Farewell Neighbours, Australian Pop’s Foremost Playground

Ranking the best and worst pop graduates from the Aussie soap…

With the sad news that cult favourite Neighbours is finally drawing to a close after more than 35 years on our screens, people are understandably reflecting on the cultural delights it brought to our lives. Whether it be Mark Little’s stint as a presenter on The Big Breakfast, Alan Fletcher taking his character Karl Kennedy round a bunch of universities for some reason, or the ground-breaking piece of filmmaking that was the episode where Bouncer the dog had a dream, the Antipodes’ favourite soap opera has impacted all our lives in some ways.

Neighbours’ devoted audience (students, the elderly and – before the internet, at least – kids pulling a sickie from school) will be hit hard by this news, so let’s look back at arguably the show’s greatest contribution: the number of bona fide pop stars it produced. Some were great and some decidedly less so, and we’ve picked five from each category to remind you of what Neighbours has done for us.

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Kylie Minogue

Kylie wrote the urtext on how to successfully transition from daytime soap opera to all-conquering pop career, and everyone who has come since is barely fit to lace her boots. From PWL teen idol Kylie to indie Kylie to disco Kylie to Kylie the nation’s sweetheart, she’s gone through reinvention after reinvention while continually releasing tracks you can’t help but be fond of. Her collaboration with Years & Years last year, the sledgehammer dance of ‘Starstruck’, shows that three and a half decades into her music career, she’s still got it just as much as ever.

Holly Valance

Remember the brouhaha in those pre-YouTube days when Holly Valance released the promo for her debut single, ‘Kiss Kiss’. Was she really naked in the video? Was she wearing a flesh-coloured bra that could shoot beams of light? A nation of teenage boys studied closely in a futile attempt to find the answers.

Listening to it now, ‘Kiss Kiss’ evokes waves of early 2000s nostalgia, its Turkish strings immediately transporting you to a crowded swimming pool on a cheap European package holiday. Less than two years after ‘Kiss Kiss’, Valance had quit music and returned to acting before effectively retiring from show-business a decade ago.

Natalie Imbruglia

The usual path from soap star to popstar involves teen-friendly pop but Natalie Imbruglia’s debut LP, 1997’s ‘Left Of The Middle’, was full of guitar-led pop-rock following in the footsteps of artists like Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette. Leading the charge was ‘Torn’, an AOR behemoth that was simply inescapable for months.

While it remains her best-known track, subsequent releases have confirmed Imbruglia’s status as a singer-songwriter of note, and it now seems crazy to think she was once a Ramsay Street builder’s apprentice who crossed paths with Helen Daniels and the gang.

Natalie Bassingthwaighte

You’re probably currently thinking, “Who is Natalie Bassingthwaighte and was there a sale on down at the consonant factory?” Well, she played Izzy Hoyland on Neighbours and under her stage name, the less tongue-twisting Nat Bass, she spent a few years as the vocalist for Aussie electro group Rogue Traders.

Nothing to do with the BBC current affairs program, Rogue Traders had one big hit in the UK, but what a hit it was. They took the riff from Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ ‘Pump It Up’ and turned it into the guaranteed floor-filler ‘Voodoo Child’.

Scott & Charlene’s Wedding

This is technically cheating, but they’re from Melbourne (home of the fictional Neighbours suburb of Erinsborough) and are named after arguably the most famous event in the show’s history – an episode that centred around the marriage of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan’s characters and was watched by TWENTY MILLION viewers.

Happily, the band don’t do covers of the Neighbours theme tune, and instead peddle a sweetly melodic take on lo-fi, coming off as The Go Betweens’ slightly scuzzier, more rebellious younger cousins. No word as yet on whether they’ll be asked to perform in the show’s final episode or whether they’ll use an Angry Anderson track again.


Stefan Dennis

21st Century Neighbours devotees may not know that Ramsay Street villain Paul Robinson has a past even more shady that his dodgy business dealings. In 1989, the actor behind Robinson, Stefan Dennis, made a bid for pop stardom with ‘Don’t It Make You Feel Good’, a track which has dated worse than the women on The Tinder Swindler.

From the growled vocals and dramatic string stabs to the dead, electronic drums and ersatz funk bassline, it represents the very worst of 1980s synthetic pop. It cracked the top 20 in the UK (somehow) but a follow-up single flopped, and Dennis swiftly decamped back to Oz with his tail between his legs.

Stephanie McIntosh

It doesn’t say much for your pop career when more people recognise your character name than your real one, and it’s fair to assume the name of Sky Mangel remains more widely known than Stephanie McIntosh. She did have some success back home in 2006 with her debut single, ‘Mistake’ – think a more anaemic version of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ – going gold, as did ‘Tightrope’, the accompanying album.

However, after struggling to find success internationally, her music career was over soon after it begun, and she’s since had a handful of TV roles, including periodically reprising her role as Sky.

Delta Goodrem

She may have had more success than most of the artists on both halves of this list but the oeuvre of Delta Goodrem is, to put it bluntly, dull as ditchwater. Trite, faux-inspirational ballads with more melisma than you can shake a stick at, Delta Goodrem makes the kind of music you pray no one chooses at karaoke night.

In Australia, she was even bigger than she was here, with debut album ‘Innocent Eyes’ bafflingly going fifteen times platinum, putting it on par with Queen’s Greatest Hits down under. Goodrem is now best known in Australia as a former coach on The Voice, where she could cheer on unnecessary vocal gymnastics and celebrate the monster she helped create.

Jason Donovan

You almost feel sorry for Jason Donovan. He launched his career at the same time as on-screen partner Kylie Minogue and while she’s gone on to be one of the biggest pop stars in history, his musical legacy is frozen in amber in the late 1980s. Donovan actually had four number 1 hits between 1988 and 1991 but hasn’t graced the UK Top 40 since 1992. His Wikipedia page shows that the latest instalments in his career were a pantomime run cancelled due to COVID-19 and a stint on Dancing On Ice where he was forced to pull out injured, which seems to sum it all up.

Anne Charleston and Ian Smith

The worst really has been saved until last here. In 1989, Anne Charleston and Ian Smith, better known as Madge and Harold Bishop, gurned and croaked their way through this syrupy festive concoction. Whoever decided that Smith’s plummy vocals and Charleston’s 20-ciggies-a-day wheeze would coalesce well was either insane or a Situationist, avant-garde genius.

If you’re being extremely kind, you could argue there are some reverse Lee and Nancy vibes at work but really, it’s a grating, unpleasant listen, surely released in an attempt to cash-in on the soap when it was at its most popular. Let’s not remember it this way.

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Words: Joe Rivers // @joeripcord

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Link to the source article – https://www.clashmusic.com/features/farewell-neighbours-australian-pops-foremost-playground

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