Russ Tyson was an icon of Queensland radio. He joined the ABC at 19, where he became the star of the much loved breakfast show the Hospital Half Hour. He went on to commercial radio, and when national TV hit Brisbane Russ was the first person to appear live on the telecast, becoming a regular on QTV9. But that’s not what makes him so special. Russ, you see was a philosopher, and the author of many books of his homespun old school salt of the earth philosophy. But it’s his spoken word albums where the gold lies. Perhaps the years in front of the microphone convinced Russ that his perspective had a lot to offer the world.
And he was right, just not in the way that he thought. Russ Tyson’s Philosophy Album, which features a huge advertisement for Queensland Permanent Building Society on the back cover and doesn’t appear to be released on any specific record label, gathers together some excerpts from his philosophy books. Russ reads his homespun edicts over some gentle, vaguely psychedelic music that despite the presence of the Moog, sounds much more like shopping centre muzak than Switched On Russ. It was composed by his son, whose rock band would later tour the UK with Status Quo.
Russ answers all the tough questions. What is a boy? What is a girl? What is cricket? He even offers a Recipe For Preserving Children. At times he is patronising, “A girl is a unique and fortunate occurrence in nature like diamonds,” he suggests on What Is A Girl, whilst his simple, reassuringly cliched 70’s sexism, in which people are reduced to caricatures, occasionally offer some peculiarly enjoyable and utterly offensive gold.
“A man is a creature of superlative intelligence,” he begins on How To Tell A Man From A Woman. “A woman is a rattlebrain who can’t use a slide rule or manage a map,” he offers later, before suggesting that despite man being brave strong and fearless, its his utter helplessness in changing nappies, understanding domestic chores and remembering romantic things about his wife that gives a woman her reason for being.
It’s probably not fair to retrospectively poke fun at Russ. After all he was a product of his times and these times have been a changing considerably in the intervening four decades. He’s also 93 now and living the good life on the Gold Coast with his rattlebrain.
During Russ’ time however, the market was broader, and there was room for a greater diversity of albums to be released. And spoken word, or white middle aged radio announcers celebrating their creativity with sexist and cliché ridden homespun hokum became a popular genre. One Day At A Time (EMS Records) makes Russ Tyson’s Philosophy Album seem like a Martin Luther King speech. The highlights are the seven tracks written by Tyson. The remainder are dire, penned by David Gibb, who offers in the liner notes, “each day has a special moment. These are some of them.” If these are his special moments you’d hate to experience his tedious bone constricting inane moments. With lame poetry and discussion on mother’s day and how to respond to the words “Daddy I’m bored,” this is some of the most insipid banality ever put to vinyl. Not bad enough to be good, and just bland enough to be terrifying. That’s despite the upbeat game show presenter style narration from Bob Francis.
The godfather of this questionable movement is a man with the golden microphone and loose morals. Mr John ‘cash for comment’ Laws. Laws has a marvelous turn of phrase. Aside from dropping pearlers like ‘rape bait’ and asking a sexual abuse victim if it was in any way their fault, on his popular Sydney radio show, he has also released a gaggle of trucking albums and published earnest knockabout poetry. It’s the poet in Laws that caught the attention of soundtrack composer Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther), and the two of them collaborated on 1977’s Just You and Me Together Love (RCA). Law’s poetry is dark and hard-bitten, nostalgic and raw; it’s the life of a swinging truck driving stud who isn’t afraid to feel. It’s turgid, faintly misogynist stuff, Mancini’s orchestration is uncharacteristically limp and Laws’ word plays of a bold adventurer with a sensitive side are almost intolerable as he discusses his memories “of nameless women in cheap rooms.”