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Aussie Singers and Bands That Made It Big in America
Quick. What do you think of when I say, “Australia”?
Perhaps you envision koalas, kangaroos, or venomous snakes. Your mind might venture to the effects of climate change, the outback, and the devastating bush fires. Or instead, maybe you consider Aussie slang terms, their unique accent, or even Vegemite, that curious Australian food spread made from leftover brewer’s yeast.
However, the land down under is also famous for its talent. The island continent has famously exported a variety of entertainers who have become successful in America. For example, some of the biggest stars on the US Billboard charts are Aussies. Let’s take a look at Australian singers and bands who made it big in the U.S.
In 1973, Australian brothers Angus and Malcolm Young founded this legendary Australian hard rock band that has become known for its loud, pounding, simple sound and sexual innuendos. Rolling Stone saluted AC/DC as one of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”
AC/DC got its name when the brothers saw those initials on a sewing machine and believed that the electricity-related abbreviation aptly captured their power-charged musical performances. The band has since landed over two dozen singles on the mainstream rock charts, in addition to three tunes on the mainstream pop chart, the US Billboard Hot 100:
- “You Shook Me All Night Long” (1980)
- “Back in Black” (1981)
- “Moneytalks” (1990)
Over their four decades of making music, the band has survived a variety of real-life challenges, including:
- bandmates’ drug and legal problems
- the firing, illness, retirement, and death of AC/DC members and
- the accidental death of several fans at a concert.
In the band’s early days, INXS considered becoming a Christian band and adopted the name “The Vegetables.” Can you imagine?
One of the highest-selling artists in Australia, INXS has been called “the best live band in the world.” From 1977–2012, this rock group landed seven singles on the Top 10 list of the US Billboard Hot 100, plus additional tunes on the mainstream rock and alt rock charts. Top 10 pop hits included the following:
- “What You Need” (1985)
- “Need You Tonight” (1987)
- “Devil Inside” (1988)
- “New Sensation” (1988)
- “Never Tear Us Apart” (1989)
- “Suicide Blonde” (1990)
- “Disappear” (1990)
Several years following the 1997 suicide of Michael Hutchence—INXS’s lead vocalist and the band’s centerpiece—the band searched for his replacement using a televised reality show competition.
Even if you aren’t a fan of Sia’s music, you probably recognize the indie pop artist by her trademark appearance. The Australian artist is known for craving privacy, particularly as her fame has grown. On stage and in videos she has typically opted to conceal her face from the viewer or audience by hiding behind an object or sporting an oversized bleach blonde wig.
Sia is a prolific songwriter. As of 2020, about 70 of the songs that she has written have been recorded, many times by other prominent musicians. The Australian singer-songwriter has penned songs for musicians that include Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry, Celine Dion, Rita Ora, Eminem, Kylie Minogue, Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy, and others.
As a singer, Sia has placed several songs in the Top 10 of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, including:
- “Titanium” by David Guetta (featuring Sia) (2011)
- “Wild Ones” by Flo Rida (featuring Sia) (2011)
- “Chandelier” (2014)
- “Cheap Thrills” (featuring Sean Paul) (2015)
4. Bee Gees
What would the 1970s have been without this trio of Australian brothers singing disco songs at the top end of their vocal register, sometimes in a quavery whisper? One of the best-selling musical artists of all time, The Bees Gees consisted of Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb. All were born in England but emigrated to Australia as children. They formed the Bee Gees in 1958, wrote all of their own hits, and are known for their three-part tight harmonies.
Recording primarily rock and disco songs, the band achieved an impressive 15 Top 10 hits on US Billboard Hot 100, nine of which reached the #1 spot:
- “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (1971)
- “Jive Talkin'” (1975)
- “You Should Be Dancing” (1976)
- “How Deep Is Your Love” (1977)
- “Stayin’ Alive” (1977)
- “Night Fever” (1978)
- “Too Much Heaven” (1978)
- “Tragedy” (1979)
- “Love You Inside Out” (1979)
The brothers Gibb have also been prolific songwriters for other singers. At least 2,500 artists have recorded their songs.
The phenomenal success of this Australian group has been celebrated in a variety of ways. The Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, awarded both a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Grammy Legend Award, and they were honored with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.
5. Keith Urban
Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, country music superstar Keith Urban is a citizen of both countries, in addition to the United States. Urban has been an extremely productive musician. From 1999-2019, he released more than four dozen singles that reached the Top 40 of the US country Billboard chart.
Further, more than 20 of his hits during that period crossed over to the mainstream pop chart and/or the adult contemporary chart. Examples of these ditties include:
- “Somebody Like You” (2002)
- “You’ll Think of Me” (2004)
- “Days Go By” (2004)
- “Making Memories of Us” (2005)
- “You Look Good in My Shirt” (2008)
- “Long Hot Summer” (2011)
- “Somewhere in My Car” (2014)
- “Raise ‘Em Up” (featuring Eric Church) (2015)
- “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (2016)
Urban gained notoriety in 2002 when he posed nude for Playgirl, a decision he later regretted. In 2006, he married actress Nicole Kidman, also an Aussie. The Grammy Award-winning singer served as a judge for American Idol and was honored by being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
6. Rick Springfield
Australian singer Rick Springfield is best known for his #1 single, “Jessie’s Girl” about a guy’s crush on his best friend’s girl. This catchy number snagged him a Grammy Award. He recorded additional hits that also made the US Billboard Hot 100 and crossed over to both the adult contemporary and mainstream rock charts. Singles reaching the Top 10 included:
- “Jessie’s Girl” (1981)
- “Don’t Talk to Strangers” (1982)
- “Affair of the Heart” (1983)
- “Love Somebody” (1984)
Born with the name Richard Springthorpe, the Australian musician changed it for performing purposes. Springfield has battled depression throughout his life and attempted suicide when he was 17.
During the height of his career, he played the character Dr. Noah Webster on the ABC soap opera General Hospital. He has also acted in film and a variety of television shows. The “Jessie’s Girl” singer has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
7. 5 Seconds of Summer
This Aussie boy band with a punk-pop vibe got its start in 2011 on YouTube then toured with both One Direction and The Chainsmokers. A success in their own right, 5SOS has landed a variety of songs on the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, including:
- “She Looks So Perfect” (2014)
- “Kiss Me Kiss Me” (2014)
- “Everything I Didn’t Say” (2014)
- “Amnesia” (2014)
- “Good Girls” (2014)
- “She’s Kinda Hot” (2015)
- “Youngblood” (2018)
8. Men at Work
Living in a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? (Ooh yeah)
You better run, you better take cover (we are).
Because of their hit, “Down Under,” Men at Work may be among the first musicians whom you associate with Australia. This Australian group was formed in 1979 as a pop-rock band with a new wave flair. Their most successful songs included contributions to the Top 10 list of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart:
- “Who Can It Be Now?” (1981)
- “Down Under” (1981)
- “Overkill” (1983)
- “It’s a Mistake” (1983)
Additionally, their songs appealed to international audiences and found popularity on US adult contemporary and mainstream rock charts. The band has periodically revived playing over the years.
9. Iggy Azalea
In listening to rap/hip-hop artist Amethyst Amelia Kelly (Iggy Azalea’s given name), you wouldn’t know that she is a young white woman from Australia. That’s because the rapper has the accent of a black woman from the Southern United States. This discrepancy has caused some critics to express concerns about cultural appropriation. Others, however, contend it’s not that deep.
Iggy Azalea dropped out of high school and headed for America to pursue her passion for rap when she was on the cusp of 16 years old. In 2014, the rapper made music history when she became only the second act in music history (after The Beatles) to simultaneously occupy both the first and second spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Azalea dropped several songs that made it to the Top 10 list on the mainstream pop chart and crossed over to international charts:
- “Fancy” (featuring Charli XCX) (2014)
- “Black Widow” (Rita Ora) (2014)
- Problem” (featuring Ariana Grande) (2014)
10. For King & Country
American Songwriter applauded For King & Country as “Australia’s answer to Coldplay” while Billboard described the Grammy Award-winning group as being “on a passionate pursuit of joy.” After emigrating to Nashville, the Australian band burst on the American music scene and built a loyal following in the contemporary Christian music space.
They released a string of Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot Christian chart, including:
- “Busted Heart (Hold On to Me)” (2011)
- “The Proof of Your Love” (2012)
- “Fix My Eyes” (2014)
- “Shoulders” (2014)
- “It’s Not Over Yet (The Encore)” (2016)
- “Priceless” (2016)
- “Glorious” (2016)
- “Little Drummer Boy” (2017)
- “Joy” (2018)
- “God Only Knows” (2019)
- “Burn the Ships” (2019)
Brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone comprise this Christian pop duo. The Australian band temporarily adopted two unremarkable names—”Austoville” and “Joel & Luke”—before settling on “For King & Country.” What inspired their group’s name was the battle cry of English soldiers who were willing to lay down their lives for their king and country.
11. Vance Joy
During the height of Vance Joy’s fame, I once drove my eager teen to a concert of his four and a half hours away. Vance Joy is the stage name for Australian James Keogh, who picked his pseudonym from a novel. He became an international sensation with his 2013 single, “Riptide,” an indie folk song.
This love ditty is an enigmatic, upbeat love ballad that peaked at #30 on the US Billboard Hot 100 but was one of the longest-charting songs in chart history. Additionally, the song crossed over to rock and adult alternative charts. In spite of this success, however, Vance Joy, has yet to follow up with another such hit, thus making him a one-hit wonder.
12. Little River Band
Formed in 1975, the Little River Band remains one of Australia’s most noteworthy musical groups. Having been unable to gain traction for their music in the United Kingdom, the rock band looked instead to the American market and found remarkable success. In fact, their songs often charted higher on Billboard‘s mainstream pop and adult contemporary charts in the United States than in their home country of Australia.
Over a handful of years, Little River Band landed six Top 10 hits on the US Billboard Hot 100:
- “Reminiscing” (1978), their highest charting single at #3
- “Lady” (1979)
- “Lonesome Loser” (1979)
- “Cool Change” (1979)
- “The Night Owls” (1981)
- “Take It Easy On Me” (1982)
The band has undergone more than 35 changes to its membership over the years, and none of the current members include the original members from the 1970s. The Little River Band endures, however.
Although Gotye was born in Belgium, his family emigrated to Australia when he was only two years old. Based on a single phenomenally successful 2011 indie pop song, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye was recognized by The Australian newspaper on their list of the “top 50 most influential Australians in the arts.” He both wrote the song and collaborated with New Zealand singer Kimbra in singing it.
“Somebody That I Used to Know” is about an unhealthy, now-defunct love relationship. The narrator’s girlfriend dumped him and although she assured him they could still be friends, she has cut him off emotionally, avoiding him and even dispatching her friends to collect her belongings. He feels like he has been punched in the gut. Whereas they once seemed like a good love match, now they are mere strangers.
14. Air Supply
If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, then you probably fell in love and nursed your broken heart listening to Air Supply songs. Half of this powerhouse soft rock duo—lead vocalist Russell Hitchcock—is from the land down under.
The group was formed in 1975, and in the first half of the 1980s, they had a string of sentimental love songs that hit the Top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100. An impressive list of eight Air Supply songs reached the mainstream Top 10 in the early 1980s. These included:
- “Lost in Love” (1980)
- “All Out of Love” (1980)
- “Every Woman in the World” (1980)
- “The One That I Love” (1981)
- “Here I Am” (1981)
- “Sweet Dreams” (1982)
- “Even the Nights Are Better” (1982)
- “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” (1983)
Don’t these songs bring back the memories?
15. Natalie Imbruglia
Australian-born Natalie Imbruglia is talented in several realms. Initially, she modeled for L’Oreal and Gap and appeared as an actress in the Australian soap opera, “Neighbors.” She also starred in the 2003 spy action comedy film Johnny English and several subsequent movies.
In 1997, Imbruglia launched her singing career with the Ednaswap number, “Torn,” a pop ditty about a bad breakup. “Torn” was Imbruglia’s first song and highest-charting single. It became a worldwide hit and was nominated for a Grammy. Unfortunately, due to changes in how the US Billboard Hot 100 was tabulated, “Torn” reached only #42 on the chart. Imbruglia enjoyed only moderate follow-up success with her 2002 follow-up song, “Wrong Impression,” which reached a peak spot of #64.
Imbruglia has additionally been a philanthropist for the cause of obstetric fistula. She became a British citizen in 2013.