This is the fourth instalment in a series of blogs in which 4TR reviews Ausmusic decade by decade, following our reviews of The 1950’s/60’s (June 1 and 9, 2020), The 70’s (June 16, 2020) and The 1980’s (September 3, 2020), already posted on the 4TR site. Simultaneously we will nominate our Top Ten Song choices for each decade, from the huge and diverse range of original local songs, from many genres, as well as another ten Honorable Mentions, that just failed to make the Top 10.
I hope you enjoy the journey through the musical icons that have become an integral part of the unique soundtrack of our lives, and always feel free to comment on the songs we have selected as 4TR Top Ten hits.
Selection Criteria – TOP TEN SONGS OF THE DECADE 1990’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)
. Predominantly recorded by Australian or New Zealand artist(s).
. Not necessarily recorded in this country.
. Selections are not genre-specific, but will reflect the artistic excellence, commercial success, innovation, and presentation of local content, that will be common to all the songs deemed to be the best in any decade
Over the next three weeks we will review the Top Ten songs from the 1990’s, beginning the countdown this week and concluding on Thursday May 27th. Where certain songs have already been reviewed in 4TR and feature in the top 10, a replacement song from the list of Honorable Mentions will be substituted and reviewed. The date on which the review of these Top 10 songs already appears in the blog will appear in parentheses after the song title.
BEST SONGS – 1990’s
1.Treaty -Yothu Yindi (13/4/21)
2.The Ship Song – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (20/11/19)
3.My Island Home – Christine Anu (13/4/21)
4.Even When I’m Sleeping – Leonardo’s Bride
5.Truly Madly Deeply – Savage Garden
6.The Day You Come – Powderfinger
7.No Aphrodisiac – The Whitlams
8.Where the Wild Roses Grow – Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue (9/3/21)
9.Blue Sky Mine – Midnight Oil (20/2/20)
10 Burn For You – John Farnham (20/12/20)
Berlin Chair – You Am I
Took The Children Away- Archie Roach (20/4/21)
Into My Arms – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Hold Me In Your Arms – Southern Sons
One Word – Baby Animals
To The Moon and Back – Savage Garden
Tip of My Tongue – Diesel
Black Stick – Cruel Sea
Four Seasons In One Day – Crowded House
Father’s Day – Weddings, Parties Anything
Tucker’s Daughter – Ian Moss
Wasn’t It Good – Tina Arena
Buses and Trains – Bachelor Girl
Don’t Call Me Baby – Madison Avenue
INTRO THE 1990’s
Music in the 1990’s was abundant in shaping Australian society by influencing behaviours and inevitably contributing to the “Americanisation” of Australian culture whilst also leading to the emergence of new Australian musicians. It was an incredibly fluid period and over the ten years a dizzying range of popular genres came and went, and some even came round again – Grunge, Alternative Rock, Hip-Hop, Gangster Rap, Bubblegum Pop, Boy Bands/Girl Groups, Pop-Punk, Metal, Ska, Contemporary R&B, Country-Pop, Britpop, New Jack Swing, Singer-Songwriter, Electronic Dance, and Hard Rock.
While local bands continued to write, record and tour tirelessly, and push themselves to make music that was on the cutting edge, and often headlined festivals, topped the charts, and got their share of radio exposure, the flood of product from the US and UK, consistently skewed the local charts in favour of the overseas competition. Over the decade major US label artists accounted for over 50% of the songs on Australian charts, while local artists secured just 17% of the hits, followed by UK artists and others. Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Records did push the share of chart action up to 10% for local independent labels by the end of the decade, from a low point of 5% in 1989. There was a dramatic fall in the popularity of classic rock music which declined from 25% of market share in 1989 to 11.5% by the end of the 90’s, as pop music surged to 35% market share, and Dance and R&B each with 10% rounded out the other major genres in the 90’s.
During the decade Australian artists would claim the #1 position on the national charts thirteen times, the usual suspects included Kylie Minogue (Confide In Me), Silverchair (Tomorrow, Freak), and Savage Garden (Truly Madly Deeply, To the Moon and Back), but there were several surprises amongst the chart toppers, including several one-hit wonders – Melissa Tkautz (Read My Lips), Euphoria (Love You Right), Merrill Bainbridge (Mouth), and Girlfriend (Take It From Me). Heritage pop acts like Darryl Braithwaite (Horses), and Skyhooks (Jukebox in Siberia) came back around again to bask in their reflected glory from the 70’s, the Divinyls (I Touch Myself) took onanism to the top of the charts, and the 12th Man (Marvellous) continued his relentlessly profane series of comedic cricket monologues.
Locally the 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, Killing Heidi, the Living End, Grinspoon, Superjesus, Jebediah, the Whitlams, and Spiderbait; while the under-produced, visceral sounds of Seattle grunge would emerge in the early 90’s with the Newcastle trio silverchair, who attacked the US charts as Australia’s most successful global exponents of this genre. Grunge music was characterized by heavy drums, distorted guitars and intense, angst-filled lyrics, and the grunge scene was distinguished by a lack of conformity, and a disengaged ennuie, expressed in a rejection of the materialism of the past, and personified globally by the late Kurt Cobain and in Australia by his look-a-like Daniel Johns. (below)
The glory days of Pub Rock had passed, and although some stalwarts such as the Cosmic Psychos, the Drones, and You Am I, still flirted with the genre, the baby boomers rock scene would be re-interpreted to become the adult contemporary genre with John Farnham, Darryl Braithwaite, Wendy Matthews, James Reyne, Paul Kelly, The Black Sorrows, and Screaming Jets all finding success. John Farnham would dominate local charts in the period 1986- 1997 with no less than 7 top five albums and 11 top ten singles, as the albums Whispering Jack, Age of Reason, Chain Reaction, Full House, Then Again, Romeo’s Heart, and Anthology 1, resoundingly underpinned the career resurrection of one of the country’s most admired performers. Below L-R – James Reyne, Wendy Matthews, Darryl Braithwaite.
Human Nature would aspire to boyband prominence in this decade and with their glorious four-part harmonies, take nine singles into the top twenty, as they demonstrated a versatility that was equally convincing as dance pop, or blue-eyed soul. A solo Jimmy Barnes would segue to brilliant chart success during the decade and between 1984 – 1996 take ten albums into the top ten including six consecutive #1s’ – Bodyswerve, For The Working Class Man, Freight Train Heart, Barnestorming, Two Fires, and Soul Deep.
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 about land rights, stolen generations, genocide, and dispossession into our collective national consciousness as well as the charts here and overseas, so carrying the torch forward for the next generation of First Nation artists including, Baker Boy, Jessica Mauboy, Dan Sultan, and Isiah Firebrace.
Kiwis continued to enrich our musical scene as many relocated to Australia and became familiar faces in our clubs, pubs and on television, Crowded House reigned supreme with an avalanche of global hits over the decade, ( Fall At Your Feet, It’s Only Natural, Weather With You, Four Seasons In One Day, Distant Sun, Private Universe) while Jenny Morris (Break In The Weather), OMC (How Bizarre), Margaret Urlich (Escaping), and Bic Runga (Sway), also produced great songs from the land of the long white cloud.
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 Homebake, Falls Festival and Big Day Out, (left to right above) and others. Australian acts would continue to storm the charts globally throughout the 1990’s – Silverchair, Savage Garden, AC/DC, Tina Arena, Peter Andre, Kylie Minogue, Gina G, Natalie Imbruglia, INXS, Madison Avenue, and the Wiggles, would all continue the evolution of Ausmusic and imbue it with a discernible spirit and dynamism, unique to this country, and successfully transport their music into global markets. Kylie Minogue would emerge as a dance pop icon here and overseas, firstly as the most prominent artist in UK’s Stock, Aitken and Waterman hit factory, and then to a brilliant post SAW career as a chameleon-like pop star and dance diva, who would ultimately sell 100 million records globally.
Teen pop would emerge as a musical force by the mid-90’s as such overseas acts as the Backstreet Boys, the Spice Girls, Hanson, and Britney Spears, all attacked the charts, quickly followed by Justin Timberlake, Westlife, and NSYNC, and they were all recording songs written and produced out of the world’s latest and most unlikely “hit factory” – Cheiron Studios in Stockholm. The hit assembly line invented by Deniz Pop, Max Martin, and Dr. Luke would prove to be a gamechanger globally, as musical software, sampling and digital-compression techniques, replaced actual instruments in the studio, and songs were composed on the basis of proven algorithms about hooks, bass lines, melodies, choruses and beats. The Swedes quickly realised that they didn’t need an actual “wall of sound” with one hundred musicians, to create classic teen symphonies, if you already had the appropriate pro logic tools.
In 1989 British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee drafted a proposal to ease virtual communications through an interlinked series, or web, of e-notes, a year later he created a browser, in 1993 the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), granted the technology into free, worldwide usage. The w.w.w. would change the way we create, receive and store information, and it also opened the door for such opportunists as Shawn Fanning to launch digital-music software such as Napster and YouTube’s young founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawad Karim, to re-establish video as a relevant tool for artist promotion and expression. In less than a decade the market was brimming with look-a-like systems – iTunes, Pandora, Dropbox, and others, the Web was clearly the technological gamechanger of the century.
The digital audio revolution that had begun in the 1980s taught the music industry that rapid technological development would quickly overhaul previously known limitations of the analog world. Compact discs had opened the door for longer albums, and digital processing allowed producers to manipulate not only instruments but also vocals, adding an unprecedented sheen to their finished products.
On the consumer end, cassettes gave way to CDs, and eventually MP3 files and CD-Rs burned on personal computers. German audio engineer Karlheinz Bradenburg had worked since the early eighties to apply digital-phone technology to music transmission, and by 1995 the perfect host for his revolutionary file-sharing system had emerged – the internet. The highly controversial advent of file sharing and CD bootlegging would transform the music industry’s business model, and force market analysts to re-define what a certified sale of a song, really meant, and who got what financially, while performers pondered their financial future within this rapidly-evolving paradigm shift.
In 1989 Digidesign founders Peter Gotcher and Evan Brooks released Sound Tools, a completely digital recording and editing system for Apple Macintosh, but it would be the reboot of this system as Pro Tools in 1991, with a graphical interface, multitrack capabilities and faster processing, that revolutionized the recording industry, and made possible the first Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Digital power would not only give producers and musicians more opportunities to mix sounds, but DAWs would eventually host digital instrument and special effects plug-ins.
One of the most controversial of these effects plug-ins would be Auto-Tune, responsible for the bizarre android vocal manipulation initially despised by many performers and producers. Developed by Dr. Andy Hildebrand of Antares Audio Technologies, and patented as the Infinity sample-looping software, once it was powered by a Digital Signal Processing program, it could correct vocal and instrumental imperfections, in a way not previously possible. It became very popular after it empowered Kim Kardashian to sound like she could actually sing, and when Cher released her fully auto-tuned single Believe in 1998, and sold 11 million copies, the critics backed off.
Music videos were still an important component in the marketing mix for songs, shows like MTV (Ch. 9, ’87- ’92, then onto Foxtel), Video Smash Hits (Ch. 7, ’90-96), Take 40 Australia (Ch 10, ’93-09), Recovery (ABC, ’96-00), and Rage (ABC ’87-now) provided a comprehensive coverage for all those who needed visual imagery to complement their music.
Some of the best music videos of the decade by local artists included Kylie Minogue’s Better the Devil You Know, Savage Garden’s To The Moon and Back, Darryl Braithwaite’s Horses, and Farnesy’s Age of Reason. Internationally the music video cream of the crop included Brittney Spears (Baby One More Time), Spice Girls (Wannabe), Sinead O’Connor (Nothing Compares 2 U), Madonna (Vogue), and Daft Punk (Around the World). Australians had been leaders in the field of music video production globally since the 1980’s – Russell Mulcahy (Duran Duran, The Buggles, Kim Carnes, Rod Stewart, a-ha, Fleetwood Mac, Ultravox, etc), Richard Lowenstein (U2, Cold Chisel, Pete Townshend, INXS), and Richard Proyas (Crowded House, Sting), had set the pace followed through the 90’s by John Hillcoat (Frente, Crowded House), Greg Melville (TISM, Magic Dirt), and Brett Sullivan (Robert Plant, Seal, James Blunt, Phil Collins).
The rise of music coverage on television saw the demise of music magazines which became absorbed into the feature sections of daily newspapers or on-line services, in 1992 Melbourne’s Juke Magazine wound up and Sydney’s RAM had already exited by 1989. The iconic ABC music trendsetter Countdown had wound up in 1987, and although several video clip shows hosted by such people as Andrew G and Dylan Lewis continued through the 90’s, the low-budget clip-only, MTV-style of presentation, sans human compere, would prevail by the next decade.
Commercial radio continued to expand and re-invent itself alongside the ABC and community radio stations, and as FM licensing was liberalized, AM stations were also granted FM licences via an auction system. Regional broadcasting expanded so that all rural regions would have at least one AM and one FM commercial station by the end of the decade. Many established capital city radio stations converted to FM – Melbourne (3KZ, 3TT), Brisbane (4BK), Perth (6KY, 6PM), Adelaide (5KA, 5D), and Sydney (2UW, 2WS). FM commenced in Hobart in 1990, and after 56 years Melbourne’s 3XY signed off for the last time, while 3AK became Australia’s first Italian-language commercial radio station. Radio formats adapted to meet the needs of micro-markets and ranged across Top 40, Gold/heritage hits, news, weather, sports, current affairs, contemporary/cutting edge music, and country music, particularly in regional areas, and also catered to specific demographic groups via morning/breakfast radio, early evening drivetime programming, talkback, and Millenial/Gen Z niches.
Before the decade was over many performers would briefly taste success only to find that pop music and its trends are ephemeral, and sometimes that 15 minutes of fame is all you are going to get, as we remember some of those who briefly soared only to crash back to Earth – S2S (the Muscat sisters, Sister #3 ’99), Blue Zone ft Joanne (Jackie #3 ’98), The Mavis’s (Cry #13, ’98), Robyn Loau (Sick With Love #27 ’97), Swoop (acid jazz and funk of Apple Eyes #9 ’95), Max Sharam (Coma was boosted by her appearance on New Faces to #14 ’94), Kulcha (Shaka Jam #6 ’94), Toni Pearen (would become well-known as host of Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, had two hits In Your Room #17 ‘’92, and I Want You #10 ’93), Lisa Edwards (one of Farnham’s backing singers with Cry #7 ’92), Roxus (Where Are You Now, Australia’s big hair band answer to Bon Jovi, #11 ’91), and the Teen Queens (a cover of the Ronettes classic Be My Baby, #5 ’92)
In the coming decade digital technology and its ever-expanding repertoire of applications would continue to trigger paradigm shifts in the way that music would be created, stored, and exploited, and importantly for performers, how it would be monetized.