In one of the strangest and blandest fads of all time, Aussiemania hit hard in the 1980s. In that super-conservative decade, Australians were suddenly seen as exotic, but not too exotic in that they spoke the same language as us and looked like British people, only happier, because they had sunshine, boomerangs, and the fetching Olivia Newton-John. Aussie stuff was all over the popular culture, from “Crocodile” Dundee at the movies to Koala Blue at the mall, to Jacko, the “oi!”-screaming Energizer pitchman. Musicians rode the wave, too, including INXS, Crowded House, and to a lesser extent, Moving Pictures, Hoodoo Gurus, Kylie Minogue, and Icehouse.
All in all, it was a good and potentially lucrative time to be Australian, particularly if your business was peddling radio-friendly pop rock. Which was the business the Sydney band the Cockroaches were in. After a one-off single called “Wait Up” hit the Australian top 40, they recorded a full album. The first single “She’s the One” hit the Australian top 10 and propelled the Cockroaches’ self-titled debut album to sell 100,000 copies, which, in Australia, means platinum. Two more hit singles followed, including a cover of “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love),” but “She’s the One” was the barbuster, and should have been at least as big a hit as Crowded House’s “Something So Strong.” It sounds like your typical ‘80s movie song that would have been at home over a wooing-the-girl montage in a movie like Johnny Be Good or The Pick-Up Artist.
The Cockroaches success, as it turned out, was limited entirely to Australia. International success proved elusive, at least at first. Look at the cover of that Cockroaches anthology up there. It’s just a bunch of friends, hanging out, enjoying each other’s company, the funnest album cover dude party this side of Orleans. Look past the homoerotic undertones and cornball ‘80s overtones. Stare at the faces. If you have children, they’ll look familiar to you.
They’re the goddamn Wiggles.
The one in the red shit Anthony Field. In the Wiggles, he’s Wiggle Jeff, the guy who always wears the blue shirt and won’t shut up about how he loves to eat fruit salad (“yummy yummy”). The guy being held up by his bandmates is Jeff Fatt, now known as Wiggle Jeff, the one who’s either always falling asleep due to implied deep-seated laziness but which is really an undiagnosed case of narcolepsy. His inability or unwillingness to stand up for a cover shot is rather uncanny foreshadowing.
After the Cockroaches fizzled out in the early ‘90s, Field went to college at Sydney’s Macquarie University to study early childhood education, met some fellow musician-students, and formed a band to combine preschool shtick with pop music. (Fatt then rejoined Field in the new band; he does not have an educational background). Former Cockroaches lead singer Paul Field (Anthony Field’s brother)is now the Wiggles’ manager; other brother and Cockroach John Field writes songs for the group. The Cockroaches had their second act after all, and far more successful at that. Now world famous and earning tens of millions every year, the Wiggles were the wealthiest entertainers in Australia for four years running in the early 2000s.