Friday Song: “You’re the Voice”

Known as Australia's unofficial national anthem, it's a minor miracle this song came together

Friday Song: “You’re the Voice”

Released in 1986, “You’re the Voice” expresses the idea that we each are the source of our own strength, and that we are stronger together even if different. It is a completely appropriate for a song considered to be the unofficial National Anthem of Australia.

It’s also a minor miracle the song came together as it did.

For instance, the drum sounds in the original were made by processing recordings of car doors slamming through a Fairlight CMI, one of the earliest sampling computers. (Fairlight was founded in Sydney, Australia.)

The bagpipe solo changed the key of the song. Originally written in G, the song was detuned to F when the bagpipe player broke the news that bagpipes are tuned in Bb. (The original plan had been to solo with a pan flute.)

The song was written by a team of British songwriters led by Chris Thompson, who was the lead singer in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Thompson wrote it with Andy Qunta and Maggie Ryder, writers from his publishing company, during a march for nuclear disarmament held in Hyde Park on October 25, 1985. Thompson planned on attending the march, but overslept, so the three wrote the song while watching the march on TV.

Thompson sang on the original version of the song, which was only ever released on a compilation album in 2008. He had planned on including it on a solo album, but his publisher talked him out of it, saying protest songs were out of style.

Qunta was working with the Australian band Icehouse at the time, had a copy of Thompson’s demo, and John Farnham heard the tape during a session.

Farmham had been a teen heartthrob (Johnny Farnham), and served a stint as the lead singer of the Little River Band. His fortunes had dimmed by the time this song surfaced, and he only had enough money to record with friends in his basement. Because he was best known in the UK for novelty songs, and had been typecast as an aging teen heartthrob, there were doubts he could do the song justice or achieve commercial success with it. The writers were ultimately won over, and Farnham released it as the first song by the singer “John Farnham.”

The song picked up airplay in Australia as the record company worked to avoid perceptions that it was “Johnny Farnham” singing, and the record took off. It reached #1 on the Australian charts, and won the ARIA Award for Single of the Year. The related album Whispering Jack spent 25 weeks at #1, as well. Farnham became one of Australia’s most popular performers.

As mentioned, it is considered to be the unofficial National Anthem of Australia, and gets an electric response every time it is played.