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Best ‘80s & ‘90s Australian Jangle-Pop Songs, According To The Ronson Hangup

1 December 2023 | 8:00 am | Claire Dunton

The Ronson Hangup recently reconvened their jangle-pop band to record and release the new album Centaurus, and weigh in on their favourite Australian jangle-pop tracks from the ‘80s and '90s.

The Ronson Hangup

The Ronson Hangup (Source: supplied)

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Melbourne legends Steve Pinkerton (The Anyones, Dallas Crane) and Ashley Naylor (Even, The Church, Paul Kelly, RocKwiz, The Grapes, and proud bearer of new solo album Soundtracks Vol.2) have recently reconvened their jangle-pop band The Ronson Hangup to record and release the new album Centaurus.

The band, which also features Dave Mudie (best known as Courtney Barnett's long-term drummer), bass player Luke Thomas (The Pictures, Central Rain) and vocalist Erica Menting (who has worked with The Golden Rail), are set to launch the new album on December 2, at the Worker's Club in Fitzroy.

Special guests The Grapes and Nayls & Pinko will join the stage, and to celebrate, Pinkerton and Naylor tell us about some of their favourite Australian jangle-pop tracks from the ‘80s and '90s.

1. The Church – Tear It All Away

Ash: Now that I’m a member of The Church, this is a song I’ve been hankering to play. It covers a lot of the jangle that is prevalent in their early material such as in classics like Almost With You but it also has one of those amazingly beautiful soaring lead breaks by Peter Koppes which I really hope to one day have a go at with the band live as we have talked about bringing that into the set.

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It is a quintessential jangle pop song by The Church with a killer lead break – so it’s the whole package!

2. The Church – Almost With You

Steve: Ash has a very slight advantage over me when talking about The Church – because he’s now a member of the band (repeat: very slight) - but I won’t let that stop me fog-horning my opinion on the subject.

Almost With You really cemented my fascination for jangle pop – and The Church are the masters of swirling 12-string guitars, reverb, echo and delay – and this song is further elevated by Steve Kilby’s deep and rich melancholy melody. 

3. The Stems – At First Sight

Ash: It's hard to describe how magical this song is. It is possibly one of the greatest songs ever written, not only by an Australian (Dom Mariani), but by anyone! I get the absolute thrill of getting to perform it with Dom & Dave as a touring member of the band when The Stems reconvene to tour.

With the chords, based around the D, G and A progression, it is just an absolute cavalcade of open strings and suspended chords - and Dom’s voice absolutely soars over the top of this beautiful track - which has a kind of relaxed feel but also a simultaneous sense of urgency. I really can't think of many songs in the genre that could top At First Sight. It's kind of like the Tin Soldier of jangle pop!

4. Hoodoo Gurus – I Want You Back

Steve: In my opinion, I Want You Back is up there with the best when it comes to the perfect jangle pop song. It has a minimalist approach in the verse relying primarily on drums, bass, acoustic guitar and some sparse country-style electric which allows Dave Faulkner to tell the story - but the pre-chorus kicks into a pure jangle pop build-up leading to an epic chorus! I’d be very pleased with myself if I’d written it.

5. Sunnyboys – Alone With You

Steve: Jeremy Oxley’s Alone With You is another Australian jangle rock classic. Produced by Lobby Loyde from Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and the Coloured Balls, the song was recorded in the legendary Albert Studios (home of ACDC).

Oxley described it as a song about teenage lust and love. The song begins with a jangle riff which forms the loop-like pulse of the song - continuing throughout and overlayed by Oxley’s hooky melody. I’ve played in many bands that have covered this song at one time or another – and Ash played it with Paul Kelly at The Mushroom 50th concert just last weekend!

6. Ups and Downs – The Living Kind

Ash: This song is a wonderful, mid-80s Brisbane jangle pop gem, which always evoked a wonderful feeling within me as a teenager. It was part of my awakening to the beauty of jangle pop as exemplified by the likes of The Stems, Let's Active, REM and The Smiths - all bands that I fell in love with during this time and The Ups and Downs were fine exponents of this.

7. The Johnny’s – Bleeding Heart

Steve: Bleeding Heart launches immediately into jangly guitars followed shortly after by a country-inspired riff in what the band described as “Cow Punk’ style. Spencer’s lyrics are laced with cheek and humour and he could write a great pop hook. The Johnny’s were formed by some ex-members of The Hoodoo Gurus who teamed up with Spencer Jones (originally from New Zealand) who eventually went on to Beasts of Bourbon

Ash: An absolute classic – and this showed a softer side to Spencer’s complex and beautiful songwriting.

8. The Hitmen

Steve: The Hitmen were an Australian band that grew out of Radio Birdman after Birdman split in 1978, after touring in Europe and the UK with the Flamin’ Groovies. The Hitmen featured Birdman guitarist Chris Masuak and bass player Warwick Gilbert and were fronted by Johnny Kannis. They were – for a time at least - a harmony-based rock band and also sang a version of the Groovies’ cult jangle classic Shake Some Action - which was actually the first version I had heard of this song.

Other members who rotated through the band included Brad Shepherd and Mark Kingsmill who later joined the Hoodoo Gurus. Ron Peno from Died Pretty, who was an old friend of the band going back to Birdman days, joins them for this version of Shake Some Action performed by a later version of the band.

9. The Odolites - Chimes

Ash: I first heard this song when I saw the video clip on either Rage or Beat Box in the mid-80s. The band was from Tasmania and I saw them live at the [Sydney] Myer Music Bowl - I think it was 1986 at an All Ages event – and I was struck by hearing that kind of music in a live concert setting as I don't think I've ever really experienced it before.

I ended up buying this single as a consequence - and I just think it's one of the standout tracks of the time and a bonus to know they represented Tassie amidst this collection of songs from that period.

10. The Coldest Heart - Belles Will Ring

Ash: For me, this song is kind of like what Be My Baby is to Brian Wilson; it’s a song that I obsess about - and every few months I just pull it up online or on my vinyl and I marvel at it. It's kind of got an eeriness as well as a dark beauty – with its 12-string electrics open chords.

It’s mixed by our wonderful colleague and partner in crime Wayne Connelly who's done a lot of work with The Ronson Hangup, Even, The Anyones. and a lot of other great bands. This song is from around 2011 which is out of this 80’s/90’s category but I think one of the greatest jangle rock songs of all time.

The Ronson Hangup's Centaurus is out now and available on vinyl, CD and digital download via Bandcamp. Tickets for the album launch are available through Oztix.