The History of Australian Rock Music

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Australian Rock History

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Australia has a long and storied history when it comes to rock music. From the early days of AC/DC and Midnight Oil to more recent acts like Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett, Aussie rock is full of talented musicians who have received recognition at home and on the international stage. Let’s take a look at the history of this genre from its humble beginnings in the 1950s through to the present day.

The early days

The history of Aussie rock music begins in the 1950s after the genre gained popularity in the United States typically characterised by loud electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, and vocals. While there had been previous attempts at creating a distinctly Australian form of rock music, it wasn’t until artists like Johnny O’Keefe, Colin Peterson, and Dig Richards began to gain popularity both in Australia and abroad that the genre took off. These artists laid the foundations for what would become one of the most successful genres in Australian music history.

JOK Australian Rock Music
“The Wild One”, Johnny O’Keefe

The 60s

The 1960s was a very important decade for rock music, both in Australia and around the world. In Australia, the decade saw the rise of some of the country’s most iconic bands and artists, and it quickly became a part of the Australian identity. This was the decade where The Easybeats, The Bee Gees, and The Seekers made a name for themselves. These bands found success both at home and overseas, helping to put Aussie rock music on the map. The Easybeats’ 1966 song “Friday on My Mind” was particularly successful, reaching number one in both Australia and the UK.

The 70s

While rock music in Australia was heavily influenced by British and American bands, it still managed to develop its own distinct sound. This decade saw the emergence of some of Australia’s most iconic rock bands, including AC/DC, Midnight Oil, and Skyhooks. It was also during this time that Australian rock began to make its mark on the international scene, with AC/DC gaining immense popularity overseas. By the end of the decade, Australian rock was well and truly on the map.

Punk Rock

The 70s was also when punk rock arrived in Australia. Punk quickly gained a foothold in Australia thanks to its DIY ethos and anti-establishment message, which resonated strongly with many young Australians at the time. Local punk bands like The Saints, Radio Birdman, The Victims and other artists helped to spread the punk gospel throughout Australia, and by the late 1970s, punk was a major force in Australian music.

The 80s

If you were a fan of rock music in the 1980s, then you know that there were some great bands coming out of Australia at that time. In fact, many people consider the 1980s to be the “golden age” of Aussie rock music. So, what made this decade so special?

The reason is that the bands were awesome. INXS, Australian Crawl, Men at Work, and Crowded House finding success both in Australia and overseas. At the same time, new sub-genres were beginning to emerge, including pub rock and alternative rock with bands such as The Angels, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Screaming Tribesmen, and The Church.

INXS Australian Rock
The beloved INXS lineup featuring late vocalist Michael Hutchence

The 90s

The 1990s saw the genre continue to evolve, with new sub-genres such as grunge and indie rock beginning to emerge. Bands like Silverchair, Powderfinger, and You Am I found success both in Australia and overseas, helping to keep Australian music relevant on the international stage.

Another big factor in the 1990s was the success of the television show “Recovery” on ABC. Like “Countdown” during the 70s and 80s for other genres, this show helped to promote Aussie rock music to a wider audience and exposed many people to bands that they may not have otherwise heard of. It also helped to create a sense of community amongst Australian rock fans, and gave people a place to come together and share their love of the genre.

Early 2000s

The early 2000s saw Australian rock continue to experience success both at home and abroad. Bands like Jet, The Living End,and Wolfmother achieved mainstream success while still maintaining an edgy sound that was distinctly Aussie. At the same time, more underground scenes like garage rock and post-punk were also beginning to emerge (thanks in part to influential Melbourne label Ivy League Records). All in all, it was another great decade for Australian music thanks to our rock bands.

Present day

And that brings us to today! In 2022, there are more Aussie rock bands and rock musicians than ever before making their mark on the global stage. From rising Austrstars such as Greta Stanley and RVG to established acts like Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett, there’s no shortage of great Aussie rock bands to enjoy. Who knows what the future holds: we can’t wait to find out!

Common questions about Australian music

What was Australia’s first rock n roll record?
While there is always debates about who is the “first” no matter what the subject, it’s widely recognised that Australia’s first rock n roll record was Johnny O’Keefe’s 1957 single “Wild One”.

Is rock music popular in Australia?
Yes, rock music is popular in Australia. In fact, it’s been one of the country’s most dominant genres for decades. Australian rock bands have achieved immense success both at home and abroad, and there’s a thriving community of fans who continue to support them. Whether you’re a fan of classic Aussie rock or something more modern, there’s definitely something for you in the Australian rock scene!

What is Australia’s most famous rock band?
There are a few contenders for this title, but if we had to choose just one, it would be AC/DC. This legendary band has been making music for over 40 years, and they’re still as popular as ever. They’ve sold millions of albums worldwide, and their live shows are legendary. If you’re a fan of rock music, then chances are you’re a fan of AC/DC!

What are some of the best Australian rock festivals?
There are plenty of great Australian rock festivals to choose from, but some of our favourites of the past and present include Splendour in the Grass, Soundwave, and Big Day Out. These festivals are extremely well known and Splendour in the Grass always has an amazing lineup of local and international acts.

What are some of the best music venues in Australia?
Some of Australia’s most iconic music venues include Sydney’s Opera House and the Forum in Melbourne. These venues have a long history of hosting some of the biggest names in Australian and international rock music, and they continue to attract thousands of music fans every year. If you’re looking for an amazing concert experience, then you need to check out one of these venues!

How big is the Australian Music Industry?
The Australian music industry is worth an estimated $2.2 billion. The industry is made up of many different sectors including live music, recorded music, and artist management. The live music sector is particularly strong, with Australia hosting some of the biggest and most popular bands in the world.

Who are some of the most popular Australian musicians?
Some of the most popular Australian musicians include Sia, Kylie Minogue, Tame Impala, and Courtney Barnett. These artists have all achieved huge levels of success both in Australia and abroad, and they continue to be hugely popular with fans around the world. If you’re a fan of Australian music, then these are definitely some of the artists you need to check out if you haven’t already.

What are some of the most popular Aussie songs all time in the rock genre?
While there is no definitive list and music is subjective, the following five aussie songs are always a hit.

5. Beds are Burning – Midnight Oil

4. Never Tear Us Apart – INXS

3. Flame Trees – Cold Chisel

2. Friday On My Mind – The Easybeats

1. It’s A Long Way To The Top – AC/DC

The Final Word

As you can see, rock music in Australia has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1950. This unique genre has gone from strength to strength over the past few decades thanks largely to the support of passionate fans both here in Australia and around the world by continuously supporting new artists coming into the industry, as well as those who have been around for many years. This is what helps set Aussie rock apart from other genres as it continues to evolve in the years to come.

For more music news on artists such as FlumePete Murray and Parcels, features, and information about upcoming Aussie Sounds events, visit our archives.

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