VANDA AND YOUNG 1965-1983

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I’ll Make You Happy (S Wright/ G Young) and Sorry (S Wright/ G Young) 1966 and St. Louis (H Vanda/G Young) – Easybeats 1969

In July 1966 the Easybeats would take I’ll Make You Happy, backed with Too Much to their first #1 national hit in July, the follow up in October of the same year was the brilliant Sorry which became their second #1 national hit.

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Both songs were brash, urgent, and infectious pop creations reminiscent of early Kinks and Small Faces hits, with typically frantic lead vocals from front-man Stevie Wright, superb riffing by Harry Vanda and a George Young guitar hook on Sorry achieved by scratching his pick across the stopped strings to create a unique percussive effect. I’ll Make You Happy uses a unique spoken word delivery of part of the lyrics before Stevie sings each verse, Harry’s guitar solo was memorable, and he closed the song brilliantly.

The Easybeats had blitzed the charts in the period 1965-66, they were unique not only for the quality of their musicianship and live performances but because they wrote all their own songs, this was rare among local artists at the time who generally relied on beat covers of existing songs, although there were a few other local exceptions – the Bee Gees, the Loved Ones, Masters Apprentices, Brian Cadd (Groop, Axiom), Terry Britten (Twilights) and Laurie Allen (Bobby and Laurie).

In 1966 the Easybeats would hit the top 5 on five occasions, including three #1 hits in a row– I’ll Make You Happy, Sorry and the song that would break them internationally, Friday on My Mind. (For a profile of Friday On My Mind refer to 4TR blog on June 11, 2020, Hits of the 1950’s and 1960’s).

Classic live appearance on Billy Thorpe’s It’s All Happening.

But the band would struggle to produce a follow up to their smash hit, some options such as Sorry and I’ll Make You Happy, both hits in Australia, had been rejected by producer Shel Talmy and United Artists, as being below standard for international release, which was definitely a bad call as Sorry was a world class song that bristled with mod rock maschismo, and should have been a global hit. Under pressure to release a follow-up, the band members caved in to pressure and although they favoured Pretty Girl which featured Harry on lead vocals and had some catchy harmonies, United Artists insisted on the FOMM soundalike song Who’ll Be the One (Do You Have A Soul?), and it flopped.

Classic live performance on It’s All Happening, George’s scratch guitar intro was memorable, Stevie in good form, Harry and George leaning into a shared mic on backing vocals, three pneumatic go-go dancers, this clip was to the 60’s what JOK’s live performance of Shout was to the 50’s.

Despite having a catchy chorus there were no identifiable hooks, no clever guitar interplay nor infectious harmonies, the band admitted that their attempt to replicate their blockbuster hit had failed miserably, so they went back to the three-chord power pop/rock on which they had established their reputation.

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The band would return to the Australian top ten in July 1967 with a song that reflected the prevalent baroque pop and early psychedelic sounds of such bands as the Beatles, the Zombies, the Kinks, and the Yardbirds, with the catchy harmonies and solid guitar riffs of Heaven and Hell backed with Pretty Girl, but the record was banned in the US and UK because of the use of the word “hell” and some of the lyrics – “ discovering someone else in your bed…”, which were deemed to be suggestive.

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The record climbed to #8 locally but failed to resonate elsewhere and only charted for eleven weeks in Australia. Snowy Fleet had left the band and been replaced by ex-Purple hearts drummer Tony Cahill, three other members of the band were now engaged, Harry to 21-year-old Melbourne girl Robyn Thomas (above), Dick Diamonde to vivacious African-American singer Charlene Collins, who had appeared in the Sydney production of Hair, Stevie Wright was engaged to his partner Gail Baxter (below), while George had already married Sandra Ramsay in 1969 and they had a daughter named Yvette, also known as Evie, later to be immortalized in a famous Vanda/Young composition, recorded by Stevie Wright.

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The band landed a spot, on Gene Pitney’s US Tour of the east coast of America, they were billed third behind Pitney and the Buckinghams, but ahead of the Happenings, the Music Explosion, and the Fifth Estate, but the tour did not go well, illness and poor sound systems detracted from their performance, and financially it was unsuccessful. 

The Music Goes ‘Round My Head; Hello, How Are You, and Lay Me Down and Die failed to impress throughout 1967/68, but St. Louis was a fine example of the Easybeats back to their best.

Recorded at the Olympic Studios in London and produced by Ray Singer, it was a tight, close harmony song with percussive handclaps, great riffing by Harry and George and Stevie manically taking the vocals over the top.  As a song it laid down the template upon which the early AC/DC hits would be based, it was also to be the last top 30 success for the Easybeats before the band broke up.

Musical tastes had changed, the beat boom had peaked, and flower power and psychedelia were the current trends, the band had also lost traction in their home market where such bands as the Twilights, Bee Gees, and Master Apprentices had replaced the Easybeats as fan favorites. (L-R below)

Dick Diamonde would follow Snowy Fleet out of the band and Stevie Wright would transition to a solo career well into the 1970’s, but it was to be Vanda and Young who would be reincarnated as notable songwriters/producers after slogging out several years in the UK as jobbing session musicians and songwriters and absorbing the many influences around them, which they would bring back to Sydney to be infused into their stream of hit songs throughout the next twenty years.

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