Sunday, October 19, 2014

Melbourne song of the month: "Shakin' All Over"/Normie Rowe & the Playboys (September 1965)

They say you can’t improve on perfection, but I’d argue that Normie Rowe’s version of the Johnny Kidd & the Pirates classic “Shakin’ All Over” comes pretty close. Released in September 1965 as a double A-side with “Que Sera Sera”, this monster hit needs little introduction. Apparently it was one of the top-selling Aussie 45s of the 1960s; certainly, it remained in the charts for more than half a year and hit the number-one spot in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. 

Normie was already a teen idol by the time “Shakin’ All Over” (his fourth single) was released, but this catapulted him into almost intergalactic heights of pop superstardom. And no wonder! He sings it like he means it, if you catch my drift. Can’t you just imagine the effect this must’ve had on his teenybopper fans?! (Actually, no imagination needed. The video at the bottom of this post provides a clear picture, showing Northcote’s most famous son miming the song on The Go! Show to a hysterical studio audience)

Normie-mania in all its hormonal hysteria! Unfortunately, I don't know the names of either photographer
I should mention that I love Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ 1960 original of “Shakin’ All Over” – particularly the guitar sound and the vocals -- and I think it’s a tragedy that Kidd died so young because anyone who could pen such a gem at the age of 24 surely had a brilliant future ahead of him. I’m also partial to The Who’s rather macho rendition of the song. But Normie and his Playboys take it to another level: quickening the pace, embellishing the middle-eight and adding a hypnotic keyboard line that gives it an extra dimension of grooviness.

And that stinging guitar — goddamn!! It’s brutal and beautiful at the same time, like a tiger about to pounce on its prey and tear its throat out. Or something. Actually, I saw Normie and the original Playboys at the Flying Saucer Club about a year ago, and if memory serves me correctly, lead guitarist Bill Billings performed “Shakin’ All Over” with the same guitar he used on the recording. (I just wish I could remember what it was. Some kind of Maton?). Age hadn’t dimmed its bite, that’s for sure – it sounded killer.

Normie Rowe has a four-octave vocal range, and judging by his show last year, his golden tonsils are still going strong. But in “Shakin’ All Over” he sticks to a seductive, swoon-inducing rock’n’roll croon. Purrfect.

Which is more than can be said for his bizarre reworking of the song with celebrity chef Curtis Stone for a Coles ad about hormone-free meat back in 2012… Ahem. Best to not go there. 

Say no more...
Far better to end on a high. And so, I give you Normie on The Go!! Show: a surreal little snapshot of teen hysteria at its peak…


  1. oh! GONK dolls! see on the studio floor in the last photo - fans used to throw those stuffed Gonk dolls at him. Normie is a legend.

    1. Hehe I wonder if Normie kept any of them? I agree - the man is a legend, a genuine talent.

  2. GONKS craze blamed on Ringo Starr but I found this ref at a Worlds Fair website:
    Movie: "GONKS GO BEAT" (1965) Dir. Robert Hartford-Davis.
    The epitome of Swinging 60’s silliness! — interspersed with musical numbers from such luminaries as Lulu, The Nashville Teens and The Graham Bond Organization - offering a fascinating glimpse of a pre-Cream Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker - and future Mahavishnu Orchestra leader John McLaughlin."

    "The original promotional synopsis for the film describes it as follows:"

    “When the “Great Galaxian” hears of a somewhat turbulent social situation on Planet Earth, he sends Wilco to smooth out the disagreement between the beat groups of Beatland and the ballad singers of Balladisle. This lighthearted film features a host of top beat groups with 16 great beat and ballad hits.”

    There is a side review that explains what a "Gonk" is.

    "This film beckons like a siren! Any movie that boasts Lulu AND Ginger Baker has to be killer. A mere four years later Lulu had her own BBC TV show on which she introduced Jimi Hendrix! By the way - a “gonk” was a wacky over-size cross between a doll and a troll. Very popular in the 60’s with teenage girls stuck at that awkward age between puberty and Bill Wyman..."

    Bet you can't find this film at Blockbuster!"

    1. HOLY CRAP! I need to see this film!!! I found the trailer on Youtube: it looks like the ultimate time capsule!

      So gonks were big in the 60s? They had a resurgence when I was a kid in the 80s too. I was never a fan but maybe seeing this film could convert me...