George Young stories: Marcus Hook Roll Band
The AC/DC Connection
It was decided not to use any of the London tracks but to start again with a new batch of songs and a new line-up. In a rare interview for Bomp magazine in 1978, George Young explained to Glenn A. Baker the philosophy behind the Marcus Hook Roll Band, “We thought it was hilarious, it had just been a joke to us… We had Harry, myself and my kid brothers, Malcolm and Angus. We all got rotten, except for Angus, who was too young, and we spent a month in there boozing it up every night. That was the first thing Malcolm and Angus did before AC/DC. We didn’t take it very seriously so we thought we’d include them to give them an idea of what recording was all about.”
Richard Lush recently told me, “The sessions were great fun, fuelled with plenty of Old Grand-Dad bourbon. Angus Young drank milk. Angus and his brother Malcolm played guitars as well as Harry.”
The production notes, recently unearthed at Abbey Road reveal that Malcolm Young played rhythm guitar on all ten of the album tracks, and some of the unreleased tracks. He also took a share of the lead guitar solos, and maybe even some slide-guitar. Angus had a lesser role, and it is unclear what he actually played on; the Kentucky bourbon seems to have affected everybody’s memory on these details. For instance, there is some great slide guitar on the album but no-one can remember who supplied it. Harry thinks it might have been Kiwi born Kevin Borich, but Kevin does not remember being there (Old Grand-Dad to blame again?). Wally vaguely remembers Malcolm doing some slide-guitar, but really can’t be sure. So the challenge for the astute listener is to figure out which licks and solos belong to a seventeen year old Angus Young. I’ve got my money on the second guitar in the ‘Cry For Me’ lead break.
TRACK BY TRACK
Can't Stand the Heat
When the recording in Sydney was finished, Waller took the tapes back to Abbey Road in London to mix. ‘Can’t Stand the Heat’ was released as a single for the UK and Germany. The song transforms an old cliché into a domestic challenge, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of my kitchen.’ Inexplicably, interest in the USA cooled and EMI, after all that trouble, shelved the album... the issue was George and Harry not committing to travel to America to promote it. Alberts organised a lease arrangement, and the album was released in Australia only, making a ripple in the charts at #89. George was furious with the artwork, “…on the cover they had an old man sitting in a rocking chair, which was complete bullshit. It should have shown a bottle of Old Grand-Daddy bourbon, that’s what it was all about.”
A common theme in Vanda/Young song-writing is revisited here. As working class boys they have never had much time for social climbers, ‘She was born in bread and butter, but she has champagne in her eye…’ There are layers and layers of guitars on this one. With four shit-hot guitar players in the band, what would you expect? Hang in there for the tempo change at the end.
This song was part of a cache of songs Vanda & Young brought back with them from London. Australian group Flake had already recorded a version of it a year earlier. When Waller was mixing the album, he felt this song still sounded a bit flat, so he organised a party at Abbey Road, invited all the secretaries and their boyfriends, laid on plenty of booze, and when the party was in full swing, conscripted everybody to clap and sing along with the chorus, giving it the live feel similar to the Beach Boys’ Party album. Soul singer Al Wilson has also covered this song.
Silver Shoes & Strawberry Wine
Vanda shines singing this bluesy slow-burning ballad that builds and builds with vocals, lead guitar, piano and sax battling it out in the climax. Howie Casey’s sax was added later at Abbey Road. John Paul Young recorded this song on his first album, and still includes the song in his current-day set-list.
Watch Her Do it Now
A tongue-in-cheek song about a salacious nymphomaniac who is probably the female equivalent of ‘Ape Man’, ‘Only knew me about an hour before she did her thing on me, then she did my brother, then she did my pa, then she did my sister, then she asked for more.’ Producer Waller plays bass as George wanted to play piano, and get it all down in one go without having to overdub it. Harry and Malcolm (master and apprentice) both have guitar solos amid the abundant slide guitars played by… who knows?
People And The Power
In Juke magazine, Harry once described ‘The People And The Power’ as a social commentary song. George elaborated, “We sat down one evening, had a serious thinking session and tried to write a song that would say in three or four minutes where the people have failed… how they are now without any power at all. Over the last few centuries the power that belonged to the people was taken away.” Stevie Wright later recorded it on his second solo album.
This track as much as any other on the album demonstrates the driving powerful rock that was the prototype for the sound that was to become the signature of AC/DC. The reprise of the chorus of ‘The People And The Power’ to the melody of this song was inspired, as is the five note bridge that links them. Is that an Angus Young moment?
Shot In The Head
This song had already done the rounds before Marcus Hook laid down this definitive version. Vanda & Young first recorded it themselves in London when they were known as Haffy’s Whiskey Sour (due to some welcome sponsorship from a whiskey company). English blues rock band Savoy Brown also covered it around that time too, and John Paul Young used it as a b-side for his very first single ‘Pasadena’. Producer Simon Napier-Bell replaced the original lyrics with some truly atrocious ones of his own and gave it a new title ‘Better Go Back to Bed’.
Taken out of context, the lyrics may sound politically incorrect. Not that that ever worried Vanda & Young. The song is actually poking fun at a certain type of Neanderthal masculinity that continues to defy evolution. At the end of the very amusing verses, George could not control his fits of laughter. If you listen hard you can hear the beginnings of a George Young snigger just before the chorus drops in. The lurching rhythm is propelled by vocal grunts and George dropping a length of metal chain on the floor (one to the bar). Waller sings the bass call back to George’s vocal. All great fun!
Cry For Me
The album was belatedly picked up in the USA in 1979 by Capitol, ditching the old man in the rocking chair for a boring orange and green cover (still no whisky bottle though). The power-packed torch ballad ‘Cry for Me’ had to give way to ‘Louisiana Lady’ on the American pressing. This was a great pity as ‘Cry for Me’ is arguably Harry Vanda’s finest vocal performance, to which he commented to me with typical humility, “I just wish I could sing a bit higher, George and his bloody high keys!” The song was later covered by Alison McCallum.
One of These Days (Previously Unreleased)
A left-over song from the Sydney sessions, but easily good enough to have made the original selection. Very clever, funny lyrics and plenty of guitars from Harry, Malcolm and George. The chorus will stay in your head all day.
This is where it all started. Curiously, Alberts had released a mono version of the song in Australia which was most likely the demo. Unfortunately, it is that inferior version which has ended up on previous reissues of the album, 1981 “Full File” and a 1994 CD (that finally had a whiskey bottle on the cover!). So now in 2014, for the first time, the proper stereo version of ‘Natural Man’ appears on an album. It is easy to pick the difference, as this one begins with a big ringing guitar. The whole thing is more full-bodied, with the piano doubling the bass line during the break. Glenn A. Baker once declared it a cult classic.
Moonshine Blues (Waller; B-side)
It was agreed that all the b-sides would be Wally Waller compositions, published by EMI (as Vanda/Young songs were represented by Alberts). ‘Moonshine Blues’ was the b-side of the third single, with Waller doing all the work on it in London before travelling to Sydney. He talked Harry into adding lead vocal and Malcolm some guitar licks. This track was actually slated to be on the album, but was left out due to space concerns — remember LPs could only fit about 20 minutes per side.
The musicians used at the Abbey Road sessions were Vanda & Young’s regular “Glasgow Mafia” — Freddie Smith (drums), Ian Campbell (bass, vocals) and Alex Young (sax). The latter was actually George Young’s older brother who was the only one of the eight Young siblings not to emmigrate to Australia with their parents in 1963. His contribution here means that this Marcus Hook Roll Band compilation is the only project where all four musical Young brothers appear together. That in itself is something very special.
Ride Baby Ride (Previously Unreleased)
This one also nearly made the album. George’s Scottish twang almost has a country sound to it. Banjo and acoustic guitar add to that impression. All guitars — and possibly everything else — were played by Harry and George. A mental picture of 5 foot 5 inch George Young carrying his girl home from Baltimore provides enough of a comedy hook for me. Piano fills the break and hints at the direction Vanda & Young were soon to take with another Young (John Paul, no relation). Typical of Vanda & Young, in their minds moving on to the next stage of their career before the last one has even finished.