Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins

Oz Rock & Pop

One of my areas of limerick writing has been a series of limericks about Australian rock and pop artists. Rather than bury them in other pages, I thought I’d put them on display here.

AC/DC, let’s go for a stroll:
Buying takeaway’s good for the soul.
Yeah, I know it’s—don’t stop—
A long way to the shop,
But I wanna nice hot sausage roll.

This is a ridiculous homage to Australia’s most successful hard rock band, but when I was at school we would sing along to Acca Dacca’s 1976 hit “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll)” with these lyrics, and would accept no substitutes.

AC/DC were formed in Sydney in 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (1953–2017) and Angus Young (b. 1955) and were joined the following year by Scottish-born lead singer Bon Scott (1946–1980). Their 1979 album Highway to Hell, which reached the US top twenty, promised international success, but Scott’s premature death almost ended their rise; however, with new singer Brian Johnson (b. 1947), the following year they went on to record the second-best-selling album of all time, Back in Black, which to date has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Their seventeenth studio album, Power Up, was released in 2020.

The essence of pub rock, these men
Were The Angels: no secret that when
All the punters were howling
“Fuck off”, Doc was scowling,
“Ever gonna see your face again?”

Adelaide band The Angels (formed in 1974 as The Keystone Angels, and known internationally as Angel City and later The Angels from Angel City to avoid legal problems) became one of the most successful Australian rock bands of the 1980s. Their top-ten albums included Dark Room (1980), Two Minute Warning (1984) and Howling (1986), while their 1980 number 8 single “No Secrets” was ranked by radio station Triple M in its 2018 “Ozzest 100” as the fiftieth most Australian song of all time. Their best-loved song, though, has to be their first, “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again” (1976), which in gigs famously drew the audience response, “No way, get fucked, fuck off”—a chant forever preserved in the 1988 live version. Sadly, lead singer Bernard “Doc” Neeson left the stage permanently in 2014 when he died of a brain tumour at the age of 67.

Young Talent Time’s Tina Arena
(Her Sicilian folks call her Pina)
Is a big star in France
And Australia. Dance
Won her fans; her fine voice made them keener.

Tina Arena (b. 1967), one of Australia’s highest-selling artists, first came to national attention as a contestant on the weekly variety programme Young Talent Time in 1974, joining the cast two years later and remaining a core member until just before her 16th birthday. She released her first album as an adult in 1990; her second, Don’t Ask (1994), became a number one hit in Australia, selling ten times platinum and winning the ARIA Award for Album of the Year; it also reached number 11 in the UK (where she lived at the time), thanks to its number 6 single there, “Chains”. 1997 follow-up In Deep was another number one album in Australia and number three in France, where it included her first single in French (and number two on the French singles charts), “Aller plus haut”. Arena has since recorded three albums in French and five more in English; her style has shifted over time from pop ballads and dance-pop to torch songs.

Arena starred in a West End production of Chicago and was the lead in an Australian production of Evita; she was the first Australian to be awarded a knighthood of the French National Order of Merit, for her contributions to French culture. She was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2015 and awarded the Order of Australia the following year.

It’s freestyle, Australian crawl—
A swimming stroke. That isn’t all:
Boys light up for their songs;
Every reckless fan longs
For downhearted James Reyne’s Aussie drawl.

The front crawl style of swimming has been in use since Egyptian times, and probably since the first hominid fell into a river, but in the 19th century was modified by Australian swimming champion Dick Cavill and his brother Arthur into a stroke which came to be called the Australian crawl, a term synonymous with freestyle swimming in their home country.

In 1978, the rock band Australian Crawl formed in Melbourne, Victoria, and recorded a number four album, The Boys Light Up (1980), known for its title track and other singles “Beautiful People” and “Downhearted”, followed by two albums that topped the national charts (1981’s Sirocco and 1982’s Sons of Beaches). Their only number one single, though, was 1983’s “Reckless (Don’t You Be So...)”, which is still considered an Australian classic. They never had much international success, and line-up changes and disappointing sales led to the band’s break-up in 1986, but Reyne had solo hits into the 1990s.

The Aztecs, with Thorpy, a beat
Group in ’60s Australia, were neat;
Then as ’70s rockers,
They made all their knockers
At Sunbury beat a retreat.

Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, formed in 1963 as The Vibratones and then renamed The Aztecs before their lead singer joined, dominated the Australian music scene until the advent of The Easybeats, even keeping the Beatles off the top spot of the Sydney charts in 1964 with their cover of “Poison Ivy”. After a brief solo career in 1967–68, Billy Thorpe (1946–2007) relaunched the group as a hard rock band. The new Aztecs’ heavy blues-based sound initially disgruntled fans and promoters, who expected to hear their early hits, until their breakthrough 1970 album The Hoax is Over won them a new audience. Their set at the 1972 Sunbury Music Festival, and their single of that year “Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)”, cemented their place in Australian rock history.

“Thorpy” went solo again in the 1970s, before moving into music production and TV scoring in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, he collaborated with Mick Fleetwood on the latter’s side-project The Zoo, and formed another incarnation of The Aztecs to tour Australia a few years later. Thorpe died of a heart attack in 2007; his posthumous final album, Tangier (2010), won the 2011 ARIA Award for Best Adult Contemporary Album.

Jimmy Barnes, known as Barnesy, can belt
Out a chorus; his solo work’s dealt
With the smooth and the rough,
As he knows well enough
What a working class man’s always felt.

The lead singer of legendary Australian band Cold Chisel, Scottish-born Jimmy Barnes (b. James Dixon Swan, 1956) went on to an equally successful solo career, with his signature song “Working Class Man” (1985) defining his hard-rock sound. His first Australian number-one single, “Too Much Ain’t Enough Love” (1987), displayed his gentler side; his biggest-selling album was an album of soul covers, Soul Deep (1991), a ten-times-platinum seller in Australia. His twentieth studio release was 2022’s Blue Christmas, his fifteenth solo number-one album, extending his own record for most Australian number-one albums.

That Courtney Barnett—you don’t rate ’er?
What’s wrong with ’er music, eh? Mate, ’er
Sharp lyrics ain’t hard, ’n’er
Track “Avant Gardener”
Rules! Got a Grammy nod later.

Courtney Barnett (b. 1987) is a Sydney-born singer-songwriter known for her deadpan delivery and witty lyrics. Her 2013 song “Avant Gardener” and its parent EP drew early international acclaim from Q Magazine, Pitchfork and Stereogum. Four of her singles have reached the UK top ten, including her number two song “Nameless, Faceless” in 2018; its accompanying album reached number nine there. Her three albums, and a fourth in collaboration with Kurt Vile, have all reached the top five on Australia’s album charts, and two were ARIA-nominated for album of the year. In 2015 she won ARIA Awards for Best Female Artist, Breakthrough Artist, Best Independent Release and Best Cover Art for her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, which also led to her nomination for Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammy Awards.

Nick Cave and his band the Bad Seeds
Found their music addressed unmet needs
Among fans of alt-rock
For dark ballads that shock
And hard-rocking Old Testament screeds.

Nick Cave (b. 1957) first drew attention as lead singer of Melbourne post-punk band the Birthday Party (1977–1983), who relocated to London and West Berlin in the early 1980s and became a favourite of BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. After that group's demise, Cave formed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 1983 with former bandmate Mick Harvey and German musician Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten. The band has featured a changing line-up of Australian and international musicians over the years, currently most notably Warren Ellis, with whom Cave has collaborated on several movie scores.

Cave has also found success as a novelist and a film-maker, his work sometimes referencing the religious themes that surface in his music, which blends blues, gothic rock, alternative and art rock, and lately electronic and ambient music. His 1995 murder ballad “Where the Wild Roses Grow”, a duet with pop singer Kylie Minogue, was a top five hit in Australia and Norway, and reached the top twenty in the UK, Ireland, Germany and New Zealand.

The Church’s peculiar angle
Is chiming guitars that entangle
With shimmering words:
They’re an Aussie goth Byrds—
Psychedelia meets indie rock jangle.

The Church’s best-known song, “Under the Milky Way” (“And it’s something quite peculiar / Something shimmering and white...”), was a US Top 40 hit in 1988, but even in their native Australia their songs have never bothered the top ten. Nevertheless, they have been a mainstay of Australian music since their formation in Sydney in 1980, and were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2010. The band have released over two dozen albums since their debut, all of them a distinctive blend of psychedelic rock, gothic rock, jangle pop and indie rock. Key members Steve Kilbey, Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper have recorded dozens more as solo artists and with other bands.

The indie band Clouds never rated
An ARIA; fans were deflated
When Phillis and Young,
The two women who’d sung
All their songs, called it quits. But we waited.

Clouds, or sometimes The Clouds, were part of a wave of Australian independent bands in the early 1990s that never quite broke into the mainstream; they seemed to be on the verge of an international breakthrough in 1995 with the US release of their second album Thunderhead two years after its Australian release, but their label Elektra dropped them shortly afterwards. The Clouds disbanded the year after their 1996 album Futura, leaving behind two ARIA-nominated albums in Penny Century (1991) and Thunderhead, a mini-album, five EPs and ten singles.

Singer Jodi Phillis (b. 1965) joined other bands, recorded half a dozen solo albums and began writing music for television. Fellow singer and songwriter Trish Young at first retreated from the limelight, but the two briefly reunited in 2005, releasing an EP as The Girls From The Clouds. The entire band reformed in 2011 to tour, and between 2017 and 2019 released a new EP and two further singles. In 2021, Rolling Stone Australia included Penny Century in its list of the 200 Greatest Australian Albums of All Time.

The Cockroaches all got the giggles.
“Toddlers dancing! That kid almost wriggles!”
“Hang on—just a minute—
You and I can be in it!
A pop band for kids called The Wiggles!”

The Australian pub rock band The Cockroaches was founded in 1979 by the Field brothers, Paul, John and Anthony, with Tony Henry and Joseph Hallion; a sixth member, Jeff Fatt, joined in 1981, and their roadie Greg Page later sang with the group. They enjoyed some local success in the mid-1980s, with a top-ten debut album and number 7 single “She’s the One” in 1987, and toured extensively, but were hit hard by the death of Paul’s infant daughter of SIDS in 1988.

Anthony Field (b. 1963), after completing his studies in early childhood education, then founded children’s group The Wiggles with Fatt, Page, and university friends Murray Cook and Phillip Wilcher in 1991 while working as a primary school teacher. Field’s brothers, along with fellow-Cockroach Henry, helped with writing and recording their early albums; some early Wiggles songs, like “Do the Monkey”, were almost identical to the Cockies’ originals. The Wiggles went on to enjoy worldwide success, in the 2000s becoming Australia’s top-earning entertainers for four years in a row. They have released over fifty albums; most of the original members gave way to replacements in 2012, leaving Field as the sole original member of the group.

You’ve got “Flame Trees”, “Bow River”, “Forever
Now”, “Choir Girl”, “Khe Sanh”: songs we’ll never
Forget in Australia.
Cold Chisel, we’ll hail ya
Rock anthems forever and ever.

Cold Chisel were the soundtrack of growing up in Australia in the late 1970s and early 1980s: songs so ubiquitous on AM radio and elsewhere that you didn’t need to own the records to know them by heart. Singer Jimmy Barnes’ full-throated vocals, Ian Moss’s guitar, Steve Prestwich’s drumming and Don Walker’s keyboards were a high-water mark of Australian pub rock from their first album in 1978 through to their breakup in 1983. Chisel, as they’re affectionately known, reformed in 1997 for a sixth album, and regrouped and recorded multiple times in the following decades, but it’s the songs of their first decade together for which they’re best remembered: tracks like those mentioned above, “You’ve Got Nothing I Want”, “When the War is Over”, and my personal favourite “Saturday Night”.

If yer into punk music, ya must
Have a squizz—they leave grunge in the dust.
Singin’ songs of dead roos,
Elle Macpherson and booze,
Cosmic Psychos are blokes you can trust.

Cosmic Psychos, formed in 1982 in Melbourne (as Spring Plains), are like an Australian Ramones: over forty years they’ve released eleven albums of relentless punk rock with lyrics about beer, pubs, sheilas, ’80s supermodel Elle Macpherson, guns, dunnies, more beer, tractors and David Lee Roth. Although they’ve never enjoyed much chart success outside Australia (and have rarely bothered the charts there), the band have toured heavily in the US and Europe and have been cited as a key influence by members of such seminal grunge bands as Mudhoney, Nirvana and Pearl Jam; their 1991 album Blokes You Can Trust, later the title of a 2013 American documentary about the band, was produced by grunge luminary Butch Vig in the same year that he produced Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Split Enz was no more, but Neil’s vow
Was the dream wasn’t over for now.
Crowded House came together,
And soon they would weather
International stardom—and how.

New Zealand’s finest musical exports Split Enz were huge in Australia in the early 1980s, but not so huge internationally. After founder Tim Finn left the band, his brother Neil Finn (b. 1958) drew it to a close, before regrouping with Enz drummer Paul Hester and bassist Nick Seymour as Crowded House. The new band’s 1986 self-titled debut, which included the North American hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, is considered one of the great Australian albums. Their third album, Woodface (1991), on which they were joined temporarily by Neil’s brother Tim, reached the top ten in the UK, as did its single “Weather With You” and its 1993 successor Together Alone. Crowded House disbanded in 1996, after which Neil pursued his solo career and collaborations with his brother. He and Seymour revived the band in the wake of Hester’s death in 2005, releasing further albums to great success in Australasia and the UK.

After years down below, ’93
Brought success for the band The Cruel Sea.
Tex Perkins was curbin’
His binges with Bourbon
And enjoying a Honeymoon spree.

The Cruel Sea formed in Sydney in 1987 as an instrumental-only band, before inviting their lighting technician Tex Perkins (b. 1964), who also happened to be a singer, to join them. Their early albums, such as 1989 debut Down Below, were a mix of vocal songs and instrumentals, in a style reminiscent of ’50s rock and roll and ’60s surf rock. Their breakthrough was 1993’s The Honeymoon is Over, which swept the ARIA awards the following year, winning them Single of the Year and Song of the Year for its title track, as well as Album of the Year, Producer of the Year and Best Group. Their follow-up Three Legged Dog (1995) again won them Best Group at the ARIAs, but later releases were more modestly received. They last performed in 2013; guitarist James Cruikshank died in 2015.

Perkins had already enjoyed success with the hard-drinking blues rock band The Beasts of Bourbon, founded in 1983, and maintained his role as singer for both bands. The Beasts ended in 2008 but reformed for a new album in 2019 (now without the Bourbon, to acknowledge the deaths in 2018 of key members Spencer P. Jones and Brian Hooper). Perkins has also recorded three albums with Don Walker of Cold Chisel and Charlie Owen of The New Christs as Tex, Don and Charlie, and several more as a solo artist.

Their Melbourne-derived electronica
Really has proven a tonic: a
Little bit poppy,
These guys are Cut/Copy—
Let’s paste here their tasty band’s moniker.

Initially the solo project of DJ and graphic designer Dan Whitford, Cut Copy (sometimes stylised with a slash) became a four-piece by the time of the band’s 2004 debut album. Part of a 2000s wave of Australian synth-pop bands including The Avalanches, Midnight Juggernauts and The Presets, Cut Copy initially attracted international acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork, especially for second and third albums In Ghost Colours (2008), which debuted at number one in Australia, and Zonoscope (2011), which peaked at number three; the latter won the 2011 ARIA Award for Best Dance Release and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronica Album.

“Do the Eagle Rock”: Aussies are fond, oh
So fond, of that song—any John Doe
Can sing a few bars.
Bangin’ out from our cars:
Daddy Cool. Daddy who? Rock that’s mondo.

Daddy Cool were an Australian rock band formed in Melbourne in 1970, named after a 1957 song by the US group The Rays. Their 1971 debut Daddy Who? Daddy Cool became the first Australian album to sell more than 100,000 copies, and its lead single “Eagle Rock” was number one for a record ten weeks. In 2001 “Eagle Rock” was named the second-best Australian song of all time by the Australian Performing Right Association, after “Friday on My Mind” by The Easybeats.

Daddy Cool split up in 1972, reformed in 1974, split again in 1975, and reformed briefly in 1994, 2005, 2007 and 2014; two of its core members, guitarist Ross Hannaford and bassist Wayne Duncan, died in 2016. In 1976, lead singer Ross Wilson (b. 1947) formed Mondo Rock , who went on to considerable chart success in the 1980s, peaking in 1983 with their number two single “Come Said the Boy”; their second album Chemistry won Best Australian Album of 1981 at the Countdown Australian Music Awards. Mondo Rock split in 1988, reformed and then split again in 1991, reformed again in 2014, and have been touring and performing since.

These fellas from Sydney, Died Pretty,
Played many a memorable ditty.
On Lost, Doughboy Hollow
And Trace, they would follow
Their muse from the bush to the city.

Died Pretty, or sometimes The Died Pretty, were founded by singer Ron Peno (1955–2023) and guitarist Brett Myers in 1983; their alternative rock sound was akin to fellow Australian bands The Church and The Triffids, and like those bands they recorded an album considered an Australian classic, 1991’s Doughboy Hollow, which was nominated for an ARIA and included in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2021 list of the 200 Greatest Australian Albums of All Time. Mainstream success eluded them at home, despite their melodic and often radio-friendly songs, but they developed a following in Europe, where their 1988 album Lost reached number three in Italy; their highest-charting album in Australia, at number 11, was 1993’s Trace. The group disbanded after their last single in 2002, although they reformed subsequently to tour.

The Divinyls, Australian band,
Made the finest pub rock in the land.
Chrissy Amphlett, their singer,
Put her voice through the wringer
As she touched herself—give her a hand!

One of the most distinctive rock singers of the 1980s, Chrissy Amphlett (1959–2013) had an unforgettable stage presence and voice, and with guitarist Mark McEntee made a string of classic Australian albums, starting with their debut mini-album Music from Monkey Grip (1982). Its follow-ups Desperate (1983) and What a Life! (1985) were released with wildly different track listings in Australia and internationally, losing much of their coherence in the process. After being dropped by their label when 1988’s Temperamental failed to break the US, the band had an international hit in 1991 with their song “I Touch Myself” and its accompanying self-titled album. Their new label, however, failed to capitalise on this success, and yet another ended up releasing their final album Underworld in 1996. In the following decade Amphlett starred in an Australian stage musical, The Boy From Oz, and wrote her autobiography, before reuniting with McEntee to release a comeback single. The band officially ended in 2009, four years before Amphlett’s death at 53 of breast cancer.

DMA’S, Aussie band with big goals:
Grab some marketshare Britpop controls.
Thanks to fans of Oasis,
They’re gaining more sway, sis,
In Newcastle, selling their coals.

DMA’s (usually styled in all-caps) formed in 2012 in Sydney, Australia. Their four albums have mined the sounds of Britpop and early ’90s UK indie bands, such as The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, The Lightning Seeds and Oasis. The band supported Liam Gallagher of Oasis on his 2019 UK tour after fans lobbied him to take them on; subsequently, their third and fourth albums reached the UK top five, while each peaked at number two in Australia. Selling coals to Newcastle means supplying something to somewhere it’s already plentiful—like taking Australian-made Britpop to Britain.

Jason Donovan thought, rather slyly,
He’d make a new record with Kylie;
It would be pretty fun
To end up number one.
“Will you go with me?” Jason asked shyly.

Jason Donovan (b. 1968) made his first TV appearance at 11 alongside future co-star Kylie Minogue; on the soap opera Neighbours from 1986 to 1989 he played Scott Robinson, the love interest of Minogue’s Charlene Mitchell. Their characters’ wedding was a seminal TV moment in Australia and the UK, where the show was hugely popular. In the late 1980s Donovan followed Minogue into a pop music career, signing with the same record companies in Australia and the UK and working with her production team of Stock Aitken Waterman.

Donovan had already enjoyed a top-five single in Australia and the UK by the time he recorded with Minogue, so the scenario above is far-fetched, but by 1988 she had three Australian number one singles and a UK number one, so a duet was a safe bet. Their duet “Especially For You” topped the UK charts, although it only reached number two at home. Donovan’s 1989 debut album, Ten Good Reasons, was also a UK number one, and its follow-up reached number two there (though it sold poorly in Australia); later albums were less successful. Donovan went on to star in the West End revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 1991, but struggled with drug addiction in the 1990s; since getting clean he has continued to work on stage, television and in music, including an appearance in the final episode of Neighbours in 2022.

The Easybeats, rock pioneers
In Australia, were easily peers
Of the beat groups of Britain.
They thrived after splittin’—
No flash in the pan, their careers.

The Easybeats, formed in 1964 at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney (all five members were from British and Dutch families), were the first Australian rock act to have an international hit, the 1966 single “Friday on My Mind”, a top ten hit in the UK and top twenty in the US; they had several top ten singles and two number ones in Australia before breaking up in 1969. Lead singer Stevie Wright’s solo 1974 single “Evie”, written and produced by former bandmates Harry Vanda and George Young, is also considered one of the great Australian songs.

Vanda and Young enjoyed considerable success in the 1970s and 1980s as a songwriting and producing duo, not least for AC/DC, whose members Malcolm and Angus Young were George’s younger brothers, and whose first six albums they produced. In 1976 they formed the pop rock group Flash and the Pan, releasing half a dozen albums over fifteen years to some success in Australia and Europe; their 1984 single “Waiting for a Train” reached number 7 in the UK. Their most successful song is arguably “Love is in the Air”, a worldwide hit in 1978 for John Paul Young (no relation), whose 1970s albums they produced and largely wrote.

They’re his side-project, Empire of the Sun,
But their single became number one
In, of all places, Germany—
It’s helped Luke determine he
Finds dance-pop and dressing-up fun.

The Australian electronic music duo Empire of the Sun, a collaboration forged in 2007 between Luke Steele of alternative rock band The Sleepy Jackson and Nick Littlemore of electronic dance band Pnau, has enjoyed as much international success as either of their main bands, and in some respects more. Their 2008 debut Walking on a Dream spawned a number one single in Germany (“We Are the People”) and reached number one on the UK Dance Albums Chart; it went gold in the UK and the US and triple platinum at home, where it won seven ARIA awards, including Album of the Year. Known for their elaborate, fantastical costumes in their videos and concerts, the duo also won World’s Best Selling Australian Artists at the 2010 World Music Awards.

In the Eighties, you faced a tough choice:
Stick with Johnny, or change. Well, rejoice:
As John Farnham you’re now
A huge pop star, and how—
On Australian charts, you’re the voice.

British-born singer Johnny Farnham (b. 1949) was a teen pop idol in Australia from 1967 through the ’70s, having number one hits with “Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)” in 1967 and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” in 1970. In 1980 he remade himself as an adult contemporary artist with a slowed-down cover of the Beatles’ “Help!”, which reached the top ten. After spending the early 1980s as lead singer of the Little River Band, Farnham recorded the song that would make him Australia’s biggest star, “You’re the Voice”, complete with choir and bagpipe solo. The song was number one in Australia for seven weeks, also reaching the top ten in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, West Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. The accompanying album, Whispering Jack (1986), spent 25 weeks at number one in Australia in 1986–87; it became Australia’s second-best-selling album, after Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. His follow-ups Age of Reason (1988) and Chain Reaction (1990) were also multi-platinum albums in Australia.

All that whiny alt-rock is a bummer;
What you need is a tune you can hum, a
Few minutes of pop—
One Direction or... stop!
Try Australia’s 5 Seconds of Summer.

5 Seconds of Summer, or 5SOS, formed in Sydney in 2011 while its members were still in high school. Since starting out as YouTube celebrities, the band became internationally successful after touring with English-Irish boy band One Direction. All five of their albums have been number one in Australia; they’ve had three number one albums in the US, the UK and the Netherlands (they were the first Australian act to have three number one albums in the US); and they’ve been almost as successful in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Belgium. Their 2018 single “Youngblood” reached the top ten in all of these countries and became one of the best-selling singles in Australian history; five of their singles have reached the top ten in numerous countries, including number ones in Australia (twice), Ireland (twice), New Zealand (three times) and the UK.

Iva Davies was founder of Flowers;
Can’t help myself—I could spend hours
With their album, the famed
Debut Icehouse. Renamed,
The group rose to the height of their powers.

Flowers’ 1980 debut Icehouse (with the lead single “Can’t Help Myself”) is one of the great Australian albums, a new wave classic the band renamed themselves after. As Icehouse, they were Australian pop royalty in the 1980s, recording such landmark albums as Primitive Man (1982) and Man of Colours (1987), which was number one in Australia for 11 weeks and featured the number one hit “Electric Blue”. The band’s lead singer and main songwriter Iva Davies (b. 1955) remained their constant member and driving force as they released new albums into the 1990s, remix albums in the 2000s, and for its fortieth anniversary performed their debut in its entirety in a live concert released as Icehouse Plays Flowers (2020).

“All that bleepy-bloop, wobble, boom-boom
From that future-bass Aussie guy, Flume—
Wouldn’t wanna be rude,
But his music is...” “Dude.
It’s the Grammy Awards. Read the room.”

Australian musician, producer and DJ Harley Edward Streten (b. 1991), a pioneer of future bass (a style of electronica) in his professional guise of Flume, has attracted considerable local and international success over three albums, two mixtapes, two dozen singles and EPs, and numerous remixes and production credits for other artists. He has had four top-ten singles, including a number one, and two number-one albums in Australia. His second album, Skin (2016), featuring such international collaborators as Kai, Tove Lo and Beck, reached the US top ten and won a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album, as well as an ARIAAward for Album of the Year; his other albums have also been nominated for multiple awards.

The Australian group Gang of Youths
(Using language that’s sometimes uncouth)’s
An alternative rock band,
A willing-to-shock band
Whose lyrics deliver home truths.

Gang of Youths, formed in Sydney in 2011, have enjoyed considerable success in their home country, with their three albums reaching number 5, 1 and 1 respectively. Their second album, Go Farther in Lightness (2017), earned them ARIA Awards for Album of the Year, Best Group, Best Rock Album, and Producer of the Year; their third, Angel in Realtime (2022), reached the UK top ten. Singer David Leʻaupepe deals in his lyrics with such issues as separation, death, cancer and attempted suicide; their music has echoes of America’s The National and Bon Iver and Britain’s Elbow and James.

Howard’s folk band—traditional sound—
Became one of the hottest around
In the ’80s: he’d plan a
New start for Goanna
By standing on rock-solid ground.

Goanna was formed in 1977 in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, by singer-songwriter and guitarist Shane Howard (b. 1955) as The Goanna Band, who released an EP in 1979 to little attention. After a camping trip to Uluru in 1980, Howard’s music took on a new political direction, resulting in Goanna’s 1982 hit “Solid Rock” about Australian aboriginal land rights (“You’re standin’ on / Solid rock / Standin’ on / Sacred ground”), which came to be considered a classic of Australian rock. The accompanying album, Spirit of Place, peaked at number two and went double-platinum, winning Best Debut Album of 1982 at the Countdown Music and Video Awards, where the band also won Best Debut Single for “Solid Rock” and an award for Best New Talent. Their 1985 follow-up Oceania, however, flopped, and a disillusioned Howard briefly went walkabout; the band toured for a year (with and without him) and then split in 1987. Howard went on to a solo career, releasing a dozen albums of folk rock over the next three decades; the band reformed briefly and released a third album, Spirit Returns, in 1998.

The Go-Betweens, named after Hartley,
In part Grant McLennan and partly
Rob Forster, recorded
Nine albums, applauded
By critics for songs written smartly.

Critical darlings The Go-Betweens, named after L. P. Hartley’s 1953 novel The Go-Between, were an Australian indie rock band formed in Brisbane in 1977 by Robert Forster (b. 1957) and Grant McLennan (1958–2006). In their initial five-piece form they enjoyed critical success in Australia and the UK for such classic albums as Before Hollywood (1983) and 16 Lovers Lane (1988), but commercial success proved elusive, and at the end of 1989 Forster and McLennan disbanded the group. After working solo in the 1990s, and in McLennan’s case collaborating with Steve Kilbey of The Church on the side-project Jack Frost, Forster and McLennan formed a new version of the band in 2000, going on to record three further albums before McLennan’s premature death of a heart attack in 2006. Their 1983 song “Cattle and Cane” was recognised in 2001 as one of the Australian Performing Right Association’s top thirty Australian songs.

As Gotye, Wally De Backer,
Instrumentalist/singer non-slacker,
Had a worldwide hit song.
Used to know it? Not long
Until somebody’s humming this cracker.

Gotye (GOT-ee-ay) is the Belgian-Australian musician Wally De Backer (b. 1980); the name is a phonetic spelling of the French version of his given name of Wouter. He started recording in 2001 and released his first album two years later; his third, Making Mirrors (2011), yielded the worldwide hit “Somebody That I Used to Know”, featuring New Zealand singer Kimbra. This cracker of a tune (which in Britain and Australasia means something exceptional or impressive) reached number one—and its parent album went top ten—in dozens of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

De Backer announced an indefinite hiatus as Gotye in 2014, but continued as singer and drummer of The Basics (BAZ-itch), the band he formed in Melbourne in 2002 with Kris Schroeder, who have released five albums to date. He also helped Jean-Jacques Perrey catalogue and preserve his work in the electronic music pioneer’s later years.

What’s my scene? Of this power pop, I’m
A big fan: Faulkner’s rhythm and rhyme
Are like wow, kinky, boy—
The urge to enjoy
Hoodoo Gurus could come any time.

Sydney band the Hoodoo Gurus (initially Le Hoodoo Gurus) attracted national attention with their albums Stoneage Romeos (1984) and Mars Needs Guitars! (1985) and a string of garage-y power-pop singles, including 1985’s “Bittersweet” and “Like Wow—Wipeout” and especially 1987’s “What’s My Scene?”, which reached number three on the Australian charts. Their 1989 single “Come Anytime” topped the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, and “Miss Freelove ’69” (from their 1991 album Kinky) reached number three on it. Dave Faulkner (b. 1957), the band’s singer and main songwriter, also released an album with side-project Antenna in 1998, but has mainly recorded and performed with the Gurus, who were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2007.

Colin Hay sings a verse with a smirk,
While on woodwind, Greg Ham goes berserk.
A chart-busting wonder,
These guys from down under:
Now who can it be? Men at Work.

Colin Hay (b. 1953) and Greg Ham (1953–2012), who met in 1972, formed the core of Men at Work from 1979 until the band dispersed in the mid-1980s, leaving Hay as its sole remaining member. In January 1983, they became the first Australian artists to have an album and a single at number one simultaneously on the U.S. Billboard charts: Business as Usual (1981) and its second single “Down Under”. The album’s lead single “Who Can it Be Now?” had reached number one in the U.S. the previous October, over a year after reaching number two in Australia. For a brief period, Men at Work were the biggest Australian band of all, and “Down Under” remains one of the country’s signature songs. Scottish-born Hay, who emigrated with his family to Melbourne at 14, relocated to Los Angeles in 1989, where he continued to record as a solo artist. Ham, who played saxophone, keyboards, flute, and harmonica for the group, as well as providing backing vocals and occasionally lead vocals, later performed with R&B and jazz bands in Australia, before his death at 58 in Melbourne.

Peter Garrett—just where do you start?
He made jerky dance movement an art
With his band Midnight Oil,
And made Lib-Nats recoil,
’Cos this bald-headed legend’s all heart.

For fifty years, Peter Garrett (b. 1953) has been the frontman of Midnight Oil, one of Australia’s most successful and uncompromising rock bands. With his distinctive shaved head and dancing style, Garrett is known for his magnetic live performances, and his Sydney accent has defined the band’s music, from such early classics as Head Injuries (1979) and 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (1982) to their 15th studio album Resist (2022). Along the way they released their international breakthrough Diesel and Dust (1987) with the singles “The Dead Heart” and “Beds Are Burning”.

Garrett, long a passionate environmentalist, turned his attention to power in the 2000s, quitting the Oils to focus on politics. After he was elected as a federal Member of Parliament for the Australian Labor Party he became Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and then Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth before his retirement from politics after a decade. Midnight Oil, who had made occasional live appearances, reformed in 2016 and recorded two more studio albums before undertaking their final tour in 2022.

While there’s little doubt Garrett is first
Among equals, Rob Hirst was immersed
In the band from the start:
Midnight Oil’s beating heart
From the moment that Farm first rehearsed.

Drummer Rob Hirst (b. 1955) formed the band with schoolfriends Jim Moginie and Andrew James that became Midnight Oil, one of Australia’s most successful and uncompromising rock bands. After Hirst’s advertisement for a new singer led to Peter Garrett joining the band, then called Farm, they were joined by guitarist Martin Rotsey and manager Gary Morris and became Midnight Oil, going on to record fifteen studio albums across four decades to a passionate Australian and international audience. As well as drumming and songwriting, Hirst also sang harmonies, and sometimes lead, on such Oils classics as “Read About It”, “When the Generals Talk” and “Mountains of Burma”.

During a break in the Oils’ schedule in the 1990s, Hirst formed the band Ghostwriters with guitarist Andrew Dickson and ex-Divinyls bassist Rick Grossman of the Hoodoo Gurus, recording four albums together over the next decade and a half. In 2000, Hirst joined the longstanding blues group Backsliders, recording half a dozen albums with that band. Hirst also recorded as part of the bands Angry Tradesmen and The Break, as well as solo, in the 2000s and 2010s before Midnight Oil reformed in 2017.

These days, Aussie rock fans are scanning
The news for reunions they’re planning;
For fans of the Finger,
Might happiness linger
In solo releases by Fanning?

Powderfinger, known colloquially as the Finger, were an alternative rock band formed in Brisbane in 1989, who enjoyed mainstream success from the mid-1990s. Five of their seven albums reached number one, and all but their first were multiple-platinum sellers; three were ARIA Albums of the Year. Two of their songs, “The Day You Come” and “My Happiness”, were ARIA Singles of the Year, and their song “These Days”, written for the 1999 Heath Ledger film Two Hands, topped Triple J’s Hottest 100.

Since the band called it a day in 2010, their lead singer Bernard Fanning (b. 1969) has carried the torch in the charts. His solo debut was another number one and ARIA Album of the Year; his second album also reached number one, and his third and fourth reached number two. Fanning also sang at the Boxing Day tsunami charity concert WaveAid as part of the Wrights, a supergroup named after the lead singer of The Easybeats; their cover of “Evie” reached number two on the Australian charts. Powderfinger reformed in May 2020 for a livestreamed charity performance, combined from parts recorded separately during lockdown; a compilation of their previously unreleased songs reached number two later that year.

Australia’s most popular group
In the ’70s? Sherbet, a troupe
Loved by zillions. Howzat?
They fizzed out; that was that.
Daryl Braithwaite, though, stayed in the loop.

Sherbet, formed in 1969 in Sydney, hit their stride after lead singer Daryl Braithwaite (b. 1949) joined the following year, and went on to dominate Australian pop in the 1970s: they had twenty hit singles, including two number ones, and were voted Most Popular Australian Group from 1973–78 by readers of TV Week (their fans possibly didn’t number in the zillions, but at my primary school it felt like it). Their biggest hit was the cricket-inspired song “Howzat”, which was number one in Australia and top five in the UK in 1976.

After a failed attempt to rebrand themselves as Highway for the U.S. market, where their name’s reference to the sweet effervescent powder enjoyed by British and Australian kids would have fallen flat, they regrouped in the early 1980s as The Sherbs, but without much further success. In 1988, though, Braithwaite revitalised his career as a solo performer with the album Edge, a number-one album in Australia and multiple-platinum seller, as was its 1990 follow-up Rise. Braithwaite’s comeback was derailed by a 1992 lawsuit over back-payment of managers’ fees, and he spent a decade away from the recording studio, performing instead in musical theatre and with a reunited Sherbet. He returned to the studio in the 2000s, both as a solo artist and, for a few new songs, with Sherbet.

Although GBVG might have planned
To become a loved underground band,
When 4AD noticed
Them, then the remotest
Ideas became possible, and...

Leaves Me Blind was the blinding result.
Atmospheric guitars give it cult
Status; synths give it edge.
Aussie critics allege
That it’s great; Undies-lovers exult.

Glenn Bennie and Vincent Giarrusso met in a Melbourne high school in the 1970s, where they developed a shared love of Joy Division and The Cure. In 1988 they released a single as GBVG, before forming the group Underground Lovers the following year. Their band’s 1991 self-titled debut, released as Get to Notice in the UK and US, positioned them alongside such British shoegaze acts as Ride and My Bloody Valentine, and won them the 1992 ARIA Award for Best New Talent. Their follow-up, Leaves Me Blind (1992), was released in the UK by Guernica, an offshoot of the influential label 4AD, before being released in Australia by Polydor four months later. 1994 successor Dream It Down also brought critical acclaim and significant alternative radio play, but the band’s dissatisfaction with production and marketing pressures led them to quit Polydor and set up their own label the next year. After four more albums (and one as GBVG) they went on hiatus in 2002, but have released a further three albums since 2013.

Bennie formed a solo project, GB3, during the Undies’ hiatus, working across three albums in the 2000s with former Underground Lovers member Philippa Nihill, Steve Kilbey of The Church, Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens, and others. Giarrusso developed various music and film projects, including an album in 2007 as Mist and Sea.

Touring rock stars would keep Sunday nights
Free in ’70s Melbourne; by rights,
Selling any amount, down
In Oz, meant on Countdown
You’d take to the stage, bathed in lights.

Countdown was a weekly music programme broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from 1974–87, which played a similar role to the BBC’s Top of the Pops; each episode ended with a countdown of the week’s national top ten singles and a performance of the number one. Shown on ABC TV on (for most of its run) Sundays at 6 p.m., it played a huge part in shaping the musical tastes of Generation X Australians and helped established many major Australian rock and pop acts, most of whom performed on the show. International artists would also appear, performing live and sometimes co-hosting. Because many such acts never reached Australia, Countdown was one of the first TV shows to promote the regular use of music videos; many international artists, including Blondie, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, achieved their first hits in Australia, thanks to this exposure.

Countdown became inextricably linked with its host Ian “Molly” Meldrum (b. 1943), a former journalist for the teen magazine Go-Set, known for his rambling interviewing style and his Stetson hat. His standard recommendation when suggesting that viewers buy a particular single or album, “do yourself a favour” (as ABC policy prohibited direct endorsements), became part of the local vernacular.

The ARIAs: music awards
For the best-loved recordings of hordes
Of Australians. Each year
They drink chardy and beer
At the bash the occasion affords.

The ARIAs is the annual ceremony at which the Australian Recording Industry Association bestows its awards for Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Single of the Year, and the like. It’s also another name for the individual ARIA Awards themselves, so an awarded artist can be said to have won an ARIA for their music. ARIAs have been awarded since 1987, replacing such predecessors as Go-Set magazine’s pop poll of the 1960s, the TV Week King of Pop Awards of the 1970s, and the Countdown Awards of the 1980s. ARIA itself was established in 1983, replacing the Association of Australian Record Manufacturers (AARM). Chardy is chardonnay, a popular white wine at such events.

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