Best Aussie songs of the 80s: From AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long to INXS’ Original Sin

Simon Collins
The Nightly
4 Min Read
The best Australian songs from 1980-89 have been revealed.
The best Australian songs from 1980-89 have been revealed. Credit: The Nightly

Across the nation, pubs, parties and backyard barbecues hum along to that old chestnut: what’s the best Australian song of this era or that year?

Put down those tongs and argue no more, our entertainment team has sizzled our homegrown music down to the best song of each year.

Based on chart performance, sales and cultural impact, we have chosen 66 Aussie anthems spanning more than half a century and genres ranging from country to hip-hop, from Slim Dusty to 5 Seconds of Summer.

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What a magic 1987 was for Aussie music. Perhaps the best.

We’ll reveal our top picks from each decade so come back to see which songs dominated in the other decades.

We hope this gets you talking — and listening.

1980

AC/DC: You Shook Me All Night Long

Accadacca’s first single with new singer Brian Johnson following the death of Bon Scott earlier the same year became a staple of the band’s live shows and is regarded by many as their finest work.

ACDC.
ACDC. Credit: Unknown/Supplied by Subject

1981

Olivia Newton-John: Physical

Livvy in leotards sweated her way to global fame with this suggestive early 80s classic, which spent an incredible 10 weeks on top of the US charts. Aussies were hot in the States, with Men at Work and Rick Springfield also troubling the scorers, while Slim Dusty, Renee Geyer and Divinyls kept the home fires burning.

Olivia Newton-John.
Olivia Newton-John. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

1982

Men at Work: Down Under

It was Aussie anthems ahoy in ’82. None greater than Men at Work’s classic Down Under, which overshadows crackers from Icehouse, INXS, the Oils and Moving Pictures’ power ballad What About Me? which has enjoyed a second life thanks to Shannon Noll’s 2004 rendition.

Other contenders

Moving Pictures: What About Me?

Icehouse: Great Southern Land

INXS: Don’t Change

Midnight Oil: US Forces

Men At Work.
Men At Work. Credit: Williams+Hirakawa/Seven

1983

Australian Crawl: Reckless (Don’t Be So)

Australian Crawl was the quintessential surf-rock band.

The sparse and chilling Reckless is probably the last Crawl song you’d expect to surf to No. 1 but this James Reyne classic did just that and has since been covered by Paul Kelly, John Farnham and other Aussie artists.

Australian Crawl.
Australian Crawl. Credit: Supplied

1984

INXS: Original Sin

Another tough year where, to quote Barnesy, there’s no second prize. Perth’s Eurogliders flew up the charts and Mondo Rock enjoyed their biggest hit while Hunters and Chisel released career-defining songs. However it would be a sin, cough, to go past INXS’ first Aussie No. 1, which saw the legends work with disco king Nile Rodgers and pop vocal genius Daryl Hall.

Other contenders

Hunters & Collectors: Throw Your Arms Around Me

Mondo Rock: Come Said the Boy

Eurogliders: Heaven (Must Be There)

Cold Chisel: Flame Trees

INXS.
INXS. Credit: James Minchin/AP

1985

Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Man

Barnesy was going full steam ahead in the mid-80s, peaking on this, his signature song and Oz rock classic despite being written by a Yank, namely Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain. Working Class Man muscled out 80s hits from INXS, Mental as Anything, Models, Divinyls and GANGgajang’s Sounds of Then. Laugh and think…

Jimmy Barnes.
Jimmy Barnes. Credit: Supplied

1986

John Farnham: You’re the Voice

This list without You’re the Voice would be like John Farnham without a mullet: incomplete. Whispering Jack’s lead single is the greatest Aussie power ballad of all-time, even if it was written by four Poms. You’re the Voice gave Farnesy his other nickname and is only rivalled by The Horses at pub sing-alongs.

John Farnham
John Farnham Credit: David Redfern/Redferns

1987

Midnight Oil: Beds Are Burning

What a magic year for Aussie music. Perhaps the best. Oz rock legends such as Icehouse, INXS and Hoodoo Gurus kept the hits coming while songwriting legend Paul Kelly delivered his timeless To Her Door and Kylie Minogue chug-a-chugged into view on debut single Locomotion. But the Oils’ unique knack of turning a protest song about land rights into an international smash makes Beds Are Burning the best Oz tune of ’87.

Other contenders

Kylie Minogue: Locomotion

Icehouse: Electric Blue

Paul Kelly: To Her Door

INXS: Need You Tonight

Midnight Oil.
Midnight Oil. Credit: George Fetting GEF/Fairfax

1988

Crowded House: Better Be Home Soon

Crowded House make the list with Better Be Home Soon, but should they have had another classic in the list?

More biggies from INXS and Kylie, plus the Choirboys’ rocker and Warumpi Band’s alternative anthem, made ‘88 great. But Kiwi icon Neil Finn’s ballad remains a song sung from the rafters at Crowded House gigs.

Other contenders

INXS: Never Tear Us Apart

The Choirboys: Run to Paradise

Kylie Minogue: I Should Be So Lucky

Warumpi Band: My Island Home

Crowded House.
Crowded House. Credit: Supplied

1989

1927: If I Could

In a weak year blighted by Collette’s dinky Ring My Bell and too many forgettable radio rock tunes, pop-rock outfit 1927 dominated with their five-times platinum debut album …ish (which came out late in 1988) and second single If I Could.

1927.
1927. Credit: Supplied

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