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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #46: Little River Band

Jacob Stone reminisces about the lost birthright of one of our biggest bands, Melbourne’s Little River Band.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Little River Band

Capitol Records; Supplied

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 – #46: Little River Band (by Jacob Stone of Bluejuice)

Editor’s note: This article has been amended. The original version stated incorrectly that the name of the Little River Band had been “lost in court”. In fact, the registered trade mark of the band’s name was transferred to a company controlled by Stephen Housden and remains owned by it. Rolling Stone does not suggest that Mr Housden, nor anyone associated with the current owners of the band’s name, have engaged in any illegal acts or are not legally entitled to use the band’s name for commercial purposes.

Little River Band – The Lost Birthright of One of Our Biggest Bands

Sometimes clear-eyed ambition and deliberate planning aren’t a bad thing in music.

One of Australia’s most successful pop acts of all time, Little River Band, formed in 1975 focusing the talent of three of the best Australian songwriters on the potential of the US market.

As much as their music, Little River Band’s wild career is what makes them interesting, and yet a cautionary tale.

Guitarists Beeb Birtles and Graeham Goble, singer Glenn Shorrock and drummer Derek Pellicci met band manager Glenn Wheatley in London in 1974 with a plan to create a supergroup a bit like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The members wanted an Australian-sounding name, and after Glenn Shorrock saw ‘Little River’ on a road sign along the Princes Highway, the little band that could was born.

“Sometimes clear-eyed ambition and deliberate planning aren’t a bad thing in music.”

Ambitious and hardworking, the group produced a string of hits that defined them as a crystal-clear, radio-ready alumni of the Seventies soft rock scene.

They were one of the biggest bands in the world at some point, nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group’ alongside Barbra Streisand & Neil Diamond, Supertramp, and The Commodores in 1980.

The Doobie Brothers won, but it’s nice to be nominated.

Will Ferrell’s nerdy character in The Other Guys namedrops Little River Band as an exemplar of Seventies schlock, referring to their syrupy yet perfect ballad “Reminiscing”, which reached number three on the US Billboard charts.

Little River Band consistently bothered the upper echelons of the US charts from 1977 and 1983, a hell of a feat.

The four primary songwriters in the original lineup produced ten songs that charted in the top 20 of the US Billboard charts during that time and (as of 2004) have sold more than 30 million records.

Perhaps most significantly, the group produced radio songs that are recognisable on classic hits radio, 40 years later.

Tunes like “Lonesome Loser”, “Cool Change”, and “Happy Anniversary” are ingrained into the Australian collective memory like a tattoo. The galloping refrain of “Hang on, help is on it’s way!… I’ll be there as fast as I can…” echoes, stretched thin over FM radio in the summer heat of car trips during my Eighties childhood.

I love LRB as standard-bearers for that vocal harmony, adult contemporary thing – they are one with the cliché. They were also all delightfully ugly people, like the best Seventies performers.

Strangely and sadly, the melting pot of songwriting and talent that birthed Little River Band has led to unfamiliar iterations of the band and legal dramas that overshadow the group’s musical legacy lately.

This started innocently enough when singer Glenn Shorrock was replaced by John Farnham from 1982 to 1986, after Shorrock left to pursue a solo career. Though Shorrock re-joined, there were lineup changes to follow.

Session musicians like bass player Wayne Nelson, who sang their 1981 hit “The Night Owls”, populated the group throughout its middle career as original members fought and fell out. Over time, the original members left.

Somehow the constant changes of members have led to a shocking situation – the current lineup of the Little River Band features not only no original members, but also no Australian musicians!

The legal ownership of the band’s name now belongs former guitarist Stephen Housden, and there is literally nothing linking the current lineup of the Little River Band band to its hit-making origins.

What’s worse, the songwriters responsible for the band’s biggest songs – Graeham Goble, Glenn Shorrock, Beeb Birtles, and David Briggs – are unable to perform as the Little River Band, the band they themselves invented back in 1974!

A version of Little River Band consisting of American musicians continues to tour, playing shitty versions of the hits. The owner of the title, Stephen Housden, is adamant he won’t share the rights with the original members.