Classic Countdown

Last week when I paid my last visit to ABC’s Ripponlea Studios I couldn’t help but recall my very first visit there for Countdown and the Saturday Night Fever dancing competition. Back then I was writing for the school newspaper.

Now alas that same space and the tiny circular staircase I climbed wide-eyed to a control room was nearing its epilogue.

This Sunday ABC gives me a chance to relive it all once more from the comfort of my couch with Classic Countdown, an astutely-packaged idea to rework retro clips for a nostalgic audience.

Sure we’ve had the Countdown docos and those rage summer specials, but this showcases a single year of Countdown highlights across 13 weeks, narrated by pop stars who were there and (briefly) reviving the golden tonsils of Gavin Wood.

We begin with 1975 (technically Countdown launched in 1974 for 8 episodes, most of which have been lost). John Paul Young -“Squeak”to those who screamed from afar- narrates these video vault classics.

The show includes select full performances along with glimpses of others. There’s Skyhooks performing Horror Movie at Luna Park, Marty Rhone, Stevie Wright, Hush, Marcia Hines, Daryl Braithwaite, Debbie Byrne, AC/DC with Bon Scott, and JPY himself.

“This clip helped make me a star,” he says of the ABC-produced Yesterday’s Hero clip (but there were no girls ripping his clothes off to reveal a puppy-fat popster, awwww).

Not all of them are performing their obvious hits. I love that more obscure acts are also given the full song treatment, including Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Hot City Bump Band and UK band Pilot who made a special trip to Paris for ABC.

Trivia facts about bands and record sales accompany each and several quotes and recent photos answer a “Where Are They Now?” curiosity.

Along the way there are glimpses of Johnny Farnham, Sherbet, Stylus, Jeff Duff, Denise Drysdale, Vikki Broughton, Linda George, Jon English, The Sweet, Bay City Rollers, The Osmonds, David Essex and William Shakespeare.

A young, hat-less Molly is there of course, with interview moments from Elton, Tina Turner, Daryl Braithwaite, David Cassidy. Surprisingly, ABBA’s Mamma Mia only manages a passing mention, despite its industry significance.

1975 was in full glam mode, so watch out for sequins, satin, big hair, acts that happily mime and the odd performer singing Live (points to Debbie Byrne).

But it wouldn’t be Countdown without the audience. Part of the charm of this special is watching the teens veer from screaming to looking downright bored -and oh the dancing. Melbourne’s Sharpie dance (later immortalised by Magda Szubanski) is on display, while there is also a reference to the Sydney City bump.

Never mind the 4×3 ratio and the sometimes-grainy quality. Countdown is back at 6:00 for 13 glorious weeks. I will be scrutinising the crowd for the Saturday Night Fever dancing contest.

Can we get some King of Pop specials next, please?

Classic Countdown airs 6pm Sunday on ABC.


  1. O.M.G. David, you lucky man (or teenager at the time). The Saturday Night Fever dance contest was the most exciting event of my year back then. Molly even came to Cairns to judge at the pub I frequented. It was so exciting.

  2. Same here.
    I’ve followed Countdown from the very beginning so this should be a real trip down memory lane.
    My favourite era for sure is the Seventies – definitely Countdown’s glory days at the height of its popularity.

    • I agree Angela, I think the 70’s was Countdown’s finest period too. Should be fun to look back to what might seem like a very strange time for those who are much younger than myself.

        • It’s interesting to hear you say that, Angela! I started watching Countdown religiously from 1983 onwards (as a 10-year old) and I have the most amazing memories of how brilliant it was, right through to the very end. I love Retro Month on Rage and watch all of the Countdown episodes, but I don’t have anywhere near the connection to the 70s episodes as I do to those 80s ones I watched live. If Countdown had lasted through to the 90s, I might have felt the same way about the 90s episodes, as I moved out of my teens and into my 20s. I guess it all depends on when you watched it and how connected you were to contemporary music at the time.

          • Yeah Carta, guess it all depends what era of Countdown you started watching. In the mid 70s when it was young and fresh there really was no other music show like it – opened up a whole new exciting world to young teenagers all over Australia.

        • Yes I agree about the very early 80’s too. However by around 83 I noticed it became more about the video than the music, so the quality of music being put out was falling while the quality of the video was rising.

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