Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Poppy Stockell
This revealing and detailed documentary charts the highs and lows of the stellar career of John Farnham, from his early success in 1967 with the cheesy novelty hit Sadie The Cleaning Lady, a song which haunted him for many years after, through to his spectacular comeback to mainstream success with the bestselling Whispering Jack album, and its anthemic hit You’re The Voice. And it reminds us of why audiences love him so much. The film does pose the question of why Farnham never really succeeded overseas like so many other of his contemporaries, a question that it is never able to answer.
Written and directed by Poppy Stockell, the documentary features plenty of archival footage and some rare home video footage of the young Farnham and lots of footage culled from numerous tv appearances and live concert footage. The film charts his early rise to fame as a teenaged singer with a wholesome image who gave up his plumbing apprenticeship to follow his dream of becoming a singer through to his five consecutive TV Week King of Pop awards, and then his years in obscurity where he found that no record label was really interested in him, before his spectacular comeback as one of the best entertainers the country has produced. There are lots of interviews with an impressive lineup of fellow musicians including Jimmy Barnes, the late Olivia Newton-John, Richard Marx, Celine Dion, Tommy Emmanuel, and Daryl Braithwaite. There is plenty from his manager and best friend Glenn Wheatley, who mortgaged his house in order to finance the recording of the Whispering Jack album, and their relationship obviously went beyond that of manager and client to best mates. Wheatley’s presence adds a poignant note to proceedings given his death last year due to complications from COVID. Wheatley’s wife Gaynor also contributes many personal anecdotes and insights. Graeham Gobles, songwriter and co-founder of the Little River Band talks at length about Farnham’s brief tenure with the band when he replaced Glenn Shorrock during a US tour.
The documentary devotes plenty of time to the recording of Whispering Jack and the search for the one final song for the record. Farnham had turned down We Built This City, which was one of many songs offered to the production. And incredibly, although Farnham instinctively liked the song You’re The Voice, it almost didn’t make the final cut of the record. Chris Thompson, from Manfred Mann and co-writer of You’re The Voice gives us some little nuggets about the creation of the song and also shares his reluctance to have Farnham record it mainly because of his association with Sadie. But Farnham went ahead and recorded it without permission, and the rest, as they say, is history. His comeback album Whispering Jack spent 25 weeks at the top of the Australian charts and went on to become the biggest selling Australian album of the 80s, reigniting Farnham’s career.
There are some notable omissions though, including no mention of his short lived 70s tv series Bobby Dazzler, his appearance in a stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. And of course, the singer’s own health issues prevented him from contributing his own insights into the production. But for fans of Farnham there are plenty of hits, including his rendition of the Beatles’ hit Help which he transformed into a power ballad.
This documentary is a must see for fans of the singer, but for everyone else it serves as a timely reminder of his undeniable talent and that incredible voice that can still send shivers down the spine.