Makin' Lemonade with The Easybeats
There's a wise saying, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Australia's The Easybeats, a '60s beat band extraordinaire that's best-known for its weekend anthem "Friday On My Mind" and, in hipper circles, the pounding, Who-like "Sorry" and the massively Mod-rockin' "Good Times", took this to heart. True, the band was blessed with lead vocalist Stevie Wright, who possessed the balls-out rebel yell of a young Roger Daltry; the tiny, cute-guy, former child actor appeal of Davey Jones; and the enthusiasm of a cheerleader on crystal meth. And true, the band was blessed with the in-house songwriting and production team of Harry Vanda and George Young (the latter the big brother to Angus and Malcolm) who would go on to produce artists including AC/DC, Suzi Quatro, and Grace Jones as well as their 1-hit wonder, "Hey St. Peter", under the name Flash 'n the Pan. But if you've been thinking about checking out the complete works of The Easybeats based on their few best-known songs, prepare yourself for a tall glass of lemonade.
I own a lot of Easybeats recordings, and for fans of supercharged British Invasion pop, I'd highly recommend the 2-CD collection, The Easybeats: The Definitive Anthology (Repertoire). However, if you're looking for any number of special characteristics treasured by fanboys of many of the second-tier '60s bands, such as displays of subtle songwriting and deft vocal delivery (eg, The Zombies); ringing guitars and sweet harmonies (eg, The Hollies); influential, proto-70s guitar pyrotechnics (eg, The Pretty Things, The Creation); or bombastic psychedelia (eg, The Move), you may find yourself disappointed. Frequently, the songs of The Easybeats are pastiches of other British Invasion and Motown hits of the day. Songs are often built around an off-kilter, tinny guitar riff and a rockin' beat. Backing vocals are usually high and nasally, often making great use of nonsense syllables. In many ways, their aspirations were as straightforward and fun-filled as those of the Dave Clark Five and The Rascals, but The Easybeats usually lacked the discipiline and focus of the former band's hit and they lacked the soulful, native groove of The Rascals. Check out this grainy clip of "Made My Bed Gonna Lie in It" for an example of the rickety, awkward pop that I describe. When you're done with that nearly embarrassing (for anyone over the age of 22) delight, check out what they make of one of the most inherently awkward, failed soul songs of the era, Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High". To me, this is the definitive version of this song that effectively killed the career of writer-producer Phil Spector. The Easybeats bypass the song's pomp and circumstance and bring out the nervy heart of the song, perhaps all that was worth bringing out.
I have a friend who asks me what it is I see in this band beyond a couple of songs. He can't take the patchwork song structure and the frequently inane lyrics. Typically I agree with him on these charges as they relate to countless other second-tier British Invasion bands, but in The Easybeats I hear the sound of a band doing all they can with what little they've got in a concise 3:00 or less per song. I hear a band pushing against its own strange boundaries yet smart enough, for the most part, to stay within them. I hear the sound of lemonade. Across the 8 sides of Easybeats material that I own, there are few desparate attempts at Relevance: little psychedelia for psychedelia's sake; no bearded, back to the country odes; and only a few surprisingly decent attempts at Humble Pie-like maximum heaviosity. They rarely hit the highs of their 3 best-known songs, although "Falling Off the Edge of the World" is not to be missed for fans of melodramatic '60s pop (eg, The Bee Gees)!