The Easybeats were an Australian rock band which formed in Sydney, Australia, in late 1964, and disbanded at the end of 1969. They were the antipodean echo to the style and sound of the Beatles in Britain, and the first rock and roll act from Australia to score an international pop hit with the 1966 single, "Friday on My Mind".
All five founding members were from families that had migrated to Australia from Europe: lead singer Stevie Wright and drummer Gordon "Snowy" Fleet were from England; rhythm guitarist George Young was from Scotland; lead guitarist Harry Vanda and bassist Dick Diamonde were from the Netherlands.
The band formed at the former Villawood Migrant Hostel, later renamed the Villawood Detention Centre. The families of the band members spent their first years in Australia housed at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in the early and mid-sixties.
The Easybeats began their career in late 1964 at the little-known teen hangout, Beatle Village, located in the basement of a pub at Taylor Square on Oxford Street, in Darlinghurst, Sydney. The band was inspired by the "British Invasion" spearheaded by the Beatles. The Easybeats quickly rose to become one of the most popular groups in the city.[who?] Real estate agent turned pop music entrepreneur Mike Vaughan took over as their manager. Through his efforts, they were signed to a contract with Albert Productions, one of Australia's first independent record production companies. The company was established by Ted Albert whose family owned J. Albert & Sons, a prominent music publishing company. Albert signed the band to a recording contract with EMI's Parlophone label. The group recorded a number of songs at the abandoned 2UW Theatre, owned by the parent company of Albert Productions, J. Albert and Son. They chose the bluesy "For My Woman" as their first single. It was picked up by local radio Sydney radio and proved to be a minor hit, reaching #33 on the charts.
Although "For My Woman" gained them some attention, the band felt they needed a more uptempo song to break through commercially. Their next single, "She's So Fine", gave them that commercial success, reaching #3 on the Australian charts, and launching them to national stardom. Their concerts and public appearances were regularly marked by intense fan hysteria similar to 'Beatlemania, soon dubbed by the Australian press as 'Easyfever'.
The band's follow-up single, the high-energy "Wedding Ring," released on 26 August, was also a hit, reaching #7. On 23 September 1965, the group released their first album Easy. It was one of the earliest albums of all original material that was written by an Australia rock group.[who?] Most of the songs were written by the group's already established songwriters, vocalist Stevie Wright and guitarist George Young.
For the next single, "Sad and Lonely and Blue", the band returned to the blues based feel of "For My Woman". However, like "For My Woman", it failed to make the top 10, only reaching #21. Both "Wedding Ring" and "Sad and Lonely and Blue" were included on the group's second album, It's 2 Easy, released 24 March 1966. The lead singles from that album, "Women (Make You Fell Alright)" and "Come and See Her", put the group back in the top 10, reaching #4 and #3 respectively on the Australian charts. The Wright-Young song-writing team also wrote songs for other artists, including "Step Back", which became a #1 hit for Johnny Young (no relation) in 1966.
In early 1966, while the group were still touring Australia, their manager, Mike Vaughan, flew to New York City to attempt to secure an American recording contract for the band. Despite an initial lack of interest, Vaughan was able to convince United Artists Records to sign the band. Just before relocating to London in 1966, they recorded a farewell TV special for the Seven Network, titled The Easybeats, more commonly known as The Coca-Cola Special), one of the few surviving appearances from the band's career during this period. The group left for the UK on 10 July 1966.
In August 1966, Albert Productions released an E.P. of material recorded before the group left Australia. Titled Easyfever, it reach #1 on the Australian singles charts. Albert Productions then released an entire album of material titled Volume 3 on 3 November 1966. This too was a commercial success and its lead single "Sorry" topped the Australian charts.
After arriving in London the band recorded a number of songs with Ted Albert at EMI's Abbey Road Studios, but these were deemed unsuitable by United Artists Records and Albert was removed as producer. The band was then teamed with freelance producer Shel Talmy, who had achieved great success with his production for The Who and The Kinks. United Artists also felt that the band's song writing was too "unsophisticated" for the competitive UK market. The label had already released the Wright/Young composed "Come And See Her" as a single in the UK on 15 July and it had performed commercially poor. With Dutch-born Vanda now having a stronger grasp of English, he replaced Wright as Young's song writing partner from this point on.
After auditioning several titles for Talmy, it was a "Friday On My Mind" that caught the producer's ear as their next single. The band recorded the song with Talmy at IBC Studios, London in September. "Friday On My Mind" was released in the UK on 14 October 1966. It reached #6 on the UK Charts making it the group's first big international hit as it charted in multiple countries: #1 in Australia, #13 in Canada, #16 in the US, and the Top 10 in Germany, the Netherlands, France. The song sold over one million copies worldwide and was awarded a gold disc.
On 17 March 1967, United Artists released the follow-up single to "Friday On My Mind"; "Who'll Be The One". The single was a commercial failure and did not make the UK charts (although it was #14 in Australia). The band was against releasing the single to begin with, as they felt it was not a strong enough track to follow "Friday On My Mind". Later that month, they toured Europe in support of The Rolling Stones.
During this period, the band would be filmed by Australian director Peter Clifton for a proposed documentary for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Filmed under the title Between Heaven and Hell (which was later changed to Easy Come, Easy Go), the documentary was lost for nearly 42 years. It was restored, reedited and shown at film festivals in 2012.
In May, their first album for United Artists was released; Good Friday (re titled Friday On My Mind in the US). That same month, they returned to Australia for a nationwide tour. After the tour, drummer Snowy Fleet decided to quit the band. Fleet was unhappy at the amount of time he had to spend away from his wife and young children. Returning to the UK without a drummer, the group began several recordings with a session drummer, Glaswegian Freddie Smith (who had played with George Young's older brother Alex Young aka George Alexander of Grapefruit fame in Bobby Patrick & The Big Six).
During this period, the band recorded their next single. "Heaven and Hell" marked a turning point for the group, with its sophisticated song-writing and arrangements. Vanda and Young were influenced by the current psychedelic pop, popular in the UK and US. The single was produced by Glyn Johns, who had worked as an engineer on the Shel Talmy sessions. The band also began work on a new album with Johns, most of which was recorded and prepared for issue but was never released because of the band's complicated financial and contractual problems.
"Heaven and Hell" was released in June and, like the previous single, it also failed to make a mark on the UK charts. This was due, in part, to the song being banned by the BBC. The single also ran into problems in the US, where a censored version titled "Heaven", replaced the offensive lyric "Discovering someone else in your bed" with "discovering that her love has gone dead". In Australia the single did much better; reaching #8.
After extensive auditions in London a replacement drummer was found in Tony Cahill (born 20 December 1941) who formerly played with the Purple Hearts. With Cahill, the band toured the US in August, supporting Gene Pitney. During their US visit, they recorded their next single, "Falling Off The Edge Of The World", in New York. The single received moderate airplay in the US, but did not chart.
The band returned to London and continued to work in the studio. Their next single, "The Music Goes 'Round My Head", was Vanda and Young's first foray into the emerging UK Rocksteady/Ska scene. In late 1967, Vanda and Young began writing for other artists. Two of their songs, "Bring a Little Lovin'" and "Come In, You'll Get Pneumonia", were covered by Los Bravos (and later by Ricky Martin as "Dime Que me Quieres") and Paul Revere and the Raiders, respectively. Still trying to get back into the UK charts, the band moved to a more pop friendly sound and released the soft rock, ballad "Hello, How Are You" on 8 March 1968. The plan worked and the song reached #20 in the UK charts. However, in retrospect, the band have cited the change in sound as a mistake, stating it alienated its long term fans.
In May, the band finally released their second album for United Artists; Vigil (or Falling off the Edge of the World in the US). The album was a mixture of current singles, new recordings and out-takes from the scrapped 1967 album. Two of those songs recorded for the abandoned LP; "Land of Make Believe" and "Good Times" were released as singles. The baroque pop ballad "Land of Make Believe" was released in the UK on 5 July and in Australia on the 18 July. Failing to chart in the UK, it did reach #18 on the Australian Charts. The B-side to the Australian single was the next UK single; "Good Times". Released 13 September, "Good Times" again failed to chart in the UK. An often told story about the song; is when the track was broadcast on BBC radio, it was reputedly heard by Paul McCartney on his car radio; McCartney apparently rang the station immediately to request a repeat playing. The song featured Steve Marriott of the Small Faces on backing vocals and Nicky Hopkins on piano. In November, Albert Productions released the UK B-side to "Good Times", the instrumental track "Lay Me Down and Die", as a single in Australia. The single was slammed by critics and would only climb as high as #59 on the Australian Charts; their lowest charting single to date.
Through late 1968, the formerly tight-knit band began to drift apart. Drugs were a factor, but the growing independence of the Vanda and Young team as a creative unit was also a major catalyst. By this time the duo were working substantially on their own and between them they could now play almost any instrument needed for recordings and had become skilled in engineering and producing their own recordings. They wrote prolifically, but many of their songs from this period remained unreleased for many years. They were also reluctant to do more than a few gigs per month, and so the band only came together for occasional performances or for 'demo' sessions at Central Sound Studios in Denmark Street.
In 1969, the band had parted ways with United Artists and their production company Albert Productions to sign with Polydor Records. In April, the group returned to Olympic Studios to record their first single for Polydor. They teamed up with producer Ray Singer, a former member of UK band Nirvana, who had made a name for himself as a producer with Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)". "St. Louis" was released 27 June 1969, but failed to chart in the UK, but reached #21 on the Go-Set charts in Australia. In July 1969, it was announced that the working relationship between manager Vaughan and the group would come to an end.
To continue their work as songwriters for hire, Vanda and Young took over a flat on Moscow Road in London, which had previously been used as a jingle studio for pirate radio stations. With modifications, it became a 4-track home studio and Vanda and Young began producing demos, working mostly on their own. As with their Central Sound records, Vanda and Young would play most of the instruments on their recordings with the other Easybeats members occasionally contributing. Nine of these demo recordings (with single "St. Louis" and "Can’t Find Love") would eventually be released by Polydor as an album under The Easybeats name as Friends. This album would be released after their break-up.
In September, the band undertook a short European tour and then reluctantly accepted the offer of a five-week Australian tour. The tour was reported as a last-ditch attempt to bail the group out of its mounting pool of debts.
A number of factors made the Australian tour less than successful. Rather than playing larger venues as they did on the 1967 tour, the band were booked to play mainly smaller clubs and dance halls. Having reverted to 'no frills' hard rock, while the Australian pop scene was preoccupied with progressive rock, soul, and bubblegum pop.
The situation was further complicated by Albert Productions’ unwelcome release (against the band's wishes) several lo-fi demo recordings on The Best of The Easybeats Volume 2. The recordings were songwriter demos sent to Albert Productions in 1967 and 1968 for other artists to record. "Peculiar Hole in the Sky" from that album was released as a single, it was originally recorded by Australian band the Valentines.
In October the band made a valedictory TV appearance in the ATN-7 Easybeats Special (which would be broadcast after the tour on 2 November). After their performance at Caesar's Place Disco, Sydney on 25 October, a wedding was held for Diamonde and actress Charlene Collins. The following day, The Easybeats travelled to the rural town of Orange, New South Wales. There they made a television appearance at CBN-TV studios and performed a show at the Amoco Centre. However, the show was interrupted by hostile audience members and was cancelled after only 20 minutes. This would be The Easybeats final performance. After the tour, the band would go their separate ways.
Vanda and Young remained in the UK for three years, working to pay off debts incurred during the Easybeats years (and recording under various names like Paintbox, Band of Hope, Grapefruit, Haffy's Whisky Sour and Marcus Hook Roll Band). They returned to Australia in 1973 and reunited with Ted Albert and became the house producers for his new Albert Productions record label, writing for and/or producing many chart-topping acts including Stevie Wright, Rose Tattoo, Cheetah, and the Angels.
They wrote and produced several major hits for John Paul Young including "Love Is in the Air" and "Yesterday's Hero", which was also a hit for Bay City Rollers, and produced the first six albums for AC/DC (which featured George's younger brothers Angus Young and Malcolm Young).
Vanda and Young also recorded several Australian hit singles under the pseudonym Flash and the Pan, including "Hey St. Peter" and "Down Among the Dead Men". They had even more success in Europe with hits such as "Waiting for a Train", "Midnight Man", "Early Morning Wake Up Call", and "Ayla", from the number 1 albums Early Morning Wake Up Call, Headlines, and Nights in France. Singer-model-actress Grace Jones also recorded a successful cover version of their song "Walking in the Rain".
Stevie Wright went on to become a cast member of the original Australian stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar (1972–73) and then launched a successful but short-lived solo career with the hit single "Evie" and the album Hard Road in 1974, which reunited him with Vanda and Young, who produced the records and wrote many of the songs, including "Evie", an ambitious three-part suite split over two sides of a single.
In later years Wright suffered debilitating drug and alcohol problems which were further exacerbated by his self-admission to the notorious Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney. Its director, Dr Harry Bailey, administered a highly controversial treatment known as "deep sleep therapy" which allegedly cured drug addiction with a combination of drug-induced coma and electroshock.[page needed] Many patients, including Wright, suffered brain damage and lifelong after-effects, while others died as a result of the treatments.
Original drummer Snowy Fleet became a successful builder in Perth, Western Australia, and now runs a rehearsal studio based in Jandakot, Western Australia. His replacement, Tony Cahill, remained in the UK for a time, briefly joining the final studio lineup of Python Lee Jackson as a bassist, before moving to the United States.
Dick Diamonde moved to the New South Wales North Coast and retired from performing, after some years of singing and playing in local pubs.
In 1980, Flash and the Pan released their second album Lights in the Night. Their next album, Headlines was released in August 1982. This featured the singles "Waiting for a Train" which reached #7 on the UK Charts and "Where Were You". The music video for "Where Were You" featured Stevie Wright as a futuristic rock star miming to George Young's vocals. Wright would also provide vocals for the album. That same year there was talk of an Easybeats' reunion. Wright told Juke Magazine in 1983 "we had our lawyers working out the deal" because there was a venue interested in having them "but at the last minute they tried to change the venue and we just said 'forget it'."
In 1983, there was a talk of a solo album with work done again with Vanda and Young. Wright said the album would best be described as "classy rock 'n' roll" and the songs were about "a wide spectrum of all the experiences I've been through". He said the love songs he had were optimistic. This interview gives a good idea as to how Wright worked in the studio with Vanda and Young:
"Well, it's a three way thing. They'll sit down and say 'we've got this sort of song' and we'll discuss how we'll approach it. Obviously after this long we do have a very strong bond. I've written a couple of songs but since they're far better at it than I am, I'll let them handle that."
According to the Juke Magazine article it was "due for release later that year" however, this never happened.
In January 1984, Wright was charged with attempted housebreaking days after attending Westmount drug rehabilitation centre. He was arrested for heroin use later that month. He had been using heroin since about 1973, and, according to Wright, he remained an addict for 20 years. Also that year, Flash and the Pan's next album, Early Morning Wake Up Call.
In November 1986, the original line-up reunited for an Australian tour. The tour would be warmly received by critics and fans. Wright would reform the Stevie Wright Band and relaunch is live career, gigging around Australia in hotels and clubs between 1986–88. In 1987, Flash and the Pan would release their fifth album, Nights in France.
Vanda and Young would return to producing AC/DC on their 1988 album Blow Up Your Video.
In 1992 Flash and the Pan would release their final album Burning up the Night.
Wright's substance abuse problems spiralled out of control in the 1980s and 1990s and he came close to death on several occasions, but was pulled back from the brink by his current partner, Faye.
In 1999 journalist Jack Marx published a much-anticipated book about Wright, entitled Sorry - The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright. It was critically applauded by some reviewers - Australian music historian Clinton Walker calling it "gonzo journalism at its best", while The Bulletin later referred to Sorry as "one of the most harrowing rock books ever written". Nevertheless, Sorry earned the disdain of its subject, Wright's many fans and other critics. Internet reviewer Ken Grady (Luna Cafe, 1999) described Marx as "a self serving hypocrite" and concluded his review by observing: "The only thing that Marx has achieved is to depict himself as a very unlikeable, morally bankrupt leech."
The 2000s saw a band calling itself "The Easybeats" tour and make TV appearances around Europe. No members were in any line-up of the Australian band or played on any of the records, despite the lead singer using a similar name.
In 2000, George Young would produce AC/DC's Stiff Upper Lip album. It was the first time he would work with the group without Harry Vanda co-producing.
Due to his health, Wright would only perform a small number of shows in the 2000s. 2002, Wright was well enough to perform as part of the all-star Long Way To The Top national concert tour. His autobiography, Hard Road, was published in 2004. In 2007, Stevie Wright performed at the Gathering Festival in Yandina, Sunshine Coast. On 31 January 2009, Wright closed the Legends of Rock festival in Byron Bay, Australia.
On 14 July 2005, The Easybeats would be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. Wright, Vanda and Snowy Fleet would attend the ceremony.
Cahill died in Sydney on 13 August 2014, as the result of a brain tumour.
After falling ill on Boxing Day 2015, Wright was admitted to hospital on the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia. He didn't recover and died on the evening of 27 December 2015.
George Young passed away on 22 October 2017.
In 1973 David Bowie covered "Friday On My Mind" on his Pin Ups album, and in 1977 the punk band London introduced the song to a new generation on a four-track EP for MCA Records; the London version, produced by Simon Napier-Bell, was recorded in the same studio (IBC Studios in Portland Place) in which the Easybeats had cut the original.
A cover version of "Good Times" by INXS and Jimmy Barnes became a #47 hit in USA after being featured on the soundtrack of the film The Lost Boys in 1987 and a #2 in Australia as well the previous year, becoming the biggest selling single on Mushroom Records.
In 1998 Australia Post issued a special edition set of twelve stamps celebrating the early years of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll, featuring Australian hit songs of the late '50s, the '60s and the early '70s. "Each of them said something about us, and told the rest of the world this is what popular culture sounds like, and it has an Australian accent." One of the stamps featured was the 'She's So Fine' stamp.
Australian Rock duo Divinyls recorded a cover of "I'll Make You Happy" on the B-side of the single "Science Fiction" in 1982 which later appeared on the album Desperate. However, since the vocalist was a female, the lyrics "If you don't think I'm your man, Find somebody if you can, And ask them to hold your hand, Not me." were changed to "If you don't wanna be my man, Pass the bottle and the empty cans, I just want to hold your hand, Just me."
In 1982, Los Angeles California's the Three O'Clock released a version of "Sorry" on their Baroque Hoedown EP on Frontier Records.
In 1993, New Jersey mod/power poppers the Insomniacs released a version of "Goin' Out Of My Mind" on their German only four song EP for Outer Limits Records.
In 2011, punk rock cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes released a version of "Friday On My Mind" on their Australian-themed 7", Go Down Under.
In 2014, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered "Friday On My Mind" on their tour of Australia.
In 2015, San Diego mod/power pop quintet Manual Scan released a version of "She's So Fine" on their 10" EP, The Pyles Sessions, released in Spain.
Squeeze covered "Friday On My Mind" during their 2016 British and U.S. tours.
It's 2 Easy (1966)
Volume 3 (1966)
Good Friday / Friday On My Mind (1967) (not released in Australia)
Vigil / Falling Off The Edge of the World (1968)
Stevie Wright (vocals) (1964-1969, 1986)
George Young (guitar) (1964-1969, 1986)
Harry Vanda (guitar) (1964-1969, 1986)
Dick Diamonde (bass) (1964-1969, 1986)
Snowy Fleet (drums) (1964-1967, 1986)
Tony Cahill (drums) (1967-1969)
Friday On My Mind is an Australian television drama mini series first screened on ABC in 2017, based on the lives of the band members. Read more on Last.fm
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