Five Underrated Australian Songs

Scott Wallace
12th Apr 2016

Rather than just re-hash the virtues of songs like Cold Chisel's "Khe Sanh," Icehouse's "Great Southern Land" or Jimmy Barnes' "Working Class Man" for the billionth time, we thought it would be interesting to look at some under-appreciated but no less iconic Australian songs. These five songs are arguably less idealistic and romantic than the most-often acknowledged classics of Australian music, but still representative of our collective spirit of creativity and innovation.

"Aloha Steve and Danno" by Radio Birdman (1978)

Sydney's Radio Birdman arrived at the peak of the punk rock-era, but they weren't really punk rockers. More influenced by the surf and garage rock of the 60s, the band tied bright and energetic bubblegum melodies to searing guitars.Their debut album Radios Appear was originally distributed through mail order and sold out of the back of band members' cars, and when the DIY classic was picked up for international distribution, "Aloha Steve and Danno" was one of the new songs added to its tracklist. "Aloha Steve and Danno" is one of the all-time classics from this band who often aren't mentioned alongside peers like The Saints and The Angels. The tribute to the TV show Hawaii Five-O is silly and irreverant and catchy as hell, not unlike the Australian indie scene that still thrives to this day.

"Streets of Your Town" by The Go-Betweens (1988)

Brisbane band The Go-Betweens are known to casual listeners mostly for the prickly 1983 post-punk single "Cattle & Cane," but "Streets of Your Town" is just as great as that song. The late Grant McLennan's voice is full of feeling over jangly guitars and bright organ, but there is a hidden darkness creeping into this song from the beginning. The song comes to a head in the chorus where McLennan spits bitterly "They shut it down," before a graceful acoustic guitar solo, almost uncaringly, leads back into the chorus flavoured with violinist Amanda Brown's backing vocals. "Streets of Your Town" is the perfect example of The Go-Betweens unrivalled ability to combine sublime pop songs with a striking and often ambiguous melancholy.

"Confide in Me" by Kylie Minogue (1994)

As alternative music ascended to the mainstream, Kylie decided to wave buh-bye to the Stock-Aitken-Waterman songwriting team that had made her career with fluffy pop hits. Suddenly, she was less Madonna and more Björk; Less dance-pop and more trip-hop. Drenched in strings, the dark and seductive "Confide in Me" which appeared on Kylie's self-titled fifth album (the first to properly credit her by her full name), is not only a bold step forward in production for Kylie, tapping into some very nascent trends in dance music, but a brilliant display of her talent as a singer and performer. Kylie went on to collaborate with Nick Cave, make an indie-rock influenced flop of a record, and then dominate the world all over again. It all comes back to this song.

"Shark Fin Blues" by The Drones (2005)

On the surface, The Drones' "Shark Fin Blues," which opens their second and best album Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By is a tale of a shipwreck. Look closer at Gareth Liddiard's evocative lyrics and you'll see a wrenching and disturbing depiction of emotional ruin following the death of Liddiard's mother. Liddiard writes like an Australian T.S. Eliot or W.B. Yeats, but he also happens to front one of the country's rawest, snarlingest rock bands. The Drones raise an almighty tempest of groaning bass and clawing guitars as the gravelly-voiced singer narrates his ruin in arresting detail: "Lord, if I cry another tear I'll be turned to dust. The sharks won't get me, but they don't feel loss."

"Like Lust" by Movement (2014)

Sydney band Movement are still yet to follow up their excellent self-titled 2014 EP, but it remains just as stunning now as it was then. The band's dusky sound is like a rock band stuck in twilit purgatory - the drums are resolute, the synths wandering, and frontman Lewis Wade's breathy vocals etching out an urgent repetition of the song's title. As it slowly but surely moves toward its climax, "Like Lust" only becomes more pillowy and luxurious. This is one of the songs that helped carve out a distinctly Australian take on R&B and dance music also inhabited by artists like Chet Faker, and it blew away just about every other band in the process. It gets under your skin and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere soon.

Take a look at the Sydney Scoop calendar for info on gigs from amazing Australian artists around Sydney.