The Easybeats

TrackSingle / Album
She's So FineParlophone A-8157 / Easy
Wedding RingParlophone A-8168 / It's 2 Easy
Women (Make You Feel Alright)Parlophone A-8186 / It's 2 Easy
SorryParlophone A-8224 / Volume 3
Friday On My MindParlophone A-8234 / Good Friday
Heaven And HellParlophone A-8255
The Music Goes Round My HeadParlophone A-8277 / Vigil
Land Of Make BelieveParlophone A-8406 / Vigil
Good TimesParlophone A-8406 / Vigil
St LouisPolydor NH-59274 / Friends

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The Easybeats photo

The Easybeats (l to r): Dick Diamonde (bass), Harry Vanda (lead guitar), Stevie Wright (vocals), George Young (rhythm guitar), Snowy Fleet (drums)

 

Contributor: David Lewis

Before Midnight Oil, Divinyls, INXS, Bee Gees, Little River Band, Mental as Anything and, yes, AC/DC (of whom more later), but after Frank Ifield, the Seekers and (gulp) Rolf Harris, the Easybeats conquered the British Invasion, and put a little bit of Oz into the music in 1964. The Easybeats, who as a group were from Sydney, but individually were migrants to Australia. The original group (Stevie Wright, George Young and Snowy Fleet from the UK, and Harry Vanda and Dick Diamonde from the Netherlands) met at the Villawood Migrant centre. Quickly, they decided to form a band. They got somewhat of a residency in a nightclub in Oxford St, Sydney, which led to a recording contract, which led to success, failure, poor finances, and ultimately some of the best pop to emerge in the 1960s.

Although the Bee Gees, their near contemporaries, are often (wrongly) dismissed as being Beatle-esque, the Easybeats are very much out of the Beatles – the call and response, the Lennon-esque riffs, the vocal harmonies. Yet, these aren’t slavish clones. They are vital and unique songs.

 

She’s So Fine starts this list. One thing that struck me on a careful re-listen was just how much the Beatles influenced the sound. She’s So Fine has one of the best George Harrison solos not played by George. Stevie Wright, who’s natural ebullience bounces out of everything he sang, is cheeky, funny; he anticipates Bon Scott, but also he brings to mind a McCartney-esque frontman – chirpy, cheeky, but a compelling frontman.

The next song may well be dismissed for its sexism (the man wants love, but all the woman wants is to be married), But it is a stomping rocker, with terrific backing vocals, a pounding beat and a great riff. Wedding Ring would be many other bands’ best song, but the Easybeats weren’t just any band.

They make you feel alright (make you feel alright), and this Lennon meets Jagger composition continues the formula: riff, catchy hooks, nice backing vocals. And terrific performances; Women (Make You Feel Alright) would get a dead man dancing.

The Beatles meet the Stones in this next one. Sorry is another blistering rocker, with some lovely rhythmic chopping by Young – the guitar is played like a snare drum. Frenetic drums and yet another great vocal by Stevie.

 

Perhaps, just perhaps, the greatest Australian rock song, Friday On My Mind is a stone cold classic. That scale in the riff, and the teenage concern – not dates and cars, but the drudgery of the working week. Friday can’t come soon enough. Possibly Stevie’s best vocal performance. ‘Tonight, I’ll spend my bread/Tonight, I’ll lose my head’ … the young man’s work week perfectly explained. Covered by David Bowie, Gary Moore, Richard Thompson (thanks Andrew Shields for pointing me to that superb cover) and many many others, it is universal, particular and timeless.

 

The gut punch of Heaven And Hell got it banned from the BBC: “hell is finding someone else in your bed”. The BBC objected, and so it was changed to “finding that your love is dead”. But the original has an emotional impact that underscores the music perfectly.

The Music Goes Round My Head shows the diversity of the Vanda/Young songwriting team. They will, as will be seen, become one of the – if not the – most significant songwriting teams in Australia, with international success.

Not to be confused with the song by Bucks Fizz, Land Of Make Believe is a lovely piece of whimsy describing the narrator’s wishes for happiness. Vanda and Young were able to craft beautiful guitar parts and this is a great example of that.

 

Good Times is another song which would be a career maker for most songwriters. The burgeoning team of Vanda and Young, augmented by Wright, could do quality. So much great about this song – the name checks of the famous women who’ll be at the party – Long Tall Sally, Short Fat Fanny, etc. The restrained vocals in the verse. Steve Marriott of the Small Faces on backing vocals: stunning. This was later covered by Jimmy Barnes and INXS but they couldn’t match the sparkle of this one.

The Easybeats collapsed in 1970 after five whirlwind years. Vanda and Young decided to concentrate on writing and management. The last album was essentially demos played and sung by Vanda and Young, except for the single, St Louis. A scorching rocker, the story of an old man heading home is underscored by a brilliantly simple but perfect riff, great lyrics and a vocal harmony that just … works. Tired, broke, and with some drug issues, the Easybeats broke up.

But that’s not quite the end of the story. George Young’s younger brothers formed AC/DC – George had allegedly told a group of US musicians that his eleven year old brother could easily outplay them. Vanda and Young didn’t just write for AC/DC, though. They formed their own band, Flash and the Pan, and released the astounding Down Among The Dead Men and followed it up with the incredible Hey, St. Peter. They also wrote most of the great hits in Australia in the 1970s. UK readers might find this some somewhat analogous to Chinnichap (Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn). Among their other achievements, they wrote the musical triptych, Evie, with Wright on vocals and Malcolm Young on lead guitar.

The story of Stevie Wright is ultimately sad. Years of addictions, of blown chances, of struggles. Yet, one of the most beloved and talented frontmen Australia produced.

The Easybeats mightn’t have been first, but they set the template for every Australian band that followed, for a long time.

*

David Lewis writes: This post was submitted the day before the untimely passing of George Young. As this list (which doesn’t go into the details of his post Easybeats career) shows, he was a superb musician, a great songwriter and one of the most important figures in rock music. Vale George Young.

George Young (1946-2017)

Stevie Wright (1947-2015)

 

The Easybeats on MILESAGO: Australasian Music 1964-1975

Friday On My Mind: The Story Of The Easybeats (Documentary on YT)

The Easybeats biography (iTunes)

Flash and the Pan (Toppermost #670)

David Lewis has written several posts for Toppermost. He lives in Sydney and lectures in Popular Culture and Contemporary and Roots Music at the Australian Institute of Music. A guitarist, mandolinist, banjoist and bassist, he plays everything from funk to country. He writes on music here.

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
AC/DC, Bee Gees, INXS, Midnight Oil, Small Faces

TopperPost #669

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Oct 28, 2017

    David, thanks for this great piece. It is a fitting tribute to George Young and it is amazing how fresh The Easybeats’ music still sounds. Watching the video for ‘Sorry’ it struck me how much of a garage band they actually were. Hard to think of any other Australian band who could match that blend of slightly manic enthusiasm with brilliant pop hooks. And “Friday On My Mind’ is such a classic song.

    • David Lewis
      Oct 29, 2017

      They were really pre Sgt Pepper’s Beatles weren’t they. The Stones and The Who play a big part as well..

  2. Glenn Smith
    Oct 31, 2017

    To paraphrase Jim Killen, “Lewis you are magnificent”. This is a cracking good take on a band chockful of brilliant songs. I would have asked the editor to extend the list to include I’ll Make You Happy, Come and See Her and their first single For My Woman. When you look through that list it reminds us that all those incredible singles up until Friday were co written by George with Stevie, damn fine lyric writer he was. And there is nothing to be added to the story of Friday except that the record is the first take, get your head around that!

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