There is so much talk of charts and sales, schedules and projections in the music industry that it’s sometimes pleasing to take a step back from what’s happening right now, and to realise that the Australian classics we all know off by heart — those songs that have thudded us into submission through FM radio, television commercials, breaks between sporting highlights, Best BBQ Songs compilations, your drunk friend at the RSL that one time, and all the rest of all — a great deal of these songs never made the ARIA Top 30.
So, take heart. Today’s number #96-and-out-the-following-week could be 2030’s radio staple, played on the hour, every hour as kids not yet born whine in the backseat about how they “always play this one”.
Like the following singles that the kids just didn’t buy.
KHE SANH – COLD CHISEL
‘Khe Sanh’ is such an Aussie anthem it should have the word ‘girt’ in it. Despite basically having a major stake in Australian FM radio these days, no commercial radio station would touch the song at the time of release, mainly due to the numerous drug references such as the “growing need for speed and novacaine”, and descriptions of women whose “legs were often open, but their minds were always closed.”
As a result, ‘Khe Sanh’ stalled at number 41.
“Every DJ in the country begged us to release ‘Khe Sanh’ as a single”, Barnes said. “Then they banned it two weeks later. They had to ban something once a week to keep the Catholic Church happy.”
Of course, by 1980 the Catholic Church-owned stations were more-than-happy to blast ‘Choir Girl’, a song about an abortion…
MY GIRL – HOODOO GURUS
‘My Girl’ was the standout single from the band’s thrilling debut album Stoneage Romeos: a tender, heartbroken ballad that benefitted from a quirky video clip involving a greyhound and his owner. Of course, this led to many misunderstandings about the subject of the song, a fact that still rankles frontman Dave Faulkner.
The song is a classic, and was their highest-charting single to date, reaching #35 in 1983.
THROW YOUR ARMS AROUND ME – HUNTERS AND COLLECTORS
Everyone in Australia knows this song. It has been covered countless times by everyone from Pearl Jam to Neil Finn to Kate Ceberano, and — most importantly — soundtracked the tragic death of Shane on Home and Away. Don’t pretend you don’t remember.
Mark Seymour obviously knew it was a hit, despite what the wider world initially said.
The band recorded and released four different versions of it over the years. “Throw Your Arms Around Me was the first song I wrote that wasn’t angry”, Seymour explains of the song’s eventual crossover. “And because it was so out of the square, we didn’t record it particularly well.”
Eventually, they did, and the song charted… at #34.
DUMB THINGS – PAUL KELLY
Dumb Things was Paul Kelly’s big American breakthrough, reaching #16 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts, soundtracking the Yahoo Serious juggernaut Young Einstein, and even popping up on Look Who’s Talking, which is secretly John Travolta’s third-best film (for a full list: email me).
Yet the song stalled at #35 on our national charts. Of all the dumb things…
HEAVY HEART- YOU AM I
Berlin Chair is the band’s most-loved song, but as it was their triple j breakthrough on an album which took a while to catch fire, it’s not too surprising it didn’t trouble the Top 50.
But by 1998 the band had scored three number one albums in a row, won a stack of ARIA Awards, and had just released what was arguably their most classically-crafted single to date. An aching ballad which instantly became a standard, this sad sack lullaby has been covered by Ben Lee, Courtney Barnett, and Paul Kelly over the year, but only reached a paltry #49 on the ARIA Charts.
It’s rather fitting this waterlogged ball failed to be kicked up the charts.
QUASIMODO’S DREAM – THE REELS
Aside from neglecting all those 1912 classics, APRA’s ‘Top 30 Australian songs between 1926 and 2001’ list is fairly unassailable when it comes to ranking art.
‘Quasimodo’s Dream’, the title track from The Reels’ sophomore record, was ranked #10 on this list, just behind big hitters such as ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’, ‘Khe Sanh’ and ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’.
The single failed to chart at the time of its release, with the actual album only reaching #27
There are countless others that could have made this list, so feel free to drop us a line (actually comment below, it’s easier) to tell us what other songs missed the ARIA Top 30 but made the Aussie Top Forever.