Southern California easy rock and smooth harmonies with a side of vegemite? That’s perhaps how people view the Little River Band, an Aussie band which perhaps sounded like it originated on the other side of the Pacific. And those of us on this side of the Pacific got to learn a lot more about their sound with the release of their fourth album, Sleeper Catcher, this day in 1978. It continued to build their growing fanbase at home and was their first major foray into the hearts and charts of North American music.
The band had begun in Melbourne just three years earlier, going by the name Mississippi at first. They were formed from a number of musicians who’d done well in the Australian East Coast music scene (among them Beeb Birtles, a guitarist for them who’d played bass in a band called Zoot, which was where Rick Springfield first started into music) but were unknown internationally.
They changed names and signed to Capitol Records internationally, with their records coming out on EMI in their homeland and Harvest Records (the label known for putting out Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) in the Americas and Europe. The very first song they recorded was a cover of the Everly Brothers “When Will I Be Loved”… a fine showcase for their voices and pop stylings. Unfortunately – or possibly fortunately – for them, Linda Ronstadt also loved the song and put out a version which became a hit just before they were ready to, so the label filed their cover of it away and got them working on their own songs.
Their first trio of albums each did a little better than the previous in Australia and New Zealand but made little dent elsewhere despite having a modest hit in ’77 with the single “Help Is On The Way.” Capitol knew they had talent and made a harder push for Sleeper Catcher, after bringing in John Boylan to produce the record. Boylan had ironically risen to fame working with Linda Ronstadt, and had also co-produced Boston’s huge debut. It didn’t hurt that the group showed up with probably their strongest set of songs to that point.
As per usual, the album contained a mix of songs penned by lead singer Glenn Shorrock, a couple from Birtles and a couple of collaborations, but the album’s two standout tracks – and hits – both came from guitarist/backing vocalist Graham Goble: “Lady” and “Reminiscing.” Shorrock suggested Goble “was the Brian Wilson of the band,” which we assume was meant as a compliment.
Surprisingly, neither of those songs were big at home for them; “Shut Down/Turn Off” was the only top 20 entry from the record in Australia. But over here, they really made themselves known with “Lady” being a top 10 hit and the lovely retro-sounding “Reminiscing” (which even references Glenn Miller’s music in the lyrics) making it to #3 in the U.S. and #7 in Canada. That (as well as opening for a number of Doobie Brothers concerts the year before) helped the album get to #16 in the States, and become their first platinum record. At home, it reached #4, their third-straight top 10 LP. Critics there liked it as well as the public – they took home several Australian Music Awards for it including Best Male Singer (Shorrock), Best Live Band and Most Popular Group.
Little River Band kept the momentum going through the end of the decade with the equally-popular First Under the Wire in ’79 and the singles “Cool Change” and “Lonesome Loser.” However, even though they’re still rolling like a river, by the early-’80s, the popularity of their new releases began to decline and as members came and went there became increasing numbers of conflicts over things like which ones could legally use the “Little River Band” name; the current incarnation contains no members who were part of the band in their ’70s heyday.