The best Australian books on music

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an art school dropout and recovering rock critic who, since 1981, has published a dozen books on Australian music and popular culture, plus worked extensively in television and as a freelance journalist. I'm too old to be called an enfant terrible, but with the way I still seem to be able to court controversy, I must remain some sort of loose cannon! Sydney’s Sun-Herald has called me "our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture," and that’s a tag I’m flattered by but which does get at what I’ve always been interested in. I consider myself a historian who finds resonances where most don’t even bother to look, in our own backyard, yesterday, and the fact that so much of my backlist including Inner City Sound, Highway to Hell, Buried Country, Golden Miles, History is Made at Night, and Stranded are still in print, I take as vindication I’m on the right track…


I wrote...

Stranded

By Clinton Walker,

Book cover of Stranded

What is my book about?

Stranded is a cultural history of the Australian independent music scene that was spawned by the DIY punk movement in the late 70s and grew even despite resistance in the 1980s, up to a belated breakthrough in the early 90s thanks to the grunge realignment of the aesthetics of rock. It’s a blend of reportage, oral history, memoir, and criticism. When it was first published in 1996, it was considered somewhat contentious for its non-populist vision. What it was was prescient, putting its money on acts like Nick Cave, the Go-Betweens, and the Triffids who were so spurned in Australia in the 80s that they were forced into exile in Europe – and are now considered, worldwide, among the most enduring products of the period. After two decades out of print during which time the book’s legend only grew, it has just been re-released in 2021 in a new, expanded edition by the Visible Spectrum. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Countdown Years 1974 - 1987: Glad All Over

Clinton Walker Why did I love this book?

Every Sunday night for nearly a decade between the mid-70s and early 80s, most young Australians could be found in one place – in front of the TV, watching Countdown. Countdown was the most powerful force in the local pop/rock scene, the maker and breaker of hits. Published in 1993 in the afterglow of the show’s long run, Glad All Over, by former Age journalist Peter Wilmoth, is an appropriately loving tribute, which includes acknowledging the many (like me!) who loved to hate the show but still always watched it! As mostly oral history, it’s a sparkling story, and if the Countdown phenomenon still begs harder analysis – because as much as it was a great booster for Australian music, it actually blocked just as much – that’s the nature of a new historiography: the field has to get opened up first, and then is subject to increasingly probing examination…

Book cover of Pig City

Clinton Walker Why did I love this book?

Cultural history is now a book business-standard. That wasn’t always the case. For me myself, I had to read Otto Freidrich’s City of Nets (1987) and Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming (1992) before I could properly formulate my 1996 book Stranded. Stalwart rock journalist Andrew Stafford’s debut book from 2004, Pig City, is a cultural history of the Brisbane music scene ‘from the Saints to Savage Garden’, which makes it a regional history too. What makes it gripping, next Stafford’s deft handling of the material, is the story itself, which is not just that of an erstwhile backwater finally coming of age, but up against and overcoming the oppressive jackboots of Queensland state premier, ‘hillbilly dictator’ Joh Bjelke-Peterson. Happily, that era is now long past, and BrisVegas is today a great music town; but wouldn’t have become so without the long struggle so vividly portrayed here.

By Andrew Stafford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pig City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From cult heroes the Saints and the Go-Betweens to national icons Powderfinger and international stars Savage Garden, Brisbane has produced more than its share of great bands. But behind the music lay a ghost city of malice and corruption. Pressed under the thumb of the Bjelke-Petersen government and its toughest enforcers—the police—Brisbane’s musicians, radio announcers, and political activists braved ignorance, harassment, and often violence to be heard. This updated, 10th anniversary edition features a scathing new introduction by the author, assessing the changing shape of Brisbane, its music, and troubling developments since the return of the state of Queensland to…


Book cover of Down Under

Clinton Walker Why did I love this book?

Sometimes a book comes completely out of nowhere. Such was the case with Trevor Conomy’s Down Under. Conomy was not an author with a pedigree in music journalism or anything like that, but when Down Under came out, in 2015, it spoke for itself. The life story of a song – Melbourne pub band Men At Work’s “Down Under” – what makes the book compelling is not so much the story of its fluky success, when in 1982 it become a huge hit all round the world, but rather the aftermath: How more than a quarter-century later the song went to court against a copyright infringement claim. That it lost the case was a travesty and a human tragedy, and Conomy’s short, punchy little book reveals why in all its gory detail.

By Trevor Conomy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Down Under as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the biography not of a person but of one of the most loved and controversial songs in the history of Australian music.

Originally released as a B-side in 1980, 'Down Under' made Men at Work the biggest band on the planet. The song became an alternative Australian anthem and its video (recorded on the sand dunes of Cronulla) became an image of Australia recognised the world over.

Even when Men at Work suddenly disappeared, 'Down Under' remained in the national psyche. Nearly three decades later, Spicks and Specks innocently revealed a link between the song and the tune…


Book cover of The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist: America's Lost Musical Genius

Clinton Walker Why did I love this book?

This book illustrates why this list had to be called the best Australian books about music. Because it’s an Australian author writing about an American musician. This is an exchange that works both ways: just this year, British musician/author Tracy Thorn published a book about Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison, called My Rock’n’Roll Friend. Blind Tom is a biography of slave pianist Tom Wiggins, one of the first African-American musicians to crossover to success with white audiences, and remarkably he had not been so accounted for until Deidre O’Connell took up the cudgels. O’Connell is an academic, but thankfully doesn’t write like one, and this her first and thus far only book is totally engrossing. I hope she writes some more.

Book cover of Wild about You!: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand

Clinton Walker Why did I love this book?

There’s a genre of music books, in which I plead guilty to form, that is almost scrapbook-like, that mixes and matches elements to make, at best, a seamless blend of words and images, the sort of book that is a work of art in its own right like you used to find buried down the back of the aisles at counter-culture bookstores. Wild About You is the concept writ large, perhaps not least because editors Iain McIntyre and Ian D. Marks went through a couple of other similar-styled books before getting it quite so right with this one. As a portrait of the post-Beatles beat boom in Australasia in the 60s, it is definitive, written with vibrancy and beautiful and evocative for its illustrations and design. I’m still waiting for this dynamic duo to move onto the 70s!

By Ian D. Marks (editor), Iain McIntyre (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wild about You! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The astonishing outpouring of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s in Australia and New Zealand gave birth to such iconic bands such as the Easybeats, the Masters Apprentices, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, the Purple Hearts, and the Missing Links. It also launched the careers of a generation of musicians who would go on to greater, international fame with their later groups (the Bee Gees, AC/DC, Little River Band, and more). Wild About You! includes chapters on 35 bands that made the scene, as well as the editors' list of the top 100 beat and garage songs of the era.…


You might also like...

Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter's Quest for Answers

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the oldest granddaughter of Leora, who lost three sons during WWII. To learn what happened to them, I studied casualty and missing aircraft reports, missions reports, and read unit histories. I’ve corresponded with veterans who knew one of the brothers, who witnessed the bomber hit the water off New Guinea, and who accompanied one brother’s body home. I’m still in contact with the family members of two crew members on the bomber. The companion book, Leora’s Letters, is the family story of the five Wilson brothers who served, but only two came home.

Joy's book list on research of World War II casualties

What is my book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one; all five sons were serving their country in the military–two in the Navy and three as Army Air Force pilots.

Only two sons came home.

Leora’s Letters is the compelling true account of a woman whose most tender hopes were disrupted by great losses. Yet she lived out four…

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leora's Letters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one, all five sons were serving their country in the military. The oldest son re-enlisted in the Navy. The younger three became U.S. Army Air Force pilots. As the family optimist, Leora wrote hundreds of letters, among all her regular chores, dispensing news and keeping up the morale of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Australia, pianists, and Australian Outbacks?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Australia, pianists, and Australian Outbacks.

Australia Explore 319 books about Australia
Pianists Explore 21 books about pianists
Australian Outbacks Explore 17 books about Australian Outbacks