The Australian Classics That Weren’t Big Hits

The Australian Classics That Weren’t Big Hits

Posted 23 Mar 2021
cold chisel
Cold Chisel. Photo by Siemoneit/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

We're remembering the Aussie classics that are beloved now, but hardly anyone bought them when they were first released...

“Khe Sanh” by Cold Chisel

Released: 1978

Peak: number 41 (number 40 in 2011)

It regularly places at the top of critics’ and popularly voted lists of the all-time best Australian songs, but when it was released as Cold Chisel’s debut single, the track about a Vietnam War veteran just missed the top 40 (eventually sneaking in there a decade ago due to digital downloads). Although a top 5 hit in Adelaide, “Khe Sanh” struggled nationally following a radio ban due to its lyrical content.

“I Still Call Australia Home” by Peter Allen

Released: 1980

Peak: number 72 (number 60 in 2015)

It’s remarkable that such an overtly patriotic song, released shortly after “C’mon Aussie C’mon” had gone gangbusters, did not even make the Australian top 50. Then again, when it came to hit singles, Peter Allen only had two (“The More I See You” and “I Go To Rio”). Since 1980, “I Still Call Australia Home” has become a national anthem of sorts, aided by that tearjerker Qantas ad, and was able to improve on its chart position slightly following the 2015 miniseries Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door.

“True Blue” by John Williamson

Released: 1982, 1986

Peak: number 43 (1986)

Commissioned in 1982 for a TV show that didn’t happen and eventually used in the 1986 Australian Made campaign, prompting its re-release, “True Blue” is another example of a song that has grown in stature after not making much of an impression on the chart. Despite assumptions being made about what someone who is “true blue” means, the song’s lyrics say nothing about race. Instead, John told the Sydney Morning Herald, “what it means is old fashioned standards where… you care about your neighbours, no matter who they are.”

“Throw Your Arms Around Me” by Hunters & Collectors

Released: 1984, 1986, 1990

Peak: number 49 (1986), number 34 (1990)

You have to give Hunters & Collectors points for trying to turn “Throw Your Arms Around Me” into a hit. The love song, which failed to chart on its initial release in 1984, did venture into the top 50 on its two subsequent releases – each with a different version of the song. But even a number 34 peak for 1990’s acoustic reworking does not reflect the true popularity of the song, which placed in the top 5 for the first three Hottest 100s (which weren’t limited to singles from the previous year).

“Sounds Of Then” by GANGgajang

Released: 1985

Peak: number 35

On the upside, “Sounds Of Then” did provide GANGgajang with their highest-charting single. But the song, which is also known by its sometimes subtitle, “This Is Australia”, was only a modest hit when it was released (and a 1996 re-release didn’t improve on that). In the decades since it first came out, the song’s description of life in the Australian bush and frequent use in advertising campaigns have given it a significant legacy.

“Wide Open Road” by The Triffids

Released: 1986

Peak: number 64

Eight years after they formed, Perth band The Triffids found themselves inside the Australian top 100 for the first time with this track, which evokes Australia’s vast, unforgiving landscape, both lyrically and musically. A bigger hit in the UK, where it reached the top 30, “Wide Open Road” has gone on to be acknowledged by popularly voted countdowns and industry bodies alike as one of this country’s greatest records.

“My Island Home” by Warumpi Band

Released: 1987

Peak: didn’t chart

“Island Home” by Christine Anu

Released: 1995

Peak: number 67

Both the original Warumpi Band version, which didn’t reach the top 100, and Christine Anu’s lyrically tweaked remake might have failed to convince many record buyers to shell out for either single, but “My Island Home” is now established as one of the best songs ever written in Australia. Although its story is specific, it resonates with anyone who longs to return home and feels a connection to this country.

Listen to more Aussie hits with our Glory Days of Aussie Pub Rock playlist on Spotify: 

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