Image: Cold chisel, INXS / Instagram
There is no denying that pub rock songs dominated the Australian music scene in the 1970s and 1980s.
But, one thing we sometimes think we forget is how popular most classic tunes still are.
Whether it’s in the pub, you guessed it, or just in the comfort of your own home, you’d be hard pressed to think of a genre that brings people together more effectively than pub rock.
So grab a beer, grab your friends and enjoy our countdown to some of the most iconic pub rock songs in Australian history.
To learn more about this topic, consult the Classic Rock Watcher.
“Will I ever see your face again?” ” – Angels
Oddly, what is perhaps the most memorable part of the Angels hit “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again” isn’t actually in the song’s recording. You know what we’re talking about, the part where the crowd responds to lead singer Doc Neeson chanting “will I ever see your face again” with “no way, get fucked, fuck you”. We’re not sure exactly how this rather crass tradition came about, but it is clearly uniquely Australian.
‘Khe Sanh’ – Cold chisel
This hit from one of Australia’s most legendary pub rock bands has more than it looks. While his success probably lies in his eye-catching character, his lyrics tell the surprisingly evocative story of a Vietnamese vet trying to get back into everyday life.
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‘Don’t change’ – INXS
While there are dozens of songs from INXS that could easily have made this list, it’s hard to look past the exciting heights reached in “Don’t Change”. It was the band’s first song to achieve widespread international release, and it’s not hard to see why.
“The Beds Are Burning” – Midnight Oil
Midnight Oil made a name for itself with its moving and politically charged lyrics, and ‘Beds Are Burning’ was certainly no exception. The song was written as a call for the Australian government to return native Australian lands to the Pintupi people, which was one of the biggest points of contention in Australian politics at the time.
“April Sun in Cuba” – Dragon
Although Dragon had a large number of hits throughout the 1970s, the success of “April Sun In Cuba” was simply on a higher level. After debuting in 1977, it remained in the charts for 22 weeks, making the band a favorite with Australian audiences.
“I touch myself” – Divinyls
To say that Divinyls “I Touch Myself” was ahead of its time would be an understatement. Not only were the group led by a woman, which was sadly a rarity in Australian rock of yesteryear, but it also brought to light the ridiculously taboo subject of female masturbation.
“Holy Grail” – Hunters and collectors
It’s fair to say that ‘Holy Grail’ isn’t just a song, it’s an anthem. As if that wasn’t Australian enough to begin with, it gained even more popularity among listeners when it became an unofficial AFL theme song. Decades after its release, it is still practically synonymous with football.
“It’s a long way to the top (if you want to rock ‘n’ roll)” – AC / DC
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to AC / DC. While it was difficult to determine which of their songs to include, it was difficult to get past the track that spawned a number of love parodies. If you haven’t sang “it’s far from the store if you want a sausage roll” then are you even Australian?
‘Better Be Home Soon’ – Crowded House
A slightly more melancholy tune than many other pub rock songs, “Better Be Home Soon” may be unpretentious, but it’s certainly loaded with meaning. The already dark track became even more punchy when Neil Finn performed it at the 2005 ARIA Awards in honor of his late bandmate, Paul Hester, who died earlier that year.
“The Boys Light Up” – Australian Crawl
The origins of Australian Crawl’s title track on their debut album are surprisingly controversial. The song was almost banned from radio and some TV shows because of its explicit lyrics referring to infidelity. On top of that, many fans believe the chorus refers to the use of marijuana, although the group has denied that theory.
“Never tear us apart” – INXS
Looking back, it is shocking that INXS ‘flagship hit “Never Tear Us Apart” didn’t reach 14th place on the ARIA charts until its debut in 1988. The fact that the track was covered by The Teskey Brothers this year as a tribute to Michael Gudinski is a testament to his timeless and touching lyrics.
“Cheap wine” – Cold chisel
“Cheap Wine” was Cold Chisel’s very first top 10 single, and its cheerful vibe made it one of their most popular tracks over 40 years later. His often misunderstood lyrics are also remembered, with many fans mistaking “cheap wine and a three-day growth” for “cheap wine and a three-legged goat”.
“Throw your arms around me” – Hunters and collectors
‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ is undeniably as sweet as pub rock is. One of Australia’s most popular (not to say unique) love songs, you’ll still hear it played at weddings across the country to this day.
“The working class man” – Jimmy Barnes
“Working Class Man” is widely regarded as Jimmy Barnes’ signature song, and for good reason. His lyrics paid homage to blue collar workers and the working class demographic of Australians, a group of people who may have felt ignored in mainstream music before.