Suburban Moorabbin. Late 1970s.

When writing about music there is the immediate trap of trying to pontificate on the merits of an obscure, but serious, band you witnessed in a long-gone dive with 10 other people. Then your thoughts wander to eulogising your musical hero, Paul Kelly, or remembering the bizarre such as listening to the pre-leather Angels at an ice-skating rink or sitting in the corner of the Doncaster Inn with Christie Allen warbling on stage.

In the end I decided to embrace my inner geek and proclaim my love for Countdown, hosted by the irrepressible Molly Meldrum. You cannot over-estimate the influence that Countdown had over Australians of a certain vintage. For me, it can be best summarised by the attitude of a couple of households in suburban Melbourne. Once my maternal grandmother passed away, every fortnight was marked between alternating family dinners at our home in Clayton and my aunty and uncle in Moorabbin. Clayton and Moorabbin were working class suburbs with pretensions of being lower middle class. This did not stop family dinners being a feast of a casserole, followed by a dessert and at least three different cakes and slices. I always felt this was the Australian cholesterol equivalent of an Italian mother feting her eldest son.

As an only child and the youngest member of the extended family I was a keen participant of these noisy dinners. My parents were also strong proponents of having everyone sharing the dinner table without the distraction of television or radio. The greatest challenge to this was when the ABC determined that the best time to capture a teenage audience was between six and seven on a Sunday night. Now, my father’s musical tastes barely extended beyond a Mrs Mills honky tonk album. To be fair, he did relay the fact that he enjoyed Australian Crawl when they played at a Victoria versus South Australia interstate football match. My mother, on the other hand,  was a fan of talkback radio, although she did have an under-appreciated sense of humour, demonstrated by sending me a postcard of Kamahl from a New South Wales pokies venue.

Considering the above, I was pleasantly surprised that the family recognised the importance of Countdown, setting up a tray in the loungeroom so I could totally absorb what everyone would be talking about in the next few days. My aunty and uncle lived in a modest house in Moorabbin that was previously a housing commission accommodation. The extravagance of the food was not matched by the lounge suite, where the biggest challenge was to stop falling through the frame while perched on an unyielding cushion.

It may be stretching the memory to say this definitely happened at Moorabbin, as it could have easily been experienced at Clayton. I am not totally sure why The Ferrets’ Don’t Fall In Love stands out. Their lead singer, Billy Miller, was quite charismatic, with a long face and protruding teeth. Was that the inspiration for the name of the group? This look was further emphasised by the obligatory wind machine that the band appeared to be battling against. Don’t Fall In Love was one of the great Australian songs of the late 1970s and remains one of this country’s best one-hit wonders.

Billy Miller remains an icon of the Melbourne music scene and his career should not be wrapped up in one song. His appeal can be reflected in great band names such as Billy Miller’s Great Blokes or the fact that he shares a passion for the St Kilda Football Club with me and another one of my music heroes, Mick Thomas.

Don’t Fall in Love is a great piece of popular music, played by a band that did not appear to take themselves too seriously. It is important to remember that Countdown brought music to the Australian youth cocooned in the suburban sprawl.

Stereo Story # 603