Australian rock

Australian rock

Australian rock and pop musicians have produced a wide variety of music. While many musicians and bands have had considerable international success, there remains some debate over whether Australian popular music really has a distinctive sound. Perhaps the most striking common feature of Australian music, like many other Australian art forms, is the dry, often self-deprecating humor evident in the lyrics. Australian music also tends to distinguish itself from the rock styles of other nations by a heavy focus on melody and complex, reggae- and jazz-inspired rhythms. Even hard rock and heavy metal groups, from Cold Chisel through to Baby Animals and Rose Tattoo all had a strong sense of melody and are notable for joyous tunes.Where as the darker-witted alternative / experimental Australian rock can be picked having sharp angler guitars, surrounded with deep vibrant bass as explored in 2006 documentary film Sticky Carpet viewing the Melbourne music scene with The Birthday Party, Cosmic Psychos and The Stabs.

Until the late 1960s, many have argued that Australian popular music was largely indistinguishable from imported music: British to begin with, then gradually more and more American in the post-war years. The sudden arrival of the 1960s underground movement into the mainstream in the early 1970s changed Australian music permanently: Skyhooks were far from the first people to write songs in Australia, by Australians, about Australia, but they "were" the first ones ever to make money doing it. The two best-selling albums ever made (at that time) put Australian music on the map. Within a few years, the novelty had worn off and it became commonplace to hear distinctively Australian lyrics and sometimes sounds side-by-side with the imitators and the imports.

Internationally, AC/DC has come to be perhaps the most well-known Australian rock band. With more than 63 Million sales in the US alone [ [ ACDC discography and fact sheet - get a quick dose of ACDC stats ] ]

1950s to early 1960s: the "First Wave" of Australian rock

In the mid-1950s American rockabilly and rock and roll music was taken up by local musicians and it soon caught on with Australian teens, through movies, records and from 1956, television. EMI had dominated the Australasian record market since the end of WWII, and they made British music a powerful force in the late Fitiies and Sixties with signings like Cliff Richard & The Shadows, The Beatles, The Hollies and Cilla Black. EMI (Australia) also locally distributed Decca (The Rolling Stones' label) as well as the American Capitol label (The Beach Boys). During this period, however, a number of local companies in Australia expanded into the growing Australian music market, which grew considerably after the emergence of the first wave of American rock'n'roll in the mid-Fifites.

In 1951 merchant bank, Mainguard took over a struggling Sydney engineering firm, retooled and relaunched it as Festival Records. Its main local competition was ARC (the Australian Record Company), a former radio production and disc transcription service that established the successful Pacific, Rodeo and Coronet labels and competed with Festival as a manufacturer/distributor in NSW.

Several major events took place in 1960. In January Festival Records was purchased by rising young media magnate Rupert Murdoch, and a few weeks later, in April, ARC was taken over by the American CBS company, who closed the Coronet label and replaced the Australian CBS label.

Although most of the major labels were based in Sydney, Melbourne's vibrant dance and concert scene powered a local boom in rock'n'roll and pop music and it became Australia's pop capital in the 1960s. During the Fifties luthier Bill May expanded his Maton guitar company, becoming one of the first local manufacturers of the new electric guitars and amplifiers. In 1953 precision engineering company White & Gillespie established a custom recording division, which their company history claims was the first in Australia to press records in the new vinyl microgroove format. The new division soon included the W&G label and studio. In 1960 Melbourne consumer electronics company Astor Electronics created its own record division, Astor Records, which established the Astor label and also became a leading distributor.

All through this period Australia was experiencing the effects of a rising tide of migration, as thousands fled the wreckage of postwar Europe. The majority of migrants were from the UK, and many were "Ten Pound Poms" who were able to take advantage of the Australian government's generous £10 assisted-passage fare. Also, for the first time since the Gold Rush large numbers of "non-Anglo" migrants came to Australia from places like Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Portugal and eastern European nations like Yugoslavia, Hungary and Poland. These immigrants exerted a powerful influence on all aspects of Australian society and notably in popular music -- many major Australia pop performers of the Sixties were the children of migrants from Europe and the UK.

The arrival of American entrepreneur Lee Gordon in 1953 marked a major expansion in Australian entertainment. He established himself with a record-breaking tour by American singer Johnnie Ray and Gordon's now-legendary "Big Show" promotions brought to Australia -- in many cases for the first or only time -- dozens of the biggest American jazz, rock and popular stars of the era, including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Artie Shaw, Nat King Cole, Johnnie Ray, Frank Sinatra, Bill Haley & The Comets, Little Richard, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Jerry lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and many others. He also promoted local talent by using Australian acts as supports on his concerts.

In the mid-1950s Festival Records grabbed an early lead in rock'n'roll by releasing Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" in Australia in 1956 after the single had been turned down EMI/Decca. It became the biggest-selling hit ever released in Australia up to that time, and its success set Festival on its way to becoming the dominant Australian local record company for the next fifteen years.

Soon after, inspired by Elvis Presley and Little Richard, Johnny O'Keefe achieved local stardom caftyer his breakthrough appearances on Lee Gordon's Bill Haley tour. O'Keefe carved out a singular career and became a legend of Australian rock music. He hosted one of Australia's first TV pop shows, "Six O'Clock Rock", became a partner in Lee Gordon's record company, Leedon, and was the first Australian rock'n'roll performer to attempt to break into the USA. Iggy Pop acknowledged O'Keefe's importance when he recorded a version of O'Keefe's hit "Real Wild Child" in the 1980s, which he recently re-recorded with successful Australian band Jet. For a few years, O'Keefe and other local rockers like Lonnie Lee & The Leemen, Dig Richards & The R'Jays, Col Joye & The Joy Boys, Alan Dale & The Houserockers, Ray Hoff & The Offbeats, Digger Revell & The Denvermen and New Zealand's Johnny Devlin & The Devils whipped up excitement on a par with their American inspirations.

The success of these 'First Wave' rockn'roll acts was brief, and by the early '60s the first boom had begun to fade. Between O'Keefe's last major hit in 1961 and Billy Thorpe's first hit in 1964, the local pop scene became noticeably blander and more conservative. The charts were dominated by clean-cut acts, like the members of the so-called "Bandstand family", most of whom were signed to Festival and were regular guests on Australia's leading TV pop show, 'Bandstand' [ [ MILESAGO - Media- Television - BANDSTAND ] ] , which explicitly aimed to appeal to anyone "from eight to eighty".

Nevertheless, there were some exciting undercurrents. A notable alternative to the mainstream pop fare was the emergence of instrumental and 'surf' groups, notably The Atlantics and The Denvermen [ [ MILESAGO - Groups & Solo Artists - The Denvermen ] ] in Sydney, and Melbourne's, The Thunderbirds [ [ The Thunderbirds Rock Band ] ] . Many of the players in these dance bands had come from the jazz scene, and were also strongly influenced by the R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan. Others were inspired by figures like American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy, and particularly by the all-pervasive popularity of the Shadows and American band the Ventures. The Shadows' influence on Australasian pop and rock music of the Sixties and Seventies is still much underrated, and their lead guitarist Hank Marvin probably inspired more aspiring electric guitarists than any other figure in popular music until the advent of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

These instrumental outfits cut their teeth playing on the booming dance circuits in Australia's major cities and regional towns. Like Australian jazz bands of the period, these rock'n'roll musicians became extremely accomplished players. Because dance patrons in those days actually danced as couples to traditional rhythms, dance bands in Australia and New Zealand tended to play a much wider variety of musical styles than their American or British jazz counterparts — it was not unusual for Australasian bands of this period to have literally hundreds of songs in their repertoire, ranging from current rock'n'roll and pop hit to the standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties.

Many of these instrumental groups survived into the Beatles era by adding a lead singer, and several evolved into some of the top bands of that next wave. Surf music and local dance crazes like "The Stomp" were hugely popular at the time, even though they rarely rate a mention these days.

Although most of the Australian and New Zealand pop/rock music of this era went unheard by international audiences, a few Antipodean acts did manage to make an impression overseas. Johnny O'Keefe's attempt to luanch an Americn career failed, but British-born singer Frank Ifield was one of the very first Australian postwar performers to gain widespread international recognition. He was hugely successful in the UK in the early Sixties, becoming the first performer to have three consecutive #1 hits there, and his biggest hit, "I Remember You" was#1 in the UK and was also a Top 5 hit in the U.S.A. Singer comedian and artist Rolf Harris also had several novelty hits during this period and went on to become a fixture on British television with his own popular variety show.

The Beat boom

Facilitated by the deep cultural, linguistic and economic links between Britain and its former colonies, the Beatles and other British Invasion groups had a massive impact on the Australasian music scene. Many of these bands toured Australia and New Zealand to wild receptions in the mid-Sixties. When The Beatles' epoch-making 1964 Australian tour arrived in Adelaide, an estimated 300,000 people — about one-third of the city's entire population at that time — turned out to see them as their motorcade made its way from the airport to the city.

The tours and recordings by these new 'Beat' groups revitalised the pop genre and inspired scores of new and established groups, who quickly developed a vibrant and distinctive local inflection of the 60s 'beat music' craze. The Easybeats and The Bee Gees are probably the best-known acts from this era to gain success outside Australia, but by the mid-Sixties there were literally hundreds of bands working almost every night of the week in Australia and New Zealand.

1964 – 1969: "Second Wave"

The period 1964 – 1969 is often classified as the 'Second Wave' of Australian rock. The leading acts of this period include Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, pioneering beat duo Bobby & Laurie (Australia's first "long-haired" performers), the Easybeats, Ray Brown & The Whispers, Tony Worsley & The Fabulous Blue Jays, the Twilights, the Loved Ones, the Masters Apprentices, MPD Ltd, Mike Furber & The Bowery Boys, Ray Columbus & The Invaders, Max Merritt, Dinah Lee, Australia's most popular male singer Normie Rowe, The Groop, the Groove, Lynne Randell (who toured America with the Monkees and Jimi Hendrix), Johnny Young, John Farnham, Doug Parkinson, Russell Morris and Ronnie Burns. Also of note were cult acts such as the Missing Links, the Purple Hearts, The Wild Cherries, The Creatures and the Throb, who had only limited success at the time but whose 'heavier' sound would exert a significant influence on later bands like The Saints.

It was during the '60s that New Zealand performers began to move to Australia in search of wider opportunities. Although their origins are often overlooked (in much the same way that Canadian performers like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are routinely classified as "American") these trans-Tasman performers — people like Max Merritt, Mike Rudd, Dinah Lee, Ray Columbus, Bruno Lawrence, Dragon and Split Enz — have exerted a tremendous influence on Australian popular music.

Another significant Australian from this period, and one whose importance is only now beginning to be widely recognised, was the critic and journalist Lillian Roxon (1932–1973), who grew up in Brisbane but who was based in New York from 1959 until her premature death from asthma. She was a close friend of feminist writer Germaine Greer, photographer Linda McCartney, poet Delmore Schwartz, artist Andy Warhol and many musicians including Lou Reed. Roxon wrote the world's first Rock Encyclopedia, published in 1969, and her writings about pop music and musicians were central to the development of serious rock criticism and rock journalism in the late 1960s and 1970s.

By far the most influential and popular music-related publication of this period was the weekly magazine "Go-Set", which was published from 1966 to 1974. Founded in Melbourne in 1966 by a group of former Monash University students including Philip Frazer, Tony Schauble and Doug Panther, "Go-Set" chronicled all of the major events, trends, fads and performers in Australian popular music, as well as featuring regular columns by renowned Melbourne radio DJ Stan Rofe and Aussie fashion designer Prue Acton.

"Go-Set" also published the first [ national Australian pop charts] in October 1966 (all charts prior to this were state-based) and it gave extensive coverage to overseas musical developments -- it was one of the first international music papers to report on the emergence of Jimi Hendrix and two staff members -- writer Lily Brett and photographer Colin Beard -- travelled to the USA and the UK in mid-1967, reporting on the famous Monterey International Pop Festival and the burgeoning music scene in London, as well as chronicling the exploits of Australian musicians overseas including Normie Rowe and Lynne Randell. Another aspect of "Go-Set's" activities was it's exclusive reporting & promotion of Australia's prestigious annual rock band competition, Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, which ran from 1966 to 1972.

Although it was explicitly established as a 'teens and twenties' magazine, in its later years, inspired by newer publications like Rolling Stone magazine, "Go-Set" took on a more mature presentation, with numerous rock performers including Jim Keays and Wendy Saddington writing for the magazine. In 1970 former columnist Ian Meldrum scored a world exclusive for "Go-Set" when he interviewed John Lennon in London, during which Lennon made his first public announcement that The Beatles were breaking up.

As in other countries, independent record labels proliferated during this period. The local branch of the British-owned EMI company had dominated the Australian record market since the 1920s, but in this period it faced increasing challenges from its rivals, including the Australian arm of the American CBS Records and particularly from the Sydney-based Festival Records, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Limited.

Festival had its own successful house label, and it also signed valuable distribution deals with some of the most important and successful independent labels of Sixties, notably Leedon Records (which released the earliest recordings by The Bee Gees), Spin Records and the Perth-based Clarion Records. The many hits released on these independent labels comprised a significant part of Festival's total turnover.

Other important independent pop labels of this period included the Melbourne-based W&G Records, Astor Records -- also a major distributor -- and the shortlived Go!! Records label, which was set up in conjunction with the popular pop TV series The Go!! Show.

Independent studios and production companies began to play an increasingly important role in the local record industry. Arguably the most productive and influential pop studio in Australia at that time was Armstrong's Studios in Melbourne. Studio owner and engineer Bill Armstrong was an industry veteran who had worked for major record labels, radio stations and advertising clients; and his new studio, which opened in 1965, soon became the most sought-after in the country and probably produced more Australian pop hits than any other in this era. It was also one of the first studios in the country to install 8-track and 16-track recorders in the late 1960s and early '70s, and was an important training ground for some of Australia's best engineers and producers including Roger Savage, John L. Sayers, Ern Rose, John French and many others.

One of the first and most important independent production companies was Albert Productions, which signed both Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs and The Easybeats. It was established in 1964 by young music executive Ted Albert, whose family that owned Australia's leading music publishing house J. Albert & Son and the Macquarie radio network, which then included leading Sydney AM pop station 2UW.

Albert Productions scored many major Australian hits (released locally on EMI's Parlophone label) with both their flagship acts in the mid-Sixties, and the Albert Productions record label, esatblished in the early 1970s, became one of the most successful Australian labels of that decade. Other significant 'indie' production houses of ther period included Leopold Productions (Max Merritt, The Allusions), set up Festival's original house producer Robert Iredale, and June Productions, led by former W&G/Astor staff producer Ron Tudor, who went on to found Fable Records in 1969.

1970 – 1975: "Third Wave"

After a period of flux in the late 60s, during which almost all of the dominant 60s acts dissolved or faded from view, Australian rock moved into the so-called "The Third Wave" (1970 – 1975), a fertile period in which newer performers and veterans of the 60s Beat Boom coalesced into new formations and developed a more mature, progressive and distinctively Australian rock style. Some of these acts were successful within Australia, but few managed to achieve any lasting local or overseas success, due to the combination of poor management, lack of record company support and lack of radio exposure.

Early "Third Wave"

Until the late 1970s, many Australian performers found it hard to become established and to maintain their profile, because of the difficulty in getting airplay on radio. Until 1975, Australian pop radio was dominated by a clique of commercial broadcasters who virtually had the field to themselves and their influence over government was such that, incredibly, no new radio licences had been issued in any Australian capital city since the prevailing industry structure had been consolidated in the early 1930s. All commercial pop radio was broadcast on the AM band, in mono, and the commercial sector strenuously resisted calls to grant new licences, introduce community broadcasting and open up the FM band (then only used for TV broadcasts in Australia) even though FM rock radio was already well-established in the United States.

Many of the more progressively-oriented artists found themselves locked out of Australian commercial radio, which concentrated on high-rotation 3-minute pop single programming. This was a result of the widespread adoption of the American-inspired "More Music" format, which had been pioneered in Los Angeles with great success by the Drake-Chenault programming consultancy.

There was a great deal of innovative and exciting music produced; although few Australians got to hear more than a fraction of it at the time, this music is undergoing a major resurgence both locally and internationally, since Australia is one of the last untapped resources of 20th-century popular music.

Landmark acts of this period include Spectrum and its successor Ariel (band), Daddy Cool, Blackfeather, The Flying Circus,Tully (band), Tamam Shud, Russell Morris, Jeff St John & Copperwine, Chain, Billy Thorpe & The (new) Aztecs, Company Caine, Kahvas Jute, Country Radio, Max Merritt & The Meteors, The La De Das, Madder Lake, former Easybeats lead singer Stevie Wright, Wendy Saddington, The 69'ers, The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and country-rock pioneers The Dingoes.

Guitarist-songwriter-producer Lobby Loyde (ex Wild Cherries, Purple Hearts) was another key figure in this period, most notably with his '70s band Coloured Balls, who gained a considerable following, despite media allegations that their music promoted skinhead violence. Lloyde had also played an important part in the re-emergence of Billy Thorpe and the 'new' hard-rock incarnation of the Aztecs, and his solo and band recordings in this period had a significant impact in Australia and internationally; Henry Rollins and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain are among those who have reportedly cited Lobby as an influence.

Rock musicals were another important development in Australia at this time. The local production of Hair (musical) brought future "Queen of Pop" Marcia Hines to Australia in 1970. In 1972 the hugely successful and much-praised Sydney production of Jesus Christ Superstar premiered, and this production alone included Marcia Hines, Jon English, theatre legend Reg Livermore, the two main members of Air Supply, Stevie Wright and John Paul Young. It was directed by Jim Sharman, who went on to lasting international success as the director of the both the original stage production and the film version of The Rocky Horror Show.

Alongside the more obscure acts was a raft of successful pop-oriented groups and solo artists, including Sherbet, Hush, Ray Burgess, the Ted Mulry Gang (TMG) and John Paul Young, who went on to become the first Australian performer to have a major hit in multiple international markets with his perennial "Love Is In The Air" (1978) — a song which was, not coincidentally, written and produced by former Easybeats Harry Vanda and George Young, the masterminds behind many of the biggest Australian hits of the mid-to-late Seventies. The tail-end of the Second Wave gave birth to the record-breaking Skyhooks, who bridged the transition from the Third Wave into the period of the so-called New Wave music acts of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sherbet was undoubtedly the most successful of these.

The early 1970s also witnessed the first major rock festivals in Australia, which were closely modelled on the fabled Woodstock festival of 1969. The festival era was exemplified by the annual Sunbury music festival, held outside Melbourne, Victoria each January from 1972 to 1975. Although there were numerous other smaller festivals, most were not successful and failed to have the lasting impact of Sunbury. After the disastrous 1975 festival, which sent the promoters broke, large-scale festivals were considered too risky and were only rarely staged in Australia until the advent of the annual Big Day Out in the 1990s.

Two important changes which had a dramatic affect the rock scene were the long-overdue introduction of colour television and FM radio in 1975. This period also saw the decline of the booming local dance and discotheque circuit that had flourished in the 1960s and early Seventies. These rock dances were a continuation of the social dance circuit that had thrived in Australia's cities and suburbs since the 1800s, and they were hugely popular from the late Fifties to the early Seventies, but they gradually faded in the early Seventies as the "Baby Boomer" generation grew into adulthood and changes to licencing laws saw pubs take on an increasingly important role as venues for live music.

From the 1950s to the early 1970s, the main venues for live music were discotheques (usually located in inner city areas), church, municipal and community halls, Police Boys' Clubs and beachside surf clubs. Bigger concerts and international tours were usually staged in the few large-size venues, such as the legendary Sydney Stadium (originally built as a boxing arena), the Sydney Trocadero, and Brisbane and Melbourne Festival Hall. Such venues regularly attracted large numbers of young people because they were supervised, all-ages events — Australia's restrictive liquor licensing laws of the period meant that these venues and dances were almost always alcohol-free.

According to rock historian Glenn A Baker, in 1965 there were up to 100 dances being held every weekend in and around Melbourne alone. The most popular groups frequently played almost every night of the week, commonly commuting around town, performing short sets at three or more different dances every night. It was a very lucrative circuit for musicians and even moderately popular acts could easily earn considerably more than the average weekly wage at that time.

The decline of the local dance circuit, combined with the fact that the baby boom teenagers of the Sixties were now ageing into adulthood, led to the rise of a thriving new city and suburban pub music circuit in the mid-70s, which in turn spawned a new generation of bands who cut their teeth in this often tough but formative training ground.

1974: "Countdown"

"Main article:" Countdown

Teen-oriented pop music still enjoyed strong popularity during the 1970s, although much of it was sourced from overseas, and the proportion of Australian acts in the charts had hit an all-time low by 1973. That trend began to change around 1975, thanks largely to the advent of a new weekly TV pop show, "Countdown", in late 1974. It gained a huge audience and soon exerted a strong influence on radio programmers, because it was broadcast nationwide on Australia's government-owned broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). "Countdown" was the most popular music programs in Australian TV history, and it had a marked effect on radio because of its loyal national audience — and the amount of Australian content it featured.

The most important feature of Countdown was that it became a critical new interface between the record industry and radio. By the late 1970s, radio programmers ignored Countdown's hit picks at their peril. Host Ian "Molly" Meldrum also frequently used the show to castigate local radio for its lack of support for Australian music. Unlike commercial TV or radio, Countdown was not answerable to advertisers or sponsors, and (in theory) it was far less susceptible to influence from record companies. Like no other ABC program before or since, it openly and actively promoted the products of these private companies and even back in the Seventies, there's no doubt that there would have been a major controversy if the ABC had used its resources to promote the products of any other private industry so blatantly. Yet, it was able to do so because the public, the regulators and the policy-makers evidently regarded pop records and music videos as somehow standing outside the realm of everyday commerce.

Countdown was crucial to the success of acts like John Paul Young, Sherbet, Skyhooks, Dragon and Split Enz, and it dominated Australian popular music well into the 1980s, although some critics felt that in later years it tended to concentrate on pop-oriented major-label acts and that it failed to reflect much of the exciting independent scene of the time.

1975: the establishment of Double Jay

"Main article:" Triple J

In the long term, one of the most important changes to the Australian music industry in the 1970s (and beyond) turned out to be the founding of the ABC's first all-rock radio station, Double Jay (2JJ) in Sydney in January 1975. It is indicative of the conservative nature of the Australian media and its regulators that Double Jay was the first new radio licence issued in an Australian capital city in more than 40 years. It was also Australia's first non-commercial 24-hour rock station, and the first to employ women disc jockeys.

Double-Jay's wide-ranging programming policies were influenced by British '60s pirate radio, the early programming of BBC Radio One, and the American album-oriented rock (AOR) format. The new station opened up the airwaves to a vast amount of new local music, introduced listeners to important overseas innovations like reggae, dub, progressive rock, punk and New Wave -- music that had been largely ignored by commercial radio. Double Jay also featured an unprecedented level of Australian content, and presented regular live concert broadcasts, comedy, controversial documentaries and innovative radiophonic features.

Double-Jay quickly made a significant mark on the ratings in its target age group, much to the dismay of its major commercial competitor, Sydney's 2SM (then Australia's top rating and most profitable pop station) and, in concert with "Countdown", Triple J was a crucial Australian outlet for the emerging punk and New Wave music styles of the late 1970s. Much of this music was considered too extreme for commercial radio and it is doubtful that much of it would have been heard otherwise, but after 1975 it soon became an established pattern for Double Jay to break new overseas acts like The Clash and The Police, or local acts like Midnight Oil and The Birthday Party, after which they were (usually) considered "safe" for commercial radio.

Despite the constant downplaying of its significance by the commercial sector, the importance and influence on Double Jay/Triple-J on the Australian music industry and Australian commercial radio cannot be underestimated.

The late 1970s

The advent Double Jay and "Countdown" fundamentally changed the political economy of Australian popular music, and the pub circuit gave rise to a newer generation of tough, uncompromising, adult-oriented rock bands.

One of the most popular Australian groups to emerge in this period was the classic Australian pub rock band Cold Chisel, which formed in Adelaide in 1973 and enjoyed tremendous success in Australia in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although they never managed to break into other countries.

Other popular acts from this transitional period include AC/DC, Skyhooks, Richard Clapton, Ol' 55, Jon English, Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, The Angels, The Sports, The Radiators, Australian Crawl, Dragon, Rose Tattoo, Ross Wilson's Mondo Rock, acclaimed soul singers Marcia Hines and Renée Geyer and pioneering Australian punk/new wave acts The Saints (Mk I) and Radio Birdman. The band Sebastian Hardie became known as the first Australian symphonic rock band in the mid-70s, with the release of their debut "Four Moments".

Three "Australian" acts that appeared towards the end of the Second Wave — AC/DC, Little River Band and Split Enz — and lasted into the late 1970s and early 1980s achieved the long sought-after international success that finally took Australasian rock onto the world stage.

The progression of the Australian independent scene from the late seventies uptil the early nineties is chronicled in (Pan Macmillan, 1996) by author and music journalist Clinton Walker.


AC/DC are perhaps the most well-known rock group from Australia. They have sold millions of albums, toured the world several times over, broken countless attendance records, and influenced hard rock music the world over.

From their humble beginnings, Scottish brothers Angus and Malcolm Young forged a hard-hitting, ball-breaking pub guitar sound. When Bon Scott joined the band to lend his unique vocal talent, the band began their 'long way to the top', shooting to the top of the Australian rock scene in 1974 – 75 and their song "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)". This song is now widely regarded as "the" Australian rock anthem. The band found a degree of international success, especially with the release of their "Highway to Hell" album. This was to be Bon Scott's last album. During the subsequent tour, Scott was discovered in the backseat of his car, having died of asphyxiation due to alcohol poisoning.

The band found a new singer in English-born Brian Johnson and released their next album, "Back In Black", in the early '80s. The U.S. took notice of the band with some of their finest songs, such as the title track and "You Shook Me All Night Long", and the album became the best selling album by a "band" ever, with Michael Jackson's Thriller as number one, selling over 22 million copies in the U.S. and 42 million copies around the world

AC/DC are credited as a seminal influence by scores of leading hard rock and heavy metal music acts, and they are now rated the fifth-biggest selling group in U.S. recording history, with total sales of over 100 million records.

Little River Band

"Main article:" Little River Band

The next important band of this period is the soft-rock-harmony group Little River Band (LRB). Resurrected from the ashes of an earlier band called Mississippi, LRB centred on a trio of seasoned veterans. Lead singer Glenn Shorrock had fronted Australian 60s pop idols The Twilights and singer-guitarists Beeb Birtles and Graeham Goble had been the core members of Mississippi; prior to that, Birtles had played bass in chart-topping Australian '60s pop group Zoot whose former lead guitarist Rick Springfield also became a solo star in the USA.

Under the guidance of manager Glenn Wheatley (former bassist in The Masters Apprentices, one of the top Australian bands of the Sixties) LRB became the first Australian band to achieve major ongoing chart and sales success in the United States. They achieved huge success in the late 70s and early 80s and their single "Reminiscing" now ranks as one of the most frequently-played singles in American radio history. []

Punk, post-punk and early electronic music

By the late 1970s punk rock's influence had been felt throughout the world, and bands like The Saints and Radio Birdman (sometimes considered punk rock acts themselves) gained a loyal following (largely thanks to Double Jay and to a lesser extent "Countdown"). Following the punk movement several influential bands of this so-called post-punk era were The Birthday Party, led by Nick Cave.

Other developments of the late 1970s were the appearance of early electronic musicians most notable of which were Sydney-based Severed Heads and Melbourne's Essendon Airport who began to experiment with tape-loops and synthesisers, but did not rise to prominence until the 1980s. Although completely underground until the late 1980s, by the late 1990s Severed Heads were widely cited in Australia and in other parts world as being significant influences on the development of electronic music genres such synth pop and industrial music. At the pop end of the scale, Mi-Sex scored a major hit with the single 'Computer Games' in 1980, which was one of the first Australian pop recordings to employ sequenced synthesiser backings. In 1980 producer Mark Moffatt pioneered dance technology by becoming the first in the world to use a Roland 808 rhythm composer and MC 4 digital sequencer on record with his studio project the Monitors. Prior to that he had produced "(I'm) Stranded" with the Saints.


While many Australasian bands from the 1980s remained cult acts outside of Australia, some, including Little River Band, Men at Work, AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil, and later Crowded House and Kylie Minogue, found wide success throughout the decade.

Critically-acclaimed acts like The Church, Hunters & Collectors, Hoodoo Gurus, the second incarnation of The Saints and a new band formed by Nick Cave and Mick Harvey, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, developed strong followings in Europe and other regions. More commercial acts such as singer John Farnham were very successful for many years within Australia, but remain largely unknown outside the country.

Farnham's commercial comeback was one the biggest success stories in Australian music in that decade, the former "King of Pop" spent years out of favour with the public and the industry, often reduced to working in suburban clubs, but he bounded back onto the charts in 1986 with the album "Whispering Jack", which became the biggest-selling album of that year and remains one of the biggest selling Australian records. Not coincidentally, his manager was Glenn Wheatley, former manager of Little River Band.

Renowned artists such as singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and his band The Coloured Girls (renamed The Messengers for America), ambient-rock-crossover act Not Drowning, Waving, the darkwave-world music group Dead Can Dance and Aboriginal-band Yothu Yindi drew inspiration from uniquely Australian concerns, particularly from the land, which garnered them critical appraisal within Australia, and found international listeners.

The decade also saw perhaps the most concerted examination of the routine and everyday aspects of suburban and inner-city life since perhaps The Executives 1960's classic "Summer Hill Road." This approach was explored not only by Paul Kelly and the aforementioned Coloured Girls (in songs like "From St. Kilda To Kings Cross" and "Leaps and Bounds" but also by bands such as The Little Heroes (eg "Melbourne is Not New York"), John Kennedy's Love Gone Wrong (eg "King Street") and The Mexican Spitfires (eg "Sydney Town" and "Town Hall Steps."

The 1980s was a boom period in many ways, and it produced scores of great bands and some of the best Australian pop-rock recordings. This includes widely praised, popular and influential acts such as The Models, Laughing Clowns, Sunnyboys, Hunters & Collectors, Machinations, Matt Finish, Hoodoo Gurus, Divinyls, The Dugites, The Numbers, The Swingers, Spy Vs Spy, Eurogliders, Mental As Anything, Boom Crash Opera, The Go-Betweens, I'm Talking, Do Ré Mi, Real Life, The Reels, The Stems, The Triffids, Icehouse, Redgum, Goanna, 1927, Noiseworks, GANGgajang , The Black Sorrows and The Zorros. These acts often topped the Australian charts but never quite gained the international success that many critics felt they deserved, although many continued with loyal followings well into the 1990s.

One especially noteworthy group in this period was the pioneering Aboriginal group Warumpi Band from the Northern Territory, whose landmark single "Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out from Jail)" was the first rock single ever recorded in an Aboriginal language. Once again Triple J were instrumental in bringing this band to public attention, as were Midnight Oil, who took the group on national tours with them. Their classic 1987 single "My Island Home" was successfully covered by Christine Anu in the 1990s.

Detroit rock bands such as the Celibate Rifles, The Lime Spiders and The Hitmen would serve as a link between the garage rock revival of the 1980s and the grunge scene to follow.

1990s — Indie Rock

Throughout the developed world, indie rock of various kinds became more popular during the 1990s, especially grunge rock. As in other countries, independent music festivals also saw a resurgence in popularity, most notably the Big Day Out (which began in Sydney in 1992) attracted and helped build the careers of many Australian acts as well as showcasing international artists to a local audience. Notable Australian independent acts of the time included the Falling Joys from Canberra; Regurgitator, Powderfinger, Screamfeeder and Custard from Brisbane; The Living End, Dirty Three, Magic Dirt and The Meanies from Melbourne; Jebediah from Perth, RatCat, The Clouds, You Am I, The Whitlams, The Crystal Set from Sydney; and Silverchair, who began as a teenage combo in Newcastle, were discovered by Triple-J and have since become one of the most successful Australian bands of all time. The changes brought about in this period and the aforementioned bands are discussed in the book The Sell-In by music journalist Craig Mathieson.

Far and away the biggest commercial success of the 1990s was electropop duo Savage Garden. They shot to fame in 1996, scoring huge hits in Australia, Asia, Europe and America. They became the first Australian act since Men At Work to score two #1 U.S. hits, and their 1999 album "Affirmation" sold over 5 million copies in the United States. alone. A 2004 report in "The Sydney Morning Herald" rated their album "Savage Garden" at #4 and "Affirmation" at #15 in the list of the 25 biggest-selling albums (from any country) over the last ten years in Australia.

While overseas hip-hop became quite popular in Australia in the early 1990s, and a number of artists began performing it, virtually none of them were signed to record deals or saw mainstream airplay.

The 1990s also saw a rise in popular Australian music and videos for young children, particularly The Wiggles and Hi-5.


Australia's predilection for rock never really went away, despite the enthusiasm for dance music in the late 1990s. Several Australian rock bands saw international success in Europe and the US. Notable examples include The Vines, who rose to prominence in the UK before becoming known in Australia, The Butterfly Effect, and Jet. Jet, influenced by seminal 1960s acts such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, had their single "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" used in an Apple iPod commercial, and consequently have sold 3 million copies in the US alone. Another band which had great success is Wolfmother, a hard rock band, very influenced by 70's psychedelic rock and heavy metal bands, like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. In 2007 Wolfmother were awarded a Grammy for best hard rock performance for their extremely successful single "Woman".

Apart from those bands which achieved international success, one of the well known Australian rock bands of the 2000s was Grinspoon. They first achieved success in the music industry in 1995 after being Unearthed by Triple J, and have been a mainstay of festivals such as the Big Day Out ever since.

Domestically, roots music, seemingly a catch-all term for somewhat more laid-back acoustic music covering blues, country and folk influences, came to some prominence, including John Butler leading the John Butler Trio, and the plaintive harmonies of The Waifs. A number of "blues and roots" festivals have sprung up and are attracting large audiences.

As well as these uniquely "Aussie Bands", 2005 in particular sparked many brand new Australian "indie rock" bands such as End Of Fashion who won ARIA awards for their debut self-titled album and hit song "Oh Yeah" (as well as performing at the Homebake festival and appearing on talk show Rove Live several times). There is also Kisschasy who appeared in concert on October 2, 2005 with teen favourite Simple Plan.

Even at the commercial end of popular music, more attention was finally being paid towards "real" musicians, especially female singers-songwriters. A wave of female fronted, PJ Harvey-esque bands emerged in Australia during the early 00's, most notably Little Birdy and Love Outside Andromeda. And with the phenomenial success of Missy Higgins, real artists such as Sarah Blasko and others have found themselves a strong following.

Hardcore punk

Australian hardcore punk is an active rock music subgenre with a dedicated following. Many bands never tour outside their home state but enjoy a relatively large local fanbase. Recorded material of their work may be hard to acquire as live shows are the mainstay of the scene.

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) ethic is strong with local distributors and small record labels active in most capital cities. Unlike the United States relatively few bands are straight edge or influenced by particular political views or religious convictions.

The strong sense of DIY ethics embarrassed by independent street press and community radio stations mostly in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth forms a breeding ground for creative artist who wish to explore the audio spectrum as seen in Sticky Carpet rockumentary of Melbourne music scene.

In recent years, Australian hardcore bands have been growing in fanbase and success, the most notable being Byron Bay's Parkway Drive signing to American punk/hardcore record label Epitaph Records.


Further reading

* McFarlane, Ian. (1999). "The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop". St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1864487682.

External links

* [ Australasian popular music of the 1960s and 1970s]

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