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Australian pop music

Litte Pattie with Col Joy and the Joye Boys in Vietnam Australian singer Little Pattie and the band, Col Joye and the Joye Boys, perform for soldiers of Headquarters Australian Force Vietnam, in the Free World Military building, Saigon, Vietnam. August 1966. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial: FOR/66/0714/VN.

Like rock music, popular, or pop music had its origins in the 1950s and 1960s. Popular music is different to rock in that it uses simple melodies, harmonies and words to create catchy songs or ballads that are easy to remember and have wide appeal. Pop songs are more likely to be influenced by fashions and are more short lived in their popularity than, for example, rock music.

Early Australian pop is a story about immigrants doing well on an ongoing basis, of female singers, songwriters and performers as well as popular activities and events. Australian pop is one of our most successful Australian musical exports.

The 1960s and 1970s – Surfing, love and feminist ballads

Australian pop music has been going strong since the 1960s, with stars such as Little Pattie, who made it big after she was spotted by talent scouts at the Bronte Surf Club in 1963. Her first hit was He's My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy. In 1966, at just 17 years of age, she was the youngest entertainer to play to Australian troops in Vietnam. On the evening of the battle of Long Tan she was singing in nearby Nui Dat; soldiers later reported being able to hear her music as they patrolled in the jungle.

During the 1960s other performers, such as Col Joye, the Bee Gees, Normie Rowe and The Seekers, also became well known for their tunes and (mostly) clean-cut images. Many of these bands or individual performers are still performing today. Helen Reddy rose to international success with her the pop anthem, I Am Woman. When she wrote the song in 1972 she tapped into the growing feminist movement of the early 1970s. Like so many Australian artists of the time, and since, Helen Reddy moved to the United States before finding the fame she sought.

Dance and disco songs in the 1970s

The Bees Gees The Bee Gees at the height of their disco power. Image courtesy of the

The Bee Gees are an example of an Australian pop group that achieved international success as singers, songwriters and performers. The brothers Gibb emigrated to Australia from Britain as children. They lived in Brisbane as young boys and recorded many of their early singles and albums in Sydney. After they re-located to the UK in 1967, they produced dozens of songs that made it to the top of the charts in the US, England and Australia. These songs included their late '70s hits How Deep is Your Love, Stayin' Alive, Night Fever or Tragedy. They also wrote many hits for other successful artists.

Enduring appeal – John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John

Two Australian pop musicians who may be considered ambassadors for our pop industry are John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John. Whilst both were born in England they are two of our most loved and popular singers.

John Farnham's first notable recording was Sadie the Cleaning Lady (1968). It was the largest-selling single by an Australian artist of the 1960s. In 1981 John Farnham joined the Little River Band as lead singer. In 1986 he recorded the album Whispering Jack which became the biggest-selling album in the Australian market of the 1980s, and sold over one million copies. His 1990 album Chain Reaction was the biggest selling album in Australia that year. John Farnham has continued to record albums and tour extensively.

John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John welcome the athletes at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John welcome the athletes at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Image courtesy of AAPIMAGE.

Olivia Newton-John's first major success was in 1974 with the single I Honestly Love You, which was a hit in the UK and the USA. In the USA, Olivia Newton-John branched off into country music. In 1974 she was awarded the Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year. She then starred in Grease and Xanadu. In 1981 she had a number one pop hit in the USA with the single Physical. Olivia Newton-John continues to record albums and perform to audiences around the world.

Soap star = pop star

Since the 1980s, Australia has produced a number of local and internationally popular TV soap operas. These in turn, have spawned a large number of pop stars.

In 1986, the pop group The Chantoozies was formed. The members were a number of ex-soap actors including David Reyne, Tottie Goldsmith and Ally Fowler.

Most notably, many Neighbours and Home and Away actors have tried to leap from small screen to studio stardom. Actors such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Craig McLachlan, Toni Pearen, Holly Valance, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Bec Cartwright, Natalie Imbruglia, Delta Goodrem and Melissa Tkautz all transferred their acting skills into the studio. Some, like Delta Goodrem and Natalie Imbruglia have enjoyed more success than others.

Delta Goodrem has made the international charts with her piano-based ballads such as Mistaken Identity, Born to Try and Innocent Eyes. She remains most popular in Australia where her albums have sold in high numbers and she has received many industry and popular awards.

Kylie Minogue

Australia's princess of pop - Kylie Minogue. Darenote. Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

By far the most famous and successful of these converts from soap operas has been Kylie Minogue. Kylie Minogue's music career kicked off in 1987 when she released her first single, a version of the '60s hit Locomotion. The song was number 1 on Australian charts for seven weeks, and was the biggest selling Australian single of the decade. Many more hits have followed.

Her career has included collaborations with internationally recognised artists, topping charts and winning awards from Italy to the USA. In addition to her catchy music, Kylie is well known for her looks and ability to transform her image. One of the world's most well-known pop stars, Madonna, sealed Kylie's fame when she wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the words 'Kylie Minogue'.

Alternative and indie pop – the 1980s and beyond

In the 1980s and 1990s, pop went beyond the images of surfer boys, romance and dancing to where punk met folk and digital sounds blended with rap overtones. In more recent years, alternative pop music (also known as independently produced or 'indie' music) has become popular.

Influential groups of the 1980s, like the Go-Betweens and Nick Cave's The Birthday Party, were critically and commercially successful in Britain and the USA underground. In 2005, the Go-Betweens ninth album, Oceans Apart, earned them their first ARIA award for best contemporary album, consolidating their influence on two generations of Australian, British and American groups, including the Australian group, The Whitlams.

A critic for the New York based Village Voice once wrote that Grant McLennan and Robert Foster of the Go-Betweens were the greatest song writing partnership working today. McLennan's song, Cattle and Cane, about growing up in Queensland, was named in the Australasian Performing Rights Association's top ten greatest Australian songs. The British music magazine, NME described them as 'a real pop group ... haunted by the ghosts of long-lost lovers, musty attic rooms, and Cash and Dylan on Nashville Skyline'.

In the 1990s some Australian artists reflected international fashions for more off-beat pop music with a folksy feel. Ben Lee's sparse indie tunes have an eccentric touch and have made charts around the world. The Whitlams, a Sydney-based pop band with folk influences are known for their haunting singles such as No Aphrodisiac, less serious songs such as I Make Hamburgers and those with a political motivation like Blow up the Pokies.

Since 2000, indie artists such as george, Kisschasy and Missy Higgins have produced toe-tapping songs and ballads, while Rogue Traders, and Butterfingers have embraced digital, rap and punk sounds with enthusiasm.

Australian pop has now developed its own unique sound that echoes international trends but is firmly rooted in local experiences.

Useful links

Australian pop music resurces

Australian music resources

Australian music industry websites

Links to artist websites

Last updated: 9th August 2007
Creators: Big Black Dog Communications Pty Ltd, Kathryn Wells

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