In the early 1960s, a great experiment was underway at Goldstar Studios in Los Angeles. Vocal groups, a great studio band, top recording engineers, were turning simple pop songs into grand symphonies, pushing technology to its limits to catch complex layers of instruments and voices, via the huge echo chamber in the basement.
There was only so much room on the magnetic recording tape they used back them, but at Goldstar, they figured out how to squeeze huge amounts of sound onto it. The resulting records still stand as pop classics, essential songs that continue to affect audiences and musicians. The style became known as the "wall of sound".
Its architect, Phil Spector, died in January. I cannot bring myself to eulogise this dangerous man, a convicted murderer. Instead, I remember the singers, the musicians, who performed these great songs. The Crystals. The Ronettes, Righteous Brothers and more.
Listen to my ABC Radio piece on the wall of sound
Whatever became of “greatest hits” compilation albums? Record companies used to reissue already successful singles on an album – easy money for the company and artist, and a good way for new fans to catch up on an established act.
It’s how people of my vintage learned about the Beatles – the red/blue album compilations issued after they split. I worked backwards from there.
Some acts resisted record company pressure to do “best of” compilations, especially in the album era, arguing that hit songs would be stripped of their “album” context and be presented in ways their creators did not intend.
But the money? “Greatest hits” records are cheap to make – no new material or expensive studio time. Nice little earner for act and label.
“Best ofs” began in the early part of the “album era” – 1958’s Johnny Mathis greatest hits is thought to be the first. Streaming killed them off, but for a time, they were a lucrative thing. So much so that the best-selling record ever in the USA is a greatest hits, by The Eagles – it sold 38 million copies.
And then labels like K-tel started doing amazing compilations of eras and styles, and Rhino Records began to issue compilations that taught us all about artists, styles and musical eras.
Listen to my ABC Radio story about greatest hits albums.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has long been our leading provider of news from the rest of the world. Read former foreign correspondent Tony Hill's remarkable book Voices From The Air, about the ABC correspondents who reported from the battlefronts of World War 2. Ever since then, the ABC has led the way on international coverage, with generations of foreign correspondents bringing us news from often dangerous and isolated locations. The coverage from Washington during the invasion of Congress was in the finest traditions of ABC international news coverage.
Some ABC foreign correspondents become household names and very big stars. All of them are supported by reporters, producers, fixers, office managers - staff hired locally in the city where ABC overseas bureaux operate. There are offices in Beijing, Jakarta, London, Tokyo, Washington, and Port Moresby, where I served between 1999 and 2002. There used to be many more. Some have closed, and others are now a work from home arrangement - Bangkok, Beirut, New Delhi and Jerusalem.
From these locations, correspondents file radio, TV and online reports, working a roster to fit Australian filing deadlines, rather than local time zones. They rely heavily on the local knowledge, contacts and nous of their local staff. Correspondents get the kudos and the awards. The local staff are largely unknown, their salaries and conditions far less rewarding than the ABC correspondents they support.
In Port Moresby, I had the tireless support of the wonderful journalist Ekonia Peni, champion office manager Rachel Tigen, the fearless Peter Dipp on camera, and the amazing Kauage and Sik as caretakers. I relied on their skills and kindness every day of my three years in PNG. I would not have filed a single story without them. I was well paid for my work there, but they were asked to work to Australian standards for salaries and conditions well below Australian minimums. And it is the local staff who bear the brunt of any repercussions when the correspondent delivers unpopular or contentious reporting.
This has been a concern in the ABC community for decades, and a recent development shows it hasn't improved. Former ABC Africa correspondent Ginny Stein, writes of her concern for a staff member at the ABC bureau in Nairobi, which is closing down amid cost-cutting at the national broadcaster.
Ginny and staff member "D" moved the ABC Africa bureau to Nairobi from Johannesburg in 2013. "D" has been made redundant, but Ginny says his low wage meant a "pittance of a payout". She says "D" will have to return to his homeland, Zimbabwe, where economic and political turmoil makes for an at best difficult future for this talented and loyal ABC staffer.
Read Ginny Stein's Facebook post about "D" and the Nairobi bureau. The ABC disputes some of Ginny's statements. But the situation she describes will be familiar to many former ABC foreign correspondents and local overseas staff.
And here's the link to a fundraiser for "D" started by Ginny.
Henry Gibson Dan was, in his quiet, unassuming way, one of the most remarkable men I've met. A proud Torres Strait islander who worked at many things across northern Australia. His nickname "Seaman" comes from his many years diving for pearl shell, in the old-fashioned pressure suit and helmet, breathing through a hose running down from a boat.
Seaman Dan was a "deep water man", one of the saltwater cowboys who made a living when pearling was a lucrative pursuit in our northern tropics, for those with the courage and luck such dangerous work required. And he would perform in pubs, at parties, that rich "crooner" voice delivering everything from Nat King Cole to calypso, hula, jazz. Island style music - like Torres Strait - has a little bit of everything and everywhere.
By age 70, Uncle Seaman Dan could have opted for a quiet life back in Torres Strait. But visiting music scholar Karl Neuenfeldt heard him sing, and invited him to make an album. They went on to make eight albums that put Torres Strait music on the map, and won Seaman Dan fans and admirers across the world. He won two ARIA awards, he's in the National Indigenous Music Hall of Fame, all sorts of honours, including an Order of Australia.
He kept performing well into his 80s, sharing his music and life story with characteristic generosity. Seaman Dan died in late December. He was 91.
Find yourself a copy of his biography - Steady Steady: The Life and Music of Seaman Dan
Listen to my ABC Radio tribute to Uncle Seaman Dan
British rock and roll began up north, in Liverpool, a port city soaking up the music seamen brought home with them from far and wide. By the late 50s, a local style had evolved - skiffle, from which hundreds of local bands found their way to American rock and roll, bolder and more popular than the British radio hits of the time.
The new sound was called Mersey Beat, after the river that runs through Liverpool. Its most famous band was The Beatles. Their closest rival was Gerry and the Pacemakers - their front man, Gerry Marsden, has died in the UK. He was 78.
Listen to my ABC Radio story on Mersey Beat and Gerry Marsden
Richard is a writer, podcaster, radio and TV broadcaster, an editor, and a lover of music. He tells the stories of how great songs are made, and of the people who make them.