In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was something called the Loxene Golden Disc Award for the best song in New Zealand. Loxene were a shampoo company, and first place was determined by public vote. In 1972 here were the nominees:
- Can’t Get Sunday Out of My Mind – Chapta
- Carolina – Creation
- Dalhi Mohammed – Timberjack
- Dance All Around the World – Blerta
- Every Day is Sunday – Rangi Parker
- Good Morning Mr. Rock’n’Roll – Headband
- Holy Morning – Rumour
- Lazy River – Kal-Q-lated Risk
- Life on Mars? – Steve Allen
- Roundhouse – Quincy Conserve
- Sunshine Through a Prism – Suzanne
- Take the Money and Run – Bunny Walters
I draw your attention to number 5 on this list.
Out of hundreds of entries this song was selected as one of the twelve best songs in New Zealand in 1972. The music was written by a New Zealander, and the lyrics – bizarrely – by a New Yorker. The New Zealander and the American never met.
On 16 April 1973 an interview with Shona Laing appeared in The Listener: Shona Laing – sick of the same old songs, by Robert Keyzer. By this time Shona had been discovered on the New Faces show, and her song 1905 had gone to number four on the national chart.
Despite the publicity, Shona’s life remains unaffected. She wears jeans and a T-shirt whenever possible – “It bugged me to be put into a long dress, but I accepted it. I hate having all the make-up shoved on my face, but I suppose that’s necessary for television. She’s the youngest of five brothers and sisters, and is a prefect in the seventh form at Hutt High School. She has spent all her 17 years in or around Eastbourne, in a comfortable 70-year-old house set in a half-acre of bush.
I suppose this is an example of being put in a long dress and having make-up shoved on your face. At the end the applause is deafening. It’s the sound of gratitude; of a mainstream New Zealand audience seeing someone mainstream and actually good.
Shona’s first break as an entertainer was being accepted for Studio One last year. “I did a tape with some teachers at school. It was accepted and then I auditioned. Producer Christopher Bourn remembers not knowing what to think when confronted with a straggly-haired, barefooted, jeaned and T-shirted Shona come straight off the beach, sitting down and singing “You Are The One”. “The first thing I said,” says Chris, “was where did you get that song? When she said very quietly that she’d written it herself I just flipped.”
She’s unsure of her future, though a social science course at university is a possibility. Teaching is her second choice and she has also considered studying music at university. Shona is largely self-taught. The only other musical adept in the family was her grandmother who played piano and sang at silent film screenings in the Wellington district. Shona has been playing guitar since she was seven or eight years old, and experimenting naturally since then. “I wrote my first song in standard four, which was the most ridiculous thing you ever heard in your life,” she says, “but I suppose the others started coming about the third form. I got sick of playing the same old songs so I made up my own. Then I was trying to be really “gun” – writing protest songs. I write about things I feel. In the fifth form I wrote ten songs about bomb tests. And people like ‘1905’.”
“That song is about Henry Fonda. He was born in that year, and it started being about him because I was rapt with him. Was, underlined, I thought he was a terrific actor and it seemed he could be a nice guy. My imagination ran wild. But it could be about anybody. A lot of kids around my age do get rapt in people too old for them. I’m a classic case I suppose.”
She is a dreamer. She dreams of going to California, of swimming with the herrings in the clear coast waters up north… of toasting marshmallows… or of leapfrog on the beach. “I’d like to take off sometimes, which I can’t do. I’ve got an absolute adoration for jets. I went through a stage where every song I wrote had something about jets in it…. Last year when we had to put our expected profession on a form at school I jokingly put to be the first female commercial jet pilot.”
“Daydreaming is incredible…. My stereo doorbells are a classic example. My dream room is really big and has bear skins on the floor – or maybe synthetic rugs. There’s a raised floor in one corner, and whopping great stereo speakers on both sides that I’d have up so loud that if anyone came to the door I wouldn’t hear them. So I’d wire up the doorbell to the speakers so that I could hear it.”
“Writing songs is like a dream too. I can never remember how I do it. I suppose the music and some words come together. A couple of times I’ve written a poem and put it to music but it hasn’t worked out properly. I just write for guitar.”
She mentions that her voice range is not large, and that it used to be better before she started smoking. “Sometimes I can sing really high, sometimes really low. At the school where we have a choir I end up singing bass, or tenor anyway.” Two of her songs are being used in the end-of-year musical history of New Zealand being staged at school. One is about rugby, censored because of two “naughty words – one at the end of a line has been changed to a word that doesn’t rhyme. The song is about a Lions match I went to when we lost; the only match I’ve been to and the most disappointing one I’ve heard of.”
I like to reread that last quote and imagine how much trouble Hutt High School would get into now if one of their female students announced in the national press that she sings bass in the school choir because she smokes so much. Which actually leads me nicely to my favourite advertisement from The Listener in 1973:
There was a lot of very bad music being made in New Zealand in the early 1970s. This is perhaps not very surprising. The most surprising thing I have found listening to these old Studio One and Loxene Golden Disc albums is how much AWESOME music was being made. It strikes me that there are dozens of stories behind an album cover like this (Shona Laing appears in the top left corner):
Indeed, one of these long-haired turkeys (was everyone ashamed of their ears in the 1970s?) was going to have a mercifully brief number one in 1973 and then go on to “greater” things in 1974.