- My City of Sydney – XL Capris
The song starts like a thought, a voice unaccompanied, which gathers energy and snarl as the guitar and drums start up. It’s a cover of a song by crooner Tommy Leonetti, which was played on television every night at the close of Channel 7 in the 1960s and 70s, accompanied by panoramic shots of the harbour and city streets. The lines which are in the Leonetti version wistful – “my city of Sydney, I miss the warmth of you” – by XL Capris have a bitter edge. Missing the city while you’re living in it, as it changes around you.
- Not Camping Out – The Cannanes
Sydney then/now, a memory song. It distils the atmosphere of inner-city backstreets, with their pavement inscriptions in the concrete and fallen frangipani flowers. The Cannanes have a looseness to their songs, an open weave that holds close to experiences, Sydney as it is lived in moments.
- Cicada That Ate Five Dock – Outline
No Sydney songs playlist is complete without this 1981 sci-fi drama in which a giant cicada menaces Five Dock and Drummoyne.
- King Street – John Kennedy
John Kennedy wrote two affectionate songs about inner Sydney in the 1980s. The first is a tribute to “King Street” which walks us down past the Coles New World (now Dendy cinema), Maurice’s Lebanese Restaurant (in the Trocadero building) and the Hub Theatre (operating as an adult movie theatre then, but now it remains empty).
- The Modern Song – The Numbers
A driving song for late nights.
- CENTERPOINT #1 – Tactics
I’ll forever call the Sydney Tower Centrepoint, even though it was never the tower’s official name (Centrepoint was the shopping centre beneath it from 1981- 2001). But in this song, the tower is forever mid-construction, viewed from a Surry Hills window.
- Don’t Go to Sydney – The Zimmermen
A power-pop anti-Sydney song, for part of the city’s allure is its repulsion. For singing along to after bad commutes and rent rises.
- Bondi 98 – Dick Diver
A certain sharehouse feeling: cramped rooms, the TV on but no one watching it, a gloomy cave compared to the bright streets outside.
- 40,000 Years – Joe Geia
Since the mural was painted across from Redfern station in 1983, the chorus from this song has underscored the view of the skyline: 40,000 years is a long long time/40000 years, still on my mind.
- Curl Curl – Tame O’Mearas
The sunlight glittering on the ocean.
- Parramatta Road – XL Capris
Peak-hour Parramatta Road is an experience no-one would willingly enter into, yet daily the road is clogged with cars and their frustrated, bored, drivers. The only respite it whatever you are listening to in the car, as it overlays the view of gridlocked traffic, the Westconnex construction zone, the wrapped palm tree outside the Croydon Hungry Jacks, or the giant inflatable coffee on the rooftop of the Caltex Foodary at North Strathfield.
- Battle of Stanmore – Died Pretty
There’s been a Battle of Central Station (1916 – in which thousands of soldiers travelled from Liverpool into Central Station, protesting the conditions at their training camps) but not, as far as I know, a battle of Stanmore, except in this song.
- Hilton Bomber – The Thought Criminals
The role of punk bands is to soundtrack impending disaster, and this was Sydney’s disaster in 1978: a bomb, planted in a garbage bin outside the Hilton Hotel at the time of the CHOGM gathering, exploded when it was loaded into a garbage truck, killing two council workers from the truck and a police officer.
- Miracle in Marrickville – John Kennedy’s Love Gone Wrong
A Marrickville love song – maybe the only Marrickville love song! Though it’s not a place without romance, it even has its own love goddess, in the form of the curvaceous Winged Victory statue outside the Marrickville Town Hall.
- Starstruck Finale – The Swingers
Whenever I pass by the Harbour View Hotel, the pub underneath the Harbour Bridge on the Millers Point side, I imagine the cast of Starstruck inside, engaged in vigorous song and dance around the red-linoleum-topped bar.
- Vivienne – The Cannanes
Cannanes songs are like postcards, a glimpse into a place, a time, a feeling. This postcard is wishing you were elsewhere, but yet also happy you are here. “There’s something about Australia, you want to kick it when it’s down. Just because it is a failure, doesn’t mean I’m leaving Newtown.”
- Head Above Water – Pel Mel
The video for this song was filmed in the coal loader near the Fish Markets: the band standing against the grey, weathered wood, like spots of colour in an otherwise monochrome photograph.
- Newtown Dreaming – Mixed Relations
At the edge of Camperdown Park, near Lennox Street, grows a tree planted in 1932 to remember Mogo, an Aboriginal man who was buried in the cemetery here in 1850, who is also remembered in this song.
- Purple Sneakers – You Am I
Inner-west life in the 1990s distilled: knitted vests, converse all stars, night walks down to the harbour, yearning. The “Glebe Point Bridge” namechecked at the start was being built as the replacement for the old Glebe Island Bridge which swung open in the middle (now a pigeon roost). But it ended up being called Anzac Bridge, and so the song stays lodged in time, between bridges.
- Stompin’ At Maroubra – Little Pattie
A double A-side with “He’s My Blonde Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy”, released in 1963 at the height of the Stomp craze. The exaggerated, rhythmic pacing that made up The Stomp made local councils nervous about the structural integrity of their halls.
- Down & Out – Camperdown & Out
There are not many bands in the “named after Sydney suburbs” category: it’s slightly more common for albums, see Tactics “Glebe”, The Honeys “Ultimo”, 50 Million Beers “Ashfield Skyline”, Songs “Malabar”. Camperdown and Out have a sideline in Sydney suburban odes, see “St Peters” and “Manly”.
- Ghost Train – The Limp
Gentle spectres here, on the Limp’s ghost train. The song takes you by the hand and leads you through a whispering cave.
- Wedding Cake Island – Midnight Oil
The shelf of rocks just off the coast of Coogee beach is named Wedding Cake Island for the white “icing” of the breaking waves across it. It’s also an unlikely Midnight Oil track, a surf guitar instrumental, exempt from the frantic mood of most Midnight Oil songs. Apparently it did once have vocals attached to it, which Peter Garrett described as ‘libellous’ and ‘obscene’.
- Fun Loving – Dropbears
The video for this song was filmed at The Compound, a 1980s squat in Darlinghurst, where now the Eastern Distributor runs. The band squint into the bright sun as they mime to the song and its loping bassline, breaking into the occasional smirk as they pose with their instruments in the back garden with its cracked concrete, or loiter at the edge of the “Darling It Hurts” mural.
- Typically Sydney – The Deadly Hume
Hipster-decrying in 1987.
- Darlinghurst Nights – The Go-Betweens
I gained some satisfaction from putting this song after “Typically Sydney”, as I suspect, as much as I will always love the Go Betweens, the narrator of this song is an example of that very same character maligned by the Deadly Hume.
- Wilson Street – Royal Headache
On the cover of Royal Headache’s High album is a black and white image of the Petersham water reservoir, taken from below so it looms, space-ship like. This is exactly the perspective you have on the water tower as you walk past it down New Canterbury Road. Looking up, the tower seems both simultaneously light and heavy, utilitarian and grandiose.
- Parramatta Hotrod Man – The Whiteliners
A song to put on when visiting Sydney’s finest exponent of Googie architecture: Harry’s Cafe de Wheels/Denos Diner at Tempe. I like how during the instrumental break the singer urges the band to “take it all the way to Penrith”.
- Malabar – Songs
One of the pleasures of hearing a song, or reading a story, about a place you have a relationship with is to experience another version of it. Sometimes that version is surprisingly different to yours, and such is the case with Songs’ “Malabar”. The anthemic vocals evoke a grandeur I’ve never experienced at Malabar, although I’ve never been there early enough to see how the “sun rises out of the sea”
- Ashfield Skyline – 50 Million Beers
In compiling this playlist I embarked upon an obsessive search for Sydney songs, seeking out recommendations on social media, asking people at parties and art openings, deep Googling, plumbing the depths of iTunes and defunct music blogs, and, in this case, the CD section of Vinnies, where “Ashfield Skyline” was patiently waiting for discovery.
- Stairway To Punchbowl – Hard-Ons
My favourite part of Wikipedia pages for Sydney suburbs is the “Notable Residents” section. For Punchbowl, there are two standouts on the list, “TV host ‘Baby’ John Burgess”, and “Hardcore band The Hard-Ons”.
- My City Of Sydney – Tommy Leonetti
Channel 7’s nightly closing song, which was then followed by the national anthem, accompanied by an animation of a kangaroo putting a joey to bed by transforming the Channel 7 logo into a bedframe, pillow, and blanket. In the same spirit, good night all!