Chilwell, Geelong, 1969

Where were you on July 21 1969? – the day the eternal moonboot ripples were imprinted on the dusty lunar surface in the Sea of Tranquillity. Many of my friends and work colleagues were not even born.

I was in Grade Three at Chilwell Primary School in Geelong. That day we were herded into the school library and made to sit on the hard lino floor as the whole school intently glared at the only television in the place – to witness Neil Armstrong and, 20 minutes later, Buzz Aldrin, descend the ladder and set foot on the moon. The images were blurry but I witnessed a momentous event in human history and I’ll never forget it.

The song that I associate with that mighty moment is the epic 6 minute and 20 second, psychedelic, The Real Thing, by Russell Morris. It was released in March that same year and was a huge hit. The Real Thing now sits up there with Friday On My Mind and Eagle Rock as significant songs in Australian rock music history. To me it was complex, but very catchy.

Come and see the real thing, come and see the real thing come and see …

I also associate that song with another black and white television memory.

While Channels Seven and Nine were playing cartoons on a Saturday morning, Channel 0 (later to become Channel 10) had a pop music show called Uptight, which was hosted by Ross D. Wylie.

One morning the film crew appeared in Russell Morris’ bedroom and when awoken from his slumber, he sang an abridged acoustic version of The Real Thing. I had a load of questions. How did they know where Russell’s house was? How did they get in? How did they know Russell was home? How did they know that he would have a guitar next to his bed? How did they know he would be wearing pyjamas?

So many stories about The Real Thing. It was written by Johnny Young but produced by Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum. Word is that he took so long to finish the production the budget of the single had blown out to the cost of an album. It took months. The backing musicians for the song were members of the Melbourne soul band The Groop which included Brian Cadd on piano and organ, as well as Roger Hicks, the guitarist from the Zoot.  The song included air raid sirens, Hitler youth singing and the sound of a nuclear bomb exploding at the climax. It topped the charts in Australia as well as a couple of places in the USA. To an eight-year-old it was something new and definitely different to the familiar pop songs of the day.

There’s a meaning there, but the meaning there doesn’t really mean a thing …

The Real Thing was a brilliant inclusion in the 2000 movie The Dish as the song is appropriately used to accompany collage vision of the Apollo 11 mission and development of the space industry. Both Kylie Minogue and Midnight Oil have covered the song. I love the way The Dish concludes with another Russell Morris song, Wings Of An Eagle.

Over the years I have heard Russell Morris perform The Real Thing live a few times. He often, jokingly, infers and recalls the ‘recreational substances’ used in those ‘psychedelic era’ days and claims that he doesn’t really remember the 1960s. I was just a kid in 1969 but I have some pretty strong and clear memories of the era.

The Real Thing had thick texture, interesting and unusual sounds. A song for that time. A black and white memory that creates an Aussie soundtrack for the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969. A song that is as new and different as the launching and arrival of a manned space vehicle in another world.  A song that, for me, brings back a memory of sitting on a hard floor in a crowded room watching some world history occurring.

Or maybe the ‘One Giant Leap’ moment and experience can be all summed up with Russell’s prophetic words:

Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow, Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow, Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow, Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow, -Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow-mow-mow-ma-mow-mow-Oo-mow-ma-mow-mow- ma-mow-mow-ma-mow-mow….

David is a Melbourne musician, music teacher and primary school teacher. His debut Stereo Story was about playing Great Balls of Fire at Sun Studio in Memphis. He has assisted in the organisation, and leading of gospel music workshops and Sunday gospel celebrations at the Anglesea Music Festivals, and is a member of The Seddon Jammers. His son Dan is the creative force of the band Jarrow.