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Music of Australia
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Music of Australia

The earliest music of Australia was the folk music of the Australian Aborigines. Aboriginal music declined after European colonisation, and has only recently begun to be revived, often with modernised influences. Bands like Yothu Yindi have begun the popularisation of Aboriginal folk in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Australia has also been home to notable classical composers as well as artists working in popular music genres such as rock, jazz, folk and electronic music.

Table of contents
1 Aboriginal music
2 Classical and contemporary
3 Jazz and new music
4 Popular music
5 See also
6 References
7 External links

Aboriginal music

Aboriginal music has become a vehicle for social protest, and has been linked, by both performers and outsiders, with similar forms from Native Americans; Jamaican singer Bob Marley is often credited with helping to revive traditional Aboriginal music, as did the movie Wrong Side of the Road, which depicted Aboriginal reggae bands struggling for recognition and linked it with land rights. Yothu Yindi's sudden pop success in the 1990s surprised many observers, and helped bring many Aboriginal issues into mainstream Australian affairs. In 1980, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) began broadcasting traditional music and has become extremely successful. CAAMA has helped popularise remote musical communities, such as Blek Bala Mujik whose "Walking Together" became a sort of Australian anthem after its use in a Qantas commercial. Other popular Aboriginal music artists/bands include Desert Oaks Band, Blackstorm, Chrysophrase, Young Teenage Band, North Tanami Band, Christine Anu, Warumpi Band, Bart Willoughby, Buna Lawrie, Coloured Stone, Areyonga Desert Tigers and Waryngya Band.

Aboriginal mythology tells of a period in the ancient past called the Dreamtime, during which totemic spirits wandered the continent singing the names of plants, animals and other natural features. Thus, song brought the world into existence; these totemic spirits left emblems across the continent, and the paths between them are called songlines. Music is thus deeply linked to the creation myth; Yothu Yindi's Mandawuy Yunupingu said "The song is creation. The art is creation. The specialness in that, is that we have a heart and mind connection to mother earth... Songlines is entrenched within the land itself, the journey of the songlines is from the east to the west, the journey is about following the sun" (Breen, p. 11).


Bunggul is a style of music that arose around the Mann River and is known for its intense lyrics, which are often stories of epic journeys and continue, or repeat, unaccompanied after the music has stopped.

Clan songs

A particular clan in Aboriginal culture may share songs, known as emeba (
Groote Eylandt), fjatpangarri (Yirrkala), manikay (Arnhem Land) or other native terms. Songs are about clan or family history and are frequently updated to take into account popular films and music, controversies and social relationships.


Karma is a type of oral literature that tells a
religious or historical story.


didgeridoo is a type of musical instrument, a woodwind aerophone, traditionally made out of eucalyptus or bamboo. Aborigines used the didgeridoo to communicate over long distances, as well as to accompany songs, and the instrument is commonly considered the national instrument of Australian Aborigines. Famous players include Mark Atkins and Joe Geia, as well as white virtuoso Charlie McMahon.

Krill Krill

The Krill Krill song cycle is a modern musical innovation from east
Kimberley. A man named Rover Thomas claims to have discovered the ceremony in 1974 (see 1974 in music) after a woman to whom he was spiritually related was killed after a car accident near Warmun. Thomas claimed to have been visited by her spirit and received the ceremony from her. In addition to the music, Thomas and others, including Hector Jandany and Queenie McKenzie, developed a critically acclaimed style of painting in sync with the development of the ceremony.


Kun-borrk arose around the
Adelaide, Mann and Rose Rivers, distinguished by a didgeridoo introduction followed by the percussion and vocals, which often conclude words (in contrast to many other syllabic styles of Aboriginal singing).


Wanga arose near the South Alligator River and is dintinguished by an extremely high note to commence the song, accompanied by rhythmic percussion and followed by a sudden shift to a low tone.

Classical and contemporary

Composer Peter Sculthorpe is notable for his incorporation of the sounds of the Australian bushland and outback in his symphonic works such as Kakadu, Mangrove and Earth Cry.

Jazz and new music

The history of jazz and related genres in Australia extends back into the 19th century. During the gold rush era of the 1850s so-called Negro minstrel troupes began to travel to Australia, touring not only the capital cities but also many of the booming regional towns like Ballarat and Bendigo.

Early 20th century

Thanks to this early contact, and the later increase in the flow of American music to Australia after the invention of the phonograph, Australians developed a strong interest in jazz and its related forms. Jazz was quickly picked up by local musicians, mainly from phonograph records, and was well established by the 1920s. The first Australian jazz recording, Yes Sir That's My Baby by Ray Tellier's San Francisco Orchestra, was issued in 1925.

From the mid 1930s onwards, the popularity of jazz, principally "swing" music, increased significantly. Notable bands of the inter-war era included Ray Tellier's San Francisco Orchestra, Sidney Simpson & His Wentworth Cafe Orchestra, The Palais Royal Californians, Al Hammett & His Ambassadors Orchestra, Jim Davidson & His New Palais Royal Orchestra, Frank Coughlan & His Trocadero Orchestra and Dudley Cantrell & His Grace Grenadiers.

A number of important big bands from America (including Artie Shaw's Orchestra) toured Australia during WWII, although access was often limited because such entertainment was usually restricted to American military personnel, although some local musicians went to extraordinary lengths to get into the concerts.

Tours by top American groups were further hampered by Australia's racist immigration policies; jazz bands with black or "mixed-race" were regularly refused entry and in one of the rare cases when a black band was allowed to tour, they were forced to leave prematurely after some of the musicians were caught partying in their hotel rooms with white women.

Post-World War II jazz

By the end of WWII jazz Australian jazz had begun to diverge into two major strands. The more popular strand was variously described as 'dixieland' or 'trad' or 'revivalist'. It exerted a significant influence on popular music over the next two decades, and also had an ongoing (if less direct) effect on the popular music of the Sixties and Seventies, through performers such as Judith Durham of The Seekers, Margret RoadKnight and members of The Loved Ones, all of whom had started their musical careers in the "trad" genre.

The Australian Jazz Convention was founded in 1946 and has continued ever since, making it the world's oldest continuous jazz festival. One of the most sigificant figures of postwar Australian jazz, and the figurehead of the 'trad' movement, is Graeme Bell (b. 1914), whose All Stars band was the first Australian jazz group to tour overseas and attain wide international recognition. The All Stars' groundbreaking visit to war-ravaged Czechoslovakia in 1947 to perform at the World Youth Festival in Prague in 1947 was a landmark event.

As jazz historian Bruce Johnston notes, this was a daring undertaking for the time – the band members left jobs and sold businesses and possessions to help pay for the venture. Moreover, there were none of the support systems now available to travellers or touring performers, and these problems were complicated by the chaotic conditions prevailing in Eastern Europe in the immediate postwar period. So precarious was the venture that by the time they left, the band had only been able to raise enough for one way tickets. Nevertheless, their appearance at the Prague Festival was a triumph and a planned two-week stay extended to a rapturously received nationwide tour lasting four months.

This was followed by an arduous but ultimately successful eight-month tour of the United Kingdom, becoming the first jazz bando tour the UK for some 20 years. The Bell UK tour was later recognised as being a major influence on the development of postwar British jazz, particularly in terms of the All Stars' dance-oriented style which was crucial in transforming British jazz from an intellectual, purist past-time into a popular social event centred on dance and audience participation.

Melbourne became the centre of the post-WWII revival of Australian jazz, and the bands of Graeme Bell, Frank Johnson, Len Barnard and Bob Barnard, Frank Traynor and The Red Onions had a strong influence on the direction of Australian jazz.

In the 1950s, and again principally through the inportation of records, a number of jazz musicians became passionately devoted to the new modern style, variously known as "bop" or "Bebop" and exemplified by the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, as well as "jump" exponents like Louis Jordan, whose music was a direct presursor of early rock'n'roll.

There were two important centres of activity for this newer strand of Australian bebop. Jazz Centre 44 in St Kilda, Melbourne was founded in the Fifties by entrepreneur Horst Liepolt, who later founded the Sweet Basil's club in New York). This venue fostered many leading talents including Brian Brown, Keith Stirling, Alan Turnbull, and Stewie Speer. Around the same time a group of Sydney musicians opened the El Rocco Jazz Cellar in Kings Cross, Sydney, a venue that jazz historian John Clare (aka Gail Brennan) counts as a crucial formative influence on the later direction of much of the Australian jazz scene.

1960s and 1970s

The onslaught of "beat" music in the 1960s decimated the popularity of both strands of Australian jazz, with many trad fans drawn away first to folk and later to pop and rock. However, many of the players who emerged from the Australian bebop strand – e.g. Bob Bertles, John Sangster, Derek Fairbrass, Stewie Speer, Bernie McGann and Bobby Gebert – joined or performed with rock bands and many of these "modern" players also became sought-after session musicians.

During the 1960s a broad new division formed in the 'modern' strand. Under the influence of so-called "cool" or "West Coast" style typified by Dave Brubeck, many leading players such as Don Burrows gravitated to this more accessible form, although others such as Bernie McGann, John Sangster and John Pochee remained passionately devoted to the more aggressive and progressive directions of bop, as well as absorbing the radical influences of the "free jazz" experimenters of the Sixties such as Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor.

In the 1970s there was a return to the larger band format and groups such the Daly Wilson Big Band enjoyed considerable popularity, as did Galapagos Duck, who had an interest in and were regular performers at Sydney's longest-running jazz venue, The Basement. Jazz fusion, as typified by groups like Return to Forever, largely passed Australia by although the group Crossfire was probably the best and best-known Australian act to work in this area.

1980s and later

Through the 1980s and 1990s jazz remained a small but vibrant sector of the Australian music industry. Depsite its relative lack of visibility in the mass market, Australian jazz continued to develop to a level of creativity and professionalism that was notably disproportionate to its low level of public recognition and acceptance.

Players who were more influenced by "traditional" and cool jazz tended to dominate public attention and some moved successfully into academia. Multi-instrumentalist Don Burrows was for several decades a regular presence on television and radio, a prolific session musician, and he became a senior teacher at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Burrows made no secret of his dislike for the bebop/free jazz strands, and his protege, trumpeter James Morrison, who was heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong, carved out a very successful career playing a style not unlike that of Winton Marsalis, that blended some modern elements (e.g. the crowd-pleasing high-register technical bravura of Dizzy Gillespie) with the accessible structures and melodies of trad jazz.

Many "second generation" bebop-influenced performers like New Zealand born pianist Mike Nock, bassist Lloyd Swanton, saxophonist Dale Barlow, pianist Chris Abrahams, saxophonist Sandy Evans and pianist Roger Frampton (who died in 2000) rose to prominence in this period, alongside their older contemporaries, led by the illustrious Bernie McGann and John Pochee, whose long-running group The Last Straw (founded in 1974) carried the torch for this stream of jazz for many years.

The trio of Tony Buck (drums), and the aforementioned Lloyd Swanton (bass) and Chris Abrahams (piano), known together as The Necks since forming in 1987 (see 1987 in music), was notable for its hour-long jams of jazz and ambient music textures, gaining widespread attention both in Australia and internationally.

Popular music

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 fans. A small independent Sydney label, Festival Records, led the charge, releasing Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" in Australia in 1956 after it had been turned down by the local branch of Decca Records. It became the biggest-selling hit ever released in Australia up to that time, and its success led to Festival becoming the dominant Australian pop music label for the next fifteen years. Their commercial success was surpassed only by the multi-national British recording giant EMI, who dominated the charts thanks to The Beatles, The Hollies, The Byrds and the other leading 'Beat' groups on their catalogue.

The most famous exponent of the so-called "First Wave" of Australian rock'n'roll was Johnny O'Keefe. Inspired by Elvis Presley and Little Richard, he carved out a unique career and became a legend of Australian rock music, and hosted one of Australia's first TV pop shows, "Six O'Clock Rock". No less a figure than Iggy Pop acknowledged O'Keefe's importance when he recorded a version of O'Keefe's hit "Real Wild Child" in the 1980s. 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.

By, as in the U.S.A, by the early '60s the first wave of rock'n'roll 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', which aimed to appeal to anyone "from eight to eighty".

Nervertheless, there were some exciting undercurrents. A notable alternative to the mainstream pop fare was the emergence of instrumental and surf groups like The Atlantics and The Denvermen in Sydney and Melbourne's The Thunderbirds. Many of the players in these dance bands had come from the jazz scene, and were 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. Their influence on Australian and New Zealand rock of the Sixties and Seventies is still much underrated and their lead guitarist Hank Marvin probably inspired more aspiring pickers 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. Like Australian jazz bands of the period the musicians became extremely accomplished players. Because dance patrons in those days actually danced in couples to traditional dance rhythms, dance bands typically played a much wider variety of musical styles than American or British jazz groups and soloists, and the Australian bands often had literally hundreds of songs in their repertoire ranging from modern rock'n'roll numbers to popular standards of the Thirties and Forties.

Many of these instrumental groups survived into the Beatles era by adding a lead singer, evolving 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. 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.

Early 1960s

The Beatles and other British Invasion groups had a huge influence on the local music scene. Many of these bands toured Australia and New Zealand to wild receptions in the mid-Sixties; when The Beatles' epoch-making tour arrived in Adelaide, an estimated 300,000 people – about one-third of the city's entire population at the time – turned out to see them as their motorcade drove from the airport into the city.

The tours and recordings by these new 'Beat' groups revitalised the pop genre and spawned a rash of local imitators, but they 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.

1964-1969: "Second Wave"

The period 1964-69 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 and The Throb, who had only limited success at the time but whose recordings 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, Dave Miller, 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 doyen 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.

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 Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and country-rock pioneers The Dingoes.

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 'adult' 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

The early 1970s was 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 festival, held outside Melbourne, Victoria each January from 1972 to 1975. Although there were numerous other smaller festivals, most were not successful and failed have the alsting 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.

Important changes in the early-to-mid Seventies which affected the rock scene were the long-overdue introduction of colour television and FM radio in 1975. One of the most significant was the decline of the dance-discotheque circuit in the early years of the Seventies. These rock dances were a continuation of the social dance circuit that had thrived in Australia's cities and suburbs since the 1800s. They were hugely popular from the late Fifties to the early Seventies.

The main venues were discotheques (usually located in inner city areas), and suburban church and community halls, Police Boys' Clubs and beachside surf clubs, and they attracted huge 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 one source, there were as many as 100 dances being held every weekend in and around Melbourne in 1965. The most popular groups frequently played almost every night of the week, commonly commuting around town to perform short sets at three or more different dances every night. It was a very lucrative circuit for musicians – 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 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 Autralian 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, punk and New Wave music that had been ignored by commercial radio, played an unheard-of level of Australian content, and featured regular live concert broadcasts, comedy, controversial documentaries and innovative radiophonic features.

Double-Jay rapidly made a significant dent in the ratings of its major commercial competitor, 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 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, Sports, The Radiators, Australian Crawl (band), Dragon, Rose Tattoo, Ross Wilson's Mondo Rock, acclaimed soul singers Marcia Hines and Renee Geyer and pioneering Australian punk/new wave acts The Saints (Mk I) and Radio Birdman.

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 career of AC/DC is well documented on the World Wide Web. They shot 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)" is now widely regarded as the Australian rock anthem. They left Australia in 1977 and went onto achieve colossal international success. They 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 second is soft-rock-harmony group Little River Band. 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_(band) and singer-guitarists Beeb Birtles and Graehem 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 Glen Wheatley (former bassist in The Masters Apprentices, one of the top Australian bands of the Sixties) LRB became the first Australian bands 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.

Split Enz

Main article: Split Enz

The third important group of this era is the famous New Zealand group Split Enz, who moved to Australia in 1975 and gained a cult following here before moving to England in 1977. Centred on the songwriting partnership of lead singer Tim Finn and guitarist-singer Phil Judd, and supported throughout by self-taught keyboard genius Eddie Rayner, the band was adventurous, musically brilliant and dazzling in performance. Their extraordinary Expressionist-inspired stage outfits, make-up and costumes, designed by percussionist Noel Crombie, are believed to have been an (unacknowledged) influence on London punk and New Romantic fashions, but their progressively-oriented repertoire failed to hit the mark with UK radio, despite the support of people like Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera.

After a difficult transitional period and an abortive attempt to break into America, they regrouped in London in 1979 with new members, the most important recruit being Tim Finn's younger brother Neil. His musical input helped to turn the group's fortunes around and after a near-miss in the UK with the punkish single "I See Red" they went on to huge success in Australia, New Zealand and other countries with their 1980 LP "True Colours" and the single "I Got You". Their 1982 single "Six Months In A Leaky Boat" looked set to become their breakthrough U.K. hit, but it was killed off by a radio ban imposed by the BBC, who suspected (wrongly) that the song alluded to the Falklands War. After Split Enz broke up in 1984 Neil Finn formed Crowded House, who finally achieved the massive international success that had eluded the Enz.

The expatriates: Peter Allen, Olivia Newton-John and others

Another interesting facet of Australian music in this period is the influence of expatriate Australian pop-rock musicians who gained early experience at home before moving overseas, sometimes with great success. Probably the best known are Olivia Newton-John and Peter Allen.

Another less visible but still very important figure was writer-producer John Farrar, former lead guitarist of Melbourne band The Strangers, who produced all of Olivia's 1970s hits and also wrote and produced the two biggest hits from the Grease, "You're The One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted To You". Farrar also produced several major hits by Cliff Richard.

Former Twilights guitarist Terry Britten also became a noted writer and producer, with credits including hits for Cliff Richard and Tina Turner's hits "What's Love Got To Do With It" and "We Don't Need Another Hero".

American-born, Australian-raised songwriter and producer Steve Kipner gained early experience in Aussie pop band Steve & The Board; before moving to the UK, where he scored a hit as a member of the band Tin Tin. Relocating to California in the mid-'70s, he went on to write Olivia Newton-John's 1980 smash hit 'Physical', worked with Chicago, Stevie Nicks, Sheena Easton, Wilson Phillips and Christina Aguilera and has written and/or produced more than a dozen U.S. Top 20 hits.

Mike Howlett, former bassist of late 60s Sydney pop band The Affair was another notable success story. He moved to England in the late 1960s and in 1973 he joined renowned British progressive group Gong, which had been founded by Australian expatriate musician Daevid Allen. After leaving Gong, Howlett formed Strontium 90 (band) ca. 1976, the group where Sting (Gordon Sumner), Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland of The Police first met, played and recorded together. Howlett became an in-demand record producer with a string of notable credits, producing hit singles and albums for many leading New Wave music acts.

Two other Australians who rose to international prominence in the 1960s and 1970s are entrepreneur Robert Stigwood, who managed Cream and The Bee Gees, produced the film version of The Who's Tommy directed by Ken Russell and founded RSO Records. His younger contemporary Roger Davies managed Sherbet, Australia's top pop group of the mid-70s, before relocating to America. Davies' remarkable credits include management of some of the most successful female performers in the world, including Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Cher, Sade, Natalie Imbruglia and Pink, as well as Joe Cocker and Tony Joe White.

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 the Nick Cave formed in 1978 and disbanded in 1983.

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 significiant 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.


While many Australasian bands from the 1980s remained cult acts outside of Australia, some, including Little River Band, AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil and, later, Crowded House and Kylie Minogue, found wide success for years. Others, like Men at Work, became one-hit wonders throughout most of the world.

Acts like The Church, Hunters & Collectors; Hoodoo Gurus and the second incarnation of The Saints developed strong followings in Europe and other regions, while other 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 world music 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 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 Re Mi, The Reels, The Stems, The Triffids, Icehouse, Redgum, Goanna, 1927, Noiseworks, Gang Gajang and The Black Sorrows. 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 te 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.


Throughout the developed world, indie rock of various kinds became more popular during the 1990s, especially grunge music. 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 help build the careers of many Australian acts as well as showcasing international artists to a local audience. Notable Australian independent acts included the Falling Joys from Canberra; Regurgitator, Powderfinger and Custard from Brisbane; The Living End and The Dirty Three from Melbourne; Jebediah from Perth, RatCat, The Clouds, 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.

Some electronic music artists also gained limited international fame, including the industrial-oriented Snog (formed in 1988), Southend, Boxcar (which had several 12" dance singles in the Billboard magazine Dance Top 10) and Itch-E and Scratch-E (whose track "Sweetness & Light" gained the award for the best dance single from the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) in 1995). Also part of rising popularity of electronic music in the late 1990s were The Avalanches which became widely known outside their native Australia. Less well-known internationally, but nonetheless important Australian electronic acts included The Lab active in the early to mid-1990s and Infusion, Wicked Beat Sound System and The Bird in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

Directions in Groove from Sydney began in the early 1990s as a groove jazz (sometimes referred to as "acid jazz") outfit but towards the end of that decade had introduced elements of live drum and bass to their music. This fusion approach to jazz and electronic music performed live was extended in the late 1990s and early 2000s by The Hive (renamed The Baggsmen in 2002 to avoid confusion with a Swedish-based band with a similar name) and Entropic.

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 1990's, and a number of artists began performing it, virtually none of them were signed to record deals or saw mainstream airplay. The one exception was Sound Unlimited, who released one successful album in 199(4)?

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 pub rock never really went away, despite the enthusiasm for dance music in the late 1990s. For some reason the vagaries of international taste changed and the sound came back in flavour in the early years of the 21st century. Thus, several Australian rock bands saw international success in Europe and in some cases the US, somewhat to the bemusement of Australian rock critics unsure why these bands have succeeded where earlier (and in their view superior) groups failed. Notable examples include The Vines, who actually rose to prominence in the UK before becoming known in Australia, and Jet. Jet, clearly very heavily influenced by seminal 1960s acts such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, had their single "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" used in a successful Apple iPod commercial, and consequently have sold very well in the US.

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 the socially-conscious guitar virtuoso 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.

Australia, like much of the developed world, went through the "Idol" phenomenon for the first time in 2003, with the runner-up, country rock singer Shannon Noll, and the Christian R&B; artist Guy Sebastian selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their hastily-recorded and mostly critically-panned (though with grudging respect of Sebastian's voice) albums.

Somewhat belatedly, Australian hip-hop artists began to receive commercial attention through artists like MC Trey and 1200 Techniques.

See also


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