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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #41: You Am I

Powderfinger’s John Collins takes a look back at the alt-rock legacy of the mighty You Am I.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - You Am I

Ash Mar; Jason Kimberley*

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 – #41: You Am I (by John Collins Powderfinger)

I am aware of the great career and many brilliant records You Am I have released throughout their career, but the following is a snapshot of a period in my life when You Am I were very influential to me and Powderfinger. I would love to share my discovery of this great band and highlight some very special thoughts throughout this period. Their support of us and many other bands was instrumental to our success and the success of many other bands that came up around the same time.

Coming from Brisbane, I wasn’t really aware of the band apart from our Sydney mates talking them up. The Fingers and I were all fortunate enough to be at the Lansdowne Hotel for the You Am I EP launch of Coprolalia. This was a huge moment for me – I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and I realised I was part of something special. I remember the show well with Tim singing barefoot, looking more like Chris Robinson at the time, and Andy playing a green Music Man bass from the same corner of stage I had played at a few days earlier to far, far less fanfare.

Later that year Powderfinger were invited to play on their debut album release of Sound as Ever at the Phoenician Club. I was always going to be a fan after the Lansdowne show, but my admiration only grew deeper after the Sound as Ever album launch. I love this record, and the single “Berlin Chair” is one of the greatest Australian songs ever released and has a very cool ‘one shot’ film clip. There are way too many great songs to go through individually, however, this album was on high rotation at my house and the last song and title track, “Sound as Ever”, is a superb album closer.

“Their support of us and many other bands was instrumental to our success.”

Later that year we were invited by the band to play some support shows. I still remember the moment we walked into the backstage area and met Rusty, Tim, and Andy. I was blown away that the guys remembered our names. They also said we could help ourselves to their rider if we ran out of beer –  how great were these guys?

It’s now ‘94 and I, along with the country were primed for a new You Am I album.

The second record is meant to be the hardest for any band. However, Hi Fi Way is packed full of great songs and great sounds. From the opener of “Ain’t Gone and Open” to “Cathy’s Clown” through to “How Much is Enough”… it’s so good. “Cathy’s Clown” has one of the best bass tones of any song I’d heard and is still something I rate today.  

I still recall seeing some of the most brilliant performances of any Australian artist through those years of 1993 through to 1996. These included Livid Festivals and brilliant sets at the Big Day Out Festivals.

By the time 1996 rolled around, You Am I were easily the biggest and the best touring band in Australia. It was an absolute honour for the Fingers to be asked to join their biggest tour to date, Up-Tight Express. This tour was easily the largest and most extensive tour that the Fingers had been involved in to date, and a great lesson on how to get up each night and perform like it was your last show. It was a thrill to be a part of a record seven-shows in seven-days at the Sydney Metro Theatre. Both bands along with Custard were asked to join the Crowded House Farewell to the World show on the Opera House steps towards the end of the year.

The rest is history.

The band and the crew were amazing to tour with and spending time together was made very easy with lots of smiles and love.

Thank you Andy, Rusty, and Tim.