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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #35: Helen Reddy

Do-Ré-Mi’s Deborah Conway shines a light on the history of one of Australia’s most important musicians, Helen Reddy.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Helen Reddy

Supplied; Markus Weber*

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #35: Helen Reddy (by Deborah Conway of Do-Ré-Mi)

I was 13 years old in 1972 when “I Am Woman” was released. Helen Reddy won a Grammy for her performance and instantly became Australia’s most famous and successful female artist with a string of chart-topping, number one hits following.

The song had appeared on an album the year before and was picked up to be used over the opening credits of a tepidly reviewed Women’s Liberation feature film. Still the record company was encouraged to release the song as a single in May 1972. It was heard like a roar around the world, nothing short of an anthem for the growing second wave feminist movement.

By December “I Am Woman” had hit number one on the Billboard charts. The National Organisation of Women (NOW) blasted “I Am Woman” out of their loudspeakers at their 1973 Gala, bringing a thousand women to their feet holding hands, singing and dancing in a circle around the ballroom.

“It was heard like a roar around the world.”

At close to 50 years old, “I Am Woman” still remains a singular rallying cry for the Equal Rights Movement. It’s quite an achievement. I was invited to participate on the song for Judith Lucy’s 2015 TV show along with some of Australia’s most stellar female singers; it was an electric atmosphere in the studio, the sisterhood palpable in goosebumps and high fives, all of us acknowledging Helen Reddy as a pioneer and pathbreaker in our chosen field.

Sometimes the power of a song is evidenced by negative reactions. In 2018, I was asked to perform at the Closing Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. It was initially proposed that I should perform Kasey Chambers song “Not Pretty Enough”. It’s a lovely piece, but instinctively I felt that “I Am Woman” would be a more suitable selection. Uplifting, anthemic, Australian, and a profound celebration of the Commonwealth Games Federation’s announcement that this would be the most gender equal major multi-sports event in history!

Unquestionably this was something truly wonderful to highlight for male and female athletes and sports fans. However the ultimate decision makers were unimpressed with my suggestion, fearing that it would be a divisive exclusionary choice. At the height of the #MeToo movement, extraordinarily, Helen Reddy’s 1972 hit “I Am Woman” was deemed too controversial to be part of the 2018 Closing Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. Now that’s iconic!