Pop Archives

Rolf Harris - Sun Arise (1960)

(Rolf Harris - Harry Butler)
Australia Australia
Original version

On Columbia (EMI) album Relax With Rolf, recorded in Sydney with indigenous musicians from Arnhem Land.

Rolf Harris, Australian entertainer nowadays long resident in the UK, wrote Sun Arise with naturalist Harry Butler, a fellow Western Australian well-known for his TV series In The Wild.

In his autobiography Rolf Harris recalls the writing of Sun Arise:

Another song from that time was ‘Sun Arise’ which was inspired by the Aboriginal music that Harry Butler had introduced to me. (pp. 159-160)

Harry Butler and I wrote Sun Arise together, trying to capture the magic of Aboriginal music by reproducing the repetition of lyrics and music that make it so mesmerizing.

The lyrics of the song came from a story Harry told me about Aboriginal beliefs. Some tribes see the sun as a goddess. Each time she wakes in the morning, her skirts of light gradually cover more and more of the land, bringing back warmth and light to the air. (p. 161)

– Rolf Harris, Can You Tell Me What It Is Yet? London, Bantam Press, 2001

Bill Casey points out that Rolf Harris’s attitude towards aboriginal music and culture changed after Horrie Dargie’s cover version of Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport (1960) “pointedly deleted” a racist verse that had appeared in Rolf’s original:

Hereafter, Rolf took an explicitly anti-racist view. The B-side of the George Martin recording of Sun Arise [1962: see below] was Someone’s Pinched Me Winkles, Rolf’s swipe at Charlie Drake’s racist My Boomerang Won’t Come Back. [Horrie Dargie also answered Drake: his quintet recorded My Boomerang Did Come Back. It wasn’t a hit.]…

In 2006, Rolf Harris apologised for the offensive lines, but for 40 years he had consistently championed indigenous music and offered respect to aboriginal culture.

– Bill Casey (by email)

Thanks to Bill Casey for further research.
Further reading: RolfHarris.com. For background and update on Harry Butler, see 2006 ABC Radio interview with Robyn Williams.
Suggestion from honeydhont.

Alice Cooper - Sun Arise (1971)

(Rolf Harris - Harry Butler)
Later version

On 1971 Warner Brothers album Love It To Death. Reviewed by Greg Prato at All Music Guide.

Flaming Lips - Sun Arise (1993)

(Rolf Harris - Harry Butler)
Later version

On 1993 various artists album Welcome To Our Nightmare: A Tribute To Alice Cooper.

Rolf Harris - Sun Arise (1962)

(Rolf Harris - Harry Butler)
Later version
#3 UK #61 USA #14 Perth

Single on Columbia, recorded in London, produced by George Martin. The song was extensively revised before this recording. Its release coincided with the Commonwealth Games in Perth, Western Australia.