Our top 10 Cold Chisel songs list presents the music of a classic rock outfit that evolved into one of Australia’s most sought-after pub rock bands. Originally, the band went under the moniker Orange, a title that would soon change to Cold Chisel. Cold Chisel built its legacy upon the great songwriting skills of Don Walker, the band’s primary songwriter, and the vocal dexterity of Jimmy Barnes, who would soon after establish an incredibly successful solo career.
Inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan, Don Walker showcased brilliance in his songwriting which was characterized by remarkable storytelling skills. His skills helped Cold Chisel appeal to its Australian audience, with top hits like “Khe Sanh,” “Breakfast at Sweethearts,” and “Flame Trees” to name a few.
Cold Chisel’s Career Beginnings and Breakthrough
The late ‘70s were tough years for an Australian pub rock band from ‘nowhere’ to make it in the rock scene. At the time pub rock had barely achieved any commercial success, owing to the dominance of classic rock bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and Electric Light Orchestra. Nevertheless, Warner Music Group signed Cold Chisel, a chance that the band members grabbed with both hands.
After four months of recording, Cold Chisel released its debut eponymous studio album in April 1978. Cold Chisel’s release coincided with the first Australian musical tour of the British-American outfit, Foreigners, in which Cold Chisel was the opening act. The album guided Cold Chisel to some commercial and mainstream success in Australia. Cold Chisel features the band’s signature hit “Khe Sanh,” a song that received massive airplay in Australia. Other notable musical gems from the album include “Home and Heart Broken” and “One Day Long.” Cold Chisel has since been certified Gold by ARIA. The album also managed to rise to position thirty-one on the Australian Albums Chart.
Cold Chisel’s Album Releases over the Years
After a fairly successful debut album, Cold Chisel returned with its sophomore studio album, Breakfast at Sweethearts, in 1979. The album earned the band its first Platinum-certified record by ARIA. Breakfast at Sweethearts peaked at the fourth spot on the Australian Albums Chart, spending a total of thirty-two weeks on the chart. “Shipping Steel,” “Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye),” and “Breakfast at Sweethearts” are some of the best Cold Chisel songs from the album. The album was also nominated for the 1979 Countdown Music Awards Best Australian Album accolade. However, it lost the award to First Under the Wire by Little River Band. Nevertheless, Breakfast at Sweethearts went on to bag the Best Australian Record Cover at the same award ceremony.
East, issued in 1980, marked the band’s third studio album. The album is Cold Chisel’s best-selling release to date, having received Platinum certification five times in Australia. East managed to rise to the second spot of the Australian Albums Chart, peaking at number one hundred and seventy-one on the Billboard 200. “My Baby,” “Choirgirl,” and “Cheap Wine” are the best Cold Chisel songs from the album.
The album bagged the Most Popular Record, Best Australian Album, and Best Australian Record Cover Design accolades in the 1980 Countdown Music Awards. With no other Australian album surpassing its sales in 1980, Cold Chisel proved to be a force to reckon with not only in Australia but also globally. East spent over a year (sixty-three weeks) on the Australian Albums Chart.
In 1982, Cold Chisel attempted to replicate the success achieved with East in 1980 by releasing the album, Circus Animals. The album was a success in the mainstream, topping the Australian and New Zealand Albums Charts. However, the album failed to make it to the Billboard 200. Nevertheless, Circus Animals was a commercial success, managing three times Platinum certification in Australia. “Forever Now,” “You Got Nothing I Want,” and “When the War Is Over” are the most popular songs by Cold Chisel from the album. Circus Animals was nominated for the Best Australian Album accolade in the 1982 Countdown Music Awards. However, Cold Chisel lost the award to Time and Tide by Split Enz.
Two years later, the band released its fifth studio album, Twentieth Century. Once again, the band managed to enjoy the top spot on the Australian Albums Chart, with the album spending a total of forty-six weeks on the chart. Some of the songs from this album had their drums played by the former Spectrum member Ray Arnott following the dismissal of Steve Prestwich. “Flame Trees,” “Saturday Night,” “Hold Me Tight,” and “No Sense” are some of the best Cold Chisel songs from the album.
After the release of its fifth studio album, Cold Chisel broke up with Jimmy Barnes going on to establish an exceptionally successful career. Ian Moss, the band’s guitarist, would later on release a successful double Platinum-certified LP, Matchbook, in 1989. Together with Peter Allen, Cold Chisel was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame together in 1993. The band would later reunite in October 1997, issuing its first post-breakup studio album, The Last Wave of Summer, a year later.
The Last Wave of Summer was warmly received by the band’s fans, having it top the Australian Albums Chart. Surprisingly, the album was a commercial success, managing a two times Platinum certification in Australia. “Water into Wine,” “Way Down,” and The Things I Love in You” are some of the best Cold Chisel songs from the album. The Last Wave of Summer was nominated for the Best Rock Album accolade in 1999. However, the album lost the award to Internationalist by the Australian rock outfit, Powderfinger. Other albums that had been nominated for the award include Personality Test by Henry’s Anger, Neon Ballroom by Silverchair, and A Man’s Not a Camel by Frenzal Rhomb.
After yet another huge break without making new releases, Cold Chisel members were back with the band’s seventh studio album, No Plans. The album was issued in April 2012, featuring recorded performances of Steve Prestwich who had succumbed to a brain tumor the previous year. No Plans managed to rise to the second spot of the Australian Albums Chart, receiving a Gold certification by ARIA. “Everybody” and “I Got Things to Do” are the most popular songs by Cold Chisel from the album.
In 2015, the band issued its eighth studio album entitled The Perfect Crime. Amazingly, the album reached number two on the Australian Albums Chart. The Perfect Crime was a commercial success, achieving a Gold certification from ARIA. “Lost,” “The Backroom,” and “Long Dark Road” are some of the best Cold Chisel songs from the album.
Blood Moon, issued in 2019, marks the band’s most recent studio album. The album ranked at number one on the ARIA Albums Chart, becoming the band’s fifth release to claim the top spot on the chart. Blood Moon is home to some of the best Cold Chisel songs including “Getting the Band Back Together,” “Boundary Street,” and “Killing Time.” Unfortunately, Blood Moon is the only album by the band not to have received ARIA certification.
Cold Chisel’s Legacy
Cold Chisel remains one of the most successful pub rock bands in Australia to date. Just like Midnight Oil and The Angels, Cold Chisel has created a reputation as one of the most dynamic Australian live bands. The band’s impact on the Australian rock scene has not gone unnoticed, having the band inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. Other bands to have been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame include AC/DC, Crowded House, The Seekers, INXS, The Bee Gees, Men at Work, The Angels, Midnight Oil, and The Easybeats. Here we present the ten best Cold Chisel songs of all time.
# 10 – Lost
Opening our top 10 Cold Chisel songs list is the magnificent hit “Lost.” The song was penned by Don Walker and Wes Carr. Wes Carr rose to stardom after winning the sixth season of Australian Idol competition. “Lost” is among the top hits featured on the band’s eighth studio album, The Perfect Crime. This brilliant mid-tempo song features a phenomenal melody making it quite a moving hit.
“Lost” is the band’s final hit to make it to the Australian Singles Chart, peaking at number ninety-two. The song was shortlisted for the Song of the Year accolade in the 2016 APRA Music Awards. Tame Impala won the award with the song “Let It Happen.” This was the second time Tame Impala was winning the award, the first being in 2013 with the song “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”
# 9 – Breakfast at Sweethearts
“Breakfast at Sweethearts” is a musical gem by Cold Chisel from the band’s sophomore album of the same name. The song was written by Don Walker, with reference to a café in Sydney, going by the name ‘Sweethearts.’ “Breakfast at Sweethearts” has been named by fans of the bands as the most identifiable hit about King Cross, Sydney.
“Breakfast at Sweethearts” was a success, peaking at number sixty-three on the Australian Singles Chart in 1979. The album, Breakfast at Sweethearts featured other notable classics including “Shipping Steel” and “Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye).” However, “Breakfast at Sweethearts” is a fan favorite for most Australian fans of the band for its significant lyrics that arouses memories of King Cross back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s.
# 8 – Cheap Wine
Number eight on our top 10 Cold Chisel songs list is the tremendous hit “Cheap Wine.” The song is featured on the band’s third studio album, East. “Cheap Wine” was penned by Don Walker, and is regarded as one of his best commercial hits. The song peaked at number eight on the Australian Singles Chart. This made it the first hit by Cold Chisel to make it to the top-ten hits on the chart.
“Cheap Wine” alludes to a person whose life is getting worse by the clock but still having quite a fancy time. The song was selected by several Australian commercial radio stations for airplay. Its soulful verse and spectacular vocal delivery by Jimmy Barnes made it quite a darling for many. “Cheap Wine” has since been covered by the country/Americana singer Shane Nicholson and ARIA Hall of Fame inductee Tina Arena.
# 7 – The Things I Love in You
“The Things I Love in You” is a musical gem penned by Don Walker for Cold Chisel’s sixth studio album, The Last Wave of Summer. Jimmy Barnes revealed that the song alludes to a gentleman perplexed on a street corner sipping on some booze after finding his fiancée making love with another man. To the band’s primary songwriter, Don Walker, “The Things I Love in You” has its musical vibe inspired by the Motown sound of the American vocal quartet The Four Tops. “The Things I Love in You” managed to rise to the tenth spot on the Australian Singles Chart. The song was Gold-certified by ARIA, proving to be a commercial success.
# 6 – Forever Now
Number six on our top 10 Cold Chisel songs list is the stunning hit “Forever Now.” While most of the songs by the band have been written by Don Walker, “Forever Now” is a lyrical gem penned by the late Steve Prestwich. This marked his first time writing a song singlehandedly for the band. “Forever Now” is featured on the band’s fourth studio album, Circus Animals.
The song feels a little too melodic compared to other hits on Circus Animals. “Forever Now” was a success on the Australian Singles Chart, peaking at number four. This is the best performance by any Cold Chisel on the chart. The song has been covered by Peter Murray, The Reels, Perfect Tripod, and The SongBirds.
# 5 – Saturday Night
“Saturday Night” is one of the best songs by Cold Chisel from Twentieth Century. In this song, Jimmy Barnes is joined by Ian Moss on the vocals, a gamble that paid off with the duo making an enthralling vocal delivery. “Saturday Night” is the band’s fifth highest charting hit on the Australian Singles Chart, peaking at the eleventh spot.
This atmospheric pub rock hit went on to be nominated for the Best Promotional Video accolade at the 1984 Countdown Awards Ceremony. However, the song lost the award to the hits “Apocalypso” by Mental As Anything and “Burn for You” by INXS, which tied. “Saturday Night” has been covered by Grinspoon and Daryl Aberhart. Ian Moss released an acoustic version of the song in 2005, which was featured on his fourth solo studio album, Six Strings.
#4 – Choirgirl
“Choirgirl” is yet another musical gem by Cold Chisel featured on the band’s third and most successful studio album, East. The song is a lyrical gem penned by Don Walker. Don revealed that he wrote this song with his mind obsessed with making it a hit single. “Choirgirl” had its theme of pregnant termination makes it a fan favorite, thanks to the heart-rending lyrics.
The song saw Don Walker nominated for the 1979 Countdown Music Awards Ceremony for the Best Recorded Songwriter accolade. However, he lost the award to Terry Britten who penned the hit “He’s My Number One” by Christie Allen. The song went on to peak at the fourteenth spot on the Australian Singles Chart. “Choirgirl” has attracted singers Katie Noonan and Taylor Henderson, both of who have delivered a cover of the hit.
# 3 – Flame Trees
The third pick of our ten best Cold Chisel songs of all time is the charming hit “Flame Trees.” Don Walker and Steve Prestwich are credited to have penned the lyrics to this song. The two were inspired by memories of Don’s hometown during his youth, Grafton, New South Wales, and his lost love.
“Flame Trees” is among the top releases by the band featured on the band’s LP, Twentieth Century. The song went on to peak at number twenty-six on the Australian Singles Chart. “Flame Trees” has since been covered by Sarah Blasko, The Killjoys, Jessica Mauboy, and Christopher Manias among others.
# 2 – When the War Is Over
While Steve Prestwich might not have penned most of the songs recorded by Cold Chisel, any song he wrote almost became a hit! “When the War Is Over” is a perfect reflection of how much of a seasoned songwriter Steve was despite not being able to surpass the individual brilliance and consistency of Don Walker. The song is among the top musical gems featured on the band’s fourth studio album, Circus Animals.
Once again, we have Ian Moss and Jimmy Barnes sharing the vocals. Thanks to their magical vocal delivery and the song’s alluring melodies that “When the War Is Over” managed to make it to number twenty-five on the Australian Singles Chart. The song has since been covered by Little River Band, John Farnham, Cosima, and Uriah Heep to name a few.
# 1 – Khe Sanh
Number one on our top 10 Cold Chisel songs list is the dazzling hit “Khe Sanh.” The song is Cold Chisel’s debut single, featured on the band’s eponymous debut album. “Khe Sanh” was penned by the band’s primary songwriter Don Walker, with the lyrics alluding to an Australian Vietnam veteran coping with his coming back to civilian life. Drug addiction and PTSD seem to be taking a toll on this Vietnam War veteran who doesn’t seem to fit into society.
“Khe Sanh” rose to become the band’s signature hit and one of the most played songs of all time in Australia. In 1978, the song peaked at number forty-one on the Australian Singles Chart, only to rise one spot higher in August 2011. The song has since been covered by Paul Kelly, Aussie Pride, and Union of Sound.
Feature Photo: jeaneeem, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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