Saturday 27 March 2010

The Searchers "Sugar and Spice" (1963) (News, Views and Music 57) (Revised Review)

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The Searchers “Sugar and Spice” (1963)

Sugar and Spice/Don't Cha Know/Some Other Guy/One Of These Days/Listen To Me/Unhappy Girls//(Ain't That) Just Like Me?/Oh My Lover/Saints and Searchers/Cherry Stones/All My Sorrows/Hungry For Love

‘Don’t you wanna love me too?!?’

The first Searchers record was such a success (top five, right up there with The Beatles’ sales) that Pye were rather caught by surprise and the band were immediately invited to make a second album for the Christmas market. Nay, ordered to make one before the nation’s sudden interest in Northern rock and roll disappeared again. And kindly old Pye decided to give The Searchers a whole week to make it - along with a couple more singles on the side , naturally. Hence 'Sugar and Spice', an album released a mere three months after the last one – at a speed so quick that even the Americans baulked at it and didn’t release this album properly until long after the band’s heyday in case it hurt sales of their bastardised version of the first record (this really was another world back in the early 1960s).  The result is an album that is every bit as rushed, manic, energetic and yes as chaotic as the first one. However the difference is that this record has been made by a band on the upswing who know that they have a sound that sells and a confidence that is running high and – for now – making them forget all their differences in band direction as they now have the power and clout to simply go in and record their stage act (well, apart from the special case of the lead single) and who are much more experienced in what will and won’t work. All the problems of the last album (messy, uncoordinated covers of really obvious song choices) have now been put right by a band who are at the top of their game and know exactly what they’re doing.

The result is perhaps the most '1963' record ever: rather than going for finesse and polish the band sound like they're on a conveyor belt, thrashing around wildly while trying to keep up but confident enough to stick more styles into the mix than ever. Every song, with the exception of one slow ballad, comes at lightning speed - as if the band have strapped a turbo engine on to the back of all the American classics they cover across this record (the band won't start writing their own album tracks until the following year - another reason this is such a 1963 album). Then there are those harmonies - higher than most, with Tony Jackson's aggressive falsetto perfectly in keeping with the fashions of the times (think Brian Wilson's early days) which come in the most Liverpudlian accents of all the period bands (The Beatles and Pacemakers were posh by comparison), plus glorious ringing Rickenbackers back when they were the coolest make of guitars around. Even the album packaging reads like a teenage magazine (Tony likes beer, football and girls; Mike likes blondes, Chris loves 'mad magazines' and hates British weather while John - ever the outsider - like chips and music hall performer Hilda Baker!): back in 1963 'Please Please Me' with its suited band felt a little old fashioned and 'With The Beatles' with its polo shirts and blank stares felt a little futuristic; it was 'Sugar and Spice' that best sums up its era, weird questionnaires, pin up photographs, oversized font sizes and all. If ever you needed a time machine to show you what the pop world was like in 1963 then it’s this record, delivered by a label who fully expect the world to have moved on to something else by Christmas and a band who are in the perfect place to be everything it took to be cool in 1963: young, talented, noisy and Scouse! Dare I say it, The Searchers - even more than rivals like the fab four and Gerry and the Pacemakers - are being groomed as the boy band teenage idols of their day; as 'perfect' for their era as The Bay City Rollers were for 1974, The Spice Girls for 1997 and One Direction were to 2012. But better, obviously, because The Searchers could really play and had a sense of danger and daring and depth their future successors never possessed.

Those with more sophisticated musical palettes will no doubt look down on this messy second record, with its muddled harmonies and repetitive guitar lines, but as a music fan I happen to rather like the sound of this period, when bands are caught halfway between the everyone-can-do-it inspiration skiffle of the middle to late 1950s and the wow-how-did-he-do-that? virtuosity of the late 1960s. The Searchers may not be presented at their best, with all their favourite songs from their setlist used up on the first album and a ticking clock relentlessly counting down in the corner of the control. But you can still tell that behind all this that they're a great band at the peak of their powers, with fame and fortune just around the corner and their confidence at an all time high, tight  but unrehearsed yet getting away with it anyway through charisma and adrenalin. This is one of the most thrilling and exciting albums I own, right up there with The Who’s ‘Live At Leeds’ as a wild ride where everybody involved is playing their heart out with as much power as they can muster on nearly every track and where practically everything is taken at a blistering pace that dares you to keep up. This album passes by in one long exciting blur that defies the fact that it is now getting on for sixty years old with every performance full of youthful verve and enthusiasm. No wonder so many teenagers started rock bands in 1963: doesn’t this sound like the greatest gig on earth?

And for now, for one brief few-months-long period where The Searchers are actually getting on, it is. Ringo seems to have got belated respect for musicians for having the heaviest backbeat in rock, but presumably only to music fans who've never heard Chris Curtis, whose at his loudest and rawest here. I'd like to see a boy band stay sounding this pretty with a dragon roaring behind them. Especially when there are a couple of lions criss-crossing guitar licks as well, in a 'weaving' pattern everyone thinks the Rolling Stones invented but only make their own the next year, while using a guitar sound everyone thinks The Byrds invented but won't be around until 1965 at the earliest. This is a band who are good enough and well drilled enough to mess up every so often but with the charisma to get away with it, rather than a band who were never good enough to play without making mistakes. 'Sugar and Spice' may lack the finesse and control that the best bands naturally possess (including The Searchers in the 1965-67 period when they finally have the power and following to take their time) but who cares for precision when power can sound this good? This record passes by in a blur, breathlessly exciting, frequently daring and impressively fast. If only the band had been allowed to at least breathe before sessions - maybe even, dare I say it, rest between recording dates - 'Sugar and Spice' might have been right up there with the very best; even so, ‘Sugar and Spice’s 'trick or treat' approach works well at times, with some songs enhanced by the endless speed even when others are rather hindered by it.

Though there isn't the same development you can hear between 'Please Please Me' and 'With The Beatles' - no original songs for starters - this is still an audible step up from the debut. This time round The Searchers have tried to look out for the more obscure songs to steal a march on their rivals - effectively doing the Beatles trick of learning the B sides to the big hitting A sides. Songs like The Chiffons' 'He's So Fine' B-side 'Oh My Lover', Ronnie Hawkins flip 'One Of These Days' and The Viscounts' 'Hungry For Love' are all first-rate discoveries, up to anything the record world had by Christmas 1963 and all three shared the novelty of being 'new' (unless you were a very, very big collector of obscure 1960s American oddities) back at a time when being 'new' was almost as important as whether you were any good or not. Chris Curtis has been waiting for this moment in earnest for years, collecting obscure singles from America on import and Germany during Hamburg trips, desperate to steal a march over his rivals – and now his band have the clout to record them. Even the songs that are famous are given daringly fresh arrangements: The Beatles had to drop plans to record John Lennon's favourite ever song 'Some Other Guy' after The Searchers beat them to it with the version heard here which they must have known in their bones they couldn’t top, the way The Searchers did on [33] ‘Twist and Shout’. The Searchers then turn Coasters comedy 'Ain't That Just Like Me' into a whole different song with an added minute long yelled coda (it's barely recognisable as the same song The Hollies released as their first single a month earlier, something which must have shocked a Searchers who already had this song in the can). Showing off now, The Searchers even did their own version of ‘My Bonnie’ by  reviving and revving up the centuries old Christian standard 'When The Saints Go Marching In' with a smoky Merseybeat groove that really suits it. Most resonant of all though is 'All My Sorrows' (better known as 'All My Trials'), a Peter Paul and Mary cover that already hints that there is more to The Searchers than just noise and comes a full year before the rock scene starts backing off from extrovert power and starts discovering its introvert folk side. In other words, The Searchers outmuscle all their competitors here – and then top that by proving there is more to them than this big selling point. If I’d been a Searcher in 1963 I would already be counting my money and ordering swimming pools: it seems unthinkable that they will never again sell as many copies of a record as they will with this one and that in eighteen months it will be all but over bar the shouting, flop singles and label changes. 

There is, compared to the debut, more range here and while there's more noise and some positively brutal performances - harder and faster than anything the band have done before ('Ain't That Just Like Me' is surely the heaviest rock performance around till The Kinks beat it with 'You Really Got Me' the following year) - more thought here too. This is a thinking band, with more to The Searchers than their rather silly hit singles picked out for them by their manager Tony Hatch and which the band were already trying to distance themselves from. Roughly like everything else around in 1963, but rather better than most of it, 'Sugar and Spice' is a much better set than it's ever given credit for being and to be honest only that hit single which most people probably bought the album for and perhaps the all too square Buddy Holly cover don't really cut it in terms of modern tastes. In fact, though producer Tony Hatch - using the rather unsuccessful nom de plume of 'Fred Nightingale' in an attempt to bully his band into recording one of his songs - probably didn't know it, his song provides this album with the perfect title: sugary sweet and cute in passing, surrounded by ten songs that rock hard to knock your teeth out, this album is a stick of rock – and roll!!!

Which was just as well, because the record market in Britain for Christmas 1963 was spoilt for choice in a way that had been unprecedented. Sure teenagers in the 1950s bought up albums by their favourite artists, but there wasn’t really much choice – the few stars of that decade and the early 1960s that lasted long enough to put out more than a couple of singles tended to put out ‘compilations’ of their hit material with a couple of other songs that didn’t make the grade, or released albums indifferently and irregularly. Even as late as 1962 you'd be hard pressed to find any album worth nagging your relatives into buying for you and which was worth fighting over the shared family record player for back in the days when most people stuck with more affordable singles anyway. Though albums won't really catch on until much later in the decade and their sales won't surpass the single into the 1970s, 1963 is the big year when everything changes - when long playing records are more than just singles and soundalikes, when music buyers become 'fans' and turn into tribes dedicated to their favourite acts (or two or three - or five hundred if they could afford it) and started buying stuff in droves. The coveted Christmas market, the one point in time when albums were bought in equal droves to the cheaper singles because people needed to buy little junior something, was fiercely contested that year more than any before with every record label doing their best to outdo the opposition with at least one big seller. Pye might not have had the clout of EMI with its triple best-sellers of With The Beatles, Stay With The Hollies and Gerry And The Pacemakers’ How Do You Like It?’ and they may not yet have signed The Kinks’ to their rota, but with this second Searchers record they had easily the best seller of the rest of the opposition and were well up on rivals like Decca and Capitol. No wonder they rushed this album out with The Searchers pretty much at gunpoint to deliver it on time for the traditional November yuletide deadline (bands will get later and later with this as the years go on – ‘Rubber Soul’ for instance was only out the fortnight before Christmas 1965, but for now releasing a record for Christmas any later was unthinkable). Understandably 'Please Please Me' is given a lot of kudos here - arguably The Beach Boys deserve some too, even if their 1963 albums all tend to come high on filler and jokey surfing instrumentals. But 'Sugar and Spice' too is a key moment in the development of the album, with a series of recordings that don't sound anything like the single and yet fit together really well. Some fans expecting more sickly songs about sugar rushes like the singles were no doubt disappointed, but more than a few probably discovered whole brave new worlds from this album which rocked harder than anything British ever had since 'Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' - and good luck to anyone in 1963 trying to track down an album by them! Future years will make a nonsense of this record to some extent, make its rough edges sound embarrassing and relentless energy exhausting, but in context of the times when the best way of sticking it to ‘the man’ was to cover some obscure American rock and roll record and shake your Rickenbackers at him at speed, then this is brave, daring and impressively well made stuff by a band who were never and will never be this well co-ordinated or well drilled again, singing songs they had been doing in their stage act for years.  

‘Sugar and Spice’ sold ridiculously well at the time, just not up to the standards set by The Beatles ('Meet The Searchers' held off the top spot only by 'Please Please Me'). Which is a problem The Searchers will have their lifelong through: no matter how good you are, if you're the second band to do something then you'll never gain quite the same respect. Once again I'm fascinated to know if in some parallel universe out there, where Brian Epstein's record store was in the Wirral and The Iron Door was his local rather than The Cavern whether The Searchers would have been as popular as the fab four. I'm tempted to say yes: even Brian himself adored this rival band and was trying to sign them up in 1967 as a sort of Beatles replacement around the time he died in September (to think, he could have had The Moody Blues too, due to sign with him the actual day he died). Given a 'George Martin' - someone who got their humour and didn't try to sell them songs the way Tony Hatch did and the weight of the EMI marketing team, it could so easily have been The Searchers there at the Royal Variety, Chris Curtis telling the Queen to 'rattle yer jewellery and bung me some extra if you've got some spare!', The Searchers being mobbed at concerts and having chips thrown at them instead of jelly babies (Because John McNally said on this album sleeve how much he liked them!) and performing 'Saints And Searchers' on the Ned Nullivan Show (this is a parallel world, with a TV host who actually likes the music he plays). Films 'A Hard Day's Knit' and 'Yelp' might have followed (Tony's grandfather tries to tell Chris the others don't like his playing - so he gets even, before someone tries to steal John's Rickenbacker and paint him orange; 'Saturday Night Out', with its two minute band cameo recorded around now, is hardly in the same league but it still beats the film The Dave Clark Five did). Unlikely, maybe, but it's worth pointing out that at this point in history Merseybeat is very much the king and only Gerry and the Pacemakers (a band who were equally great in 1963 but had less capacity to adapt than their rivals) are even close to the pair of them. What’s more The Searchers are slightly madder and more dangerous than either of them: Gerry Marsden was always a sweet kid with a big smile matched only by McCartneys, but Chris Curtis was more feared/revered in Liverpool in the pre-Hamburg days than Lennon (with longer hair and an equal temper), while The Searchers' backgrounds made The Beatles look positively middle class. Imagine if this band had had an Andrew Loog Oldham behind them as well as a George Martin!

The trouble, if you like, is that The Searchers haven't quite aged quite as well as their rivals. The Beatles were allowed and encouraged to grow, while even the Pacemakers found early on that cutting slow ballads with strings extended their appeal. The Searchers stuck rigidly to the material they'd made their name with so were always going to be first in the queue for being left behind when the world decided they'd had enough of Merseybeat and looked elsewhere for music. The best known Searchers songs are effectively their ‘baby’ records of 1963, the band’s equivalent of ‘Come On’ or ‘Love Me Do’ – and, unlike say The Pacemakers, this band really did have the room to breathe and grow into something new had they been allowed. The traditional view of The Searchers has always been that they could never have changed and that they were caught napping, changing only when they were forced into it. Which isn't, I don't think, true. While you could argue that 'Meet The Searchers' is a record that only has eyes for the crazes of the day, 'Sugar and Spice' hints at much more. Up until this point no single Beatles cover had ever been as beautiful or as sad as 'All My Sorrows' or given songs quite as radical a shake up as 'Ain't That Just Like Me', clearly the two biggest aces in this pack of cards. Both tracks hint, like all the best material from 1963, at the increasing sophistication and introspection that will be felt across 1964. The only real difference - and sadly for The Searchers it's a big one - is the lack of original songs, something that won't begin to happen in earnest until the band's third album (and yet even that could have been different given the amount of fine B-sides that had already written by now if only someone around the band had believed in them). That tends to be all that collectors see when they look back nowadays, but in context it should be remembered that The Beatles were the odd ones out; no other band was writing their own material yet either: another revolution that won't happen in earnest until 1964. Still just because The Searchers weren't there for two revolutions in a row doesn't mean we should dismiss them for only being there for one: back in 1963 when albums all sounded like this more or less, 'Sugar and Spice' sounded better than almost all of them. Yes, even ‘Please Please Me’.

There isn't really a theme to this record, this being 1963 when songs were things that were jumbled together without any thought of contrast or mood. However what's always struck me is what a sad and often dark record this is behind the relentless energy rush and enthusiasm. These are more or less all love songs (though 'All My Sorrows' sticks out like a sore thumb - a middle aged worried man with bigger things on his mind still hanging out at a teenage party), but they tend towards songs of heartbreak and splits rather than undying love or the messages of either hit single. This will be a lifelong Searchers theme: other bands do falling in love but The Searchers’ speciality is heartbreak (and it’s a mood that suits the sheer weight and noise of their sound well). In 'Don't Cha Know' the couple haven't even met yet, Pender's narrator dreaming of what might be and with ambiguous lyrics that suggest both that he doesn't anyone in mind and that perhaps he never will and that he's setting his sights too high; 'Some Other Guy' is a devastating song about being passed over for another chap suddenly and without warning; 'One Of These Days' is full of threats to leave if the narrator isn't treated right; 'Unhappy Girls' takes up the same theme, vowing to 'rescue' an unhappy girl from one of the 'men' out there in the world in order to stave off loneliness; 'Ain't That Just Like Me' is usually a song about devotion - but here it sounds like obsession, bordering on stalking, love no longer a joyous nursery rhyme chant but a hypnotic rant ending in a paranoid minute long repeat 'won't you come and love me too?'; 'Cherry Stones' does have a happy ending but only after a pair of heartbroken lovers meet by chance and find a connection from their mutual loneliness; finally 'Hungry For Love' is desperation, starvation in sound as the narrator pleads with everything they've got to find someone to love. Admittedly not every song goes to such dark places ('Oh My Lover' is about as 'happy' and contented as The Searchers ever get), but the general theme of the album is more than idle teenage love songs and the sort of things One Direction et al spiel with clockwork regularity. In that sense The Searchers are already toe-to-toe with the 'With The Beatles' era Beatles who themselves have moved on from simple declarations of love, this album closer to the worried feel of 'All I Gotta Do' and 'Not A Second Time' (The Searchers have already delivered their take on 'Money' of course before The Beatles got there).

For all its raw, unbridled energy ‘Sugar and Spice’ is already a huge turning point for the band and as close to the head of the pack as The Beatles would allow anyone else to get in late 1963. There’s nothing on ‘Sugar and Spice’ to compare to The Searchers' own classic later period songs like the criminally overlooked [99] ‘He’s Got No Love’ or the breathtaking slab of melancholy of [97] ‘Goodbye My Love’ in the same way that few Beatles scholars seriously considers 'Love Me Do' and 'Please Please Me' the best in the fab four's total output. There is though some great early rock and roll played with all the crackle and rawness of the cooking band filtered through some excellent arrangements that really change the originals rather than copy them and a growing sophistication that is already on the verge of leaving such sounds behind. There's sugar and spice and all things nice on this album, but also slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails, the band sensibly deciding to ignore the style and sound of their second hit single for something far more substantial and less sugary. There are lots of reasons collectors of serious sixties music overlook this record: that be-suited be-quiffed cover, the very icky hit single and the fact that years 1964-1969 are about to come along and make even the best 1963 had to offer seem comparatively tame. But back in the day this was a great as music ever got, wild and unhinged and raw and yet already with a certain grace and power and a huge step up in what came before.

The Songs:

The song on this album that everybody knows is the least representative: title track [34a] 'Sugar and Spice'. I’m never quite sure what I think of this song: so close to [1] ‘Sweets For My sweet’ I’m amazed the original writers didn’t sue, it has even more yukky overly-cutesy lyrics and yet The Searchers performance is even heavier, with even more of a hint at the lust going on underneath the gently romantic surface.  Like Gerry and the Pacemakers’ tailor made second hit ‘I Like It’ (as close as they could get to ‘How Do You Do It?’ without singing the same words), this is a sign of a nervous record company wanting to replicate past successes instead of trusting their new cash cow to get on with it, rescued by an on-form band who know that if they have to record this stuff then at least they know how to make it good. Only this song has an even more disgraceful background – Searchers producer Tony Hatch passed the song onto his band claiming he had heard it sung by a guy in a pub named Fred Nightingale and saying that it marked the perfect follow up and they were going to record it next or else. We don’t know what the band had planned for a follow-up ([10] ‘Just Like Me’ or [36] ‘Some Other Guy’ would be my guesses) but suddenly they were over-ruled and forced to record this track or they’d be in big trouble. As rock and roll purists desperate for a hit the band had gone along with this once – but doing it twice was long-term career suicide, forever linking them with this style of song they truly didn’t care for. What the band didn’t know until the story leaked months later was that Fred Nightingale never existed – Tony Hatch had written the song in an attempt to get composing royalties on a near-certain hit and didn’t care for the band’s career at all – just how many royalties he could get out of them, a betrayal of faith that sadly figures a great deal in The Searchers’ story.

For a band who are obviously unsure of the song (another couple of takes wouldn’t have gone amiss, Chris Curtis’ drum fills especially are uncharacteristically all over the place) they don’t do too badly and somehow get through a song that would have sunk a lesser band  the under-rated Tony Jackson’s high falsetto is a key recognisable sound in a period when the charts were full of lots of singers who sounded the same and he sounds great here, loveable and romantic in the way that he should even though of all the band he was the one most desperate not to get stuck playing this sort of material. You sense that even Tony and his acting abilities is about to be sick off-stage at the end though after three minutes full of even more confectionary than the original (the only clever bit of the lyric taking the ‘confectionary’ gag of [1] ‘Sweets’ and equating it to the nursery rhyme ‘What is a young girl made of?’, a nursery rhyme clearly written before The Spice Girls were around). The heavy drumming adds just enough element of danger to the song though and McNally’s restless rhythm guitar somehow makes the whole thing rock, before Pender’s solo steps out to wrap a big bow over everything. Above all though, even more than the first single, is the unrelenting power heavy beat: this is a narrator who wants to get you into bed as an end result of all that candy-giving. Perfect for a year when teenagers couldn’t yet defy their parents but quickly picked up on all this stuff, this was another guaranteed hit. It has to be said, though, ‘Sugar and Spice’ is still the weakest track on the album and causes the divide between who The Searchers really were and who the public though they seemed like to become huge and impassable, while the deception over the background to this song isn’t so much opportunistic as cruel. Can you imagine George Martin ever making The Beatles record one of his songs? Get the unions onto this! The irony is that, purely in terms of getting another certain hit the management were right – and yet The Searchers were equally correct in dropping the song from their act as quickly as they could (as they pointed out at the time, which self respecting rocker of the early 1960s was going to walk into a shop and ask for a song with such a twee title?) Even compared to ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ this is a dog of a song and a millstone around the band’s neck for some time, even if The Searchers give it a truly wonderfully brutal powerhouse of a performance and it did somehow reach an impressive #2 in a Beatle-filled chart that Christmas. ‘Sugar and Spice’, it seems, was a real trick or treat of a song, enhancing and ruining the band’s burgeoning career at a stroke.

[35] Don’t Cha Know?’ is much more like it, a classic urgent and very Merseybeat song that’s so desperate to get it’s point that the narrator is in love that it seems to up the ante and speed up with every verse, keeping things exciting right to the end. You can only do this if you’re a really tight band and after all those years in Hamburg and at the Iron Door Club The Searchers are, with this one of their very best performances from the classy guitar runs that sneak out in tandem with the drums for longer in between the verses to the cheery mock-angelic vocals that sing behind Pender’s earnest lead doing a fine job of juxtaposing his lovesick character’s urgency and his hopeless romanticism. It’s his quick-flying guitar solo that knocks you out though: what a sound by 1963 standards and to think in the days before regular over-dubbing Mike has to play it cold coming out of his lead vocal part! Unlike almost all the songs on ‘Meet The Searchers’ this performance truly trounces the original, a rather staid single by The Crickets in November 1960 in the wake of the loss of Buddy Holly (it’s the release with ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ on the flipside) though Pender keeps the Holly hiccup in his voice on the word ‘ch-arms’. The middle eight, where the band stop-start their way through the song, crashing in at great speed only to lurch to a sudden halt, is held together well by Pender who sounds love-lost and forlorn in the ‘holes’ in the song, in contrast to the crashing noise of the band resembling the sudden extra pounding in his heartstrings whenever his girl comes near. This is exciting, adrenalin filled stuff that must have sounded magnificent live at The Iron Door Club and transfers pretty darn well to record too. One of the band’s best cover songs.

[36] ‘Some Other Guy’ by Ritchie Barrett is something of a Liverpool standard, turned into a hit by early Beatle protagonists The Big Three and claimed by no less a writer than John Lennon as ‘the one song I wish I’d written’. Having already tackled [27] ‘Money’ on the first album it seems an obvious choice to do and is particularly well suited to this band, being another song of low-flying anger and misery after a romance goes wrong (The Beatles in 1963 were much more about falling in to not out of love). The Searchers’ version is much more frenetic and fast-paced than The Beatles’ equivalent (hear it on the Beatles at the BBC CDs), losing much of the fab four’s menace and parallel harmonies but gaining in sheer speed and acceleration with another quite brilliant guitar solo that George Harrison never did quite get right. Uniquely its Tony and John singing lead on this one and it’s actually a pretty great combination. Tony’s pure pop voice hits John’s unusual country/blues wailing head on and it’s perfect for a song where a seemingly perfect and sweet teenager has suddenly been swept aside for another man despite doing nothing wrong, ironically turning him into the hardened angry and bitter man she clearly fancies over him. This a really threatening song for the age, those opening two power chords played slow sounding like a ‘don’t you dare go over this line’ until all hell breaks loose on the song proper, the song bounced about between the McNally and Pender guitars. Curtis really wallops those cymbals and drives the band along, while with more time than 7usual to think about things without having to sing harmonies Pender’s solo is superb and maybe even his best, the sort of bouncy, seemingly improvised messy scrawl that the Rock Band computer game was made for full of wild stinging accusations and tightly coiled bitterness. Only the ending messes things up a little, the song coming to an uncomfortable ringing full stop. No wonder The Beatles were heartbroken when this record came out and they found The Searchers had beaten them to a song they really wanted to do – they probably knew they would be compared badly to this recording if they’d released this song for real. Some other guys beat them to the song instead – and how!

Ronnie Hawkins’ 1959 [37] ‘One Of These Days’ is an interesting choice for the band to record. Few people in Britain would have known who the Canadian star was and this is far from his best known song, the flipside to his not-that-well-known-either single ’40 Days’. My guess is that this song is a track Chris had lurking in his mammoth record collection and thought would be a good steal to have over other bands. However it’s not an obvious Searchers song: they don’t usually do anger (the last track being an exception caused under great duress) and are too lovably loser-like to be the wooing lothario of this song who comes out with such lines as ‘if you keep your messing round you’ll wake up one day to find your daddy has gone and left this town!’ Interestingly, though, this song is used as a threat: the narrator hasn’t just left and walked out, he’s almost defying his sweetheart to r9isk breaking his heart again. The Searchers almost get away with it though by adding so many of their distinctive touches to the arrangement: an opening sombre guitar lick not unlike ‘Some Other Guy’, some frenetic drumming, some stop-start sections that bring a real contrast between the choruses and verses and some delightfully silly backing vocals that soften the blow (der dit dit der one!) This time, however, its the band who are slow and graceful while Mike spits out the words at a hundred miles and hour, before the whole band pick up the pace again for the verses. Again, its Chris Curtis and his lopsided drum fills that catch the ear while Pender’s latest breathless solo comes out of the blocks so fiercely he really has to slam the brakes on to get to the repeat of the middle eight in time.

[38] ‘Listen To Me’ is, of course, the Buddy Holly song as done by just about every band going – even way back in 1963. It’s the album’s most unadventurous choice and the arrangement does the band no favours – other than a slightly more shiny Rickenbacker guitar part this song might as well have been Buddy Holly’s original (the lead vocals, by Jackson and Pender in harmony, even accentuate the Holly hiccup as if to underline how redundant and pointless this cover is, though it must be said Tony is rather more convincingly in character than Mike’s pure Liverpudlian!) ‘Listen To Me’ was never one of Buddy’s better songs I never thought – there’s a really treacly nursery rhyme feel to the way the song rises and falls, while the short lines don’t give us much room for the ‘story’ (which was the whole point of most of Buddy’s songs). Far from sounding romantic or deep, this song feels more like a teenager with a crush that’s going to disappear the minute he meets someone better and even after intoning his girl to ‘listen to me’ for what seems like hours he has nothing very much to say when she does. The Searchers would have done better to cover one of Buddy’s rockers like ‘Midnight Shift’ or ‘Well...Alright’ which are much closer to their usual style of slightly unhinged but still cute madness. What’s more the band sound really bored here, which they probably were the speed they were made to record these songs on the back of a busy touring schedule with only McNally’s Rickenbacker work catching the ear on a ra5re chance for John to play something other than jingly-jangly rhythm guitar. Not one of the band’s better ideas, especially on this their most consistent album.

[39] ‘Unhappy Girls’ is much more like it and has The Searchers’ fingerprints all over it, from the restless wavy guitar lines to the lost and desperate claustrophobic drumming to the manic tempo to the songs about misery and moving on. This song though is even more obscure: a rare flop single for Carl Perkins who didn’t cover many outside songs in his career anyway. Whereas Carl treats the whole thing more like a country joke, exaggerating the high drama of the narrator quitting town because he’s made all the girls in it cry (that wouldn’t take long in Ormskirk, I tell you), for The Searchers it is of course all deadly serious. Mike has suddenly aged a decade, suddenly going from hopeful teen to a truly believable narrator whose broken too many hearts and needs to move on. This is one of his greatest hours indeed, as he’s both sassy and defiant on the vocal and in his guitar playing, which hops and bounces around the strings as if he’s taunting some poor girl before his anger explodes in another great solo. It helps that she has been pinned underfoot for him by some truly eccentric drumming from Curtis that – like Keith Moon – doesn’t just play and emphasise the right notes but lots of others in between too. Only a rather perfunctory bass and rhythm part from Tony and John prevent this from being another of The Searchers’ tastiest performances – even so they both excel on the harmony vocals, snapping at Mike’s heels as if running him to the station personally. The band lose their way badly in the second part of the song – the track all but falls apart after Pender comes out of his solo, but the band have built up such a head of steam and been on the edge of falling apart throughout so well that they just about cover it somehow. One of the best Searchers covers of the period, full of real menace and power that suits the band’s style nicely.

[10b] Ain’t That Just Like Me?’ goes one better, being arguably the best Searchers cover if only in terms of just how much they change and improve the song. Play this song back to back with just about anything else from 1963 (including The Hollies’ cover of this Carroll/Guy song, released as their debut single in May that year) and it’s so much more raucous, dangerous and, well, demented than nearly anything else around before The Who and The Kinks got properly going (only the Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Money’ come close). Yes the song is just a daft list of nursery rhymes and nothing special really: the narrator just wants to tell us that he’ll follow his girl round like Mary Had A Little Lamb, that she can break his heart like Humpty Dumpty ‘cracking up over you’ and – most weirdly – that the couple are just like ‘the dish that ran away with the spoon’ in ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’. The song is tied up with the chorus ‘ain’t that just like me? Trying to – whatever- with you’ but The Searchers turn this into more of one-sided wail, emphasising the pained plea of a chorus ‘don’t you want to love me to?’ The song only lasts 2:24 but it feels like an epic in context – the band rattle through the song proper in a mere ninety seconds as if getting it out the way before Chris Curtis leads the band into an epic call-and-answer session that takes up the rest of the song for a whole minute, the band using their knowledge of Motown/gospel music to make what surely must be the ‘blackest’ moment of a white band in the early 1960s. While Mike and Tony keep to the same chords, singing the chorus over and over, Chris teases the band and audience by easing off the tempo and then kicking straight back into the song with a growling lengthy coda that just repeats the same chord over and over as he howls his head off with some improvised raps (‘Take it easy…come on come on now…Let me hear you…Take it easy baby…Alright now…Tell me ‘bout it…come on now…Tell me ‘bout it!...Shake it up now!...It’s alright now!...Shake it up now!..COME ON BABY!’ After an album and a half of The Searchers being the masters of the quick-change, of throwing in something extra in the works that take us somewhere else entirely so that we never have the chance to get bored, this is a thrilling moment when you realise that the narrator is just going to get louder and louder until his girl finally relents to his passion and agrees to date him. This is no longer a teenage crush but something deep and primal and desperate and the band play this song perfectly, turning it in an instant from a nursery rhyme into the most complex and real song you can hear. Curtis was always prepared to go out on more than a limb than his contemporaries (making it doubly cruel that he should quit the band just when musicians were encouraged to do exactly that) and he’s never better than here, letting it all hang out in a way only the fab four on ‘Twist and Shout’ could match. It’s interesting to note that while The Beatles are getting more polished on their contemporary second album, The Searchers are going for raw power, turning the short bursts of adrenalin on their first album into mini-epics of sustained tension delivered at a crackling speed. It’s not subtle and it’s not the best playing the band ever made but it’s one heck of a statement for an overlooked Merseybeat band from 1963 and the fact that the band chose to completely gut the original sweet but rather twee nursery-rhyme filled pop arrangement and turn it inside out shows real talent. Sadly the Searchers never come close to this sort of song or arrangement again, softening their style considerably for third album ‘It’s The Searchers’ (both because of The Beatles and the loss of Tony Jackson partway through recording), although fans of this song ought to look out for the rare but great ‘Searchers In Sweden CD’ where Chris Curtis tackles Ray Charles [22b] ‘What’d I Say?’ with exactly the same kind of disarming call-and-response power, the only time The Searchers ever match this song.

[40] ‘Oh My Lover’ is a painful anti-climax after the last track, the first (of two!) real ballads on the album but one that’s played without any real conviction or interest. It’s another obscure track, this time a B-side by The Chiffons that back in 1963 would have been a brand new song, only around for a few short months. You can tell The Searchers haven’t been playing this song for years yet – they sound slightly tentative and nobody seems quite sure of where each other are going, as if they’re afraid to step on each other’s toes so everybody sticks to keeping things simple (over simple?) The same repeated title phrase sung more or less throughout while the lyrics don’t get much further than ‘I’m in love with you and want to marry you’. Tony does his best with the vocal which is more than good enough to make the band’s fans go weak at the knees, but it’s too low-pitched for him to show off his startling high range and once we reach the short chorus there’s nowhere else for this song to go except back to the beginning to repeat the song all the way through once more. What’s more, in context it’s just odd to hear The Searchers doing ‘contented’ – usually their songs only have their characters happy when they’ve been dreaming of something they want and know they can’t get. A rare moment that doesn’t quite come off.

[41] ‘Saints and Searchers’ is the other milestone of this album, with another long drawn-out arrangement of an old standard. If you’ve ever heard Tony Sheridan and The Beatles tackling ‘My Bonnie’ this song is a close cousin – it’s an old war horse seemingly known by everybody (at the date of recording at least, perhaps less so since The Beatles became ‘bigger than Jesus’ to coin a phrase) reinvented in the ‘new’ and ‘modern’ style of rock. It shouldn’t work and yet somehow it does – Tony Jackson finally gets a chance to show off his skills on this track as he gets to do what Curtis did and extend the vocals out with some screaming and hollering that may well be his best performance with the band, fully in charge of the song as it speeds up and slows down. For the most parts he’s the convert, desperate to be part of the Christians who are given their reward in the afterlife and boasting about it which seems very un-1960s when you think about it, but it really fits The Searchers’ signature yearning and longing sound. Also the inter-meshing guitars of McNally and Pender burst through the surface every so often as if puncturing the idea that the 1960s generation will ever just blithely sign up and become saints, accepting the status quo, as they pointedly question everything and refuse to go along with the set direction Curtis seems to have planned out for them on the drums. Hearing this repetitive song is, suitably, quite a religious experience for the listener too, as close to hypnotic as the short running times of tracks in 1963 allow, building in power with every verse even if the whole brash, raw, rocky effect is actually quite frightening and not the jolly, uplifting experience it normally is when hearing traditional versions of this song. I long though to hear a Hamburg or Iron Door Club version of this song as it sounds like one the band could have stretched out for hours if they wanted to, in order to fill out the long crazy hours. Look out too for the excellent CD re-issue of ‘Sugar and Spice’ which, along with its four sister releases, contains plenty of outtakes as well as mono and stereo versions of the album. One of the best Searchers bonus tracks of all is the French language version of this track, recorded to suit the more serious-minded and religious French fans. Only the band have a problem: by the time they’re asked to re-record it Tony has left the band so Chris gamely vamping his way through this track in mock Franglais, but taking it to a very different place, staying soft and delicate throughout and adding some Elvis ‘uh-huh’ and ‘hmms’ in there to liven things up instead. Sounding less like a fight and more like a peaceful march, it’s a very different recording all round and it’s a toss-up which version is better.

[42] ‘Cherry Stones’ finds us back on more familiar ground musically, but I have to say this is one of the weirdest covers the band ever did and again shows off just how eclectic Chris’ record collection must have been. Two years before The Byrds got attention for covering Vera Lynn’s war requiem ‘We’ll Meet Again’ here The Searchers are covering an even more obscure Dame Vera song. This one is weird for more reasons than that though: again it’s another gender swap song which despite the sex change of the narrator makes no sense. It’s meant to be a girl counting her discarded cherry stones and wondering if they will tell her fortune when a handsome man takes her out to a dance (basically it’s a way of counting out the old nursery rhyme ‘tinker tailor, soldier, spy…’ In The Searchers’ hands they have already taken her there and walked her home while they have no reason to mention cherry stones at all given that it isn’t something that works with boys, the nursery rhyme dating back to the days when girls didn’t have occupations (does this song take place in an orchard?) Impressively, though, The Searchers have given this 1950 number such a definitive Merseybeat makeover that few fans even realise where this song comes from. The guitars sound great on this one, with a real echoey ring on their Rickenbacker sound that’s truly sublime, while at one point the guitars even pre-empt the soon-to-be-famous James Bond theme tune, perfect for a sense of sneering despair underlying this cute song that offers a hint that everything is about to go wrong. Tony and Mike also sound at their best singing together on this song, both going in roughly the same place (adoration coupled with mistrust) but switching which of them is being sweet and which of them is being cynical with most every line. Even though its poppier and shorter than the songs around it, this is still blooming good and another good but rare halfway house between the cuteness of the Searchers’ singles and the sheer power of the albums. The band cook up another storm on the backing, overcoming the silliness of the song, throwing caution to the wind in their attempts to unite black American soul with white English pop.

A note from an anonymous reader adds  that producer Tony Hatch listed the wrong songwriters and that the real composers were Dick and Don Addrasi, who recorded the song themselves as the Addrasi Brothers; there is a 'Cherry Stones' written by a J Jerome but this is a different piece. It's not for me to correct the official record and producer, but I leave that bit of info here for you to hear for yourselves.

[2b] ‘All My Sorrows’ is best known nowadays as a Paul McCartney song, released by the fab one in 1993 as a protest against the atrocities of Margaret Thatcher’s government (and made all but redundant by her expulsion from power the week before the song was released!) But actually ‘All My Sorrows’ is quite a famous track in Merseyside – it’s comparatively unknown in its homeland of America where folksinger Glenn Yarborough had a hit with it but really took off in the Liverpool port, one of those singles along with ‘Some Other Guy’ that everybody with a bit of spare money bought and which seemed to fit the grimy suit of Nothern industrial city life better than American open spaces. The song deserved it’s sales too – it is a really haunting, depressed song about lost love that veers close to being a suicide note at one point (‘all my sorrows soon forgotten’), but one that has an added kick with the middle eight and the sudden burst of passion ‘but its too late my love...’ that portrays the narrator as a battler as well as another of this album’s long line of helpless romantics. Very Liverpudlian in fact. The Searchers’ version is, again, about the most inventive arrangement of the song around – the original is pretty lethargic but the band slow it down to a crawl here, emphasising every line with a menace and a haunting quality that most cover versions (Macca’s included) miss. Pender tackles the main part of the song with Curtis’ falsetto lending him support and they do a sterling job, as do the backing – with McNally’s muted guitar part sounding all the more memorable for slowing down the tempo and adding a bit of wah wah echo, while Curtis’ drums are replaced by the occasional rap on a tom-tom. The Beatles, deservedly, won a lot of prestige with music critics in 1964 by releasing songs like ‘And I Love Her’ and ‘This Boy’ that departed from the Merseybeat norm and featuring band performances on acoustic instruments. Not for the first or last time, The Searchers actually got there first and this song was rightly hailed on release as one of the most impressive moments on any of the Merseybeat era albums. The Searchers’ version had always been popular too, with this song marked out by their fans as one of the best thing in their set long before they started making LPs. It is indeed one of the band’s finer moments, never outstaying its welcome despite the – by 1963 standards – pretty darn long running time and slow speed, haunting and moving and full of the farewells the other Searcher narrators have been vainly trying to keep at bay in their early career. The move from here to [54] ‘Needles and Pins’ is shorter than you might think and this is proof that already there was more to the band that shouting and power rock. Goodness knows what the teenagers who eagerly unwrapped this album on Christmas Day thought of it, but all these years on ‘All My Sorrows’ survives as one of the real gems of the period, a song that really pointed the way forward to what is to come next.

Most bands would have ended their album with that slow, reflective, fairly groundbreaking cover, but no The Searchers want this to be a poppy, rocky effort and end the song with another two minute burst of adrenalin. [43] ‘Hungry For Love’ is the other well known song here (you can hear fellow AAA band ‘Jack The Lad’ tackling it as a bonus track on the ‘Jackpot’ CD re-issue), but The Searchers’ cover easily beats the others I know. The song is another that would have been brand new at the time, a last gasp single from a dying Johnny Kidd and The Pirates and unusual for their full rock trio attack sound: this is really a cute novelty number about being so lonely and desperate for love you’ll fall in love with anybody and really desperately crave the one you love. Chris Curtis’ rattling drums try to draw a full stop across the song several times, but the narrator’s desperation for love and his nervous energy keep bundling the song on, kicking it back in time and time again as another thought occurs to him. Listen out for how the song either repeats itself or condenses its frustrations into short sharp bursts of desperation (practically every line is a question or a sentence demanding an exclamation mark!) as the narrator keeps trying to get a girl to go out with him when he’s clearly not getting the message ‘no!’ Pender and Jackson take the lead again, doing a fine job of expressing their desperation and Pender especially does a fine job adding the harmony to Jackson’s already pretty high lead. The guitar interaction is pretty special too – McNally’s chunky, rhythmical chords really bounce against Pender’s more fluent lead, as if mimicking how easily the narrator’s life could flow if he falls in love (only, like the drums and guitars, he keeps coming up short every time he tries to break free and soar on his own). Another fine rock and roll cover to end on, this is another truly exciting moment that sounds as much fun to play as it is to listen to, complete with a cheeky lift from their rivals as the band sing the word ‘youuuu’ like the ‘wooohs’ in The Beatles’ [33] ‘Twist and Shout’. I’m surprised the fab four didn’t do this song actually as its even more down their street than The Searchers’ what with its very Ringo-ish stop-start drums, chiming guitar and happy-go-lucky charm.

So, overall this second album might not be the most subtle you’ll ever own. It might not be a multi-layered epic, have much change of pace or instrumentation and its raw edges may leave you gasping for the sort of sophistication of, well, The Searchers circa 1965/66. But if you’re a curious fan who wants to hear what the early, equally raw Beatles albums might have sounded like in other hands, then – along with ‘In The Hollies Style’ and ‘Rolling Stones’ – this is the album for you. But even more so: I put this on record that this is my favourite album of the brief Merseybeat era of 1963 and the first half of 1964. It is just so exciting, with a band playing with real telepathy and passion on an album that barely lets up for a minute – and when it does it goes completely the other way with one of the most striking and sombre moments of the era. And if you’re a punk rocker reading this who wished music would wave a magic wand like it did in 1976 and go back to basics then you’re in for a treat – the world’s best kept musical secret is that punk and early 1960s Merseybeat share such close DNA they could be twins, barring the fashion sense and anarchist lyrics (and even some of the Merseybeat ones are pretty suspect). Another important point: a great deal was made in 1965 when The Beatles went over the three-minute mark for the first time with ‘Tell Me What You See’. There are actually two tracks on this album that pass the three-minute mark, ‘Saints and Searchers’ and ‘All My Sorrows’, proving how much room The Searchers had for manoeuvre even without The Beatles around to push them along. For this one brief shining moment The Searchers are at the forefront of music and as great as any of their peers. Who would have thought, after buying this album, that it would all go so wrong so quickly across 1964 with a change of personnel, sound, direction and experience.

In some alternate universe where the Beatles never existed, albums like this were the groundbreaking sound of the 1960s and with more than enough material and interest to keep the movement going the whole decade through. If ‘With The Beatles’ hadn’t come along, ‘Sugar and Spice’ would have been the default sound of the new decade – obscure forgotten American (and Canadian) B-sides re-interpreted and drained for their raw energy, excitement and passion. Along with Hollies albums 2 and 3 and Please Please Me, this is about as exciting as music could get in 1963 – and compared to what came before it (Elvis, Buddy Holly, even Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers) it sounds like a whole new exciting world is opening up before our ears, with millions of possibilities laid out before us for those of us fast enough to keep up with the raw pace. That one band from Liverpool came out of nowhere to change the world in late 1962/early 1963 seems like a precious, impossible, destined-to-be life changing event that can never be repeated. The fact that Liverpool had two bands up to the task in the same period (maybe even three or four with Gerry and The Pacemakers and The Swinging Blue Jeans not at all far off) seems absolutely ridiculous, but it is true nevertheless. How great could Searchers album no three have been without either The Beatles’ changing sound or The Searchers’ own destructive capabilities getting in the way? Alas we’ll never know, but at least we have this second album which is a better deal than sugar and spice any day (it won’t rot your teeth for one thing!) and more like a proper meal than the mere confectionary it suggests. A terrific, exciting, fearless album that cuts so much deeper than the hit single it hurts.

'It's The Searchers' (1964)

‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1965)

'Take Me For What I'm Worth' (1965)

'The Searchers' (1979/1980)

'Play For Today' aka 'Love's Melodies' (1981)

‘Hungry Hearts’ (1988)

Surviving TV Clips  and The Best Unreleased Recordings

Solo Recordings 1964-1967 and 1984

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1963-1967  

Non-Album Recordings Part Two  1968-2012 

Live/Solo/Compilation/US LPs/'Re-Recordings In Stereo’ Part One: 1964-1987

Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Two:  1990-2014


  1. Unbelievable coverage! 2 points this page Cherry Stones was by the Addrisi Brothers Cherrystone - 1959 via 2) McNally’s guitar thru 64 was a Hofner Club - Pender played lead right?

  2. On Cherry Stones it’s likely Tony Hatch incorrectly listed a “J Jerome” as songwriter not the Addrisi brothers Richard & Don.
    Georgia Gibbs and Bob Crosby recorded John Jerome’s version in 1950… A quick listen will tell you the song is not the Addrisi-Searchers version -