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Australian soaps have spawned an enormous amount of pop music – from true classics to earworms you’ve buried away in your deep subconscious.
We’re reaching the end of an era now that Neighbours is ending, so we’re counting down the best songs to have come from soap stars who took part in the time-honoured tradition of stepping into a recording studio and giving it a red-hot go.
And we’re sorry for the overwhelming whiteness of this list. Australian soaps have not traditionally been beacons of diversity and inclusion.
15. Read My Lips by Melissa Tkautz
This Real Housewife of Sydney’s signature pop song knocked Grease Megamix (the third best-selling single of 1991) out of the No 1 position on the Aria charts. It also established a template for soap-to-pop stardom that would be followed for years to come with its flirty, confident lyrics and straightforward danceability. It created another legacy, too: the video stars a young Simon Baker. A charmed Tkautz introduced him to her boss on E Street, landing him his first acting role.
14. All Seats Taken by Bec Cartwright
Little has been written about the former Home and Away star’s pop career. And that’s probably fair enough. But we’ll happily fight for her 2002 debut single, All Seats Taken. The song is ostensibly about reserving an entire venue for a romantic, intimate night, which is something we can imagine Cartwright and her husband, Lleyton Hewitt, doing when they first got together. The lyrics suggest that the venue is a restaurant but the music video is filmed in a roller disco. Sadly, there’s no skating in the video, which perhaps explains why her pop career never reached the heights of fellow Australian blond bombshell and roller disco enthusiast Olivia Newton-John.
13. In Your Room by Toni Pearen
The E Street actor was signed to the same label as her co-star Tkautz, but Read My Lips was deemed too raunchy for her – so she struck gold in 1992 with the more dreamily flirty In Your Room, which peaked at No 10 on the Aria charts. While her second single I Want You scored Pearen an Aria nod, In Your Room is the lovelier track. There’s something wonderfully specific, and perfectly lust-struck, about the idea of getting into a love interest’s bedroom and trying on all the clothes.
12. Especially for You by Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan
The British pop songwriting trio Stock Aitken Waterman wrote plenty of Minogue earworms early on in her career, and some of Donovan’s biggest hits. But none can surpass the pop cultural moment of 1988’s Especially for You, released not long after Donovan and Minogue’s characters on Neighbours, Scott and Charlene, were married. It’s schmaltz of the irresistible variety, and was especially huge in the UK, where it became the fourth highest-selling record of the year.
11. Mistake by Stephanie McIntosh
The Neighbours actor comes from a soap-opera family: her half-brother, Jason Donovan, his daughter Jemma and his father, Terence, have all appeared on the soap. The making of her album, Tightrope, was the subject of a 2006 reality TV show, which sounds like a bit much until you realise the songwriters have also written bops for Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears. The album has an aggressively of-the-moment pop-rock sound that would be instantly forgettable if it didn’t include a truly bonkers cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic Wishin’ and Hopin’. And then there’s Mistake, a perfectly assembled slice of lost-love-catharsis with a chorus that just begs you to scream along.
10. Born to Try by Delta Goodrem
Goodrem debuted Born to Try, her first No 1 single, in 2002 on Neighbours, while playing an aspiring singer called Nina Tucker. Unlike other soap stars-turned-singers, Goodrem’s stint on the show was as much about launching her music career as television stardom. The piano pop ballad was our first introduction to her musical style but actually not her debut single. That came a year earlier with the poppy I Don’t Care (penned by the writers behind Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle), which failed to make much of an impact. Thankfully, Sony realised she was more comfortable behind a piano in singer-songwriter territory. Born to Try is one of her best, with a brilliant, soaring vocal. The lyrics might be a bit on the naive side but we can probably cut the 17-year-old Goodrem some slack there.
9. Voodoo Child by Rogue Traders
Here come the drums. In 2004 the Melbourne electronic rock band Rogue Traders added a celebrity to their lineup: Natalie Bassingthwaighte, who earned three Logie nominations for playing Izzy Hoyland in Neighbours. When they released Voodoo Child, they kept their identity of their new vocalist a secret at first: they didn’t want to cash in on her celebrity. The track reached No 4 on the Aria charts and was certified platinum. There are a few reasons why: first, there’s the re-recorded version of Elvis Costello’s Pump it Up riff, a magic ingredient that still kills (see Olivia Rodrigo’s Brutal), and there’s the Traders’ electro-punk playfulness. But it’s Nat Bass’s vocals, pop pacing and clarity, with a little rock-tinged growl, that pulls it all together.
8. Kiss Kiss by Holly Valance
In many ways, Kiss Kiss was both a blessing and a curse as Holly Valance’s debut single: the Neighbours’ alum’s cover of the English-language cover of Turkish artist Tarkan’s Şımarık (Spoilt) is just sexy-pop-fun enough to be irresistible. The 2002 track reached No 1 in Australia and cracked the top 10 in 17 countries. While her two follow-up singles performed well, she could never match the dizzying heights of Kiss Kiss. The music video, directed by Tim Royes, remains a classic with its indulgent close-ups of Valance’s red lips, wet-look hair and louche choreography. The “mwahs” are both silly and hypnotic. A masterpiece.
7. I Begin to Wonder by Dannii Minogue
Dannii, a Home and Away alum, followed big sister Kylie’s chart-topping Fever album with her own collection of disco-tinged electro-pop: 2003’s Neon Nights. It’s such a strong album (lead single Put the Needle On It is super sexy and refined, while Creep was right in the pop zeitgeist) that it feels unfair of us to even mention Kylie here. For the record, it’s as good as anything Kylie has released. I Begin to Wonder is the standout, with its rapid-fire verses and cooing choruses.
6. Love at First Sight by Kylie Minogue
2002’s Love at First Sight was the third single from Minogue’s Fever album, at the height of her career renaissance. It’s three minutes and fifty-seven seconds of unadulterated joy. When Minogue sings “everything went from wrong to right”, you’d be hard-pressed to argue. The song scored the singer her first Grammy nomination and always provides the perfect hands-in-the-air Kylie-style love-in at her live shows.
5. Can’t Get You Out of My Head by Kylie Minogue
Pop doesn’t come much more effortlessly cool than this 2001 track. The insistent, pulsating bassline drives home the obsession inherent in the lyric; it is endlessly danceable; and its futuristic music video features one of Minogue’s most celebrated looks: a flowing white jumpsuit cut all the way down to her navel, testing the limits of both physics and nipple tape. The song was initially offered to Sophie Ellis Bextor and S Club 7, but it’s difficult to think of another artist who could bring the intimacy and all-encompassing desire to life in this simplest of melodies. Minogue says she wanted to record the song after hearing just 20 seconds of the demo. Thank God she did. Thank God S Club 7 didn’t.
4. Torn by Natalie Imbruglia
Sometimes a perfect pop song is just waiting for the right artist. Scott Cutler and Anne Preven (who co-wrote Beyoncé’s Dreamgirls number Listen) wrote Torn with Phil Thornalley, who also wrote Shannon Noll’s Drive (!!!). They recorded it themselves as Ednaswap, then Liv Sørensen released the Danish-language version Brændt, and Trine Rein’s version hinted at its pop future. But when Imbruglia left Neighbours for Torn, everything fell into place. Her take paired refreshingly ready emotion with a music video directed by Alison Maclean that has Imbruglia singing into the camera as though she’s confessing her feelings into a mirror. Talk about relatable pop: no wonder it was the 1997 No 1 on airplay around the world.
3. This Is It by Dannii Minogue
This 1993 cover of Melba Moore’s 1976 disco gem doesn’t mess much with the original winning formula, with a very 90s dance-pop beat thrown in by the producers Tim Lever and Mike Percy (of Dead or Alive fame). While this single was released at the tail-end of Minogue’s first phase as a pop artist and received mixed reviews from critics, it’s a stayer: her vocals are an instant uplift – a whole room will get on its feet if you play the track in a gay club. It does exactly what a pop song is supposed to do: it changes the mood in the room. Try to listen to it without smiling.
2. Lost Without You by Delta Goodrem
In 2003 Goodrem was everywhere. Not only did she release Innocent Eyes, the highest-selling album of the decade, but she was still a Neighbours regular. The second single, Lost Without You, stands as one of the best Australian pop recordings of the past few decades. It’s one of just three songs from her debut album which Goodrem didn’t write herself, but its dramatic structure, cascading piano riffs and tear-soaked lyrics all make it classic Delta. It became even more beloved when Darren Hayes covered the song at the 2003 Aria awards in an emotional tribute to Goodrem, who won seven awards that night but was unable to perform as she was recovering from treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
1. Better the Devil You Know by Kylie Minogue
There could only be one No 1, and it could only be Kylie. This 1990 tune is the best of Kylie and the best of pop: a dancefloor sensation with a melody that builds, double backs and repeats. This song gave her a more mature sound – along with a more “grown-up” presentation that Pete Waterman was convinced would end her career. Instead, it revealed her true strength and staying power and placed herat the forefront of the then rising trend of electronic pop. Before this song, Kylie was beloved. After Better the Devil You Know, she was a superstar.