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Yes, there were Australian rock songwriters of consequence before the arrival of the Easybeats, but not very many. Overwhelmingly, whatever passed for originality in Australian music before the mid-sixties was almost wholly derivative. Australia had great natural rockers from day one – musicians of flair and imagination who could set alight any dance floor and singers of howling intensity who could let rip with the best of them – what it did not have was innovative songwriters who could take their creations to the world and compete as equals. At least not until 1965.
So Easy is an unashamed homage to some of the greatest songs ever written and recorded by an Australian rock group. A truly intriguing and satisfying endeavour. And one that perhaps acknowledges a mentoring role, for in 1983 it was Harry Vanda and George Young who signed The Choirboys to Albert Productions and assumed the role of Executive Producers for their debut, self-titled album, which spawned their first hit, Never Gonna Die.
Mark, guitarist Rohan Cannon, bassist Ian Hulme and drummer Paul Wheeler didn’t take on these sixteen songs because they thought they could do them better but because, as Gable puts it, “We thought it a worthwhile exercise to explore them in a more modern light. We felt we could bring out things in songs that they weren’t in a position to do. We could redo things with a greater technical capacity and with the early songs, particularly, we could put in backgrounds that two-track recording wouldn’t allow. With Pretty Girl, for example, we spent quite a bit of time, adding about 80 backing vocals around the lead.”
Mark had his favourites and they appear here. He can still bring to mind, or ear, Dick Diamond’s metronomic vocal drone on Come And See Her, from a Bandstand television performance, so that had to be included, as did other radio moments that never went away – Too Much, Women (“we did that in one take”), Sorry (“that’s become a sort of swamp blues”) and, of course, Friday On My Mind. “We wanted to bring that song out, take it somewhere else. I did it as if I was a player in a pub, making $20 a week or something who got asked to do it. I wanted to get that feel. With that, the parts normally played on guitar we did on bass guitar, which is the only electric instrument.” Saturday Night and Rock & Roll Boogie, from the England-era, qualify as “some of the more obscure songs that I fell in love with.”
Other admirers joined in the celebration of song. Bec Lavelle sang backing vocals on Friday On My Mind and big-voiced Jon Stevens sang what turned out to be a duet on the chugging You Got It Off Me, a song which the Easys had penned for Bobby and Laurie & the Rondells (soon to be the core of Daddy Cool), when they toured together on a P.J. Proby tour in the early days. And in a Wollongong studio as the project was being wrapped, Stevie Wright added his own imprimatur, adding a wailing duet voice to St. Louis, the bold, brassy, final Easybeat hit from 1969 which underlines an amazing evolution.
There’s an old maxim about how a song is not a great song unless it can be taken apart and put back together again, unless it can be reinterpreted in any style the interpreter chooses. The songs penned by Stevie Wright, George Young and Harry Vanda have been recorded so many times in so many ways over so many years that ‘great’ may well be one of the least things that can said about them. Welcome aboard Choirboys, for it is a club of distinction.