Exploring the songs of our biggest city
The view, the people, the nightlife and the landmarks have all been sources of musical inspiration across Australia. Today we’re exploring the sounds of Sydney, a city with a turbulent musical history that’s somehow produced some of the best records to have ever come from Australia.
From a Cold Chisel classic to an unlikely anthem of infidelity penned by Johnny Cash and June Carter, here’s our top ten favourite tracks written about Sydney.
Read up on all the latest features and columns here.
‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’ – Cold Chisel
Penned in 1978 by their keyboardist Don Walker, ‘Breakfast at Sweethearts’ appeared on the album of the same name. He wrote it about the popular Sydney café Sweethearts, a joint the band used to frequent. Located in Sydney’s red light district, this coffee shop was a rockstars paradise, crammed next to strip clubs, and always filled with drug dealers and prostitutes.
It’s an ode to a place Don Walker and the rest of the Chisel clan loved, but it’s now a McDonalds, which is probably much less musically inspiring.
‘Harbour Town’ – Icehouse
Icehouse frontman Iva Davies penned ‘Harbour Town’ in 1990, and it was featured on their seventh studio album, Code Blue. The nightlife of Sydney has always been full of tales and stories, this track was written about just that, people enjoying the waterfront living and loving life after the lights go down.
We also learn about the questionable and interesting characters you can find in Sydney. Press play below, close your eyes and listen to Davies’ croons to be instantly transported to the idyllic surrounds of ‘Harbour Town’.
‘Darling It Hurts’ – Paul Kelly and The Coloured Girls
This track is about how the former spouse of a man has become a worker in Sydney’s red light district. It gives us more interesting insights about the King’s Cross area, giving us stories about what the men get up to on an average night in Sydney’s infamous sleaze pocket.
The title of the track ‘Darling It Hurts’ is a play on the name of the Sydney suburb Darlinghurst, this was influenced by artwork Kelly saw in Darlinghurst after his move to Sydney. It was featured on the group’s first album, Gossip. Check out the song below.
‘What Sydney Looks Like In June’ – Alex The Astronaut
A very Paul Kelly inspired song, ‘What Sydney Looks Like In June’ sees Alex The Astronaut jot down her ruminations on taking something in with a new or different context. Written about a made up character; Jen, it’s the story about her move to Sydney and how she settles in.
We get to follow her around while she gets to learn ‘What Sydney looks like in June’, and deal with things only Sydneysiders would know about. It name checks a few Sydney landmarks and suburbs, such as Pyrmont. It was featured on her 2017 EP, See You Soon.
‘Fast Boat To Sydney’ – Johnny Cash
Written by the legendary husband and wife duo of Johnny and June Carter, this 1967 track was penned after only one tour of Australia, about how much the Man In Black loved the Australian girls.
The song is a call and response between June and Johnny, about how Johnny loves to ‘hop’ around Sydney ‘like a kangaroo’ getting to know the Sydney ladies. Yes, a husband and wife wrote a song about this: they were definitely different times. It was featured on one of the pair’s top albums, Carrying On With….
‘You Gotta Love This City’ – The Whitlams
With songs like ‘Melbourne’, ‘God Drinks at the Sando’ and ‘Gough’, The Whitlams loved to write about their favourite Aussie landmarks and places. ‘You Gotta Love This City’ off their 1999 LP Love This City follows this trend, with every track sarcastically expressing their disdain for their hometown.
With its tongue in cheek title, the song is about how monotonous life is in The Premier State, and how commercial the city was becoming in the lead up to the 2000 Olympics. Imagine if these dudes were around for lockout laws – yikes.
‘Sydney Girls’ – Rose Tattoo
Need we say more? The meaning of this 1982 song is in the title, it’s about how much the band loves ‘Sydney Girls’, and how they don’t compare to any other type of girl, the entire track is pretty much describing how Sydney girls are better than the rest, a lot of lyrics in this track wouldn’t pass the PC test nowadays – classic Angry.
‘Sydney Girls’ was written by frontman Angry Anderson and guitarist Peter Wells. It was featured on their third album, Scarred For Life. Listen to it below.
‘Blacktown to Bondi’ – Mental As Anything
This track is about both the metaphorical and physical distance between popular outer Sydney suburbs Blacktown and Bondi, as well enjoying Bondi life, and how it can feel like you’re on holiday when you travel there, because it’s a good break from the everyday grind.
‘Blacktown to Bondi’ was featured on the band’s second album Espresso Bongo, read about some interesting things bass player Peter O’Doherty had to say about the recording of Espresso Bongo here. Check out the song below.
‘My City Of Sydney’ – Tommy Leonetti
Tommy Leonetti was an American singer who had a huge influence on Australian culture – Garry McDonald’s popular satirical character Norman Gunston was based on him. His track ‘My City Of Sydney’ was written after he lived here for many years, and the song is pretty much a love letter to the city, Tommy lists his favourite parts of his hometown.
Heaps of other Sydney artists have covered this track, such as Frenzal Rhomb. ‘My City of Sydney’ is probably the song on this list that identifies Sydney the most, which is probably why it was used for station identification for years.
‘Section 5’ – Midnight Oil
Written by all members of the band, this 1979 track is another about the universally loved beach. It’s all about catching the bus to Bondi and enjoying the water and forgetting about everything else. You can imagine back in the day heaps of people would’ve been pumping this song on the beach, it has a great summer feel.
‘Section 5’ was one of the first tracks that showed us how much the Oils love their country, you can find it on their album, Head Injuries. Check it out below.
Revisit our top ten favourite songs written about Melbourne while you’re here.