Bryget Chrisfield explores the creation, impact, and legacy of classic records. This month, it’s the debut from one of Australia’s most respected and technically-gifted musical icons: Innocent Eyes by Delta Goodrem.

“Oh yes I am wise/ But it’s wisdom born of pain/ Yes, I’ve paid the price/ But look how much I gained…”

During the moving Helen Reddy tribute in 2020’s ARIA Award ceremony, hosted by Delta Goodrem, Delta delivered these lines from I Am Woman as if she wrote them. Delta shone within the all-star cast, which featured some of this country’s finest voices (including Marcia Hines, Jessica Mauboy, Kate Ceberano, Montaigne and Tones And I) singing live alongside a virtual choir of 30 female singers from all over Australia. Given that Delta basically spent all of 2019 relearning how to talk – and sing – following complications during surgery in 2018, her heartfelt portrayal of this iconic song gains poignancy.

In August, 2020, Delta posted a video to her social media channels explaining the story behind why she wrote Paralyzed, the second single from her recent chart-topping Bridge Over Troubled Dreams record, which was released alongside an autobiographical book. “I wanted to share my story and say why I hadn’t had music out for so long and why this song, and why I wrote it,” Delta reveals at the start of this clip. “It’s been a strange process not actually sharing it straight away, but I just didn’t know if I was ready yet.”

When Delta woke up from the surgical removal of her salivary gland, she discovered she’d lost the ability to control her speech after a nerve in her tongue became paralysed.

Complications from her surgery could have cost Delta her voice. “My livelihood is my sound,” she lamented during the aforementioned video. There was no way of knowing when or if she’d recover, but after months of daily speech therapy – during which she basically had to re-teach her brain to control her tongue – Delta began to notice some improvement. While in recovery, she wrote her seventh studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Dreams.

In Delta’s first interview following rehab, she told Nathanael Cooper, “I’m not the sort of person who puts up a photo saying ‘this is what I am going through’. I go through a million different things as a person every week that are private and I am grateful that I was able to go through that privately.”

“To learn to speak again/ Amongst the frustration/ How do I begin?” – Paralyzed’s lyrics reveal Delta’s struggles while relearning how to communicate with confidence.

This isn’t the first time Delta has turned to music for comfort during an extended period of treatment and recovery. Aged just 18, Delta was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma before enduring cancer treatment, which included eight months of chemotherapy and two months of radiotherapy.

Her second album, 2004’s chart-topping Mistaken Identity, was created during this time with Extraordinary Day documenting the day of her diagnosis (8 July, 2003). Because her entire world had been turned upside down, Delta’s second album was, understandably, a much darker affair than her debut. “There are a lot of lyrics I wouldn’t have used on the first album [Innocent Eyes],” she acknowledged at the time.

Innocent Eyes debuted at the top of the ARIA Albums Chart, held the #1 spot for 29 weeks straight (breaking John Farnham’s record of 25 weeks at #1 with 1986’s Whispering Jack) and sold 4.5 million copies worldwide (1.2 million in Australia alone). Innocent Eyes was the highest-selling album of the decade in Australia and is the second-best-selling Australian album of all time (following AC/DC’s Back In Black) .

But Delta’s success didn’t happen overnight. At just 12 years old, she recorded a five-song demo, which included a Sydney Swans Football Club theme song, and sent a tape to the club. The tape somehow found its way to Swans supporter, and Farnsy’s longtime manager, Glenn Wheatley. “I saw confidence right from the word go,” Wheatley said of Delta during an interview. “I saw the spark of ingenuity. She was anxious to get going but I thought she was a little young.” He eventually signed her to Talentworks, his management company, when she was 14.

At just 15, Delta signed a record deal with Sony and the label commissioned a disposable pop song in the vein of Christina Aguilera, I Don’t Care (an obscure Angela Via cover), to release as her debut single in 2001. The single flopped (peaking at #64) and Delta was shattered. “I had ripped out a [Top 40] chart to put on my wall, whited out whoever was #1 and written in I Don’t Care,” Delta told journalist Bernard Zuel. “And when it didn’t go there I was looking at my wall and telling my parents and my brother, ‘Something’s not right here. Why did that not work?’ I had to take a step back. It hurt.”

For the accompanying film clip, Delta was given a Britney-esque makeover that was a far cry from her girl-next-door, innocent-ingénue image.

But I Don’t Care served its purpose. After seeing this music video, Neighbours came knocking and developed the character of Nina Tucker – a shy school girl and aspiring singer – specifically for Delta.

Through her role as Nina, Delta scored a Logie for Most Popular New Talent at the 2003 Logie Awards.

Following I Don’t Care’s disappointing chart performance, Sony agreed to present Delta more authentically, as a piano balladeer. They then suggested she team up with Audius Mtawarira for some songwriting sessions. “Audius and I got on really well… He came out to our house, mum made some lunch and we wrote four songs,” Delta has said. “Born To Try was the last one. We just naturally clicked and there was no pressure so it was just music for music’s sake.”

During an interview with Katherine Gillespie, Delta said, “I could feel the smallest sense of something building. “When I first wrote Born To Try and I was listening to it in my mum’s car – because I wasn’t even driving age – I remember when we were driving to the city and the demo was just the piano and vocal and I had this feeling in my heart that it was special. And it turned out the feeling was true!”

Born To Try – the lead single from Delta’s chart-topping, record-breaking debut album Innocent Eyes – is her signature song. Although it was written and released before her cancer diagnosis, Born To Try – earnest and optimistic – truly embodies Delta’s bravery and resilience. Whistle notes scale Mariah Carey heights in its triumphant crescendo
– “But I was BORN TO TRY-Y-Y” – and you can’t help but feel inspired by Delta’s leap of faith (and octaves).

Around the time of this song’s release, Delta (in character as Nina) performed Born To Try on Neighbours. In fact, Delta’s smash hit single featured in multiple episodes of the popular Australian soapie, most memorably soundtracking a collage of Karl and Susan Kennedy reuniting after their (first) separation. Footage of Nina secretly performing Born To Try in full, for the first time on the show, was interspersed with scenes of Karl and Susan theatrically ripping up their divorce papers and a star was born during those defining moments of TV gold. Given that Neighbours reached several million viewers a day in Britain, this level of exposure definitely helped propel Born To Try up the UK charts (the song peaked at #3) and
Australia’s sweetheart became a global concern…

Stay tuned for the second installment of Delta’s journey, coming soon!

Discover Delta Goodrem at JB Hi-Fi