Australia’s DJs, producers and uncredited ghostwriters have an uncanny knack for delivering bangers on the regular, from acid techno freakouts to tribal house workouts and beyond. Anthem status, however, is not so easily attained. The main prerequisite? A big, belt-it-out-at-the-top-of-your-lungs vocal hook or a chorus you might see a burly tradie mouthing the words to in the condiments aisle.
This all means that furious chin-stroking over whether Lydian & the Dinosaur or Fasten Your Seatbelt best represents Australian breakbeat can be put on hold (for now). And only tracks with original vocal performances qualify – so please, Since I Left You devotees, put down your pitchforks.
That’s the ground rules laid out. Let’s dance.
15. Rüfüs Du Sol – Take Me (2013)
The more ambitious and expansive Rüfüs Du Sol get, the less overtly anthemic their output becomes. Counterintuitive? Perhaps. But back when they were just plain old Rüfüs they captured lightning in the bottle on their first album out of the blocks. Light, airy, direct and not afraid to embrace its inner Booka Shade, Take Me is tropical house with heft in its engine room and escape in its heart.
14. Confidence Man – Holiday (2021)
If conjuring pure joy in the midst of rolling Covid lockdowns was a superpower, you could slap some spandex on Confidence Man and call them the Fantastic Four. Holiday is the sound of catharsis, dropping just as Australians were peering out from behind the shutters to see if the outside world was sane again. Channelling the spirit of Madchester and the hedonism of electroclash, it’s that rare anthem where the verses do the heavy lifting. “One life, good as it gets, I’ll take it” should’ve been Holiday’s calling card; “when I was a child I was so naked” is the line people scream.
13. Euphoria – Love You Right (1991)
In the four-year interval between Ride on Time and Let Me Show You achieving piano-house perfection came Love You Right, Australia’s own chart-topper. Yes, that is a shirtless, pre-Mentalist fame Simon Baker cavorting around a microphone providing “backing vocals” in the clip. And he’s not the only one getting all Milli Vanilli: it wasn’t until the European release of Love You Right that the track’s actual singer, Keren Minshull, was given the spotlight. While the orchestral synth stabs and overall production may not have weathered the years so well, Minshull’s vocal is still “screaming diva” par excellence.
12. Bag Raiders – Shooting Stars (2008)
Shooting Stars’ road to anthem status was more long and winding than most. Originally tucked away as a B-side, two years later it was the shining light on the Sydney duo’s eponymous debut album. The track itself is a slow burn, almost sombre if it weren’t for that synth hook looping its way up through the octaves until the chorus heads for home. But it was the track’s second life as a meme, starting off in 2015 and climaxing with a Katy Perry tribute, that sent the Bag Raiders into the stratosphere.
11. Sneaky Sound System – Pictures (2006)
Overheard at Splendour in the Grass in 2007: “Every time a DJ plays Sneaky, a kitten dies.” Suffice it to say, the nation’s feline population had already taken quite a hit by that point, whether courtesy of the disco-funk original or Tonite Only’s electro house remix (with Sam La More, he of PNAU’s Littlemore brothers fame, one of the duo responsible). In an era dominated by in-your-face synths and screaming vocal hooks, Sneaky Sound System’s spacious arrangement gave Connie Mitchell’s voice plenty of room to sparkle. Much to the chagrin of cat lovers and Pictures haters alike.
10. Timmy Trumpet and Savage – Freaks (2014)
Not every dancefloor anthem can be profound. “Is kindness an ancient skill buried by our blindness?” asks Farnesy, towards the pointy end of this list. Timmy Trumpet’s concerns are more direct: “Tell me, where the freaks at?” Truth be told, it’s not Savage’s rhymes but Timmy’s brass that elevates this boilerplate piece of EDM silliness from ridiculous to sublime. Until then better known as a sidearm for Queensland DJ duo the Stafford Brothers, Freaks transformed the man born Tim Smith into a gunslinger in his own right.
9. PNAU – Embrace (2007)
PNAU’s self-titled third album brimmed with shout-along moments – No! More! Violence!, Wild! Straw-berries! – but Embrace was its centrepiece, with Peter Mayes and the brothers Littlemore ceding the spotlight to special guest Pip Brown, better known as Ladyhawke. Its reputation was sealed when the group took the new LP, a bunch of fruity costumes and a plethora of enormous balloons around the country on the 2008 Big Day Out tour. Elton John signed on as the group’s official No 1 ticket-holder shortly after and PNAU’s career would never again be in the doldrums.
8. Hermitude feat. Chaos Emerald – Speak of the Devil (2012)
If anyone who’d been following Hermitude’s decade-long career up to this point suspected Luke Dubs and Elgusto had something like Speak of the Devil in them, they’d kept it to themselves. The rest of the five-star HyperParadise album is more akin to the esoteric, introspective hip-hop the Blue Mountains duo had forged a respectable career on, until this explosion; an infectious shot in the arm with a bassline that slaps, a snare drum that snaps and a vocal refrain that demands action: “That little devil on your shoulder / It’s telling you to dance.”
7. The Potbelleez – Don’t Hold Back (2007)
Strolling down the grassy knoll overlooking Brisbane’s Riverstage in the early afternoon as Parklife 2007 warmed up, two things were apparent: Kid Kenobi wasn’t playing breaks any more, and everyone knew the words to this song with the acoustic guitar breakdown but me. Before Don’t Hold Back was synonymous with selling American SUVs to the masses, it was already triple platinum big. It catapulted the Potbelleez from Sydney DJ residencies to household name status. And who’s that with a writing and production credit? Who else but Sam Littlemore.
6. Madison Avenue – Don’t Call Me Baby (1999)
Only a matter of months after a couple of kids with a sampler and much bigger things ahead released Australia’s definitive funky house album came a 12-inch that became the nation’s definitive take on the genre. The bassline groove is borrowed from an obscure Italo pop outing, itself interpolated from a Black American disco hit, but Don’t Call Me Baby pays it forward with a sizzling vocal performance from the point of view of a woman who is not putting up with your shit any more, friend. Maybe if Madison Avenue had performed this at the Aria Awards, Cheyne Coates wouldn’t have been so thirsty.
5. John Farnham – Age of Reason (1988)
Yes, John Farnham’s first song out of the blocks post-Whispering Jack was a club banger in its time courtesy of a 12-inch mix which opens borderline Balearic (lush pads, tinkling pianos) before that voice – the voice – chimes in and the chorus reaches for the heavens. There’s a reason kitschy Canberra Client Liaison dragged Farnesy out on tour, and why Melbourne DJ and Rinse FM resident CC:DISCO still gives Age of Reason a spin: it’s pure fire, whether in its original form, given the slow-mo disco treatment or the euphoria factor is dialled up to 11.
4. Kylie – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (2001)
On a Night Like This fans are welcome to lodge a protest (although technically, like The Horses, that Australian anthem is a cover), but Disco Kylie’s early-noughties hot streak topped out with an ode to obsessive love and a chorus of la-la-lala-las. Mashed up with New Order’s timeless megabomb? Check. Covered by the Flaming Lips? Check. Madonna may have eventually one-upped her with Hung Up, but for four years our Kylie was queen of the dance-pop world.
3. The Presets – My People (2007)
Equal parts brooding, menacing and outright slamming, My People capped the Presets’ steady ascendancy from small rooms to outdoor stages (courtesy of a run on Daft Punk’s near-mythical Nevereverland tour) – and how. Julian Hamilton and Kris Moyes pull off the seemingly impossible by disguising a fierce protest song – decrying the Howard government’s treatment of asylum seekers – as a call to action on the dancefloor. Not all of the exponents of the Modular sound have aged so gracefully (Muscles fans, don’t @ me). But in a summer overflowing with instant classics – as this countdown attests – My People strode like a colossus above them all.
2. Yothu Yindi – Treaty (Filthy Lucre Radio Edit) (1991)
A songwriting team including Dr Yunupingu, Paul Kelly and Peter Garrett laid the platform, but it was the dancefloor smarts of Filthy Lucre that took Treaty to the world. The Melbourne trio stripped back the original’s roots-rock trappings, added piano riffs and Hamilton Bohannon samples (“Clap your hands and dance!”), and put the “Treaty, yeah!” refrain up in lights. Many remixers have taken the scissors to Yothu Yindi’s protest song over the years – Carl Cox, William Orbit and Peace Division among them – but none have invigorated it quite like the OG remix. More than 30 years later, the urgency of the music and the message remain.
1. The Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive (1977)
Who else to get lungs bursting at the seams one last time but Redcliffe’s finest, strutting breezily past a burnt-out subway train like it’s a Sunday stroll along the Esplanade. Throw a dart at your tattered Saturday Night Fever gatefold sleeve and you’ll find a disco inferno worthy of this list – Tony Manero had his favourite. But it’s impossible to go past Stayin’ Alive: the guitar riff, the falsetto, the rumination on “the New York Times’ effect on man”. And that held note at the end of the chorus, which will still be echoing across dancefloors a dozen disco revivals into the future.