interview possible during Molly’s busy schedule. And of course many thanks Molly for this interview.

Jason: How did the beginnings of Countdown come about and how did you get involved with the show?

Molly: Well basically there was a friend of mine working for the ABC called Robbie Weeks who I’d worked with at Channel 10 on a couple of shows and he moved over to the ABC. And he was having a meeting and drinks with a guy called Michael Shrimpton who was the Executive Producer and was the boss of the light entertainment section for the ABC. And the ABC had asked Michael to come up with some ideas to get a youth audience into the ABC, maybe through sort of like you know, through music e.t.c, e.t.c. And Michael was having a drink with Robbie at the Botanical Hotel in South Yarra and um, I happened to just drive literally straight up on to the footpath to get a bottle of Scotch from the bottle shop. Robbie looked out and saw me and said, “Well that’s the man we need for this” you know…

Jason: Okay

Molly: Haled me in and I sat down and talked to them. And then I thought nothing was really going to come of it and then about 2 weeks later they rang me and said come in for a meeting, and then the whole idea came from there.

Jason: Oh great… And at what point did you realise the effect Countdown was having on Australian pop culture, kids and teenagers around the country?

Molly: Oh, I realised that you know after probably the first year that certainly we were making an impression with music here in this country and giving vast exposure to the artists. And when you start seeing the charts you know, with Skyhooks going to NO. 1 with “Living In The 70’s” and selling an incredible amount of records, Sherbet doing the same, John Paul Young. We could sort of look and gave that at least before like an album if it was a big seller, it may sell around about 40 or 50,000 copies and suddenly here with Skyhooks and Skyhooks selling you know, over a quarter of a million copies of their albums now. So we realised that obviously we were having so much responsibility in having an effect with those artists on the market and then um, basically then when we started, I started going international and touring and then giving Madonna her first NO. 1 around the world, Billy Idol the same, John Cougar Mellancamp the same

Jason: Even Duran Duran

Molly: The same… I realised that we were having quite a major effect and also having an influence on the world market. So that was that, I really didn’t realise, and none of us I don’t think did realise until Countdown had finished. Uh, and then people over the years would come up and say um, we just wanna say to you what a major influence you and that show had on us and we grew up with you, you know. So I really came to the realisation that it became part of I guess Australia’s culture as far as music was concerned with the show itself.

Jason: Oh yeah definitely!

Jason: And how do you feel about a great number of the early shows of Countdown from the 70’s being destroyed by the ABC by re using the tapes?

Molly: The early days yes. Yeah I mean that was unforgivable really. I mean, like the boss of the ABC in Melbourne decided to go on a cost cutting exercise and one of them was let’s re work, you know, the old tapes and save money on tapes. And Countdown was one of the sections that they sort of started doing it to. Luckily thorough Ted Emery who is now a major producer who was working back then and Chris Novel who also and Grant Rule, they decided to hide a few of the tapes which they did

Jason: Yep, Gavin Wood mentioned that to

Molly: And luckily they were preserved, yeah…

Jason: And do you have any stand out memories of acts performing on the show, interviews you did or personal moments that stand up as your favourites?

Molly: Oh absolutely I mean like there were some great moments you know, like ACDC, Skyhooks. Um, obviously the ACDC performance in the studio’s were fantastic. For us to of done that video for ”It’s A Long Way To The Top” which is now one of the most famous video’s in the world as far as music videos are concerned. And then you know having Elton on the show, discovering Madonna I guess, um Elton John and Billy Idol, they were all great moments.

Jason: And do you have a stand period of the Countdown years that you consider to be your favourite  part of the era?

Molly: I think that obviously like, when you grow up with a show and you start a show you get very excited about the fact of watching it sort of become a very successful show. And so that was an exciting time to see all of this evolving, you know. I would have to say the early stages because of believing maybe that it would only go for 6 months

Jason: Yeah, and it went for 13 years

Molly: Yeah, and when we finished the first year I thought I wonder if we we’re gonna come back the next year. They were exciting times, yeah.

Jason: And there were a number of other music shows like Sounds with Donnie Sutherland e.t.c. But do you feel that Countdown was THE show for exposing a lot of Australian bands, for example yourself discovering Pseudo Echo and having them perform on the show without a recording deal?

Molly: Oh absolutely, I mean Sounds was great by Donnie but the fact was that wasn’t a really high rating show at all. Where as we were going, they may have been going over 100 thousand but we were going over you know, over to 2 to 3 million people.

Jason: Yeah

Molly: And basically being able to give all these artists not only a break but also being able to put them into a studio and getting a great production behind them

Jason: And around 1986 a lot more video’s were being played on Countdown and less amounts of live acts would appear on the show live in the studio, was this the basic primary reason for Countdown ending as abruptly as it did?

Molly: Yeah, I think so. I mean the thing is that where we had total access to the artists back in the 70’s, and like for instance it was not unusual for Skyhooks to be on every 3 weeks or John Paul Young or Sherbet and then ACDC and in the early stages of Cold Chisel and certainly Inxs. And when they obviously had overseas success they’d be overseas so we wouldn’t have access to them, or even like with INXS they’d do a video and prefer us to use the video than come into the studio and have to do the live thing. I think that had a major effect on Countdown being more than just a video show as apposed to sort of what it was supposed to be a live show.

Jason: And do you think a show like Countdown could work now and do you feel the music industry in Australia is in great need for a show like Countdown again?

Molly: Probably are in great need. It’s hard to access because of what, whether Countdown would work now. I mean certainly if you look at it from the English point of view Top Of The Pops has been there forever and is still going very very strong. But Top Of The Pops is lucky in the sense that obviously a lot of those international acts are living in London and are on quite regularly, you know. Where here your waiting for them to come on tour or something like that which is only once every 2 years or whatever, you know. So, and the fact is that MTV and Channel V do a great job on Foxtel and Music MAX and then you’ve got obviously Video Hits on Channel 10 and you know you’ve got Fresh on Channel 9. So probably not, probably Countdown wouldn’t work as well now as it did back then.

Jason: Oh, okay…

 Jason: Also with a lot of performances from Australian and International guests Countdown was great, as some bands would perform songs that were not as popular. Like say for example when Culture Club came out to Australia in 1984 they performed 3 songs in the studio and “White Boy” was one of them. That was quite an obscure song as it was their first single in the UK and wasn’t released in Australia. That performance for “White Boy” is now considered the official video because they did it on no other program and there was no video made for it. Were you involved in what a band like that would perform on Countdown or was it in their hands?

Molly: With Culture Club, I mean the first thing that we did with Culture Club when they came here before they came into the studio’s was in fact go over to Adelaide which we organised because they weren’t touring Adelaide. So the day off on the Thursday they were here in Melbourne and so we organised for them to go back to Adelaide and then just wave to the crowd in the Mall and then as it turned out Boy George decided to just do an acapella of 2 songs which just blew everyone away, you know. But no, I mean they had their own choice of songs because it was rare to have them on the show.

Jason: Yeah, definitely…

Jason: And with the show “The Meldrum Tapes” featuring an hour feature special on a band or artist. How did that all come about?

Molly: Yeah, I mean with Grant Rule, funny enough who is going to be my Executive Producer of this pilot we’re doing called Mollywood who works for Channel 7. Grant was the Executive Producer back then and he and Michael, he approached Michael Shrimpton and said look because I do such long interviews and we can only show what Peter Ikan from Warner Brothers back then used to call snippets, um why don’t we you know, maybe turn them into an hour show and make it a special. And so Michael thought that it was a good idea, put it to the ABC and then the ABC decided to start  “The Meldrum Tapes” which was an hour special every Tuesday, I think it was. And as then turned out “The Meldrum Tapes” were bought by MTV when they first started and were shown over there for 2 years.

Jason: Okay, and were there any International artists that never made it to Countdown or Australia that you wish could of appeared on the show?

Molly: Well obviously I mean there was the Midnight Oil situation because I love Midnight Oil as a band.  But I mean it became like an impossible in parse because when they wanted to do the show, agreed to do the show they wanted their own sound engineer to be up in the control room and doing their sound which was just taboo. I mean that just was not on with the ABC. Um, and so whether they used that as an excuse not to do the show or knowing that it would be impossible. But they always felt, and then they used you know, in a clever way in sort of saying well we never did Countdown and we became a success so good luck to them, you know. And that’s why on the final show I decided to shave my head in sort of a tongue and cheek to Midnight Oil and say well Peter you didn’t do it, here’s my version of Peter, you know.

Jason: With the Countdown Music and Video Awards we’re they the big stand out shows of the year for you, and did you really enjoy doing those?

Molly: Um, Yes and No. I didn’t enjoy it for one because there was always, as it is even with the Aria Awards to get acts to go on and perform. And back then you know, again you wouldn’t have your Midnight Oils, the Cold Chisel’s felt you know, told me that they didn’t want to go on Award shows. So that became a real pain in the arse of trying to convince the acts to come to the Countdown Awards. The other thing that was a pain in the arse was that it came out of our overall budget for the year and I thought at times maybe with all this anguish going on of trying to get them to do them, creating these awards, that it would be much better not to do the awards and spend the money more on the production for each show.

Jason: Also when doing special episodes of Countdown and segments where you would host from local disco’s around Melbourne, were they all your basic ideas to do these specific theme shows? 

Molly: Absolutely, yeah… Because it was a way of being able to bring Countdown to the public out of the studio’s. And certainly like when we had the um competitions, which I always looked forward to each year and would you know be keenly awaiting for the next film to come out that we could create a Countdown dance national competition.

Jason: Yeah, for sure

Molly: So we were lucky because obviously we had the Michael Jackson one being just Michael Jackson with the Thriller thing

Jason: And the Flashdance comp and Xanadu

Molly:  We had Flashdance, we had Xanadu with Olivia at Chasis. They were exciting times, they really were.

Jason:  Yeah great! Well I’ll let you go, as I know you’re busy so thanks for the interview. I appreciate it, cool thanks, bye…

Molly:  That’s cool. Take care, Bye…


Interview conducted by Jason Grech, Copyright 2003