George Young was a Glasgow-born musician, songwriter and producer who became one of the iconic figures of the Australian music scene after his family emigrated there when he was in his teens.
He was a core member of the 1960s garage rock band the Easybeats and the 1970s new wave group Flash and the Pan, both of whom were internationally successful, while he and Easybeats bandmate and co-songwriter Harry Vanda formed a prolific production team. Some of the pair’s greatest successes were early productions for AC/DC, the group formed by Young’s younger brothers Malcolm and Angus.
Despite the huge success of his brothers’ band in later years, Young was the first in his family to achieve fame as a musician. Formed in 1964 in Sydney, the Easybeats were the Australian Beatles (their screaming teenage fans were said to be suffering from ‘Easymania’), before their 1966 song Friday On My Mind brought them huge global success.
They moved to London in the same year, although a hit of similar magnitude escaped them (1968’s Hello, How Are You came closest) and they split in 1969. Friday On My Mind was later covered by David Bowie on his 1973 covers album Pin-Ups and by Bruce Springsteen during his 2014 Australian tour, among many other versions.
One of a number of reasons for the band’s end had been the increasing closeness of guitarists and songwriters Young and Harry Vanda as the steering force behind the Easybeats, and with the group’s demise they carried on as the songwriting and production duo Vanda & Young.
They recorded in London under a number of unsuccessful aliases, including Paintbox, Tramp and Grapefruit, the latter featuring George’s elder brother Alex (of seven young brothers and one sister, Alex was the only one who hadn’t emigrated to Australia).
Alex also featured in Vanda & Young’s Marcus Hook Roll Band, a group formed in London, yet which continued after the pair’s 1973 return to Australia. Although the Marcus Hook Roll band was unsuccessful, their single album Tales of Old Grand Daddy, recorded in 1973, has since developed a great attraction for AC/DC collectors as the recorded debut of both Angus and Malcolm Young.
Vanda & Young went on to record AC/DC’s 1974 debut single Can I Sit Next to You, Girl, and between 1975 and 1978 they produced the group’s first five albums High Voltage, T.N.T, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Let There Be Rock and Powerage, each of them significant Australian hits whose international impact was modest at the time.
Although AC/DC’s record label instructed the group to let Vanda & Young go for the recording of their next album, 1979’s Highway to Hell – a decree which angered Angus and Malcolm Young – the records they contributed to have now become recognised as classic rock LPs following the group’s eventual huge success. Besides, during the late 1970s the pair also had much going on elsewhere as the in-house producers for established Australian label Albert Productions.
The imprint which had first signed both the Easybeats and AC/DC, Albert was also the home of former Easybeats singer Stevie Wright, for whom Vanda & Young wrote and produced 1974’s number one Australian hit Evie, as well as the same year’s Hard Rain, which Rod Stewart later covered. They also masterminded the early career of singer John Paul Young, another Glasgow-born artist whose family had emigrated to Sydney (although he was no relation to George). The polar opposite to AC/DC, his disco-inflected track of 1978, Love is in the Air, was a huge international pop hit, and it enjoyed a new lease of life in 1992 when it was affectionately used on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s film Strictly Ballroom.
From 1976 until 1993, Vanda & Young finally had a successful alter-ego of their own, with their studio-based productions as Flash and the Pan. Once more, this group was a stylistic shift from anything they had done before, with their best productions a particular kind of austere, atmospheric synthesised pop. Their early singles Hey, St Peter and Down Among the Dead Men were big Australian hits, while Waiting for a Train made the British top ten in 1982.
Their gorgeous, melancholic track Walking in the Rain is also notable, mainly for the cover which Grace Jones released as a single, but also for defining the androgynous textures of the duo’s cult appeal at their height.
Oddly, the pair were more commercially successful in Sweden than anywhere else, although their later albums on Epic fizzled out creatively and commercially. Their last major work together as producers was Meat Loaf’s 1996 single Runnin’ For the Red Light (I Got a Life), while George alone returned to produce AC/DC’s 2000 album Stiff Upper Lip at his brothers’ request, following the death of original producer Bruce Fairbairn.
George Redburn Young was born in Glasgow in 1946, the sixth child of eight born to labourer father William and housewife mother Margaret, whose maiden name was also Young. They grew up on Skerryvore Road, and emigrated en masse to Australia in 1963 under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme (in total, 15 members of the family travelled), where they were placed in the Nissen huts of the Villawood Migrant Hostel in a Sydney suburb.
Although the Youngs soon found their own home, George, the young Dutchman Vanda and the other Easybeats (a cultural melting pot of Scots, Dutch and English musicians) all had their roots in Villawood.
Retiring from full-time music production in the late 1990s, George was twice inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame, with Vanda & Young in 1988 and the Easybeats in 2005. Yet, much like his younger brothers, he was fiercely protective of his privacy, and details of his family life and cause of death have never been elaborated upon.
In his later years he retired to Lisbon in Portugal, grateful for the anonymity afforded him in the city.