The legacy of Australia’s first internationally successful rock band endures, writes Iain Shedden
TWIN sisters Jessica and Lisa Origliasso, better known as the Veronicas, weren’t even two years old when the Easybeats’ rocker Good Times made it to No 2 on the Australian charts in 1986. By that time, the song was already 18 years old. Although it was one of the Sydney band’s most popular 1960s recordings, it was the later version, by INXS and Jimmy Barnes, that was huge here and became a Top 50 hit in the US.
Now the Veronicas have put their noughties pop twist on the song as part of a tribute to the Easybeats, one of Australia’s most revered and influential musical exports.
It’s a surprisingly tough and spirited rendition of the song, too, one of many surprises on an album that features the band’s classics, including Friday on My Mind , Sorry and I’ll Make You Happy , all given modern interpretations by Australian and Kiwi artists. The twins have joined a broad roster of performers, including Neil Finn, the Living End, Grinspoon and Iva Davies, for the project.
Last Monday in Sydney, some of the artists came together at the launch of the tribute CD, Easy Fever . The evening featured performances by the Cruel Sea ( Come and See Her ), pop duo Dash and Will ( Somethin’ Wrong ) and up- andcoming rockers Skybombers ( Sorry ), with many other famous figures from the rock fraternity also in the room.
What the evening conjured up most of all was the enduring legacy of Australia’s first internationally successful rock band. These are songs that have stood the test of time in their original form and in the interpretations by Australia’s new breed. Nor are the Easy Fever artists the first to cover Easybeats songs. The Saints, the Divinyls and Suzi Quatro are just some of those who have gone there before.
On the eve of Easy Fever ’ s release, and just shy of 40 years since the band split up, it’s a convenient time to assess the Easybeats’ contri- bution to Australia’s rock ’ n’ roll history. The band’s Harry Vanda and Stevie Wright, both of whom were present at the launch, are justifiably pleased about the new album, although Wright can’t put his finger on just why the songs have remained high on the radar for 40 years.
‘‘ I’m a little surprised that anyone would want to do these songs,’’ he says. ‘‘ Forty years and they’re still playing them . . . and that’ll be helped by this album. I’m overcome with admiration for them doing it, the people who have done it and who have been influenced by us. I got all my influences from black American singers.’’
Wright’s music career was cut short by drug and alcohol addiction in the ’ 70s. At the end of Easy Fever is the all- star recording ( Bernard Fanning, Tim Rogers, Phil Jamieson) from three years ago of Wright’s biggest solo hit, 1974’ s Evie, parts 1, 2 and 3 .
These days the singer leads a much quieter existence away from the spotlight in rural NSW, but his enthusiasm for music has been rekindled by the new album. Through a piece of studio wizardry, he has teamed up with Barnes for a duet on a previously unreleased song, Motherfigure , penned by Vanda and guitarist George Young for a Wright solo album in 1975.
‘‘ I couldn’t believe how close we were vocally,’’ Wright says. ‘‘ It’s like Nat ‘ King’ Cole and Natalie,’’ he jokes.
‘‘ The first time I ever heard Jimmy Barnes sing, I was rehabilitating at the time and I was sitting in the back of a cab and heard the voice. Some new band called Cold Chisel. I said, ‘ I’d better get back to work.’ I told him that story in the studio too.’’ WRIGHT was only 16 when the Easybeats first went to the top of the Australian charts. Although not a classic singer, he had the confidence needed to be a charismatic frontman. He also had a thirst for the sex, drugs and rock ’ n’ roll lifestyle that would prove to be his undoing.
The Easybeats were five European migrants bound together by Sydney’s blossoming rock scene in the mid-’ 60s. Wright and drummer Snowy Fleet came from England, guitarist Young ( the older brother of AC/ DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young) was a Scot, while guitarist Vanda and bass player Dick Diamonde hailed from The Netherlands.
Inspired by bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones coming out of England, the Easybeats quickly garnered a local following and signed to Albert Productions, the company that went on to steer AC/ DC’s career and which has also released the new tribute CD.
In 1965- 66 the band had many Australian hits, written by Young and Wright, including She’s So Fine , Wedding Ring , I’ll Make You Happy and Sorry . Buoyed by that success, they set off for England, but learned quickly that breaking into the lucrative British market would be no easy task. One song changed everything. Friday on My Mind was a significant landmark in the Easybeats’ career. First, it signalled a shift in the songwriting partnership within the band. The song was written by Vanda and Young, a collaboration that gave birth to a successful writing and producing partnership for decades.
Second, it was a worldwide smash. It topped the charts here and in The Netherlands, reached No 6 in Britain and No 16 in the US. Its highly original construction melded simple R& B and pop melodies and harmonies with a kind of psychedelic undertow. And the subject matter — here comes the weekend — was the very essence of rock ’ n’ roll. ‘‘ It used to be Saturday night and we just got paid,’’ Vanda says. ‘‘ I thought we could change it to Friday night.’’
Few artists have been brave enough to try to put their personal stamp on such an idiosyncratic tune, although David Bowie made a fair stab at it on his 1973 album Pin Ups . This time around it’s Sydney’s Ben Lee who has taken it on and he has done a remarkably good job. That’s Vanda’s view, too.
‘‘ To put a different interpretation on the song is a good thing,’’ he says. ‘‘ I thought Ben did the smart thing. He even put a beat into the song. The original Friday on My Mind . . . you try and dance to that and you fall over your feet. It was lucky that the song was so listenable and had that subject matter. If you had to rely on something else like a dance beat — which at the time a lot of stuff was — it might not have worked.’’
Vanda looks back on the song’s creation with a sense of wonder, a happy accident as much as a moment of inspiration.
‘‘ You don’t think at the time that ‘ this is rather clever’, but when you dissect it years later you realise it is rather clever. I liked to squeeze a chorus in A into an E minor verse. That worked, and the bridge part did too, but I can assure you it wasn’t quite as calculated as that.’’ YOUNG Sydney band Dappled Cities has more than a home city in common with its more famous predecessors. Singer Tim Derricourt is an English immigrant and the band is a five- piece. Dappled Cities has contributed a version of For My Woman, one of the Easybeats’ early hits, to Easy Fever.
‘‘ We are still quite a raw sounding band,’’ Derricourt says, expanding the comparison. ‘‘ We’re not a clean sounding band, so there’s some similarity there.
‘‘ A band like the Easybeats is going to come down to every generation of musicians,’’ he goes on. ‘‘ While they may not be the exact same style as you, the rawness and the garage aspect of them is going to influence any Australian band.
‘‘ Every song, including ours, was done quickly, in an impromptu manner. We just went in and did it really fast.’’
Nevertheless, Dappled Cities guitarist and keyboardist Dave Rennick says they went about the task a little in awe of the material.
‘‘ Just the act of covering an Easybeats song is a tentative thing to do for a band like us,’’ he says. ‘‘ We’re so young and still finding our own sound, so we’ve tiptoed a little around doing a track by one of the best known bands in the country, and one of the most credible.’’
Vanda, who with Young went on to produce AC/ DC and to write famous songs for other artists ( Love is in the Air for John Paul Young, for example), certainly has plenty of credibility left and isn’t about to rest on his laurels. Melbourne band British India is just one of his most recent production credits.
‘‘ The sort of guy I am, I rarely think about the past,’’ he says. ‘‘ I’m more a today and tomorrow kind of person.’’
He says maintaining a lengthy career is all about experience. ‘‘ You build up confidence and then all of a sudden before you know it you’re a producer.’’
He resisted the temptation, however, to become involved behind the controls for this latest salute to his early career.
‘‘ I think that would have defeated the purpose,’’ he says, ‘‘ because you wouldn’t get an honest performance. I think I would have been more of a hindrance, to tell you the truth, because people would have been thinking, ‘ Does he think we’re murdering the tune?’ If I had to go into a studio to do my interpretation of someone’s song and he was standing there looking at me . . . I’d feel a bit uncomfortable, to say the least.’’
He is comfortable, however, with the performances the artists on Easy Fever have given of the Easybeats songs.
‘‘ What I like in music is honesty and what I can hear in the songs is people going for it . . . and they’re enjoying what they’re doing,’’ he says. ‘‘ I don’t think you can ask for any more than that.’’
And just what is it in those songs that has endeared them to the Australian public for so long? ‘‘ Through all the things that we went through . . . I think we stuck in the hearts of many Australians because we were the blokes who got up off our arses and had a go in the ’ 60s and came back with a world hit. I get the impression from a lot of people, old and young, that they particularly liked that about us.
‘‘ Having said that, there were a couple of good ditties in there along the way.’’
Own version of Friday on My Mind: Ben Lee
Forty years and they’re still playing them’: The Easybeats in their heyday, opposite page from left, Harry Vanda, Stevie Wright, Snowy Fleet, Dick Diamonde and George Young; Sydney band Dappled Cities, above from left, Tim Derricourt, Allan Kumpulinen, Dave Rennick, Ned Cooke and Alex Moore