Aussie Jingles: A Look Inside the ‘Home & Away’ and ‘Neighbours’ Theme Songs
We examine two of the most popular songs in Australian history.
If you are Australian or have spent anytime living here, you know these jingles. Whether they reminded you of nostalgic weeknights in the 80s, were an indicator that The Simpsons would soon be on, or brought back memories of perfoming them at the primary school recital, everyone knows the Neighbours and Home & Away theme songs.
Television theme songs are an infectious part of cultural identity - more than actual pop songs - because they are heard, like it or not, everyday, on the dot, year after year. They are kind of like a school bell or alarm clock. These two songs have been played daily in millions of living rooms, about 7,000 times over their 30 years. They may go through remixes and versions to accommodate the evolving nature of television and audiences, but the core jingle remains. They are a cultural zeitgeist frozen in sound.
According to Tony Hatch, who composed the Neighbours melody, “[theme songs] have to remain relatively emotionally neutral, as you don’t know what will happen show to show, or what audiences are doing when they come on, so as a jingle writer, you strive for an identity, often a cultural one. The goal is to cut through and create a call sign for audiences to stop what they’re doing, and notice - regardless of who people are or what they think or what is to come on the show.”
Theme songs and jingles are, traditionally, a legacy of radio days. A time when there were no visuals to separate program and advertisment. But with television, especially in the 80s, the jingles became bigger; an audio signpost not only of the show, but of stereotypical culture, that you either loved or absolutely hated.
Interestingly, neither the Neighbours or Home & Away themes were written by Australians. Curious and nostalgic, we decided to look into the history of the two jingles, speak to the writers behind them, and talk to viewers and haters alike about their views of these Aussie cultural artifacts.
Home & Away
Written by Kiwi migrant Mike Perjanik in 1988 – now the erstwhile chairman of APRA – Home & Away’s theme was actually a hit song that was released on vinyl and charted in the UK in 1989. It is by far the more melodic and pop oriented of the two songs, and sounds like it could have easily been a Mariah Carey hit.
In the 80’s, theme song writers were given way more airtime (about 1.5 minutes as opposed to today’s 10-15 seconds) to let their jingly imaginations rip, so they could actually create songs. But Perjanik says they are a very particular song. "Unlike a rock or a pop song, you’re not appealing to trend, but rather, mood. They might sound the same, but they’re very different, because the cultural reference points are intangible,” he says, adding that it only becomes harder as the show usually doesn’t even exist yet.
Perjanik says he was only given a rough idea that the show was going to be about foster kids, being home or away, “so I decided that I wanted the mood to be warm,” adding that it was very hard to complete, taking 4-6 weeks.
But once released, fans – chiefly of the Gen X divorced demographic - fell in love immediately, with many today saying the song was a huge part of why they watched the show.
Over the next decade as TV/audiences evolved, it was redone and reinterpreted, much to the chagrin of fans, and sometimes accompanied by hatemail, such as in 2007, when Israel Cannan's version received so many complaints the network pulled it after a few weeks. But by year 2000, The Robertson Brothers managed to re-popularize the jingle with a rendition viewers liked. And while it brought the duo widespread recognition and a new audience, it became a double edged sword for the brothers as artists, as concert goers began to demand they play it at every concert since.
Outside of TV, it was also covered by this weird pop reggae group, that took it the melody/lyrics to heart, maybe a bit too earnestly:
But talking to fans and reading comments sections, the jingle had immense nostalgic impact, and in true theme song fashion, represents something intangible and more potent than Home & Away itself as a show.
“It’s just always been there, and at the end of the day, shit day, good day, if I am hating people or having a great day, just this melodic neutralizer, every time it came on, comforting, in a weird love/hate sorta way,” said one lifelong fan.
Talking on the theme song’s lasting success, Perjanik added, “you know you’ve hit a right mood when, like all the great show themes of my childhood, years and years later, they have a nostalgic life of their own. They still work.”
Written in 1985 by British migrants, aforementioned Tony Hatch (music) & Jackie Trent (lyrics - who passed away just this year).
For fans around the world, Neighbours is like Home & Away’s dorky cousin who you love hierarchically, but all the same. In technical jingle jargon, this means, if Home & Away was Swiss Cheese, Neighbours would be Babybel.
Nonetheless, Hatch & Trent famously had a long, lengthy career of writing albums, songs and eventually, theme songs, together in the UK, and were just getting deep into jingle world in the 80’s after migrating to Australia. See this interview:
Speaking to Hatch on the phone, he says “at the time, Neighbours was just another job, we were one out of a group of six, and the best one was going to get the gig.” But unlike Home & Away, “it was written in a 24hr period, with me humming out the melody saying “Neiiiighhhhbooursss” upstairs while Jackie worked on the lyrics sitting in the kitchen with her Mom.” Barry Crocker, a mutual friend at the time, was then popped in to a studio late one night to do vocals, and the demo was done.
The studio loved it. So much that they changed the name of the show – which was going to be Ramsay Street – to Neighbours. And in no time, school kids were singing “Neighbours, pick ya bum and taste the flavours, you can find the perfect blend.”
Hatch says “the show filled a much needed gap in the 80’s where daytime TV was all educational boring stuff for kids, so I think this song and show really spoke to that.”
And since, the melody and lyrics have been used for everything from politicians’ speeches, to Muslim students protesting in favour of wearing hijabs, to Seth Rogan promoting his film Bad Neighbours in Australia.
Like Home & Away, it’s been put through a process of changes, remixes, and versions, all in correlation to the evolving nature of television and audiences.
But despite multiple versions, including the 2013 remix competition that led to the latest version of the TV theme, which fans never shy away from hating, the melody and the core opening/closing lyrics “Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours; that’s when good neighbours, become good friends” never leave.
Asked about it’s lasting, novelty song legacy, Hatch thinks the success is that “it’s simple, innocent, and catchy in a signature way, and the lyrics portray something that everybody around the world deals with, for better or for worse, in a positive and ideal light. So it works.”
Steven Viney is a Melbouren based writer. – @stevenviney