Books

‘Friday On My Mind’: the life and legacy of George Young

Friday On My Mind: the Life of George Young is a lovingly crafted portrayal of a founding father of Australian rock ‘n’ roll.

When George Young stepped off the plane in Australia — direct from wet and windy Glasgow in 1963 — he left a world that was soon to be utterly engulfed by Beatlemania and spitting distance from London, a countercultural epicentre.

Looking around at his new digs, he saw anything but. Within a few short years, however, he and his ragtag mates were to change this state of affairs and the world would see Australian music in a whole new light. In Friday On My Mind: the Life of George Young (Allen & Unwin) Jeff Apter documents the unlikely success story of not only George Young, but a family dynasty that has left an indelible imprint on Australian music as we know it.

George Young and Harry Vanda
George Young (right) and his life-long songwriting partner, Harry Vanda.

It only made sense that the gaggle of misfits that would eventually become The Easybeats were a group of frustrated, energetic outsiders. It’s tempting to homogenise this epoch, shoehorning Australia in with newly awakened cultural hotspots of the US and the UK. In reality — though relatively prosperous economically — Australia was suffering under the stifling blanket of conservatism, with the Young clan (a family with music running through their veins) arriving in Sydney at the tail end of Robert Menzies’ seemingly interminable prime ministership. The ground was ripe for rebellion.

When The Beatles finally toured down under, it was pandemonium. And as Apter notes, “George was inspired. He now set to work building his own band.” Remarkably, Young had all the crucial elements of The Easybeats within his grasp at the Villawood Migrant Hostel. And even more remarkably, within three short years of being uprooted from Scotland, Young’s band were dominating the Aussie charts while he was still a teenager.

As the star of The Easybeats rose, then inevitably fell, only to be replaced with greater, longer-lasting successes, Apter observes the thread that connects Young’s myriad victories: partnerships and loyalty. Coming to the attention of an emerging music mogul, Ted Albert, was a significant slice of good fortune. But this was no fleeting collaboration. The two would work together for decades with all their complex business dealings underpinned by a handshake.

Long after The Easybeats faded from the public consciousness, Young’s legacy can still be felt in leviathanic success of AC/DC; his two younger brothers, Malcolm and Angus were the founders. When AC/DC were discovering their own modicum of sustainability in the mid-1970s, Malcolm Young floated the idea of a more expansive sound for the band past his older brother and mentor, George. Apter notes the wiser head’s response:

George’s reply was a firm no — this was exactly the mistake he’d made while in The Easybeats, when they’d branched into woozy psychedelia and bloated ballads.”

Friday on My Mind

This no-nonsense approach served Young well throughout all his songwriting and production endeavours (the book includes a helpful discography of selected works). He was a reluctant rock star at best (he played rhythm guitar in The Easybeats, while dynamo lead singer Stevie Wright soaked up most of the attention), but in the studio, he shone.

His other crucial partnership was with Harry Vanda, the lanky Dutch guitarist who’d first crossed paths with Young in Villawood. The duo took some hard lessons from their time in The Easybeats and set about doing rock ‘n’ roll the right way (if that was ever possible). Together, they formed a songwriting and production team that has yet to be equalled in Australia and responsible for a disproportionately large amount of what most would consider the sound of Australian rock music.

As if imbibing the ‘no bullshit’ maxim of his book’s subject, Jeff Apter writes with a complete lack of pretension and Friday On Your Mind is all the better for this approach. He understands that the George Young story is an incredible one, so he’s done his best to get out of the way. It’s a story that tells itself and definitely one worth listening to.

And as for the title? Well, when you read this book, it’s impossible not to have this ingenious piece of George Young songcraft playing in your head, on repeat, at the same time.

Friday On My Mind: the Life of George Young is out now via Allen & Unwin.