Australia’s musical history is enough to make any Australian proud. Obviously, Aussies are bound to be biased, but most of us truly believe that Australia has spent decades producing some of the most wonderfully crafted and brilliantly performed songs in the world.
March 10 – 12 sees the debut of A Weekend In The Gardens, a whole weekend of gigs curated by the same folks behind the long-running A Day On The Green concerts. With a lineup that includes some of the biggest names in the history of Aussie music like John Farnham, Icehouse, Ross Wilson, and Daryl Braithwaite, as well as big new names like Boy & Bear and Amy Shark, punters are bound to see a veritable history of music performed before them.
To celebrate a weekend of classics artists, we’ve decided to take a look at our list of the most iconic Aussie songs ever.
‘You’re The Voice’ – John Farnham
In 1986, John Farnham’s career wasn’t doing too well. Following a stint fronting the Little River Band, he was back on the solo circuit, but considering his recent albums hadn’t performed that great, he was a little bit nervous. After wisely turning down the opportunity to perform ‘We Built This City’, he was given the opportunity to record ‘You’re The Voice‘. It became an instant classic, turning Farnham into a household name once again, and making his newest record, Whispering Jack, one of the best selling records in Australia.
‘Prisoner Of Society’ – The Living End
Once in a while, a song comes around that encapsulates the feeling of a generation; the 60’s had their protest songs, the 80’s had songs about bad fashion, and Australians in the 90’s had ‘Prisoner Of Society’. Angsty, rebellious, and liberating, there’s hardly any Aussie who grew up in the last few decades who doesn’t know all the words to this song, or at the very least, didn’t sing it while getting a stern talking to from their parents.
‘Great Southern Land’ – Icehouse
As Iva Davies once explained, the impetus for this song came from a trip to Uluru, in which he was taken aback by the natural beauty and wonderment that our fine country has to offer. The fact that he was able to write a song that so perfectly captures the feelings of many Australians, while making a chorus that dutifully compliments Australia, almost makes it seem like it was destined to be one of the great Aussie songs from the start.
‘Eagle Rock’ – Daddy Cool
Long considered one of the greatest Aussie rock songs of all time, it’s easy to see why. It was catchy, fun, and unlike nothing we had ever seen before up until that point in Australia. A year after its release, Elton John visited Australia and was so taken aback by how good the song was that he teamed up with his usual collaborator Bernie Taupin to write ‘Crocodile Rock’. The fact that one little Aussie song was the inspiration for one of the most famous songs from one of music’s most famous artists is something to behold in itself.
‘My Happiness’ – Powderfinger
A brilliantly constructed song that describes the feeling of being away from the one you love, Aussies everywhere could relate to Powderfinger’s ‘My Happiness’ when it was released in 2000. With it’s perfectly catchy chorus, the song would go on to be one of Powderfinger’s most successful tracks, with it being the second Powderfinger song (in a row, no less) to top the Hottest 100 charts.
‘The Horses’ – Daryl Braithwaite
The biggest track from the former Sherbet frontman’s third studio album Rise in 1990, ‘The Horses’ was actually a cover of a track written by Steely Dan member Walter Becker, and recorded by Rickie Lee Jones. Having caught the ear of Braithwaite by accident, he recorded his own version of it, which took it’s time to reach the #1 position on the charts, but would ultimately spend close to six months in the Aussie top 50. 27 years later, it’s still a track that can unite everyone at a party when it comes on the sound system.
‘Boys In Town’ – Divinyls
You’d be hard-pressed to find a debut single that sets the bar as high as this sultry stomper. When Chrissy Amphlett passed away in 2013, many in the Australian music industry cited this as one of their favourite songs ever, and it’s not hard to hear why. Amphlett would sing better on later tracks, and express her powerful sexuality more explicitly in the future – but this was the moment she arrived fully-formed and demanded that you accept her as a rock star. It was an easy ask.
‘Beds Are Burning’ – Midnight Oil
With a song as overtly political as ‘Beds Are Burning’, it’s no surprise that Midnight Oil have gone on to be considered one of the most important Australian bands of all time. A protest song, it was written as a plea for the Australian government to give the native Australian lands back to the Pintupi people, which was one of the most talked-about topics in Australian politics at the time. The song has gone on to be considered one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, meaning that its influence was not only felt locally, but worldwide.
‘Tomorrow’ – Silverchair
If you’re ever in need of an inferiority complex, just remember that the members of Silverchair were only 15 when they wrote and recorded this song. With the musical and songwriting abilities of musicians more than twice their age, the Silverchair lads went on to make some of their most memorable tracks before even reaching the age of 20. While songs such as ‘Straight Lines’ have gained recognition as being one of the more accomplished Silverchair songs, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give credit to where the boys first started from.
‘Errol’ – Australian Crawl
What could be more Australian than a track by a band whose name actually includes the word ‘Australian’ in it? Why, it would be a song by that very band about one of Australia’s most famous exports, actor Errol Flynn. Performed as a biography of Flynn himself, the track romanticises the life of one of the most famous swashbuckling actors of the golden era of Hollywood, even to the point of including the lyric “Oh Errol, I would give everything just to be like him.” It’s short, sweet, to the point, and one of the classic Aussie musical gems.
‘Khe Sanh’ – Cold Chisel
No list of Aussie tracks could be complete without a Barnesy anthem and, while his solo anthem ‘Working Class Man’ was knocking at the door, we can’t go past the evocative themes of a Vietnam vet trying to ease his way back into some semblance of a normal life. Penned as a punk song but eventually transposed into the classic we know today, those themes of agitation and restlessness nonetheless shine through, and “The last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone” is an iconic lyric tattooed on the brains of a generation of Aussie rock fans.
‘One Crowded Hour’ – Augie March
‘One Crowded Hour’ saw Glenn Richards do his best attempt at impersonating Bob Dylan’s songwriting as he managed to capture both the hearts and minds of Australians in one fell swoop. While plenty of Aussies may have been aware by the time Augie March’s Moo, You Bloody Choir came out, it was ‘One Crowded Hour’ that stopped everyone in their tracks and made them pay attention. After listening to the brilliant songwriting that Richards managed with this piece, you can easily see why this deserves to be considered one of the best Aussie songs of all time.
‘Shark Fin Blues’ – The Drones
Back in 2009, a poll run by triple j asked more than 70 Aussie musos to name their favourite songs, and ‘Shark Fin Blues’ by The Drones was the clear winner. Listening to the track, it’s easy to see why our musicians thought so. The song itself sounds almost exactly like the Australian approach to anything; laidback, casual, but not afraid to take itself seriously, Gareth Liddiard and the rest of The Drones manage to encapsulate a history of Aussie music into a 5 minute piece that will truly stand the test of time.
‘My Pal’ – GOD
Written by GOD’s frontman Joel Silbersher when he was only 15, ‘My Pal’ has gone on to be one the definitive Aussie punk songs, or rock songs, or indie songs, depending on how you wish to describe it. Released in 1987 as the group’s debut single, it has managed to go on to become one of the pinnacles of independent Aussie rock.
‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ – Hunters & Collectors
Often used as one of the truly Australian love songs, its hard to find someone who doesn’t love ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’. A favourite of famous musicians such as Eddie Vedder, the track has managed to spend its existence in the hearts and minds of almost every Aussie thanks to its continued presence on radio, television, weddings, parties, and just about anything else you could name.
‘Into My Arms’ – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
‘Into My Arms’ has become one of those songs that everyone has a memory of. While Cave wrote it about the ending of a few relationships that he had, it’s melancholic nature leaves it available for anybody to attach any meaning that they wish to it. While Cave believes it to be one of the songs he’s most proudest of, we can definitely see why.
‘Berlin Chair’ – You Am I
You Am I’s drummer Russell “Rusty” Hopkinson once described ‘Berlin Chair’ as the first Australian emo, or ’emu’, song. To be fair, he’s not far off. Despite the track’s relatively upbeat nature, the lyrics of the song are surprisingly depressing. However, like some of the great songs, such as ‘Every Breath You Take’, we can look past the depressing nature of the lyrics to see that the track still holds up, almost 25 years after its release, as one of the best Aussie rock songs.
Honourable Mentions: AC/DC, The Go-Betweens, and Men At Work
Trying to pick just one Acca Dacca track to include was a nightmare. They’re unassailable, really, so instead we’ll just award this list in their honour.
Same deal with The Go-Betweens. Many cite ‘Cattle and Cane’ as their unassailable classic, but there are forty or so songs that deserve that honour, depending on what ‘type’ of Go-Betweens mood you’re in.
As for Men At Work’s classic Aussie anthem ‘Land Down Under’? Well, we’d have to give all the credit to the thoroughly un-Australian Larrikin Entertainment, apparently…
A Weekend In The Gardens
Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, VIC – Tickets
Friday March 10 – John Farnham with Daryl Braithwaite and Ross Wilson
Saturday March 11 – Boy & Bear with San Cisco and Amy Shark
Sunday March 12 – Icehouse with James Reyne and Claire Bowditch