This is the third instalment in a series of blogs in which 4TR reviews Ausmusic decade by decade, following our reviews of The 1950’s/60, and The 70’s, already posted on the 4TR site. At the same time we will nominate our Top Ten Song choices for each period, from the huge and diverse range of original local songs, from many genres, that have become our musical icons, and an integral part of the unique local soundtrack of our lives. I hope you enjoy the journey, and feel free to comment on the songs we have selected as 4TR Top Ten hits.

Selection Criteria – TOP TEN SONGS OF THE DECADE 1980’s

. Released as a single in the decade and charted primarily during that period in this country

. Is an original composition by Australian or New Zealand artist(s)

. Recorded by Australian or New Zealand artists.

. Need not necessarily be recorded in this country.

. Selections are not genre-specific, but will reflect the artistic excellence, commercial success, innovation, and presentation of local content, that must be common to all the songs deemed to be the best in any decade .  

Over the next two weeks we will review the Top Ten songs from the 1980’s, beginning with a Review of the Decade, and songs 10-9 this week, and following up with the remaining top eight in the next two weeks.


Graeme Davy

4The Record


In the 1980’s popular music continued to evolve, diversify, and undergo re-invention, as it became more commodified and corporatized than ever before, the concept of music as a package of intellectual property, with multiple commercial dimensions to be exploited in global markets, had emerged. The re-packaging of music to better facilitate the promotion of soundtrack albums, live concerts, sponsorship tours, music video releases, T-shirts, caps, and other merchandising, meant that music had become an item of capital to be nurtured, protected, and aggrandised, a concept that was not universally understood or accepted by the musicians themselves.


Music genres continued to rise and fall in popularity, clearly synth-pop was going to be around for a long time, and its most artful local practitioners included INXS, Icehouse, Wa Wa Nee, Mondo Rock, Real Life and Pseudo Echo whose cover of Lipps Inc’s Funky Town sat at #1 locally for 7 weeks and climbed to #6 on the US Cashbox charts in 1987.

Pseudo Echo and Funky Town – Acid-washed jeans, mullets, and high tops – very 80’s!

The Great Australian Pub Rock movement continued to rule throughout most of the 80’s with The Angels, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel (until they split in 1984), and Rose Tattoo, carrying the torch forward into the new decade for the Divinyls, Hunters and Collectors, Hoodoo Gurus, Painters and Dockers, and Cosmic Psychos to perpetuate this most Australian of musical genres into the future.


Away from the beer barns there was also a thriving club scene where a variety of musical genres featured – rave, house, post-punk, dance-pop, disco, acid rock  at clubs in Sydney – Stranded, Patches, Exchange – Melbourne – Inflation, Bombay Rock, Metro – Brisbane – Tracks, Transformers, Rhythm Zone – Adelaide- Planet, Village, Heaven – and Perth – Pinocchios, and Rumours.   

Live performance by the Divinyls of Pleasure and Pain their hit from 1985 – Chrissie Amphlett was a force of nature.

The 1980’s would see the emergence of performers who would take our music to the world, Olivia Newton-John had already established a foothold in the US market with a string of country-tinged hits through the 1970’s. But with the release of Grease, both a hit movie and a mega-hit soundtrack, she was poised to dominate the US market, and followed up with the hits Magic and Xanadu from the movie of the same name.


She also delivered one of the more curious and popular music videos of the early 80’s with Physical, a sexually suggestive song that dialled down the soft porn angle by making a jokey video about fat guys working out and turning into gay beefcakes. Allegedly ONJ tried to pull the song from release because she was concerned about the likely negative impact on her image, but it was too late, the radio stations were playing it. Physical sat on top of the US charts for a record 10 weeks and was the biggest hit of the decade there. Australian John Farrar was Newton-John’s trusted collaborator and he wrote and produced many of her hits in the 1970’s- 80’s, including You’re the One That I Want, Hopelessly Devoted To You, Magic, and Make A Move On Me. Another Aussie, Steve Kipner also co-wrote several hit songs for her in the 80’s including Physical, Heart Attack and Twist of Fate, currently ONJ sits atop the list of best-selling Australian solo female singers with record sales in excess of 100 million.

Other Australians who would impress as world class songwriters/producers in the 80’s included Mike Chapman (Sweet, Suzie Quatro, Mud, Smokie, Racey, Blondie, and The Knack), Terry Britten (Cliff Richard, Tina Turner, Olivia Newton-John, Michael Jackson, Status Quo), and Steve Kipner ( Chicago, Christine Aguilera, Natasha Bedingfield, Kelly Rowland, and as mentioned above Olivia Newton-John).


AC/DC would continue to take their hard rock to an ever-increasing global audience throughout the 80’s, and despite the death of lead singer Bon Scott in February 1980, they bounced back with the global smash hit album Back In Black,  which to date has sold 50 million copies, as their career  sales continue to rise past 200 million, and the songs Highway to Hell and Back in Black have been inducted into the Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

AC/DC You Shook Me All Night Long – 1980

INXS were a global success throughout 1985-90, in addition to solid local sales they took seven singles into the US top ten, with Need You Tonight climbing all the way to US #1 in 1987; the band would sell over 50 million records and currently sit in third position behind AC/DC and the Bee Gees as Australia’s most successful band, their charismatic lead singer Michael Hutchence passed away in 1997.  


The slithery white boy funk of INXS was a world apart from the soft rock of Air Supply who were also attacking the US charts in the period in 1980 -83, taking no less than eight songs into the US top ten in that period, including the 1981 #1 hit The One That You Love. The Little River Band were the first Australian-based group to enjoy continued success in the States off the back of a decade of grueling touring and recording, with thirteen top twenty US hits to their credit between 1976-1983, including six top ten songs, and career record sales in excess of 25 million.

air supply 4

Men At Work (below at the Grammys) were a Melbourne pub band who became the most impressive Australian commercial success story of the early 80’s. They took Who Can It Be to #1 in the USA and #2 in Australia in 1981, then before the end of the year they had simultaneous #1 records on the US, UK and Australian charts with the single Down Under, and their debut album Business As Usual. Further hits included Overkill, It’s A Mistake, Dr. Heckyll and Mr.Jive, Be Good Johnny, and the album Cargo, they won a Grammy Award in 1983, and in the space of two years sold 15 million records, and then imploded.  

men at work

 Rick Springfield relocated to the States in 1971 but struggled to follow up his debut hit Speak to Sky, until he took his own composition Jessie’s Girl to #1 around the world ten years later in 1981, and followed up with no less than 16 top forty US hits in the 80’s including five top ten songs there. In the mid-80’s, politics and music were increasingly entwined, Redgum’s Only 19 in ’83 was a moving anti-war protest and had been preceded the year before by Goanna’s Aboriginal land rights protest song Solid Rock, by the mid-80’s large protest events had become a global phenomenon with the 1985 Live Aid and Farm Aid Concerts. Midnight Oil had always been stridently outspoken about Aboriginal land rights, nuclear disarmament, and the environment, Beds Are Burning was an international hit, and the band performed an impromptu demonstration concert outside the Exxon Mobil building in New York in 1990 in protest at the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska. (below)


Michael Gudinski’s Mushrooom Records continued to set the standard for independent record labels throughout the decade, the signing of expatriate NZ band Split Enz would prove to be inspired when their hit single I Got You crashed into the charts in 1980, and marked the emergence of Neil Finn, who would go on to form the globally influential Crowded House, with Nick Seymour and Paul Hester. The Mushroom roster would also include Jason Donovon, Jimmy Barnes as a solo artist, Hunters and Collectors, Models, Paul Kelly, Joe Camilleri, Renee Geyer, The Saints, and Danii Minogue, while a member of the cast of the TV soapie Neighbours, would become the most successful artist ever signed to the label.

To Her Door – Paul Kelly 1987

In 1987 Kylie Minogue would segue from TV star to pop star when she took her cover of Locomotion to #1 locally, and made it the biggest-selling single of the year. She quickly followed up with a revamped version of the same song by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, which charted #2 in the UK and #3 in the USA. Kylie would go on to dominate charts in both Australia, the UK and Europe over the next twenty years, hitting #1 no less then eleven times here and nine times in the UK, global record sales of 100 million places Minogue next to Olivia Newton-John, as one of the two pre-eminent female singers in Australian history. 

On the local scene Cold Chisel would break up in 1984 but Jimmy Barnes would enjoy a stellar run as a solo performer with no less than thirteen top 40 hits in the 80’s including such top ten songs as Working Class Man (#4), Good Times (with INXS #2), Too Much Ain’t Enough Love (#1),Let’s Make It Last All Night (#7), Lay Down Your Guns (#4) and When Something Is Wrong With My Baby (with John Farnham #2). Australian Crawl had kicked off proceedings in 1979 with their debut album The Boys Light Up which charted for 101 weeks, sold 300,00 copies locally and had three hit singles The Crawl traded in droll, laconic, slightly subversive musical themes as they skewered the very bourgeoise classes from which they had sprung, with five top 5 albums between 1979- 1984. They broke up when James Reyne, who had written their #1 hit Reckless, embarked on a solo career in 1985, and notched a further six top ten hits in the 80’s, which often featured dark themes about addiction, substance abuse, and alienation – Fall of Rome, Hammerhead, Motor’s Too Fast.

Jimmy Barnes – Too Much Ain’t Enough Love – 1987 (Wendy Matthews on backing vocals)

Several groups relocated to the UK throughout much of the 1980’s in hopes of breaking into that market, Nick Cave and the Birthday Party/Bad seeds, the Go-Betweens, the Moodists and the Triffids. Cave would release six albums by the end of the decade, and despite the excellent quality of such songs as Tupelo, Mercy Seat and Stranger Than Kindness, he would struggle to impact on the charts, until the next decade. The Go-Betweens (Cattle and Cane and Streets of Your Town), and the Triffids (Wide Open Road) would similarly release seminal songs that only charted moderately, but have been rightly recognised as Australian classics since.

“Continental ” Robert Susz and The Dynamic Hepnotics – Soul Kind of Feeling 1984

Dance pop struggled to flourish in Australia until the next decade, but the Rockmelons, Pseudo Echo, the Dynamic Hepnotics, Eurogliders, Mondo Rock, Mental As Anything, and Boxcar, all made solid contributions with songs that merged an ebullient new wave beat with a rock/pop groove that lead punters to the dancefloor. John Farnham would end three grim years fronting the Little River Band in the USA to make a triumphant return to the charts in 1986 both locally and globally, with his mega-selling album Whispering Jack and its anthemic single You’re the Voice. Farnham would dominate local charts for the next ten years with three #1 albums – Whispering Jack, Age of Reason, and Chain Reaction, and a stream of hit singles lifted from those albums.   


New Zealanders remained an integral part of the local scene  in the 1980’s, Split Enz/Crowded House, Jenny Morris, Sharon O’Neill, Jon Stevens, Dave Dobbyn, The Swingers, Koo De Tah, and Shona Laing all had hits in the decade, and although something of a one-hit wonder, the Swingers ultra-catchy earworm of a song,  Counting The Beat in 1981, was the biggest-selling single in Australia that year.

Counting The Beat – The Swingers from NZ. 1981

The 80’s also saw the rise of local novelty/comedy music, in 1981 Joe Dolce took Shaddup Your Face to #1 and it stayed there for 8 weeks, it also topped the charts in thirteen other countries, was translated into 50 different languages, there were 25 cover versions around the world, and it sold 6 million copies globally, to become the biggest -selling local record in history for the next thirty years. Slim Dusty produced his second national #1 hit in 1980  with Duncan, a tribute to the twin Australian institutions of beer-drinking and mateship, Austen Tayshus relentlessly punned his way to #1 with the Billy Birmingham composition Australiana, while Billy himself would emerge as our most successful comic monologist ever, as his alter ego The Twelfth Man, with a series of profane impersonations of Network Nine’s team of cricket commentators.  


The 80’s was a decade of extensive technological innovation, music went electronic, and changed the way we recorded, consumed, and stored music. The invention of the CMI synthesizer in 1978 by the Australian duo Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel, and called the Fairlight Computer Music Implement, after the Sydney suburb of Fairlight, where the two had located their workshop and built the first CMI, was hugely influential throughout the decade. Barely two  years after Iva Davies had mastered  the CMI and recorded his synth-laden magnum opus Great Southern Land in 1982,  there were no less than three new advanced models of the synthesizer available – E-mu Simulator (’81), Yamaha DX7 (’83) and Akai S-Series (’84), and all at competitive prices, the synthesiser market boomed, and it quickly became as important an instrument as the human voice.


Philips and Sony slugged it out early on in the 80’s to be the first to invent the compact disc which was launched in 1982, but there was great scepticism about CDs, many felt that they could never replace cassette tapes, or vinyl records. But once the price of CD players fell in 1983, they became the must-have item of audio technology. Incidentally Phillips won the race to release the first commercial CD player, the Phillips CD 100 in August 1982.


The Sony Walkman was launched in Japan in 1979 and by 1986 the word Walkman had entered the Oxford English Dictionary, and although the early TPS-L2 model was clunky, and a world away from the iPod, by the end of the decade, Sony had moved over 50 million units globally. 


Two highly complementary 1980’s innovations enhanced our access to music and amped up the convenience factor – MTV and the advent of the video cassette recorder. In 1981 these few words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” set to stock footage from NASA, announced the launch of MTV, on August 1 1981. The cable channel’s 24/7 broadcast of music videos – starting audaciously with the Buggles cover of Video Killed the Radio Star – a video created by Australian Russell Mulcahy – signalled the dawning of a new era in which visuals would rival audio for cultural impact. Today short-form video content seems only natural in today’s YouTube world, but MTV’s formula was revolutionary for its time, however MTV would not arrive in Australia until 1987, when it went to air with host Richard Wilkins on the Nine Network.

While the VCR was available in the 1970’s it was only in the 1980’s when cheap microprocessors and economies of large-scale production impacted on their price, the VCR market boomed, Beta and VHS fought for mark share, and now we could record, pause, rewind and fast forward, we also became adept at time-shifting our viewing, and eliminating commercials.    


The demise of Go-Set magazine in 1974 encouraged others to create new pop music newspapers, Juke Magazine, founded by former Go-Set editor Ed Nimmervoll in Melbourne in 1975, was a weekly publication which featured informed articles about the music industry as well as a comprehensive gig guide which attracted the attention of bands, booking agencies, and venues, and was published until 1992. The Sydney-based Rock Australia Magazine or RAM, was founded by Anthony O’Grady in 1975 and was published fortnightly until 1989, it was modelled on the UK publications New Musical Express and Melody Maker, and incorporated local content in addition to articles from the UK publications.  

80's 1

In the period 1975-1987 ABC’s Countdown and the crusading efforts of Molly Meldrum, who was unflinchingly focused on promoting local bands, proved to be decisive in breaking the stranglehold that narrowly – focused radio networks had on the local music market. The show’s national reach and influence was unrivaled, if a group performed their song on Countdown and Molly hyped it up, it would be added to radio station playlists. For over a decade Countdown was one of the single biggest factors in stimulating and sustaining the local music scene.


The Whitlam government’s rapid expansion of radio licencing in the mid-70’s had broken the oligopolistic stranglehold that dominant radio networks had over programming, and in the 80’s as the spread of AM/FM portable and car radios displaced AM-only receivers, conversion to FM-stereo became progressively more attractive to broadcasters. The swing to FM with its superior sound quality and immunity from interference, gathered momentum, FM was cheaper for broadcasters to operate, and new radio service providers mushroomed, until talkback radio virtually became the last bastion of AM stations. Stations 2JJJ and 3JJJ, owned and operated by the Federal government, quickly became the cutting-edge radio outlets for local music, as well as local political and social commentary.


Countdown had already been  a considerable generator and consumer of music videos in the 70’s and 80’s prior to the launch of MTV, via the early promo clips for such AC/DC songs as It’s A long Way to The Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll), and Jailbreak, which were created by the Countdown team under the direction of Paul Drane. Melbourne film director Russell Mulcahy would also become a prominent global producer of  music videos in the 80’s, creating benchmark videos for Elton John, Duran Duran, Spandeau Ballet, Culture Club, Human League, The Stranglers, Pet Shop Boys, and Paul McCartney and others, as well as videos for such local acts as Dragon, The Saints, Hush, AC/DC, and Icehouse. The 80’s brought new electronic video effects such as chroma-key, stop-motion photography, claymaytion, animation and rotoscope, which gave clip makers a new palette to play with in addition to the established techniques of film. Some of the more memorable clips, first seen on Countdown from the early 80’s, included ground-breaking special effects from Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, a ha, Duran Duran and Dire Straits.


The cessation of Countdown in 1987 saw the launch of MTV in Australia, and in the same year the ABC launched Rage and Network 10 began Video Hits, Rage still continues be the longest-running show of its type in Australia. Live performance opportunities for local bands also improved when the Nine network moved Hey, Hey It’s Saturday to a prime-time evening time slot on Saturday night in 1984, musicians Red Symonds and Wilbur Wilde and former Countdown host Ian “Molly’ Meldrum became regular cast members on the show, and local and international acts regularly appeared in studio or via satellite.


The next decade would see the continued expansion and popularization of alternative music which would be taken into the mainstream by such bands as Cruel Sea, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, You Am I, Powderfinger, Regurgitator, Magic Dirt, Diesel, and Spiderbait, while Silverchair would emerge as Australia’s most successful global exponents of grunge music. The baby boomers rock scene would be re-interpreted to become the adult contemporary genre with John Farnham, Darryl Braithwaite, Wendy Matthews, James Reyne, The Black Sorrows, and Screaming Jets all finding success. First Nations’ music would also claim its place in the sun during the 90’s with Christine Anu, Archie Roach, Kevin Carmody and Yothu Yindi taking songs into the charts here and overseas, The music festival scene which had almost disappeared in the 1980’s, roared back to life in the 90’s with the emergence of such festival titans as Big Day Out (above), Homebake and the Falls Festival (below). Australian acts would continue to storm the charts globally throughout the 1990’s – Savage Garden, AC/DC, Tina Arena, Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, INXS, and the Wiggles, would all continue the evolution of Ausmusic and imbue it with a discernible spirit and dynamism, unique to this country.



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