The Very Last Day/True True Lovin'/Coalman/All the King's Horses/Too Many People/Exit Stage Right/In the Morning/Tophat/Terrible Way You Treat Your Baby/I Can't Let Go/We Had a Good Thing Going/Can't You Feel?/When I Was Six Years Old/So Good Together/Age of Consent/Piccadally Pages/Love Song/Such a Girl/Sunshine/How'd We Ever Get This Way/Harry the Happy Hooligan/Smiley/Jodie/The Prophet/If I Die/Maggie Mine
Ronald Leslie Burns AM (born 8 September 1946) is an Australian rock singer-songwriter and musician. He fronted the Melbourne band "The Flies" in the early 1960s, followed by a solo career into the 1970s and was a member of Burns Cotton & Morris in the 1990s. He retired from performing in 2000. His solo hit single, "Smiley" peaked at number two on the Go-Set National Top 40 in 1970. On 10 June 2013 Burns was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia with the citation "For significant service to the community, particularly to children recovering from illness and trauma, and to the entertainment industry".
They won a Moomba band competition for a group most like The Beatles. The line-up consisted of Burns (rhythm guitar, lead singer), Themi Adams (aka Themistocles Adamopoulo, bass guitar), John Thomas (lead guitar) and Hank Wallace (drums). Concert promoter Garry Spry was looking for a resident band for his new rock club, Pinocchios, which opened in March. The Flies were reputedly the first long-haired band in Australia and drew heavily on The Beatles for their musical and fashion influences and soon acquired a large local following. Their repertoire included covers of The Searchers, The Hollies and Herman's Hermits. Spry became their manager and secured a recording deal with RCA Records – they started recording their first single, "Tell Her That", in Sydney, with producer-engineer David Mackay, it was released in June 1964 and was a local hit in Melbourne.
Burns befriended Ian Meldrum, a university law student looking for somewhere to stay, whose two-week visit became nine years of boarding at his parents' home. Meldrum later had a career as a pop music commentator, TV personality and record producer. The two were famously ejected from The Beatles' June 1964 Melbourne concert, because Meldrum was screaming too loudly. Meldrum later promoted Burns solo career in his writing for the weekly teen newspaper, Go-Set, which became a pop music "bible" by the late 1960s. After August, The Flies started appearing on television pop music The Go!! Show on ATV-0 – initially broadcast only in Melbourne but later extended to Sydney on TEN-10.
After six months residency at Pinocchios, Spry started booking The Flies into Sydney where they were arrested for vagrancy for having hair over their shoulders, but it was great publicity making all the papers. Back in Melbourne, Spry employed Carole West to organise a publicity shoot for TV and press to display his band having their long hair done at a women's hair salon in South Yarra. During the shoot, Burns sang with his guitar and was joined by apprentice hairdresser Lynne Randell – who was promptly signed by Spry and managed by West. In January 1965, they supported The Rolling Stones and Roy Orbison on their first Australian tour.
In September 1965, Burns decided to leave The Flies to go solo – his place was taken by Peter Nicoll from The Wild Colonials. Promoter Jeff Joseph who ran Pinocchios Promotions – the booking agency for Spry's artists – left and took over as Burns' manager. An extended play was released by RCA consisting of four tracks from their singles, but was attributed to The Flies, vocal by Ronnie Burns.
As a solo artist, Burns became one of Australia's most popular male pop singers from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. His first single, "Very Last Day" was released in June 1966 on Spin Records and peaked at No. 12 on Melbourne's Top 40 singles chart. His second single, "True True Lovin" followed in August and reached No. 15. Go-Set published their inaugural pop poll on 5 October, Normie Rowe won 'Australian Male Vocal' of the year – he was later called 'King of Pop' – with Burns second and Johnny Young third. Also in October, Go-Set published Australia's first National Top 40 singles chart, Burns' third single, "Coalman", which was released in January 1967, peaked at No. 6. Another Top 20 single was "Exit, Stage Right" in June. In August, Burns topped the Go-Set pop poll for 'Top Male Singer' and ABC-TV broadcast a documentary, The Life of Ronnie Burns. Over the next four years, he consistently finished third on the Go-Set pop poll.
Burns had several minor national hits – "We Had a Good Thing Going" (October 1967), "When I Was Six Years Old" (March 1968), written for him by Brian Cadd and Max Ross of The Groop, and "Age of Consent" (January 1969), written by Terry Britten of The Twilights. Most of Burns' 1967 material was written by The Bee Gees, the tracks appeared on his first solo album Ronnie (Spin, July 1967). The Bee Gees had written and recorded them in Sydney in late 1966, which included their breakthrough hit "Spicks and Specks". Shortly afterward the group left Australia to return to the UK. The tracks were intended for a planned album which was not released, so they were sent to Burns who shared the same recording management. Burns provided his own vocals over The Bee Gees' backing tracks. The original versions were eventually issued by Festival Records on The Bee Gees compilation albums, including a 2-CD set Brilliant from Birth (2000).
"Smiley", Burns' biggest hit, reached number two on the Go-Set National Top 40 in February 1970. It was also written by Young, who was later involved in television production (see Young Talent Time). Young revealed that the song was inspired by the experiences of fellow pop star, Rowe, whose music career ended in late 1967 when he was drafted into the Australian Army and he was sent to fight in the Vietnam War. It is one of the first Australian pop singles released in stereo and features a lavish orchestral and vocal arrangement by John Farrar (ex The Strangers) who went on to write and/or produce many hits for Olivia Newton-John.
In the early 1970s, Burns had moved from pop to more adult contemporary music, he toured the club and cabaret circuit. Further Young-penned singles were "The Prophet" in January 1971 and "If I Die" in 1972. He appeared on variety TV shows including as a judge on Young Talent Time, where Maggie Burns was a choreographer. Burns' last single, "Brand New Number One" was released in 1980 on the Fable Records label.
Burns later supported touring artists such as Peter, Paul & Mary, and The Bee Gees. In 1996 he formed a trio with fellow Australian 1960's pop singers Morris and Darryl Cotton (ex Zoot) called Burns, Cotton & Morris which toured for several years and released a self-titled album. He retired from performing in 2000 – his place was taken by former Masters Apprentices lead singer Jim Keays with the trio renamed as Cotton Keays & Morris.