Bee Gees: Whatever happened to Michelle Rae?

It’s well-known that in their early pre-success years in Australia, the Bee Gees wrote songs for and appeared on records by many otherwise obscure Australian artists. Fans have carefully documented these, in many cases digging through old magazine and newspaper clippings and then interviewing the performers to uncover fresh insights into the Gibb brothers’ early career. But one of those artists has proved entirely elusive: Michelle Rae.

Michelle Rae released just one single in June 1965, ‘I Wanna Tell The World’ (2:13) backed with ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ (2:00). Both were Barry Gibb compositions, and the Bee Gees’ vocals can be heard on the B-side.

The label was Leedon (the single’s catalogue number was LK-971), which the Bee Gees were signed to at the time. And that’s almost literally everything we know.

The song didn’t chart, no evidence of how the single was promoted at the time has been unearthed, and no-one seems to remember anything about who Michelle Rae was or why she ended up recording just one single.

Everything that was known as of 2012 can be found in The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, written by fans Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook and Andrew Môn Hughes (with contributions from Joseph Brennan and Mark Cronan).

Two new Leedon female artists came knocking on Barry’s door that June. Michelle Rae was presented with ‘I Wanna Tell The World’/’Everybody’s Talkin” which was put out as a single by Leedon, apparently with some Gibb vocals on the B-side, while child singer Jenny Bradley received ‘Who’s Been Writing On The Wall Again’/’Chubby’. Neither record made any impact, nor, for that matter, did the careers of either singer. In Rae’s case, it appears to have been her one and only release.

Hunting through newspaper and magazine archives doesn’t reveal any more. “Michelle Rae” is quite a common first name/surname pairing, and “Michelle Rae” is an even more common first name/middle name combo.

It’s quite possible that the singer was actually Michelle Rae Smith or Michelle Rae Michaels or Michelle Rae Gibb, but used just the first two names for the record. But no-one ever seems to have claimed to actually be the singing Michelle Rae.

More recent archive diving, including my own, shows up just one tantalising minor clue. But it does include what might be the only known photograph of Michelle Rae.

In the Canberra Times of Friday 9 August 1963, there’s an advertisement for an upcoming series of “international cabaret stars” appearing at the San Remo Golden Key Club in Queanbeyan, just over the ACT border. One of the acts listed as appearing that weekend is “Michelle Rae, sultry and exotic Hawaiian and Egyptian dancer”, and the accompanying picture would seem to be of Miss Rae as described.

It’s not hard to imagine that 1963’s Michelle Rae, exotic dancer, is the same person as 1965’s Michelle Rae, one-time Leedon recording artist. Evidently she doesn’t reside in the area, since this is the only advertisement for performances by her that year. (The club seems to have featured a different exotic dancer each week during its brief stint of operations – there are no advertisements for it outside of 1963 in the Canberra Times archives.)

We can’t be 100% certain it’s the right Michelle Rae, of course. But the Bee Gees connection means that a record that otherwise would certainly have disappeared without trace remains intriguing nearly half-a-century later.

Both sides of the Michelle Rae single were included on the 1998 CD compilation Assault The Vaults (Rare Australian Cover Versions Of The Brothers Gibb), which gathered together every known early Australian recording featuring the Bee Gees as composers and/or guest performers. Time for that one to get a re-release, methinks!

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