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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #18: Divinyls

Ella Hooper of Killing Heidi and Tim Rogers of You Am I take a look at one of Australia’s most powerful rock outfits, the Divinyls.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Divinyls

Ian Greene*; Ella Hooper*; Pia Johnson*

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 – #18: Divinyls (by Ella Hooper of Killing Heidi)

I fell in love with Divinyls twice.

The first time was as a kid in the country when “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” thumped out of Rage one Saturday morning. I was hypnotised by Chrissy’s fecundity. Witnessing the swagger of a full-grown woman slice through the surrounding early Nineties teeny bops like butter activated something in my core. The song was on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack too, which was very cool.

The second time was as a 20-something frequenting my local in North Melbourne where

Aus rock was often blasted. The harder, punkier edge of their early material was revealed to me then and I marvelled at the wildly clever song-writing. I bought a “Best Of”, as you do, and marinated.

Most of my biggest musical influences until then had come from my parents’ record collection. But not this time. I had found my band, out in the wild. Divinyls were the ultimate expression of a few of the themes I wanted to explore in Killing Heidi – the powerful, angry young woman, regional isolation, sexual frustration.

“For lovers of rock with pop smarts or pop with a rock heart, I don’t think their mantle can be challenged.”

Their influence on us was never overt, which I’m happy about, but I deeply connected to their energy and theatrical attack. The use of costumes, props, the way the whole band hinged on friction, causing an incredible propulsion.

There are no boring Divinyls songs. Everything is urgent, bursting, full of motion. If there does happen to be a ballad, it absolutely slithers. Every vertebrae is accounted for in their watertight arrangements. I think they might have the best arrangements of any band ever. The opposite of a loosey-goosey jam band, even the solos are perfectly

Constructed. No fat! No pointless noodling! (Heaven!) That’s not to say they were rigid. Divinyls are famous for being one of the wildest bands in front of and behind the scenes. Chrissy and Marks’ antics, legendary.

But they struck a rare ratio of chaos and control. Very real pain and passion, held in a brilliantly strong container of conscious co-creation. That kind of “tick every box” freak thing in a band doesn’t come around often and is something to aspire to. 

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #18: Divinyls (by Tim Rogers of You Am I)

Even her nomenclature sounded like an exclamation. Amplified, but in a more exotic language. 

The term “rock star” has been ground into the earth by too many freshly bought Cuban heels, but Chrissie Amphlett arrived and persisted on stages for decades because she was truly a star – someone who you could never believe did anything dull in her entire existence, in heels or otherwise. And how I could pick up on this at the age of 12 when I was saving my cents to buy the “Science Fiction” single is a mystery, save that anyone of any age can marvel at a star if it’s blazing.

No one commanded a stage like Chrissy. She was/is THE BOSS. In her eyes was a fury, passion and intent that in some alchemical mystery didn’t juxtapose with her timeless beauty – her presence was completely magnetic, whether it was in a carpark after a show talking of a future theatre project or from two hundred metres away, as she sung in a manner that could be a cooing bird or a stealthy panther.

“No one commanded a stage like Chrissy. She was/is THE BOSS.”

Watch any performance: close up or widescreen. You cannot take your eyes off her as that voice fills your veins and imagination. Joan Crawford or Eartha Kitt, Judy Garland or Marlene Dietrich, there are echoes of the greatest performers but there is only one Chrissy Amphlett. 

In a car park, leaning on her walking stick, absolutely luminescent in the darkness after singing with Cold Chisel the year before she died, I was granted presence before her. We talked of writing a stage show together. As she turned to leave with her beautiful husband Charley, she fixed me with THOSE eyes and said quietly, but with intent, as a true star who had never done anything dull in her existence would: “Work on it”. 

Work on it. Work on it? I would have gone into battle for her. Long Live The Queen.