The Easybeats

From Academic Kids

The Easybeats were a rock and roll band in the 1960s from Australia. They formed in Sydney in late 1964 and split at the end of 1969. They are widely regarded as the greatest Australian pop band of the Sixties and were the first Australian rock act to score an international pop hit with their classic 1966 single "Friday On My Mind" (Note: the folk-pop group The Seekers had international hits in 1965)

Their manager was former Sydney real estate agent, Mike Vaughan.

The band's lineup exemplifies the influence of postwar migration on Australian society. All five members were from families who had migrated to Australia from Europe. Lead singer Stevie Wright was from London, rhythm guitarist George Young was from Glasgow, lead guitarist Harry Vanda and bassist Dick Diamonde were from The Netherlands, and drummer Gordon "Snowy" Fleet was from Liverpool, England.

Early career

Beginning their career in Sydney in late 1964, the boys were 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 well-written, hard-hitting rock songs.

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, 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 the United Artists label 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, which is still regarded as one of the prime artifacts of Sixties Australian pop TV. After taping the special, guitarist Harry Vanda returned home from the studio in the early hours of the morning to discover that his wife Pam had committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping tablets. Despite the tragedy, the group was obliged to go ahead with their plans to go to England.

London, 1966-69

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 (noted for his work with The Who), and one of the tracks they recorded with him became their first big international hit, "Friday On My Mind", which peaked at #6 in the UK in December 1966, made the Top 20 in the USA, the Top 10 in Germany, Holland, France and Italy, and eventually sold over 1 million copies worldwide.

The song also marked the end of the Wright-Young partnership. "Friday" was co-written by Harry Vanda and George Young. With Harry now having mastered English, and Stevie becoming increasingly erratic, he replaced Stevie as George's songwriting partner from this point on. They toured Europe (with The Rolling Stones) and the United States. After a triumphant homecoming tour 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 Wild Cherries, but in the interim several recordings (including "Good Times") were cut with session drummer Freddie Smith. 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 stalled in the late Sixties 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 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 heard on his car radio by Paul McCartney, who reportedly rang the station immediately after hearing the song to request a repeat playing. (A cover version of "Good Times" by INXS and Jimmy Barnes became a hit in the US after being featured on the soundtrack of the film The Lost Boys in 1987.)

After disbanding

The Easybeats disbanded without fanfare at the end of 1969, following a low-key farewell Australian tour. Vanda and Young remained in the UK for three years, working to pay off debts incurred during the Easybeats years. 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, William Shakespeare 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 seven 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". Flash and the Pan had a European hit single with the dance track "Waiting For A Train" in 1981. 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 shortlived solo career with the hit single "Evie" and the album Hard Road in 1974. In later years he suffered debilitating drug and alcohol problems which were further exacerbated by his self-admission to the notorious Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney; 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 and dozens of patients died as a result of the so-called 'treatment'. The scandal was later exposed, but Bailey avoided prosecution by committing suicide. Stevie's substance abuse problems spiraled out of control in the Eighties and Nineties and he came close to death on several occasions, but was pulled back from the brink by his current partner Faye and by 2002 was well enough to perform as part of the all-star Long Way To The Top national concert tour. His biography, Hard Road was published in 2004.

Original drummer Snowy Fleet became a successful builder in Perth, Western Australia; his replacement, Tony Cahill, remained in the UK for a time before moving to the United States; bassist Dick Diamonde moved to the NSW north coast and retired from performing. The original group reunited for a warmly received series of Australian concerts in 1986.

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