Sounds of Oz: An Australian Music Playlist

With so many Aussie ex-pats hankering for home, It was high time to curate an Australian music playlist.

Pop music is one of the loves of my life and my formative years coincided with the advent of music videos. So I made it my business to watch the plethora of host-led music video programs, in the pursuit of my pop music education.

Growing up in Adelaide, I tuned into Music Express and sometimes the more adult-orientated Trax. Countdown went national with personable Aussie music champion, Molly Meldrum, encouraging suburban teens to “do yourself a favor”. The inception of community channel, SBS brought The Noise and Eat Carpet, both competently hosted by Annette Shun Wah, and thus opening my portal into the world of British post-punk indie pop. There was also Rock Arena with Suzanne Dowling, The Factory, Countdown Revolution, Beatbox, Recovery, Top 40 Australia, MTV Australia, Nightshift, Video Hits, Video Smash Hits, and the perfect program to decompress to after a late night out: RA-A-A-A-A-A-GE. Like a pig in mud, I basked in them all.

And not just TV. Australian radio has always been a healthy ecosystem for Oz music, with many stations having strict quotas for local content. My curiosity about the lower frequencies of the FM band led to my discovery of volunteer-run, listener-funded Adelaide indie station, Three D Radio. In the summer of 1989, triple j went national under the fervent stewardship of Music Director, Richard Kingsmill. 

In the pre-streaming era, record shops were the pop lover hangout de choix. I made frequent visits to B Sharp Records in Rundle Street, Adelaide Uni Records, and Rocking Horse Records (which is still rockin’ after all these years) when Brisbane later became my home.

Although heavily rooted in pub rock and punk, the ’80s paved the way for a healthy morphing of Australian music toward pop, funk, synth and electronica genres, of course with the requisite saxophone that characterized this decade. The uninitiated might, therefore, be surprised that the sophistication and breadth of Oz music extends beyond songs about Vegemite sandwiches and some band my Aunty always referred to as “inks”.

Settle back and enjoy ‘Sounds of Oz: An Australian Music Playlist’. 

1. Just The Thing – Paul Mac feat. Peta Morris

For an instant party in your living room, watch this video. Immerse yourself in this unstoppable tour de force, powerfully marshaled by the fearless and self-assured vocals of Peta Morris, in collaboration with charismatic electropop composer/musician/producer/songwriter Paul Mac and some well-timed handclaps. Fun fact: Mr. McDermott was once a high school music teacher, with a former AWNY Committee member as his student!

2. Straight Lines – Silverchair

Lifted off their final studio album, Young Modern, this song divided long-time Chair fans, staunchly loyal since their debut album Frogstomp placed them on the mantle alongside grunge stalwarts Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I’m fascinated by the musical evolution of these Novocastrians, from the hard rock influences handed down from their parents vis à vis Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, to infinity and beyond.

3. That Ain’t Bad – Ratcat

One of the first bands I saw live, during my transition from high school to uni, Rat Cat showed us that punk-rock and noisy guitars could be melodic. Or that you could rock out to a love song. Lifted off their 1990 EP, Tingles, this track marks the inflection point between shoegaze and grunge.

4. Gold – Chet Faker (Nick Murphy as)

From the first syncopated strums of the bassline, you’re hooked, then add in the mesmerizing athleticism of pro roller skaters, April Corley, Candice Heiden, and Appleusa McGlynn, and there’s no turning back from this surreal, sensual world, choreographed by Ryan Heffington and directed by modern visionary Hiro Murai. Watch this late at night with the lights down low. 

5. Cool On Fire – Daniel Johns

From his debut solo album, Talk, Johns continues his artistic evolution, cruising into the R&B space, infusing a smooth and sensual style, jettisoning power chords for synths and electronics. 

6. Coma – Max Sharam

The best demonstration of the importance of all avenues to unearth new musical talent, was when singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, Max Sharam performed her song, Coma, on mainstream TV talent show, New Faces. The Australian musical landscape had been desperately hankering for competent eclecticism. Her debut EP, Coma, and studio album, A Million Year Girl, followed soon after, liberating the country—and indeed the universe—from the shackles of musical mediocrity. An act of service for which I’m eternally grateful.

7. Head Alone – Julia Jacklin

I pretty much had the album from which this track is lifted, Crushing, on loop last summer. Yes. I was crushing on Crushing. I could tell you that I got high on her dreamy tones, soothing melodies, and narratives that articulate every aspect of the headspace that overwhelms when love breaks down. But my words can’t reach anywhere near the elevated watermark of her songwriting excellence. Take the afternoon off and listen for yourself.

8. Come Said The Boy – Mondo Rock

More than 85 % of Australians live within 50km of the coast, meaning that many important Aussie milestones occur on the beach—as captured in this poignant tune. Deeming it too risqué, some radio stations banned it from their playlists. But not the station my parents tuned in to, because I remember it playing on the car radio, fittingly, during the long, hot drive back home from the likes of Glenelg and Semaphore beaches.

9. We Will Together – Eurogliders

More on Aussies and our love affair with (and on) the beach. The joie de vivre of perpetually energetic frontwoman, Grace Knight, seeped into this new wave-punk-pop hit. This clip was relegated to late-night TV (America slapped it with an ‘X’ rating). But the story behind it is much more interesting. All that vitamin D worked wonders for Knight, whose accolades have flowed through her post-Eurogliders career, as a jazz singer and actress. 

10. Throw Your Arms Around Me – Hunters and Collectors

There are no mixed messages nor hidden meanings on this simple and direct love song, which was perfect without the embellishments of the remix (IMHO). More impressive was that the band harnessed the same bare emotion from the polar opposite perspective, in another song from their critically and commercially acclaimed album, Human Frailty, that you may have heard of…

11. Say Goodbye – Hunters and Collectors

“The Hunners” perfectly captured the demoralizing humiliation of being dumped by your girlfriend, only to have your HD Holden break down miles from a pub, with a torrential downpour imminent. Our jilted protagonist baring his soul through this visceral outpouring, is the sound of desperation as a dying love affair takes its final breath. It contains the classic lyric, chanted in unison by blokes at pubs everywhere. I’ve always wondered how many women have substituted it for the more banal “it’s not you, it’s me”.

12. Taxi Mary – Jo Jo Zep feat. Jane Clifton

One of the earliest songs to permeate my pop sensibilities, I’ve never ascertained what glorious planet birthed this otherworldly exotic mash-up of marimbas, maracas, brass, bilingual lyrics and a hint of I Will Survive. Having watching this video clip repeatedly as a child, I immediately recognized guest vocalist, Jane Clifton, from the iconic Aussie drama, Prisoner.

13. Baby – Tubby Justice

In the bowels of a dark cupboard in Australia, lies a ratty old shoebox with mixtapes of tunes from Adelaide artists, I curated as a teen. Included are tracks by Those Kodiaks, whose frontman Terry Bradford founded Adelaide indie label, Round Records, an important outlet for local artists. Sadly, many of the official catalogue are no longer available nor were transferred to digital formats. Props to Billie, “baby” of jazz-pop chanteuse, Tubby Justice, for uploading this timeless, endearing tune.

14. Sounds Of Then (This Is Australia) – GANGgajang

Check it out: the unofficial Australian anthem. If you’re an ex-pat in New York and it’s summer, it’s probably humid but you probably don’t have a patio. So you’ll need to enjoy this song—and the entire playlist—out on your stoop. THIS is Australia.

Which Australian artists are on your Oz music playlist? Let us know in the comments below.

Credits

  1. Just The Thing is from the album, 3000 Feet High by Paul Mac, 2001, Eleven
  2. Straight Lines is from the album, Young Modern by Silverchair, 2007, Eleven
  3. That Ain’t Bad is from the EP, TIngles by Ratcat, 1990, rooArt, and the album, Blind Love, 1991, rooArt
  4. Gold is from the album, Built on Glass by Chet Faker, 2014, Future Classic
  5. Cool On Fire is from the album, Talk by Daniel Johns, 2015, Eleven
  6. Coma is from the EP, Coma by Max Sharam, 1994, Warner Australia, and the album, A Million Year Girl, by Max Sharam, 1995, Discovery/Warner Music
  7. Head Alone is from the album, Crushing by Julia Jacklin, 2019, Polyvinyl, Transgressive, Liberation
  8. Come Said The Boy is from the album, The Modern Bop by Mondo Rock, 1983, WEA
  9. We Will Together is from the album, Absolutely! by Eurogliders, 1985, CBS
  10. Throw Your Arms Around Me is from the album, Human Frailty by Hunters & Collectors, 1986, Mushroom, IRS
  11. Say Goodbye is from the album, Human Frailty by Hunters & Collectors, 1986, Mushroom, IRS
  12. Taxi Mary is from the album, Cha by Jo Jo Zep, 1982, Mushroom, A&M
  13. Baby is from the album, Sense by Tubby Justice, 1986, Mushroom, IRS
  14. Sounds of Then (This Is Australia) is from the album, GANGgajang by GANGgajang, 1985, Truetone, Polygram, Shock

Author: Angela Tohl

Born in Adelaide but calls Brisbane her home, Angela came to New York City in 2007 in search of an adventure. Her free time is spent eating poppy seed bagels, learning guitar and chasing her 2 little kids around NYC.

8 thoughts

  1. Jane Clifton is a national treasure and is probably one of the most talented people I have ever encountered. From her music to her fiction to her book of poetry, she is incredible.
    But Clare Bowditch should also of been on that list. The things that woman makes you feel so many of her concerts I have ended up in tears, she understands human emotion like no one else.

    1. Agreed, Jane Clifton is amazing, as a child it blew my mind to watch her on Prisoner and then in music video clips. So many great Oz artists x

  2. Fantastic list Angela!
    So many of these songs are on my list but so many others too: Paul Kelly, Machine Gun Fellatio; Crowded House; ACDC; Yothu Yindi; Goanna; Geoffrey Garamul; Kate Miller Heidke to name a few.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s