We’ve all heard of The Beatles and Elvis and their worldwide domination, but several Australian groups and singers have made a shagtastic impact on the charts too. Okay, I’d prefer to stick my gonads in a nutcracker than listen to some of them, but my sexual proclivities are another story. Thus, here, I make do with picking out 10 of the good, the bad and the damn right ugly musical acts from this side of the water.
Who needs sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll when you’ve got Rolf Harris? Known the world over for always playing with his thick long didgeridoo, he comes into our bedrooms with his croaky whisper. Now in his ninth decade, it’s said this Perth-born crooner has got so much facial hair that he was once mistaken for a Yeti. And, oh my God, weren’t the Aussies so upset when he buggered off to England so that he could show his talents drawing cute titchy pictures. But, never underestimate his musical genius. Records like “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” and “Two Little Boys”, which maybe sound like he should be locked up for lewd conduct, were chart toppers either here or in the UK.
The Bee Gees
Australians have got a lot to answer for. Although they were born on the Isle of Man and latterly based in America, the Bee Gees’ formative success was in this very backyard. Indeed, my dad’s wardrobe and chest hair were never quite the same once he first discovered the three Gibb (Barry, Robin and Maurice) siblings in the 70s. In fact, that decade really did belong to them, with a Beatles-like monopoly of the charts – they had six number ones in a row in the US. Undoubtedly, part of their appeal was their squeaky high-pitched harmonic voices that made one think they might have something stuck where it shouldn’t be. And they were style icons too, wearing medallions that had more gold in them than you’d find in Fort Knox.
Heavy metal for me was when my father whacked the dustbin lid around the side of my chops because he wanted me to do something. Yet, in this case, it’s more a question of vomit, huge inflatable dildos and spittle. And that’s just the on-stage antics of this legendary outfit. Thrown together by siblings Malcolm and Angus Young in the early 70s, and responsible for, ahem, legendary 1975 album TNT, they took their name from alternating and direct current, and boy it’s appropriate, as AC/DC definitely electrify an arena. But I’m not so sure that those of a nervous disposition would want to venture into a bedroom with them; their song titles mention the “Danger” of their “Big Gun” being as “Hard as a Rock” when they “Cover You in Oil”. Oh, that’s too creepy! The band almost disbanded after lead singer Bon Scott died in 1980, but school uniform-clad Brian Johnson stepped up to the mic and that year’s Back in Black album remains the world’s second-biggest selling record of all time, behind Jacko’s Thriller. It’simpossible to overestimate just how proud of Acca Dacca Aussies are, so feel free to remind them that all but the drummer are British-born.
Men at Work
I have a particular affinity for this wacky bunch, as “Down Under” is on my iPod when I’m in the gym. Indeed, I’d still resemble a beached walrus more than an obese Sumo wrestler if I didn’t trot along to this catchy tune. Couldn’t they have spent more on the video for this song though? When they say they’re in Bombay, it looks more like they’re in the courtyard of a clapped-out curry house in Melbourne. And, maybe, Colin Hay (the lead singer) and the rest of the boys did have an extremely dodgy Vindaloo, which would explain why they were all hopping and bounding about in the pop promo as if they were kangaroos on speed. That said, their most celebrated hit has rightly become almost an alternative Aussie anthem. Good on you, fellas!
My granny always swore that a warmed-up chisel was just the thing to remove bunions from the feet. Notwithstanding, the cold variety is a dynamic rock group who struck it big at the beginning of the 70s. Coming from Adelaide originally they were called Orange, but the lemons among them knew this wasn’t the best idea. Like lots of acts they had numerous break-ups; thus, hissy fits ensued as toy guitars and drum kits were chucked out off the pram. But they, like a cockroach after a nuclear explosion or, perhaps worse, one of my kebab-induced farts, survived to have more comebacks than a Bruce Forsyth toupee. Incidentally, main vocalist Jimmy Barnes has also recorded or performed with INXS, John Farnham and that walking zombie of heavy metal, Ozzy Osbourne.
When Kylie left Neighbours, the acting fraternity mourned more than when I found my cat, Squidgy, stuck to the bumper of a Smart car. But there was no need to worry. It wasn’t long before she turned up in the ‘celeblight’ again. Her lush poodle-like curls and electronically heightened voice now being pulled by the puppet masters of Stock, Aiken and Waterman. Fortunately, though, she ditched her blow-up doll existence and became so babelicious hot that teenagers everywhere couldn’t control their dirty fingers. Indeed, hits like “Better the Devil You Know” and “Spinning Around” shook the dancefloor so much that my partner’s false teeth fell out.
Hunters & Collectors
There are plenty of things I was introduced to at university that I daren’t tell you the full story about, such as when I had nooky kinkier than Austin Power’s wardrobe. Nevertheless, something I can mention without the threat of jail time is discovering Hunters & Collectors. Despite the fact that their name might make you think they were sifting for jewellery in a junkyard, this Melbournian combo actually made some kickass records. Pioneers of pub rock and art-funk, standout singles include “Talking to a Stranger”, “Holy Grail” and “True Tears of Joy”. Their frontman Mark Seymour has a brother in the band Crowded House, Nick.
Once upon a time called Farm, they pulled the name we know them by now out of a hat. I guess they were lucky, as the last time I entered a draw, I got the short straw: I had to hook my dinner out of the nearest river to Chernobyl. The Oils, as they are referred to by fans, are rare in the music scene because their driving hard-rock sound was combined with a political activism that took a stand against nuclear technology, the degradation of the environment and the abuse of Aborigines etc. Rob Hirst (drummer), Andrew James (bass) and Jim Moginie (keyboard player/guitarist) were original members. Interestingly, so was vocalist Peter Garrett (the baldie, pictured left), who turned to politics, becoming Labor Environment Minister in 2007, later switching to School Education Minister. Rock ‘n’ roll.
In many ways her early musical career followed the same path as her signature role, that of Sandy Olsson in Grease. In that seminal film she went from an adorable innocent schoolgirl with rolled up hair, to an über-foxy vixen clad in skin tight leather. And we all know why: she wanted to bonk Danny Zuko (John Travolta). In real life, Newton-John started out as a wholesome country and western artist in the 1970s with global smashes like “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “I Honestly Love You”. Nonetheless, raunchiness won the day, so by the early 80s she was doing up-tempo racy numbers like “Xanadu” and even wanted to get “Physical”. With you honeybun, any day!
Formed as The Farriss Brothers in 1977 in Sydney, the dynamic force behind this assemblage for over 20 years was their lead singer Michael Hutchence. Having a charismatic persona perhaps akin to The Doors’ Jim Morrison, his energetic performances captivated the whole audience. Their original breakthrough here was in 1980 with an eponymously titled debut album. However, it was a few years later with the long players Kick and X that everybody on the planet took these slick rockers to their hearts. Unfortunately, as one of their finest tunes proclaimed, there really was a “Devil Inside” their livewire of a frontman, who died of what the coroner termed suicide. The rest of the band continue to tour today, with a notable low being when they dipped their wick into reality TV to replace their deceased star.
The Neighbours Connection
You’d be hard-pushed to name a TV programme anywhere in the world, ever, that has contributed more to the music charts (and not always welcomely…) than Aussie soap Neighbours, writes Andrew Westbrook.
Most recently the Ramsay Street locals gave us Delta Goodrem, an on-off Erinsborough resident from 2002 to 2005, but there’s no denying that the show’s, er, musical glory days was in the 80s.
It all began with fresh-faced Kylie Minogue, who was actually only on Neighbours for two years (1986-8). It was the show’s heyday, when her wedding to Jason Donovan’s Scott Robinson drew a staggering 20m viewers in the UK.
Her first single, “Locomotion”, was the biggest-selling Australian single of the 80s, and she quickly went on to have a whopping 13 top 10 hits in the UK within two years. She’s since sold 60m records, with her late 80s relationship with INXS bad boy frontman Michael Hutchence being widely considered as playing a part in her transformation from girl next door to pin-up sexpot.
Leading the Neighbours charge with Kylie was her “are they/aren’t they” co-star Jason Donovan, who also churned out 16 top 40 hits (including four number ones) in the UK. In 1991, he switched to the West End where he starred in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for a few years, before promptly disappearing and descending into drug chaos, only to return to screens after a successful stint on the 2006 I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
Other notable Neighbours successes include Natalie Imbruglia, now a judge on The X Factor in Australia. She has now released four albums, although nothing to match her 6m-selling 1997 debut, which included the single “Torn”.
And of course there’s Kylie’s little sister, Dannii Minogue (who was in Neighbours and Home and Away). Despite selling 7m records, she’s always been in Kylie’s shadow and struggled to crack the 80s pop market, but has since successfully reinvented herself as a dance music singer, topping the UK club charts with 12 consecutive singles since 2001. She’s also now a judge onThe X Factor in the UK.
Also moderately successful, albeit short-lived, was Craig McLachlan, who notched up a few hits before starring in Grease in the West End in the early 90s.
Best of the bunch, however, has to be Stefan Dennis, aka Paul Robinson. His 1989 hit single “Don’t It Make You Feel Good” has to have the single most funny music video ever created. YouTube it. Now.