Sharon O'Neill - Taking the Whole World On

Nelson born Sharon O'Neill is one of New Zealand's foremost female singer/songwriters, achieving success both at home and abroad. This Spotlight collection shines the light on her screen work, from videos — for APRA Top 100 singles ‘Maybe’, and ’Maxine’, plus ‘Words’ and O’Neill-penned Dragon hit ‘Young Years’; to live performances for the Queen and on Ready to Roll. O'Neill also memorably delivered the title tune and soundtrack to hit movie Smash Palace.

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Maxine

Music Video, 1983 (Pop)

"If you don't like the beat, don't play with the drum." 'Maxine' was a single taken from O'Neill's 1983 album Foreign Affairs, about a King's Cross prostitute — "Case 1352, a red and green tattoo" — and based on a woman who worked the streets nearby. The song charted at No. 16 both here and in Australia. The clip starts with Sharon arriving at the airport; look out for leopard skin print tights and a dress straight off Logan's Run. Other highlights: a steamy sax solo, heavy eye shadow and backlit silhouettes in "rain-slicked avenues." Nice.

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Maybe

Music Video, 1981 (Pop)

'Maybe' was the title track from Sharon O'Neill's 1981 album and she wrung every drop of emotion out of the performance. The video sees her during a sad break up, wandering around the flat in satin pants and a cavalry jacket and slumping against walls as she ponders on exactly how things came to this. It's in glorious black and white apart from the relationship flashbacks during the bridge, which oddly look like a montage from a sitcom. 'Maybe' reached No.12 on the NZ Singles Chart.

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Words

Music Video, 1980 (Pop)

Singer/songwriter Sharon O’Neill did Los Angeles inspired, mid-70s pop/rock as well as many of her contemporaries in California — but it’s hard to imagine opening lines as striking as these ones coming from that West Coast. ‘Words’ was the first single from her self titled, second long player which won her Album of the Year and Best Female Vocalist at the 1980 NZ Awards. After years behind the keyboards, O’Neill shines in this video filmed in front of an audience with a band that includes Simon Morris, Wayne Mason and future Mutton Bird Ross Burge.

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Sharon O'Neill

Singer/songwriter Sharon O'Neill began singing folk songs in her native Nelson. After singing cover versions on music show Ready to Roll, she began winning attention for her ballads and pop songs. Her singles 'Asian Paradise', 'Maybe' and 'Maxine' were are all included in APRA's list of Top New Zealand Songs. O'Neill also composed the score for classic 1981 Bruno Lawrence drama Smash Palace. With a blonde-shag hairdo and trademark shark tooth earring, she became an Australasian sex symbol, and an early example of 1980s girl power; years later, her look would influence Outrageous Fortune's Cheryl West. 

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Asian Paradise

Music Video, 1980 (Pop)

Nostalgia can take many forms: and certainly many a middle-aged memory swirls back to this early Sharon O’Neill video, a nostalgia further fuelled by the long lack of a decent quality master copy. The classic clip about romance in foreign climes — or perhaps a romance that unfurled somewhere else entirely — opens with O’Neill’s backlit image reflected in the water. But it is the scenes of O’Neill in a rippling pool wearing a shark tooth earring that seem to have left the longest impression on males of a certain vintage.

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Smash Palace

Film, 1981 (Drama)

Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".

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Ready to Roll - NZ Record Awards 1978

Television, 1978 (Music)

The NZ Music Awards ceremony now fills Auckland’s Vector Arena and is a major social and music industry event. In 1978 the awards were broadcast in this 16 September Ready to Roll special, cobbling together finalists at Avalon Studios. Stu (Nice One) Dennison is the host (in brown overalls); and there are performances from John Rowles, newcomer Sharon O’Neill, the Rodger Fox Big Band, Hello Sailor, Toni Williams and Golden Harvest (who feature teeth-picking lead guitar in best Hendrix style). Just two awards are covered here: for single and album of the year.

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Royal Variety Performance Show 1981

Television, 1981 (Variety)

This live TV spectacular documents an 18 October 1981 Royal Variety performance in front of the touring Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh. Performers in St James Theatre included Ray Columbus (in That's Country mode), Sir Howard Morrison and John Rowles. Dance is represented by Limbs and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, while McPhail and Gadsby and Billy T James deliver pre-PC gags. There’s a show stopping all-singing all-dancing finale, and what seems like the entire roster of NZ showbiz of the time lines up to greet the Queen, including Lyn of Tawa.

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Good Day - The Music and Record Industry

Television, 1978 (Magazine, Music)

This 1978 documentary casts a critical eye over a depressed NZ music industry, and asks what has changed since its 60s glory days of pop stars, screaming fans and C’mon. By the late 70s, few musicians are earning a living and chart hits have dwindled (although the recording industry is bullish). Ray Columbus waxes lyrical about ‘She’s a Mod’. Kevan Moore and Peter Sinclair are sanguine about TV’s role, a finger is pointed at radio airplay, and the careers of Craig Scott, Mark Williams, Sharon O’Neill and John Rowles are considered. The only thing not in short supply is blame.

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Young Years

Music Video, 1989 (Pop, Rock)

Dragon brothers Marc and Todd Hunter bestride the hills of south east New South Wales in this video for one of their latter hits. The autumnal lyrics are a good fit for a band in its later and more reflective years: Marc is celebratory in one of his last videos with the band. Todd — bass against the bush background — is gleeful, and the cow unperturbed. Written by keyboard player Alan Mansfield and his partner, Kiwi singer Sharon O’Neill, ‘Young Years’ gained added poignancy following Marc Hunter’s death in 1998. O’Neill has dedicated her performances of the song to his memory.

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Don't Let Love Go

Music Video, 1980 (Pop)

In the decades between the Sinatras' version of 'Somethin' Stupid' (1967) and 2009's 'Empire State of Mind', someone had the bright idea of pairing two Kiwi singers, and kitting them out in matching green and black. Fresh from two consecutive number one singles, ex Upper Hutt record factory worker Jon Stevens takes lead vocals on this breakup duet, which sees the magical arrival of Sharon O'Neill, 50 seconds in. The result got to number five on the local charts. This clip featured on after school show Tracy '80.