Table of Contents
At the end of 1979, a song called Escape was released in the US. It didn’t raise any interest at first, but when the song’s writer and singer, Rupert Holmes, reluctantly sub-titled it The Pina Colada Song, it took off and made it to number 1 on the Billboard charts.
By the time it reached our shores in January 1980, the new title was entrenched and it reached a very respectable number 3 on our music charts.
He was tired of his lady
They’d’ been together too long
Like a worn-out recording
Of a favourite song
So while she lay there sleeping
He read the paper in bed
And in the personals column
There was this letter he read
‘If you like Pina Coladas
And getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga
If you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight
In the dunes of the Cape
I’m the lady you’ve looked for
Write to me and escape’.
Holmes’ website is adorned with the names of many plays, musicals and books he has written, so it’s no surprise that his one big hit is a song with a story. The plot thickens.
So he waited with high hopes
And she walked in the place
He knew her smile in an instant
He knew the curve of her face
It was his own lovely lady
And she said ‘oh it’s you’
Then we laughed for a moment
And he said ‘I never knew,
That you liked Pina Coladas
And getting caught in the rain
And the feel of the ocean
And the taste of champagne
If you’d like making love at midnight
In the dunes of the Cape
You’re the lady I’ve looked for
Come with me and escape.
Holmes originally used the words:
If you like Humphrey Bogart
At the last minute changed it to Pina Colada, a Latin American cocktail made of rum, coconut and pineapple juice, a drink he didn’t even like, in fact he reckoned it tasted like a cure for diarrhoea. According to some, you would need such a cure after hearing the song, an opinion supported by Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of Worst Songs Of All Time.
But the song has had a life of its own, being used in many movies including Shrek, the remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and in the streamed TV series Better Call Saul.
In 1980, when the average weekly pay was $238, a loaf of sliced bread cost 61 cents, petrol was 33.5 c a litre. You could buy a beautiful bottle of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch for $3.99 and a slab of Toohey’s cans for $9.30.
A brand new Ford Escort went for $4 999, a Ford Fairlane for $12,458, and in those pre-float days, the American and Aussie dollars were at parity.
Australia’s first test tube baby was born, the Pritikin diet was the latest thing, as was the Casiotone mini keyboard.
63% thought that the man should be the breadwinner of the family.
Woolworths became a major shareholder in Dick Smith shops.
Azaria Chamberlain disappeared from an Ayers Rock campsite.
One series of the TV show Dallas ended with an important question- who shot JR?
The press made some interesting predictions that in the next seven years we’d have a 24-hour news channel, cricket would become the national sport in the US, and women priests would be ordained in the Catholic Church.
And the latest hair fashion was the Bo Derek look, consisting of a beaded and plaited style like the one she sported in the movie 10.
There was another fashion developing in London nightclubs, called the New Romantic Movement. It was the post-punk era, and the austerity of punk gave way to its opposite, a world of flamboyance and glamour, sent up beautifully in this David Bowie classic from 1980.
There’s a brand new dance but I don’t know its name
That people from bad homes do again and again
It’s big and it’s bland full of tension and fear
They do it over there but we don’t do it here.
The recording is notable for its mechanical-sounding solo from English experimental guitarist Robert Fripp, and the sound is so contemporary that it feels like it came straight from the dance floor in those London nightclubs.
Fashion- turn to the left
Fashion- turn to the right
We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town
But surprisingly it didn’t do as well as some of Bowie’s other records, only making it to number 70 in America, and 27 in Australia. It did make it to number 5 in the UK, the land of the New Romantic Movement.
Oh, bop, do do do do do do do do
In Australia, Fashion would have been one of the first tracks played on Triple J when it went to FM in 1980, along with adult contemporary stations Triple M and 2DAYFM.
British PM Maggie Thatcher suffered that year from functional dysphonia, a swelling of the vocal cords caused by too much shouting in Parliament. Much of her shouting was about her economic program which was so austere even the Queen had to economise.
At the 1980 Conservative Party conference, the Iron Lady’s voice was in fine form when members of her own party suggested she reverse some of her tough economic decisions. Her reply?
To those waiting for a U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.
In the USA, former actor and governor of California, Ronald Reagan, became the Republican nominee, and defeated Jimmy Carter in the November election.
A recession is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours, and recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.
Joh Bjelke Petersen had a 6th resounding win in Queensland.
You know the trouble with Queensland is that it gets branded as being part of Australia.
In the year that Bob Hawke was running for the seat of Wills at the federal election, a novelty song called The Bob Hawke Song made it on to the ABC news, because its writer, Pat Alexander, was working in the national broadcaster’s mail room. Alexander pressed a single of the song and sent it out to radio stations and performers, including Slim Dusty. On the B-side was a song called Duncan.
I love to have a beer with Duncan
I love to beer with Dunc
We drink in moderation
And we never ever ever get rolling drunk.
Slim’s wife, Joy McKean, noticed the song and suggested that Slim record it. He did, and promoted the song to radio stations by recording versions with the relevant announcer’s name replacing Duncan’s. John Laws must have liked his version because he played it 11 times during one show. Duncan went on to become a best-seller. If only he’d written a verse for Bob.
I love to have a beer with Hawkie
I love to have beer with Bob
He drinks in moderation
And he never ever ever drinks on the job.
Hawkie, a renowned drinker, gave up the grog in 1980. He later said:
If you’re going to become Prime Minister of this country you can’t afford ever to be in a position where you can make a fool of yourself or of your country, and I never had a drop for the whole period I was in Parliament.
Opinion polls dominated this election like never before. A Labor win was predicted, and Fraser responded with diatribes on the evils of unions and socialism. The Anglican Church prayed for voters. By the eve of the election, Labor voters were feeling pretty confident.
Nothing could be crazier than to vote for Grazier Fraser in the morning
What would be more welcome than defeat of dear old Malcolm, no more yawning
When I have to cast my vote on Election Day
I’ll write a note and here’s what I’ll say
Nothing could be crazier than to vote for Malcolm Fraser this morning.
But the polls proved very wrong, and for the third time, it was a case of:
What a friend we have in Malcolm
Loud his praises let us sing
If he ever tries to walk on water
I hope, like Harold Holt, that he can swim.
More female politicians were elected than ever before- in the lower house we had Margaret Guilfoyle, Joan Child and Ros Kelly, and in the Senate, Susan Ryan and Flo Bjelke-Petersen.
Mrs Bjelke-Petersen, can I ask you a couple of questions?
As long as the answer’s not Labor.
Why’s that, Flo?
Because I always say that if the answer is Labor it must have been a very foolish question.
Do you know anything about Pol Pot or the killing fields of Kampuchea?
No I don’t, but they definitely sound like they’re communistic-oriented.
HATCHES, MATCHES AND DESPATCHES
In the world of music-
Belgian-born Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Wally De Backer, better known as Gotye
American singer/songwriter, actress, dancer, Christina Aguilera.
In the world of sport-
Aussie Rule legend and anti-racism campaigner, Adam Goodes
Tennis champions, America’s Venus Williams, and Sweden’s Martina Hingis.
In the world of acting-
American TV and film actress, Michelle Williams
American film actor, Jake Gyllenhaal.
And in the world of being famous for being famous-
Reality TV personality, actress, socialite, model, singer, businesswoman, Kim Kardashian, the woman who said that her biggest fear in life was stretchmarks.
Lady Diana Spencer had first met Prince Charles in 1977, but it was in 1980, when he sat on the same bale of hay at a friend’s barbie, that he began to think of her as a future bride.
And it was the year that film writer and director Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow first got together.
1980 was the year we lost many luminaries of stage and screen like Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, Jimmy Durante, Steve McQueen, Mae West, as well as some iconic music heroes such as Bon Scott of AC/DC and, of course, John Lennon.
After five years of domesticity in his New York apartment, Lennon had released Double Fantasy, a collaboration with Yoko, his first album of new songs since 1974. On Monday, 8 December 1980, he heard that, despite mixed reactions, the album was about to go gold. After a day of finishing the recording of Yoko’s song, Walking On Thin Ice, the couple returned to their Dakota apartment, Lennon clutching a tape of the final mix of the song.
Waiting for him was Mark Chapman, a deranged fan who thought Lennon had betrayed the ideals of The Beatles. As the car pulled up, Chapman shot him then leaned against the brickwork calmly reading Catcher in the Rye. Written on the flyleaf were the words…
This is my statement. JL DOA.
The first single from the album was (Just Like) Starting Over, and John Lennon had chosen the second single release to be Woman, the most Beatle-sounding song he’d written as a solo artist.
Woman I can hardly express
My mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness
After all I’m forever in your debt
And woman I will try to express
My inner feelings and my thankfulness
For showing me the meaning of success.
The big Australian movie of 1980 was Breaker Morant, directed by Bruce Beresford. It cleaned up at the AFI Awards, and was accepted as the Australian entry at the Cannes Film Festival, where Jack Thompson won best actor.
Internationally, movies of 1980 included The Shining, The Empire Strikes Back, All That Jazz, Xanadu, The Secret Policeman’s Ball, Kramer vs Kramer, and The Rose, loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, starring Bette Midler.
Some say love it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love it is a flower
And you its only seed.
When word was out that the movie was being made, an unknown singer-songwriter called Amanda McBroom dug out a song she’d written years earlier, also called The Rose, and sent it in to the producers, who put it in the reject box. But when Bette Midler heard it, she loved it and the song became the hit theme song of the hit movie of 1980.
When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed, that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose.
Every year has its one-hit wonders and 1980 wasn’t immune from this eternal phenomenon.
Day Trip to Bangor by English folk group, Fiddler’s Dram, was in the Aussie charts for 15 weeks, peaking at number 5, proving what true sophisticates we were back then.
Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor?
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way and all for under a pound you know
But on the way back I cuddled with Jack and we opened a bottle of cider
Singin’ a few of our favourite songs as the wheels went around.
One story goes that the song was written after a day trip to the nearby North Wales seaside town of Rhyl, but…
Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Rhyl
…didn’t quite cut the mustard, to the dismay of the Mayor of Rhyl who thought the song would single-handedly increase the town’s tourist potential. Then when he heard the rest of the song…
Wasn’t it nice, eating chocolate ice as we strolled around the fun-fair?
Then we ate eels in big ferris wheels as we sailed around the ground but then
We had to be quick ’cause Elsie felt sick and we had to find somewhere to take her
I said to her lad, what made her feel bad was the wheel going ‘round.
He decided that Elsie getting ill in Rhyl wasn’t a good look.
Anyhow, in an interview many years later, Debbie Cook, who wrote the song, said this story is:
A great piece of nonsense.
But, as the author of this essay, I never like the truth to get in the way of a good story.
And one of the good stories in the world of one-hit wonders is Shaddap You Face, written and performed by American/Italian/ Australian singer/songwriter Joe Dolce. It soared to Number 1 in Australia in 1980, was our first triple platinum record, and was number 1 in 11 countries, including Italy.
What’s-a-matter you? (Hey)
Gotta no respect, (Hey)
What-a you t’ink you do? (Hey)
Why you look-a so sad? (Hey)
It’s-a not so bad, (Hey)It’s-a nice-a place
Ah shaddap-a you face.
There have been over 50 different foreign-language versions, and the song has even been quoted on The Simpsons.
After her big hit some years earlier, English singer/songwriter Kate Bush had achieved moderate success with two subsequent singles. Then in 1980 she was at the top of her game again with a new release, Babooshka, with a story uncannily similar to the one in The Pina Colada Song.
She wanted to test her husband
She knew exactly what to do
A pseudonym to fool him
She couldn’t have made a worst move
She sent him scented letters
And he received them with a strange delight
Just like his wife
But how she was before the tears
And how she was before the years flew by
And how she was when she was beautiful
She signed the letter-
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!
Kate had just wanted an alluring name to sign a letter, so used Babooshka without knowing that, spelled slightly differently (Baboushka), it means ‘grandmother’ in Russian.
And it was Russia, in the wake of its invasion of Afghanistan, that was the focus of one of the big stories of 1980.
For many years, the USSR had been supplying aid for infrastructure and education in Afghanistan in return for control of rich natural gas reserves. But the country was in disarray as the Communist policies weren’t in line with traditional Muslim values, which led to a rebellion by extremists.
At the end of the previous year President Amin had seized power, and Soviet soldiers dressed as Afghan guards stormed the presidential palace, murdered the President and replaced him with an exiled Communist leader, Babrak Kemal. 80 000 troops followed and a Soviet invasion was a reality.
In these pre-September 11 days, the West preferred anything other than Communism, including Muslim extremism, so saw this as Soviet aggression. The Soviets said they were acting in response to an appeal for help from the Afghanis.
NATO denounced the Soviet position, and suggested a boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games, scheduled to take place in Moscow in the European summer. When US President Carter delivered an ultimatum for the USSR to withdraw its troops by February or there would be no US athletes at the Olympics, he asked other nations to support a boycott. After a four-hour cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Fraser announced that Australia would be part of the boycott.
As part of my series of songs written about all of Australia’s prime ministers, I offer this as my contribution to the story.
Us Soviets, we hatch plan
To invade Afghanistan
West looks at us from afar
Says ‘What naughty boys you are’
In Moscow soon Olympic Games
Jimmy Carter, huh! Insane!
Tells athletes, ‘stay where you are’
Who parrots him like budgerigar?
It is special Boycott Boy
Aussie, Aussie, oi-oi-oi
He gives us little joy
Not our pal, Moscow Mal.
With public opinion on side with the boycott, it was a good move for politicians as it was election year in the US and Australia. But the Australian Olympic Federation thought differently and, by a narrow margin, decided to send a strong contingent of athletes to the Games. The Australian Government was so sure of its position that they even offered financial incentives to encourage sporting organisations to stay behind.
Election coming very soon
Moscow Mal plays boycott tune
And to every sporting star
He offers cash in brown paper
Some say ‘da’, some say ‘nyet’
Some stay dry, and some get wet
Boycott causes brouhaha
Does not hurt USSR
And our special Boycott Boy
Aussie, Aussie, oi-oi-oi
He gives us little joy
Not our pal, Moscow Mal.
The Olympics went ahead, and here in Australia, Channel 7 had to wait till the last minute to announce that they would be broadcasting the Games, even though sponsors and athletes were withdrawing. With every broadcast, this theme song was played endlessly.
Moscow, Moscow, throw your glasses at the wall
And good fortune to us all
A ha ha ha ha – ha!
Moscow, Moscow, join us for a kazadchok
We’ll go dancing round the clock
A ha ha ha ha – hey!
The song was recorded by a German group called Genghis Khan, and as soon as it was broadcast, the song went straight to number 1 in the first week, a feat that had not been accomplished since Farewell Aunty Jack in 1974. It stayed in the charts for 4 months. We were a sophisticated nation in 1980.
Moscow Moscow drinking vodka all night long
Keeps you happy, makes you strong,A ha ha ha ha – ha!
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr Jim Stokes.
To read a transcript of Jim Stokes’ take on the Cabinet Records of 1980 go to Jim Stokes Cabinet Papers 1980.
Songs, YouTubes and credits
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) written by Rupert Holmes
Fashion written by David Bowie
Duncan written by Pat Alexander. Parody by John Shortis
Malcolm Fraser Grazier, lyrics by Mungo MacCallum, sung to the tune of Nothing Could Be Finer Than To Be in Carolina in the Morning
What a Friend We Have in Malcolm, lyrics by Eric Bogle, sung to the tune of What a Friend we Have in Jesus
Woman written by John Lennon
The Rose written by Amanda McBroom
Day Trip to Bangor written by Debbie Cook
Shaddap You Face written by Joe Dolce
Babooshka written by Kate Bush
Moscow Mal written by John Shortis
Moscow written by Ralph Siegel.
John Lennon by Philip Norman
Boycott by Lisa Forrest.
Rupert Holmes’ website
Transcript of an interview with Bob Hawke on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope
Show performed 2011
Essay written August 2016.