The 1990s wasn’t one of the best decades for Australian music on the ARIA chart, with less local acts reaching the number 1 spot than in either the 1980s or the 2000s. Just 16 songs by Australian performers topped the singles chart between 1990 and 1999 – with only 12 different artists represented on the list. Silver lining: the number 1 hits spanned the full spectrum of music, from pop to rock to dance to indie. Even a comedy release got a look-in.
"Jukebox In Siberia" by Skyhooks
Two weeks, 1990
The first Australian number 1 of the decade came from a band that had been phenomenally successful in the 1970s and had last been seen on the top 50 with a 1982 medley. On indefinite hiatus since 1984, Aussie rock trailblazers Skyhooks returned with new track “Jukebox In Siberia”, which touched on the winds of change sweeping through the soon-to-be-no-more Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. Their third chart-topper overall, “Jukebox In Siberia” was one of two new tracks on a best of compilation, The Latest And Greatest, which reached the top 5. Demand was also high for a national tour, with the band hitting the road for three months to capitalise on their refound success.
"I Touch Myself" by Divinyls
Two weeks, 1991
Another Aussie rock band with a lengthy history scored their long-awaited chart-topper with a lyrically controversial song that would also see them crack the US and the UK top 10s for the first time in their career. Written with American hit-makers Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly (responsible for “Like A Virgin”, “True Colors” and “Eternal Flame”, among others), ode to self-love “I Touch Myself” was the lead single from Divinyls’ self-titled fourth album. Essentially a duo consisting of singer Chrissy Amphlett and guitarist Mark McEntee by this point, the band worked with another American on the music video for “I Touch Myself” – future Transformers director Michael Bay.
Tingles by Ratcat
Two weeks, 1991
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was no independent record label mightier than rooArt, and in 1991, there was no indie band bigger than rooArt act Ratcat, who slowly but steadily rose to the number 1 position with their breakthrough EP, Tingles. Finally reaching the top in its 28th week on the top 100, the six-track EP was promoted by single “That Ain’t Bad”, with singer-songwriter Simon Day becoming the all-in-black poster boy for Sydney’s indie music scene.
"The Horses" by Daryl Braithwaite
Two weeks, 1991
Having staged a successful comeback in 1988 with the Edge album, former Sherbet singer Daryl Braithwaite went one better with follow-up Rise, which ended 1991 as Australia’s highest-selling album for the year despite never reaching higher than number 3. Daryl made up for that by hitting number 1 with his cover of a Rickie Lee Jones album track from two years earlier. Featuring Margaret Urlich on backing vocals (but not in the Keppel Island-shot music video), “The Horses” has reached iconic status in the decades since, now widely acknowledged as one of the most popular songs in Australian music history.
"Don't Go Now" by Ratcat
One week, 1991
Tingles took so long to reach number 1 that it still hadn’t reached the top when follow-up “Don’t Go Now” joined it in the top 10. The jangly lead single from Ratcat’s second album, Blind Love, enjoyed a much more rapid chart trajectory, shooting straight in at number 8. And like the song it knocked from number 1 – “The Horses” – it featured backing vocals from Margaret Urlich (as well as Robyn St Clare from label-mates The Hummingbirds).
"Read My Lips" by Melissa
Two weeks, 1991
What Neighbours had started with Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Craig McLachlan, E-Street continued in 1991 when Melissa Tkautz became the primetime soap’s first star to break into the ARIA chart. Boasting one of the most outrageous pop lyrics of all time – “If you want to wait til later/Hands off my detonator” – “Read My Lips” was the first of five hit singles for the future Real Housewife Of Sydney, who was 17 at the time the song was released. The track was produced by Leon Berger, one half of mid-80s duo Koo De Tah, and featured Simon Baker and Tom Williams in the music video.
"Love You Right" by Euphoria
Two weeks, 1992
This debut single from dance act Euphoria shared two things in common with “Read My Lips”. Firstly, it was promoted on E-Street (and featured cast member Kelley Abbey in the music video). Secondly, the clip also showcased a shirtless Simon Baker, along with a selection of other models – both male and female. One of those models, Holly Garnett, lip synced along to the female vocal in the song, which actually belonged to Keren Minshull, who performed on the track with its co-writer and co-producer, Andrew Klippel. To be continued…
"Marvellous!" by The Twelfth Man featuring MCG Hammer
Two weeks, 1992
Eight years after he first made us laugh on “It’s Just Not Cricket”, Billy Birmingham returned to the singles chart with a novelty record that differed from the normal comedy routine style of his Wide World Of Sports piss-takes – a series that had spawned two number 1 albums in the intervening period. On “Marvellous”, The Twelfth Man rapped in character as, among others, Channel Nine cricket commentator Richie Benaud. Providing musical back-up was a who’s who of Australian rock, including Jimmy Barnes, Diesel and John Farnham.
"One In A Million" by Euphoria
One week, 1992
Second time around, Euphoria righted the wrong committed in the “Love You Right” video. Now officially a trio, the clip for “One In A Million” featured Keren and Holly singing their respective bits – and wearing some truly remarkable club-ready outfits in the process. Euphoria would manage a couple more hits, and at one point feature Jodhi Meares in their line-up, before disbanding, with Andrew going on enjoy more success with Elastic and AK Soul. Tragically, Holly took her own life in 1998 at 29 years of age.
"Take It From Me" by Girlfriend
Two weeks, 1992
Four years before Spice Girls launched, five-piece Australian girl group Girlfriend covered much of the same territory with their brand of squeaky clean pop and empowering can-do message aimed at their mostly pre-teen and young teen female fanbase – a relatively untapped market previously. They were all about girl power, just without the catchphrase. Comprised of singers/dancers Melanie Alexander, Jacqueline Cowell, Siobhánn Heidenreich, Robyn Loau and Lorinda Noble, Girlfriend had been put through months of training and styling – someone was responsible for those flower hats! – before being launched in the marketplace.
"Confide In Me" by Kylie Minogue
Four weeks, 1994
Two years after she departed the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory, Kylie Minogue returned with a new UK record label (although she was still signed to Mushroom locally), new club-meets-indie image and new sophisticated pop sound. Part of a daring reinvention for the former soap star, the Eastern-influenced “Confide In Me” was met with a rapturous reception – her first number 1 in Australia in six years. The first taste of her self-titled fifth album, it was co-written and produced by dance duo Brothers In Rhythm, one half of whom, Steve Anderson, remains her musical director to this day.
"Tomorrow" by SIlverchair
Six weeks, 1994
The biggest Australian rock band of the decade were 15 years old (or, in bassist Chris Joannou’s case, soon to be) when their debut release hit number 1 on the ARIA singles chart. The trio of school mates formerly known as Innocent Criminals had recorded “Tomorrow” as part of their prize for winning Pick Me, a band competition jointly conducted by Triple J and SBS music show Nomad. Australia’s answer to the grunge sound of the previous few years, the multi-ARIA Award-winning “Tomorrow” was well enough regarded in the US for it to reach number 1 on a couple of Billboard’s rock charts, with a new video shot especially for America. Snapped up to a three-album deal by Sony Music’s Murmur label, the band’s debut album, Frogstomp, would prove just as successful, giving Silverchair the first of five number 1 albums in Australia and reaching the US top 10.
"Mouth" by Merril Bainrbidge
Six weeks, 1995
This cutesy chart-topper flopped first time around. Originally released as singer-songwriter Merril Bainbridge’s debut single in October 1994, it failed to enter the top 100 at all. Given a second shot five months later, it took off, aided by saturation radio play. Signed to John Farnham and Ross Fraser’s Gotham label in Australia, Merril was picked up in America by Universal – and a year after “Mouth” was a hit locally, it started to make waves in the US (with a new video), eventually reaching the Billboard top 5.
"To The Moon And Back" by Savage Garden
One week, 1997
If “I Want You” had been a solid introduction to Brisbane duo Savage Garden, follow-up “To The Moon And Back” established a firm friendship between the Australian record-buying public and Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones that would continue for the next few years. A moodier song than the pure pop of their debut, “To The Moon And Back” won the ARIA Award for Song Of The Year at the 1997 ceremony (at which Savage Garden scooped the pool with 10 wins). It also had three music videos filmed for release in different markets. As big as it was, it paled in comparison to their next hit…
"Freak" by SIlverchair
Two weeks, 1997
So massive had Frogstomp been that anticipation and expectations were high for Silverchair’s second album, Freak Show. Still heavily influenced by the music they’d grown up on, lead single “Freak” was an instant success, becoming only the third ever single by an Australian act to debut at number 1 (following Species Deceases and “Got To Be Certain”). It was also the first of a career-best three top 10 hits from the album (along with “Abuse Me” and “Cemetery”) – proof that whatever their overseas accomplishments, the trio hadn’t fallen victim to the nation’s tall poppy syndrome.
"Truly Madly Deeply" by Savage Garden
Eight weeks, 1997
The song that turned Savage Garden into one of Australia’s biggest music acts of all time – both here and internationally – ballad “Truly Madly Deeply” spent two months on top of the ARIA chart, and also reached number 1 in the US (the first local act to do so since Men At Work) and the UK top 5, as well as the top 10 of various other countries around the world. An early chorus-less version of the song called “Magical Kisses” was included on Savage Garden’s demo tape, with the final chorus written the day before it was recorded for the pair’s debut album.
Note: it may not have escaped your attention that 1991's five-week chart-topper "The Grease Megamix" isn't included on this list. But given John Travolta is American and Olivia Newton-John is British-born and Australian-raised, and the medley was put together by PWL producers Phil Harding and Ian Curnow in London, it seemed a bit of a stretch to claim it as an Australian single.
If 90s hits are your go-to sing-along anthems, then be sure to follow our Hits of the 90s playlist on Spotify.