I've been meaning to post this for a while now, in flagrant violation of copyright (I think). It's a 1976 or 7 interview with George Young, late of the Easybeats and Vanda & Young. My mentor and honorary big brother Steve Simels sent me a Vanda & Young CD recently, and I like it a lot. Things I learned from this interview: George Young is the older brother of malcolm and Angus Young. Huh.
The Vanda-Young Story
By Glenn A. Baker
Bomp! March 1978.
Sometime during 1963, at a hostel in Sydney, Australia, a diminutive Scot and a young lanky Dutchman were drawn together, informally beginning one of the most productive partnerships in the history of pop music.
Harry Vanda and George Young, along with Stevie Wright, Dick Diamonde and Snowy Fleet became Australia's best loved rock sons—The EASYBEATS. For 2 years they swept thru Australian rock as unrivalled champions before leaving for England where they scored an almost immediate international Top 5 hit with the stunning "Friday on My Mind. " Despite the lack of comparable follow-up singles, the EASYBEATS remained a major force in the rock world until their eventual demise in 1970.
Recognition of their talent as professional songwriters began, rightfully enough, in Australia where acts like Johnny Young, the Valentines, Larry's Rebels and the Soul Agents covered EASYBEATS songs. However the move to England exposed their works to a larger market and covers of their songs soon appeared by such diverse artists as The Shadows and Los Bravos.
Once the EASYBEATS became accepted into the very tight English rock scene, Vanda/Young songs were eagerly sought by major chart acts. Amen Corner, Marmalade, Shocking Blue, Tremeloes, Joe Dolan and Gary Walker all recorded their songs during the late '60s.
Back in 1969, after 3 albums and endless management problems, the EASYBEATS made a final tour of Australia and went their own ways. Harry and George returned to England and production/songwriting. A variety of artists continued to record their songs and they played on so many sessions they can't begin to remember them all. Other efforts were issued under a variety of group names.
In 1973, they returned to Australia. Working out of independent Albert Productions, they began writing and/or producing hits for a staggering array of artists including Stevie Wright, AC/DC, John Paul Young, William Shakespeare, Ted Mulry, Johnny O'Keefe, Ray Burgess, Johnny Farham and others. So successful were they that at one time they had 5 records in the Top 40 at once!
International interest in their material began to ignite again, David Bowie chose "Friday on My Mind" for Pin-Ups and Rod Stewart recorded "Hard Road. "
Interviewed in Australia, George Young talks warmly of the EASYBEATS, Vanda & Young, the launching of AC/DC and gives a hint of the potential still left in what has been described as "the last great songwriting team of the sixties."
Vanda & Young
The George Young Story
I came out to Australia in 1963 from Scotland with my family. Glasgow was one of the centers for blues music in Britain, and it wasn't till I came to Australia that I started playing rock music.
That's where all the EASYBEATS got together. We were all living at the Villawood Migrant Youth Hostel. Stevie had been in Australia and he'd come through the ranks of local clubs and talent shows. He was only a kid of 12 or 13—I was about 16. Dick and Harry came from Holland and Snowy from England, where he played in the MOJOS. He came up with the name "EASYBEATS." We had a guy singing with us in the beginning called John Bell, but he was a bit shy and we wanted a singer with get up and go, so we picked Stevie. John later became leader of THE THROB.
We did the usual auditions around Sydney then a friend of ours got us various auditions. Eventually we went out on our own, after being kicked out of one pub for being too loud and filthy. Because of a Dutch friend we soon became the resident band at Beatle Village.
That was 1964. We were scruffy long hairs then, but compared to nowadays, we looked tidy and neat. Australia, at the time wasn't very fashion conscious. But in England, where we had come from, fashions were taking off, so we got into it, wearing matching suits and other gear like that.
At one of our gigs, Mike Vaughn approached us and asked if he could be our manager. He had good connections with Ted Albert at J. Albert and Sons, and he organized an audition. Ted liked it and we were on our way. We laid down 3 or 4 tracks at that session, "For My Woman," "Please Say That You're Mine"—that's all I can remember. They weren't demos, they were actual masters. Alberts were quite happy, and they putout "For My Woman" as a single. It didn't do that good—they had trouble getting stations to play it—the old reluctance to get in deep with an Australian band.
The record company was pleased, tho, because it was the first time apart from Billy Thorpe, that they had managed to get a local act off the ground with original material. Stevie and I were doing most of the writing then. Harry could barely spell English, so he worked .on the music and really got into writing later on. We kept playing and went back into the studio and put down "She's So Fine." In those days, recording was a real drag. The equipment was so terrible. Such a long, tedious operation to get a half decent cymbal sound. Anyway, after a lot of carry on, we got the 45 down. That came out and just took off—it was our first national #1. The money got better, the responsibilities got heavier, and the spin-off was that the first record became a hit. It was pretty pleasing. Then the fan hysteria thing started. Only Normie Rowe was happening really big at the time. He was a good mate of ours, there was friendly rivalry between us.
Anyway, with a #1 record, that's where all the bullshit started. We weren't really playing anymore, we were trying to satisfy demand, trying to please the record company, promoters, record stores, radio stations, fan magazines, here there everywhere. It took all the enjoyment out of actually playing. We went out and did one half-hour, nobody could hear, we could have gone out and picked our noses, it wouldn't have made any difference.
After "She's So Fine" came "Wedding Ring," not #1, but top 3. But early as it was, we went through that musicians' phase where we tried to get clever. You can try to prove that you're more than just a 3-chord rock 'n' roll band. With that track we tried to be commercial, but at the same time, be a bit different. It paid off, but wasn't as big a hit as we thought it could have been. We decided then that we wanted to get out of Australia. The next single was "Sad and Lonely and Blue"—a bit of a bomb for us, but I think it made the top 10. Again, it was an extension of being clever.
But after seeing the records progressively going down, we thought "Bugger it! Let's go back", so we gave up all pretensions and gave the kids what they wanted—to dance and sing to good, happy choruses. So we knocked out this thing in 10 minutes called "Woman." By that time we had realized that all the little girls were going for Stevie. So we wrote this tear-jerker for Stevie, "In My Book" for the B-side. We did it on TV, Stevie would have tears rolling down his cheeks, by turning around and rubbing an onion in his eyes just before he started singing. Occasionally he'd do it without the onion—just stick his fingers in his eyes. Anyway, it was a double A-side hit.
By this time, we'd made our second visit to Melbourne, and we were taken by our record co. to the plush Windsor Hotel, across the road from the Parliament House, so all the politicians drank there. We met all the DJ's from the nearby radio station and we were supposed to be nice and generally get them to play our records. In the pub at lunchtime there were a whole bunch of labourers and of course the long hair thing came up and they started laughing at us, calling us poofs and abusing the shit out of us. Eventually one of them called us "English bastards" or something. So fuck it, we tore into these guys and started beating the shit out of them—disc jockey, politician, we didn't give a shit. Of course we got a hiding in the end, but it was worth it—you can only take so much. When we left the pub, after we came to, we all felt depressed. But we got word back later from the DJ's that it was the most enjoyable lunch they'd ever had, and they put the record on the air the same day.
By this time, we were being heavily managed, not musically, but business-wise and personal-wise. We had everything done for us, we practically had our arses wiped. The management excuse was that we were so busy being the EASYBEATS, we had no time for anything else. But musically, it was all our control, although we were still meeting other people's demands. "Come and See Her" was another record put out to keep interest up. Another #1 hit!
At first we took a lot of notice of overseas trends in groups, but then it became apparent to us that it was all just a money game and it didn't mean so much. We weren't making any money at the time because of high overheads and lack of exploitation on the management side. As a #1 band, the group should have been making tons of money, but it wasn't. We never questioned the management. The manager to us was father and God rolled into one. Nobody questioned him, there was no reason to question him, never any mistrust. About this time, we decided we were going to England. The record co. wanted an LP, so we gave them one. Out of the album came the 'Easyfever' EP, which reached #1 just as we left. We put down another single for release after we left called "Sorry" and that didn't do too bad either.
Then to London late in 1966, just prior to the Flower Children thing, which was really a drag for us, being hostel boys. The first thing we laid down in England was four tracks: "Friday on My Mind," "Made My Bed," and a re-recording of "Pretty Girl" and "Remember Sam," The first single was "Friday," really working class rock 'n' roll. Being hostel boys, that's what you dream about. Friday! It was practically a repetition of the same situation with our first record in Australia, not many people were interested. But then the pirate radio stations, who had Australian DJ's would slip in the record even tho it wasn't programmed. It went #1 and it was one-in-the-eye to everyone who thought it wouldn't make it. It didn't take long before we were back in the old scene.
The record went into the U.S. Top 10, so we did one tour of the East Coast of America.
We toured for about 2 months, with the Buckinghams, Happenings, Music Explosion, and other top American groups.
That was when the rot set in. We were under a lot of pressure to come up with another "Friday", which was pretty much impossible. All you've got to do is look at the history of rock to see that if you ever get a particularly good track, there is no way you can duplicate it style-wise or musically and achieve the same success. American bands have been known to use the same backing track for a follow-up single but we are different. We had done a trip back to Australia prior to the American and Snowy decided to stay on there. We got Tony Cahill from the Purple Hearts and he came to the States with us. We did a recording session in the States. It was in an old studio in NY that was no longer operating. We laid down "Falling Off the Edge of the World" there.
By that time the band was stoned off their nuts most of the time and we had been at it for a fair while. When everybody else was getting into it, we were trying to get out of it. Although we never took anything in Australia, funnily enough. The general lethargy of the band was due to the dope thing, plus there were contractual hassles popping up and we still weren't making any money. Then we found ourselves exclusively signed to more than one record company! To this day, we're still involved in lawsuits over it. Mike Vaughan obviously didn't do it on purpose, but he was small fry over there and the first Australian manager to bring an act to England.
The next single became "Who'll Be the One" which was rubbish, but it seemed to satisfy most people. Shel Talmy produced it, a hell of a good producer in the classic American traditions of a follow-up record sounding like a first hit. "Who'll Be the One" wasn't in the same league as "Friday" - it wasn't even on the same planet! But it seemed to satisfy the demand—there was a basic similarity of styles, but it flopped anyway.
Then the "Heaven and Hell" "Pretty Girl" single slipped out and it didn't seem to do much either. "Heaven and Hell" lacked a strong melody, we tried to cram a lot of musical experimentation into a three minute commercial single; it didn't work, it never does. Often, if a band tries to reflect their present awareness into a hit single, it flops, you need a lot more time than three minutes. But it really was a good record, produced by Glyn Johns. One of the reasons it didn't do well on the 'charts was the title some thought there were drug connotations and other reports from America said they wouldn't play it because of its title.
It all comes back to the dope thing. If you go back to the nitty gritty, the Easybeats were a rock 'n' roll band, a three chord band who liked to rock. We made the same mistakes as we did in Australia—tried to get too clever. We brought out this thing called "Music Goes Round in My Head", which everybody in the business thought was great. We were into a blue beat, reggae thing—the album that influenced me was "Ska '67"
By then things had really deteriorated overall—dope, disinterest and not least of all, nobody was making any money out of it. A lot of money was being earned, but it all seemed to go on expenses, bills, etc. That's when the squabbles started with the management and we eventually moved on from it.
The flower power thing eased off. Big ballads came in—Humperdinck, Tom Jones etc.—and again we still hadn't learned, so we decided to take on these guys with a big ballad of our own—"Hello, How Are You." Again, the people in the industry dug it and it skidded in and out of the Top 20. But it was a classic mistake from our point of view, we were a rock 'n' roll band and what was a rock band doing with this cornball schmaltz shit? We shouldn't have done it. I think after that the Vigil LP came out, and by this time everybody in the band was pretty jacked off, so we dug out this thing recorded sometime previous called "Good Times" for the next single. "Good Times" was REALLY rock 'n' roll but it was the same thing then as it is now—bands have to have some sort of musical identity. By that time, the Easybeats had blown it as an identity thing. What with "Friday" a good rocker, "Who'll Be the One" a load of rubbish, "Heaven and Hell" complicated self-indulgence, "Music Goes Round" reggae flower power, "Hello" Tom Jonesy, "Good Times" a screaming rocker, people didn't know what to make of us. It was a shame that "Good Times'" didn't follow "Friday”—it would have been the ideal thing. It didn't make the charts, but it got an incredible reaction, like McCartney jumping out of his car to ring the BBC and all that carry-on. Stevie Marriot did most of the background singing on it too.
After doing a few cover songs as relief (“Hound Dog,” Hit the Road, Jack,” “See Line Woman,” “I Can't Stand It"), we finally decided to pack it in. We did another tour of Australia, which was reasonably successful, but by then even Australia was into the flowery musical thing and we were back into what we were before: a rock band. So they just didn’t think we had even progressed. Australia sees us as this brash, couldn’t-give-a-shit rock & roll band coming along and spoiling all their beautiful flower thing, which had of course died in England by that time. So we died a death twice.
The band more or less split up in Australia. Tony Cahill joined Python Lee Jackson. Dick got religion bad, dope bad, generally went off the deep end. We had a strange piece of news the other day, that Snowy had died. Snowy used to write regularly, but hasn't in a while. We tried to find him, but no luck.
Before we left London, we laid down a few tracks, which became the basis for the last LP, Friends. That actually wasn’t an album. Polydor got hold on some of the demo tapes we had done for other artists and put them out as an LP. It wasn’t even an EASYBEATS LP, per se, just Harry and I with Stevie on some vocals. “St. Louis” was our last single, the only thing on the album that was laid down in a real studio.
So Harry and I went back to England, flat broke, hoping to produce some records. Thru friends with studios, we did this thing called "Get Ready For Lovin’,” which got out under the name Paintbox, written by Alex. On the B-side was a song Harry and I wrote called "Vietnam Rose," which meant a dose of the clap. Young Blood Records liked it and put it out again as an A-side, calling the band Tramp. It was sung by Ian Campbell, an amazing singer. Then Alem's band Grapefruit had all but broken up, so we went into the studio with him and cut the final Grapefruit 45, called "Sha Sha.” And then a whisky company was bringing out a new blend called Haffy's Whisky Sour. Now to me, that name conjures up a southern American moonshine image. Well, we went in the studio and laid down this track called “Shot in the Head,” which later turned up on the Marcus Hook LP in a different version). Campbell sang it, it was one of my favourite tracks—very down home dirty. Savoy Brown covered it really nice. Around this time a lot of our songs were being covered by small time English bands like Mosaic, Jennifer's Friends, Rag Dolls, Terry & the Trixons, Popper, Worth, Fluff and lots more. There was one guy called Phil Pickett, who is now in Sailor, who took a liking to our songs. He recorded “Pasadena” under the name of Buster and "Beautiful and Black" as Heavy Feather.
We also did these things called “Lazy River” and “Free and Easy” which were put out under the name of Moondance, although I think in Australia they just came out as Vanda & Young. Then we did some tracks for Decca under the name of Band of Hope.
Tile last part of our four year binge was the Marcus Hook Roll Band. When EMI finally released the album they called it Tales of Old Grandaddy and on the cover they had a drawing of an old man sitting in a rocking chair, which was complete bullshit. It should've shown a bottle of Old Grandaddy bourbon, that's what it was all about. The story of Marcus Hook was that there was this friend of ours called Wally Allen who used to play in the Pretty things. He was producing at EMI then and thought it would be fun to get us down to Abbey Road to cut some tracks and then call it some group. He would supply the booze, we'd supply the music. So we rounded up the boys, went down there and knocked out about 4 or 5 tracks on the spur of the moment. Apparently it got a lot of interest in America, especially "Natural Man" which became the single. After returning home, we got word from the US that they were hot on this Marcus Hook Roll Band, which we thought was hilarious—it was just a joke to us. We weren't interested in finishing off an album, so they came to us. We went into EMI-Sydney for a month and Wall supplied all the booze. We had Harry, myself and my kid brothers Malcolm and Angus. We all got rotten, 'cept for Angus, who was too young, and we spent a month in there boozing it up every night. That was the first thing that Malcolm and Angus did before AC/DC. We didn't take it very seriously, so we thought we'd include them to give them an idea of what recording was all about. The American company asked us time and time again if we'd promote it, but we didn't want to go thru that again, and because of that they didn't promote it. It didn't do a real lot, but it got released in America, England and Australia.
So we were back in Australia and we just carried on where we left off. But we decided to get back into some serious work, so the first thing we got into was the Stevie Wright album. At that time, there were a few attempts to get a live thing back together with the Easybeats, so we did 3 heavily promoted shows with Stevie. There was a lot of pressure to reform the band, we didn't want to know about it. That was all history.
Then we started to take producing seriously: John Miles, Les Kirsh, Willian Shakespeare. Harry and I have thousands of songs, but we haven't got around to writing anything together for about 18 months, except for that Flash in the Pan single. We're going thru a bit of lack of interest, but AC/DC are a part of building up that interest again. To us, helping to get them off the ground in such a short time, getting them off to England, and also getting them a good deal was another exercise.
Having David Bowie and Rod Stewart record our song was great because they picked them out of the blue. I've only heard Bowie's "Friday on My Mind" and Stewart's" "Hard Road" once, but I wasn't really impressed. The best cover of one of our songs was "Superman” by Allison McCallum because it was so different.
The future? I don't really know. We've done the production things and that's appealed to us. There are a lot of songs which just have to be put down on tape. It's just getting the energy and shaking ourselves out of the lethargy of our petty, bourgouise existence. Ha!!
Special thanks to Harry Vanda, George Young, and J. Albert & Sons for their cooperation.
(BTW, if the fine folks at Bomp! or the widow Shaw wish me to pull this post, I will do so on request. For now I offer it as a hard-to-find but interesting piece of rock history.)
(NB: It's possible there are some scan mistakes in here, but most of the errors, including the misspelling of bourgeoisie, are original to Bomp!)