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.


Two Songwriting Legends Meet: Harry Vanda and George Young

In 1963, two families migrated to Australia — the van den Bergs and the Youngs. The van den Bergs made the trek from the Netherlands, while the Youngs hailed from Scotland. 

Both families found themselves at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney.

 This chance meeting at the hostel brought together the Easybeats, comprising Stevie Wright, Dick Diamonde, Gordon Fleet, as well as Harry ‘Vanda’ (van den Berg) and George Young. The writing partnership, forever enshrined now as ‘Vanda & Young’, kicked off in the mid-Sixties, spawning hits for the Easybeats including “Friday on My Mind”, which reached Number One in Australia in 1966. 

They also wrote and produced hits for one of Australia’s biggest musical exports at the time, AC/DC, which had been formed by Young’s brothers Malcolm and Angus. Their credits include producing AC/DC albums such as High Voltage and TNT (1975), as well as Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), as well as Powerage and If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (both 1978). 

Vanda & Young’s songwriting legacy lives on. The Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition, founded in 2009, celebrates future generations of Aussie hit songwriters. The competition has launched careers and lauded some of our best: Megan Washington, Kimbra, Isabella Manfredi, Gretta Ray, Amy Shark and Matt Corby among them. 

When George Young passed away in 2017, he was remembered for his connections, charm and talents. A press statement from his music publishing and recording house, Alberts, summed it up: “George was a pioneer who, with close friends Harry Vanda and Ted Albert, created a new sound for the Australian music industry.”

Words by Vivienne Kelly

Courtesy of Nasty Little Man PR


America Falls in Love with Nick Cave

To call Nick Cave a “triple threat” would be to drastically undersell his talents. 

Cave’s extraordinary journey has been, at times, as dark and grief-stricken as his works, a considerable canon that spans multiple decades as a leader of bands, screenplays and absorbing books and soundtracks. Cave has survived substance abuse, and personal loss, and somehow stayed in a zone, though constantly evolving and collaborating. His output is nothing short of prolific, and worthy of his ARIA Hall of Fame induction in 2007. 

The Warracknabeal native now calls England home, a country that reveres his talents, and whose people have powered seven Cave albums into the Top Ten. Perhaps Cave’s closest brush with the mainstream came in 1995, with “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” a blacker-than-coal number from Murder Ballads. The controversy at the time wasn’t so much the content, but Cave’s decision to collaborate on it with Kylie Minogue. It proved a masterstroke and the song came agonisingly close to the UK Top Ten, peaking at Number Eleven. 

America was late to the Nick Cave party; since the turn of the century, seven of his albums have impacted the US Billboard 200 chart. Prior to the millennium, just one of his LPs bothered the chart, 1997’s The Boatman’s Call.  

Words by Lars Brandle


Jet Soundtracks iPod Ad, Ushering in New Era for Music Marketing

It’s hard to explain to people who weren’t there just how freaking cool Apple iPod ads were in the early 2000s. When music history was there to be written, when the industry had to choose between mini discs and the MP3 revolution, these ads tipped the balance. 

In 2004 we turned on our analogue TVs, and there was Aussie band Jet, with their kick-stomping classic, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”. The track had taken out the triple j Hottest 100 the year before, and two seconds into the ad you just knew, on some cell-deep level, that this was going to sell a shit-tonne of iPods. 

It was the first genuinely cool sync deal, and helped usher in a new wave of artist/brand collaborations. That combo of Cameron Muncy’s nerve-shredding guitar, the torn vocals of Nic Cester, and human silhouettes thrashing around, dancing like mad, white iPod cords whipping back and forth — it was pure marketing gold. 

Words by James Shackell

Photo by Lucas Englund


Parkway Drive cement Global Metalcore Heavyweight Status

Sixteen years into a career that already had a litany of achievements stacked up, Byron Bay’s Parkway Drive solidified their place as one of metalcore’s greats as they stepped out onto the stage at Germany’s Wacken Open Air festival in 2019. 

Headlining the iconic European metal festival — in its 30th anniversary year — was a huge, somewhat controversial feat. Yet, as Parkway Drive proved during their vicious, relentless performance, any doubt of the band’s capacity to blaze a trail within the international scene was quickly quashed. 

Already long-hailed as one of the genre’s unshakeable premier acts in Australia, this achievement elevated Parkway Drive to new levels of respect and renown. With the Viva The Underdogs documentary (released in 2020) demonstrating their expansive sphere of influence, Parkway Drive set a new blueprint for success within Australian heavy music — easily earning their place in our 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time list.

Words by Sosefina Fuamoli

Photo by Christo Herriot


Kasey Chambers’ ARIA Hall of Fame Induction

Kasey Chambers’ career started around a campfire on the Nullarbor. She and her family would circle the flames at nighttime, reimagining country tunes by the likes of Hank Williams, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Geographical distance meant Chambers grew up unaware of the music industry and the institutions that run it. In a way, it was an unwitting super power for an artist driven by authenticity.

So when the accolades started rolling in, beginning with her debut album title track “The Captain” in 1999, Chambers welcomed them but never let them define her. And when the ultimate accolade was proffered — an induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2018 — it felt like she was blindsided by the honour.

Kasey Chambers may have made history as the youngest female recipient to be inducted, but her career has always boasted a maturity beyond her years. From her debut album The Captain charting in the Top 50 of the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and taking home two ARIA Awards, to the 2001 follow-up Barricades & Brickwalls making her the first Australian country artist to have a single (the art-from-pain ballad “Not Pretty Enough”) and album at Number One simultaneously, Chambers was well on her way to becoming the Queen of Country in her formative years. 

Seventeen years later, with more awards and Platinum accreditations than you could shake a stick at, Chambers’ Hall of Fame induction was a heartfelt, tender affair. Strong feminine energy emanated through the reimagined “Not Pretty Enough”, with Kate Miller-Heidke, Missy Higgins and Amy Sheppard giving it brand new meaning. Chambers’ performance of “Ain’t No Little Girl” featured her dad Bill and Paul Kelly in the backing band. Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and Troye Sivan were among those in the front row leading the standing ovation.

And when Paul Kelly took the stage to deliver a poem — one he had kept secret from Chambers and didn’t perform during the rehearsal — Kasey Chambers’ face cracked with raw emotion. 

“I leant closer, getting chills. 

Your voice as bright as sunshine

And older than the hills.”

Chambers’ eyes glistened from the tears she held back, and her cheeks glistened from the tears that got through. Backstage she summed it up for all of us: “I’m so ridiculously overwhelmed,” she said.

Kasey Chambers is still the bright star singing around the campfire, only this time her audience fills theatres and she’s got a slew of trophies tucked away inside.

Words by Poppy Reid

Photo by Cybele Malinowski


Gotye and the Little Song That Conquered the World

The connection was struck instantly by the melancholic melodic dance between a two-note guitar sample from legendary Brazilian musician Luiz Bonfá, with xylophone plinks of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”. The heartstrings were plucked by the emotionally-charged vocals of Belgian-Australian songwriter Gotye and New Zealand singer Kimbra as they traded break-up perspectives. But “Somebody That I Used To Know” was carried to global domination on the shoulders of its official video by acclaimed director Natasha Pincus and the compelling performances of the two artists, naked and body-painted in stop motion animation. 

It was a long, slow-cooked success over several months following its release in Australia in July 2011, reaching its peak throughout the UK, Europe, and finally America in 2012, as the video was propelled to virality by social media champions of the day Ashton Kutcher and Katy Perry. “Somebody That I Used To Know” was Number One everywhere, won two Grammys, four ARIA Awards and was inescapable for two years. It confirms its timelessness more than a decade later with more than three billion streams and YouTube views — and counting.

Words by Kathy McCabe


Rage Soundtracks Our Discontented Youth From the Couch

If I were to write “RAAAAAAAAGE”, it’s likely that, if you’re a music fan, you’d be able to hear the iconic show’s opener in your mind. 

The all-night TV program originally had the working title Rage ‘Til You Puke, which is markedly more aggressive and visceral than its current name, but nonetheless speaks to the show’s long-running, all-night, entertainment-at-any-time ethos. 

The Australian music video show debuted in 1987 on the national broadcaster, the ABC, and continues to this day — making it the longest-running music television program still in production.

Everyone from Kylie Minogue to Metallica, Midnight Oil to INXS, and the Beastie Boys to Blondie have appeared as guests on the show, revealing their influences and guilty pleasures. 

It’s had formats including chart countdowns, guest programmers, genre specials, and themed editions across its thirty-five seasons, which is nothing to puke at. 

Words by Vivienne Kelly

Photo by Matsu


Flume Makes Grammy Awards History

The release of Flume’s sophomore album Skin proved to be a momentous time for Australian music — not just for the artist, but also for the way local electronic music was perceived internationally. 

At the 2017 Grammys, Flume became the first Australian artist to win the Best Dance/Electronic Album category; a feat no other Australian electronic artist has achieved since, though Flume would find himself nominated again in 2020. 

Skin — a stunning fourteen track record — featured collaborations with the likes of Kučka, Vic Mensa, Tove Lo, Beck, Kai and Little Dragon; is a masterclass in Flume’s sound and crossover potential. Stepping into a lane international artists like Diplo, Skrillex and from the UK, Disclosure, had already been comfortably dominating, Flume laid down a gauntlet of his own with Skin

More than a notice of arrival, it was a statement of intent: Skin was a game-changer.

Words by Sosefina Fuamoli 


The Wiggles Reimagine Children’s Music

In 1991 four mates from Macquarie University in Sydney were treading uncharted waters as they studied early childhood learning together, but it wouldn’t take long for parents and kids around Australia to board a vessel destined for world domination. 

However, a market for children’s music didn’t yet exist. But founding members Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt, Greg Page and Phillip Wilcher were about to change that.

The first-ever Wiggles album, a self-titled and self-funded affair, broke new ground. The band’s original manager, Jeremy Fabinyi, convinced the Government-funded record label ABC Music to back the project and throw their promotional resources behind the unproven. The Wiggles didn’t immediately set the world on fire, but the $4,000 bet did pay dividends (and defied the naysayers), selling over 100,000 copies.

Juggling day jobs, The Wiggles headed to daycare centres and shopping malls (and were even spotted busking at Circular Quay) to perform their first batch of kiddie-bops and build a fanbase outside of sticky-floored pubs. Some of The Wiggles’ biggest, most iconic songs were quickly becoming anthems sung by families in loungerooms and on road trips; “Hot Potato”, “Dorothy the Dinosaur” and “Get Ready to Wiggle” among them.

And the rest is history; The Wiggles went on to become an arena-selling powerhouse with their own TV shows and global superstar fans. Fast-forward to 2022, and the new-look Wiggles are bigger than ever after topping the triple j Hottest 100, packing out arenas around Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and gracing the September cover of Rolling Stone AU/NZ.

Words by Jake Challenor

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