The 50 best Australian songs of the 90s
Australian music was incredible in the 1990s.
The so-called glory days of pub rock might have been a thing of the past, but the ethic that came with it remained. Bands wrote, recorded and toured tirelessly. They pushed themselves and, in turn, pushed each other, to make music that was on the cutting edge, that broke boundaries and that made us feel really damn good.
It signalled the end of the cultural cringe. Australian audiences realised that the music of our country was as good as what was happening in the rest of the world. Aussie bands could headline festivals, top charts and be all over the radio and it didn't have to be tokenistic.
The influence of grunge was prevalent early on, but shades of electronic music, power-pop, hip hop, worldbeat and the new breed of vital folk music all emerged in the best Australian music of the decade as well. The diversity of the sounds coming out of Australia meant that there was something for everyone.
We wanted to kick off our month-long celebration of the 90s with a celebration of Australia.
It won’t surprise you to hear that coming up with this list was tough. The entire Double J team all submitted their favourite Aussie songs from the decade, we tallied the votes and here's how it all came out. You might not necessarily agree with all of our choices here, we believe every song played a massive part in making Australian music such a brilliant force through the 1990s.
Here are the 50 best Australian songs of the 90s.
Looking for a playlist of these songs? We've got you covered right here.
50. Primary – ‘Young’
Formed from the ashes of Caligula, another techno rock act, Primary featured the inimitable South African born Connie Mitchell on lead vocals.
The album This Is The Sound showcased Mitchell’s hyperactive, full frontal sound, nowhere better than on the thunderous track ‘Young’ – a song indicative of their famously energetic live shows. – Tatjana Clancy
49. The Meanies – ‘Ten Percent Weird’
So loud, so fierce, so furious and yet so catchy. The Meanies’ ‘10 Percent Weird’ acted as a kind of bridge between the bubblegum thrash of Hard-Ons that came before, and the astoundingly popular cheek of Frenzal Rhomb that was to follow.
That blistering guitar riff sounds like it’s going to go off the rails at any moment, the dual-tracked vocal is equal parts apathetic and inflaming and the hook that Link Meanie belts out is practically unmatched in terms of unforgettable pop punk genius. – Dan Condon
48. Sidewinder – ‘Titanic Days’
I’ve got to thank an ex-boyfriend for introducing me to Half A Cow records, and subsequently Sidewinder. He worked in a record store and I’d hang out on the counter during the weekends.
‘Titanic Days’, with that swirling MBV-esque hum, soundtracked many of these hang outs.
Despite being bathed in young-love nostalgia for me, it remains arguably one of the best Australian songs of the time. – Gemma Pike
47. The Superjesus – ‘Down Again’
Closer to the commercial appeal of Suze DeMarchi than the alt underground of Adalita, The Superjesus’ Sarah McLeod was the latest in a long line of Aussie frontwomen emerging from the suburbs wielding guitars and writing their own songs.
The Adelaide band had already won an ARIA in 1997 for Best New Talent by the time their debut album Sumo was released a year later. McLeod’s clear impassioned vocals come in over a slow built intro of stoner-like-post-grunge-come-light-industrial.
Like any decent rock song, the bridge gives the guitarists the chance to bring it down a few notches then back up again, shamelessly erupting in a show of appreciation for the work of Gunners and White Zombie.
‘Down Again’ is a glorious, bombastic cry for help. And a damn fine karaoke/guitar hero jam. – Dorothy Markek
46. Dirty Three – ‘Better Go Home Now’
Warren Ellis had a way of expressing and channelling the angst and frustration of the ‘90s, but with a violin and flailing limbs. The Dirty Three were a complete anomaly at the time; beautiful and dramatic instrumental grime like no other. – Henry Wagons
45. Christine Anu – ‘Island Home’
With help from producer David Bridie, Christine Anu took an anthemic Australian classic and updated it for a ‘90s pop audience.
The song was already cherished by many Australian music fans, but Anu’s version took it to the mainstream.
Consciously or not, it’s one of the key songs that has helped the world understand the significance of land in Australian Indigenous cultures. – Dan Condon
44. Front-End Loader – ‘Pulse’
Lyrics about the end of your life don’t exactly suggest a song will be a feel-good anthem.
But the rollicking drums and banging guitar from the self-deprecating Front-End Loader on their brilliant 1997 single ‘Pulse’ prove it’s possible. – Tatjana Clancy
43. Dave Graney & the Coral Snakes – ‘Rock'n'Roll Is Where I Hide’
Beat poetry in the midst of the grunge era. Dave Graney had a hyped presence like no other at the time.
An artist fully formed, atop a mountain of hip, at once looking down upon and also hiding from the sludge. – Henry Wagons
42. Sonic Animation – ‘Theophilus Thistler’
Did you know it’s actually an exercise in vowels?
The bass. That beat. Those lyrics!
I listened to ‘Theophilus Thistler’ so many times when it came out, to try and get all the lyrics right… ‘dividing and gliding and sliding, and falling and brawling and sprawling, and driving and riving and striving…’ Errrrrggghhhhh! – Gab Burke
41. Deadstar – ‘Deeper Water’
Plenty of great musicians made their way through the deadstar ranks in their short career, so the immediate quality of their radio-ready power pop surprised no one.
But, by the time they hit their third and final record, they were really firing, as this irresistible, high energy gem attests.
It was their only track to crack the top 30 on the charts, but its omnipresence on radio and TV at the time suggested the song’s resonance was far more widespread than its sales figures indicate. – Dan Condon
40. Archie Roach – ‘Took The Children Away’
Early in 1990, a new voice hit the nation’s airwaves. Paul Kelly’s production credit carried weight, but not as much weight as the storytelling and character of the artist himself. His name was Archie Roach and, for those who heard his debut album Charcoal Lane, it was undeniable that an important new talent had been discovered, albeit at the ripe age of 34.
As listeners, we discovered Roach’s stories of dispossession, stolen youth, despair and living it hard on Melbourne’s Charcoal Lane. The album’s title track and ‘Down City Streets’ were standouts, but the key song was this one documenting his experiences of being part of the Stolen Generation.
In 1990, Roach won two ARIA Awards, as well as the Songwriting Award at the international Human Rights Achievement Awards. Recognition and tributes have continued as he continues to be a vital voice in Australian music. – Richard Kingsmill
39. Tumbleweed – ‘Sundial’
Livid Festival at Davies Park, Brisbane, 1994. Tumbleweed are onstage, obscured by hair, blasting out ‘Sundial’ in Big Muff glory.
The crowd is going wild. Kids are climbing to the top of the tent poles and the tent is in danger of coming down.
‘Smash’, one of the organisers, interrupts the set and threatens shutdown.
Helmet follows but nothing tops that set. – Phil McKellar
38. Ammonia – ‘Drugs’
At one point Ammonia (formerly Fuzzswirl) were arguably the hardest working band in Australia. They’d tour relentlessly from their hometown of Perth to make a name for themselves.
Mint 400 – an album about the concept of selling out, something they were never in danger of – was full of bangers like ‘Ken Carter’ and ‘Face Down’.
But it was the insanely catchy ‘Drugs’, a song about apathy (see the very ‘90s filmclip), that gave the band their breakthrough ARIA charting hit. – Tatjana Clancy
37. Max Sharam – ‘Coma’
Born Leanna Maree Sharam in the Victorian town of Benalla, busker/comedian/rock opera performer Max Sharam was the highest placed Aussie artist (after Silverchair) in the Hottest 100 of 1994.
Her winning performance on talent show New Faces led to a major label deal. With an extraordinary vocal style combining operatic flourishes with rock chick delivery, my senses tell me she’s been an influence on Sia, Kate Miller-Heidke and Megan Washington.
Debut album A Million Year Girl went Gold and saw her nominated for eight ARIAs, although most of them were awarded to the teens from Newcastle... and Tina Arena.
Still writing and performing, Sharam is yet to release a full length follow up. Perhaps she was too bohemian for an industry that preferred more traditional homegrown talent. Who didn’t sing about stalking ex-boyfriends doing porn. Perhaps. – Dorothy Markek
36. INXS – ‘Suicide Blonde’
Kick had cemented them as one of the biggest bands on the planet and you could hear INXS’ brash confidence on ‘Suicide Blonde’, the first single from their seventh album X.
You’ve probably heard it a million times. That crisp funk guitar, Charlie Musselwhite’s wailing harmonica, the deep groove of the bass and Michael Hutchence sounding like he’s just singing whatever he wants, right there on the spot. But it doesn’t get old.
It’s the kinda song you can only get away with when you’re popular, confident and really damn good at what you do. – Dan Condon
35. Beasts of Bourbon – ‘Chase The Dragon’
Tex Perkins is an intimidating figure at the best of times. But no more so when he’s out the front of the nastiest, most brutal, and arguably greatest rock’n’roll band this country has ever produced, the Beasts Of Bourbon.
‘Chase The Dragon’ features a relentless assault of noisy guitar and pummelling beats. Tex giving his finest snarl as he plays the part of a smuggler with a plastic bag of dope inside of him.
Given the scene the band emerged from and the notoriously druggy grunge scene that was exploding upon its release, it was pertinent. Today, it’s just plain terrifying. – Dan Condon
34. The Fauves – ‘Dogs Are The Best People’
Read the lyrics, listen to the melody and try to argue with this song’s inclusion in this list. You’d have to be cold-hearted to even try.
There have been tons of songs written about animals, but this might well be the greatest. ‘There’s a church, there is a steeple. Dogs are the best people.’ I mean, come on!
If you love this song, you owe it to yourself to go and uncover more of The Fauves’ brilliance. They might be one of the most underrated acts of the decade. I’d say it’s a shame that they’re best remembered because of something so light-hearted, but genius comes in all forms. – Dan Condon
33. TISM – ‘(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River’
Somehow, the sardonic, highly intelligent, anarchic TISM found a spot in the almost-mainstream in the 1990s. Their 1995 track ‘(He'll Never Be An) Ol' Man River’ saw them crack the top ten of the Hottest 100 and sit just outside the top 20 of the ARIA Charts.
We’d assume, however, that the band would consider their greatest glory to be upsetting Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea, a friend of River Phoenix, whose overdose the band explicitly call out in the song’s attention grabbing opening line.
The song is a riotous techno-punk romp that namechecks a range of celebrity deaths, prodding those who obsess over these morbid events far more than the celebrities themselves. Like TISM’s best work, you can take it on its provocative face value or, you know, read the lyrics. – Dan Condon
32. Not From There – ‘Sich Offnen’
An Austrian meets two Australians in London. They move to Brisbane, and go on to make one of the best, largely unsung records of the decade.
The way that brash guitar and melodic bass interact in ‘Sich Offnen’, the way that unforgettable chorus sticks in your head and the fervour with which frontman Heinz Riegler delivers the German verses are all perfect.
It’s not a complex song, and it’s full of familiar tropes, but it’s quite unlike anything else that was around at the time, or has come since. – Dan Condon
31. Deborah Conway – ‘Alive And Brilliant’
Deborah Conway fronted Sydney band Do-Re-Mi through the 80s. They were inventive and she was brilliantly enigmatic out front. A gifted and versatile singer who could capture politics (both the personal and the less interesting forms) with equal proportions of wit and venom when required.
After her first solo album String Of Pearls distancing her from her past work, Conway opened her follow up with a brooding and ominous track that drew a little more from her past.
‘I’m so sick of listening to your crap about the breasts you like’ had echoes of her former band’s ‘pubic hairs are on my pillow’ line in their 1985 hit ‘Man Overboard’.
Relationships aren’t easy, especially ones in a spiralling mess. But, as Conway lets fly with nothing to lose, we have to thank all the pain and frustration that lead to such a great song. – Richard Kingsmill
30. Ed Kuepper – ‘The Way I Made You Feel’
For all of Ed Kuepper’s brilliant work over the decades, there’s a reason ‘The Way I Made You Feel’ looms so large.
Its two short verses conjure pain and passion, love and disdain, awkwardness and joyful comfort. Its unforgettable chorus suggests it’s a love song, but its verses suggest there’s something less pleasant running beneath it all. Still, it feels sentimental without sounding mawkish.
Kuepper’s guitar playing remains inventive in the context of such a straightforward pop song, while his vocal is delivered with a stoicism that cracks only ever so slightly. Sometimes showing just glimpses of emotion is as powerful as opening the floodgates. – Dan Condon
29. Ratcat – ‘Don’t Go Now’
Twenty-seven years on, it’s incredible to think that Ratcat were the most popular act in Australia. They’re too good.
Charming as its melody and sentiment were, the thought of something as punkish and vital as ‘Don’t Go Now’ sitting in the number one spot on the charts is beyond belief.
It’s got the basics of a perfect pop tune; it’ll make you feel good, get stuck in your head, keep you interested for its not-quite-three-minute duration and probably won’t change your life.
Only difference is, this one has a bitchin’ fuzz solo in the middle of it. – Dan Condon
28. Grinspoon – ‘Just Ace’
That opening guitar riff, Phil Jamieson’s oh-so-Aussie vocals, the thumping guitar and drums – ‘Just Ace’ is a belter. The only criticism is that at one-minute-and-forty-eight seconds, it’s not long enough!
When I first heard it, I loved it so much I wanted it to keep going. So, I played it over and over and over and over on my brother’s CD player (it was his CD). I never got sick of it. I’m still not. – Gab Burke
27. Single Gun Theory – ‘Fall’
Exploring global sounds is commonplace today. But back in the early-‘90s, acts were still experimenting with world music - the melding of the culturally traditional with modern technology. In Australia, Single Gun Theory released their second album Like Stars In My Hands in 1991, and it was largely at odds with the rest of the music scene.
In the lead-up to making the album in Vancouver, they travelled through India and Turkey, recording female singers in Kashmir and Islamic prayers in Istanbul. With Jacqui Hunt’s hypnotic delivery out front, Single Gun Theory wove the samples together and made music for both the head and feet.
Three years later, ‘Fall’ appeared on their final album, sampling Algerian singer Chaba Fadela and using a shuffling backbeat rhythm that, once again, set it apart from the emerging trip hop and big beat scenes. The true feat of this Sydney trio is how good their albums still sound today. – Richard Kingsmill
26. Died Pretty – ‘D.C.’
Let’s face it, it’s a travesty that Died Pretty didn’t conquer the world with 1991’s Doughboy Hollow.
Like so many of their songs, ‘D.C.’ is passionate, euphoric and transcendent. Ron Peno sings his heart out against a backdrop of rich instrumentation in exquisite balance.
Klein Blue perfection in a song. – Karen Leng
25. Jebediah – ‘Leaving Home’
Still to this day I love everything about this song.
When the drums come thumping in at the start and that gloriously thick guitar sound in the chorus… not to mention Kevin Mitchell’s lazy Australian drawl.
Leaving home never sounded so good… – Gab Burke
24. Augie March – ‘Asleep In Perfection’
For a bit there in my early 20s, I was attending literally every show that Augie March was playing in Melbourne. I was a crazy obsessed person.
I remember seeing Augie March at the Continental not long after this song had come out, and someone in the crowd mistook me for lead singer Glenn Richards. From behind we had pretty much the same haircut (not on purpose, I swear) I think it was possibly the proudest moment of my life up to that point.
The person in question was pretty disappointed to find out I wasn't Glenn Richards, lead singer of Augie March. – Tim Shiel
23. Frente – ‘Labour Of Love’
‘Are you as cool as you believe?’ Angie Hart asks at the start of their 1993 single ‘Labour Of Love’. We don’t know who she’s singing it to, but we’re pretty sure the answer is no. Unless she was singing it to herself. Because there weren’t many people as cool as Hart in the early ‘90s.
This bare-bones song showed the world why we were all so captivated by Hart’s voice. For all the comparisons people made to other female folk singers, it was clear she injected something unique and real into her performance.
This song also gave us rare proof that the recorder had purpose outside of the classroom. – Dan Condon
22. Spiderbait – ‘Buy Me A Pony’
So much spirit sarcasm and wit tied up in one bite size Spiderbait blast.
Smells like an independently-minded indie band giving the middle finger to a major label machine. So very ‘90s, so cranky and such a rush. – Karen Leng
21. The Cruel Sea - 'The Honeymoon Is Over'
There’s so much to love about this song. From the blown gasket sound at the start, to the spine-tingling surf-crashing guitar licks, it takes you from the desert to the sea via a raging bust up.
Tex Perkins is in inspired form with his juicy, mouthy hollers, ‘hups’ and ‘HA’s and his ultimate masculine protestation of ’…then I’m gonna get this tattoo changed to another girl’s name’ is a delight. It’s bitter and it’s beautiful. – Caz Tran
20. Severed Heads – ‘Dead Eyes Opened’
Severed Heads have always been my favourite Australian band, and the 1984 original of this track is a stone-cold electronic classic, adored around the world.
I love the band’s uncompromising and antagonistic approach to the music industry and their DGAF attitude to popularity.
It makes me chuckle when I hear this relatively faithful ‘94 remix as it broke the Australian charts and gave Severed Heads their one and only Top 20 hit – a fact they probably hated. – Stu Buchanan
19. Magic Dirt – ‘Ice’
With the band locked into a dirty groove, Dean Turner’s bass guitar is the perfect foil for Adalita’s hazy, half-sung soul searching.
I just love that trippy breakdown mid song, capped off by a furious ending. It’s enough to send any mosh nuts. – Karen Leng
18. The Living End – ‘Prisoner Of Society’
This huge single from The Living End hits you in the guts, right from the first few bars.
It’s got the kind of chorus that makes you want to sing (scream) every. single. word. Especially the part about being a brat and talking back. And that breakdown 2 minutes in? Just a great excuse to jump around really.
To top it all off the amazing all-in shout-a-long right at the end… ‘society… society… society… society… SOCIETY… SOCIETY… SOCIETY…SOCIETY!!!’ – Gab Burke
17. Underground Lovers – ‘Losin’ It’
Bittersweet but somehow upbeat and breezy, this song gives you that sad/happy feeling when an ending is also a new beginning.
That stuff you think about when walking barefoot, alone by the ocean. – Karen Leng
16. Paul Kelly & Kev Carmody – 'From Little Things Big Things Grow'
This is a quietly compelling song from two of the country’s most commanding story tellers.
It tells the story of Vincent Lingiari and the 1966 strike by the Wave Hill workers, and does so with insight, humanity, patient expectation and dignity.
It’s not surprising that it’s become an anthem of enduring hope for many other groups in their various struggles and campaigns for justice and change. – Caz Tran
15. Something For Kate – ‘Captain (Million Miles An Hour)’
There’s something whimsical and uplifting about ‘Captain’ that, in my boyish naivete, connected with me at the time.
The initial restraint turns into release by the song’s end, and whenever I hear it now I can’t help but think back to being a carefree pre-teen. – Nick Langley
14. Falling Joys – ‘Lock It’
No other song captures that exact moment when you move from hanging out with someone you’re into, to realising you‘re really into them like ‘Lock It’, Falling Joys’ alt love song from 1990.
It starts contemplative and quiet, almost tentative, setting the scene of the two lovers hanging out together at a party, drinking and dancing. By the time the first line of the chorus hits – the way Suzy Higgy says ‘Christ, I really like you…’ – you feel like you are with her at that very moment of realisation… it’s love.
With each chorus, she gets even more confident with exclaiming ‘I really like you!’ as the guitars erupt and the song explodes with joy, desire and that unmissable excitement of falling for someone. There’s nothing like it. – Meagan Loader
13. Gerling – ‘Enter Spacecapsule’
This Sydney trio were a curious lot. They started as teenagers wielding guitars, creating a messy hybrid that fed off grunge and slacker rock. But, in time, Gerling put the guitars to the side and pulled out keyboards, synthesizers, samplers and vocoders.
When they recorded their debut album in 1998, they were still straddling the two worlds. The original version of ‘Enter Spacecapsule’ was a basic idea that the band had sent out in a rocket ship to explore new horizons. What came back the following year was a series of remixes that showed the way forward for the rest of their recording career.
It was like the band had taken a trip on The Love Boat, as summer vibes were now high on their agenda. Funnily enough, perhaps sitting alongside them on deck, also basking in the sun, were a Melbourne bunch in transformation mode as well. The Avalanches beat them to world domination, but Gerling’s influence is still felt on the local scene today. – Richard Kingsmill
12. Silverchair – ‘Tomorrow’
The Silverchair story is incredible.
Three high school kids from Newcastle start jamming in a garage, enter ‘Tomorrow’ into a national band competition and win.
Then, within a few months, they’re supporting Red Hot Chilli Peppers at Madison Square Garden in New York.
It doesn’t get much more surreal than that.
This song basically changed the trajectory of Australian music. – Gab Burke
11. Midnight Oil – ‘Blue Sky Mine’
There’s a reason people who hate Midnight Oil’s social and political standpoints still know (and love) their songs. Peter Garrett could be singing about anything and this would have connected with plenty.
But, of course, he wasn’t just singing about anything on ‘Blue Sky Mine’. He was singing about real people who were stricken with real, debilitating disease and a real company who really didn’t care. It’s a harrowing tale of how the working man has been used as a pawn to do the dirty, dangerous work of a huge corporation.
It just so happens to also have a beat perfect for fist-pumping and a chorus crafted for hearty singalongs, which is why it appealed to the masses around the world. If even a small percentage of rock’n’roll fans took something from their message, the band’s work was not in vain. – Dan Condon
10. Crowded House – 'Fall At Your Feet'
Great songs usually start with a great opening line. And a story that unravels slowly, with great imagery thrown in along the way. Plus, it has a great chorus that even the tone deaf can hum along to. Neil Finn knows all this. That’s why he’s done it time and time again.
‘I’m really close tonight’, it starts. Something’s happened. It’s not good. ‘I’ll be waiting when you call’. The singer’s got empathy for the person lying next to him. He’s done something, so it’s good he’s got some compassion.
People might think this is a romantic love song, one to walk down the aisle to. It’s not. Listeners have often thought Finn’s songs were one thing, when they were usually the exact opposite.
Is anything resolved by the end? No. Finn knows that’s not what life is. That’s why we keep coming back for more and more spins of this and other Crowded House classics trying to find an answer for all those raining tears. – Richard Kingsmill
9. Custard – ‘Apartment’
There’s so much going on in ‘Apartment’. At the same time, there’s kinda nothing going on at all. Among the countless impressive, interlocking guitar lines, frontman Dave McCormack whoops and hollers and delivers a lyric that tells us so little about anything. He’s got a new apartment, it’s red inside. He’s got a stereo and a song that he loves. That’s about it.
But not every song has to say something. Besides, there’s a chance McCormack is making an insightful point, I'm just not smart enough to understand it.
The furious pace at which this song hurtles is exhausting, its cavalcade of motifs completely overwhelming. How they managed to bring it all together into something so perfectly succinct truly beggars belief. – Dan Condon
8. Kylie Minogue – ‘Confide In Me’
I love Kylie, and there are very few Kylie Minogue singles that I don't have time for.
But if I was trapped on a desert island and I could only take one song with me – and it had to be a Kylie track – it'd be ‘Confide In Me’. – Tim Shiel
7. Powderfinger – ‘These Days’
It’s hard to explain just how much Powderfinger means to the people Brisbane. The city has always copped the label of cultural backwater, so to have this local powerhouse rock band take over Australian music in the ‘90s was epic.
‘These Days’ took out the number 1 spot in the triple j Hottest 100 in 1999, and for good reason. Bernard Fanning sings some of the most depressing lyrics about the mundanity of life, but when you pair this with a tasteful take on classic alt-rock, it becomes an epic pub sing-a-long song. – Gab Burke
6. Yothu Yindi – ‘Treaty’ (Filthy Lucre Mix)
Every Friday night, Dad would come home with stack of CDs he'd bought on his way home from work. I would have been around ten when Dad brought home Yothu Yindi's Tribal Voice.
We listened to it so much. And ‘Treaty’ was everywhere – inescapable. I heard it on the radio, I saw it on my television. I was obsessed by it.
I had little concept of the politics of ‘Treaty’ when it came out, I just knew it was a huge jam. It was a raucous celebration, and even though I was a middle-class white kid with no real appreciation for Indigenous culture, something about ‘Treaty’ just felt real to me. It didn't feel alien or different, or like a novelty song. I registered that on some level, even as a kid.
Now, I love the track even more and look forward to sharing it with – and explaining it to – my kids. – Tim Shiel
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – ‘Red Right Hand’
We are indeed ‘microscopic cogs in his catastrophic plans’, so goes just one of the iconic turns of phrase in this classic Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds track from 1994’s Let Love In.
Who hasn’t shouted ‘He’s a ghost, he’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a guru’ whilst worshipping at the Bad Seeds live altar; Nick performing his signature dance moves to that howling bell sound? No? You’re missing out. – Tatjana Clancy
4. Clouds - 'Hieronymous'
People would say how they’d turn to mush when this song came on. It had a more unsettling impact for me.
The honeyed harmonies of Jodi Phillis and Trish Young set against their lyrics of ‘eyes in the trees’, ‘the devil howl’ and ‘beds of nails’ made them conspirators to something a little frightening and unseen.
They set themselves apart from the rest of the ‘90s crop with indie rock that fused the sweet and the sinister. – Caz Tran
3. Itch-E and Scratch-E – ‘Sweetness and Light’
An absolute classic from the peaced-out raves of the early 1990s, courtesy of Paul Mac and Andy Rantzen. What's in a name? In this case, everything: this song is pure joy and fluffy clouds.
Startled by an impromptu ARIA win in 1995, Paul Mac accepted the award by saying, "We'd like to thank all of Sydney's ecstasy dealers, without whom this award would not be possible." – Tim Shiel
2. Regurgitator – ‘! (The Song Formerly Known As)’
Here’s what happens when neurosis and bombast collide. Ignore the lyrics and you’ll hear Quan Yeomans as a powerful Prince acolyte. But pay attention to even a single line and you’ll know his confidence is entirely confected.
The song’s heavy funk screams out for a packed room and a big soundsystem. Ironically, Yeomans yearns for an ugly pair of pants, a stack of records and a quiet suburban home. It’s a clever collocation.
Regurgitator weren’t afraid to be political or provocative, but this song hit at a more intimate concern. It was an anthem for anyone who didn’t want to bow to the pressure of the party. An ode to celebrating social discomfort, rather than hiding away in silence.
It connected because it was catchy. But, also, its sentiment was so uncool that it just had to be authentic. There’s great power to that. – Dan Condon
1. You Am I – Berlin Chair
There have been thousands of words written about this humble two-and-a-half minute rocker from You Am I’s debut album, but no one has ever been able to truly capture what makes it so special.
Maybe that’s the best thing about ‘Berlin Chair’. In a way, it defies description. It bears little resemblance to any other song. It isn’t traditionally catchy, yet it won’t leave your head from the moment you hear those first lines.
Tim Rogers doesn’t try and play an endearing protagonist. He paints a picture of a cold, self-obsessed, disconnected man, yearning for love but unwilling to give much back. It’s an honest examination of the flaws of the modern man.
It’s not an empty promise of a great life if you give him your heart. Nor is it the poisonous rant of a jilted ex-lover who swears you’ll regret the moment you left.
Any guitarist who’s attempted to play the part of Tim Rogers in bedrooms around the country has quickly learned that there’s a simple, inspired genius to the music that drives this track. You don’t learn this stuff from any book or teacher, Rogers’ approach to guitar was brave and outside of the box.
For all the shades of grunge peppered through their debut album Sound As Ever, and the classic ‘60s pop and rock that was to follow, ‘Berlin Chair’ doesn’t really sound like anything else.
While it gets easier as it becomes more familiar – we’ve had almost 25 years to practice now – trying to pay attention to every aspect of ‘Berlin Chair’ at once is an exhausting exercise. But it never gets tiresome.
It’s the ultimate example of a song that makes the complex seem simple. The emotionally wrought seem unperturbed. And it’ll leave us clamouring to find ultimately insufficient words to explain its great power and beauty for many decades to come. – Dan Condon