Easybeats on Top of the Pops
Easybeats Perform 'Friday on My Mind' on Top of the Pops
By chance, a missing 1966 British music television performance featuring The Easybeats is found in the Blue Mountains.
Treasure in a little white box
Acclaimed Australian painter Lucy Culliton was sorting through her late father’s belongings at the family’s Little Hartley home in the Blue Mountains. Following the devastating loss of both her parents within 11 days of each other, she and her sister Anna had commenced the difficult task at hand. Hiding at the back of a shelf were a handful of reel-to-reel audio tapes – one marked ‘The Best of ABBA’, another for a compilation country album, and a little white box marked ‘Easybeats print – Friday On My Mind’.
Their father, former television director Tony Culliton, had already handed over everything he believed was of value to the NFSA 2 years earlier, including 16mm films and still images from his time at ATN7 Sydney. Lucy did not realise that the box contained not an audio tape but a small reel of 16mm black-and-white film. Unseen for over half a century, the only known copy of one of the most important missing televisual moments of Australian rock music history – the Easybeats performing 'Friday On My Mind' on the British TV institution, Top of the Pops – had just been rediscovered:
Famously termed ‘Swinging London’ in April 1966, the city became the centre of the pop music universe, attracting many Australian teenage music sensations. The Twilights, MPD Ltd, The Groop, Normie Rowe and Johnny Young all recorded in English studios but none produced the desired international hit or returned with their reputations significantly enhanced.
In November 1966, the Bee Gees, who considered themselves displaced Mancunians living temporarily in Australia, were still to depart our shores. It would be The Easybeats, the group of 5 suburban Sydney migrant youths who had generated the fan fervour of ‘Easyfever’ in the previous 18 months, who put Australian rock music on the world map.
Recorded in September 1966 at London’s IBC Studios, ‘Friday On My Mind’ became an instant Antipodean musical landmark. Harry Vanda and George Young’s universal anthem of longing for weekend freedom was one of the catchiest, guitar-driven commercial recordings of the era. Melody Maker hailed it ‘an exciting blasting thumper’, while The Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks thought it sounded ‘more like The Beatles than The Beatles’.
Top of the Pops
Top of the Pops was essential viewing for 1960s British teenagers. The BBC’s flagship television pop music program delivered a weekly slice of the nation’s most popular charting discs. An invitation to appear meant a rising hit record. Though the successful folk sounds of The Seekers had opened the door, no Australian ‘beat group’ had previously been accorded such an invitation.
With the assistance of strong pirate radio support, 'Friday On My Mind' climbed to No. 17 on the British charts. On 24 November 1966, The Easybeats debuted on Top of the Pops' 150th episode, telecast to a regular viewing audience of 15 million, larger than the entire population of Australia at the time. It would eventually reach No. 6 on the charts.
Featuring a live vocal from lead singer Stevie Wright, the group pre-recorded their performance at the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. Introduced by expatriate Australian DJ Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, the clear excitement of the five members – well, maybe not the enigmatic Dick Diamonde! – was obvious to viewers. The band were resplendent in matching black-and-white jackets and blue trousers.
A fortnight later there was a second appearance on Top of the Pops (Ep 152, telecast 8 December 1966, repeated 5 January 1967). Neither these nor any of the handful of other English TV appearances by The Easybeats were known to have survived – until now.
Discovery in Australia
Though the BBC never sold Top of the Pops to Australia in the 1960s, the occasional individual performance did find its way down under. The surviving 16mm film print found by Lucy Culliton in her father's belongings includes an Australian Broadcasting Commission film leader spliced into the start of the reel, indicating a likely clip purchase by ABC TV.
‘The Easybeats in London featuring their recording of "Friday On My Mind"’ appears within the first episode of the short-lived music program Something Else (13 February 1967), which may be the Australian premiere of the footage, though this is unconfirmed. But how the 3-minute clip found its way into the possession of ATN7 director Tony Culliton remains unclear.
Culliton had worked with The Easybeats earlier in 1966, first when directing the live music program It’s All Happening, and later The Easybeats special, sponsored by Coca-Cola, just prior to their departure to the UK.
Digitised and preserved by the NFSA
The survival rate of 1960s Top of the Pops editions remains extremely low. Of the 315 episodes produced from 1964 to the end of the decade, only 5 complete episodes are understood to have survived. As the 24 November 1966 episode is not among those that have, the expectation that The Easybeats’ most significant international television appearance would ever re-emerge remained unlikely.
This exciting discovery became a reality when the Culliton family delivered the precious film to the NFSA in September 2021. Lucy Culliton said, 'Dad must have completely forgotten about it – it’s such a shame he’s not alive as he would have been so excited to show you!'.
In digitally scanning the 16mm film print for long-term preservation, the NFSA is also pleased to be returning a digital file master of the performance to the BBC Archives.
'Friday On My Mind' – the legacy
'Friday On My Mind' was The Easybeats’ 8th single and first to be recorded in England. Aside from its British Top 10 placing, the song was their third Australian number one, charted heavily in Europe and cracked the USA Top 20. More than 100 artists have since covered the song, from David Bowie, Peter Frampton and Blue Oyster Cult to the Johnny Hawker Orchestra and comedian Elliot Goblet.
In 2001, the song was accorded the accolade of 'Best Australian Song' by the Australasian Performing Right Association. In 2007, it became one of the inaugural 10 entrants into the NFSA’s Sounds of Australia registry, celebrating the nation’s most important sound recordings. As guitarist George Young recalled of the song’s impact in 1976, 'It was probably the highpoint of the group’s career … we didn’t come back with the standard excuses for failure. Australia had never had any acts that had done it like that before.'
With thanks to Albert Music, the Culliton family, Carolyn Masel, Andy Neill, Chris Perry, Julian Carr, Peter Checksfield’s book Top of the Pops – The Lost Years Rediscovered 1964-1975, John Tait’s book Vanda & Young, and the BBC.
Main image: The Easybeats, 1966. From the Rolling Stone Australia Photographic Archive. Courtesy: Paper Riot. NFSA title: 1581897