We lost a great one this week. A songwriter, occasional singer, producer and rhythm guitarist par excellence. And an instigator and architect. With his work in the Easybeats, with his brothers’ band AC/DC and in a broader production and songwriting partnership with fellow ex-Easybeat Harry Vanda, George Young helped shape Australian rock and pop as much, if not more, than any other individual. He also helped create new forms of pop, hard rock and dance/disco that would resonate worldwide.
For such a ubiquitous brand, Vanda & Young did not spread themselves widely. They kept it in the family; whether that was the Young family or the Albert family - George & Harry spent most of their professional life tied to Albert Productions. Sure their music was often covered – “Love Is In The Air” has reportedly been recorded over 300 times – but, apart from a 3-4 year period at the end of the Easybeats - everything they did they did initially for themselves or for other Alberts artists.
We’ve spent a bit of time looking at other tributes to George’s passing, and decided we want to go just beyond the obvious selections in the way we do it. You don’t need us to point you to “Friday On My Mind” or “Love Is In The Air” again, as great as they are. We want to look at some other key tracks, and perhaps try to give you an idea of how George’s music developed, and how that, in turn, influenced things more broadly.
We hope you enjoy our special tribute to the great George Young.
The Easybeats – "Sorry"
There’s incredible high-energy and punch in this track and it’s the one in which George introduced a style of staccato riffing to percussively drive the rhythm along in the verse, which pre-empted Vanda & Young’s work with the Angels (see “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again” below) over a decade later, and became a fairly common trait in a lot of new wave and power pop not long after.
The Easybeats – "Good Times"
George introduced another precursive move in this much-loved track. The ringing open chord turnaround that links each line in the verse – the ‘da da-da da-da’ riffs that anticipate each line then drop away when Stevie sings - set the template for numerous early AC/DC classics. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Malcolm Young playing these bits. Chord-based riffing is something that George would develop further with the Easybeats’ "St Louis" and some lesser known pre-AC/DC tracks we’ll hear shortly, enabling AC/DC to introduce something different into the hard rock lexicon, which until their arrival primarily followed the note-based riffing of the likes of Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore.
The Easybeats – "Bring A Little Lovin’"
From around the same time as “Good Times”, this track, a minor contemporary US hit for Los Bravos, was an early Vanda & Young foray into soul grooves and more overtly dance-based rhythms. Not an especially great song, but this foray would ultimately lead to “Love Is In the Air" and beyond into some of the more dance-inflected Flash & the Pan tracks, and is obviously distinct from the hard rock stuff they were simultaneously developing. This stuff was obviously on George’s mind in an aborted early attempt to produce the Ted Mulry Gang. As TMG drummer Herm Kovac recently told ILYOS: “Vanda and Young did come and produce us but it lasted one day. The track was "I’m On Fire" the B side to "Jump In My Car". They wanted it “black” and funky, like "Love Is In The Air". I remember George dancing in front of me; dancing so I could get a groove. I could not stop laughing.”
Haffy’s Whiskey Sour – "Shot in the Head"
A killer obscurity that anticipates so much of AC/DC, this 1971 track was basically a Vanda & Young demo. It was picked up and covered by popular bluesrockers Savoy Brown a year or so later, and later revisited by Vanda & Young in one of their next projects, Marcus Hook Roll Band. A fantastic track and one of George’s favourites.
Ted Mulry – "Falling in Love Again"
English born Ted would become a household name after rocking things up a tad with his Gang, but he had early success on Alberts with softer numbers, including this Vanda & Young ballad which Melbourne critic David Nichols reckons is a masterpiece and a very clever piece of writing. From his fine recent book Dig: Australian Rock and Pop Music, 1960-85.
"George Young now says the song was ‘deliberately schmaltzy’; in facts its cunningly self-referential, as it makes a very good case for the celebration of falling in love being a suitable subject for a song".
Marcus Hook Roll Band – "Natural Man"
This single – basically just George & Harry and some mates again - had American rock critics like Greg Shaw in raptures, and it’s a brilliant update of the “Good Times” and “St Louis” dynamics and template. The critics generated enough interest for Capitol in the US to request a full album, which George & Harry eventually recorded when they settled back in Australia in ’73. That album Tales Of Old Grandaddy, which also includes a new version of “Shot In the Head” features a mix of funkier pop-soul numbers and hard-rockers and is particularly notable for including the first appearances of Malcolm and Angus. You can stream the whole thing on Spotify here...
Stevie Wright – "Evie"
Everything that Vanda & Young were working with – hard rock, pop and more funky and soulful sounds - came together on this monster 3-part epic that reinstated their old Easybeats mate Little Stevie to the top of the charts where he belonged. Alas, Stevie couldn’t keep his addictions at bay long enough, and well-deserved – and likely at the time – international stardom was not forthcoming. Stevie’s two Vanda & Young produced and written albums are essential listens. Check them out on Spotify now if you don’t have them.
William Shakespeare – "Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You"
The UK Glam sound was based on exaggerated dynamics, pounding rhythms and simple hooks that harked back to the big chorus days of the early ‘60s. Vanda & Young dabbled with it briefly and with great success with this flash in the pan Sydney artist, real name John Cave. The chorus is a cracker – I’d love to hear a hard-rocking guitar band have a crack at this some time.
John Paul Young – "Yesterday’s Hero"
A pinnacle of Vanda & Young’s attempts to create a pure ‘70s pop sound, “Yesterday’s Hero” was not only a hit for JPY, but, internationally, part of the Bay City Rollers' phenomenal mid-decade run of hits. Most Australian’s don’t know the Rollers' version as there was no need for radio to play it here; we’ll give it a run when we feature some great Vanda & Young covers soon.
AC/DC – "It’s A Long Way To The Top"
Where do we start? Under Vanda & Young’s guidance, Malcolm & Angus Young, and Bon Scott changed music forever. Their albums together are incredible. The second album T.N.T alone includes “It’s A Long Way To The Top”, “High Voltage” and the title track, not to mention classics like “The Jack” and ”Rock’n'Roll Singer”. AC/DC had started out as more of a guitar-based glam thing when they had Dave Evans on vocals – the original single of “Can I Sit Next To You Girl?” could almost have worked for William Shakespeare, great though it is. But with Bon’s arrival it all came together. AC/DC found the perfect frontman and lyricist, and V&Y found the foil they’d lost when Stevie Wright went AWOL. So many tracks to chose from, but we’ve gone with “It’s A Long Way To The Top” because the bagpipes – George’s idea – were a brilliant touch.
Flash & The Pan - "Down Among the Deadmen"
As AC/DC started spending time overseas, Vanda & Young had time to kill, and they came up with a new project for themselves to work basically as a duo. With their interest in dance rhythms peaking – they were toying with their own disco rhythms on JPY hits like “I Hate the Music” and “Standing In The Rain” (all leading up to “Love Is In the Air”) they managed to throw together a unique hybrid of rock and dance rhythms and pop hooks to create one of their most commercially and critically successful projects on the international scene.
The Angels - "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?"
Formerly the Keystone Angels, this Adelaide pub band with a penchant for ‘50s rock’n’roll covers, Status Quo style boogies and, oddly, mid-60s Bob Dylan style melody, were discovered by AC/DC whilst on the road and V&Y set to making them Australia’s new hard rock heroes, inadvertently creating the classic aggressive and air-punching Aussie pub rock sound in the process. The Angels would find their greatest success at Alberts under Vanda & Young protégé Mark Opitz a couple of years later, but it was George & Harry who got the ball rolling in 1976 and shaped this classic single.
Rose Tattoo - "Bad Boy For Love"
The hard rock/pub rock continued with another AC/DC discovery. Angry Anderson had previously sung with AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd in Melbourne band Buster Brown, and Pete Wells was well-known from his days in Buffalo, but it was a bold move for Alberts and V&Y to take on such a decidedly aggressive and non-commercial band. Of course it worked – the Tatts became heroes in Europe as well as at home – and with their production work on the band’s debut album adding to what they’d already achieved with AC/DC and the Angels it became apparent to the hard rock world at large that Vanda & Young were creating a uniquely Australian and untouchably powerful new sound.
Flash & The Pan - "Waiting for a Train"
All the while they were shaping the Oz Rock sound, Harry & George were still dabbling away in the studio with their own decidedly non-Oz Rock Flash & The Pan project. They ended up releasing 6 albums under the name (the last in 1992), and although they failed to achieve much in Australia beyond the ‘70s, they were hugely popular in Europe. The music had an austere European dance sensibility to it after all, which was no doubt inspired somewhat by Grace Jones 1981 cover of their old JPY hit “Walking in the Rain”.
Of course, this is all just the tip of the iceberg as far Vanda & Young goes. We suggest you try to find a copy of John Tait’s excellent Vanda & Young: Inside Australia’s Hit Factory is you need help to navigate it all further.
Stay tuned for our forthcoming feature on great Vanda & Young covers from over the years.
- Dave Laing