When I was a kid, there always seemed to be music on television. But shows like ‘Sing Along With Mitch’ where families were encouraged to join in (“follow the bouncing ball”) did nothing to nurture my interest in Pop. Some of the local music programs were similarly, wretched. Remember ‘The Bobby Limb Show’? ‘The Reg Lindsay Country Hour’? To a kid in the suburbs, already familiar with The Beatles, those shows were just wrong.
There were a few local Pop shows though, ‘Kommotion’, ‘The Go!! Show’, ‘Bandstand’, ‘6 O’Clock Rock’. Compared to what was going on elsewhere though, Australian stars were, well, …a bit, bland. Once you’d heard The Beatles, JO’K and his ilk were old school. Compared to The Fabs, everything was old school. They even had their own animated TV show.
Anything with a whiff of ‘over-there’ about it had a certain cache of cool, and in Australian Rock, no one embodied that image better than The Easybeats.
Featuring two Dutchmen, a Glaswegian, a drummer from Liverpool and a charismatic young singer, …also from England, The Easybeats had the beneficial mystique of actually having come from over there. A product of the burgeoning migrant community they, very quickly, became an Aussie institution.
At the time, The Easybeats were streets ahead of most Australian Rock, with a consistent string of edgily well-crafted and radio-friendly songs. The first of them, “For My Woman”, was a modest performer to begin with, but the subsequent “She’s So Fine” swept away any remaining doubters. From there, the nation was gripped with the micro-cultural virus known as Easyfever. (It was serious, kids.)
There was “Wedding Ring”, and “Women (Make You Feel Alright)”, and I can remember my mother actually laughing out loud when Dick Diamonde’s deep intoning on “Come And See Her” first appeared on our TV. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue-oTDTUwYk I was loathe to admit it but Mum was on to something, he had all the vocal skills of Lurch from The Addams Family, but it helped to temper Stevie Wright, who, by comparison, was going off.
The Easybeats made some more great records. For that, they were reliable. But like moths, to the candle of England, they left us for a while. Sadly it was still a time when bands traveled by boat, sometimes playing on them to pay their fare. But boy, we were gonna show those Poms. We did too, when “Friday On My Mind” became an international hit. Go, Aussie.
But then, things didn’t quite pan-out for the Easybeats’ overseas campaign. They pressed on as best they could, even producing songs as strong as “Good Times” and “St. Louis”, but nonetheless, it was a tough, downhill road.
Now, forty-something years later, Australian artists are paying due homage to The Easybeats’ music with, ‘Easy Fever: A Tribute To The Easybeats and Stevie Wright’.
It’s not half as bad as you might think. For the most part, the contributing artists have stuck to the basic principles of the original songs, whilst marking them with their own, individual stamp. For many, it works, and yet, (not uncommon to these ‘tribute’ albums), there’s invariably an ingredient missing, somewhere, an obvious fly in the soup.
On ‘Easy Fever’, one such example is the version of the big one, “Friday On My Mind”. That song was a small masterpiece in its day, an angst-driven shout from the suburbs. And yet here, in the hands of a prominent Australian artist who’s initials are, Ben Lee, something is missing. That the Easybeats were an edgy guitar band is, apparently, redundant. Here, this ‘small masterpiece’ is no more than a Pop music puff-piece, it’s passion and guitars, given over to a plonking piano and an unimpassioned vocal. Ben Lee offers his version of this classic, sans scrote.
Also lacking (and if not for testosterone, then simply for an inability to reach the bar), is The Veronicas’ version of “Good Times”. Good enough for a girl’s pajama party, where everyone’s giggling and flicking each other with towels, maybe, but not for this album. Sorry, ladies. Better than “Take Me On The Floor” it may be, but for this song, I’d have preferred the more predictable 1987 version by INXS and Jimmy Barnes. It’s still the best version there is. And, speaking of Barnsey, he does turn up, with Stevie Wright himself in tow, for the song, “Mother Figure”.
Apart from that, there is some reverential heavy-hitting, from The Living End, who recreate Stevie Wright’s “Guitar Band”, Thirsty Merc’s take on “She’s So Fine”, and a spookily retro version of, “For My Woman” from Dappled Cities.
The Cruel Sea give up a dark, grinding take on “Come And See Her”, Iva Davies is the surprise appearance with “Sad And Lonely And Blue”, and Skybombers do a great job of a tough song in the album opener, “Sorry”. But my favourite, at the moment, is the version of “Wedding Ring” by The Resin Dogs. The integrity of the song remains, yet they turn it into a new club anthem. Thus far, the only evidence of this project on the net is via the contribution from Grinspoon, with their version of “St. Louis”.
Though we don’t get INXS and Barnsey, there is an otherwise obligatory inclusion of the 2005 nod to Stevie Wright’s “Evie” suite, realized by Aussie ‘supergroup’, The Wrights. As the album closer it somehow seems apt.
“Evie (Part 1) – The Wrights (LIVE)
Who knows, it may even inspire our Aussie ‘yoof’ to rediscover the originals. Meanwhile, I’m downloading some tracks by The Marcus Hook Roll Band, the group that grew from The Easybeats’ ashes. They feature the earliest recordings of Angus and Malcolm Young too, predating both AC/DC and Flash And The Pan.
‘Easy Fever: A Tribute To The Easybeats and Stevie Wright’ is out on the 4th of October.