From Divinyls’ ‘Boys In Town’ to ‘Khe Sanh’ by Cold Chisel, Bryget Chrisfield counts down the best pub rock songs Australia has ever produced.

With lyrics and melodies that seem burned into our national psyches from birth, these stone-cold classics will reawaken memories of favourite garments of yonder-year (stonewash stretch jeans, anyone?) and spontaneous emotional singalongs with strangers while you bust out era-appropriate dance moves and risk pulling a muscle in the process. We’ve only just scratched the surface here, but what’s your pick for #1?

#20 The Living End‘Prisoner Of Society’ (1998)

A shoo-in for best mid-song rhythmic air punch opportunity if you preempt it. The bit that goes: “And if you count to three…” is your cue. Do not hesitate, raise one fist skyward, echo “ONE-TWO-THREE!” in half-time and be sure to punctuate with enthusiastic air punches. Also, these lyrics make for a satisfyingly toddler-esque chantalong: “So we don’t need no one like you/To tell us what to do!” 

#19 Slim Dusty – ‘Duncan’ (1980) 

Nope, no scoffing allowed. If you’ve imbibed of the devil’s nectar, there ain’t no greater pub singalong than Slim Dusty’s second-most successful single (behind ‘A Pub With No Beer’, another clear contender for this Best Pub Rock Songs list): “We drink in moderation/And we never, ever, ever get rolling drunk…” 

#18 Baby Animals – ‘Early Warning’ (1991)

Another ridiculously strong debut single, ‘Early Warning’ introduced the powerhouse that is Suze DeMarchi and her thunderous Baby Animals to the world. 

#17 Cold Chisel – ‘Khe Sahn’ (1978)

Pianist Don Walker penned the lyrics for this classic – inspired by a returned Vietnam vet’s struggles and sung in the first person – before Cold Chisel had a recording contract and has said, “If I had imagined anybody would see those lyrics, I probably would have written them a bit differently.” ‘Khe Sahn’ has no chorus as such and reads like a novel, so perhaps think twice before selecting this song for karaoke. All together now: “Well the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone…”

#16 Hunters & Collectors – The Slab (Betty’s Worry) (1984)

Now, we know you’re probably bemoaning the absence of the “arms ‘round your mates’ shoulders” singalong potential of ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ or the unofficial AFL anthem that is ‘Holy Grail’ from this list, but bear with us. Watch the music video, learn the bizarre Sharpie dance and, voila! Introducing your new favourite jukebox selection at the local watering hole. There’s also the call-and-response part where Mark Seymour goes, “Hey, I know it’s true, but I just can’t say it,” after which the crowd coaxes, “Say it, say it!” (preferably in a wacky voice). Plus, that bassline slaps! 

#15 Australian Crawl – ‘The Boys Light Up’ (1980)

Attendees of recent James Reyne shows know all too well the thrill of actually having a lighter on hand to hold aloft during this Aussie Crawl classic. The trick is to create a flame with your lighter, rhythmically, to emphasise the “UP”s in the chorus: “…the boys light UP, light UP, light UP!” This song also belongs in this list because of these cheesy lyrics: “Hopes are up for trousers down/With hostess on a business flight.”

#14 GANGgajang – ‘Sounds Of Then (This Is Australia)’ (1985) 

“Out on the patio we sit/And the humidity we breathe/We’d watch the lightning crack over canefields…”

This song, self-described by Mark Callaghan as “a brick veneer drama”, quenches the soul like a drought-breaking thunderstorm. 

#13 Mental As Anything – ‘Too Many Times’ (1981)

“Too many times I’ve seen/The sun come up through bloodshot eyes this week…”

This adorably geeky self-acceptance ditty wormed its way into our hearts and brought many a smile of recognition to hungover heads. RIP Greedy Smith. 

#12 The Black Sorrows – ‘Chained To The Wheel’ (1989)

That rambunctious harmonica, the incomparable Vika Bull trading vocal phrases with Joe Camilleri until they spectacularly unite to deliver the final verse in tandem – what’s not to like here!? The groove is laidback, but confident without trying too hard. Then demented piano leads the outro, because why the hell not? Did you know that John Denver covered this song for his Different Directions album (1991)? Well, you do now. 

#11 The Dingoes – ‘Way Out West’ (1973) 

Yep, you’re definitively familiar with this country-rock classic, it goes, “Livin’ and a’working on the la-and”. Wild West-style harmonica positively shimmers throughout and is that xylophone we detect? If you need an injection of joy in your life, just cue up the exultant “la-la-la”s toward song’s end. Bound to bring a smile to your dial.

#10 Sunnyboys – ‘Alone With You’ (1981)

“I’m alone with you to-ni-igh-ight…” (repeat x3 per chorus). In Sunnyboys’ Our Best Of compilation liner notes, Jeremy Oxley said the song was written between going to art school and band rehearsals. “It was partly about a chick I knew and partly a generalisation about the pent-up feelings of teenage lust and love.” But it’s those killer, unexpectedly innovative repeated guitar solos that seal the deal.

#9 Midnight Oil – ‘Power And The Passion’ (1983)

We challenge you to think of a more powerful song, instrumentally. And then visuals of Peter Garrett’s sped-up zombie dance enter your mind’s eye as he challenges: “What do you believe?/ What do you believe?/ What do you believe is true?” But it’s the brass outro that gives this song its feral edge. Screechy and violent, the relentless, discordant horns sound like a rumble of West Side Story proportions. You’ll need to take a moment to recover from those frequencies. 

#8 The Master’s Apprentices – ‘Turn Up Your Radio’ (1970)

The Master’s Apprentices were widely regarded as Australia’s answer to The Stones in their day and the brass-and-guitar riff, which sounds like a hand-cranked hurdy-gurdy, truly rules throughout ‘Turn Up Your Radio’. Legend has it that the late great Jim Keays was so plastered during this recording session that he had to be physically held up to sing into the microphone – no wonder he sounds so lit!

#7 INXS – ‘Original Sin’ (1983)

Produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, ‘Original Sin’ is the only INXS song to ever top the singles chart in Australia. This song perfectly demonstrates the band’s intoxicating funk-rock fusion and took INXS global (it also topped the French charts). The exotic music video, during which Michael Hutchence smoulders while straddling a motorbike, was shot in Tokyo. Fun fact: That’s Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates on BVs. 

#6 AC/DC – ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll)’ (1975)

If you don’t remember a favourite uncle’s wall-art decorated with the slogan, “It’s a long way to the shop if you wanna sausage roll,” you may replace this with another Accadacca song. It’s gotta be said, though: no Definitive List Of Australia’s Best Pub Rock Songs could exist without these legends and the legion of bands they’ve inspired. 

#5 Daddy Cool – ‘Eagle Rock’ (1971)

‘Eagle Rock’ was the best-selling Australian single of 1971. Songs capable of interrupting pub chit-chat and inspiring shared moments of silent appreciation and head-nodding are rare, but ‘Eagle Rock’ is one such unicorn. Elton John has said that ‘Eagle Rock’ inspired him to write his smash hit ‘Crocodile Rock’ and this song’s appeal is undeniably enduring. ‘Eagle Rock’ also soundtracks Wolf Creek’s opening scenes. 

#4 The Angels – ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ (1976)

Resplendent with deafening bonus singalong opportunity – “No way, get [bleeped], [bleep] off!” – no party is a success without multiple spins of this bitter slice of vengeful rock’n’roll. 

#3 Saints – ‘(I’m) Stranded’ (1977)

Aside from winning the award for Coolest Punctuation In A Song Title Ever, this song would even sound incendiary playing through a tinny pair of portable speakers, which are plugged into a Walkman thrown on your bunk bed, in an Earl’s Court youth hostel! And bonus points if you know exactly how many times the word “stranded” is uttered during this song. 

#2 The Easybeats – ‘Friday On My Mind’ (1966)

This iconic, frenetic l’il number boasts a terrific go-go dancing pace. ‘Friday On My Mind’ detonates from the very first chord and inspires maximum aerobic activity for its entire duration. The minor-key verses leap into major-key ‘Welcome To The Weekend!’ choruses and you’ll be busting out The Pony before you know it. Plus, how retro-cheeky are these lyrics? “Coming Tuesday I feel better/ Even my old man looks good.” Irresistible.

#1 Divinyls – ‘Boys In Town’ (1981)

The One. The Only. Chrissy Amphlett (RIP). I mean, this was Divinyls’ debut single, ferchrissakes – their first-ever release, lifted from the Monkey Grip soundtrack for which Divinyls contributed multiple songs. From the millisecond those urgent, double-spaced flyaway riffs kick in, this banger is unmistakable. “Ooh, I’m tired/ Oo-oo-ooh, I’m wired…” – this section is unapologetically erotic. And how controversial was Amphlett’s school uniform-inspired stage get-up back in the day!?

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