Not Your Average Hit List

© Janet Perr/Gene Greif for the album cover design.

© Harry Vanda/George Young/J. Albert & Son Pty. for the music (excerpt).

© Per A.J. Andersson for the text. Written August 2002, updated Nomvember 2011.

Lights in the Night
by Flash and the Pan

At the turn of the 80s a rock group with an odd name that no-one knew much about topped the hit lists in Northern Europe. Flash and the Pan were the product of two musicians, having formed an integral part of Australian music for most of their lives. The 1980 release, "Lights in the Night", was the most appropriate example of both of the group's most prominent features - obscurity and innovation.

— • —

In 1964 the Easybeats was formed out of five immigrants of Dutch or British origin. With a delightful mix of beat music and r&b, this Sydney-based band not only became a household name in Australia. In 1966 they travelled to London, and on the strength of the international hit single "Friday on My Mind" they remained there.

When the 60s ebbed out, so did the luck for the Easybeats. Harry Vanda (Johannes Vandenburg) and George Young had written the bulk of the music for the group, and the duo went on to composing and producing under a string of "code names". In 1974 they returned to Australia to put up their own studio, launching artists such as John Paul Young and groups like AC/DC (with George's younger brother Angus on the microphone).

In January of 1977 the single "Hey, St. Peter" was released to the Australian market. By the group Flash and the Pan. The idea behind this the most long-lasting of Vanda-Young projects was to create a total rock'n'roll sound, "one that was commercial yet unique, steeped in mystery but still immensely accessible". And the band name was an irony over the transient nature of fame (as they expereinced with "Friday on My Mind").

— • —

At the end of 1978 their first album was out, to be followed by five more (so far). And perhaps the 1980 release was most indicative of the musical style of Flash and the Pan...

• Obscurity. The intriguing cover presented nothing of the ordinary contents of a pop album. No photos and very little info. And behind all the black one could barely discern the front cover and back cover (US/Canadian version) for their first album.

• Social commentary. The discernable cover mentioned above had the western civilisation literally sun-bathing on the brink of nuclear disaster (link to back cover of first album). And lyrics such as those on "Media Man" and "Make Your Own Cross" presented the Vanda-Young view on the media industry.

— • —

• Ambitious compositions. There were songs continuing into the next one, such as "Make Your Own Cross" and "Lights in the Night". The duo tried this with great success already in 1974, when "Evie", an 11 minute composition made for former Easybeats member Stevie Wright, surprisingly became a huge national hit.

• Technical innovation. Vanda-Young made electro pop back when disco and punk were the order of the day. Even a danceable rocker such as "Captain Beware" is replete with synthesized sounds and processed vocals (those "phone voices"). They were part of the new wave but a strange bird even at that, with reminiscences of power pop (the Cars), progressive music (à la Supertramp) and jazz-fusion (Steely Dan).

"Lights in the Night" was not as immediately memorable and filled with possible hit singles as the first album. With its darker concept and longer compositions it was a tougher nut to crack. But this intriguing album with all its sophisticated harmonies is a somewhat lost gem from a highly inventive musical duo. //


(Albert, 1980)

• Media Man
• Headhunter
• Restless
• Welcome to the Universe

• Make Your Own Cross
• Lights in the Night (EXCERPT)
• Captain Beware
• Atlantis Calling

Compositions: Vanda/Young
Production: Vanda/Young

• Flash and the Pan (1978)
• Lights in the Night (1980)
• Headlines (1982)

• Early Morning Wake up Call (1984)
• Nights in France (1987)
• Burning up the Night (1992)

Burning up the Night
Database - Vanda and Young
Flash and the Pan
Long Way to the Top
Vanda/Young Discography

the Cars
• the Easybeats (earlier group)
• Chris Rea (voice and harmonies)
Steely Dan (another inventive studio duo)

Not Your Average Hit List 43 minutes... Alla är Ambition Consequences Door to Door The Dreaming Dzien i noc État d'urgence In the Spirit of Things Kaze no tani no Naushika Lights in the Night Martwa woda Nuit d'amour Once in a Million Open Door People Are Strange The Royal Scam Stationary Traveller Victim of Love Whore Music Up North Music Out West Music Far East Music Down South Films I Like a Lot Comic or Not On and Off TV About Me There's so much more out there ...