On the 27th December 2015 - in the middle of those strange echoing days between Christmas and New Year - a former pop star died. There won’t be any memorial tribute concerts for him and there will be few who recognise his name but he was, in part, responsible for one of the greatest pop records of the 1960’s. His name was Stevie Wright and he was the lead singer of the Easybeats who in 1966 had one huge international hit. It didn’t create an exciting new sound like “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix or change pop music as we knew it like “Please, Please Me” by the Beatles, but in two short verses “Friday on My Mind” caught the energy and optimism of what it was like to be young and free in the middle of a most exciting decade. In earlier times the poet William Wordsworth had summed it up very neatly in ‘The Prelude’…
“Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive But to be young was very heaven.”
Although all the members of the Easybeats were born in Europe the band came together in Australia in 1964 at the Villawood Migrant Hostel in Sydney - about as far from the “Swinging London” scene as they could be. Stevie Wright, the lead singer, was born in Leeds in 1947 and migrated with his family to Melbourne when he was nine. In 1960 the family moved on to Sydney where he eventually met up with drummer Gordon “Snowy” Fleet and rhythm guitarist George Young, fellow migrants from the UK and lead guitarist Harry Vanda and bassist Dick Diamonde, both of whom had migrated from the Netherlands.
They had a number of hits in Australia and by the end of 1965 were the most popular band in the country enjoying intense fan hysteria soon dubbed ‘Easyfever’. On the 10^th^ July 1966 the band, seeking wider recognition, left for England where they teamed up with freelance producer Shel Talmy, who had achieved great success with the ‘Who’ and the ‘Kinks’. One of the tracks they recorded with him was “Friday on My Mind” written by band members Harry Vanda and George Young. It made #1 in Australia, #6 in the UK, #16 in the US, #13 in Canada and the Top 10 in Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Italy. It sold over a million copies worldwide. Since then the song has been covered by The Shadows, David Bowie - “The only cover I ever liked” - Gary Moore, Peter Frampton, Blue Oyster Cult, Bruce Springsteen and many others.
A follow-up album was never released because of financial and contractual difficulties and by late 1968 the formerly tight-knit band were beginning to fall apart. Drugs were one factor, but the growing independence of Harry Vanda and George Young as song writers was also a major catalyst. In October 1969 the Easybeats played their final performances in Australia and after a final gathering for Dick Diamonde’s wedding in early 1970, they went their separate ways.
Although he did keep on working with various other bands and in 1972 took the role of ‘Simon Zealotes’ in the Australian stage production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Stevie Wright struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction. The Easybeats did briefly reform for a warmly-received series of Australian concerts in 1986 but that was it.
Stevie Wright died from pneumonia on 27 December 2015 at Moruya Hospital in New South Wales. He left behind a partner, Fay, a son, Nicholas and one of the greatest, most evocative pop singles of all time…
"Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive But to be young was very heaven."
The minor-key verses of “Friday on My Mind” depict the tedium and drudgery of the work week, taking each day at a time (“Monday morning feels so bad/Coming Tuesday I feel better”). These verses are adorned with a distinctive guitar figure. The build-up to the chorus features a slowly rising vocal, culminating with a shout of “Cos I’ll have Friday on my mind!”, and launching into a major-key refrain celebrating the pleasures of the weekend in the city.
Though the song has long been termed a “working class anthem”, George Young (co-writer) maintained it had “more to do with their outlook on the world than any class statement”. According to Harry Vanda, (co-writer) the track’s distinctive guitar opening was inspired by a film performance featuring The Swingle Singers: “It went tudutudutudu, which made us all laugh. In the train back from the gig, we were imitating them and suddenly it sounded good. They became the first notes of “Friday On My Mind.”
The Easybeats playing live
Since Christmas we have also said goodbye to Lemmy of Motorhead, Natalie Cole and Robert Stigwood, the manager of Cream and the Bee Gees.
– from Martyn Day