The names Vanda and Young may not immediately strike a chord with everyone, but their songs will. How about “Friday on My Mind”, “Love is in the Air” and the timeless party anthem “Good Times”?
These and a host of other Australian pop hits sung by everyone from the Bay City Rollers to Grace Jones were written and produced by the successful duo of Harry Vanda and George Young, who are the subject of a live RocKwiz tribute show coming to Adelaide next month.
“Some people may not realise who these two guys are and what they actually did – that’s exciting to us,” RocKwiz host Julia Zemiro tells InDaily.
“I think people will be surprised by how many songs they know and that those songs were written by the same two people.”
Vanda and Young first met as teenagers at a migrant hostel in Sydney in 1964 and went on to found The Easybeats, whose hits included “Friday on My Mind”, which the Australasian Performing Right Association in 2001 declared the best Australian song of all time.
Later, when the band disbanded, they produced six albums for AC/DC, as well as writing and producing songs for singers and bands such as Stevie Wright, John Paul Young, The Angels and Rose Tattoo. They also recorded their own tracks under different names and, in recent years, inspired the Vanda & Young Songwriting competition, which has been won by the likes of Megan Washington and Kimbra.
Zemiro says that many of the contemporary musicians appearing on RocKwiz over the years have wanted to perform a song by Vanda and Young.
“We realised a lot of younger musicians really connect with that music. It’s great material to bring back and look at and investigate, especially if it excites musicians of different generations. And they’re fantastic songs.”
Zemiro, who commentates the SBS broadcast of Eurovision and recently hosted an ABC series called Home Delivery, which took a number of Australian entertainers back to their roots, doesn’t think this country does enough to honour its great musicians and singers.
“We just thought instead of doing a Christmas show, because we’ve probably mined all the fantastic Christmas songs available, we thought why not do something that is a salute to Vanda and Young?”
Zemiro’s own favourite Vanda and Young hits include “Good Times”, “Friday on My Mind”, “Walking in the Rain” (which was covered by Grace Jones) and “Hey St Peter”. She recalls seeing the latter on Countdown when she was aged about 10, as well as the 1978 hit “Down Among the Dead Men”. Both songs were produced by the duo under the name Flash and the Pan.
“’Down Among the Dead Men’ had a sad, worrying feeling to it … about a ship going out to sea and people drowning and disappearing. That seemed scary to me at the time.”
The live RocKwiz Salutes Vanda & Young show will be “wrangled and adjudicated” by Brian Nankervis, with backing by the RocKwiz orchestra and a mixture of veteran and contemporary acts performing songs written, played or produced by Vanda and Young. As with the televised shows, there will be the opportunity for audience members to get up on stage and be a contestant.
Basically, says Zemiro, the live shows are just like the TV program – only better.
“Everything is bigger and everything is bolder so we can have a much bigger, better naughtier time.”
RocKwiz Salutes Vanda & Young will be at the Thebarton Theatre on December 4, before heading to Sydney and Melbourne.
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