The Real Thing (Russell Morris song)
"The Real Thing" is the debut single by Australian singer Russell Morris, released in 1969. Written by Johnny Young and produced by Ian "Molly" Meldrum, it was a huge hit in Australia and has become an Australian rock classic. It also achieved success in the United States, reaching the top of the charts in Chicago and New York City.
|"The Real Thing"|
|Single by Russell Morris|
|Recorded||early 1969 at Armstrong Studios, Melbourne|
|Producer(s)||Ian "Molly" Meldrum|
|Russell Morris singles chronology|
Conception and recording
Johnny Young wrote the song for his and Meldrum's friend, singer Ronnie Burns. Young originally envisaged it as a slow acoustic ballad in the style of The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever", 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 night with a tape recorder and refusing to leave until Young had taped a "demo" version of the song for him.
In collaboration with studio engineer John Sayers, Meldrum radically transformed "The Real Thing" from Young's original vision of a simple acoustic ballad into a heavily-produced studio masterpiece, extending it to an unheard-of six minutes and forty seconds in length and overdubbing the basic track with many additional instruments, vocals and sound effects. According to Sayers, the song's innovative arrangement and production developed fortuitously during the recording of the backing track at Armstrong's Studios. The track used the services of The Groop as backing band, with vocal contributions from Danny Robinson (Wild Cherries), The Chiffons, Maureen Elkner, Sue Brady and Judy Condon. Guitarist Roger Hicks from Zoot composed and played the song's distinctive acoustic guitar intro, and Billy Green (now known as Wil Greenstreet) played electric lead guitar and sitar.
"The Real Thing" was originally only intended to be the standard duration for a pop single at that time - around three minutes - but once that point had been reached in the recording session, the backing band continued to play. Impressed by what they heard, Meldrum and Sayers kept the tape rolling until the band eventually 'broke down', thereby capturing an extended ten-minute 'jam' based around the chord changes of the chorus. This inspired Sayers and Meldrum to create an entirely new arrangement and during additional sessions they create an extended 'outro' for the song by editing various sections of the studio 'jam' together and combining them with additional voices, instruments and sound effects.
The final product was a swirling psychedelic collage of music and sound effects which included deliberate edits and instrument 'dropouts' of the backing track (anticipating the Jamaican dub experiments of the 1970s) and an ominous spoken-word "buyer beware" message (suggestive of the LSD 'trip' experience) which was, in fact, Meldrum's heavily filtered voice reading aloud from the product disclaimer on an Ampex recording tape box. The final edit was further processed by applying the then-novel studio effect known as flanging, in which two identical copies of the recording were played together but slightly out-of-phase with each other, producing a rich 'swooshing' sound effect around the music. The children's choir singing toward the end was sourced from an archive recording of a WWII Hitler Youth choir singing "Die Jugend Marschiert" (Youth on the March) and the song concludes dramatically with the children's choir shouting "Seig Heil!" immediately followed by the cataclysmic sound of an atomic bomb explosion.
The single is reported to have cost A$10,000, a typical budget for an entire album at the time, making it the most expensive single then recorded in Australia. "The Real Thing" became a national number one hit for Morris in mid-1969 and is widely considered to be one of the finest Australian pop-rock recordings of the era.
|Australian Go-Set Chart||1|
In popular culture
In 1998 Australia Post issued a special edition set of twelve stamps celebrating the early years of Australian Rock 'n' Roll, featuring Australian hit songs of the late 1950s, the 1960s and the early 1970s.
"Each of them said something about us, and told the rest of the world this is what popular culture sounds like, and it has an Australian accent."
Morris's version of "The Real Thing" was featured on the soundtrack of the 2000 Australian movie, The Dish. The AFL also used a new recording of the song for its television advertisement campaign for the 2000 season, declaring Aussie Rules as 'The Real Thing' as opposed to Rugby league. Australian performer Kylie Minogue released her cover version of the song in 2000; it is featured on the soundtrack to the movie Sample People. Australian rock band Midnight Oil also released a version in 2000 as a single from their compilation album The Real Thing.
More recently in 2018, Australian public television broadcaster ABC has used part of the Morris "The Real Thing" to promote its television news services.
The Australian psychedelic/electronic/trance band Third Eye (a project of Ollie Olsen who had previously been in Max Q with Michael Hutchence of INXS fame) released a version of the song that charted at #76 in October 1990 in Australia.
Stoner rock band Shellfin covered The Real Thing on their album Cities Without Names (2015).
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- Cover Me by Paul McHenry (1998)
- Australian Rock Discography 1970-79 by Chris Spencer (1999)
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