If someone asked you to name some of the best Aussie pub rock bands of all time, no names immediately spring to mind. Yet, scratch a little deeper and you will soon realise that some major hits fall into this category.
The best Aussie pub rock bands were at their peak from the late 1970s to the early 1990s and were known for soaring choruses, melodic guitar riffs and blurring the lines of punk, hard rock and the blues.
Pub rock was everywhere in Australia throughout the late 20th century and spawned a wave of bands looking to hit it big. Often enough, the best bands could score at least one major hit that broke into mainstream charts.
The genre may have faded from its boom period but you can still hear iconic pub rock songs on any mainstream radio station. So just who are some of the best Aussie pub rock bands of all time?
What exactly is Aussie pub rock?
Before checking out some of the genre’s flagbearers, it’s first best to define what Aussie pub rock is – and it’s not just any song released by AC/DC down the years.
The genre itself was a spinoff from 1970s UK garage rock. With the likes of The Who and The Rolling Stones taking over the globe, it inspired new movements across the world – including in Australia.
During the 70s, Australian musicians were overawed by not just British bands but American acts too. The American influence came from both Southern rock as well as legendary blues acts. What ensued was a weird fusion that took off Down Under.
Rock bands started finding success with melodic riffs and rhythmic tempos lifted straight from US rock bands. Yet they were backed up by rough and gritty vocal performances and electric live shows.
Thriving live scenes could be found throughout major cities such as Sydney & Melbourne paving the way for new acts to come through.
The final key ingredient was from the punk movement. This gave bands a license to get edgier with their songs. Combined with the gritty vocals, this set Aussie pub rock to be a defining sound of the next couple of decades.
The best Aussie pub rock bands revealed
When it comes to Aussie pub rock, Cold Chisel are the poster boys of the genre. Cold Chisel found success thanks to two key elements – relatable songs and a fluidity to slide between styles. Their songs were based on common issues and problems giving them a connection to listeners instantaneously. With frontman Jimmy Barnes’ gravelly yet soulful voice, songs instantly made an impact on the ear. That was before you added Ian Moss’ excellent guitar work or solid rhythms generated by the late Steve Prestwich.
Within Australia, Cold Chisel has become of the nation’s biggest-selling acts. The band have 5 Platinum (ARIA-certified) albums including their 1980 record East which went 5x Platinum after its initial release. On top of that, they were also inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1993 becoming just the fourth band in history to achieve this feat. A true icon of both pub rock and Australian rock in general.
Giving pub rock a real edge, Midnight Oil became one of Australia’s biggest acts of the 1980s through several hit records. What made them stand out was their drive to confront real-life issues nailed home with killer melodies. Whether it was pushing for better treatment of Indigenous Australians or tackling working conditions, the band struck a chord with the common folk. Their topical lyrics and chugging songs became the call to arms of listeners worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, this sent Midnight Oil into superstardom. After their first few records went platinum in Australia, it was the 1987 hit record Diesel And Dust that put them truly on the map. Going platinum in the US and Canada as well as 7x Platinum in Australia, the album took the world by storm. Lead single “Beds Are Burning” even gained unique fame for hitting Number 1 in Canada and New Zealand, yet only charted at number 6 in their homeland. With their messages in songs still relevant even today, it’s no wonder why Midnight Oil are considered one of the best Aussie pub rocks of all time.
Pub rock was a male-dominated landscape for much of its heyday. That was until the arrival of The Divinyls. Led by the superstar presence of Chrissy Amphlett, she gave an edge that other bands couldn’t provide anywhere else. Amphlett’s vocals could switch between angelic melodies in one song to an angsty-punk growl within just a few bars. Amphlett’s performance was backed by the presence of Mark McEntee, whose melodic riffs gave even edgy songs a melodic side.
Most of their albums maintained their signature sound earning rave reviews and fans up and down Australia. They already had one Platinum-album under their belt when 1990 rolled around. It was here where their signature hit “I Touch Myself” turned them into global megastars. The hit reached the top ten in both the UK and US helping their 1991 self-titled album reach gold status in both the US and Australia. The Divinyls maintained a cult following until Chrissy Amphlett passed away in 2013 after battling cancer.
Half pub rock, half hard rock, The Angels were a band that has always meant business. The Adelaide outfit formed in 1973 and quickly took the Aussie music scene with their energetic performances. Most notably, their music had big riffs and iconic solos that other pub rock bands avoided at all costs. By leaning into a harder sound, it gave them a cross-over appeal that let them headline bars across Australia and New Zealand.
What made them shine was their mainstream success despite remaining with independent companies. Their second album Face to Face went 4x Platinum in 1978 despite releasing it through little-known Alberts Records. On top of that, they would get their highest ARIA Chart position in 1985 reaching number 2 with their seventh album Two Minute Warning. Again, which was released through independent record label Mushroom Records. Despite releasing albums with giants such as Epic Records and Chrysalis Records, the band’s independent success showed what pub rock was all about. It’s a feat few others managed to achieve and is proof of why The Angels are regarded as one of the best Aussie pub rock bands to ever do it.
Inspired by everything from surf rock to reggaeton, Australian Crawl never waned from trying new styles. The Melbourne band kept things simple and catchy with some huge choruses in their songs. Backed by reggae-based riffs and gang vocals on choruses, their songs were pop-rock at its finest with a hint of edginess.
Australian Crawl’s success came very much at the start of their fame. Their debut album Boys Light Up went 4x Platinum in 1980, and the self-titled single filled radio worldwide. In an amazing run, Australian Crawl was able to score two more platinum albums in the 1980s with only their final release not reaching that certification. The band would split in 1985 and wouldn’t reunite until their ARIA Hall of Fame induction in 1996. A rollercoaster ride that made a huge impact in a short space of time.
There are few Australian bands as well-known as INXS. The Sydney-siders are well-known for blending and touching upon all genres. Flaunting genres between pop, rock, disco and soul; INXS could fit in anywhere within the music world. Whether it was the groovy riffs of “Need You Tonight” or the slow-burning melodies of “Never Tear Us Apart”, there was something unique about an INXS song. It was all sewn together by the huge presence of frontman Michael Hutchence. With a huge persona and endless charisma, Hutchence’s performance made him one of the biggest rockstars of the 1980s.
It was no wonder that INXS became such a huge act worldwide. Their biggest success came during their Kick era. The 1987 album spawned the worldwide hit “Need You Tonight” which hit the top spot in the US as well as “Never Tear Us Apart” which was a 5x Platinum single in Australia. The album itself has accolades aplenty including going Diamond in Canada as well as 6x Platinum in the US. In fact, INXS have 5 Platinum albums in the US – a feat that no other Australian band has managed aside from AC/DC. It’s why the act are seen as quintessential rockstars and one of the best Aussie pub rock bands to ever grace the scene.