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Audio Technica Sonic Fuel Over-Ear Headphones

  • Over-ear headphones with 40mm drivers for the same price you’d pay for shitty earbuds at the gas station
  • Cushy earpads, flat anti-tangle cord, in-line mic and controls: the little amenities you’d expect from headphones that originally listed for $75
  • You’re gonna feel stupid if your first-string headphones break and you didn’t spend the fifteen bucks for these decent backups
  • Model: ATH-AX3iSNV, ATH-AX3iSRD (Searchable, somewhat parsable, and that (mysterious) lowercase “i” manages to visually balance the heinous hyphen)
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Can't You Hear That Thunder?: The '80s Australian Invasion

Hey, Meh writer @JasonToon here. As you may have seen, I’m moving to Australia. It won’t quite mean goodbye; I hope to keep doing these weekend playlists every Sunday, at least. Today I thought I’d these Audio Technica Over-Ear Headphones by going under (how’s that for a contrived connection?) to the music that first put Australia on my cultural radar: the breakout Aussie bands of the 1980s.

The odd Australian act had hit it big in the USA before, from the Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John to Air Supply and the Little River Band. AC/DC flew the flag globally for the Aussie hard rock scene (maybe worth a weekend playlist in itself sometime), and Australia has always produced a healthily obnoxious vein of punk and post-punk bands (definitely worth a weekend playlist). But the early '80s saw something different. A wave of acts hit the charts in the USA with an at least vaguely definable Australian sound: spacious, hooky, economical, wry, neither British nor American but equally at home with the prevailing sounds from each.

If you’ve ever felt like my playlists get too obscure, you’re in luck this time. Lots of karaoke favorites and MTV staples in this 12-song taster of the Australian invasion (also compiled on YouTube for continuous listening):

Men at Work - “Down Under” (1981)
Men at Work were my first “favorite band”, way back when I was 9 years old. Of the first three tapes I owned, two were Men at Work’s Business as Usual and Cargo. (The third was Synchronicity by the Police. Seems I had a very specific taste for lightly reggaefied new-wavish melodic rock.) As cliched as it has become, “Down Under” still evokes some mythic and epic, but earthy and funny, vision of Australia to me. I guess I’ll find out soon how real it is.

Rick Springfield - “Jessie’s Girl” (1981)
Australian actors are famous for their ability to sound American. The man born in New South Wales as Richard Springthorpe was had a successful Australian musical career before he moved to America to pursue acting. After years of bit parts in the likes of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Rockford Files, he recorded another album and took a role on General Hospital, not expecting too much from either. Both blew up and made him a much bigger star in the USA than in his native country. The balance was perfect: Springfield’s Australian origin gave him a whiff of the exotic, but “Jessie’s Girl” fit right into America’s Top 40.

INXS - “Don’t Change” (1982)
Before they were multi-platinum fashion plates (and way before they were reality-TV fodder), INXS were much more interesting. “Don’t Change” was the first and best of a string of moody, catchy singles that introduced them to American audiences. Michael Hutchence’s Jim Morrison pretensions would eventually spiral out of control, and it seemed like the bigger INXS got, the less interesting their music became. But “Don’t Change” will always be a classic.

Mental as Anything - “Live It Up” (1985)
I remember reading about these guys as “the next Men at Work”. That never quite happened, in America anyway. But they did scrape the lower reaches of the charts a couple of times. And “Live It Up” scored the ultimate Aussie Invasion accolade: it was prominently featured on the Crocodile Dundee soundtrack.

Crowded House - “Something So Strong” (1986)
Australia and New Zealand will eternally argue over which country can claim Crowded House. Frontman and songwriter Neil Finn was a Kiwi who cut his teeth in Split Enz, the first New Zealand band to make a commercial splash in the wider world. But he moved to Melbourne and formed Crowded House with two Aussies. The question didn’t seem to make much difference to American listeners, who sent four songs from the band’s 1986 debut album into the Billboard Hot 100.

Midnight Oil - “Beds are Burning” (1987)
They’d been banging on since the mid-'70s without a whiff of commercial success outside the Antipodes. They sang about aboriginal land rights, mining diseases, and nuclear war. Their frontman, Peter Garrett, was a bald, 6’4" lawyer whose voice was even more freakishly intense than his look. Suffice to say Midnight Oil was the most unexpected commercial success of 1987, and maybe the entire decade. “Beds are Burning” was a welcome blast of compelling anger in a limp time for pop music.

Icehouse - “Electric Blue” (1987)
A less distinguished but equally long-lived journeyman Aussie band, Icehouse found their fortune with tastefully bland synth-rock and one of the most heinous mullets of all time.

The Go-Betweens - “Was There Anything I Could Do?” (1988)
If you don’t know the Go-Betweens, go listen to anything you can get your hands on by them, right now. While the gods of Australian indie-pop were underground giants in Australia, they found commercial success in the UK. Eventually they even caught the attention of MTV, where I remember seeing them on 120 Minutes. It wasn’t enough to turn the Go-Betweens into the next INXS (thank God), but it did get this song to #16 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, and to influence a generation of American indie bands.

The Church - “Under the Milky Way” (1988)
Yet another Australian indie institution who hung on long enough to finally score some US attention, the Church added some atmospherics to their Bowie-fronting-the-Beatles sound and landed in the bedrooms of a million moody, misunderstood American teens.

Big Pig - “Breakaway” (1988)
The '80s were a time when a band could start as a pounding avant-garde funk collective with three drummers, howling about Margaret Thatcher and corporate greed - and within a few years land a song on the soundtrack of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Hoodoo Gurus - “Come Anytime” (1989)
While American rock drifted in an Aquanet haze through the hair-metal years, Australian bands kept making hooky, energetic rock n roll that was only “alternative” because the mainstream was so bad. Hoodoo Gurus gleefully mixed garage rock, surf, psychedelia, and power pop into songs that would have been smash hits in a better world.

Divinyls - “I Touch Myself” (1990)
The last of the Aussie lifers to reach the American charts, Divinyls scored one of the biggest hits of them all with this single-entendre raunch workout, machine-tooled for MTV success by the same LA songwriters who wrote Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. You could call it a sad turn for a band that had done much better stuff (like “Science Fiction”). But after singer Chrissie Amphlett’s untimely death from cancer in 2012, aged just 53, I’ll just say “good on ya.”

I’ve probably just outed myself to my future Australian friends as hopelessly clueless about Australian music, people, and… everything. But this is what Australia sounded like to an American kid in the '80s. I’m looking forward to seeing how wrong I was.

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