A Loving Look Back At ‘The Panel’s Greatest Musical Performances

Wednesday's in the early 2000s were synonymous with one TV show: 'The Panel'.

The Panel music

At 9.30pm on Wednesday, between 1998 and 2004, the only place to be was in front of the telly watching The Panel on Channel 10.

Each week, Tom Gleisner, Kate Langbroek, Glenn Robbins, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch, and Santo Cilauro would discuss the news, interview celebrity guests, and play funny videos from around the world, long before ‘going viral’ was a thing.

The Panel hit a late-night sweet spot for Australian television, a rarity, it was funny, insightful, and surprising. Working Dog Productions were the brains behind it, the folks who made The Late Show, Frontline, The Castle and Utopia.

Often, The Panel would end with a musical guest, and musos would sit for a quick chat before performing. There was a random brilliance to the way The Panel picked its music, a mixture of Australian artists, often making their TV debut, or huge bands dropping by while on tour.

The tiny set was not designed for music: it was literally a desk with a fake city backdrop, so it was like having an impromptu concert in a corner of your living room.

The performances were so popular they released a series of compilation CDs that ended up charting, way back when people still bought discs. Also, if you missed the show, the only way to catch up was if a mate taped it to VHS and thanks to some absolute legends it’s how the musical performances have found a home online.

We’ve looked back at all the performances we can find to bring you the best from behind the desk. An honourable mention must go to Brian Cadd and Glen Shorrock’s ‘A Little Ray of Sunshine’, an unforgettable moment from the show that sadly never made the leap to digital.

#15. Anastacia — ‘I’m Outta Love’

In 2000, Anastacia had the highest selling single of the year in Australia — beating Madonna, Destiny’s Child and N’Sync. She went acapella with her backup singers on The Panel and the power of their voices made this song feel quite a lot bigger than a one hit wonder. Song starts at the 5-minute mark.

#14. John Farhnam — ‘Every Time You Cry’

Yes, this is the song Farhnam did with Human Nature during one of his ‘I swear this is the last time’ farewell tours. A daggy sing-along occurs here, but Farhnam’s voice could provide us with energy for 1000 years, and he’s doing it all while sitting down.

#13. Killing Heidi — ‘Weir’

You couldn’t go anywhere in 1999 without hearing ‘Weir’ blasting out of the speakers at a shopping centre or someone’s headphones on the bus. Most doubted the Australian band with a hit single could pull it off live — they were the tall poppies of ’99 — but they delivered, big time, with an excellent acoustic version of their teen anthem.

#12. Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers — ‘Designed to Fade’

Everything is better when you add Kasey Chambers.

#11. Machine Gun Fellatio — ‘Unsent Letter’

A band that never appeared much on mainstream TV in Australia because hosts were terrified to say their name. With songs like ‘Mutha Fukka on a Motorcycle’ and ‘Butter My Arse with a Pigeon’, they were known more for their wild live performances but the sombre closer to their album, ‘Bring It On!’, earned them a spot on The Panel.

#10. Missy Higgins — ‘Scar’

“Is your name really Missy?” Kate Langbroek asked, echoing the thoughts of the nation back in 2004. ‘Scar’ was a breakout hit and Channel 10 was using the song to promote The O.C. (is there anything more 2004 than that?) so Higgins made one of her first live TV performances on The Panel, and the rest is history.

#9. John Mayer — ‘Bigger Than My Body’

Before it all went to his head, Mayer was just one of many dudes with a guitar, jeans and sneakers following the footprints of Jack Johnson in the early ‘00s. This acoustic performance is a reminder of who Mayer was before he became a punchline.

#8. George — ‘Special Ones’

Katie Noonan is one of the great Australian voices and her band, George, was a M-O-O-D in 2001. ‘Special Ones’ is a defiant breakup song and The Panel was the perfect setting for this haunting version.

#7. 1200 Techniques — ‘Karma’

In 2002, the Aussie hip-hop group 1200 Techniques released their debut album, Choose One, and the single ‘Karma’ was a hit, bagging them two ARIA Awards. You would never see an Aussie hip-hop act on TV outside of an awards show back then, and 1200 Techniques showed up, congas and all, to smash it on live TV.

#6. Suzie DeMarchi and Dave Leslie — ‘Satellite’

The Baby Animals were one of the biggest Australian bands of the ’90s and a lot of it was to do with their formidable lead singer, Suzie DeMarchi.

After the band split, DeMarchi went solo and proved she still had it, and more, when she appeared in 1999 on The Panel. Worth it alone for the duelling guitars.

#5. Midnight Oil — ‘Short Memory’

In 2000, Midnight Oil were running on fumes creatively with the release of The Real Thing but they got our attention when they performed ‘Beds Are Burning’ at the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sydney wearing jumpers that said ‘Sorry’. Well, make that two big performances, ‘cos this low-fi version of ‘Short Memory’ is sublime.

#4. Elan — ‘Midnight’

Elan, a band from Mexico, fronted by Elán DeFan, had a hit in Australia in 2003, so they had to come here and bask in the success. Naturally, we put them on The Panel, and they turned out to be one of the best musical guests in the show’s history, delivering an epic slow jam. Elán gets bonus points for singing in a tracksuit.

#3. Ben Folds — ‘Rockin’ The Suburbs’

Say what you will about this gimmicky song but Folds took full advantage of live television to shout out Jimmy Barnes and deliver a totally unique version of his track.

#2. R.E.M — ‘I’ve Been High’

Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck were still getting used to life as a trio after the departure of their original drummer, Bill Berry, and the release of their second album without him, Reveal (the band’s twelfth overall).

It hits you seeing R.E.M as a three-piece but then you think, “HOLY SHIT IT’S R.E.M ON ‘THE PANEL’”. One of the greatest American bands of all time singing behind a desk in Australia and nailing it. Cool, cool, cool.

#1. Neil Finn and Richard Tognetti — ‘Last To Know’

Casually, during his intro, Neil Finn explains he taught violinist Richard Tognetti the notes to the song in the cab from the airport. It could have been a mess — but the moment Finn starts singing, the clarity of his voice and the progression of those wonderful chords assured us all that everything is going to be fine. ‘Last To Know’ is a beautiful song, and it comes from one of Finn’s solo albums One Nil.

Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.