by Alex Cosper (1/25/13)
Traditonally, for centuries Australian music was mainly played on the wooden wind instrument, the didgeridoo, which came from indigenous natives. It became an important sound in Australian folk music, especially for playing the nation's all time most familiar folk song, "Waltzing Matilda." This long tube that produces unique harmonics was usually played at social gatherings and remains an important part of Australian culture. The instrument has also been incorporated in worldbeat and new age music.
Prior to the rising popularity of rock and roll in the mid-fifties, Australian pop music was dominated by American acts like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Ray. Country and jazz were key ingredients to the nation's pop scene. Slim Dusty (whose real name was David Kirkpatrick) became the first Australian artist to sell a million units with his country novelty hit "A Pub With No Beer" in 1957. Rock and roll infiltrated the nation, partly due to concert promoter Lee Gordon showcasing American acts. The first big rock star from Australia in the fifties was Alan Dale, who made a big impact on Johnny O'Keefe, who began having big hits such as "The Wild One" in the late fifties. The Delltones were another popular rock and roll band of the era.
Due to economic conditions, many Australians discovered music mostly through radio in the fifties and could not afford television sets. But TV became a household fixture by the late fifties as people started watching a musical variety dance show called Bandstand. When the British invasion exploded in the mid-sixtites, it quickly overshadowed American artists. Both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones sold out huge shows on their tours of Australia. The British sound was so popular in the sixties that it inspired many local acts to craft similar sounds. The process for local acts to gain recognition was partly through talent shows, which is how Olivia Newton-John and The Bee Gees entered the music scene.
The first Australian act to break out of the country and gain international attention was the folk group Seekers, whose 1966 hit "Georgy Girl" sold over a million units and went top ten in the United States. Another international breakout artist was the Easybeats, who scored hits such as "Friday On My Mind" and "Gonna Have a Good Time." Their sound was closer to surf rock, which was a longer lasting trend in Australia than in America. The band's guitarist George Young was the brother of Angus and Malcolm Young, who went on to have huge success with AC/DC starting in 1973. After the hard rockers were signed to Atantic Records three years later and started touring with American arena bands, AC/DC went on to become one of the world's biggest selling bands of all time.
The Sunbury Music Festival in Victoria became a huge annual event starting in 1972 following the lead of Woodstock, but the festival discontinued after 1975 following bad weather that led to huge financial losses. The festival featured acts such as The Wild Cherries, Daddy Cool, The Skyhooks and Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs. Despite the impact of British acts, American acts still had influence in Australia, particularly more song-oriented artists like Bob Dylan and The Eagles, who influenced the more adult contemporary sounding Little River Band, a band with a long string of hits such as "Happy Anniversary," "Lady" and "Reminiscing." Helen Reddy also racked up lots of worldwide hits with an easy pop sound in the seventies. Meanwhile, AC/DC became leaders in hard rock in the seventies, along with Hush and a band that inspired several notable American rockers, The Angels.
Another country that impacted Australia was nearby New Zealand, in which Split Enz emerged in the seventies as a glam pop band. They eventually became the internationally successful Crowded House in the eighties. By the 1980s there were quite a few Australia bands that became international success stories with big hits in America and the UK. These bands included INXS, Midnight Oil, Air Supply, The Divinyls, Kylie Minogue and Men At Work, whose hit "Down Under" was a tribute to their native Australia. Other acts that broke out of Australia included the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Hoodoo Gurus, Pseudo Echo and Icehouse. In the 1990s, the country continued to produce global hit acts like Silverchair, Savage Garden, Powderfinger and Natalie Imbruglia. Gotye, The Vines, Jet, Wolfmother and country singer Keith Urban carried the torch in the new century.
The original trade organization that originally represented the music industry in the country was the Association of Australian Record Manufacturers (AARM), launched in 1956, but was replaced in 1983 by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), which was formed by six major labels. For the most part, the major labels dominate most of the music on the ARIA singles charts. Since 1986 ARIA has presented annual music awards and in 1988 the trade group launched the ARIA Hall of Fame. Also in 1988 ARIA established its weekly singles and album charts after five years of publishing the Kent Music Report, which started in 1974 and dissolved in the late nineties. Earlier charts that lasted from 1966 to 1974 were published by the defunct Go-Set Magazine. In 2011 Australia ranked number 6 in music sales around the world, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).