St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Nuclear: The Musical

Nuclear record cover.

“You’re one of those gays born without the musical gene,” my friend told me. “But I think you’d really like Bathtubs Over Broadway.” As it happens I had already seen and loved the documentary about American industrial musicals, but something about the terrible, quirky, strangely addictive world of bad musicals triggered a memory in my lizard brain. I have a musical on vinyl that no-one knows about. It was produced in Sydney, Australia in 1973, it’s called Nuclear, and it’s a whole lot of special.

I found it when I was a teenager digging through record bins in Sydney. The silver record sleeve and the promise of an Australian science-fiction musical were irresistible. And then there was something familiar about those names, wasn’t there? Rodney Stewart and Carole King? Could this be an Aussie musical made by the Rod Stewart and Carole King! No. No it couldn’t. Like that bookshop I went into once that stocked only books by Henry Shakespeare and Gerald Coleridge, this musical conspires to sound like it was made by illustrious musicians who in fact had nothing to do with it.

So what is Nuclear, then? It’s bad. Like, really bad. But also good. Like, really good. But still bad. It’s hard to explain how anything can yo-yo from being excruciatingly poor one minute to being very good another and then back again, but this musical does it. Again and again. It contains hands-down some of the worst lyric-writing I’ve ever heard. Take this gem from “A Vacant Star”:

We won’t be so attractive
When we all are radioactive
We won’t be cherishing
Skin that is perishing

Doggerel, right? Rough, like armpit moonshine. But that exact same song then launches into a chorus that sounds like it was written by a totally different person — it’s suddenly catchy and euphonious. “Cell on Cell” is hands-down a beautiful piece of music, but then we get dumped into the bad slam poetry of “Essence”:

I am an atom
I am an atom
Spinning and rubbing
Combining to form a molecule of life
All of us atoms
Each so small
Yet so full of energy
If only we know how to release it
I release it
I pour out my heat and power
I combine, I shatter
I take and I give ions of talent
Electrons of emotion
Protons of personality

Ooof. I know it was the ’70s, but that’s no excuse. And it goes on — “Adolescence” gives us a rather haunting and ethereal song that gets shattered by a monologue screeched by Mr. Spock’s autistic uncle. Why does this musical feel like such a camel? It really gives the impression of having passed through more than one pair of hands, not all of them up to the task. Maybe the liner notes can shed some light on it:

One night in April 1971 Rodney Stewart walked into a meeting of the Sydney Experimental Theatre Group Pact, and asked them to read his musical play “Nuclear”. They did—and then tore it to pieces with constructive criticism. In December 1971 Pact gave three public workshop performances of a vastly re-written “Nuclear”.

An excited 18 year old girl was there—she told her Dad about it and when he and two of his business associates saw it the next evening, they bought the performing rights on the spot.

31 year old Rodney had experienced a thin career as a writer—suddenly he had to grasp the fact that a group of Australian businessmen were willing to form a production company and take a chance on the very first musical from an unknown Australian.

Equally as suddenly it’s 1973 and Rod finds his musical not only on an L.P. record but with the stage set for the world premiere of “Nuclear” with a top line-up of Australian talent.

The success story of “Nuclear” starts here—and fall-out from this exciting atomic musical might well be found in the future on the stages of London and New York.

I had never considered this record a rarity until I tried searching for it online and realized there’s next to nothing about it. There are a couple of copies of the LP on eBay, so it’s evidently not impossible to find, but it does seem forgotten and unloved. I’d like to fix that because I think it’s a gem. It deserves some love. It deserves to be appreciated and chortled over, it deserves to dazzle and make us cringe, and I thoroughly believe it is worth anyone’s time. I give you Nuclear, an atomic musical featuring Carole King and Erl Dalby, composed by Rodney Stewart.

Download the album or listen below. All copyright belongs to Nuclear Music and no infringement is intended.

01. Prelude

02. A Vacant Star

03. Cell on Cell

04. Essence

05. Solar Flare

06. Adolescence

07. Rikky Rikky

08. Rikky’s Lament

09. Praise the Bomb

10. You Are Life

11. From Out of the World

12. Back in the World