21 April 2008

Russell Morris - The Real Thing

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

One of the many peculiarities of the international music industry is how enormous hit singles which clearly have "classic" written all over them in one territory can be forgotten flops in another. There are few more pronounced examples of this than the fate which befell Russell Morris' superb 1969 single "The Real Thing", which was the best selling single of that year in Australia, but failed to chart at all in the UK.

If "The Real Thing" had been recorded by Traffic or The Small Faces at their trippiest, it would probably be a Radio Two staple by now. We almost certainly wouldn't have the need to discuss it on this blog, and doubtless Mojo would bring it up every now and then as a fine example of the psychedelic period. Seemingly only two things stood in the way of it storming the charts - firstly, it was six minutes long in its full version (rather than the rudely truncated video above) which was a daring thing to do in the British market at the time. Anything longer than three and a half minutes struggled to get airplay on the radio.

Secondly, it was issued by Decca, a label which had almost entirely lost its way by this point and couldn't have promoted a new act if its life depended on it - which by the early seventies it did, since The Rolling Stones (their biggest selling band) upped sticks and left. Really, it didn't have a hope in hell of getting heard.

That's a real shame, because "The Real Thing" is stunning. Starting out acoustic and gentle, it builds and builds until it can go no further, turning into a pounding, demanding groove and eventually an instense, full throttle whirl of sound effects. It's been periodically used to soundtrack sports coverage in Australia, and Morris is still a popular draw on the live circuit over there nearly forty years on, having followed this up with a brace of other hits. In the UK, this was his solitary release.

Download the full-length version below, which really gives you the full impression of what we missed out on.



Paperback Tourist said...

I like it but by 69 this would've sounded very dated, which is perhaps why it was a hit in Australia rather than a UK that had already moved into the post-psychedelia comedown. Moreover, there's a million records that sound like this,'Itchycoo Park' xeroxes. Also, Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone' had broken the 3-minute radio barrier in 1965. You'd hear 'A Day in the Life' on the radio, a much more radical proposition than Russell Morris. Thanks for posting, though. Do you know of any cover versions?

23 Daves said...

Ha! That's me told.

Your point about the 1969 release date is a good one, actually, but lest we forget EMI were still bricking themselves about singles that went over the three and a half minute barrier in the early seventies, recommending that "Bohemian Rhapsody" should not be released due to its length.

I haven't heard any covers of this, but it was a big enough hit that I wouldn't be surprised if there's one lurking around somewhere.