Musicology: Grammy-winning Aussies

MELBOURNE'S Wally de Backer - aka Gotye - joined an elite group of Australian musicians this week by winning three Grammys.

He picked up the gong for best alternative music album for Making Mirrors (beating Fiona Apple, Tom Waits, Bjork and M83), and also shared the best pop duo/group performance award and the top accolade of record of the year with Kimbra for their single Somebody That I Used To Know.

So how elite is the "Australians Who Have Won Grammys" list? Read on....

Olivia Newton-John

LONG before she was Sandra Dee, rollerskating in Xanadu, or getting Physical, ONJ was winning the hearts of America with country ballads. She won the 1973 Grammy for best female country vocal performance for her song Let Me Be There, making her the first Aussie to win one of the awards. It also made her a target within certain parts of the American country music community, who didn't take too kindly to foreigners comin' in and singin' their music, nor did they like the increased pop influence seeping into the genre. It didn't matter much to ONJ, who was back at the Grammys the following year as a pop star, winning the prestigious record of the year and best female pop vocal performance Grammys for I Honestly Love You. She won again in 1982 in the short-lived video of the year category for Physical, taking her tally to four. That's out of a total of 12 nominations, making her the most nominated Aussie the Grammys have ever seen. Five of those unsuccessful nominations were for best female pop vocal performance.

Rick Springfield

SYDNEY-BORN Rick Springfield is generally accepted as a one-hit wonder, but the Grammy-givers don't agree. Everyone knows Springfield for his US #1 single Jessie's Girl (your average punter would struggle to name another of his songs) and he won the Grammy for best male rock vocal performance for that track in 1982, beating out Rick James, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart and Gary U.S. Bonds. But the Grammys didn't subscribe to the idea that Springfield's career began and ended with Jessie's Girl, nominating him three more times for awards. His song I Get Excited was beaten in the best male rock vocal performance category in 1983 by John Mellencamp's Hurts So Good and the following year in Springfield's Affair Of The Heart was defeated in the same category by Michael Jackson's Beat It. In 1983, Springfield was also nominated for best male pop vocal performance for Don't Talk To Strangers, but lost to Lionel Richie's Truly.

Men At Work

THE category of best new artist is often a prime example of why the Grammys are derided as being out-of-touch and off-the-mark. For example, The Beatles won the award for 1964 - two years after their first US #1 - while Fountains Of Wayne were nominated eight years after releasing their debut album (the winner that year was Evanescence). Past winners include such household names as Bruce Hornsby & The Range, Jody Watley, Debby Boone, A Taste Of Honey and Zac Brown Band (no, we haven't heard of any of them either). But sometimes the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (that's who gives out the Grammys) gets it right, such as in 1983 when they declared Men At Work as best new artist ahead of Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League and Stray Cats. At the time, Men At Work were flying high in the US, having scored two #1 singles and watched their album Business As Usual sit on top of the Billboard album charts for 15 weeks. All this was after the album had been rejected twice by the US label because the label thought it wouldn't sell.

Wolfmother

FOR a brief moment in time, Wolfmother were world-beaters. Their self-titled debut was huge in the US, the UK and back home, selling more than a million copies, and led to them touring the globe many times over. They won APRAs, ARIAs, BRITs, J Awards, Jack Awards... and one Grammy. That was for the best hard rock performance of 2006, which saw them go defeat such prestigious acts as Nine Inch Nails, System Of A Down and Tool. And also Buckcherry. Of course, Wolfmother's moment in the sun only lasted for a year or two, with their second album being largely met with a shrug and some disappointing reviews. But maybe they will rise again - a new album is in the works, and the band is playing at SXSW in the US next month.

Kylie Minogue

OUR Kylie spent much of her career trying to crack the US market. She was loved here and in the UK, but she remained largely ignored in America throughout the '90s. That changed momentarily in 2001 with the infectious Can't Get You Out Of My Head, which cracked the US top 10 for the first time since Locomotion back in 1987, but it didn't make her a household name in that country. She did, however, catch the attention of the Grammy-givers and in 2003 she received her first nomination. It was for Love At First Sight, which was in the shortlist for best dance recording. It began a four-year streak of nominations in the category, with her sole victory coming in 2004 with Come Into My World (she was nominated for Slow in 2005 and I Believe In You in 2006). She has been nominated once since the streak ended - in the category of best electronic/dance album in 2009 for X, but she lost to Daft Punk.

AC/DC

IT took 11 albums before AC/DC's existence was acknowledged by the Grammys. It then took another 20 years before they finally won one. Their first nomination came in 1989 for their record Blow Up Your Video, which was tipped in the best hard rock/metal performance vocal or instrumental category. It was the one and only year this lengthily titled category was run, thanks to an upset that Entertainment Weekly called the biggest in the history of the Grammys. Not the AC/DC were expected to win - the hot favourite that night was Metallica and their album ...And Justice For All. The least likely to win was Jethro Tull's Crest Of A Knave, which no one - not even the band - thought of Jethro Tull as hard rock or metal. Guess who won? That's right - Jethro Tull. AC/DC were nominated again in 1991, '92, '94 and '09 in the hard rock and rock categories with no success. It wasn't until the 2010 ceremony that Accadacca finally picked up a Grammy - their album Black Ice and the song War Machine were both nominated, with the latter claiming the gong for best hard rock performance. So that's a strike rate of one out of seven for AC/DC, but they can take consolation in the fact that their win kept Nickelback's winless streak in tact - the much-loathed Canadians have been nominated six times for zero wins.

Keith Urban

OLIVIA Newton-John has the best Aussie Grammy figures with four out of 12, but not far behind her is Mr Nicole Kidman himself, Keith Urban, whose record stands at four out of nine. Prior to moving to America, Urban had toured with Slim Dusty, won a Golden Guitar, and had four #1s on the country charts, but he was far from a household name. In 1992, he headed to the US and watched his star begin to rise. Nine years later, he had a Grammy nomination (for best country instrumental performance), and then received two more in 2005. He finally won one in 2006 for best male country vocal performance for You'll Think Of Me, and then returned to take home the same award in 2008 (for the song Stupid Boy), 2010 (Sweet Thing), and 2011 ('Til Summer Comes Around).

And before anyone wants to get clever, yes, Urban was born in New Zealand, four of the five members of AC/DC were born in England or Scotland, Colin Hay of Men At Work was born in Scotland, and Olivia Newton-John was born in England. Even Wally de Backer was born in Belgium. But all of these performers have identified as Australian. I could have included The Bee Gees on this list, but they generally identify as British (don't they?).

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