The 50 Most Iconic Australian Music Moments Of All Time

Australian Music Moments

What are the most iconic Australian music moments of all time?

Like a scene from your favourite film, a single song can soundtrack the best (and worst) moments in our lives. It’s these tunes that transport us back in time, often without warning as they appear on playlists or in the background of a TV ad, triggering locked-away memories from years gone by. 

Music also soundtracks some of the greatest, and most iconic, moments in popular culture. As do the remarkable Australian artists behind the music, who themselves are responsible for many decade-defining moments that appear throughout this collector’s edition.

Think about the rise and rise of homegrown stars like Kylie Minogue, the cultural impact of upstart record labels like Modular, and the infiltration of music television into popular culture and public consciousness. Iconic Australian music moments are everywhere.

A moment in time married with music can break down barriers, ignite movements, start trends, launch industries, give birth to icons, and change the course of history — for good. Some of the trailblazing people that appear on this Rolling Stone List — including Michael Gudinski — have achieved all of the above. It’s the stuff of legend, and the making of legends.

Unsplash: Alex Brissey


Dirty Pool Management Changes Industry’s Inner-Workings

Far more than simply starting a company together, Dirty Pool co-founders John Woodruff, Ray Hearn and Rod Willis lit a spark under the Australian live music industry in the late Seventies by taking the ‘door deal’, a concept pioneered by bands like Dragon, and launching it on an industrial scale. With their roster of management clients including Cold Chisel, The Angels and Flowers (Icehouse), Dirty Pool cut out the middleman, negotiating deals directly with venues. 

Instead of being paid a flat fee for their performances dictated by agents and venues as was the practice, artists would instead take ninety percent of the entry fees of shows. This put more money back into the pockets of artists, cleaning up a decade of questionable deals which saw artists losing out. The system spread across the industry, creating a new economy that buttressed the pub rock explosion of the Eighties, where touring an artist around Australia was not just promotional, but became a way for bands to financially thrive rather than simply survive.

Words by Stephen Green


Sound Relief to the Rescue

The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria claimed 173 lives in 2009, and inspired concert promoters Michael Gudinski and Michael Chugg, together with Amanda Pelman, Joe Segreto, Tom Lang, and Mark Pope, to create the Sound Relief charity concert. The event also raised funds for flood victims in Queensland. 

It attracted a who’s who of music stars to gather across two cities in one of Australia’s biggest concerts, held simultaneously across the MCG in Melbourne and SCG in Sydney on March 14. Everybody from Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Kings of Leon and Midnight Oil took to the stage, all in the name of raising money for those who needed it most. Even Eighties rockers Hunters & Collectors reformed after ten years; a huge coup considering their label founder Michael Gudinski had asked many times before. 

A then sixty-two-year-old John Farnham also joined Coldplay as they belted “You’re The Voice” — which Farnham still counts as one of his career highlights. Jet, You Am I and Icehouse also performed to the sellout crowds. Kylie Minogue sang “I Still Call Australia Home” and Olivia Newton-John and the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb came together in what would be their last time on a big stage together before her passing earlier this year.

More than 120,000 people attended Sound Relief, raising over $8 million and paving the way for future charity concerts such as Fire Fight in 2020.

Words by Jane Rocca

Photo by Ashley Mar


Hilltop Hoods Lead the Way for Strings in Hip Hop

The release of The Hard Road in 2006 ushered in a new era for Adelaide’s Hilltop Hoods. Already certified as one of Australia’s most beloved groups by this point, the trio’s fourth studio album saw their elevation to true legends-in-the-making status. 

The first Australian hip hop album to take the Number One position on the ARIA Albums Chart, The Hard Road further expanded the Hoods’ crossover potential into the mainstream. 

The album also bred the Hoods’ first Restrung album: remixing the entire record with the help of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Celebrating its release with a one-off performance in their hometown to a crowd of seven thousand, the Hilltop Hoods provided more than a unique spin on their original material. They showed their ambition to aim higher and look outside the bounds of expectation when it came to what Australian hip hop artists could do at the time.

Words by Sosefina Fuamoli

Photo by Ashley Mar


The Fire Fight Benefit Concert of 2020

In a monumental effort of cooperation from the Australian music industry, 2020’s Fire Fight Australia concert became a symbol of unity and support during what was, at the time, the largest catastrophe we could imagine unfolding in our country.

Helmed by TEG Dainty and TEG Live, and featuring rousing performances by the likes of John Farnham, the late Olivia Newton-John, Peking Duk, Baker Boy, Amy Shark, Grinspoon, and Queen with Adam Lambert, the charity concert raised over $10 million for a range of fire rescue, relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding services.

75,000 attended the live music event at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, while over one million tuned into the official television broadcast on Channel Seven and Foxtel. The ten-hour-long event, conceptualised and executed within five weeks, was a mammoth achievement and proof of the importance of live music and performance as an avenue of emotional expression and escape.

Words by Sosefina Fuamoli

Photo by Aaron Webber


Troye Sivan: Australia’s First YouTube Music Star

Troye Sivan is a trailblazer. In 2012, the quirky, awkward teen began creating video blogs and uploading them to YouTube for his 27,000 subscribers that once flocked to his channel to watch the then-teen perform acoustic covers of popular songs. A year later, in 2013, Sivan caught the attention of Australian record executive Mark Holland who signed him to a major label deal with EMI Music. 

Almost ten years later, and the wunderkind from Perth with bleached-blonde hair and smooth-as-silk vocals has surpassed one billion views on the world’s largest video platform; the first Aussie to become a bonafide superstar from YouTube. He’s also made a name for himself as an actor, scoring Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for his work on Boy Erased with Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe.

The born-to-be-famous pop idol has also used his platform for good, becoming a fierce advocate for LGBTQIA+ communities.

Words by Jake Challenor


The Saints Dubbed Early Punk Pioneers with (I’m) Stranded

The Saints’ debut album (I’m) Stranded was hailed as being able to “easily match the savage revolt of bands like The Clash and The Jam” (Robert A. Hull), and perhaps heralded the local arrival of punk in Australia. 

The band’s relationship with punk, however, was complicated, and guitarist Ed Kuepper lamented that the “gutsy realists” were caught up in the same movement as other groups. 

“The band was a full thing by 1974. Two-and-a-half years later, this incredibly fashionable movement comes along, only an arsehole would have associated himself with that,” he said. 

The 1977 album was released through EMI, with many now recognising that it could well be one of the great debut albums of the era.

Indeed, in 2001, the title track, “(I’m) Stranded” didn’t quite make the Top Ten, but was listed among the Top Thirty Australian songs of all time by APRA. 

However you, or the band itself, choose to categorise it, (I’m) Stranded can be assured of its spot amongst the 50 Most Iconic Australian Music Moments. 

Words by Vivienne Kelly


Masked Wolf Lands First Viral Australian Song on TikTok

With “Astronaut in the Ocean”, Masked Wolf achieved what was once considered impossible. The Sydney rapper landed a global hip hop hit from the land Down Under, and did so, initially, with rocket fuel provided by TikTok. The cut first dropped in 2019 and was reissued late in 2020 with major label support after going viral on the short-video platform, one of the first to do so from Australia.

“Astronaut…” just kept flying, lifting to Number Six on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 2021 and topping its Hot Rap Songs survey – confirmation that Masked Wolf had the hottest hip hop song in the home of hip hop.

Before the year was out, Masked Wolf and producer Tyron Hapi were inducted into APRA AMCOS’ The 1,000,000,000 List, for punching past one billion streams across all platforms with the breakthrough song. Then, TikTok anointed “Astronaut…” as the top dog on its app, by appearing in almost eighteen million clips during the year, over fifty percent more than the next most-used song. By September 2022, “Astronaut…” had entered Spotify’s Billions Club. “Not in a thousand years did I ever think I would achieve this,” Masked Wolf mused at the time.

Words by Lars Brandle


Steve Pavlovic Sets Up Game-Changing Record Label, Modular

With a stable that included Tame Impala, The Avalanches, Cut Copy, Ladyhawke, The Presets, Wolfmother and more, Modular Recordings was always a cut above. Founded by Steve “Pav” Pavlovic, the record company was recognised by Britain’s NME in 2007 as “the coolest label in the world”. Cool, or hot, it was as accurate a tag as they come. 

Pav, who had toured Nirvana, Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth and many more cutting-edge acts at the peak of their powers, expanded his label into the UK and Europe in 2013. A relaxed character who could take a nap when the stress of life would cause most of us to wig out, ran into trouble and some ugly legal battles in 2015. Those issues sidelined Pav and saw Modular, the label he founded, absorbed by Universal Music. Pav returned to the spotlight in 2022 with Unpopular, an exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse featuring some two hundred items from his personal collection. Unpopular is said to be the first in a series of projects from Pavlovic.

Words by Lars Brandle


Two Young Australians Invent the First Digital Synthesiser and Sampler, The Fairlight

We take digital sampling for granted today, but the technology was actually invented in 1979, in a garage in Point Piper, Sydney, by two young Australians Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel. That’s where the Fairlight was born. 

The Fairlight, named after the hydrofoil that zoomed across Sydney Harbour, was the world’s first digital synthesiser and arguably music’s biggest technological breakthrough since the phonograph. Frustrated by traditional analogue synth machines, Ryrie and Vogel spent years in Ryrie’s grandmother’s garage tinkering with their design, before unleashing their Computer Musical Instrument (CMI) on an unsuspecting world. For the first time ever, producers could sample natural sounds on a computer and manipulate them with the god-like power of dual 8-bit processors. The samples only lasted 0.5–1 seconds, but still, it was a game-changer, and most of what we consider Eighties synth-pop can be traced back to Ryrie and Vogel. 

Their tech became so popular that Phil Collins had to specify “there is no Fairlight on this record” in the liner notes of No Jacket Required in 1985. 

Words by James Shackell

Courtesy of Atlantic Records


Sia Becomes Most Prolific Songwriter On APRA AMCOS’ 1,000,000,000 List

Sia Kate Isobelle Furler, better recognised on the world’s pop charts as just Sia, has climbed many a mountain since her early days in Adelaide jazz-funk outfit, Crisp, in the mid-Nineties.

The singer-songwriter, who once appeared as a wedding singer on Aussie soap Home And Away, has become a bonafide global popstar and hitmaker in her own right, and in the first half of 2020 was inducted into an exclusive club named The 1,000,000,000 List. 

According to APRA AMCOS, who compile the list, Furler is also the “most prolific” member of the exclusive club; fifteen of her songs have surpassed a cumulative one billion streams from all major services including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, YouTube Music, Vevo, Amazon and more. 

Among them are a handful of her own blockbuster bops like the four-time Grammy-nominated “Chandelier”, and her tribute to the forty-nine victims of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting “The Greatest”, which has clocked five hundred million streams on Spotify alone. But it’s her work as hit machine-for-hire that has spawned chart-toppers for A-listers like Katy Perry (“Chained to the Rhythm”), ZAYN (“Dusk Til Dawn”), Rihanna (“Diamonds”), David Guetta (“Titanium”) and Jessie J (“Flashlight”).

Words by Jake Challenor

Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia


Johnny O’Keefe’s US Tour Makes History

It had to start somewhere. Before touring America became a rite of passage, Johnny O’Keefe was trailblazing the path for legions of Australian acts to follow.

The story began in Los Angeles in 1959, with the recording of “She’s My Baby” — an equally uncommon move at the time. But O’Keefe had made enough of an impact on the charts, had a pioneering role in the birth of music television with Six O’Clock Rock, and was laying the groundwork for an international breakthrough.

After an introduction with head honchos at Liberty Records, he returned in February 1960. Hold your breath here — JOK — the Wild One — was promoted as The Boomerang Boy (yes, you read that right; these were very different times) and had to give boomerang throwing exhibitions. A few months later JOK had a major setback following a terrible car accident that could have killed him. After recuperating, he returned to the States for another tour in January 1961. Again, the tour didn’t fly — but JOK was the first Australian rock’n’roller to give it a crack. Everyone who tried afterwards was following in his footsteps.

Words by Stuart Coupe


5 Seconds of Summer Score Third Consecutive Billboard Number One Album

If you had told the four mates from Western Sydney in early 2021 that they would soon form one of the world’s biggest bands… they probably would have believed you.

It took guts, an unwavering beginner’s mindset — and the ability to build a cult-like following that grew with them— to make it as 5 Seconds of Summer. Eleven years into their career, 5SOS still have it in droves.

The band has released five Number One Australian albums, three in the UK, three in the US, earned a place on Billboard’s Top Artists of the 2010s chart, and received over eighty awards. It’s been a decorated career marked by firsts, but it was 2018 that saw 5SOS make US chart history.

With their third album Youngblood, 5SOS became the first Australian act to land three Number Ones on the Billboard 200 (following their debut self-titled LP in 2014 and follow-up Sounds Good Feels Good in 2016). They also became the only band to top the Billboard 200 with their first three studio albums.

In a note to fans via Instagram in 2018, 5SOS said: “You came together as people to get us our 3rd number one record for all the right reasons. Today you made history for 4 young men, and you are every reason why we feel like the luckiest people alive.”

Words by Poppy Reid