Before there was AC/DC, there was the Easybeats. Many of the lessons George Young learned while part of the band behind "Friday On My Mind" would have a huge impact on his younger brothers' journey with AC/DC, as this exclusive extract from Jeff Apter's new book, High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, goes to show.
Sporting matching suits and shaggy haircuts, by 1965 The Easybeats had secured regular work at a few Sydney discotheques, such as Surf City – an old movie theatre converted into a 5000-capacity venue deep in the red-light heart of Kings Cross – and, aptly, given their influences, a club named Beatle Village. Violent 'sharpies' put the fear of God into local punters at these venues. While the Youngs had come a long way from Cranhill, big brother George was now in the thick of the type of violence that was commonplace back on the estate.
Fortunately, the Easys weren't stuck in the bloodhouses for long. Music publisher Ted Albert, the astute head of the revered Sydney family business, signed the band to Albert Productions in 1965. The well-spoken Albert came from a background of affluence – the Sydney summer season was said to have only truly begun when his father, Sir Alexis Albert, sailed his yacht Boomerang through the Heads. The Alberts resided in a stately waterfront mansion in Elizabeth Bay also called Boomerang; both were named after the popular mouth organ that had earned the family their first fortune.
Ted Albert was excited by the rough and ready sounds of rock and roll. It seemed an unlikely collision of cultures – a sophisticated Sydneysider, a man of wealth and taste, mixing it up with some reprobates straight out of the migrant hostel – but Albert didn't care; he recognised a magical spark within The Easybeats. They were madly energetic onstage – Stevie Wright could out-back flip a gymnast – and they looked good, and while they could play hard and fast, they also had a well-tuned ear for melody.
"Ted seemed very unaffected by his family's history and affluence," future AC/DC manager Michael Browning wrote of Albert, in his book Dog Eat Dog. "I met an immaculately dressed, charming and astute man with a passion for music and recording studios."
'Easyfever' hit Australia like a tsunami throughout 1965 and 1966. The hits that followed, initially written by Young and Wright, then by Vanda and Young, still define the great Australian rock and roll songbook: "She's So Fine", a number one hit in Melbourne and Sydney in June 1965; "Women", their next Sydney number one in January 1966; and "Come and See Her", yet another chart-topper in May 1966. "Sorry", perhaps their first truly great track and one of the earliest songs to feature the use of guitar feedback, ruled the airwaves in November 1966.
When Harry Vanda started to write with George, their creative union quickly flourished. Their co-written singles included "Wedding Ring", a hit in September 1965, and "I'll Make You Happy", yet another smash, released in August 1966. Working out of Boomerang House in Sydney – a building that was part of his family's hefty property portfolio – Ted Albert produced all these trailblazing tracks.
Some early recordings were produced at the abandoned 2UW theatre, another Albert family holding. To the Youngs, it must have seemed as though the Albert family owned much of the city.
The pandemonium that erupted during the Easys' concerts echoed the madness of The Beatles' shows staged in 1964 (gigs Angus boasted of having seen, although the veracity of his claim was always a little dubious). At The Easybeats' shows, teenage girls screamed their lungs raw, wet their knickers, fainted and then, once revived, did it all over again. Stage invasions were commonplace; shows rarely ran for their allotted time. More than 4000 screaming fans invaded the tarmac at Perth airport when the band landed for a series of gigs.
'Little Stevie' Wright became one of the country's earliest teen idols, a guy with a body seemingly made of rubber and the face of a slightly tarnished choirboy, while Vanda and Young morphed into Australia's first truly great pop/rock songwriting team. And Ted Albert, who wasn't immune to a little Beatlemania himself, was a key figure, licensing The Easybeats' hits-in-waiting to EMI/Parlophone, in much the same way he and Alberts would control the recordings of Angus and AC/DC in later years.
'High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, AC/DC's Last Man Standing' is published by Nero Books.