October 23, 2017 – George Young (with his bandmate and songwriting partner Harry Vanda-right in the picture) – Easybeats was born on November 6, 1946 in Glasgow Schotland. The lower middle class Young family were all musicians, but when the worst winter on record in Schotland arrived in post Christmas into January 1963, the family split as a result of 15 family members taking the opportunity to emigrate to Australia, including almost 16 year old George. In the Immigration housing project, the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney he met lead singer Stevie Wright and Dutch immigrant Harry Vanda and a year later they decided to form a band called “The Easybeats” with two other immigrants from England and the Netherlands. Their first rehearsals were done in the project’s laundry room.
Aside from performing and recording, Young co-wrote nearly all of their tracks. Early top 10 hits on the Australian singles chart for The Easybeats were co-written by Young with band mate Wright: “She’s So Fine” which made it to No. 3, 1965), “Wedding Ring” (No. 7, 1965), “Women (Make You Feel Alright)” (No. 4, 1966), “Come and See Her” (No. 3, 1966), “I’ll Make You Happy” (No. 1, 1966), and “Sorry” (No. 1, 1966). Later top 10 hits were written with Vanda, “Friday on My Mind” (No. 1, 1966) and “Heaven and Hell” (No. 8, 1967).
Young and Vanda’s career in music songwriting, production and performing became established worldwide as they scored their first international hit with “Friday on my Mind”. That was in October 1966, by which point the Easybeats had relocated to England. Until then, Young had written music for singer Stevie Wright, who contributed lyrics. It was the year of Revolver and Blonde on Blonde, and there were murmurs that the wild, colonial Easybeats lacked polish by comparison. Young had teamed with the Dutch-born Vanda, who was still learning English.
The Easybeats’ joyous paean to the end of the working week was a worldwide smash, covered in years to come by everyone from Blue Öyster Cult to Bruce Springsteen, as well as David Bowie, who recorded it for his album Pin Ups. In 2001, the Australian Performing Rights Association voted it the best Australian song of all time; it was added to the National Film and Sound Archives registry in 2007.
The group disbanded in late 1969. As George Young later explained, the cause of their demise was following the new tastes of the day in music, instead of staying with their strength.
If that had been all, Young’s legacy would have been secure. But it was his ongoing work as a songwriter and producer for other artists that turned him and friend Vanda into giants. As house producers for Albert Productions, they started out by rescuing the doomed Wright’s career with the magnificent three-part opus Evie in late 1974. Around the same time, another Scottish immigrant, Bon Scott, joined AC/DC.
A few stories sum up George Young’s contribution to that band. First, as Clinton Walker has pointed out in his biography of Scott, Highway to Hell, Young insisted that AC/DC should never deviate from straight, hard rock’n’roll: following trends, he believed, had been the Easybeats’ undoing. He also identified the silence and space in Malcolm Young’s stop-start riffs as crucial to their early sound: “It’s the stops what rocks,” he said.
After The Easybeats dissolved Young formed a production and song writing duo with Vanda, as Vanda & Young in 1970, initially living in London. They provided pop and rock songs for other recording artists, and for themselves under various stage names: Paintbox, Tramp, Eddie Avana, Moondance, Haffy’s Whiskey Sour, and Band of Hope.
The pair worked with Young’s elder brother Alex in the London based psychedelic rock band Grapefruit. In 1973 Young and Vanda returned to Sydney where they worked for Ted Albert, at his Albert Productions recording studio to become the in house producers. As songwriters they provided “Evie” (April 1974) for Wright, which was a number-one hit in Australia. They co-wrote, “Love Is in the Air” (December 1977), for John Paul Young, which reached No. 3 in Australia and co-produced work the Angels and Rose Tattoo. With former bandmate Stevie Wright they wrote and produced the megahit comeback title “Evie” an opus in the style of the Who’s “Tommy”.
Their studio-based group, Marcus Hook Roll Band, was joined in 1974 by Young’s brothers, Malcolm and Angus. But the brothers had already formed a hard rock group, AC/DC, in 1973 and decided to go for it. George Young helped them with AC/DC, which went on to become a monster success internationally. He declared to his brothers “that he didn’t believe a band can ever call itself a band until it’s done at least 200 gigs”. With Vanda he co-produced AC/DC’s early albums, T.N.T. (1975), High Voltage (1976), Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977) and Powerage (1978). Young even briefly played as AC/DC’s bass guitarist for a short stint, early in their career.
The most famous early AC/DC story is of smoke billowing from Angus Young’s amplifier as he laid down the climactic solo for Let There Be Rock. From the control booth, George gesticulated and screamed at the guitarist to keep going, with Angus just managing to finish before his Marshall melted. “There was no way we were going to stop a shit-hot performance for a technical reason like amps blowing up!” George said later.
The work Vanda and Young produced for AC/DC – Let There Be Rock, especially – had a tougher edge than the sound Robert “Mutt” Lange gave the band for their international breakthroughs Highway to Hell and Back in Black, recorded after Scott’s death. Vanda and Young were by then also working with the likes of the Angels and Rose Tattoo, who would go on to influence a new generation of hard rockers, notably Guns N’ Roses.
In mid-1976 Young formed Flash and the Pan, initially as a studio-based duo with himself on guitar, keyboards and vocals, and Vanda on guitar and keyboards. They had local top 10 hits on the Kent Music Report Singles Chart with “Hey, St. Peter” (No. 5, September 1976) and “Down Among the Dead Men” (No. 4, July 1978). The group’s ninth single, “Waiting for a Train” (December 1982), had lead vocals by their former Easybeats bandmate, Stevie Wright. When the single was issued in Europe in April 1983 it peaked at No. 7 in the UK, No. 15 in Belgium and No. 26 in the Netherlands. Vanda and Young even formed their own studio project, Flash and the Pan, whose first single Hey St Peter, released in September 1976, prefigured new wave just as punk was breaking worldwide. The song’s B-side, Walking in the Rain, was covered in 1981 by Grace Jones on her seminal album Nightclubbing. The mesmerising synth-pop of Waiting for a Train, released in 1983, featured Wright on vocals and hit No 7 in the UK charts.
He produced AC/DC’s 2000 album, Stiff Upper Lip. Malcolm was replaced in the group by their nephew, Stevie Young, in 2014, as Malcolm had been diagnosed with dementia.
For as much as Vanda and Young can be credited for birthing the sound of what wis often described know “Oz rock”, they were also writing and cutting huge pop and even disco hits: Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You, performed by glam rocker William Shakespeare, followed by a string of songs including Love is in the Air for John Paul Young (no relation). The story of Australian rock’n’roll, from the Easybeats to the Saints to the Hard-Ons and beyond, is of migrant kids. We should all be forever grateful for the day George Young met Harry Vanda at Villawood. And if it sounds like too much of a stretch to say Young defined the sound of Australian rock, listen to that manic, choppy riff from Sorry again – then try to imagine it without him.
Between his work as a guitarist and songwriter with the Easybeats and as a producer (along with fellow Easybeat Harry Vanda) for his brothers’ Malcolm and Angus band AC/DC, there is a very strong case to be made that George Young was the original sonic architect of Australian rock’n’roll. Other than Vanda – and with no disrespect to anyone who came before them, or followed after – the legacy of Young, arguably outstrips anyone’s.
After retiring from the music industry in the late 1990s, George Young resided mainly in Portugal with his family. Only the two Dutchmen, lead guitarist Vanda and bass player Dick Diamonde are still with us as we’re slowly closing the book on Australia’s first magnificent contribution to Rock and Roll. George transitioned on October 22, 2017 at age 70 from undisclosed cause.