George Young: The architect of Oz Rock

The Easybeats with George Young, second from the right.

The Easybeats with George Young, second from the right. Photo: Supplied

When Wedding Ring, The Easybeats’ third single, stalled at No.7 on the Hit Parade in August 1965, George Young, who co-wrote the song, made a decision that changed the course of Australian music history – give the fans what they want.

“We went through that musician’s phase where we tried to get clever,” he told Glenn A. Baker. “You try to prove that you’re more than a three-chord rock and roll band.”

After a second failure, Young had his epiphany.

“So we gave up all pretentions and gave the kids what they wanted.

“They wanted to dance and sing to good happy choruses, so we knocked out this thing in about two minutes called Women.”

And he never made the mistake of being pretentious again.

George Redburn Young was born the third of eight Glaswegian children on November 6, 1946. The family migrated to Australia in 1963 as Beatlemania peaked around the world.

Young joined a band made up of immigrant kids living in the stainless steel huts at the Villawood Hostel.

They became The Easybeats, channelling the mod sounds of Swinging London into Sydney’s discotheques.

The Easybeats difference – they wrote their own songs

Unlike every other hopeful on the circuit, The Easybeats wrote their own material. Young and singer Stevie Wright churned out a dozen smash hits at a time when there had been only half a dozen Australian songs on the charts.

‘Easyfever’, as the phenomenon was known, gripped Australian teenagers and the band was mobbed from coast to coast.

The Easybeats’ live shows, with ‘Little’ Stevie Wright going crazy out front of the insistent, vaguely sinister guitarist were bacchanals with a beat. She’s So Fine, Wedding Ring, Sad Lonely and Blue, I’ll Make You Happy and Sorry  were just a few of the Easybeats hits.

In 1966, The Easybeats decamped to London. Wright began to have personal issues in the UK and Young teamed up with Dutch-born guitarist Harry Vanda as his songwriting partner. One of their first collaborations was the band’s biggest hit.

Friday On My Mind made top 20 in the US and the UK top 10 – the first Australian record to reach these heights.

The working class tale of weekday drudgery and weekend escape caught the imaginations of many younger artists including Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie, both of whom covered the track.

Unfortunately The Easybeats didn’t have luck with them. Despite a string of excellent pop singles, the group never quite got to the next level.

stevie wright

Stevie Wright. Photo: Getty

By the time the band folded in 1969, Young had formed a partnership with Vanda to write and produce songs for other artists.

They struck a deal with Alberts Productions in Sydney and churned out hits for John Paul Young, Stevie Wright, Cheetah, William Shakespeare and Ted Mulry.

Wright’s solo album was produced by Vanda and Young and is considered an important hard rock album if something of a cult classic.

Young’s aesthetic of rust-proof melody and simple ideas delivered a river of gold and platinum albums.

Vanda and Young also signed up tougher rock bands such as Rose Tattoo and the Angels. They teamed the latter with young producer Mark Opitz and gave the band and producer extensive use of the studio to find a sound that revolutionised the Australian music industry.

His greatest achievement was, of course, his younger brothers’ combo, AC/DC. Although Malcolm and Angus Young were the stars it was George’s sensibility which guided AC/DC – simple ideas, humour and no pretensions.

Angus Young onstage with AC/DC. Photo: Getty

It’s a formula which has lasted to this day and been imitated by musicians all around the world.

George and Harry, as they were always known, produced the first six AC/DC records. After that, at the insistence of their American record label, Vanda and Young were fired as producers, something that deeply upset George.

Things were ameliorated almost a decade on when Vanda and Young produced tracks on the comeback Who Made Who and all of the follow-up Blow Up Your Video.

When not working with other artists they recorded under the name Flash and the Pan, producing a couple of hits both in Australia and throughout Europe. One song, Walking in the Rain, was a hit for Grace Jones.

A star who stayed out of the spotlight

Despite chart success, George Young could not be lured into the spotlight. He filled in on bass with AC/DC sometimes but essentially wanted to stay in the shadows. He refused almost every interview request and had little interest in collecting the many awards that came his way.

Young was really at home with musicians. He was generous with his time and his advice. He was known for his sardonic wit and his distaste for bullshit or frippery.

It was that unerring suspicion of being too clever has been the hallmark of Australian rock. That and knowing a good song.

As Cold Chisel’s songwriter Don Walker put it in an email to The New Daily: “I always thought George Young, together with his writing partner Harry Vanda, was the finest songwriter that ever came out of Australia.

“I particularly love the songs they wrote for Flash and the Pan, and George’s singing, and George’s lyrics. And they were the best producers.

“I’ve never stopped listening to and being guided by what they did.”

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