From Nick Cave to Kylie Minogue: The ultimate guide to the most influential Australian musicians
At a time when music venues appear to be a no-go area amid the current health crisis, music fans have been afforded a time to explore new abenues of sonic exploration during the period of flux. Here, prepare yourself to travel down under as we look at the strongest influences from Australia. Whether your favourite Aussie is a sensational pop star or a member of one of the biggest rock bands in the world, Australia has a wide range of Grammy-awarded and innovative artists. So here we go.
First on the list is probably one of the biggest pop stars of all times, the Goddess of pop, the Madonna from Melbourne. Yes, it’s Kylie Minogue. Although she started as an actress in a number of TV series including Neighbours and The Sullivans, the ‘Can’t-Get-You-Out-of-my-Head’ singer has released no less than fourteen albums and has definitely brought her own twist to the dance-pop of the nineties and noughties. Her first album—Kylie—was a worldwide triumph even though some music critics considered it as bubble-gum pop. Since then, her conversion from pop star into a Goddess with Aphrodite in 2010, as well as her other successes has kept Kylie at the top of the charts in the UK and many more countries. The pretty blonde has surely made a name for herself since her debut single ‘Locomotion’ which made her the biggest selling artist of the nineties in Australia.
Other female artists from down under have entered the pop music scene since then. Sia, for example, has conquered the world with her multiple hits and huge back catalogue of hits she has written for others. Iggy Azalea is another one, bringing her rap and hip-hop to new dimensions across the US.
Taking a closer look at the rock scene, it’s easy to see it has also been innovated and brought to life by various iconic artists and bands. When mentioning the genre, we immediately think about AC/DC and the symbolic Young brothers as well as front-man Bon Scott, their heavy guitar riffs, and that one and only high-pitched voice luring us to follow them on their ‘Highway to Hell’.
Nick Cave is another one who had to be part of this list. From The Birthday Party to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and finally Grinderman, the singer is seen as one of the first to have written songs flirting between blues and rock during the post-punk era. Add to that a little bit of gospel, a dark-long-haired man and you get the gloomy and mysterious style of Nick Cave, dealing with religion and other shadows he feels have been following him throughout his life. One thing is for sure, rock wouldn’t be what it is without the new, crude passion he has brought to it.
When thinking about Nick Cave, we can also think about The Saints. One of Cave’s biggest influences and one of punk’s most influential bands all together. Ticking all the boxes of the early-punk music characteristics, their first single ‘(I’m) Stranded’ released in 1976 made them the first band of that genre to release a record outside the US, before the Sex Pistols and the Clash took over. Radio Birdman was another Australian band considered as punk during that time, and who played an important part in the genre’s history.
Midnight Oil have also played an important part in forging that Australian-feel about rock music. Lead singer Peter Garrett is not only known for his bald head, his unique stage presence with rather interesting dance moves, he is also very involved in politics and environmental issues. Having said that, when listening to Midnight Oil’s songs, especially their signature ‘Beds Are Burning’, it is very clear Garrett and his band use their music as a way of sharing their views on various societal topics.
Olivia Newton-John is also an Australian artist who has shown a lot of support for environmental and animal-rights issues. As well as playing Sandy in the biggest musical of all times—Grease, she has been crowned with four Grammy awards and five number one hits. ‘You’re The One That I Want’ with John Travolta was with no doubt one of her biggest-selling titles. Newton-John released her first album in 197—If Not For You—which featured the title track written by Bob Dylan. Of course, the singer became worldwide-famous after her role in Grease, but she had already released her leitmotif ‘I Honestly Love You’ in 1974 which immediately reached the number one place in the US and Canadian charts and put Olivia Newton=John’s name up in lights.
Next on the list of icons from the land of Oz is Jimmy Barnes. Most-known for being the lead singer of Cold Chisel, he has become one of the biggest selling artists of Australia, with a record-breaking number of hit albums. Cold Chisel were recognised for developing a type of rock which already existed before but hadn’t really been put under the spotlight so much: pub rock. Being a mixture of blues rock, hard rock and progressive rock, this genre was very popular during the seventies and eighties and has influenced a lot of artists during the noughties as well. Coming back to Jimmy Barnes, his ‘Working Class Man’ track was definitely one of his most well-known releases ever. With his band, it was ‘Khe Sanh’ that truly stayed with the Aussies, becoming an all-time classic.
Inevitably, Michael Hutchence had to be part of our selection. The frontman of INXS was known for his captivating and magnetic presence on stage which made him the symbol of the band. Speaking of which, before the release of their third album Shabooh Shoobah in 1982, the pub rock band weren’t very well-known in the rest of the world. However, that soon changed when they released a song written by Nile Rodgers in 1984 – ‘Original Sin’. From that point, the band only went onwards and upwards. Come to the end of the eighties, INXS were considered as one of the biggest bands of the century, next to big names like U2 and The Cure. Their number of breakthrough hits only got bigger and bigger with ‘Need You Tonight’ and ‘Suicide Blonde’, which was inspired by Hutchence’s girlfriend at the time – Kylie Minogue.
As we are honouring some of Australia’s most important singers, we couldn’t leave out John Farnham. One of the greatest celebrities from down under, he is the only Australian artist who has managed to stay at number one for five years in a row, and whose album Whispering Jack was the second best-selling album in the country’s history. And that’s not all. Although he might have achieved breakthrough records, the man who was once considered as a teen pop idol is also appreciated for his personality. Many music critics have described him as an ordinary guy who has firmly kept his feet on the ground.
Looking back at the fifties, one name that definitely caught the attention of many people was Slim Dusty. The country singer was the biggest and most awarded star at the time. Undoubtedly, he has become a sort of symbol of Australia’s culture and brought country music to a new level. Not only did he sing songs composed by his wife – Joy McKean, Slim Dusty also recorded a number of poems. His hit was ‘A Pub with No Beer’ which actually had a rather hilarious and personal story behind it. Apart from the funny side of it, it was the original name of the place where Dusty was born.
Australia has had an impressive number of artists and hits over the decades, and we can be sure to hear even more Aussie singers in the future, considering how many current artists are at the top of the charts today. Troye Sivan is the prince of pop right now and let’s hope he continues to wear the crown with enough danger to keep the monarchy interesting. As well as the crowning of a new pop icon from Oz there has been a somewhat kaleidoscopic invasion of late as bands like Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala and King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard have brought psych music back to the forefront of our music minds. It’s been a change that has far outreached the confines of rock and roll and has seen Parker, in particular, work with some incredible talent.
One thing is for sure, that Australia has a wide and varied output of music. Whether it’s sunshine pop or the darkest of blues, Oz always has something up its sleeve. We can’t wait to see who will surface from down under next.