friends-uk-LP

First released
1969 (UK)

Recording Details

Recorded: Spring/Summer at George and Harry’s home studio, No. 16 Moscow Road, Bayswater, Westminster, London.  Producers: The Easybeats.

“St. Louis” recorded: April 1969, Olympic Sound, Barnes, London.
Producer: Ray Singer (uncredited).
Sax and horns arranged by Alex Young (uncredited).

Summary

After the highs of 1967, 1968 was a disappointing year for The Easybeats. With their contract to United Artists was fulfilled with the completion of the Vigil album, the group were signed to a new agreement with Polydor Records. For their first single “St. Louis”, they turned to Producer Ray Singer for their first Polydor single. Ray Singer had previously worked with the bands former producer Shel Tamley and Rolling Stones Producer Jimmy Miller. Like “Good Times”, the band decided to returned to their rock roots. The result was a manic, take-no-prisoners hit of white-soul rock. With these elements set in place, the group was determined to turn its fortunes around.

During this time: George and Harry moved into the top floor of No. 16 Moscow Road, Bayswater, Westminster, London (pictured above). This particular London flat was perfect for the two songwriters as it was already fitted with a small demo studio. The studio/flat’s previous tenants had included a pirate radio station which used it to record their jingles and Crosby, Still and Nash who used it as a rehearsal space. After moving in, Vanda and Young upgraded the existing 2-track recorder to 4-track, added instruments, amplifiers, studio accessories and everything else needed to produce quality demos for their production company – Staeb Productions. During the spring and summer, they set to work on recording demos for both possible Easybeats songs and songs for other artists.

  • Can’t Find Love
  • Rock and Roll Boogie
  • The Train Song
  • I Love Marie
  • Gonna Make It
  • Woman You’re On My Mind
  • Who Are My Friends (George vocal)
  • Who Are My Friends (Harry vocal)
  • What Becomes of You My Love
  • Tell Your Mother
  • Watching the World Go By
  • Holding On
  • The Party’s Over
  • Can’t Wait Till September

In most cases these demos do not feature the other Easybeats: George and Harry play guitars and sing most of the songs. George plays keyboards and drums, while Harry plays bass. Stevie and Tony can be heard on a some of the tracks. The exact details of how the demo tapes ended in the hands of Polydor is unclear. They may of been given to the label by Staeb – marketing them to artists on the Polydor roster. Alternatively; the tapes could have simply been an example of the songs the band wished to record for their debut album with the label. Either way, twelve of these recordings (with “St. Louis”) would end up on the various configurations across the globe to make up their final album under the groups namesake. The other two recordings (“The Party’s Over” and “Can’t Wait Till September”) have yet the see the light of day. The song “Can’t Wait Till September” was eventually covered by Pyramid featuring Erl Dalby, which was a hit in Australia in 1971 (reaching #8).

The “Brian Russell” songwriting credit

By 1969, Harry Vanda and George Young had already written songs for other artists.  The Easybeats were free of its recording obligation to Albert Productions but as songwriters Johannes Hendricus Vandenberg and George Redburn Young were still tied to J. Albert & Son, Proprietary, Ltd. in Sydney. When St. Louis/Can’t Find Love was released in Australia, both titles were registered with Alberts for publishing but in England a change was underway. “St. Louis” was placed with B. Feldman and Co., the pair’s UK publisher for the preceding two years, but the B side, “Can’t Find Love”, recorded slightly later, was registered with a different UK publisher, Shaftesbury Music.

When recording demos at Moscow Road, they placed these new compositions for publication with Shaftesbury in London, and by extension, with Australian publisher Leeds Music, who had worldwide distribution rights to MAM Music, the parent company of Shaftesbury. The pair suddenly found themselves unable to use their legal names and so were advised to create a pseudonym for publishing, copyright registration and song placement efforts through Staeb Productions. And so was born Brian Russell, the non-existant songwriter whose surname would grace vinyl copies of the “Friends” LP in 1969, as well as the group’s two remaining Polydor singles, thus becoming the source of much misunderstanding over the years. (The German and Canadian versions of that LP, titled “Holding On,” would erroneously credit “Leon Russell” as songwriter on the album. Two US fanzine articles in the 1970s would even go so far as to state the songs were the work of that American singer.)

The legal reasons for this false identity were resolved after the eventual release of the LP and it seems the ten Polydor-released tracks which had been credited to “Russell,” were assumed into the Vanda-Young catalog at J Albert & Son.

The Two Versions of “Friends”

The song “Friends” and its two versions has had a confusing release history. Two versions of the song were recorded: a faster paced version with George on vocals (commonly known as simply “Friends”) and the slower, bluesier version sung by Harry (commonly known as “Who Are My Friends”). The George version titled “Friends” was released on the Australian LP of the same name, while the UK replaced that version with the Harry Vanda version. Separate titles for separate regions may have made things a little easier for avid Easybeats collector – that is until the release of the single. In both Australia and the UK, the George Young version was used as the singles A-side. Australia placed George’s version “Friends” on their release of the single. In the UK it was also George’s version on the single, however, the Harry title of “Who Are My Friends” was also used. Thus creating a dilemma: there were now releases were BOTH George and Harry’s version of the song were known as “Who Are My Friends”. All versions of the single contain the infamous “Russell” songwriting credit on both sides with “Rock and Roll Boogie” as the B-side. Both singles are mono with “Rock and Roll Boogie” folded down into mono.

George’s version – featured on the Australian version of the album.

Reception

The single “St Louis” was first released in the U.K. in late June with an Australian release closely following.  On release, it enjoyed good reviews and strong airplay.  But sadly the single didn’t even touch the U.K. and in their native Australia – it barely peaked at #21 on the national charts – hanging around the Top 40 for 12 weeks.  In Sweden, the single fared better, reaching #15. In September the single was released through the new Motown subsidiary label Rare Earth. During September and October, “St. Louis” began to enter the top 20 charts of radio stations across the country. Because of this extra exposure, the entered the Billboard Top 100 at #100 – a first since “Friday On My Mind” in 1967. But this minor victory would become the bands final (and cruellest) irony. At the end of the groups September/October tour of Australia, the band split up and went their separate ways.

The album “Friends” was met with indifference.  Modern reviews recognise the album as being their weakest:

“Friends…was a curiously half-baked and deflated affair, despite some interesting moments. The Australian group’s trademark peppiness gave way to a world-weary tone, perhaps as a result of their roller-coaster ride through near-Beatles-like fame in their native land and limited success elsewhere. Apparently much of this collection was actually half-finished demos, which accounts for the fairly sparse feel on several tracks. The least successful songs are the forced rock & roll boogies, with overwrought vocals from lead singer Stevie Wright. The more pensive tracks, like the title tune, have an oddly compelling, hollow feel of resignation bordering on gloom that starkly contrasts with their more well-known mid-’60s material. The Harry Vanda/George Youngsongwriting team wrote all of the album’s songs, including the group’s final single, “St. Louis.” – Richie Unterberger allmusic.com

Original U.K. Track Listing

Side A

  1. St. Louis (Vanda/Young)
  2. Friends [Harry vocal version] (Russell)
  3. Watching the World (Go By) (Russell)
  4. Can’t Find Love (Russell)
  5. Holding On (Russell)
  6. I Love Marie (Russell)

Side B

  1. Rock and Roll Boogie (Russell)
  2. Tell Your Mother (Russell)
  3. The Train Song (Russell)
  4. What Becomes of You My Love (Russell)
  5. Woman You’re On My Mind (Russell)

Special thanks to William S Small for information regarding “Brian Russell”.

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