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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #19: John Farnham

Bec Sandridge looks back on the legacy of one of Australia’s best-selling artists of all time, the inimitable John Farnham.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - John Farnham

Ash Mar; Giulia McGauran*

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 – #19: John Farnham (by Bec Sandridge)

To the only man I’ve ever loved,

(Alexa, play Aretha Franklin’s “I’ve Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)”.)

John Farnham. I remember the first time I’d heard your name. I was just a kid. It was maybe in 2001. My parents had been talking about your Big Top tent concert for weeks… There was immense anticipation for the show as it was your “Last Time” tour. Meaning, you were never to perform again. I had never heard of you before… But my parents and the entire city of Wollongong (and the entire South Coast, I imagine) were talking about you and your upcoming, very last concert. 

My brother and I were left home alone with subpar McCain Hawaiian frozen pizzas and cookies-and-cream ice-cream for dessert. Left to fend for ourselves whilst my parents were jetting off to what seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

My parents came home electric. My mum, Therese, is notoriously a gas-bag and my dad is renowned as “Silent Ken” and for both of them this was a new level of chat. Like bumblebees on Red Bull, they sped through everything that they treasured about you. Your elastic vocal range. Your presence. Your wit. Your flowing locks in the Eighties-esque stage fan. Temporarily, it seemed like my mum had even replaced Jesus with you, Farnham. You were a Sandridge household staple piece (and/or God). You were a man and/or pillar of the people. 

After such hype, “Two Strong Hearts”, “Pressure Down”, and of course, “You’re The Voice” quickly became familiar to me and also became my favourite songs growing up. My dad spun Whispering Jack on the old player and in the car. You sat alongside the good company of Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, and KC and The Sunshine Band. And… I had started to feel what could only be described (in 2020) as FOMO (that is, the Fear Of Missing Out, for any readers aged 45+). But, alas you were to never tour again. My teenage heart sunk, and I turned to the Jack Johnsons and Blink-182s of the musical world. I decided to buy a blue guitar on eBay and attempt to learn. I tried to learn how to sing with a cassette recorder, and learnt your songs one after the other. Thanks to Ultimate-Guitar… 

“I tried to learn how to sing with a cassette recorder, and learnt your songs one after the other.”

Five or so “Last Time” tours later… 

At 24, I found myself covering “You’re The Voice” for triple j’s Like A Version. Many bros hated it. I do understand, the song carries great weight for “the Nation”. I received a tweet from you saying that you liked my version (I died and came back to life, I could now die a happy woman)!

Alas, they say if you love someone you should let them go and if it’s meant to be, they will surely come back to you. And so I did. I attempted to move on. And the stars aligned. I somehow found myself on the same line-up as you at Falls Festival, Byron Bay 2020. By this point in time, I had built up seeing you live for so many years. Admittedly, I was more excited for your set than my own. It was perfect. You had the same backing vocalists from the Eighties. They flaunted floor-length sequin gowns, you were charming as expected and the hair in the Eighties-esque fan still remained as part of your live schtick (only a little wispier than when my parents saw you play, I imagine). 

John, you were and are truly Australian rock-pop at its finest… I am glad that we have not met in person, although I’m sure you’d live up to the idolisation. Nonetheless, I thought I should send you this love letter as COVID-19 lockdown has put life and time into perspective. 

With all my Sandridge love,

B x