'80s Hits By New Zealanders In Australia

'80s Hits By New Zealanders In Australia

tim finn, split enz
Tim Finn of Split Enz. Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images

Over the years, countless musically inclined New Zealanders have crossed the Tasman to set up camp in Australia, lured by a music scene that offers increased opportunities and potential sales. Many artists have stayed here so long they’ve ended up being adopted as honorary Aussies – and some have even won ARIA Awards.

In the 1980s, Kiwis regularly scored hits in Australia – here’s a look back at the pivotal big hits by New Zealanders during the decade.

“I Got You” by Split Enz

Released: 1980

Peak: #1

Prior to the release of their chart-topping 1980 album, True Colours, Split Enz hadn’t ventured higher than number 15 on the Australian singles chart – a position achieved by both “My Mistake” and “I See Red”. The lead single from True Colours changed all that, spending eight weeks at number 1 and ending the year as Australia’s biggest hit. The song, which kicked off a particularly successful run for the band, signalled a shift from their earlier sound to a more commercial output and increased songwriting input from Neil Finn, who had joined Split Enz in 1977. 

“People” by Mi-Sex

Released: 1980

Peak: #6

They had topped the singles chart towards the end of 1979 with synthpop classic “Computer Games”, and Mi-Sex, who’d moved to Australia the year earlier, followed it up with another top 10 hit. The lead single from second album Space Race, “People” was the new wave band’s only other top 10 hit, although they visited the top 50 another six times in the following years.

“Love At First Night” by Kim Hart

Released: 1980

Peak: #6

Everything came together – briefly – for Kiwi Kim Hart in 1980 when her debut Australian release, “Love At First Night”, landed in the top 10, It also became her biggest single back home, where she had released a number of songs in the late ’70s. Kim’s chart success was short-lived – nothing else she released followed her disco-tinged hit into the top 50.

“Counting The Beat” by The Swingers

Released: 1981

Peak: #1

He’d left Split Enz ahead of their chart-topping success, but Phil Judd experienced a number 1 hit with his subsequent band, The Swingers. The three weeks spent on top by future K-mart advertising jingle “Counting The Beat” wasn’t as long a stretch as that enjoyed by “I Got You”, but it did similarly end 1981 as the year’s number 1 song overall. Unfortunately for Phil, the follow-up, “It Ain’t What You Dance It’s The Way You Dance It”, missed the top 40.

“Maxine” by Sharon O’Neill.

Released: 1983

Peak: #16

A Countdown regular, Sharon O’Neill always seemed more successful than she was, with this song about prostitute called Maxine ending up as her highest-placed single here in Australia, where she’d moved at the start of the decade. As a songwriter, Sharon also managed a number 13 hit with “Sweet And Sour” (from the TV show of the same name), which featured vocals by Deborah Conway that were lip synced to by actress Tracy Mann.

“Rain” by Dragon

Released: 1983

Peak: #2

They’d called Australia home since 1975 and racked up a string of eight hits that decade, including number 1 "Are You Old Enough?". Then, following a reunion brought about by the need to settle some old debts, Dragon became a chart force again when they almost reached number 1 with synthrock classic "Rain". Result: another eight hits taking them all the way up to 1989’s “Young Years”.

“Slice Of Heaven” by Dave Dobbyn with Herbs

Released: 1987

Peak: # 1

In the first half of the decade, his band DD Smash had operated out of Australia without anything in the way of local success, but Dave Dobbyn made up for that with his solo smash, “Slice Of Heaven”. Taken from the soundtrack of animated film Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale, the future NZ tourism jingle spent four weeks at number 1, but would ultimately be his only hit in Australia.

“Glad I’m Not A Kennedy” by Shona Laing

Released: 1987

Peak: #9

Also only registering one top 50 appearance in Australia despite a thriving career back in New Zealand, where she was based, was Shona Laing, who enjoyed NZ chart success in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Having come to fame at home as a teenager on a TV talent competition, it wasn’t until 1987 when her song about the Kennedy political dynasty found its way into the ARIA top 10.

“She Has To Be Loved” by Jenny Morris

Released: 1989

Peak: #5

Jenny Morris moved to Australia with her band The Crocodiles in 1981, the year she released her debut solo single, “Puberty Blues”, taken from the film of the same name. But it wasn’t until some years later – following stints as frontwoman for QED and backing vocalist for INXS – that she became a star in her own right. The second single from second album Shiver, “She Has To Be Loved”, was Jenny’s biggest hit of the ’80s, but she did even better in 1991 when “Break In The Weather” reached number 2.

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