POP GOES THE NATION
The Fab moment 50 years ago opened a window and Aussie music never looked back. By
IT could only begin with the Beatles. Just a month before The Australian rolled off the presses for the first time, the biggest band in pop history arrived on our shores for its only visit, causing scenes of fan frenzy that have never been repeated in Australia. The huge crowds that turned out to welcome the Beatles (300,000 in Adelaide) signalled a new dawn for our pop culture. In the 1950s and early 60s Australia had embraced American rock ’n’ roll and developed a version of it through surf music and rockers such as Col Joye and Johnny O’Keefe. Post-Beatles, Australian rock and pop took a turn, looking inward to the Australian way of life but also viewing the world at large. Success as a performer didn’t have to be restricted to Australia.
Australian music has had a huge impact on the world since 1964. Today its reach is greater than at any point in history. This year alone pop acts such as Five Seconds of Summer, Sia and Iggy Azalea have enjoyed great international chart success. It’s a world of new technology and attitudes, where music can be heard anywhere in an instant and social media can publicise a hit song or a surprise gig just as quickly.
The Beatles dominated the charts in 1964 but there was room also for local names such as Billy Thorpe and Ray Columbus and the Invaders. Johnny Farnham, Normie Rowe and Little Pattie were also frequent chart entrants. The Loved Ones, the Master’s Apprentices and the Twilights, among others, released influential albums in the second half of the decade. Few bands from that time survived the 60s, however. Sydney’s Easybeats were a glowing example. The band had a string of local hits including She’s So Fine, I’ll Make You Happy and Sorry before moving to England and releasing the worldwide hit Friday on My Mind in late 1966, but by the end of 1969 the group had dissolved.
The 70s was when Aussie rock and pop found an identity. In 1972 Melbourne entrepreneurs Michael Gudinski and Ray Evans formed the Mushroom Records label to promote the rapidly growing roster of Aussie talent carving a name on the live circuit. The label’s first release represented a pivotal moment in Australia’s rock ’n’ roll evolution, the 1973 Sunbury Pop Festival in Victoria. Mushroom released a triple album of the festival, which hosted the cream of Aussie and New Zealand rock acts, including Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Spectrum and Max Merritt and the Meteors.
Skyhooks’ landmark debut album Livin’ in the 70s, released by Mushroom in 1974, became the highest selling Australian album in history to that point and took Oz rock in a more glamrock direction. The local scene was boosted further in the mid-70s by the launch of television music show Countdown. Soul/pop diva Renee Geyer departed for the US in 1976 leaving a trail of Australian hits behind her, and returned four years later to continue a recording career that is ongoing.
It was also the decade that gave birth to Aussie pub rock, where the Angels, Cold Chisel, Richard Clapton and Ted Mulry Gang, among others, created a new hybrid of blues-oriented rock music in the nation’s pubs and clubs. It was no less frenetic in pop, with Sherbet, Mental as Anything, Little River Band and Split Enz making an impact here and later overseas.
As punk music emerged in the mid-70s, Aussie acts the Saints and Radio Birdman flew the flag of a more rebellious, do-it-yourself rock aesthetic. Young Warracknabeal singer Nick Cave was also showing some promise in early outfits Boys Next Door and the Birthday Party. Cave stands today, alongside Paul Kelly, as one of our most consistent and engaging songwriters and performers.
One act above all set out a template in the 70s that would serve it well and make it one of the most revered, enduring and commercially rewarded bands in history. It’s more than 40 years since AC/DC began playing around the pubs of Sydney. Since then the band has sold millions of each album (220 million-plus in total) and its Black Ice World Tour in 2008-10 was one of the biggest grossing tours in history.
If the 70s had been a pioneering era for Oz rock, the 80s was when it flourished, particularly on the touring circuit. The Models, Hunters and Collectors, the Triffids, Australian Crawl, Divinyls, the Church and Hoodoo Gurus, to name only a handful, led the way. Others including Crowded House, INXS and Men at Work were able to turn that local start into international acclaim. In the pop world, John Farnham’s career exploded on the back of the album Whispering Jack and its international hit You’re the Voice, while Neighbours star Kylie Minogue successfully transferred into the music industry with The Locomotion. Minogue remains our most successful female pop export, sustaining a career for more than 25 years.
INXS’s rise is the most remarkable of that era. It wasn’t until the band’s fourth album, The Swing, and the single Original Sin that the world began to take notice of INXS and its charismatic
ONLINE: frontman Michael Hutchence. A string of hits through the 80s and into the 90s rightfully made it one of the biggest bands in the world. Hutchence’s death in 1997 was a tragedy Australia will never forget, but his influence as a performer remains and his band’s musical legacy stands as a glowing example of how Australian rock and pop can be world-class.
A wave of performers arrived in the 90s who once again changed Australia’s musical landscape and also looked towards Australian culture for inspiration. In 1991, Treaty, Yothu Yindi’s song of reconciliation, became the first track recorded by predominantly Aboriginal performers to make the charts. Kelly, one of the co-writers of Treaty, continued his ascent to Australian rock royalty. Singer Deborah Conway launched her longstanding solo career, while in rock Powderfinger, Silverchair, You Am I and the Cruel Sea announced themselves as long-term prospects.
The past 14 years have seen the biggest changes in Australian music, not just in the broadening styles and their popularity but in the way music is recorded, listened to and distributed. We’ve had international acclaim for acts across many genres, including the Vines, Jet, Birds of Tokyo, Flume, the Presets, Cut Copy and Gotye, to name a few. Australian hiphop found its voice through Hilltop Hoods, The Herd, Bliss n Eso and more recently Urthboy, 360 and, most significantly, Azalea.
It’s impossible to list every Australian who has made an impression with their music over the past 50 years. What one can say with certainty is that the breadth of music and the quality of it has never been greater, and opportunities to take that talent to the world are also at their peak. Australian music has a bright future, but we can look back with pride on its achievements of the past half-century.
ONLINE theaustralian.com.au/review VIDEO: Sarah Blasko discusses the pivotal influences of the past 50 years in music PLUS: The day Michael Hutchence died: how
treated the INXS singer’s death
June 7-8, 2014
Clockwise from top left, 60s stars the Easybeats, enduring rockers AC/DC, current sensation Iggy Azalea, and longstanding legend Paul Kelly