12 Classic Aussie Songs Covered By Massive International Hit Makers

12 Classic Aussie Songs Covered By Massive International Hit Makers

iggy pop sydney bdo
Iggy Pop on stage at the Sydney Big Day Out Festival, January 26, 2011. Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage.

There are a lot of issues with “celebrating” Australia Day in 2020, but one thing we can still vigorously champion is Australia’s impressive musical output. Over the last 50 years, musicians from around the world have paid tribute to our country’s fine rock pedigree, delivering a multitude of cool covers and shining the spotlight on our homegrown legends. Here we gather together 12 officially released covers of choice Aussie tunes from some of the biggest names in the business!

1. David Bowie | “Friday On My Mind”

The Easybeats’ Harry Vanda once called David Bowie’s cover of the band’s “Friday On My Mind” “the only cover I ever liked”, but even with layers of backing vocals, it doesn’t add too much to the urgent buzz of 1966’s original. Indeed, perhaps the most intriguing thing about this recording (besides the fact Bowie moves through about five vocal styles in the space of three minutes), is the fact Bowie crooned a new backing line: "Feel like fucking you", the sneaky devil. Recorded for Bowie’s 1973 stop-gap covers album Pin-Ups, Bowie described his choices as “among my favourites from the '64–67' period of London”.

2. The Pogues | “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”

Written by Scottish-born Australian songwriter Eric Bogle in the early 1970s, “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is a harrowing depiction of the Gallipoli experience has been recorded by international artists including Joan Baez, The Dubliners and Scottish punks, Skids. The Pogues initially released their cover in 1984 as the B-side to their first single, “Dark Streets Of London”. A different recording produced by Elvis Costello was included on The Pogues’ 1985’s classic album Rum, Sodomy & The Lash

3. Rod Stewart | “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)”

Just as the bush standard “Waltzing Matilda” forms a reprise at the end of “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, the Banjo Patterson-penned song is an important element of Tom Waits’ song “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)”. Waits had first heard “Waltzing Matilda” on Harry Belafonte’s 1963 album Streets I Have Walked, but Waits biographer Barney Hoskyns says the musician’s impetus for recording the track was meeting a “pretty twenty-year-old singer named Mathilde Bondo” in Copenhagen. It’s Rod Stewart’s cover of the Waits track which is included here, given its recent appearance on Rod’s top 10 album, You’re In My Heart.

4. Iron Maiden | “Women In Uniform”

Melbourne’s iconic Skyhooks reborn as part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal? You better believe it! Iron Maiden covered Skyhooks’ 1978 single “Women In Uniform” two years after its initial release, with the recording later tacked on Australian editions of their 1981 album Killers. You can read more about this version in the I Like Your Old Stuff story here

5. Iggy Pop – Real Wild Child (Wild One)

Almost 30 years after Johnny O’Keefe recorded “Wild One”, said to be the first Australian rock recording to chart nationally in Australia, Stooges bad boy Iggy Pop included a retitled cover on his 1986 album Blah Blah Blah. A top 10 hit in the UK, elements of Pop’s cover have been used as the theme to the ABC’s Rage for more than three decades. Additionally, Pop recorded this follow-up version with Australians Jet in 2008, closing the Antipodean loop:

6. Faith No More | ‘I Started A Joke”

Proving their love of black comedy right to the bitter end, Faith No More’s 1998 break-up was heralded with the release of their cover of The Bee Gees’ “I Started A Joke” as a single (“I finally died, which started the whole world living,” indeed). Initially recorded by the San Franciscan band in 1995 as a B-side, the music video for “I Started A Joke” features a pre-fame Martin Freeman (The Office, The Hobbit, Sherlock). Faith No More re-formed in 2009, with “I Started A Joke” included in their first reunion show at London’s O2 Academy – and plenty of their sets since. 

7. Johnny Cash | “The Mercy Seat”

Included on his 2000 album American III: Solitary Man as he dealt with failing health, Johnny Cash’s cover of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “The Mercy Seat” was highly regarded by the song’s writer. “That was truly exciting,” Cave told The Age in 2003. “Like all the songs he does, he made it his own.” The piano-led cover is at odds with Cave’s malevolent fire-and-brimstone version, which you can watch on YouTube here. “The Mercy Seat” wasn’t the only Aussie tune Cash recorded during his Rick Rubin-produced career rebirth – he’d also released a version of Geoff Mack’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” in 1996. 

8. Arctic Monkeys | “Red Right Hand”

Separated by a couple of generations from Johnny Cash, here’s another Cave track being re-worked, this time by Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys. Having initially performed their cover of the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song on the sweaty Big Days Out of 2009, the band released a nervy studio version as a B-side to their “Crying Lightning” single later the same year. Other international versions have also been recorded by Giant Sand, Pete Yorn, PJ Harvey and Iggy Pop & Jarvis Cocker (for the series Peaky Blinders), but few come close to the ominous energy of the original.

9. Heart | “You’re The Voice”

A contentious inclusion in our list; John Farnham’s signature song might be an Aussie classic, but its songwriters were all British-born: Keith Reid (Procol Harum), Andy Qunta (Icehouse), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Queen backing vocalist Maggie Ryder. Nonetheless, given the Australian love of adopting colourfully-suited New Zealand bands and Hawaiian-born Academy Award-winning actresses as our own, who’s going to argue with us also claiming “You’re The Voice” too? Initially covered by Heart during live performances in the early 1990s, a studio version was later included on their 2000 hits package Greatest Hits: 1985-1995. It might not quite match Heart’s ball-busting version of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me”, but it’s right up there with Farnsy’s original 1986 hit.

10. The Dandy Warhols | “Hells Bells”

They’ve been covered by international superstars from Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen to P!nk (who took on the rather obvious “Highway To Hell” rather than opting for the more intriguing “Sink The Pink”) and Red Hot Chili Peppers, so choosing an AC/DC cover for this list wasn’t easy. This cover of the 1980 post-Bon Scott single finds Oregon’s The Dandy Warhols adding low-key brass and a psychedelic stoned glaze to proceedings.

11. Guns N’ Roses | ”Nice Boys”

As well as covering AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie”, Guns N’ Roses have thrown some love the way of working class heroes Rose Tattoo. Not only has Axl’s mob included the Tatts on support slots across three decades (beginning with the Use Your Illusion shows Down Under in 1993), the Gunners have also bolstered the band’s coffers thanks to their cover of the Aussie rockers’ 1978 track “Nice Boys” being included on the 1986 EP Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide, 1988’s mini-album Lies and 2018’s anniversary edition of Appetite For Destruction.   

12. Bruce Springsteen | “Just Like Fire Would”

Bruce Springsteen once claimed “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In A City”, but recording a song by The Saints proved a lot easier for The Boss and his E Street Band. First performed live on his 2013 Australian tour dates and subsequently recorded in Sydney’s Studios 301 Band (with Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello filling in for an absent Steve Van Zandt), the song was included on 2014’s grab-bag album High Hopes. Springsteen called the Brisbane act he’d covered “one of my favourite early Australian punk bands”. “Just Like Fire Would” was originally released by The Saints on 1986’s All Fools Day album. Listen to the original version here:

Got any other favourite international covers of Aussie songs you also think deserve their place in the spotlight? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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