In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.
In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.
50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #17: Cold Chisel (by Kirin J Callinan)
As I’m sittin’ here sippin’ on cheap wine, my three-day growth approaching its fourth birthday, I struggle to find words to express why Cold Chisel will, in the canon of Oz rock legends, live forever now.
The truth is, personally, my heart is more tightly tethered to any number of other classic Australian acts of the same generation or ilk – Brisbane’s Go-Betweens for their heady romanticism and an aloof but open heart; INXS for their unparalleled sexual combustion; Severed Heads for severing heads; or Crowded House for informing my, and an entire nation’s, emotional identity.
Yet Chisel remains singular. An island in a sea of has-beens and never-weres. And whilst much of their music feels a wee bit dated to me now, one listen to The Barking Spiders Live: 1983 (The Barking Spiders being their live pseudonym for secret or warm-up shows) categorically encapsulates a solid gold, rock’n’roll moment. A timeless artefact containing within all of their much mythicised virility and raw firepower. Flame trees indeed.
The truth is Chisel were, and forever will be, the undeniable kings of one of the most macho and cutthroat musical eco-systems to have ever existed: beer-swilling Oz pub rock.
“The truth is, it comes down to heart.”
It’s universally accepted that they have never, and never will, relinquish this crown, though many sexier or more gimmicky contemporaries mighta’ tried to snatch it away. The Divinyls? Midnight Oil? The Rads, or The Angels? No way. Get fucked. Fuck off.
So what is it that makes Chisel so chiseled, Michaelangelo’s David of the pub rock scene?
Is it Don Walker’s nuanced yet unabashedly Australian writing? Mossy’s slick axe-slinging bravado? Is it Phil Small’s big bass, or Steve Prestwich’s wife-beater bearing, body beating beats beyond belief? Or does it all come down to Jim’s iconic voice, his unrivalled scream? A Scottish banshee on heat, marinated in vodka, crying out ‘cross the land, a call to arms to every other Aussie battler. Anthem.
Add up the parts, you won’t have the sum.
The truth is, it comes down to heart. Cold Chisel, for me, have the biggest bleeding heart and soul of all the would-be contenders.
And ain’t nobody gonna steal this heart away.