Image: Cold Chisel, INXS/Instagram
There’s no denying that pub rock songs dominated the Australian music scene in the 1970s and 1980s.
But, one thing that we sometimes think gets overlooked is how popular so many of the classic tunes still are.
Whether it’s, you guessed it, in the pub or just in the comfort of your own home, you’d be hard pressed to think of a genre that brings people together more effectively than pub rock.
So grab a beer, grab your friends and enjoy our countdown to some of the most iconic pub rock songs in Australian history.
For more information on this subject, see the Classic Rock Observer.
‘Will I ever see your face again?’ – Angels
Oddly enough, what is perhaps the most memorable part of the Angels hit “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again” isn’t actually in the recording of the song. You know what we’re talking about, the part where the crowd responds to singer Doc Neeson by chanting “am I ever gonna see your face again” with “no way, fuck you, fuck you”. We don’t know exactly how this rather crude tradition came about, but it is clearly quintessentially Australian.
‘Khe Sanh’ – Cold Chisel
This hit from one of Australia’s most legendary pub rock bands has more than meets the eye. Although its success probably lies in its catchiness, its lyrics tell the surprisingly evocative story of a Vietnamese veteran trying to get back into everyday life.
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‘Don’t change’ – INXS
While there are dozens of INXS songs that could have easily made it onto this list, it’s hard to look past the heights reached in “Don’t Change.” It was the band’s first song to get a large-scale international release, and it’s not hard to see why.
“The Beds Are Burning” – Midnight Oil
Midnight Oil has made a name for itself with its emotional and politically charged lyrics, and “Beds Are Burning” was certainly no exception. The song was written as a call for the Australian government to return Australian lands native to the Pintupi people, who were one of the biggest divisive issues in Australian politics at the time.
‘April Sun in Cuba’ – Dragon
Although Dragon had a slew of hits throughout the 1970s, the success of “April Sun In Cuba” was simply superior. After debuting in 1977, it stayed on the charts for 22 weeks, cementing the group as a favorite with Australian audiences.
‘I touch myself’ – Divinyls
To say Divinyls’ ‘I Touch Myself’ was ahead of its time would be an understatement. Not only was the band fronted by a woman, which was sadly rare in Australian rock of yesteryear, but it also brought to light the ridiculously taboo subject of female masturbation.
“Holy Grail” – Hunters and Collectors
It’s fair to say that “Holy Grail” isn’t just a song, it’s an anthem. As if that wasn’t Australian enough to begin with, it endeared itself even more to listeners when it became an unofficial AFL theme song. Decades after its release, it is still practically synonymous with footy.
“It’s a long way to the top (if you want rock ‘n’ roll)” – AC/DC
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to AC/DC. While it was hard to figure out which of their songs to include, it was hard to top the track that spawned a number of love parodies. If you haven’t drunkenly chanted “it’s a long way to the store if you want a sausage roll”, then are you even Australian?
‘Better be home soon’ – Crowded House
A slightly more melancholic track than many other pub rock songs, “Better Be Home Soon” may be understated, but it’s certainly full of meaning. The already somber track became even more impactful when Neil Finn performed it at the 2005 ARIA Awards in honor of his late bandmate Paul Hester, who died earlier that year.
‘The Boys Light Up’ – Aussie Crawl
The origins of Australian Crawl’s title track from their debut album are surprisingly controversial. The song was nearly banned from radio and some TV shows due to its explicit lyrics referring to infidelity. On top of that, many fans believe the chorus refers to marijuana use, although the band has denied this theory.
“Never Tear Us Apart” – INXS
Looking back, it’s shocking that INXS’ seminal hit “Never Tear Us Apart” didn’t reach No. 14 on the ARIA charts until its debut in 1988. The fact that the track was covered by The Teskey Brothers this year in tribute to Michael Gudinski testifies to his timeless and touching words.
‘Cheap Wine’ – Cold Chisel
“Cheap Wine” was Cold Chisel’s first-ever top 10 single, and its carefree vibe has ensured it remains one of their most popular tracks over 40 years later. His often-misheard lyrics are also remembered, with many fans confusing “cheap wine and a three-day growth” with “cheap wine and a three-legged goat.”
“Throw Your Arms Around Me” – Hunters and Collectors
“Throw Your Arms Around Me” is undeniably as tender as pub rock gets. One of Australia’s most popular (not to say unique) love songs, you’ll still hear it played at weddings across the country to this day.
“Working Class Man” – Jimmy Barnes
“Working Class Man” is widely considered Jimmy Barnes’ signature song, and for good reason. Its lyrics paid homage to blue-collar and working-class Australians, a group of people who may have felt ignored by mainstream music before.
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