The Easybeats were an Australian rock and roll band. They formed in Sydney in late 1964 and broke up at the end of 1969. They are regarded as the greatest Australian pop band of the 1960s, and were the first Australian rock and roll act to score an international pop hit with their 1966 single “Friday on My Mind”. The Easybeats manager was former Sydney real estate agent, Mike Vaughan.
The band’s line-up exemplified the influence of post-war migration on Australian society. All five founding members were from families who 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 Villawood Migrant Hostel (Now the Villawood Detention Centre) and the band members’ families spent their first years in Australia housed at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in the early and mid sixties.
Beginning their career in Sydney in late 1964, the band was inspired by the “British Invasion” spearheaded by The Beatles. They quickly rose to become one of the most popular groups in the city. They were signed to a production contract with Albert Productions, one of Australia’s first independent production companies. It was established by Ted Albert, whose family owned J. Albert & Sons, one of Australia’s oldest and largest music publishing companies.
Albert then signed the band to a recording contract with EMI’s Parlophone label, and they began a meteoric rise to national stardom. By the end of 1965 they were the most popular and successful pop band in Australia, and their concerts and public appearances were regularly marked by intense fan hysteria which was very similar to ‘Beatlemania’ and which was soon dubbed ‘Easyfever’. Stevie Wright’s charisma and energy (including ‘mod’ dancing and onstage backflips) were matched with strong songwriting.
Rise to success
During 1965 and early 1966, they released a string of hit singles, all co-written by Young and Wright, including “For My Woman” (#5), “She’s So Fine” (#1), “Wedding Ring” (#6), “Sad and Lonely and Blue”, “Easy as Can Be”, “Women (Make You Feel Alright)” (#1), “In My Book”, “Come and See Her” (#1), “I’ll Make You Happy” (#1), and “Sorry” (#4), and all produced by Ted Albert. In addition, the Wright-Young songwriting team wrote a number of hits 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 to attempt to secure an American recording contract for the band. After initial lack of interest, on the last scheduled day of his visit Vaughan was able to convince United Artists Records to sign The Easybeats. Ten days of negotiations resulted in a groundbreaking five-year contract for overseas releases.
Just before relocating to London in late 1966, they recorded a farewell TV show, The Coca Cola Special, regarded as one of the prime artefacts of Sixties Australian pop TV. The show had a tragic postscript – after taping the special, guitarist Harry Vanda returned home in the early hours of 4 July 1966 to discover that his wife Pam had killed herself with an overdose of sleeping tablets. Despite this, the group was obliged to honour their overseas commitments; the grief-stricken Vanda had to send his young son to be cared for by his parents in The Netherlands and the group left for the UK on 10 July 1966.
They briefly stopped over in Perth, Western Australia but a planned farewell performance on a temporary stage set up on the tarmac at Perth Airport had to be cancelled amid chaotic scenes, with 4000 fans breaking through barriers and storming the runway. A bomb threat then forced the group to evacuate the plane, and they had to be smuggled out the emergency exit into a catering van and driven to the end of the runway, where they hid for half an hour until they were able to rejoin the plane.
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 UA and Albert was removed as producer. The band were then teamed with freelance producer Shel Talmy, who had achieved great success with his production for The Who and The Kinks.
One of the tracks they recorded with Talmy became their first big international hit, “Friday on My Mind”. It made #1 in Australia, #6 in the UK, #16 in the US, and the Top 10 in Germany, Holland, France and Italy, eventually selling over one million copies worldwide, and being awarded a gold disc. In 1973 David Bowie covered the song 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 actually recorded in the same studio (IBC Studios in Portland Place) in which the Easybeats had cut the original.
Vanda-Young songwriting partnership
The song also marked the end of the Wright-Young partnership. With Dutch Vanda now having mastered English, he replaced Wright as Young’s songwriting partner from this point on. They toured Europe and the United States with The Rolling Stones. After a triumphant homecoming tour of Australia in mid-1967, original drummer Snowy Fleet left the band, unhappy at the amount of time he had to spend away from his wife and young children. After extensive auditions in London he was replaced by Tony Cahill, formerly of the Purple Hearts, but in the interim several recordings (including “Good Times”) were cut with session drummer, Glaswegian Freddie Smith (who’d played with George Young’s older brother Alex Young aka George Alexander of Grapefruit fame in Bobby Patrick & The Big Six). The group spent the remainder of their career based in London.
Two of their songs, “Bring a Little Lovin'” and “Come In, You’ll Get Pneumonia”, were covered by Los Bravos and Paul Revere and the Raiders, respectively. “Good Times” and “Falling Off The Edge Of The World” were minor hits in the United States. However their career soon stalled due to poor management, problems with radio airplay (one single, “Heaven and Hell”, was banned by US radio because of a mild sexual reference, and likely the title) and lack of record company support.
A 1967 album intended as the follow-up the success of “Friday”, produced by Glyn Johns, was recorded and prepared for issue but was never released because of the band’s complicated financial and contractual problems. One of the songs recorded for the LP, “Good Times” was released as a single; when 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 the late Nicky Hopkins on piano.
A cover version of “Good Times” by INXS and Jimmy Barnes became a #47 hit in the US 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).
Decline and break-up
Through late 1968, the formerly tight-knit band began to drift apart. Drugs were a factor, but the growing independence of the Vanda-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 St.
Their last official LP Vigil was released in June 1968 in the UK and it was issued in an altered form in Australia and in the US in October, retitled Falling off the Edge of the World.
In early 1969 Vanda and Young took over a flat in Moscow Road, 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 & Young began producing demos, working mostly on their own. The only official recordings they made—which provided the songs for the last Easybeats single—was the rocking “St Louis” (presaging their later work with AC/DC), and the B-side “Can’t Find Love”, recorded in April at Olympic Studios with 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)”. The single was issued in June in the UK and US, and began to chart there during their final tour later in the year.
In August “St Louis” was released in Australia, along with a new album released on Polydor. Friends was in fact not a real Easybeats album—the only true Easybeats tracks being “St Louis” and “Rock & Roll Boogie”. The bulk of the tracks were Vanda-Young Moscow Road recordings, intended as ‘demos’ for other artists. The album was also issued in the UK in October, and in the US in November on the Rare Earth label.
In September the band undertook a short European tour and then reluctantly accepted the offer of a five-week Australian tour. The group were worn out, disillusioned, and at odds with their management—they reportedly viewed the tour as a last-ditch attempt to bail the group out of its mounting pool of debts. Again they were victims of bad timing, 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 Parlophone’s unwelcome release of the psychedelic 1967 song “Peculiar Hole in the Sky” as a single, presumably to cash in on the tour. Regardless of its merits as a song, it was released against the band’s wishes, since it had been made purely as a demo for The Valentines.
In October the band made a valedictory TV appearance in the ATN-7 Easybeats Special, then gave their final Sydney performances at the Trocadero and Caesar’s Disco. Once the tour was over, The Easybeats drifted apart, although there was no official announcement of the split. After a final gathering for Dick Diamonde’s wedding in early 1970, they went their separate ways.
The original lineup reunited for a warmly-received series of Australian concerts in 1986.
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.
Vanda and Young
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 cover version hit when recorded by 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”.
Main article: Stevie Wright (Australian singer)
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. Many patients, including Wright, suffered brain damage and lifelong after-effects, while others died as a result of the treatments.
Stevie’s substance abuse problems spiraled 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.”
By 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.
On 31 January 2009 Wright closed the Legends of Rock festival in Byron Bay Australia.
Snowy Fleet, Tony Cahill and Dick Diamonde
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 bassist) before moving to the United States. Bassist 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 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.
In 2007 Stevie Wright performed at The Gathering Festival in Yandina, Sunshine Coast.
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.