Saturday, October 29, 2005

Neo BabyBlogging: Sean Patrick Edition

From the side, the noble profile. Posted by Picasa

Ack! He's looking at us! Posted by Picasa

Much as they reportedly used to "gender-check" medieval popes after the unfortunate "Pope Joan" incident, we are looking up from underneath at the thigh bones and a penis, helpfully identified by the ultrasound tech. The black bubble is his bladder. Posted by Picasa

Well, he's rudely turning his back on us! Guess we'll let him sleep. Posted by Picasa

The Ramones

More from the PPDA: An article from the tabloid-style New York Rocker from march of 1976. Pics in text claim to be from the Ramones first formal recording session (I'm grain-of-salting that one, but your mileage may vary):

Devising a structural reality from the harsh poetics of rock is an arduous, remarkable task that the Ramones have accomplished. That’s not bad for a solid thesis sentence or just a plain old opening remark, and it’s as unnecessary as rock criticism is unnecessary. Los Ramones have locked themselves within a black leather embryo that neither sticks nor stones nor intricate musical pretensions may transcend. Thank god.

In the studio. Posted by Picasa

Not that it has been all smooth sailing. There have been shaky moments--place: CBGB, time: Friday January 30 [That would be 1976, folks. –Ed.] The joint is too fucking crowded. Every high school in Long Island must have sent 50 delegates. There is the longest, most tedious equipment set-up in the history of a New York rock club. The Ramones finally begin the beguine but are halfway through the first song, "Loudmouth,” when a speaker blows. Another interminable waiting period. The audience, remarkably docile, waits for the boys to get back into the action. Tommy Ramone snarls and fumes that his drum amplification must be as loud as the vocal. Dee-Dee seems most anxious to get the music rolling. Johnny sits on an amplifier and looks apprehensive while Joey stands ceneter stage, shy and confused, his weight shifted onto one hip or the other.

There is a joke going around that a Ramones set is like a small Oklahoma town. Blink and you’ll miss it. A performance from these four Forest Hills lads is not a series of short songs—it is more like one prolonged popper. The set continued Friday night without significant hiatus, but the wretched technical difficulties had managed to impede the powerhouse spontaneity that the boys have never failed to unleash. Joey’s knee-kicks were milder, Johnny did not purse his lips quite so tightly. The desperation was lacking and I missed it.

Johnny. Posted by Picasa

What was afoot? Had the boys gone uptown on us? Or were they merely quivering in an unsteady transition from the smoky, piss-ridden lairs of the underground to the lustrous portals of commercial success?

Nothing so dire, nothing so dreadful. Sunday evening found them back to their guileless, unabashed selves, ready to rip into a skull-rending tunebefore you could say “1-2-3-4.” Rain had kept the overflow crowd away, that and the fact that there would be school the next day. There was a pleasant audience, however, and the usual quota of predictable Ramones regulars. My favorite has always been Claudia, a blonde specimen of high-fashion pulchritude and ofttime companion of Tommy Ramone. Her face is part Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch, part Temple Drake of Sanctuary, both personae finding a tenuous compromise in the dusky netherworld of a lovely, tormented Jean Rhys heroine. She stands near the amplifiers, impassive, anesthetized, unblinking as the Ramones go into a song with all the subtlety of the Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia.

Tommy. Posted by Picasa

After the first set (a very admirable performance), I happened to overhear a conversation behind me. The speaker looked as if he should have been back at his NYU dorm mulling over his political science textbooks. He was talking to a black man who was looking very pensive wearing the inevitable denim poorboy hat. Our scholar was berating the group, complaining about the simple chords, the vocals, the drums, saying that anybody could play that and ending with the usual “it’s just a lot of noise.”

My second impulse (the first is to kick him and call him an asshole) is to run to my English Literature anthology and quote lines from Eliot that might be pertinent to the Ramones. Or maybe the cinematic philosophy of Godard. Or Artaud’s theater of cruelty. But none of this makes any difference.

I love the Ramones because they’re the Ramones: the ineluctable modality of the visible. If you do not like them, you do not like them. But that does not make you a better person. And it does not mean I will respect you. Sure it’s a lot of noise, but it’s glorious noise founded upon an irrevocable sagacity that it is utter presumption to translate rock ’n’ roll into a manifesto of meaningful precepts.

Obviously and thankfully, Ramones will appeal to no simpleton hungry for the saccharine mush of a Crosby, Stills, and Mashed Potatoes combo or to the sybaritic, twinkle-toed enthusiasts of the numbing mechanics manufactured by asensual disco-robots.

Joey. Posted by Picasa

The Ramones hit hard, but when all the smoke and fury have subsided, one may recognize that despite the overwhelming amplification, the group is operating through the most basic devices of irony and understatement. What could be less threatening than a red plastic belt buckled (a la Peter Tork) at Joey's right hip? Or Johnny's white slip-on sneakers, slightly dingy from a stroll down the Bowery?

The song themes are not always lyrical--glue sniffing, shock treatment; Texas chainsaw massacres--but our protagonist always maintains a healthy adolescent quality in the humanistic approach to his grim universe. He encourages a beating of the brat, but he becomes the Brat Incarnate who does not want to go down to the basement. He tells some girl he wants to be her boyfriend, but he can rebuke this with the snotty disclaimer: “I Don't Care (About That Girl)". No dark irony can dispel the vitality of the Blitzkrieg Bop; the greyest Long Island sky will not conceal the desire for a California sun. The final cathartic pronouncement, "I’m a Nazi,” is made with such wholesome touch-football enthusiasm that one might almost be willing to forgive Hitler his every atrocity. Even Anne Frank. Even Millie Perkins.

Away from the breathless fervor of performance, the boys are reserved and polite. There is no boasting about their method and their magic. Each Ramone seems too genuine, too boy-next-door to adopt the pompous image of a neurasthenic rock star. Tommy once said, “eople either like us or they hate us,” but he did not expound. Dee-Dee does not say a great deal. Outside CBGB, Johnny, between sets one evening, said how much he enjoyed staying up all night with his wife watching late movies on TV. One of his favorites is “Now Voyager”. Joey, over a beer at the Locale, once expressed an admiration for Peter Noone.

Dee Dee. Posted by Picasa

However, little of Herman’s Hermit’s influence is reflected in Joey’s stage presence. He clings desperately to the microphone stand, as if it were his Siamese twin. He is a leather-handled stiletto anthropomorphized into l’enfant terrible of the suburbs. Under a mound of glossy black hair, you can see the jaw working furiously. His movement is a study in minimalism. Most of the time he stands in his jeans, his body curved as gently as a swan’s throat. Then there is that sudden paroxysm in response to a violent chord change… Tommy grimaces behind his sunglasses as he pounds out a rapacious beat on the drums... Johnny’s lips are tense as he plucks the strings roughly and steps across the waves of music like an agile water-skier. Dee Dee thumps the bass and peers intently into the mike when he sings.

Somewhere inside, there’s an obsessive fantast to be brutally raped, without shame, without mercy. The Ramones are able to accommodate this daydream with a relentless army of decibels. The orifice of entry is different, but the effect is the same.

And when the show is over, when the equipment is unplugged and the guitars are packed away and you walk home in the early morning along curiously serene streets, you are haunted by one endurable Ramone epitaph: Judy is a Punk; Jackie is a Runt—that is all ye know on earth,
and all ye need to know. –Stephen Anderson

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New to the Blogroll

Compliments of the intrepid Eschatonian Kid Charlemagne (almost as dependable a thread buster as watertiger or simels), I bring you Little Hits.

They seem to post streaming songs pretty regularly, many up our alley.

Enjoy, and many thanks, Kid C!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Okay, I confess. I like psychedelia. I don't make any great claims for its genius or brilliance or artistry, but it makes me happy, and frankly, these days, that's enough.

And I like neo-psychedelia as well. The Dukes of the Stratosphear, for example, are one of the most delightful side projects of any band, pretty much ever. Give me a fuzzy guitar and a surreal lyric and I'm pretty happy, usually.

Here's a recent review of Children of Nuggets, a new compilation from Rhino which, if it misses some tunes I would have included (Shoes' "Treading Water," for example, a great psychedelic song), includes some I wouldn't have thought of (like Teenage Fanclub, who I love, but don't really class as psychedelic).
Kieron Tyler's liner notes deserve special praise, as he openly confronts the limitations of the whole Nuggets genre, while documenting the rise and fall of several fertile scenes. It's equally enlightening to hear scorching tracks by The Lyres, The Fleshtones, and The Chesterfield Kings, all of whom kept the garage-rock flame burning in cold times, more than a decade before the Detroit scene brought the heat back. And unlike recent disappointing Rhino boxes dedicated to punk (No Thanks!) and college rock (Left Of The Dial), Children Of Nuggets isn't propped up with songs that every interested music buff would already own. By the time the set hits its second disc, the programmers are lining up one obscure wonder after another, hitting a precipitous peak in the middle of disc three with the one-two of The Stems' molten power-pop anthem "Love Will Grow" and The Spongetones' fractured Beatles homage "She Goes Out With Everybody." Both those songs would've been too self-conscious for the original Nuggets, but here, they've been precisely filed.

The relationship between power pop and psychedelia is pretty direct, it seems to me. Psychedelia was the side street into which the first wave of power pop in the mid-1960's was shunted. So "And Your Bird Can Sing" became "Rain," for example. (Parenting/babysitting tip: you can while away a rainy afternoon by allowing children to jump on the bed to Yellow Submarine. The title track, of course, but also "All Together Now" and Hey Bulldog." Kids love to howl.) Power pop was kept alive, like an ember, under bands like The Move, who appeared to be psychedelic on the surface. And so I have a warm place in my heart for it.

Now I just need to find the scratch to get this record.....

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Child Abuse

This is really more Dave's sort of thing, but I read it this morning and got all pissed off.

Known as "Prussian Blue" — a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes — the girls from Bakersfield, Calif., have been performing songs about white nationalism before all-white crowds since they were nine.

"We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white," said Lynx. "We want our people to stay white … we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."

The Goebbels, err, Gaede Twins. Posted by Picasa

Lynx and Lamb have been nurtured on racist beliefs since birth by their mother April. "They need to have the background to understand why certain things are happening," said April, a stay-at-home mom who no longer lives with the twins' father. "I'm going to give them, give them my opinion just like any, any parent would."

April home-schools the girls, teaching them her own unique perspective on everything from current to historical events. In addition, April's father surrounds the family with symbols of his beliefs — specifically the Nazi swastika. It appears on his belt buckle, on the side of his pick-up truck and he's even registered it as his cattle brand with the Bureau of Livestock Identification.

"Because it's provocative," explains April of the cattle brand, "to him he thinks it's important as a symbol of freedom of speech that he can use it as his cattle brand."

See. I know us liberals are supposed to be wacky moral relativists and all that, but if you can't get behind the whole "Don't Raise Your Kids as Nazi Propaganda" thing, I think there's a problem. Most people, with the exception of Pat Buchanan, have no trouble with the "Hitler was a bad man" meme.

Like many children across the country, Lamb and Lynx decided to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina — the white ones.

The girls' donations were handed out by a White Nationalist organization who also left a pamphlet promoting their group and beliefs — some of the intended recipients were more than a little displeased.

After a day of trying, the supplies ended up with few takers, dumped at a local shop that sells Confederate memorabilia.

Last month, the girls were scheduled to perform at the local county fair in their hometown. But when some people in the community protested, Prussian Blue was removed from the line-up.

But even before that, April had decided that Bakersfield was not "white" enough, so she sold her home, and hopes that she and the girls can find an all-white community in the Pacific Northwest.

Do all parents share their values with their kids? Sure. But most parents also make sure their kids have a way to judge those values. That's where things like going to school come in handy, and allowing your kids access to a world outside yours. My teen is into all kinds of stuff I don't really "get," and you know what? That's all right.

Guess we just have to sit back and wait for their Jamiel Terry moment.

More at NTodd's, including lyrics.

UPDATE: Just got back from a listen to "Skinhead Boy."

Oi, oi, oi, skinhead boy, you're my oi boy.

Skinhead boy, skinhead man
Someday you will save our land.

(Bangs head on desk.)

On the plus side, this is pretty amateurish, just these two and an acoustic guitar, easily transportable to a rally in an Idaho cornfield, say. And it's, errr, not good. There's not even any harmonies, just these two singing in unison.

But then it was never really about the production value, now, was it?

This post was linked to from Steve Gilliard (who does a lovely photoshop job on the girls), where commenter "Magnum" notes the following: "I just found out that Prussian Blue isn't 'a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes'. It's a bright blue chemical residue that's left behind in areas that Zyklon B has been used."

And the link:
Holocaust deniers often claim that the so-called forensic reports of Leuchter, Rudolf and others prove the impossibility of homicidal gassings at Auschwitz and Birkenau. A central point of their argument is that their studies apparently show that delousing chambers, in which Zyklon B was used, have much higher concentrations of cyanide compounds present than do the homicidal gas chambers. Of course such presumes that their studies were conducted honestly and with good technique. Zimmerman,1Pressac,2and perhaps others have shown that such a presumption is unwarranted. Even if one takes the reports of Leuchter and others at face value, however, there is a crucial problem with their studies that is addressed in the study of the IFFR. This problem centers around a class of compounds called the iron blues, a representative example of which is Prussian blue.

Hydrogen cyanide and most of its salts are readily soluble in water and thus extremely susceptible to weathering, Prussian blue on the other hand is extremely insoluble. If Prussian blue were to form in a building exposed to hydrogen cyanide, it would remain present at high concentration while other compounds of cyanide would gradually weather away. It has long been known that some of the delousing chambers exhibit obvious blue staining, whereas the remains of the homicidal chambers at Auschwitz and Birkenau do not. Comparing the cyanide content of material from the delousing chambers that exhibits this blue staining and material from homicidal chambers that do not exhibit this staining, may show that the blue staining is indeed a cyanide compound, but it does not show the homicidal gas chambers were not exposed to HCN. This issue is explored in some depth in several articles available at the website of the Holocaust History Project (THHP).3 Here I only summarize those findings and explain their implications for the IFFR study.

It is shown in great detail in the above-mentioned articles that the conditions in the gas chamber would have made the formation of Prussian blue in significant quantities improbable. A building in which Prussian blue formed would have much higher levels of detectable total cyanides than a building in which Prussian blue did not form. Recall the Prussian blue is much less susceptible to weathering than other cyanides; so it is no surprise if buildings with blue staining have more cyanides than those without.

What is the right experiment to do? Detecting total cyanides appears to be a probe for the likelihood of Prussian blue formation and not a probe for exposure to cyanide. The correct procedure is to use a method of detecting cyanides that discriminates against the detection of Prussian blue. If any cyanides other than Prussian blue have survived the weathering process, they will be present in small concentrations. They need to be detected with an extremely sensitive technique.

And here I thought it was impossible for me to feel any nastier about these young women than I already did.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More from the PPPDA: Shoes Shine

Presented for your continuing edification: An article from a January 1981 issue of Illinois Entertainer, giving a decent history and interview with Shoes. (Well, I needed to redeem my rep somehow....)

Shoes circa 1981.
(A fun game: guess which one floated NYMary's adolescent boat?) Posted by Picasa

"Shoes Shine"

By Don McLeese

On a gut level, truly inspired pop is pure instinct—no music is more perfectly simple or deceptively difficult. A hook-and-harmony classic seems to go heart-to-heart, beyond technique, establishing an almost mystical bond between artist and fan. While a certain amount of musical facility may be essential, it's beside the point as well. Anyone who's ever really felt a pop song knows that—given half a chance—he's got whatever it takes deep down to make great pop himself. It's a music for amateurs in the strictest sense of the word—those who do it out of sheer joy, out of pure love.
In most ways, there's little to distinguish these four pop fans from Zion, Illinois from any of the rest of us. "We're listeners," explains Gary Klebe. "We had a real clear vision before we started this thing. If you started a band, you know exactly what you'd do." He's right—I would, and you probably would too.

The difference is that we didn't. Shoes did. And because these four guys had the vision or the determination or whatever it takes to pursue a fantasy that remains a fantasy for so many others, they have willed themselves into a pop fan's dream come true.

Although the saga of Shoes has been oft-told in recent years, it's the kind of fairy-tale that bears repeating, Back in the early '70s, there seemed to be little market for pure pop amid the cheap thrills of glitter and the skull-bashing of heavy metal. While a few committed souls—Todd Rundgren, Nils Lofgren, the Raspberries, Big Star—were trying their best to keep the tradition alive, they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. It was around this time that long-time friends John Murphy and Gary Klebe decided to start a band devoted to pop in the classic tradition.

An exercise in futility, if there ever was one. First, because there was little interest in this sort of music, and little reason to assume that there ever would be again. Second, because Murphy and Klebe had no musical training whatsoever—couldn't play a chord to save their souls. No matter. Klebe's parents gave him a guitar, Murphy bought a bottom-dollar bass, and the first pair of Shoes were in business. Before long, it looked like so much fun that John's younger brother Jeff wanted in as well. Eventually, drummer Skip Meyer was added to complete the lineup.

From the start, Shoes was conceived as a recording rather than a performing unit. While this was central to the fantasy—a hit record, not a life in the clubs, was the dream—it had its practical aspects as well: Mistakes are a lot easier to cover up on tape than in live performance. Fooling around with a tape machine, these would-be popsters could build a song step by-step—building, subtracting, erasing until they'd gotten things close to right. Through trial-and-error, the sounds on the tape began to approximate the sounds in their heads.

While the band members themselves may have always known they had it in them, their progress since has been simply amazing. Their first homegrown release was 1974's One In Versailles, recorded by John and Jeff, dedicated to Gary, who was studying architecture for a year in France. Although the sound was thin and the playing tentative, it was filled with the sort of disarmingly concise and melodic material that continues to distinguish their craft today. When Gary returned, they plunged into Bazooka,a harder-rocking giant step, never pressed into disc form. (ED: Both OIV and Bazooka are available, in their entirties, on As Is.)

With 1977's Black Vinyl Shoes, the band truly went all out. Recorded in Jeff's equipment-strewn living room, the album consumed most of the band's time and almost all of their money. For a period of six months, it was total obsession, a labor of love. It was worth it. Not only did the album boast fifteen state-of-the-art pop jewels (at a time when pop bands were still few and far between), it also featured a package that put most major label releases to shame—an iron-on transfer, a photo montage, a flashy cover designed by John, putting his art-student background to work. As the thousand or so copies began circulating among the music press and pop fanatics (the album has since been re-released for national distribution), Shoes found themselves something of a cult sensation.

Of course, it's a long way from such homegrown success to major record deal. Everybody knows that a long apprenticeship on the bar circuit is mandatory, that you have to whip your performance into shape and show the big boys you know how to devastate an audience—Shoes had yet to play more than a handful of live dates. Everybody knows that a high-pressure manager is essential—the low-key Shoes handled their own business. Everybody knows that you've got to woo the record companies constantly, hit the Coasts if you can—Shoes made a few phone calls and sent out some tapes, but pretty much waited for the world to come to Zion. Most of all, everybody knows that to make a living playing music, you've gotta be a musician—while Shoes developed enough dexterity to do their material justice, they'd still be hard-pressed to fake a passable bar-band jam on “Sunshine of Your Love." Virtuosos they ain't.

Somehow, Shoes broke every rule and succeeded despite it all. Signed by Elektra/Asylum in the wake of the Black Vinyl groundswell—after some heavy bidding from other labels—the band established itself as one of the most successful "new" acts of 1979, when Present Tense made it into the national Top 50. There's every reason to believe that the new Tongue Twister will do even better.

The band certainly hopes so. While most new groups would have been overjoyed at Present Tense's reception, Shoes was actually a little disappointed. It seems that before the release, the self-hyped Elektra promised the moon and the stars, and then delivered only the moon.

"Going from Black Vinyl to Present Tense saleswise—what more could you ask?" admits Jeff. "But from a level of what they were filling us full of, what this was going to do, well then of course yo go—it didn't do what they said, so you try to figure out what happened."

Corporate rock is always a learning experience. While few bands have had as much recording experience before entering the fray as Shoes, the band learned in a hurry that the music business is a lot more than making music.

Explains Gary, "We never really appreciated what it takes to make it. It's an understanding of not just your material, your art, but everything around it—the people that make it happen, especially. Of course you're always concerned about developing as an artist, but if you ignore the other end of it, you're pretty much helpless. I think this happened to most people. It's not like a kiss-ass situation; it's knowing how to manipulate people if nothing else, how to get what you want, just getting a better understanding of how these people think."

If Shoes had to adjust to the industry, the industry has been forced to do some adjusting as well. Not often does a band come along with such a clear idea of where they want to go, with every note plotted out through home recording before even entering the studio.

As Jeff says, "We are probably the exception, which is why it's difficult for producers, because they haven’t really come up with a situation like this. I mean this is a really strange band, where you record the whole album in advance in demo form, and then you go in and pretty much try to emulate it. And. sometimes you have a really hard time matching those demos.”

While Present Tense producer Mike Stone had some trouble understanding the band's approach—"He never wanted to hear the demo," says Jeff—they found a kindred spirit in Richard Dashut, who co-produced Tongue Twister with the band. Renowned for his work with Fleetwood Mac, Dashut had a lot of empathy with Shoes because of his experience with Lindsey Buckingham's four-track home recordings for Tusk. Says Jeff. "Richard was perfect for us." Echoes John, "We became high school buddies overnight."

In comparison with Present Tense, John feels that the new album is “like shorthand. Just get the prime, really cut it down as far as we can; each song is a unit." While the material should continue to please lovers of melody and harmony, the production is crisper, punchier, and rockier than ever—a sound for the '80s combined with a timeless pop sensibility.

Gary sees the album as a logical progression: "There are refinements from one album to the next—things we always wanted to do but couldn't, either from lack of knowledge or not being with the right people. It's something you kind of build on. I think there's a gradual evolution, but nothing really obvious where you can say, well this is the direction we're taking now. It just happens, and I think we probably know more about that from what people say about it. It's hard to see the changes as you're doing it.”

For John, it's all a matter of following your instincts and standing up for what you know is right. "We have to fight stigmas that were set a long time ago," he says. "You know, maybe a group had total control, and they had their 3-year-old do the album cover. Those kind of things started to ruin it. So right away we walk in and we pretty much know—we may not be able to voice it, we might confuse the company—and their reaction is, 'Oh boy, here they are. They're telling us they want this, they don't like that. They don't think this is good enough. They want to change this.' But chances are, and we've proved it to ourselves, that nine times out of ten our instincts are right. Whenever we regret things, it's usually because we gave in."

Gary chimes in, "it goes back to the old saying that you should look before you leap. And we looked for a long time before we leaped. We had a good understanding before we were faced with, the problems that we face today. Most bands that go into the studio for the first time are pretty much shocked to see what there is there. We were ready for everything we've faced so far. We've been thinking about album covers before album covers even came up. I mean, John was working on album covers before he could play bass, probably,"

Hungry for success—fame, glory, riches, whatever—the band is even hungrier for the freedom that comes along with it. Says John, "One thing we want to achieve is getting the respect of the audience so they'll take the time to listen to the album. For example, Led Zeppelin's album came out last year, and I've talked to people who've said; 'Yeah, I listened to it twenty times, and I started to get into it.' Unfortunately, a new band has to fit a much harsher set of guidelines…. If you came up with something as varied as (the Beatles') White Album right at the start, noone's going to know what you are."

So, explains Jeff, "You kinda run in place a little waiting for the people to latch on to you, so that you can take them with you."

As for all the pre-fab power-pop bands that have faded with the changing trends, Jeff says, "For the most part, I couldn't help but think that some of those guys were in it for a quick buck," Shoes will persevere, he thinks, because "good music is always fashionable."

Spoken like a true amateur. In the best sense of the word.

(As always, if anyone has a problem with the copyright here, let me know and I'll pull the post.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Now *That's* Comedy!!!11`

I know I'm biased, but I thought this was pretty freaking funny....

Marky of course had his faults, but Judy was probably everybody's least favorite Ramone.


Monday, October 10, 2005

PPPDA: Vanda & Young

So I've been crazy busy with work and sickness and such, and then I get this plaintive email the othe day telling me that people miss my blog. Odd, that: I sorta though power pop had a limited appeal. But I guess I shouldn't doubt the ineffable wonder of poppy goodness.

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 Posted by Picasa

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!)