Essential Australian (on Australia Day)
To celebrate Australia Day in my own way, I thought I’d provide all of my voyeurs with a list of the Australian bands which I consider to be essential and their signature song to listen to, if you don't already know any of their tunes.
Australia has produced some amazing bands, especially since the late 1970s, and I hope that you all find something old or something new here that you like and that you then go out and support these artists - making music is their job.
Don't forget to check out the links to hear some tunes and to find out more about these bands, because I have taken the lazy aussie way out and not provided any tunes for youse bastards.
This selection reflects my own personal taste, it is not based on sales, chart positions or the financial support and advertising funds provided by record execs.
It is also listed in alphabetical order, because beyond this list I am unable to prioritise my favourites.
So here goes, a list I call “Something Old, Something New’s Essential Australian”:-
AC/DC - High Voltage
No essential Australian mix can exclude AC/DC, arguably Australia’s most successful musical export, they are still rocking strong today, nearly 35 years later. For my money it’s the Bon Scott years which not only defined the AC/DC sound but which will always be the purest version of the band. I still remember watching AC/DCon Countdown and sitting at my friend Scott’s house in the mid 1970’s, playing those first two albums over and over.
The Beasts Of Bourbon - Drop Out
The Beasts of Bourbon were the first alternative (as this music used to be called, back in the day) supergroup. They are also still playing today, having recently reformed with yet another different lineup to record a new album and do yet more touring.
The band members for their debut album “The Axeman’s Jazz” (recorded in 1984 in one afternoon for only $100) came from The Hoodoo Gurus, The Johnnys and The Scientists and were lead by frenzied front man Tex Perkins (who along with guitarist Spencer Jones has been the only constant member since the band’s inception).
The Beast’s sound has mutated over the years from the swamp rock, gothic blues of their first album(s) through to the punk-infused blues-based pub rock (consider the Rolling Stones with balls) they play today.
The Birthday Party - Release The Bats
The Birthday Party were the renamed Boys Next Door when that band relocated to England in 1980, escaping the suffocation of the Australian music scene at that time.
Although they had limited commercial success, and only existed for 4 years under their new moniker, the Birthday Party would influence many bands with both their music and performance style and band members Nick Cave, Mick Harvey and Rowland S Howard all went on to have successful "solo" careers. Their menacing and manic sound and brutal performances led to the band being referred to as 'The Most Violent Band In Britain'
Boys Next Door - Shivers
The Boys Next Door formed at the exclusive Caulfield Grammer School in 1973 when a group of arty students started playing school dances and parties. Initially playing 1960’s pop and 1970’s glam rock, their sound would develop fully with the addition of Rowland S Howard on guitar, who brought the track “Shivers” with him.
The band were influenced by the burgeoning Australian punk scene with bands such as The Saints and Radio Birdman and by 1978 The Boys Next Door were considered one of the best post-punk bands in Melbourne. Despite their influences, the band would soon develop their own sound, travel to Europe and change their name to become one of Australia’s most important alternative bands, The Birthday Party.
The Church - The Unguarded Moment
Another classic Australian band who are still recording and performing today with the same core members, The Church grew out of Canberra in 1980 and quickly developed an atmospheric, 1960’s influenced neo-psychedelic sound based heavily around Marty Wilson-Piper’s jangly 12 string Rickenbacker guitar and vocalist Steve Kilbey’s poetic lyrics.
Although they had greater chart success with their 1980’s recordings (in 2006 the Melbourne newspaper The Age voted Under The Milky Way as the best Australian song of the last 21 years in their EG Music Awards) The Church’s sound has continued to develop and mature and they still have a strong following around the world.
The Easybeats - Friday On My Mind
The Easybeats are considered to be one of the greatest Australian pop bands of the 1960s and they were the first Australian rock and roll band to score an international hit with this classic 1966 single "Friday on My Mind".
All of the founding band members had migrated to Australia, forming in Sydney’s Villawood Migrant Hostel, and the band released a string of hit singles in Australia before relocating to England where they had some early success but too soon developed internal friction and the band dissolved in financial debt.
Harry Vanda and George Young would eventually return to Australia as an active creative unit and would go on to work with the Albert Productions record label writing, recording, producing and basically helping to create much of the Australian music scene of the mid 1970’s including Stevie Wright, The Angels, John Paul Young and most famously George's younger brothers Angus and Malcolm Young’s band AC/DC.
Fun Things - Savage
The Fun Things formed in Brisbane in 1978 and were heavily influenced by punk and the Detroit sound as well as Australian legends Radio Birdman. In 1980, they recorded four tracks for what would be their one and only release and the band split in 1980.
Like The Victims, the Fun Things were as important for going on to help form the Hoodoo Gurus and The Screaming Tribesmen, as for the few songs they recorded.
The Go-Betweens - Cattle And Cane
The Go-Betweens had a turbulent history, forming in Brisbane in 1977 they were seemingly always a cult band with limited commercial success despite the chart friendliness of their sound. They moved to Europe in 1979 and spent much of the 1980’s touring the world.
This touring schedule along with internal frictions, including inter-band romances, and constant label problems and interference eventually led to their demise in 1989. After this time both Grant McLennan and Robert Forster managed mildly successful solo careers, and the cult of the Go-Betweens continued to grow.
The boys reunited as the Go-Betweens 10 years later and recorded more two more acclaimed albums which added to their legacy until the untimely death of McLennan in 2006.
Hoodoo Gurus - (Let's All) Turn On
I always enjoyed listening to and seeing the Hoodoo Gurus during their early years, and with Dave Faulkner and James Baker being local boys the band toured Perth regularly. The classic 1983 Hoodoo Gurus line up formed from the ashes of punk bands The Victims and The Scientists from Perth and the Fun Things from Brisbane.
I watched the band go from alternative paisley-clad, winkle-picker wearing swamp rockers playing their power-pop/psychedelia/grungy garage rock at small venues to chart, ARIA and larger venue botherers within a few short years, but they were certainly fun years. Stoneage Romeos has my vote as one of the best Australian albums of the 1980s.
On this track from their debut, the Hoodoos set out their manifesto – check it out!!
Hunters & Collectors - Betty's Worry or The Slab
The Hunnas had a huge sound unlike anything else on the aussie pub circuit in the early 1980s. They made their live debut in 1981 as an eleven man ensemble who would often encourage punters up to the stage and provide them with percussive instruments to add to the mayhem and cacophony.
As the number of releases increased the number of band members decreased and by the time they recorded their archetypical “Jaws Of Life” album in 1984 vocalist Mark Seymour’s lyrics had developed a decidedly blokey Australian flavor. But the lure of chart success, which they achieved with moderate success, would dilute the impact of their sound and for me this mid-1980’s period was their zenith.
Laughing Clowns - New Bully in Town
When Ed Keupper returned to Australia, after The Saints imploded in London in 1979, he quickly gathered together like minded musicians and created the avante jazz-punk of the Laughing Clowns. With songs often constructed around complicated structures with difficult time signatures the Laughing Clowns were another unique Australian band, creating their own musical vision.
Ed Keupper is surely one of Australia’s surly musical maestros and before he would go on to create his solo legacy he managed to show another musical direction for a few disillusioned ex-punks.
The Lime Spiders - Slave Girl
This 1984 release from The Lime Spiders is undoubtedly one of the all-time classic Australian singles, a bona fide fuzzed up guitar, garage rock stomp from a band who never managed to repeat the same level of success, perhaps in part due to the constant instability in their lineup.
The Lime Spiders still managed to release an impressive collection of garage-punk laced singles and if you are lucky you may catch them playing in your back yard as they are still getting together to play the occasional gig.
The Loved Ones - The Loved One
The Loved Ones formed in 1965, with an early history of jazz clubs and listening to the blues, so when the Rolling Stones came along with a similar history and The Beatles started creating their own music, these Melbourne musicians understood not just the excitement value of the music, but how it was done and they did it for themselves. But the band split in 1967 after just one album, Magic Box.
The Missing Links - Wild About You
The Missing Links are considered by many to be the wildest group Australia has ever produced, certainly from the pre-punk period.
They were the first Australian band known to use feedback and the first Australian band which can rightfully be labelled "punk". The Missing Links were wild on record and wild on stage, with front man Andy James known to climb the walls and hang from the rafters, or to put his head through the drums, doing things no-one had seen done on stage before. Sadly The Missing Links were another band who had line-up issues, they only existed between 1963 and 1966 and only released 1 album before growing extinct.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Tupelo
There can be little doubt that Nick Cave is one of Australia’s greatest (alternative or not) creative artists. With an eclectic and illustrious career as a singer, award winning songwriter, actor, cutting-edge composer, novelist, poet, artist, screenwriter … .
The Bad Seeds has a(n) (ir)regularly changing lineup which always contains a(n) (un)healthy smattering of Australian musicians as well as others with sympathetic musical leanings, helping to create the musical soundscape for Caves often gothic tales.
Nick Cave has been the front man for and creative driving force behind the creation of a number of acclaimed bands (The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds, Grinderman) each with their own unique style and substance but always leaning towards the dark side. With Tupelo is he singing about Elvis, Jesus or his own mythic creation? The king is dead, long live the king!
Paul Kelly - From St. Kilda To King's Cross
Paul Kelly has had a long career, from his days playing pub rock in Melbourne in the late 1970s through leading his own bands (The Dots, The Coloured Girls and The Messengers) in the 1980s when he started regularly bothering the Australian charts and finally his solo guise which has helped garner critical acclaim and record sales.
During this time he has also written film scores and worked as a producer and is member of the ARIA Hall of Fame. Paul Kelly sings of Australian experiences and history perhaps more candidly than any other artist and is still very active, having just released his eleventh collection of new songs.
Radio Birdman - Aloha Steve and Danno
Radio Birdman were there at the beginning of the Australian punk movement, forming in Sydney in 1974. Influenced by The Stooges, MC5, 1960's garage punk and surf instrumental groups but creating their own sound and look. They were another great do-it-yourself story before the punk movement in the UK and USA had widely spread this message. They initially financed their own low budget recordings, created their own label, self distributed their records at a low price and even ran the management of the Oxford Funhouse, a venue which went on to help nurture the nascent Sydney punk scene.
Radio Birdman only survived for 4 years, recording two albums and undertaking one overseas tour before disbanding and scattering musicians across Australia to augment the country's already thriving music underground. But the band reformed for the Big Day Out 1996 tour and since that time they have recorded another album (Zeno Beach) and continued to tour sporadically.
The Saints - (I'm) Stranded
The Saints are the stuff of Australian music legend. Forming in 1974, they were punk before the genre had been defined. Famously releasing their “(I’m) Stranded” single in September 1976 before the Damned’s “New Rose” (October 1976) and the Sex Pistol’s “Anarchy In The UK” (November 1976).
The Saints were another band that lived the do-it-yourself ethic, independently recording and distributing their debut single, creating their own label and their own "club", the 76 Club in their suburban Petrie Terrace house as a reaction to not being able to play anywhere else. The Saints only recorded 3 albums before musical and personal differences saw the band deteriorate and Ed Keupper return home to Australia to create The Laughing Clowns. Chris Bailey would soon after reform his version of The Saints in London, to some commercial success.
On July 14, 2007, Chris Bailey, Ed Kuepper and Ivor Hay re-united The Saints for a one-off gig as part of the Queensland Music Festival’s “Pig City” festival. Sadly I was overseas at this time and missed this historic occasion.
The Scientists - Swampland
The Scientists were born in May 1978 from the ashes of Perth’s first punk bands, The Cheap Nasties, who had also been formed by frontman Kim Salmon and The Geeks. The Perth era Scientists played more in the punk-pop vein and after releasing one album split in January 1981.
By September 1981 Kim Salmon had moved to inner city Sydney and created a reformed Scientists with a swampier, darker sound. Salmon also helped form the Beasts of Bourbon in 1984 before taking the Scientists to Europe where they were soon touring Europe (with The Gun Club). By 1987 the band had returned to Australia for one last tour. Salmon and the Scientists and would go on to influence bands such as Mudhoney and would be considered one of the early driving musical forces in the genre that would be known as grunge.