In a country of over 20 million people, John Farnham is the one Australian artist who stages arena-sized concerts whenever he tours to satisfy the demand. He is, without challenge, one of Australia's most successful solo artists to date, on-stage and on record. His Whispering Jack album was the first album to sell over a million copies in Australia alone.
In September 1967 at the age of 18, he was signed to a recording contract and in December of that year released the novelty single "Sadie the Cleaning Lady," which became the biggest-selling single in Australia at that time. As a song, the record's success almost defies logic. What fans were responding to was "Johnny" Farnham's bright boy-next-door personality. He was someone both teenage girls and their mothers could both like. Farnham was also a fine singer and survived "Sadie" to release a long string of pop hits between 1967 and 1973, including the local hit versions of Three Dog Night's "One," B.J. Thomas' "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" (number one), and David Cassidy's "Rock Me Baby." He also starred in the stage musicals Dick Whittington & His Cat, Charlie Girl, and Pippin. His schedule prevented Farnham trying his luck internationally or developing on record. Success continued on the basis of his talent his personality, but by the late to mid-'70s, his career was reduced to night club and cabaret performances trading on his past. Even his record company lost faith in him and dropped him.
In 1980, changing from "Johnny" to the more mature John Farnham, he set about resurrecting his career. The trigger was a dramatically rearranged, impassioned performance of the Beatles' "Help" on a nationally broadcast Royal Command TV concert. He reminded everyone what a fine singer he was, and in July, he released Uncovered, a well-received comeback album recorded under the production eye of Little River Band's Graham Goble. In September 1982, longtime Farnham fan Goble was inspired to convince the rest of LRB they should take the radical move of removing Glenn Shorrock, singer of all the band's hits, and making Farnham their lead singer. The band's American record company was in shock. So were non-Australian fans. It was a hurdle Farnham could not overcome, and at the end of 1985, he left LRB and began work on a new make-or-break solo album.
The anthemic single "You're the Voice" restored Farnham to number one for the first time in 17 years. A carefully crafted adult contemporary album titled Whispering Jack followed in October 1986. Produced by Ross Fraser, it spent 18 weeks at number one, and became the biggest-selling album in Australian history at the time. "You're the Voice" sold a million copies in Europe and reached the Top Ten in England. Subsequent albums produced by Fraser had no trouble hitting number one and reaching platinum certification, including Age of Reason in 1988, Chain Reaction in 1990, and Then Again... in 1993. Romeo's Heart, released in 1996, was kept out of the top spot, but it still hit four times platinum. Farnham's next album project was a live show, The Main Event, featuring a triple billing of Aussie icons in Farnham, Olivia Newton-John, and Anthony Warlow. The album became a major success, going five times platinum in Australia and becoming the best-selling album of the year.
During the 2000s, Farnham consolidated his song-focused approach to performing, bringing in great material from all quarters for 2000's 33-1/3 (two each from the Memphis soul icons Isaac Hayes-David Porter and Willie Mitchell); leading with the Jagger-Richards chestnut "The Last Time" for a 2002 album of the same name, and saluting the hits of his homeland with 2005's I Remember When I Was Young: Songs from the Great Australian Songbook. After a five-year gap between albums, 2010's Jack featured covers of material by soul icons including Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield, and Percy Sledge. Occasional concert or live albums appeared as well, including 2015's Two Strong Hearts Live with Olivia Newton-John. The two reunited one year later for a holiday-themed album, Friends for Christmas, which became Farnham's first number one album in nearly 15 years. ~ Ed Nimmervoll