New Zealand had a vibrant music industry before the 1980s. However, not many artists and bands from the country broke into the international scene. Bands and individual artists only enjoyed success in their home country and Australia. The 80’s was a decade that proved to be kind to New Zealand bands and artists, especially those that had remained underground. For instance, artists and bands such as DD Smash, Dragon, Rick Springfield, The Dance Exponents, and Mi-Sex emerged to claim a spot in the international scene. New Zealand produced a variety of sounds and styles in the 80’s.

We revisit five great 80’s New Zealand bands.

  • DD Smash

Dave Dobbyn, one of the prominent singers and songwriters in the 80s formed DD Smash in 1981. The band was a guitar-driven quartet. The band landed its first recording deal towards the end of 1981. The first album by DD Smash was called “Cool Bananas” released in 1982. The album ranked number one in the international charts and remained in that spot for 24 weeks, achieving a triple gold status. The most popular song in the album was “Devil You Know”.

In 1982, Dave Dobbyn won the “Top Male Vocalist” award, while the band won the “Top Group” award. “Cool Bananas” was awarded the best album of the year, while the producer Ian Morris clinched “Producer of the Year” award.

In 1983, the band released a new single called “Outlook for Thursday” that climbed to position three in the national charts, and remained there for 23 weeks. The single attained a gold status.

  • Dragon

Dragon was one of the most successful bands in New Zealand from mid-1970s to mid-80’s. The band recorded two albums with Polygram, New Zealand, but the albums only enjoyed moderate success. The band relocated to Australia in 1975, and three years later, the Dragon captured the Australian music scene. Some of the most successful singles from the band include “Still in Love With You”, “Are You Old Enough”, and “April Sun in Cuba”.

The primary members of the band between 1975 and 1979 were Todd Hunter (bass), Paul Hewson, Marc Hunter (vocals), and Robert Taylor. Dragon enjoyed international success up to the 90’s. For instance, in 1998, EMI records released a collection of Dragon recordings. The greatest hit in the collection was called “Snake Eyes on the Paradise”.

Dragon is one of the bands that have significantly contributed in shaping the music history of the Kiwi nation. The singles that contributed to the popularity of the band include “Are You Old Enough” and “April Sun in Cuba”. The founding member of Dragon Marc Hunter was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997, tragically he died in July 1998 aged just 44.

  • The Dance Exponents

The Exponents formed in 1981 after vocalist Jordan Luck and Brian Jones, a guitarist, ditched their first band called Basement, and moved to Christchurch with Steve Cowan, a common friend. The trio later recruited David Gent, a bass guitarist, and Michael Harallambi, a drummer. The group held their maiden performance at the Hillsborough Tavern on October 15th, 1981, a week after the band was formed. The reputation they earned from the performance got them signed by the Mushroom Records in 1982.

The first single by the Dance Exponents was called “Victoria”, and a number of popular hits followed it from the band. Steve Cowan later left the group before they released their second song “Airway Spies”. The band recorded their first album “Live At Mainstreet” in 1983.

In late 1983, the group released their second album “Prayer Be Answered”. Some of the most popular songs in the album include “I’ll Say Goodbye (Even Though I’m Blue)”, “Know Your Own Heart”, and “All I can Do”. The album was very successful and it managed to dominate the charts in New Zealand for one year.

  • Mi-Sex

Mi-Sex are definitely one of the greatest 80’s New Zealand bands. The band formed in 1977, and the founding members included Steve Gilpin, a singer and bass player; Don Martin, a drummer; Richard Hodkinson, a songwriter and drummer; and Murray Burns, a keyboard player. The band recorded their first single “Straight Laddie” in New Zealand. Mi-Sex decided to take their act to Australia, and within a short time, the band had taken Sydney by storm.

The band was signed to CBS, and by 1979, Mi-Sex released their pioneering vinyl LP called “Graffiti Crimes”. The most successful singles from the album included the world hit “Computer Games”, considered prophetic, and “But You Don’t Care”. The two singles reached the top ten lists in Canada, UK, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Germany.

The group released a second album “Space Race” in the 1980s. Singles such as “Space Race”, “It Only Hurts when I’m Laughing”, and “People” became multi-platinum hits. This saw the band clinch several awards that included “Best New Talent”, “Best Australian Single” and the Most Popular Album award in 1980.

The group released their third album “Shanghaied” in 1982. The most successful singles from the album included “Shanghaied” and “Falling in and Out”. In 1983, the group added a sixth member, Colin Bayley, and recorded a fourth album “Where Do They Go”. The most popular singles from the album were “Castaway” and “Blue Day” that enjoyed success in the charts in the U.S and Canada.

  • The Mockers

The Mockers formed in 1979, and Andrew Fagan, known for his flamboyant costume and theatrics led the group. The Mockers were a very popular band in New Zealand in the mid-80s because at the time, the country was obsessed with British style pop music. The primary band members included Gary Curtis, Andrew Fagan, Dean Hazelwood, Brett Adams, Geoff Hayden, and Tim Wedde.

The band is famous for the mammoth hit “Forever Tuesday Morning” that made Fagan to be awarded the RIANZ Top Male Vocalist of the year. In 1987, the band toured the UK, but the group had to dissolve after Steve Thorpe, a drummer committed suicide. Other memorable hits from the band include “A Winter’s Tale” (1986), “One Black Friday” (1984), and “Seven Years Not Wasted” (1985).

The mockers reunited after 30 years and are currently touring New Zealand. The band is playing nostalgic hits that have captivated audiences in Aotearoa and other parts of New Zealand.

For those who knew very little about the prominent 80’s New Zealand bands, the above list captures the most successful bands. If you feel that your favorite band is left out, please let us know.