Monday, 5 September 2011

The Easybeats

In anticipation for the upcoming SBS documentary this Saturday night, let's take a look at the impact of The Easybeats.

It is very easy to write off the Easybeats as just another beat group out of about 1 million of them in the mid 1960s. There is merit in the argument that out of the millions of bands in the mid-1960s, The Beatles and the Stones were the top of the heap.

Down here in the Antipodes, most bands could merely copy these bands in the hope of riding the wave of success achieved by the British beat bands. They were in most cases doing copies of the sounds learned from records that were often released quite a while after they were released in Britain. This inherently meant that the bands were already one step behind the rest of the bands in the world (we'll talk more about that in a minute).

One of the things that made the Easybeats special was that they wrote their own material and released it exclusively. Thorpey and the Aztecs, Ray Brown and the Whispers and The Twilights were all among the big bands of the time in Australia, and all of them almost always did covers. The Easys wrote all their singles themselves, which was something quite novel in those days. After that, bands like The Groop and the Master's Apprentices wrote their own songs, but largely the bands and singers of the time were all sourcing outside material.

The Easybeats early records crackle with energy and fire that outstrips their local rivals of the time. Those early tracks, like "Wedding Ring", "Sorry", "I'll Make You Happy", and "Women" still hold up today, despite the fact they were recorded on primitive mono equipment.

From 1964 to 1966, the band conquered the local market, they were far and away the biggest band in the land. They decided to try their luck in England. After all, they were capable of generating Beatlemania-styled hysteria in Australia, they should be able to achieve a similar level of success in the mother country, right?

...well, remember how I said that the bands were copying styles from records that were slightly behind when compared to the British? In 1966 through to 1969, rock music changed so rapidly and it left many bands washed-up in the wake. The Beatles were at the vanguard of this change. Their songs and their music changing rapidly from single to single and from album to album (just listen to the jump between "Revolver" and "Sgt Pepper" in terms of songwriting and musicianship!). Even bands like the Stones and The Beach Boys struggled to keep up (Brian Wilson from the band had a mental breakdown trying to compete with the Beatles!)

The Easybeats were also casualties of this change. These cocky naturalised Australians swanned into Swinging London, went down to the Marquee club to see some local bands and realised how behind the times they really were. This was the start of a crisis of confidence and identity for the band. Their first overseas release, "Sorry", hit #1 in Australia but bombed in the UK and US. Their first recording session with Shel Talmy (producer of The Kinks and The Who) produced the landmark single "Friday On My Mind" and then they failed to have any more hit records of the same magnitude.

"Friday..." was their high watermark. Trying to keep up with rapidly changing trends, they failed to hit on a singular sound and style that worked for them and they spent the next couple of years releasing single after single only to see them sink like a stone. Management problems, record company problems, depression, alcohol abuse and drug abuse set in and the band imploded in 1969, but not before they had one last hit in Australia: "St Louis". By the time it was released the band no longer existed.

The post-Easybeats fallout was somewhat bittersweet: Lead singer Stevie Wright descended into heroin abuse, but released a couple of highly regarded records in the mid 1970s, including a three-part, 11 minute epic track "Evie" that hit #1 in Australia in 1974. Guitarists Vanda and Young went on to produce a string of excellent records for the likes of AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo and others, as well as having a few hits of their own under the name of "Flash and The Pan"; not much is known about the other band members. Maybe the doco on Saturday night will shed some light on things...

...for now, remind yourself how good those early records were.


  1. I'm a big Easybeats fan. I reckon they would have done fantastically internationally today. x

  2. It would be very interesting to see how they would have fared today. Culture has fragmented so much that it's hard to see if there will be any one band now who'd unite the masses...

    Good to hear from you, Miss Max!