Can it really be 40 years? It’s time to relive a dozen classic 1981 albums from some of your favourite Australian artists.
1. AC/DC - For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
Released a little more than a year on from the meteoric success of AC/DC's Back In Black, For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) was always going to draw unfortunate comparisons to its ballsy big brother. Despite some dodgy double entendres ("Let’s Get It Up") and a distinct lack of promotional music videos, the album stands as a neat postscript to the Back In Black era. For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) was also the final AC/DC album produced by Mutt Lange before he took the careers of Def Leppard and Shania Twain into the stratosphere.
2. Midnight Oil – Place Without A Postcard
Midnight Oil’s third album Place Without A Postcard saw them slowly gaining traction in the Aussie charts (Place Without A Postcard reached 12 after 1979’s Head Injuries could only muster #36), but they were already heroes in the beer barns they played across the country. Despite being overshadowed by the later successes of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and Diesel And Dust, the band obviously still feel a soft spot for the album: first single "Don’t Wanna Be The One", "If Ned Kelly Was King" and "Lucky Country" were all aired on the band’s 2021 Makarrata Tour.
3. Mental As Anything – Cats And Dogs
Making an appearance in the 2010 book 100 Best Australian Albums, Mental As Anything’s third album Cats And Dogs ensured the band were a Countdown staple in 1981. The album reached #3 in Australia off the back of three singles: "If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?", "Too Many Times" and the ABBA-tribute "Berserk Warriors". Presenting the band’s parochial quirks, the video for "If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?" features Tassie’s Salamanca Place, Sydney's ocean pools and the sort of weatherboard homes Mental’s guitarist Reg Mombassa would soon be celebrating in his Mambo designs.
4. Men At Work - Business As Usual
Another alumnus of the 100 Best Australian Albums book put together by journos/music biz names Toby Creswell, Craig Mathieson and John O’Donnell, Men At Work’s debut Business As Usual was an international blockbuster. The best-selling Australian album of 1982, it also reached the top of the charts in the UK, US, New Zealand and Canada on the back of the singles "Down Under", "Who Can It Be Now?" and the less remembered third single, "Be Good Johnny". Frontman Colin Hay and his mob would never hit such heights again, but when you’ve sold six million albums in the US, it’s always going to be tricky.
5. Mondo Rock – Chemistry
It’s impressive how easily Ross Wilson morphed from bluesy ‘70s hippie in Daddy Cool to pastel-suited new waver in Mondo Rock. Second Mondo Rock album Chemistry was their biggest success, reaching number three on the album chart on the back of the superbly crafted singles "Cool World", "Summer Of ’81" and "State Of The Heart". Ex Zoot guitarist, General Hospital star and "Jessie’s Girl" hit-maker Rick Springfield even performed the latter at Live Aid in 1985!
6. Australia Crawl – Sirocco
Oh, Oz Crawl - we would give anything, just to be like them. Blessed with enviable looks, great hooks and a massive fanbase from a solid couple of years of touring, 1981’s Sirocco hit number one on the album chart and featured singles including "Oh No Not You Again" and "Errol". While Australian Crawl had a reputation as cool surfers, frontman James Reyne once told this writer the OTT beach video for "Errol" was all about “taking the piss”. “We had always been portrayed as these water sport kind of guys, so in the video for "Errol" we got in George Muskens, who used to make the Coca-Cola ads. We rang him because we wanted to make a video like the Coke ads, which were so ridiculous and we wanted to take the piss out of ourselves. He captured us running like young stallions along the beach, in the spa with 50 girls and in bed with 20 more. It was so silly. We thought it was a tremendous idea, but then everyone thought it was serious and it kind of backfired somewhat…” Never mind, James – Sirocco ended up being the best-selling Australian album of 1981.
7. Billy Field – Bad Habits
Looking more like REM bassist Mike Mills’ older brother than a chart-topping Aussie pop star, Billy Field’s star burnt fast and bright. A bespectacled 30-something from Wagga Wagga, Field had a golden streak in 1981, with the singles "Bad Habits" and "You Weren’t In Love With Me", as well as his debut album Bad Habits, going to number one in Australia. Bad Habits ended up being the third best-selling Australian album of the year (behind Sirocco and Back In Black). While he might have slipped from memory in the years since, Field’s music routinely earns renewed interest: "Bad Habits" was once repurposed for a Round-Up ad, while "You Weren’t In Love With Me" was memorably covered by Australian Idol finalist Courtney Murphy and Tim Freedman from The Whitlams.
8. Cold Chisel – Swingshift
Since it’s a live beast it is a bit of a strange album to include in this list, but Cold Chisel’s 1981 release Swingshift holds the honour of being their first number one album in Australia. Recorded on the Youth In Asia tour which featured notable support acts Mental As Anything and INXS (what a line-up!), alongside Chisel classics such as "Shipping Steel", "Khe Sanh" and "My Baby" sat a number of covers including Creedence Clearwater Revival’s "Long As I Can See The Light", Bob Dylan’s "Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door" and the Jesse Stone perennial "Don’t Let Go".
9. INXS - Underneath The Colours
In 1981 Cold Chisel’s support act INXS were almost a decade away from making a play for Wembley Stadium-filling infamy, with Underneath The Colours capturing a band still finding its groove. Featuring the moderately successful single "Stay Young" (which awkwardly fell somewhere between Split Enz pep and Duran Duran sheen), the album was completely ignored when the band put together their first compilation The Greatest Hits in 1994.
10. Split Enz – Corroboree
Also covered in this recent I Like Your Old Stuff story about the 40th anniversary of hit single "History Never Repeats", Split Enz followed up 1980’s massive True Colours success with another hit album in Corroboree. Named Waiata in all other territories, the release went to number one in the local album chart upon release and was one of the best-selling Australian albums of the year.
11. Olivia Newton-John – Physical
After navigating a career of middling country-pop, Eurovision performances and being squired by Ian Turpie, most Aussies would have been happy Olivia Newton-John finally found international acclaim with her appearance in the hit film Grease in 1978. Considered a sexy companion to her spandexed Sandy, 1981 album Physical saw ONJ’s pop credentials hit a career-high on account of the title track. Not only did Billboard name it “the most successful song” of the 1980s, the tune with the raunchy video was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance. Physical also made Newton-John’s fortune, with the album clocking up more than 10 million sales and the North American tour in support of the record seeing Olivia playing to more than half a million fans. A New Yorker named Madonna was watching closely…
12. Sunnyboys – Sunnyboys
Just a year after playing their first gig, Sydney lads Sunnyboys released their debut album packed with perfectly-formed melodic pop sounds. Featuring Double J classics including "Alone With You" and "Happy Man", the self-titled release also made it to the 100 Best Australian Albums list compiled in 2010. Produced by Lobby Loyde (Rose Tattoo, Coloured Balls), the release peaked at 13 in the album chart – the troubled group’s one and only top 20 appearance. Read more about the album here.
Listen to Sunnyboys on Spotify
Listen to Sunnyboys on Apple Music