Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 20th 2021
Australian music is amongst the best
Australia Day currently takes place on January 26th. There has been some controversy about it in recent years, and what it represents. I do not want to make this a political thing, so I won't talk about it, but I will say that when I was in primary school and early high school, it was not a holiday in South Australia – we saw it as a New South Wales thing. It didn't relate to us. We had Proclamation Day just after Christmas. Then it was made national and we had Skyshow, and in my 20s it became an excuse to have a BBQ and listen to Triple J's Hottest 100 (which had started about that time). So, honestly, I don't care what happens to it. But, for now, it is still Australia Day.
Therefore, with Australia Day coming up, I decided to have a quick look at some of my favourite Australian songs from the 1960s. This did mean quite a few great tracks from the 50s and the start of the rock era have been left out (Alan Dale, Col Joye, Johnny Devlin, et al.), but I really wanted to keep this in the decade that exploded with music.
Now… this was tough! My initial list was more than 50 songs, so I then decided to put a huge cap on the list by saying "one song per artist". And, with one exception, I did that and it cut my list all the way down to 20. So, the bands that really missed out were the Easybeats (sort of… you'll see), Masters Apprentices, The Twilights, Normie Rowe and Johnny O'Keefe. Now, one other thing – a lot of these early Australian bands recorded their own versions of international hits. That was just the way things went back then; however, that does not diminish the sheer greatness of this music.
So… some of my favourite Australian songs from the 1960s! (Please be aware, not all of these songs were available on YouTube, so if there is no clip, I apologise. But I did not want to limit myself to whatever the YouTube "take-down" bots had allowed to remain online.)
'She's My Baby' by Johnny O'Keefe (1960)
My favourite Johnny O'Keefe song, my favourite song of 1960 and one of my favourite Australian songs ever, this track just does something to my brain that I cannot explain. It is such a simple song and yet it just sits with me so brilliantly. And even though O'Keefe was accused of being more shouter than singer, here, I reckon he sings. Brilliantly.
'Hen-Pecked' by The Joy Boys (1960) No video or sound file available! A bizarre instrumental, where the guitars make the sound of chickens in a yard, and then they go wild on the 'chorus' with a saxophone. The former backing group of Col Joye, I preferred their solo stuff (I do find a lot of Col Joye a little dull).
'Oliver Cool' by Rock Martin (1960)
A novelty song about a guy who is regarded as the coolest guy in school, though he may not be the most reliable narrator. It's a strange song, one my father had on 45 (so which I now own), it is such an odd track, and when I discovered Rock Martin was an Australian I was stunned. This sounds so American. And this version is better than the US original.
'Get A Little Dirt On Your Hands' by The Delltones (1962)
Another song I grew up hearing on 45. The Delltones were popular through the 60s, and had a revival later on, basing their sound on the doo-wop groups. This song was apparently their biggest hit, and my dad always said it was his favourite of theirs.
'Have You Ever Been To See King's Cross?' by Frankie Davidson With The Sapphires (1962)
Another novelty song, I first heard this on a cassette of "dirty songs" my grandpa used to own. It's just a fun song, sounding almost like skiffle, about some of the sights and scenes at Sydney's King's Cross, delivered in a style that is almost mocking.
'I've Been Everywhere' by Lucky Starr (1962)
Written by Geoff Mack, this is the original of the song. A lot think Johnny Cash was the original singer, but it was Lucky. And this was one of those Australian songs that was a hit everywhere. I have an EP with not only the original Australian towns version, but extra ones for the UK, USA and New Zealand. Still, that rocket-fast delivery and the bizarre closing gag make this a classic.
'Bombora' by The Atantics (1963)
This was a huge hit in the USA and the radio players did not realise the band was Australian. This is one of the most popular surf instrumentals. They really did the sound well with the pounding drums and two great guitar sounds. They had other good songs as well, but none could match this smash hit.
'He's My Blonde-Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy' by Little Pattie (1963)
A song more known for its tongue-twister title than the really weird, Annette Funicello-lite surf song delivered by Little Pattie. It is another novelty song, designed to play on Pattie's cuteness, and it is just a fun track. Don't take it seriously, that's all.
'Over The Rainbow' by Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs (1964)
A really weird cover version of the Wizard Of Oz classic. Billy Thorpe did not really hit his more popular straps until the 70s, and most of his better songs of the 60s were cover versions, but I just really like this one – his wavering voice, his protracted notes, the weird guitar sounds (which are not really evident on the live version in the video). What a way to do the song.
'Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)' by Normie Rowe (1965)
And let's continue with the weird covers, this time covering Doris Day, but giving it a sort of Merseybeat sound makeover. Fun fact – this was the biggest selling Australian single of the 1960s, bigger than anything else on this list, and it spent over half a year in the charts. Everyone fell in love with this track. I can understand that.
'The Loved One' by The Loved Ones (1966)
Maybe better known nowadays for the INXS cover version(s… they did it twice), this track with a bluesy feel to it (almost like the band Them), a spoken word (ish) verse, sung chorus structure was a huge hit for the band right off the bat. Unfortunately, they did not reach these heights again. Still, awesome debut single.
'Spicks And Specks' by The Bee Gees (1966)
This is one of the few songs the brothers Gibb released before going to the UK in 1967 that did any good on the charts. In my opinion, it is actually one of their best songs. The start with those stabbing piano notes, and the gradual build to near choral – this is a wonderful song and showed they had talent right from the word go.
'Undecided' by The Masters Apprentices (1966)
I really like this song, though I have been told I am in the minority, as the Masters perform a song that is verging on the psychedelia that they would later embrace before hitting pub rock in force in the 70s. Lead singer Jim Keays would later cover it for himself but the original is still a great track.
'Friday On My Mind' by The Easybeats (1966)
And here is my cheat. The Easybeats had two songs I could not decide between. This song has been voted the greatest Australian song of the 60s, with cover versions from people like David Bowie and Gary Moore and a song that it seems, even now, everyone can still relate to. This is an Australian classic, and deservedly so.
'What's Wrong With The Way I Live' by The Twilights (1967)
A South Australian band, one that was the base for so many others to follow, this cover of The Hollies' song is, in my opinion, just as good as the original. That might be because I heard the Twilights' version first, but doesn't matter – great song.
'Woman You're Breaking Me' by The Groop (1967)
The Groop had a few hit songs in the late 60s, but this is my favourite of them. It is lyrically really strong and the music is just so well done while the singing is emotional – you think he really does feel this way. I think this is one of those forgotten classics.
'The Music Goes Round My Head' by The Easybeats (1967)
Here's the other song by The Easybeats. This is my favourite song of theirs (the "fast" version) and I was surprised when I learnt that it had failed to chart. Maybe I just relate to the lyrics well, but I really do like this song and feel it should be re-appraised by fans and music lovers alike, although the Saints did cover it some decades later.
'Dear Prudence' by Doug Parkinson In Focus (1969)
A Beatles cover, made amazing by Doug Parkinson's incredible bass voice. He injects some soul into the classic track and really does make it his own in this version. A stunning cover.
'Arkansas Grass' by Axiom (1969)
Axiom had most of their hits in the 70s, but this track, their debut, announced them as a force of music. It's an anti-Vietnam song (as so many were in '69), though written in such a way that no radio stations seemed to get that meaning. Whether that's good or a case of it being too oblique is up to the listener. Still, there is no doubt this is a wonderful song.
'The Real Thing' by Russell Morris (1969)
And just as we started the list with one of my favourite Australian songs ever, we finish with the same. This song, written by future TV host Johnny Young and produced by future TV host Ian "Molly" Meldrum (who deserves a lot of the credit for its amazing sound), this magnificent epic of a track features all sorts of effects (a choir, vocal effects, spoken word overdubs, a bomb dropping!)and it is just one of the greatest psychedelic songs ever released. It is magnificent, a masterwork.
So… 20 songs from the 1960s showing that Australian music has been awesome for a long, long time. As I said, I could so easily have had more than double this number, but 20 is a good list length and this is a fine list (in my opinion) of really great music.
I love Australian music and will champion it when I can. If you think I've missed any out or chosen the wrong songs from artists, please, let me know in the comments below. Always good to read the feedback!
Love, love , love the 60s especially Aussie music. Some wonderful songs in there. Really enjoyed listening to them again. Big standout for me was Doug Parkinson’s version of Dear Prudence. It is amazing. Thank you.