With the release of their latest album, Power Up, we explore how AC/DC were shaped by the Australian rock scene, and how the hard-rocking band in turn helped shape it. Melbourne’s David Laing looks at precursors like Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs and the Coloured Balls, early AC/DC contemporaries like Hush and the Dingoes, and some bands that followed in their wake, like the Angels (aka Angel City) and Rose Tattoo. And we dig deep into the impact of their mentors and original producers, Harry Vanda and George Young – older brother of AC/DC’s Malcolm and Angus Young – whose band the Easybeats was AC/DC’s original template. We also remember Bon Scott’s earlier guises as teenybop pop star and garden gnome-bearded hippie…
AC\DC truly hit the world stage in 1979, with Highway to Hell. They had been trying to break the States since ’77, opening for everyone from The Dictators to Foreigner (and even appearing in Punk! Magazine), building a fan base and gaining notoriety but ultimately trying the patience of Atlantic Records, who’d been lumbered with the band by their UK arm.
Before Highway to Hell, Atlantic even insisted they ditch their producers – and of course Harry Vanda & George Young were more than just their producers – if they wanted to stay on the label. They’d broken somewhat in the UK and Europe earlier, having decided to move to London in ’76 on the cusp of punk. In London, they stole the house record at the Marquee from Eddie & The Hot Rods and amassed an audience of working-class youth who wanted it loud and raw but couldn’t quite hack the gobbing and safety pins.
Of course, before all this, AC/DC had done the hard yards back home in Australia, where they’d notched up a succession of hit singles and albums and become the most loved hard rockers in the land. (Although their international focus did take them out of the local spotlight later in the decade; it is bizarre to note now that their heavy-hitting 1978 live album If You Want Blood barely cracked the Top 40 here at home.) Those early years saw the band move from dynamic glam popsters in search of a hit to lecherous riff masters tearing up stages in high schools, pubs and concert halls around the country. They were briefly even considered a homegrown version of punk by those hip to the terminology early on (in April ’75 in fact, when Sydney’s great rock fortnightly RAM – who would soon also champion Radio Birdman – headed their first feature on the band AC/DC: Australia Has Punk Bands Too, Y’know). It didn’t stick because the frame of reference wasn’t widely known, but when it was Angus and Malcolm were quick to shoot it down, especially once talk of the international protagonists’ artiness and disdain for musicianship – and the gobbing and safety pins – became apparent.
In London, they stole the house record at the Marquee from Eddie & The Hot Rods and amassed an audience of working-class youth who wanted it loud and raw but couldn’t quite hack the gobbing and safety pins.
AC/DC were signed to Sydney’s iconic Albert Productions from the get-go. Alberts was the home of the Easybeats in the mid-’60s. When the Easybeats’ latter-day songwriting partnership of Harry Vanda and George Young came back to Australia in ’73, after a few years post-Easys trying to make a go of it in a London, they became Alberts’ in-house production and writing team. It was a no brainer that Alberts would sign George’s kid brothers and their band in ’74, and that Harry and George would produce them. What took a bit longer was sorting out the band’s line up and their direction. Harry and George were pop guys who loved rhythm and blues, and Malcolm and Angus were hard rock kids who dug a bit deeper into the blues. And Australia was in the throes of a heavy rock revolution; one conceived, along with the Easybeats, in the teen R&B boom of the ’60s. It had been delivered, bloodied and screaming, on stage at the legendary Sunbury Festival in 1972 and ’73, and would soon come of age in the pubs.
“She’s So Fine”-The Easybeats, driving the girls and go-go dancers crazy:
AC/DC were meant to play the debacle that was Sunbury ’75 – they got into an on-site punch up with Deep Purple’s crew instead – but by then they were getting what they needed in the pubs. As we shall see, the Alberts influence and the Australian rock revolution were both intrinsic to what AC/DC were and what they became. Even if the core of the group was Scottish-born…
IN THE BEGINNING…
It’s probably too great a stretch to say that AC/DC began when the Easybeats began, but not by much. So much of what the Easybeats experienced, and so much of what they did musically, came back in early AC/DC through Harry Vanda and, in particular, George Young. George, like his brothers, was Glasgow born and raised, and had met Harry and formed the Easybeats with other internees at Sydney’s Villawood Migrant Hostel in 1964. They were tough, and they did it tough and, phenomenal success at home in Australia and an international hit with “Friday On My Mind” notwithstanding, the Easybeats ended badly. It’s a given that George Young saw his brothers’ band in one way as a means to start over, and to undo everything that he did wrong with own band, in particular, their stylistic forays into psychedelia and the like, which he had quickly seen as a mistake. If you ever felt AC/DC were too single-minded in their musical approach, you can probably blame George. George and Harry would also teach AC/DC a lot about the business side of things.
“Wedding Ring” – The Easybeats:
Beyond that, there was the actual music; the tone, the dynamics and the drive. These facets, which later critics see as the early stirrings of freakbeat and power pop in the Easybeats, were transplanted into a harder rocking and bluesier template in AC/DC. The Easybeats’ Australian recordings were all produced by Alberts boss Ted Albert himself, who brilliantly captured their earthy grit and rasp, and who taught George and Harry to do the same. In London, they worked with Shel Talmy, but the great invention of their subsequent recordings seems to have come from their George and Harry themselves. They were the Easybeats’ rhythm and lead guitarist, respectively. You can hear the tone and drive of early AC/DC in early Easybeats hits like “She’s So Fine” and “Wedding Ring”, but the particular dynamics, borne of George Young’s rhythm guitar, came later. The real template for AC/DC can be heard in the Easybeats’ oft-covered “Good Times”, the song that made Paul McCartney pull over when he first heard it on his car radio. It’s in the riff in the verse of “Good Times” that George Young seem to discover a truth that he later articulated as “It’s the stop what rocks”.
“Good Times” – The Easybeats:
When the Easybeats were on their last legs in ’69, some of their final recordings were more or less Vanda & Young demos. When Harry & George finally ditched the band’s name and set about demoing tunes (which they’d send back to Ted Albert) and issuing one-off singles under an array of names in a variety of styles, they continued in a similar manner. Late Easys tracks “St Louis” and “Rock’n’Roll Boogie” were a return to R&B roots and at the same time a development of George’s particular rhythm guitar dynamic. Some of the subsequent one-shots, like Haffy’s Whiskey Sour’s “Shot In The Head” and “Bye Bye Bluebird” and the Marcus Hook Roll Band’s “Natural Man”, moved this sound into the ’70s. These tracks also sound like templates for AC/DC. “Shot in The Head”, which was quickly covered by Savoy Brown (and much later, by Wino from Saint Vitus!) remained one of George’s favourites, and “Natural Man”, in particular, found favour amongst West Coast American critics. Phonograph Record Magazine‘s Marty Cerf and Greg Shaw loved the track; Cerf’s rave review resulted in Capitol wanting a full Marcus Hook Roll Band album, and Shaw would later include it in his power pop Top 10, in the March ’78 special power pop issue of Bomp!, which also featured a Vanda & Young overview.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie” – The Easybeats:
“Bye Bye Bluebird” – Haffy’s Whiskey Sour:
“Natural Man” – Marcus Hook Roll Band:
While all this was going on, George’s younger brothers Malcolm and Angus were back in Sydney getting their chops together. Angus was still in school, and Malcolm was still his teens. In 1971, Malcolm had joined a band called – incredibly – the Velvet Underground. This particular VU had moved to Sydney from the nearby industrial town of Newcastle after recording their sole single, a cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”. (The VU’s drummer Herm Kovac later explained, “The name Velvet Underground came about from our first lead singer who, as Australian president of the Rolling Stones fan club, was given these rare albums whenever the Stones came to Australia. He started giving all these Newcastle bands cool names, and he wasn’t popular when the real artists started getting known in Oz.”)
In 1971, Malcolm had joined a band called – incredibly – the Velvet Underground.
The Sydney scene at the time was reasonably strong. There was progressive rock – the likes of Company Caine, Tamam Shud, Tully and Karvas Jute. There was folk/blues/roots – Greg Quill & Country Radio, the Foreday Riders. And there was plenty of pop – like the Velvets, Sherbet started primarily playing covers, but would soon have a run of mostly original hits singles that lasted almost the entire decade. There wasn’t a lot for young rockers to get their teeth into, but Malcolm and Angus would no doubt have dug the La De Das – ex-pat New Zealanders fronted by upcoming guitar hero Kevin Borich – and the second incarnation of Blackfeather, who started as progressive types before splitting in two and becoming almost overnight a piano-led boogie band. And then there was Buffalo – Sydney’s Sabbath-inspired doomsayers.
“Gonna See My Baby Tonight” – The La De Dahs:
“Boppin’ The Blues” – Black Feather:
“Sunrise (Come My Way)” – Buffalo, in concert, October 1974:
The real rock’n’roll action, however, was taking place in Melbourne. There, former Sydney heartthrob – and Alberts act – Billy Thorpe had transformed himself and his band, which he still called the Aztecs, into speaker-blowing, rock’n’roll boogieing beasts. While other underground acts took a more academic approach – like Chain and Carson – or a more progressive approach – like Spectrum – or a more nostalgic approach – like Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band – or even combined all three – like Daddy Cool – Thorpie & the Aztecs didn’t even think about it. They just cranked up the amps, encouraged the audience to suck down the beers (“Suck More Piss” became their rallying cry – a charming local idiom for “drink more beer”) and boogied endlessly. Haters loathed it (Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek once said that “being at a Billy Thorpe concert was like being beaten slowly over the head with a football sock full of lead weights…”), but the kids loved it. A reported 200,000 of them turned out to see the Aztecs play a free show at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne in ’72.
“C.C. Rider” – Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, live at Sunbury 1972:
The Aztecs also started getting gigs in big outer suburban pubs – “beer barns”. They helped put into play a new circuit which, when added to the massive Sunbury Festival and other outdoor shows and the remaining hall and club circuit, made Melbourne the music capital of the country. Former Aztecs guitarist Lobby Loyde – who had brought a hardcore blues sensibility down from Brisbane with the Purple Hearts in 1966 – soon hit out with the Coloured Balls doing a similar thing, albeit with a little bit more finesse.
“Devil’s Disciple” – Coloured Balls:
Over in Adelaide, 400 miles away, things were getting down and dirty as well. In the hills out of town, a bunch of blues-loving hippies enamoured with The Band were getting it together. Their name was Fraternity. Their singer – another Scotsman – had only recently been part of a teenybop bubblegum duo named the Valentines, who had hit with a Vanda & Young tune called “My Old Man’s A Groovy Old Man”. In the time it took to grow a garden gnome-style beard and learn to play the recorder, he had transformed himself. His name was Bon Scott.
Fraternity’s closest thing to a national hit was a cover of Blackfeather’s proggy “Seasons Of Change” – Bon had also tooted his recorder on Blackfeather’s original – which reached #1 in Adelaide before Blackfeather rushed theirs out as a single.
“Seasons of Change” – Fraternity (Bon Scott on vocals, recorder):
“My Old Man’s A Groovy Old Man” – The Valentines:
Back in Sydney, Alberts Productions were still strictly pop. They had been powering along since their success with the Easybeats. One of their biggest artists was an English immigrant by the name of Ted Mulry, who’d had a smash hit in ’71 with the syrupy Vanda & Young tune “Falling In Love Again”. Ted’s second album was a bit rockier. He’d recorded it in Melbourne with members of Chain, Carson, Daddy Cool and others. It included some Vanda & Young tunes. Needing a band to play out with, he ended up with The Velvet Underground – by now called Velvet and mostly playing covers by the likes of T. Rex (Malcolm was Marc mad at the time) and the Stones – who he’d heard about from the Easybeats’ old frontman Stevie Wright. Ted and Velvet eventually made it formal and became the Ted Mulry Gang, but without Malcolm, who decided it was time to get his own thing together. VU drummer Herm Kovac and guitarist Les Hall backed Ted when he performed a version of “You’re All Woman”, a song he’d written for Sherbet, on the nationally nightly pop show GTK.
“You’re All Woman” – Ted Mulry:
George Young was back in Sydney on holiday in ’72 when the call came from mate Wally Waller (of Pretty Things fame), who had produced the Marcus Hook Roll Band single, that the Americans wanted an album. Wally headed over, and Harry Vanda headed home to Sydney as well. The album was recorded in mid-’73. Working out of EMI’s Sydney studios, and not taking things at all seriously, George roped in the kid brothers to give them a taste of studio time. With its mix of styles – from hard rock to funk-rock – Tales of Old Grand Daddy has its moments, including a rerecorded “Shot In The Head”, and a bawdy boogie called “Watch Her Do It Now”, which set a bar for sauciness that AC/DC would perhaps never quite reach. The throwaway vibe the album was not particularly well received by the suits, and it was released without fanfare, but Malcolm and Angus had made their first record.
“Watch Her Do It” – Marcus Hook Roll Band (Angus Young and Malcolm Young, guitars):
Tired of trying to make it in London, George and Harry decided to settle back in Sydney. Ted Albert wanted to turn Albert Productions into an actual label and was building a new studio, and in Vanda & Young, he had an instant A&R department. Their first job was to get fellow Easybeat Stevie Wright back in the studio. Fresh from a successful stint in the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, Stevie was primed for stardom again, and Vanda & Young gave him their best shot with the brilliant Hard Road album. With performances from Harry and George and former Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs piano player Warren “Pig” Morgan, the album featured the groundbreaking, lengthy three-part suite called “Evie”, which became an 11-minute #1 hit single. “Evie” featured 21-year-old Malcolm Young taking a rare solo. (Note: Suzi Quatro record an abbreviated cover of “Evie” on her 1978 album If You Knew Suzi… )
“Evie” – Stevie Wright (Malcolm Young, guitar):
When Stevie Wright played three sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera house in early ’74, Harry and George and Malcolm were again backing him, and the opening act was a new Alberts signing named AC/DC.
If Stevie Wright was helping take Vanda & Young and the old Easybeats dynamics into new, slightly adult-oriented hard rock directions, Malcolm and his kid brother Angus were about to bring it back to a teenage level. Malcolm had formed the band with 18-year-old singer Dave Evans (who’d briefly been involved in the Velvet Underground after Malcolm had left), bass player Larry Van Kriedt and drummer Colin Burgess, a bona fide rock star from his time (1968-72) in the Masters Apprentices. The Masters started out as a tough mid-‘60s R&B outfit in Adelaide before moving to Melbourne and becoming national sensations. Developing through a range of styles and numerous line-ups, they followed the Easybeats to London and by the ’70s – with Burgess now behind the kit – they were working in a range of progressive and hard-rock styles not unlike what was happening back home in Melbourne. They split in ’72, and Burgess found his way back to Sydney.
“I’m Your Satifier” – Master’s Apprentices:
Angus was a late addition to Malcolm’s new group, joining at the age of 18 after he split from his previous band, Kantuckee, whose claim to fame was playing the live album ‘Ot ‘n ‘Sweaty, by Cactus, in its entirety. Famously taking their name from a marking on Malcolm and Angus’s sister’s sewing machine, AC/DC played their first show at popular Sydney nightclub Chequers on New Year’s Eve 1973. They soon adopted a glam image in keeping with Malcolm’s faves T.Rex. AC/DC signed to Alberts and started recording with Harry and George immediately. They released their first single “Can I Sit Next To You, Girl?”/”Rocking in the Parlour” in July ’74, after which, amusingly, they opened for Lou Reed on his first Australian tour. (Assumedly Malcolm didn’t engage Lou in any talk about the Velvet Underground!) They’d already replaced Burgess and the bass player – twice – by the time they made their fantastic first film clip.
Angus was a late addition to Malcolm’s new group, joining at the age of 18 after he split from his previous band, Kantuckee, whose claim to fame was playing the live album ‘Ot ‘n ‘Sweaty, by Cactus, in its entirety.
“Can I Sit Next to You, Girl?” – AC/DC, 1974:
Writing in the Spring ’75 issue of Bomp!, Vanda & Young superfan Greg Shaw was so impressed that he refused to believe AC/DC’s single was anything but another fabulous side-project from his heroes. He also evoked other early ’70s pop heroes 10cc and the Sweet, and production and songwriting team behind the Sweet, Suzi Quatro and others, Nicky Chinn and (Aussie) Mike Chapman. “AC/DC is most likely just V&Y with some studio guys,” wrote Shaw. “If it is a real group, their similarity to the early Easybeats is startling. The Easies, of course, were known for their overpowering dynamics and taut kineticism. And this record is a modern evolution of that classic sound, with heavy ’70s riffs and themes… (It’s) a real teenage stomper in the Chinnichap tradition… It starts off like “Rubber Bullets”, builds right into a power chord structure just bristling with energy, and includes some incredible dynamic effects – like pure fuzz noise echoing from channel to channel, then fading out as a machine-gun rhythm guitar fades in, rising to a powerful blast as they scream out the title over and over.”
“AC/DC is most likely just V&Y with some studio guys,” wrote Shaw. “If it is a real group, their similarity to the early Easybeats is startling.
AC/DC’s first single was in step with what was happening in Sydney at the time, and not dissimilar to others on the scene. Glam and hard rock were the big things. Prominent on the scene were Hush. Boldly multi-racial (they covered the Equals’ “Black-Skinned Blue Eyed Boys” early on, but given Les Gock and Rick Lum were of Asian, not African, descent it kind of missed the mark), they hit it big with covers of the Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over” and Larry Williams’ “Bony Maronie”. Hush also had some thumping originals like “Nunchukka Man” and “Get Rocked”. The La De Das, now a trio fronted by guitarist Kevin Borich and original Missing Links bass player Ronnie Peel, had flown a flag for Melbourne-styled hard rocking blues and boogie for a few years but would soon call it quits after a releasing a strange, glammy version of Chuck Berry’s “Too Pooped To Pop”. It sounded like it could have been a Vanda & Young production but wasn’t. Following a similar path into tough ’50s derived material were Buffalo, who’d ditched the metal to hitch a ride on the boogie train too. (Buffalo’s drummer Paul Balbi and singer Dave Tice would both soon land in London punk-era pub R&B band the Count Bishops.) Mal’s old Velvets mates Herm and Les were riding high with the Ted Mulry Gang, who were often in the studio at Alberts with Ted Albert himself. TMG’s massive “Jump In My Car” (later covered by Chris Spedding – and more recently David Hasselhoff!) typified their good-timey sound. They were equal parts Beatles and Bad Company and sort of like AC/DC’s harmless (but still lecherous) older cousin.
Hush – Get Rocked/Satisfaction
The La De Das – Too Pooped to Pop
Buffalo – Honey Babe
TMG – Jump In My Car
Although “Can I Sit Next To You, Girl?” failed to hit (an original copy will set you back a few grand today), AC/DC would soon be on their way. But not before more changes. Most significantly, of course, Bon Scott, known to the band from Fraternity, and to Harry and George through the Valentines, and now looking to live out his wildest rock’n’roll fantasies onstage in the manner of his new hero, fellow Scot Alex Harvey of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, hooked up with the band in Adelaide. Dave Evans was about to be shown the door. Within weeks of Bon’s arrival, the band had completed its first album, and then at the end of 1974, they moved to Melbourne to be where the action was. The album, High Voltage, was released in February ’75, but the line-up was still not settled. Current drummer Peter Clack and bass player Rob Bailey, who both only contributed sparingly to the album, were gone soon after the band moved to Melbourne. Their replacements, Russell Coleman and Paul Matters respectively, didn’t last long either. Matters, who just passed away, lasted only weeks (long enough to take in the first Melbourne and Sydney legs of the High Voltage tour), with George Young filling in before and after his tenure.
The Melbourne pub circuit was thriving when AC/DC hit town. The scene was still blues and roots mad. Local heroes the Dingoes, fronted by Brod Smith of former boogie-kings Carson, held court at the Station Hotel in Greville Street, Prahran – they would soon have a crack at the States under the stewardship of Rolling Stones TM Peter Rudge. (The Dingoes’ trajectory was eventually lost when a planned run of dates with Lynyrd Skynyrd fell from the sky). And, while the Aztecs had been gone for a while, and the Coloured Balls had recently called it a day, heavy, loud and thuggish rock’n’roll was still de rigueur, thanks to a band called Buster Brown, fronted by a diminutive, balding frontman named Gary “Angry” Anderson, and featuring a drummer named Phil Rudd. Soon enough, Rudd would join AC/DC. Then, with George called back to Sydney by Alberts, Malcolm was briefly forced to play bass until 18-year-old Dingoes-loving local Mark Evans appeared. Evans would sign up on bass and play his first show with the band at the Station Hotel, just around the corner from his family’s housing commission flat in Prahran.
The Dingoes – Way Out West – 1973
Buster Brown – Rock’n’Roll Lady
The arrival of Mark Evans freed up George Young – who’d been filling in on bass – to concentrate on the studio. He and Harry Vanda were working with another Scottish-born singer, who had been discovered by British manager Simon Napier-Bell in Sydney in 1971, and who had been recording Vanda & Young songs for Alberts even before Harry and George came home. John Paul Young (JPY) as he soon became known (to avoid confusion with popular TV personality ’60s pop singer Johnny Young, who had hit the charts with the George Young/Stevie Wright tune ‘Step Back’ in 1966) – was blessed with the kind of gruff voice that Vanda & Young seemed drawn to. He became a meal ticket for them and Alberts with a string of punchy pop hits, including the striking “Yesterday’s Hero”, which soon went global in the hands of the Bay City Rollers. Revealing the rock at the core of even Harry and George’s most commercial pop act of the time, JPY soon had a backing band called The All Stars which genuinely lived up to its name, featuring the likes of Kevin Borich and Ronnie Peel (aka Rockwell T James) from the La De Das, Ian Winter from Carson and Daddy Cool, and Warren Morgan and Johnny Dick from the Aztecs.
John Paul Young – Yesterday’s Heroes
Stevie Wright had a second album in him too. Stevie had been offered Dave Evans’ spot in AC/DC before Bon came along, but he had passed. (Unbeknown to old bandmates Harry and George, Stevie was by now in the grips of heroin addiction). Black Eyed Bruiser featured another cracking hit single “Guitar Band”, which saw Stevie getting a bit of the early AC/DC-style glam action on duds-wise. In that regard though, both Steve and AC/DC were usurped by another Vanda & Young discovery, William Shakespeare, aka another diminutive raspy-voiced singer John Cave. Cave, who supposedly was also considered for AC/DC at one point, was refashioned as a most improbable pop star. But Harry and George gave him two of their catchiest tunes, and they were both smashes. “Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You” is an absolute thumper.
Stevie Wright – Guitar Band
William Shakespeare – Can’t Stop Myself From Loving You
With Bon on board, AC/DC hit hard and fast. “Baby Please Don’t Go” cracked the Top 20, and their High Voltage album did the same. By the end of the year, they had two Top Ten singles – “High Voltage” (a song which hadn’t appeared on the album of the same name) and “It’s A Long Way To The Top” – and a #2 album, TNT.
Dave Evans may have been out as far as AC/DC were concerned, but months after his dismissal, he was back on the scene upfront of Newcastle combo Rabbit. Having AC/DC’s original singer in their line-up probably gave them a leg up, but, despite two albums and a couple of near hits, Rabbit’s brand of testosterone-charged working-class glam failed to really break. They were great fun though, and their local TV-broadcast performance of the original “Marvel Man” and an over the top sledgehammer cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, proves their live powers.
Rabbit – Marvel Man / Jumpin’ Jack Flash
By the end of ’76, AC/DC were three Australia albums in – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap came out in September ’76 at home. They had signed to Atlantic, who had combined tracks from the first two albums for their first international album, released as High Voltage, and they had moved to London. They would be home to record Let There Be Rock at Alberts with Vanda & Young in ’77, and again in ’78 for Powerage. But their absence freed Vanda & Young up for more production work. The pop hits kept coming; with both JPY – even heading in Euro-disco directions with “Love Is in The Air” – and with their incidentally iconoclastic hitmaking alter ego Flash & The Pan. Flash & The Pan scored the first of two Australian Top 5 hits in 1976 with the wonderful “Hey St. Peter” (and later scored a worldwide hit with Grace Jones’ cover of its B-side “Walking in The Rain”).
Flash & The Pan – Hey St. Peter
Also around this time, Harry and George produced and engineered a couple of cuts with Sydney faux-’60s revivalists Punkz, as a favour to their manager – and massive Easybeats booster – Glenn A Baker. The best of those tracks was a version of the Easybeats’ “Do You Have A Soul” which blew away the original, and had AC/DC’s instrumental sound down cold. (Sadly that track is not on YouTube, but Punkz’ Vanda & Young-produced version of “Take Me For What I’m Worth” – the PF Sloan/Searchers hit is, and it will give you some idea of how they got that AC/DC guitar sound in parts). That Vanda & Young could take a group of relative unknowns and give them AC/DC’s sound speaks volumes for how much Vanda & Young shaped AC/DC’s sound in the first place.
Vanda & Young’s first actual signings in a hard rock style after AC/DC were the Angels – formerly the Keystone Angels – an Adelaide band that AC/DC had played with and recommended to Harry and George in ’75. (Their singer Doc Neeson was an old mate of Bon’s.) Very ’50s-influenced at the outset, the Angels, under Vanda & Young’s mentorship, got harder and more powerful. Their first single, “Am I Ever Going To See Your Face Again” failed initially, but it and everything the Angels touched went through the roof after the success of their second album, 1978’s Face to Face, which was produced for Alberts by Vanda & Young’s apprentice Mark Opitz, who had engineered both Let There Be Rock and Powerage. By the end of the decade, the Angels had their sights set on the States, where they would become known as Angel City and amass a solid fanbase that included Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilsen and future members of Guns N’ Roses.
The Angels – “Am I Ever Going To See You Face Again”
Next up were Rose Tattoo, another band that AC/DC recommended, and another band that Guns N’ Roses would champion later on. Rose Tattoo featured old pal and former Buster Brown frontman Angry Anderson (now with a shaved head) and former Buffalo bass player Pete Wells (now playing slide), as well as bass player Ian Rilen, who’d previously played with original La De Das singer Phil Key, Valentines drummer Tony Buettel and latter-Buffalo slide player Norm Roue in Band of Light. Rose Tattoo took everything that was unsociable and unpleasant about AC/DC and amplified it into a seething, slide guitar-driven, bluesy bulldozer of sound. If AC/DC stirred up a bit of disapproval, Rose Tattoo scared the absolute shit out of everyone, but thanks to Vanda & Young and Alberts they soon found themselves on the radio and TV. Ian Rilen was already gone by that stage though – he wanted something even rawer. He co-founded Sydney punk legends X, who could rip out a great version of the Easybeats’ “She’s So Fine” and soon found a bare-boned sound of their own; a sound that, on their 1980 debut X-Aspirations, sometimes came off like Vanda & Young’s dynamic rock sensibilities stripped to the very core. Alas X never recorded with Vanda & Young – Lobby Loyde produced their classic first album and two more – but the thought of Ian Rilen sneaking his new mates into Alberts on a bit Tatts’ downtime is a fabulous rock’n’roll fantasy and could’ve produced something remarkable. (It’s worth noting here that a lot of punk and new wave-era Australian bands covered Easybeats tunes, from the Saints, who performed “Funny Feeling” early on, through to Sports who cut a great “Wedding Ring” and even the Divinyls, who did “I’ll Make you Happy” early on.)
Rose Tattoo – Rock’ n’ Roll Outlaw
X – Good On Ya Baby
By the late ’70s, the Australian pub rock sound – Oz Rock – which had first arisen in Vanda & Young’s absence, but which they and AC/DC had helped refine and commercialise – was in its glory years. Around the country, seven nights a week, Australia’s watering holes, large and small, heaved with the sounds of loud rock. Now it was AC/DC’s turn to be absent – they were becoming the world’s band now, and Bon would sadly leave us all together in early 1980 – but they had old mates everywhere. Out of Adelaide, a band called Cold Chisel had come to Sydney to duke it out with fellow South Australians the Angels for pub domination. Fronted by another Scot, Jimmy Barnes, who had briefly replaced Bon in Fraternity, and who as a 16-year-old used to sneak into the legendary Largs Pier Hotel to catch the Aztecs, Cold Chisel had strong roots in blues and even a bit of country, and eventually picked up from where the Dingoes left off, albeit louder. They smashed through with their third album, which was produced by Vanda & Young’s old assistant Mark Opitz, but second album highlight “Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)” was a defining statement. (Bon no doubt would’ve loved the song’s “I ain’t gonna listen / To no more pissin’ around” couplet. Jimmy Barnes would also have a huge hit teaming up another of Mark Opitz’s charges, INXS, for a version of the Easybeats’ “Good Times”. Cold Chisel remains the best-selling Australian band – in Australia – ever. Jimmy Barnes’s older brother John Swan, who also spent time in Fraternity after Bon, also had some success with hard rock evolution of Blackfeather named Feather and then, under the name Swanee, as a slightly more AOR rocker. Back home in Melbourne, now ex-AC/DC bassplayer Mark Evans, who had been given the flick after Let The Be Rock, joined another former Sydney band called Finch, who became Contraband for the American market. Contraband’s Bad Company-type sound was out of vogue by 1979, but they had a few cool tracks, including one which shared its name with a highlight of Highway to Hell, “Shot Down In Flames”. Evans then went on to join a Sydney metal troupe named Heaven, who also had a crack at America, under the wing of the manager who first got AC/DC out of Australia, Michael Browning. Heaven were fronted by yet another Scot – indeed another Scot from Adelaide who was looked at as a possible replacement for Bon – Allan Fryer.
And AC/DC, as you’ve no doubt heard, are back. Back in the ring for another swing. It’s down to just Angus and Phil from the old days, but they’re still more or less doing the same thing. They may be a genuinely global act now, but there’s still a bit of Australia in their sound.
Cold Chisel – “Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)”
Contraband – “Shot Down In Flames”
Vanda & Young kept their hand in too, although the Angels’ defection to CBS, coming on top of being told they wouldn’t be producing Highway To Hell, perhaps rattled them. Their next hard rock work was bizarrely an album by former Dingoes drummer Ray Arnott, who’d been part of the Alberts team for a couple of years and played on the Flash & The Pan stuff. Never likely to bother the charts, the album, Rude Dudes, was either an attempt to keep their hand in or a favour to the drummer, who clearly had frontman aspirations. This long-forgotten the album includes a few songs Arnott wrote but never recorded with the Dingoes, and more notably includes guest appearances from Rose Tattoo’s Peter Wells, Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes, and, surprisingly, Angus Young. Daddy Cool singer Ross Wilson, whose status on the Australian scene nearly rivalled Harry & George in the ’70s and who had worked with Arnott in Melbourne, also appeared.
Ray Arnott – On The Run
Vanda & Young soon picked up Newcastle rockers the Heroes, which was basically Rabbit minus Dave Evans, streamlined into something Angels-inspired. They also produced the under-rated second and third Rose Tattoo albums, Assault & Battery and Scarred for Life (at which point Rose Tattoo were in a similar place in Europe to where AC/DC had been in ’77, but greater success was not forthcoming), reformed the Easybeats for a successful Australian tour in 1986, and had perhaps their most significant success of the era in Europe with the female hard-rock sister act/duo Cheetah.
The Heroes – I Can’t Go On
Rose Tattoo – Juice On The Loose
Cheetah – Rock’n’roll Woman
George and Harry continued to make odd Flash & The Pan records into the ’90s and even worked with AC/DC again, producing 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip. George walked away from music shortly after that and sadly died in October 2017, just weeks before Malcolm Young also passed. In 2005 Harry produced an updated version of Stevie Wright’s epic hit “Evie”, by members of Jet, You Am I and some other big-name local rockers. Released under the artist name The Wrights, it reached #2 on the Australian charts – the second time for that song. Harry now owns a studio in Sydney, where the Hoodoo Gurus and others now record.
And AC/DC, as you’ve no doubt heard, are back. Back in the ring for another swing. It’s down to just Angus and Phil from the old days, but they’re still more or less doing the same thing. They may be a genuinely global act now, but there’s still a bit of Australia in their sound. If they hadn’t come of age and cut their teeth down under, with Vanda & Young’s guidance and a backdrop of beer-sodden bluesy hard rock, AC/DC, as we know them, could never have existed.