Top 10 Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs Songs looks at the best songs of an Australian band who had great success in their home county of Australia in the 1960s. In 1963, before becoming the Aztecs, The Vibratones released an instrumental single meant for the audience of Australian-based surfers. “Expressway” and “Man of Mystery” were the songs issued on a record before they teamed up with Billy Thorpe. He became the band’s lead singer with such a strong stage persona that their climb to the top seemed to come all too naturally. 1964 marked the year that began a parade of hit songs before Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs broke up in 1967.
From 1963 as an instrumental group to 1964’s incredibly popular “Poison Ivy” cover that dominated the ARIA Singles Chart, it seemed as if Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs were set in stone as Australia’s next big thing in the music industry. At the time, the boys from Down Under were even more popular than the supremely influential Beatles. Additional hits from Thorpe and his bandmates continued until The Easybeats dethroned them as the “it” act in 1965.
It was also in 1965 the original Aztecs met with financial issues that led them to disband. Thorpe replaced them with five new members before recording a new collection of hits as Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs kept the momentum going until 1966. Then in 1967, Thorpe pursued a career as a solo artist. In the meantime, he also hosted It’s All Happening before a series of personal issues put his career on hold in 1968.
Down but not out, Billy Thorpe picked himself back up after he was offered a recording contract by fellow Australian, Robert Stigwood. He was the same man who became the manager of Cream and The Bee Gees. 1969 marked the year Thorpe reinvented himself as a musician. At the same time, he assembled a brand new lineup for the Aztecs. In the process, Thorpe wound up serving as lead guitarist in addition to lead vocalist as the man he hired to play the guitar left him hanging without giving proper notice.
Crediting Lobby Loyde as the guitar hero who’d ultimately save the day, as well as Thorpe’s career, he was one of the new Aztecs that came on board after already earning a name for himself as a guitarist with Purple Hearts and Wild Cherries. Even though his time with Thorpe and the Aztecs was short, it was enough that would forever change their role in the music scene as a group. One key piece of advice Loyde gave Thorpe was to stick with the guitar.
Another key change was the shift to the bluesy rock which was much heavier than the style Thorpe and his previous Aztecs had used between 1964 and 1967. These changes also extended into Thorpe’s physical appearance as he grew his hair that was sported into a braided tail. He also fashioned a more casual wardrobe than what he used to wear previously. Because of this change, any fans he had up to this point were put off by this new version of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. At first, this brought about sticky situations that suggested Thorpe’s new image may not have been such a good idea.
When The Hoax Is Over was released in 1970, drummer Kevin Murphy was part of the Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs lineup. The album only had four songs on it and three of them were originally written by Thorpe. Johnny Watson’s “Gangster of Love” was the only non-Thorpe original, which took up the entire side of one album while Thorpe’s originals filled up the other. In Australia, this was a revolutionary move with its pop music genre. It also proved to be a successful formula. At the time of this recording, Thrope and his bandmates were riding on an LSD high that included nearly twenty minutes of “Mississippi.”
This new lineup, plus their album, signaled a new era for Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, as well as the Australian rock music scene. The blues-meets-rock influence made its landmark event on June 13, 1971, in Melbourne, Australia with a live performance that was recorded as Live at Melbourne Town Hall. This was the year”The Dawn Song” was released as a song that showed off the group’s range of talent as musicians. Although the song itself was considered a moderate hit, it still remains a cult favorite.
From January 29 until 31, 1972 the Sunbury Festival was held just north of Melbourne, Australia. This venue took place on a farm that featured Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, as well as The La De Das, Max Merritt & the Meteors, and SCRA. There were also several other musical artists that were on the roster of a weekend that’s been described as the Australian version of Woodstock. The double-album recording Thorpe and his crew performed during that fateful weekend resulted in Sunbury, which also became a filmed event.
There was also Aztecs Live at Sunbury, an album that was released before the end of the year. It later became a four-time gold record, certified by ARIA. As a follow-up to “Most People I Know,” “Believe It Just Like Me” was a direct attack against local radio stations that played music from overseas instead of allowing national talent to shine on their own home turf. This musical brand of national pride didn’t exactly earn the same level of popularity as its predecessor did but it still delivered a slap of reality that local talent tends to be overlooked in favor of stars from afar.
Before 1972 was over, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs were recognized by the King of Pop Awards as Best Group. This recognition program began in 1967 before it was transformed it was integrated into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Music Awards.
When Thorpe and the Aztecs came to the festival in Sunbury again in 1973, their concert performance produced another live album, Summer Jam. The popularity of the group was at an all-time high at this time that performed before sold-out crowds throughout Australia.
Farewells and Reunions
In 1973, Thorpe worked collaborated with fellow Aztecs bandmate, Warren “Pig” Morgan, and the two released a collaborated album, Thumpin’ Pig and Puffin’ Billy. This came about after the two co-wrote a song for Wendy Saddington. It served as the first big hit single that would bring her singing career to stardom.
During this time, even though Thorpe was technically performing as a solo artist again, most of the Aztecs were still part of the lineup. When the group performed a farewell tour at the brand-new Sydney Opera House in 1973, they recorded the performance as a double album. Steaming at the Opera House also happened to include performances by Lobby Loyde, as well as two other former Aztec bandmates, Johnny Dick and Kevin Murphy.
Just before officially disbanding, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs recorded and released one more studio album. 1974’s More Arse Than Class was the result before Thorpe moved on as a soloist. He also relocated to the United States as he embarked on various business ventures while there. In 1976, Pick Me Up and Play Me Lou would be released as an album while Thorpe lived as an American resident.
In 1991, Billy Thorpe was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame. This was followed by a special edition collection of stamps in 1998 by Australia Post as it paid homage to the early Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll legends. Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs were among the honorees to be featured.
Two years after the dawn of the twenty-first century, Thorpe became an influential voice for the concert series It’s A Long way to the Top. This mix of live concerts and television celebrated forty years’ worth of Australian rock. While doing so, he was reunited with the original Aztec lineup and then the group he had from Sunbury.
Thorpe’s popularity as a performer was well justified as he continued to deliver nothing less than the best as the years went on. Among the Australian audience, he was the “it” guy until his unexpected death from a mass heart attack on February 28, 2007. He had just performed in concert three days beforehand in Sam Remo. The news of his death came as a shock that extended beyond the nation.
Although gone, Billy Thorpe is by no means forgotten. Since his passing, his fans and peers continue to honor the man with musical tributes and story shares of a legend that instrumentally brought the Australian music scene to a whole new level. As a feather to the cap of “Thorpy” and his bandmates, the 2007 Jailhouse Rock video album became certified gold by ARIA not long after it was released.
Top 10 Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs Songs
#10 – Good Morning, Little School Girl
Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs covered “Good Morning, Little School Girl,” a 1937 blues classic originally performed by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. Thorpe’s version was released in 1970 as the man took the Australian audience off guard with a heavier, bluesy style than what he had been known for in the 1960s. This blues standard was adapted to a bluesy rock number, thanks to Thorpe and what was a brand new lineup of the Aztecs. Electrified and full of life, Thorpe’s performance of this classic became a major favorite among the Australian fan base. Although it failed to chart as a hit, it’s still Thorpe and the Aztecs at their best.
#9 – Rock Me Baby
This 1951 original from Lil’ Son Jackson was a big hit that ultimately inspired the genre of blues music as we know it. This led to the intensely popular version performed by B.B. King in 1964 which became his first number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. For Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, their 1970 version was a release from the compilation album, Great Hits. It was among the tracks featured on it that paid tribute to the greatest of the greats in the blues music genre.
At the time, the fans of Thorpe didn’t know what to think as this new style was a stark contrast to the image he had in the 1960s. However, this comeback with a twist catapulted the man’s career to a whole new level as he reached a new fan base going into the 1970s. This came at a time when the face of rock and roll was changing again and Thorpe simply adapted to it but at the same time revolutionized how rock music was played, at least in Australia.
#8 – Mississippi
In length, “Mississippi” was a song that originally ran for over nineteen minutes as it shared “Goodbye Baby” and “Truth” on one side of the album while “Gangster of Love” completely took over the other. What makes “Mississippi” stand out as a favorite is Billy Thorpe and his brand new version of the Aztecs were stepping away from the sights and sounds that made them popular during the mid-1960s into something grungier.
Among the fans who were accustomed to the old Thorpe, this change was unwelcome. It, however, brought on a whole new fan base that catapulted Thorpe’s career into a new level of stardom he hadn’t realized before. “Mississippi” paved the way for the man’s success that was so key to the musical development of his home nation of Australia. Even though he was technically born in Britain, his family moved to the land Down Under when he was just a small child. For him, the pride he had in Australia was loud and clear – literally.
During the height of Thorpe’s career with the Aztecs, they were among the loudest performers on stage whenever it came to concerts. This is really made evident in “Mississippi” as the audience perhaps saw for the first time a new and improved version of Billy Thorpe. These Aussies, even though they may not be from America’s Mississippi, certainly knew how to perform as if they came from there.
#7 -Believe It Just Like Me
Although “Believe It Just Like Me” failed to capture the same level of popularity as “Most People I Know,” it still serves as an anthemic favorite among the fans from Down Under. This was a song that voiced disapproval of Australia’s radio stations choosing to play rock music from international artists instead of giving at least equal airtime with local talent. Released in 1972, the aim was to push for Australian-based recording artists to be given the respect they deserved.
#6 – Over the Rainbow
“Over the Rainbow” was released as a single by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs in 1964. This cover of the Judy Garland ballad performed in the 1939 cult classic The Wizard of Oz became a major hit for Thorpe and his group as it peaked as high as number two on the Kent Music Report Singles Chart at that time, as well as number one on the Oz Net Music Charts. The legacy of “Over the Rainbow” as a song remains unparalleled. Aside from Garland’s iconic performance, Thorpe’s contribution to this song has been nothing less than spectacular itself.
In 1974, it was released again just before Gold was issued as a compilation album. The second time around, the song peaked as high as number twenty on what became the ARIA Singles Chart.
#5 – Baby, Hold Me Close
First, it was Jerry Lee Lewis who performed “Baby, Hold Me Close” in 1965 before it was covered that same year by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. Lewis’s version catered to the dance crowd, as did Thorpe’s. Lewis’s version was a modest hit in the U.S. and the U.K. while in Australia it peaked as high as number fifteen on its Top Singles Chart. Thorpe’s vocal talent was so popular in Australia that he was idolized by adoring fans who couldn’t get enough. What the Beatles were to the U.K. at the time was similar to what Thorpe and the Aztecs were before the arrival of The Easybeats.
#4 – I Told the Brook
“I Told the Brook” became a number-one hit for Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs after it was released as a single in 1965. This was a ballad about a man’s personal loneliness as he poured out his feelings while standing at a brook. Originally written and performed by the legendary Marty Robbins in 1962, Thorpe turned this into an unforgettable classic. Thorpe’s performance of this classic beautifully showcased the man’s vocal talent that earned him such a loyal fan following during the height of his career in the mid-1960s.
#3 – Twilight Time
Originally, “Twilight Time” was a song recorded and released in 1944 by the Three Suns. Written by Buck Ram, it started off as a poem before it was turned into a song. The most popular version of this came from the Platters in 1958 as they turned it into a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, as well as the US Billboard Hot 100.
For Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, their 1965 performance was released as a single that peaked as high as number two on the ARIA Singles Chart. This occurred at a time when the original lineup of the Aztecs met with financial issues that caused the group to split. Thorpe moved forward, briefly replacing them with a new lineup before going into hiatus until 1970.
#2 – Poison Ivy
“Poison Ivy” was the song that kept the Beatles at bay as Australia’s number-one hit single after it was released in 1964. According to the original performers of this song, the Coasters characterized a woman whose lifestyle choices made her a carrier of sexually transmitted diseases. What looked like a pleasant flower on the outside was actually a disease-riddled weed on the inside. Their 1959 performance was a big hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart at number one and at number seven on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also made an impression on the UK Singles Chart at number fifteen.
This song has been covered many times over by a long list of recording artists. However, none were able to impress the Beatles quite the same way as Thorpe’s version did. It was enough to arrange a meet between the two musical talents while the Fab Four was touring Australia in 1964.
#1 – Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)
“Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)” became the biggest hit in Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs’ careers as a group. Released in 1972, what became a signature song was first charted as high as number three on the ARIA Singles Chart. The popularity of this song enabled Thorpe’s group to be favored by the promoters of the 1972 Sunbury Music Festival. As far as Thorpe was concerned, it was an important moment in Australia’s music history as it featured a musical roster from its own nation instead of seeking international talent.
In 2008, “Most People I Know” was added to the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia registry for the significant contribution it made to the country’s culture. This came ten years after it was honored in the form of a special postage stamp by Australia Post.
Top 10 Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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