The Easybeats, are one of Australia's greatest pop bands of the 60's. Formed in Sydney in 1964, they were the first Australian rock n roll act to have an international hit with 'Friday On My Mind'. With the formation of the Easybeats, Australia's music landscape was changed forever.
It was 1964, no single instance of Beatlemania anywhere on the globe ever came close to the intensity of the upheaval that accompanied their Australian visit. Young Australians reacted to the Beatles with such fervour because they were crying out for their own access to an enticing new world. The Fab Four had the power to link us, a colonial backwater, to a big wide world of fads, fashions, uninhibited excitement and sounds that would soon be mastered by musicians closer to home.
It was the Monday morning after the departure of the Beatles, with the electricity still in the air, that intuitive young music publisher Ted Albert made a momentous decision - that his company should become an ‘Exporter of Musical Copyrights’. He opened an A&R Department and by August had Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs on the charts. By years’ end they had four hits and Ted saw the future open up before him.
In a tiny Sydney radio theatrette he gave a hearing to a fairly ragged but unmistakably determined beat band that had formed in the austere Villawood Migrant Hostel earlier in the year, comprising, Englishmen Stevie Wright and Gordon 'Snowy' Fleet, Scotsman George Young and Dutchmen Harry Vanda and Dick Diamonde. By the beginning of 1965 The Easybeats would have a manager, regular work in Sydney beat clubs and a publishing and recording contact with the venerable J. Albert & Son.
"There was a desire to write our own songs and that was what set us apart" Harry Vanda reflects now. "Up until that time, songs you heard on the radio came from somewhere mysterious. So we gave it a crack and started doing it ourselves." Well at least, to begin with, Wright and Young did.
They became amazingly prolific writers, Stevie having a knack for succinct rock lyrics and George with his exceptional capacity for ingenious melodies and intense musical structures.
The Easybeats stormed to number one in May 1965 with She's So Fine and the ferocious phenomenon of 'Easyfever' spiralled. Airports, TV stations, theatres and hire cars were reduced to rubble, fans were hospitalised and general mayhem reigned. With their vital, urgent sound
The Easybeats gave Australian music a new identity and confidence. They were not only refreshingly original; they radiated an aura of raw, rebellious excitement that proved irresistible to an isolated generation intoxicated by its own youth.
The hits came in ceaseless cascade: Wedding Ring, Sad and Lonely and Blue, then three number ones in a row – Women (Make You Feel Alright), Come And See Her, and I'll Make You Happy - and then a top five with the musically intriguing Sorry. Overnight, Australian pop and rock shifted from imitation to innovation. The stakes had been raised and Oz Rock would never look back.
What drove Easyfever was not just songs of singular excitement but an explosive delivery centred upon the impishly indefatigable Steve Wright. Harry Vanda described him as "probably the best front man I've ever seen. When he walked on stage you only saw him." George concurs:
"Stevie was phenomenal and I'm not just saying that because he was our singer. At the time he was quite extraordinary. As years have passed he still measures up to the best of them – and he influenced many singers in his approach, in the need to entertain.
The irrepressible Wright, still 16 when the first number one exploded, was reaching beyond the front rows of howlers. For Jimmy Barnes, growing up in an industrial Adelaide suburb, himself a migrant, it was a television experience that shook him to his core. "Here’s a band that suddenly came on with songs and production the quality they had and me realising they came from Australia. It was just like, wow! Not thinking I could do that, but wishing I could. Even after the Easybeats, Stevie, the quintessential Australian front man as far as I'm concerned, captured not only the glamour but the pitfalls of the being in rock; he set it in song, in a feeling more than anything."
By the time the Easybeats were lodged in London in 1966, the creative balance was shifting. As George explained, "We looked at the competition we were facing and realised we had to lift our game, musically. Stevie wasn't a musician, he was a performer, and I knew that I needed to work
with another musician." The first Vanda & Young collaboration to emerge publicly was the song that stands as their most admired, acclaimed and recorded piece, the working class anthem, Friday On My Mind – a global hit for them that has since been recorded by David Bowie, Peter Frampton, Gary Moore and scores of others.
The Easybeats began writing and recording epic songs of sometimes extraordinary grandeur and shimmering beauty. George once explained "We were fumbling, groping around for hit tunes that were different. The ultimate, as far as we were concerned, was to be totally original and get hits. Original in the sense of finding new drumbeats, new guitar styles, new melodies, new chord changes, that sort of thing." The standouts were many, including Heaven & Hell and The Music Goes 'Round My Head. But what they helped build they were quite prepared to help dismantle. "At this time the music in London had gone all fluffy, it was San Francisco flowers in your hair stuff" now reflects George. "We had an idea for a song that went back to the basics of rock 'n' roll." Legend has it that when the BBC gave Good Times (with backing vocal by Small Face Stevie Marriott) a spin, Paul McCartney, driving on a motorway, found a roadside phone to ring and ask them to play it again.
Come 1969 it was all over for the Easybeats, who were fraying at the edges after being buffeted by all the things that a rock star lifestyle had to offer in the 60s. They made a final play for the American market with a more brassy, soulful sounding final album. The Billboard singles chart, almost cruelly, admitted the driving St. Louis into its lower reaches just as the group called it quits.
After a farewell Australian tour Harry and George returned to England to continue their ever-ambitious studio endeavours. Returning to Australia in 1974 they put to use what they had learned from eight years of making music in London. With the support of Ted they took up residence at in a new state-of- the-art recording studio at Albert headquarters and began blitzkreiging music in a manner that had not been experienced since ... well, the heyday of the Easybeats. Swiftly they captivated radio programmers with their songwriting and production prowess. Stevie who had kept working live, in bands and rock operas, welcomed them home and they welcomed him into their new studio, sending him to number one with an unprecedented three part 11 minute single, Evie (Parts 1,2 & 3). It was a mighty opus that didn't go to number one once, but twice. In 2004 members of Jet, Powderfinger, Grinspoon, The Living End and Spiderbait came together to perform it and named themselves, in tribute, The Wrights.
The songs that Vanda & Young crafted for Stevie fitted very much into the Easybeats canon, many harkening back to the rockin’ spirit of the early band. There was to be a third LP after Hard Road and Black Eyed Bruiser, but Stevie, a bruised warrior, just wasn't in good enough shape and sessions were suspended not long after they began. A recent tape search unearthed Motherfigure, a near completed song from that session, with a strong Stevie vocal in place. Jimmy Barnes jumped at the chance to record a duet vocal and invited along diesel to add his distinctive guitar tones.
There's a natural kinship between many of the fiery young bands who are part of this powerful tribute and the young group that turned Australia on its ear more than forty years ago - a commonality of attitude and intent. In the hands of rampant rockers like Skybombers, Grinspoon,
Thirsty Merc, Gyroscope, Faker and The Living End, the feisty songs seem to fulfil the purpose of their creation. Those who have come to sup at the source, from The Veronicas to Ben Lee, Children Collide and Old Man River, to Resin Dogs and Dappled Cities, have found much to nourish them.
Neil Finn, The Cruel Sea and Icehouse’s Iva Davies (who had recorded a version of Sorry back in 1980, just as Jimmy Barnes had cut Good Times later in the decade) are representative of the legions of performers who either came of age with the Easybeats as a key part of an influential musical backdrop, or began admiring their works as they were crafting their own. Avowed Easys devotees have been coming out of the woodwork with affectionate praise for a very long time now, the international ranks including Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, MeatLoaf, Gene Simmons and the aforementioned Thin White Duke.
Australia had great natural rockers from day one - musicians of flair and imagination who could set alight any dance floor and singers who could rip with the best of them - what it did not have was innovative songwriters who could take their creations to the world and compete as equals. At least not until 1965. "We never looked back” once mused Harry Vanda. “We tried everything - it was trial and error all the way. If we'd stuck to a formula we could have lasted forever but it isn't in our natures to stand still."
The thing is, they did last forever, or at least their songs will.