Timeline of trends in Australian music
The trend of Australian music have often mirrored those of the United States and Britain. Australian Aboriginal music during the prehistory of Australia is not well documented; this timeline will concentrate on the time since radio began broadcasting in Australia (1923).
Because Australia had military ties with the US (through the Korean War), various Australian agents would invite the biggest American stars of the day such as Frank Sinatra, Little Richard and Ricky Nelson to come to Australia and perform in Sydney, Melbourne, and the other state capitals. Johnny Ray was the first to do this, in 1952. Until the late 1950s, Australian music was limited to jazz, country (with Slim Dusty being the biggest country star) and the music of its Indigenous peoples. Television was introduced to Australia in 1956, but because many people could not afford one at the time, the main medium for music was radio. Those who could not attend the concerts thus relied on the radio to hear the newest and most popular music. Nearly all the singles released in Australia at the time were recorded by Americans.
The original 'rock and roll', popularised by Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry in America became popular in Australia as well because it fitted in with the changing image of its popular culture. The first 'rock and roll' dances were held at Preston Town Hall, Melbourne. Bill Haley and his Comets "Rock Around the Clock", when released in Australia in 1955, sold over 150,000 units as a 45rpm EP. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999) By the end of the decade, rock and roll music was the most popular source of entertainment among young Australians. It was through these artists that Australians started recording its modern popular music.
In March 1958, Johnny O'Keefe's "The Wild One" was the #1 single on the Australian charts - he was the first Australian rock star to have such a hit. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999) Channel 9 began broadcasting an Australian version of the American Bandstand programme, with Brian Henderson as host, which lasted for 14 years.
Still strongly reflecting American culture, in 1962 Australia experienced the Twist fad, soon followed by the Stomp fad (reflecting surf culture, which came to Australia through the Americans a few years before). In 1964, one of the biggest bands of this genre, the Beach Boys toured Australia. Other American acts also toured - rock and roll was still quite popular there - but very few American acts were just as successful.
More and more Australians were buying television sets, which gave the four television networks - Seven, Nine, Ten and ABC - an opportunity to air its own music show. In music shows of the 1950s and 1960s, every single song on the show was performed live in a small studio in front of an audience of 300 at the most, and they were nearly always teenagers.
Rick Springfield's success began in 1962 and peaked in 1981 to 1983.
The British invasion, which started with The Beatles, swept through Australia with many British acts being considered alternatives to the American ones. When the Beatles toured Australia in 1964, there were fans running to meet them everywhere. They performed to sell-out crowds in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The Rolling Stones also toured Australia in 1965, again to sellout crowds. But American singers still came to Australia for tours - Bob Dylan in 1966. The mid-1960s saw the 'mod' fad, which had been popular in Britain, come and go.
Most of the Australian acts of the 1960s were influenced by the British acts, which were more common and thus more exposable, than the American acts and so most of the Australian songs of the decade were recorded in British styles of music. However, there were some Australians who were willing to stay Americanized and record surf rock, or rock and roll songs (although for the latter genre, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles would have been bigger influences than the US acts of the 1950s).
Because of its small population at the time, not every Australian singer could be signed to an Australian label the traditional way (via a demo). So to pursue their dreams of becoming music stars, they had to enter talent shows. The winner of each talent show would get the chance to travel to Los Angeles, New York or London and be signed to a major British or American recording label. Olivia Newton-John and Helen Reddy were two of these singers, with Newton-John moving to London and performing songs with fellow Australian singer Pat Carroll. The Bee Gees, influenced by the big bands of the 1940s and 1950s also had to go on a talent show before they could start their recording careers. They became extremely successful in this style of music.
A cover of The Coasters' "Poison Ivy" (also covered by the Rolling Stones) gave Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, a surf rock band, their first #1 hit, keeping even the Beatles at bay. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999) 1964 also saw Jimmy Little have a hit with "Royal Telephone" - he was the first indigenous Australian to do so. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999)
In 1966, Australia's prestigious (but quite Anglicized) annual rock band competition, Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds began, and this ran until 1972.
By 1966, the Loved Ones (through "The Loved One") and the Easybeats (through "Friday on my Mind")had both seen success. Johnny Young was host of Young Talent Time and the Seekers became the first Australian band to sell over a million records internationally. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999) Their best known songs were "Georgy Girl" and "The Carnival is Over". The last three mentioned bands all list British bands as their influences (to some extent).
The popularity of surf culture continued into the 1970s. From 1972 to 1975 the Sunbury Music Festival (considered to be Australia's answer to America's Woodstock) was held in Victoria, dominated by the likes of Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Daddy Cool and the Skyhooks. At this point, however, Australians were being exposed to a new distinctly American style of music - soft rock. Although they could listen to this sort of music through television and radio, it wasn't popular here until it came to Australia via the Eagles. The Little River Band is one of the noted Australian bands of this era to play in this style of music.
In 1972, "It's Time" was recorded by Alison McCallum, and was (in)famously (and successfully) used by the ALP in Gough Whitlam's bid for government. He introduced many reforms, including legislating for the establishment of community-based FM radio and increased funding for the arts. Due to his government's reforms, 2JJ (now the influential Triple J) was established.
1972 also saw Michael Gudinski form Mushroom Records. In 1975, Skyhooks, who were signed to Mushroom, released Living In The 70's. Six tracks from the album were banned, and the controversy combined with the singles "Living in the 70s" and "Horror Movie" ensured the album sold well. Their actual style of music was originally surf rock, but became glam rock, which originated in Britain during the early 1970s; they are thus Anglicized in this way. Nevertheless, they were hugely successful because they gave the young Australian public what they wanted - songs about Australia - places, experiences, values and so on, rather than songs about love, which Australians up until that time had been famous for. The debut song played by 2JJ was one of the banned Skyhooks tunes, "You Just Like Me 'Cos I'm Good In Bed".
At the end of 1974, the ABC began broadcasting Countdown with Ian Meldrum as host, a show which became hugely popular and influential. The show started as a conventional music show, it was still common for every single song to be played live. By 1976 onwards, overseas artists began to send the ABC and other television networks promotional videos to air on their music shows when they could not perform live. Thus Australian bands like Dragon, the Little River band and Skyhooks made promotional videos to accompany many of their songs, even though they rarely aired on Countdown at this time. Songs played on the show often experienced a wild upswing in sales.
Disco emerged in America in the mid to late 1970s and came to Australia via artists like KC & the Sunshine Band. The Bee Gees, who had stopped recording big-band style music in the early 1970s, used this style of music to make their comeback to the Australian charts. In 1977, the Bee Gees's soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever was a huge success worldwide, and in Australia broke all previous sales records. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999) Disco also had other Australian followers: Leo Sayer had a Top 10 hit in 1977 with "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing", and John Paul Young achieved success with "Yesterday's Hero" in 1976 and "Love is in the Air" in 1978.
The aforementioned styles of music existed alongside hard rock acts such as AC/DC.
Australian music was starting to gather momentum overseas, with the Skyhooks touring the United States, and AC/DC and Sherbet attracting attention in Britain. In the late 1970s, as the punk rock phenomenon began overseas, Radio Birdman and the Saints began to be seen as scene leaders such as Shelby Ryan :S. Little River Band gained success in the United States in 1977, with their album Diamantina Cocktail being the first Australian-made American gold record (500,000 sales). (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999)
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the dominance of the hugely popular pub rock, typified by Mental As Anything, Matt Finish, Midnight Oil, The Angels, Cold Chisel and Icehouse. (See Australian Rock.)
Air Supply's huge success spanned 1980 to 1983.
In 1981, Men at Work's "Down Under" was hugely popular both domestically and in the U.S., with the single staying at #1 on the Billboard charts for 4 weeks in January to February 1983. INXS also experienced big success with "What You Need" reaching the U.S. top 5, and the band selling over 1.3 million copies of their Listen Like Thieves album. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999)
The launch of MTV in America in 1981 ensured that Australians were exposed to the new generation of musical acts - and video clips - produced in the Northern Hemisphere. By 1983 Australian musical acts were making the transition from regular live performances to making promotional video clips - some acts for all of their singles.
In 1984, Midnight Oil's charismatic lead singer Peter Garrett ran for parliament with the Nuclear Disarmament Party. In the end Garrett narrowly missed out on winning a senate seat. In the mid-1980s, politics and music were increasingly entwined - the 1985 Live Aid concert was huge. Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust album, featuring the "Beds Are Burning" single, broke the band in the US.
There was a sudden burst of interest in female singer/songwriters in the late 1980s, with Kate Ceberano, Wendy Matthews and Jenny Morris (actually a New Zealander) being popular. In 1987, Kylie Minogue hit the pop charts with a bang, "Locomotion" becoming the biggest selling Australian single of the decade and #2 in the UK, #3 in the US.
It has been said that Madonna and Michael Jackson, American singers who were both quite popular in Australia during this time, are major influences for Australian music from the 1980s onwards: in terms of the topics of the songs (nearly every song recorded since 1990 are related to love), the video clips, and the actual styles of music.
The 1990s saw the continued expansion and then popularity of alternative music. It also saw a renaissance in music festivals, with some dozen or more being established and holding their own. Several expanded to cover multiple cities (Homebake, Big Day Out, Livid). The trend was kicked off by the establishment of the Big Day Out in 1992 in Sydney. Grunge had become huge in Australia after the death of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain in 1994, and Silverchair were the chief beneficiaries, with huge success both locally and within the US (1996).
Alternative going mainstream was confirmed in 1994, when the Cruel Sea dominated the ARIA Music Awards with their album The Honeymoon Is Over. Nick Cave experienced wider commercial success, and You Am I had three successive albums debut at #1. Other stalwarts of the 1990s have been Regurgitator, Magic Dirt and Spiderbait.
In the late 1990s, pop broke out all over. Savage Garden hit the US#1 with their single "Truly Madly Deeply" and their debut album sold over 8 million copies. (Creswell & Fabinyi, 1999) Tina Arena and Natalie Imbruglia also had big chart success.
Triple J's influence in possible success for a band was clearer than ever, with the station breaking Grinspoon, Missy Higgins and largely responsible for promoting the Whitlams, who after winning Triple J's Hottest 100 poll in 1997 with their "No Aphrodisiac", went on to win Song of the Year at the 1998 ARIA music awards.
- Creswell, Toby; Fabinyi, Martin (1999), The Real Thing: Adventures in Australian Rock & Roll, Sydney: Random House.