Cream of The Crate: CD’s #50 – Betty McQuade: Collection

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“Definitive killer version was recorded in Australia by Scottish born Betty McQuade” (John D. Loudermilk web site – talking about Midnight Bus )

Betty’s version of Tongue Tied is still described as one of the wildest rock and roll songs ever recorded in Australia” (Bob Hayden & Kevin Lee – album liner notes)

Album Cover

This review was originally posted in the Toorak Times in 2014 and was number FIFTY in a series of retro-reviews of albums in my collection.

The series was called,
“Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD albums that I believed were of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

One of the things that makes this Cream Of The Crate stand out, is that generally I dip into music released many years ago, this one is a recent release but certainly contains tracks recorded well over 50 years ago.

This  is a ripper of a CD, because it features a much loved Aussie female singer who may have been a little forgotten over recent years, but fortune had other ideas and up popped an opportunity for her to record in 2007, and then the opportunity of using that material on an album that provides the music story of her life.

The artist is the fabulous Betty McQuade and the name of the CD is simply – Collection. It was released by Entertainment Assist in 2012 and has no catalog number. The Cd has 22 tracks on it for a total of 57 minutes. It goes from Betty’s 1961 hit of Midnight Bus, through to her most recent recording, a re-recording of this same track in 2007.

The Cd

The booklet that comes with this Cd is significantly better than most and the producers are to be congratulated for making an effort to both tell Betty’s story and to support that story with a good selection of photographs, many that I’ll share throughout this review. It consists of 6 double pages – 12 sides, on gloss paper and in full colour. It just makes a mockery of the rather pathetic effort many Cd producers make. I’ve rated this booklet as 8/10.

The booklet cover doubles as the front plate for the Cd. 

Front of the booklet

Rear of the Booklet

The story of Betty McQuade has been well researched by Bob Hayden and Kevin Lee, and well presented in the booklet, so I will dip into it for the facts and selections of the story. Betty was born a “war baby”, born in Scotland in 1941. There is nothing in the booklet that talks bout her life in Scotland apart from the fact that her parents had musical ability. Further research turned up little and it seems as though the documented part of her life begins when she migrated to Australia in 1948, as part of the post-war migration boom from the UK.

Her parents set up home in Brisbane and by her mid-teens she was performing around Brisbane in talent competitions. Then in 1956 she won a major competition held at the Brisbane City Hall – she was 15 years of age.

This seemed to have kick started her career and from 1956 through to 1960 she started working in venues around Brisbane such as, Cloudland which was a famous dance venue in that city. It was at Cloudland that she found herself sharing the same stage as Johnny O’Keefe. She also worked at the Brisbane City Hall and other clubs and in fact later the young Bee Gees would be support act for her. It was also around this time that she began to get television appearances.

At this time Betty was torn between being a singer and a dancer. A talented dancer she also entered many dance competitions and in one competition, her prize was to dance at the Lee Gordon Big Show which featured Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. It was Little Richards electrifying performance that made her decide that what she really wanted, and that was to become a performer.

Now at the time two of Australia’s early female rock and roll performers were Beverley Dick and Judy Cannon, both of whom were working in Melbourne. And so it was that Betty decided that it was Melbourne where her musical future lay, so she decided to travel there and try for a recording contract. 

Judy Cannon

By the time Betty arrived in Melbourne Judy, who had been a regular performer with the Thunderbirds, had moved to Sydney to further her career. Seeing an opportunity, Betty auditioned with both the Sapphires and the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds offered her work and she started working with them in venues that included Brunswick Town Hall, Preston Town Hall and Glen Iris RSL – all well patronised venues in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s.

As a result of some very good performances she attracted the attention of executives at Astor Records, which was a good thing because she had promised her mum that if she didn’t get a recording contract within 12 months, she would return home to her family in Brisbane. The pressure was on! So it was in late 1961 she recorded two tracks at the (what was then) GTV 9 studio in Richmond.

The two tracks were Tongue Tied, a track that was a hit for Wanda Jackson. This was the track that popular radio DJ, Stan (the Man) Rofe had encouraged her to record. The other track was Midnight Bus, composed by John D.Loudermilk it was originally recorded by Billy Graves in 1959, and a few other artists also covered it. For once Rofe was wrong and when Astor executives insisted that it was Midnight Bus that should be the A-side of her first release. It was a good call.

Betty with the Thunderbirds & Stan Rofe (Booklet plate)

Backed by the quality playing of The Thunderbirds (Astor 7014). Her “Midnight Bus” ride not only topped the charts throughout Australia in 1961, it remains a fixture on Australia’s all-time favorites list. No doubt about it, hers is the recording you recall when this track is mentioned and it has become a rock classic. “The song was eventually voted in a newspaper’s poll The Number 1 Rock song of the 20th century in Australia!” – John D. Loudermilk web site

Since posting the review, I was reminded by a friend that Midnight Bus took off & became a hit all over again when W&G re-released it in 1965. This time it just missed the Top 10 in parts of Australia like Adelaide & Perth, where it hadn’t previously charted, and it even made another small dent in Melbourne charts

Midnight Bus

Given that for a while her first A-side release looked like being Track No. 2Tongue Tied, I think that track should also be featured here, apart from anything else it’s a fantastic rocking track. Now Wanda Jackson, in her inimitable Rockabilly style, really belted the track out – so why was it that Stan Rofe thought that Betty’s version was that good, it should be the A-side of her first single? Well, once again it is partially due to the fantastic playing of The Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds backed many solo singers on the Melbourne dance circuit, and’ virtually became resident band for Ron Tudor’s W&G label during the early 1960s.

By the end of 1960, The Thunderbirds’ line-up had lost most of its original line-up and comprised Howard Frith (drums) and Murray Robertson (piano), plus newcomers Henri Bource (sax, flute; ex-Henri Bource All Stars), Gordon Only (bass; ex-Malcolm Arthur and the Knights) and 17-year-old Charles Gauld (guitar).

Then there is Betty! Her version has been described in the booklet as “… described by some as one of the wildest rock and roll songs ever recorded in Australia“. Is this a far call? Listen and make up your own mind.

Tongue Tied

By 1962 she was her star was on the rise and she was in big demand. She went to Sydney to sing Midnight Bus on Johnny O’Keefe’s Six O’Clock Rock, but Johnny wouldn’t hear of it, declaring this was a rock program and insisted Betty sing Tongue Tied. However as Betty signed autographs Midnight Bus was played and between that and her performance, Betty was invited to join Johnny on his tour, and, she declined.

She wanted to sing and record tracks like Riot in Cell Block #9 and Bo Diddley, but her record company wasn’t having any of that and insisted that with Christmas coming up she sing Doggie in the Window which she did with the group, the Premiers! Wow, in retrospect, what a blunder as Betty was really “killing them”, and needed to release some more uptempo tracks that the kids wanted to hear, not the stuff for the mums and dads.

Recording with the Premiers

Interestingly, many years later she did release Cell Block No.9 when she recxorded in 1983, the period when Betty came out of retirement. During the mid to late 1960’s Betty managed to eke out a good living playing venues around Melbourne, but never regained the popularity of her music after Tongue Tied. In retrospect it wasn’t that she didn’t have it – but bad decisions by record executives, and a bad mix in her mid ’60s release of Beauty Is Just Skin Deep meant less and less airplay, and without airplay her name was becoming forgotten.

She retired in 1968 when she returned to Brisbane and married. Her marriage wasn’t successful, and she did return to playing small clubs and venues but it took a return to Melbourne in 1983 for her to find her “mojo” again! It was April and Betty was headlining the video, “Rockin’ at the Arcadia“, which also featured The Thunderbirds, Judy Owens and several other artists.


Amazed at the response she got she returned to Melbourne in September of that year to star in the “Happy Days of Rock and Roll” with a range of artists including the Allstars. Following the success of this show it was put in 1984 at the St Kilda Town Hall and featured Betty, the Allstars, Judy Cannon, Colin Cook and the Roadsters to name a few. Now the Allstars (in concert) consisted of Ian Allen (bass), Graham Broomfield (sax), Noel Tressider (piano), Len McGill (drums) and Barry Roy (guitar).

It only seems right to feature Riot in Cell Block No.9 with the Allstars, as it was a track Betty desperately wanted to record many years previously but couldn’t, having been told it’s not a song for a woman. Does she prove that belief wrong and, full compliments to the Allstars for good tight backing!

Riot in Cell Block #9

For over the next twenty years Betty would continue to perform in Melbourne and all around Australia. In early 2006, Ian Allen was developing a concept for a CD by the Allstars which would feature artists they had performed with, including Lucky Starr, Johnny Preston, Chan Romero, Rick Diamond, Joan Misfud, and being aware that Betty had unfinished recording business, they included her.

It was during this period that Betty re-recorded a live version of Midnight Bus, along with Reelin’ and Rockin’, Sweet Nothin’s, Kansas City, Riot in Cell Block No.9 and a live version of Tongue Tied all with the Allstars. Betty had completely fulfilled her desire to record rock and roll and all those tracks are on this CD.

Kansas City (Live)

Betty continued to work with her last gig being at Seagulls on the Gold Coast on 22nd September 2007. Sadly Betty died in Brisbane on December 26, 2011 at age 70, after a long illness.

She will not just be remembered as one of the Australian pioneer women of rock and roll, and for the magnificent rendition of Midnight Bus, but also for the amazing charity work that she did, particularly for the Children’s Hospital in Brisbane.

Booklet center collage

This is a commemorative album which only came about because of the hard work and dedication of the team at Entertainment Assist . . . “a charity that provides education, preventative assistance and support to Australian entertainment participants to reduce the negative effects of the risky, itinerant and speculative nature of the industry.”

It is a two edged sword having this magnificent recording produced in this manner, for it was only available through subscription and not through the music retailers. Therefore available copies are like the proverbial “hens teeth” out in the open market. However, if it had not been produced we would not have a comprehensive and lasting recorded memory of this fantastic Australian entertainer!

The good news is that it is appears to be available via this link – Betty McQuade Collection

It is impossible to claim that you have a comprehensive collection of Australian music, without a Betty McQuade album, and there may be nothing that comes close to this one.

VIDEOS – It is pleasing to find some live performances by Betty on Youtube, and one terrific interview along with her greatest hit ever. Sadly, the only video of her performing Midnight Bus live in the 60’s [1961] has been withdrawn – so the earliest live version is presented below.  Indeed, there appear to be no live performances of her prior to the ’80s.

Midnight Bus (1983)

Bonnie Moroney (1983) 

Tongue Tied (2006)

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Rob Greaves
I have been with the Toorak Times since April 2012. I worked as Senior Editor of the Toorak Times for 10 years before retiring in 2012. I continue now as an occasional feature writer. I've been in the Australian music scene as a musician since 1964, and have worked in radio and TV and newspapers (when they were paper ), serious experience in audio editing, and a lot of video editing experience. I retired from paid radio work in 2022 and took up a position in the Education Centre at Puffing Billy
cream-crate-cds-50-betty-mcquade-collection"Definitive killer version was recorded in Australia by Scottish born Betty McQuade" (John D. Loudermilk web site - talking about Midnight Bus - ) "Betty's version of Tongue Tied is still described as one of the wildest rock and roll songs ever recorded in Australia" (Bob...