Thunder from Down Under
An American view of Australian Rock.
by Dr. Spin
May 3, 2004
Dear Dr. Spin,
Can you please talk a bit about the history of Australian rock?
Being an American, I can only tell you what I as an American have experienced of Australian rock. This means bands that I have little to no knowledge of bands that were or are only popular in Australia.
My understanding of the history of Australian rock begins with the British Invasion groups of the sixties. Australia was a colony, then part of the commonwealth of the British Empire. In the 50’s, when Rock was beginning in America, and singles were making the Atlantic leap into English towns like Liverpool and London, Australia was still considered “frontier” to the British Empire. This meant that Australian music was a bit more “traditional” in that music was more folksy and devoid of the styles that influenced bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Indeed, it wasn’t until these bands gained worldwide popularity and actually toured Australia that the Australian rock “scene” really began.
One of the earliest and best known Australian bands was the Bee Gees, who emerged as a pop/rock band in the late sixties. One could argue that this wasn’t a truly Australian band, as the Gibbs emigrated from Manchester, England to Australia as teenagers. Another lesser-known Australian band, the Easybeats may be more accurately described as the first true Australian band to achieve success outside Australia. The Easybeats are also noteworthy for one of their members George Young.
George Young happened to have two younger brothers, Malcolm and Angus, who of course, are members of Australia’s most famous Rock band, AC/DC. AC/DC is still Australia’s most successful rock band, enjoying its fourth decade of worldwide popularity. Even the death of original lead singer Bon Scott in 1980, could not quiet the “thunder from Down Under,” as AC/DC first release with new (and current) lead singer Brian Johnson was one of the best-selling albums of their career.
The 80’s was a very good decade for Australian rock, as not one but two bands made it big abroad. The first was Men at Work who received notoriety with a song about their homeland, appropriately titled “Down Under.” Though Men at Work was largely popular, the band broke up after releasing only three albums. The other big band of the 80’s was INXS. INXS was a monster of a band, and at its peak rivaled U2 as the biggest band of the ’80’s. INXS is still one of my favorite bands from that era, and though their popularity waned throughout the ‘90’s, I feel they were one of the few bands that consistently released good music. Unfortunately, INXS could not survive the same kind of blow AC/DC did; When lead singer Michael Hutchence committed suicide in 1997, it was the end of the band as well.
Now in the 2000’s a new band from Australia is making waves. Boosted by the use of their song “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” in the iPod commercials, Jet hopes to be the new “big” Aussie band. Like their predecessors, Jet also features brothers in the band. It almost seems to be a prerequisite for Australian bands to succeed (Men at Work is the only non-brother band mentioned above).
This is my knowledge of Australian bands (okay, I also know actor Russell Crow has some band he likes to perform with). I’m sure Australia has a much deeper and richer Rock history, but these are the bands that made the biggest impact worldwide, so this is what I can share with you.
About the Author:
Dr. Spin proudly remembers buying Men at Work's first album, Business As Usual, as a defining moment in his musical maturation.
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