Saturday 11 February 2012

The Searchers "Meet The Searchers" (1963) (News, Views and Music 133)

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The Searchers “Meet The Searchers” (1963)

Sweets For My Sweet/Alright/Love Potion No 9/Farmer John/Stand By
Me/Money//Da Doo Da Ron/Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya/Since You Broke My Heart/Tricky
Dicky/Where Have All The Flowers Gone?/Twist and Shout

‘A million little tunes I shared, went through your heart and through your head…'

‘Meet The Searchers’ is a real wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing. The tacky and retro (even then) front cover, the ‘likes and
dislikes’ questionnaire on the back cover and especially the lead-off hit
single were an attempt by management to make the Searchers look like even more
clean cut kids than The Beatles. The Searchers are grinning inanely the way all
good boy bands should and this looks less like a roll and roll cover than a
pin-up poster of a bunch of film stars. Everyone bought this record on the back
of ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ expecting the same pop confectionary – but that was
never who The Searchers really were. That image has dogged the band ever since,
arguably damaging them even more than The Hollies, despite the fact that
neither band were that clean cut at all (nor were The Beatles come to that).
The Searchers were from the rougher end of Liverpool (as was Ringo), they all
had a variety of hard jobs they continued with when music came into their lives
(unlike the art student Beatles, of which only George had to give up a job for
Hamburg, one he was going to get fired from any minute) and the band would have
been laughed out at town had they played ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ on stage before
actually making a record (a rare event for anyone in those days). But if you
shut your ears and open up your ears a little bit louder then The Searchers
were as great as anyone in the 1963-65 period when music was still sunshiney
pop and rock that was primal and rough around the edges – and as we’ve argued
elsewhere on this site The Searchers were showing just as much progress as any
other group when Pye quietly dropped them when their five-album contract was up
(had the band been under a long-term offer, as per The Hollies at EMI, they’d
be much better known today without question). Those of you brought up on The
Stones and The Who from a couple of years later might not hear it, but there’s
a raw animal quality to even The Searchers’ most polished work that belies
everything their management wanted to tell you about them. Meet The Searchers
for yourselves not by playing the first two icky hit singles (‘Sweets For My
Sweet’ and [23] ‘Sugar and Spice’, which were made under duress to become
much-needed hits) but by listening to the band’s output as a whole. And, even
if this debut is not the best record they made (because of circumstances, it
might well be the worst) it is still worth hearing and pretty darn impressive
for the times.

Before I go any further, here’s a bit of background
as to why I’m writing this review now and why I’m arguing this so hard. There I
was plugging my site on Yahoo Answers the other day when I came across the
daftest question I’ve ever seen (well, outside the hundreds of ‘why do people
still listen to The Beatles when there’s Justin Bieber records around to buy?’
questions which are clearly trolls trit-trotting under some bridge somewhere).
Someone was asking, genuinely I think, why The Searchers were so famous and
sold out so many arenas when they were all ugly and a poor second to The
Beatles (as if beauty was the only reason The Beatles sold so many record
rather than brains). As I hope you’ve seen elsewhere on my site it wasn’t from
lack of talent but lack of luck. The Searchers were never that famous, they
were always playing second fiddle to The Beatles, not through lack of talent
because they were unfortunate enough that Brian Epstein happened to choose the
Cavern Club to walk into, rather than The Iron Door Club a few yards further
down Matthew Street (in fact, Epstein did look into signing The Searchers not
long after signing The Beatles, but in typical Searchers luck nobody told the
band, who’d spent most of the afternoon in the local pub The Grapes and weren’t
at their best that night – ironically had Epstein seen The Beatles as the
drunks they usually were circa 1960 chances are he wouldn’t have had anything
to do with them either). They were also unfortunate enough to end up with Pye
as a record label, one that didn’t really understand the whole teenage craze
for rock and roll and were still expecting to make a quick buck before the
whole genre collapsed by 1970. Like fellow label-mates The Kinks, The Searchers
were worked into the ground with a rigid record contract and a strict schedule,
without the chance to grow the way The Beatles did even though their early
songwriting promise suggests that Chris Curtis, at least, could hold his own
with anyone in the early-to-mid 1960s. The Searchers never broke into the big
time, despite a great run of singles (and an even more terrific run of
B-sides), being seen as below even Gerry and the Pacemakers (who had another
fine and under-rated run of singles, but not much else to offer) and its one of
the major discrepancies of music collecting in the 1960s that today The
Searchers are as forgotten as they ever have been. Frankly, I’m furious that
The Searchers (and to a lesser extent The Swinging Blue Jeans) are still passed
over the way that they are and I long for the day that they do play the arenas
my fellow Yahoo seems to have imagined in his sleep (the best the band get
today is in the cabaret circuit).And as for being ugly, well, they look pretty
darn good to me, what do we care when bands sound this good (that’s why they
became musicians, not fashion models) and, anyway, have you seen Ringo?

The reason all this matters is that The Searchers had
the potential to lead the pack. In fact, had you asked an average teenager in
the street in Liverpool circa 1960 what local bands they’d seen playing live
chances are they’d a) look at you blankly because they never dared to go down
the filthy backroads of Liverpool’s club scene and b) they’d have told you Rory
Storm and the Hurricanes, The Big Three – or Johnny Sandon and The Searchers.
They’d probably never heard of The Beatles, whatever band name they were using
at the time. It’s worth remembering that when The Searchers started they saw
themselves as a backing band, a la the bands of the day like The Shadows, and
only started singing songs themselves when Sandon suddenly – and to them
inexplicably – left them in 1962 after a terrific run of local performances
(and a stint in Hamburg just as tiring and arguably more popular than The
Beatles’). In that short space of time The Searchers had successfully managed
to do what few other bands of their vintage had done - balance the rock and folk and country parts to
their set, adding Jimmy Reed and Johnny Cash covers which was unique for the
day among the Liverpool club scene and brought the Searchers a lot of respect
from people back in the days when pure rock was seen as a backwards and
unfashionable step. In an alternative universe somewhere its not too hard to
think The Searchers would be the household name and I’d have to spend my time
telling you what an under-rated band The Beatles were, with only a handful of
records to their name. In any event, with the world now flocking to see The
Beatles the gigs dried up and the band got desperate, starting to add more of
their own vocals into the set and the band only really broke through to the
country at large in the wake of the fab four’s success, with everything that
sounded vaguely Liverpudlian being snapped up by record companies everywhere
(I’m amazed EMI signed Gerry and the Pacemakers but not The Searchers and
Swinging Blue Jeans, incidentally, both much bigger draws in 1962/63).

This week’s album review is a case in point for, on
the one hand, how much talent and charisma the band had and yet how much of it
was frittered away by a production team that failed to grasp the importance of
what they had on their hands the way George Martin did. Fans today still reel
in amazement that The Beatles managed to record a full ten tracks (and one
unreleased song) in a single multi-hour session in 1963, squeezed in between
gigs. Well, The Searchers went one better with this debut LP, recording eleven
of the twelve songs (‘Sweets For My Sweet’ having been taped earlier alongside
non-album B-side [44] ‘It’s All Been A Dream’) within five hours. Like ‘Please
Please Me’, you can hear flashes of the genius that are to come but what you
hear most are the rawness and energy of a band pushed to the limits and still
unsure of themselves in a recording studio, a place where they’d never been
before. Like the first (self-titled) Grateful Dead record everyone is so
nervous that the performances are played at twice-speed, giving this album a
nervous rush of energy and excitement that’s quite unlike the style the later,
mature Searchers settle down to playing from 1964 onwards. Sometimes this hurts
the songs with some crappy performances that should never have been released
(the band buckle under the pressure of recording ‘Twist and Shout’, a song they
barely know, in similar circumstances to The Beatles and have never sounded
worse); then again sometimes it improves them (‘Since You Broke My Heart’,
surprisingly a bit of a dirge in the Everly Brothers’ hands, sounds fantastic
here with the band right on the edge and living every word). You have to say too
that delivered at such a speed a bit of variety would have suited this album,
which rather breezes past in one long half-hour long whoosh (even the ballads).

There’s also a rumour doing the rounds that this
first album was due to be recorded live in the Iron Door Club (George Martin
also discussed recording ‘Please Please Me’ live at the Cavern but thought the
microphones would short out with all the sweat and mildew and nixed the idea;
presumably The Searchers’ idea was dropped for the same reasons). It’s a shame
they never did because it might have been terrific hearing the band’s rockier
material from the first two albums (all regular parts of the stage set back
then) played at a ‘proper’ speed with real audience atmosphere where The
Searchers felt safest and most comfortable. Instead there’s a feeling across
this album that this band have never quite settled their nerves and that they
spent the entire five hours about to break into nervous laughter at any moment.
Most people think the idea of a live recording this early on was ridiculous,
but to these ears it’s a great idea: with the band’s loyal audience in the room
cheering them on what better way to lose the nerves? And the period technology
wasn’t necessarily as bad as we think. To hear what I mean, look out for the
Big Three’s EP ‘Live At The Cavern’, perhaps the best of all these primitive
early recordings from Merseybeat bands recorded between 1962-63; if The
Searchers’ debut had been half as great as that record I’d have been thrilled. As
it is, the one fault with this album is that all sounds terribly rushed, as if
the band have been urged to record their songs as quickly as possible without
any chance for re-takes and with as little time as possible spent making them
comfortable with the recording equipment (which is probably exactly what
happened; the difference is that it shocked everyone when the statistics about
the making of ‘Please Please Me’ came out because it doesn’t like an album that
was quite so rushed). Good as ‘Meet The Searchers’ sounds at times, you can’t
help but think how good it might have sounded if made at a later date in the
same more piecemeal way over the later albums (which were made in shock horror
– one whole week not a day).

That said, given that the band had a grand total of
five hours to make this album, it’s surprising how much subtlety they do manage
to inject it with the clock ticking. Tony Jackson is in his element fronting
the band, before the power struggles of the next two albums (that see him
silenced by early 1964 and ousted by 1965) and unlike some collectors I’ve
heard I love his high-pitched tones, which is to the early 1960s what Elvis is
to 1956, Marc Bolan is 1971 and Liam Gallagher is 1994, breezy effortless pop
perfect for capturing the feel of the era and caught somewhere between
hard-edged fire and singalong smooth. Mike Pender, the figure most people were
expecting to become the lead singer, is a fine second to Jackson, with a jangly
rhythm guitar very similar to John Lennon’s and a richer, deeper sound to add
to the Searchers’ usual mix. John McNally becomes an instant guitar hero the
way that George Harrison did after ‘Please Please Me’, updating and often
speeding up the guitar sound of the original songs into a distinctive
recognisable sound with his Rickenbacker, the sound that everyone thinks Roger
McGuinn invented in 1965 (McGuinn included) but here two years early. Best of
all, Chris Curtis is the greatest drummer of the era – along with The Hollies’
Bobby Elliott – charging the band on with the looseness and originality of
Ringo and the power of Charlie Watts. I’ve always been surprised that more
people don’t rate his drumming higher – even John McNally in the sleevenotes to
the ‘Iron Door Sessions’ talks about how much better he was as a showman than a
drummer, which seems cruel for someone so inventive and powerful and, well,
original as Curtis. Despite the attempts by Pye to groom Jackson as ‘the star’,
back in the days when most bands still came with a singer’s name listed before
their band, its notable that three of the group get their own vocals on this
record, with Curtis tackling ‘Stand By Me’ and
Pender ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ It is, however, Tony’s
greatest hour in many ways and he’s the band member who sounds most comfortable
here, the one most eager to seize this chance at stardom by the horns and make
the most of it. We’ll be getting to hear much more of The Searchers being
themselves on later albums, as we will with pretty much all the bands around in
1963, not yet aware how long their career will last or how much competition
they will have, pleased just to be recording anything and have a record to show
to their friends and family.

There is ambition on this record too, though. Back
in August 1963, when The Beatles weren’t yet a household name (with just one
top ten hit) Merseybeat was newer and rawer and so much more dangerous than,
say, hip-hop is today. By the end of the year, pretty much everyone in Britain
under thirty is going to have a go at sounding like this record but for a few
short months The Searchers (only the third AAA band after The Beach Boys and
Beatles to release a record, beating The Hollies by a few weeks) are pioneering
the art of making what had passed for ‘black’ music in the 1950s sound faintly
acceptable to parents’ ears and what used to sound respectable sound new and
dangerous. The Searchers’ choice of material to cover was always more obvious
than The Beatles (who used to look for obscure B-sides and album tracks in case
another Liverpool band did them in their act too), but they cast their net
wider in their early days. This album features songs originally cut as Motown,
as folk, as novelty pop and pure rock and roll and it’s all treated with the
same coating of hurried harmonies and driving hi-hat drumming. This gives ‘Meet
The Searchers’ an eclectic range that belies its vintage, with Pete Seeger’s
‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ a deeply unusual choice for a ‘rock band’ to
record, here alongside The Crystals’ ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and rock and roll songs
both period and stretching back a decade. In 1963 this was still unusual,
bordering on revolutionary and marked the Searchers out as an intelligent band
beneath all that power and drive.

You can also hear a development even at this early
stage in their career. If you can get hold of the now-sadly-out-of-print ‘Iron
Door Sessions’ (the long-lost Searchers demo tape, recorded at their ‘local’
venue and then left to rot in Tony Jackson’s attic for forty-odd years) then it
makes for an interesting comparison to this album, being even rawer than this
record. Amazingly only one song from their debut album was being played in
these early days and that’s ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, still back then a brand new
song the band have been asked to learn. While the finished product is light on
its feet (in fact, a bit too light on its feet), this early version is a
struggle from beginning to end, the band clearly unused to it and not yet able
to perfect the ‘ooh’ing backing vocals or, in Jackson’s case, play the bass
whilst singing lead (still a novelty to him after years as a backing vocalist
to Sandon). Of the other songs, two of them get re-used for second album ‘Sugar
and Spice’ (an altogether more balanced affair – see news and views no 57), one
made it to third album ‘It’s The Searchers’, one made it to fourth album
‘Sounds Like Searchers’ and the rest were never returned to: a shame in the
case of the driving [3] ‘Jamabalya’ (the one great Larry Williams song John
Lennon never recorded), Chuck Berry’s [6] ‘Maybelline’ treated as a unique
jazz-funk-rock hybrid, a sweaty version of [11] ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ much
rougher and more exciting than both The Beatles (BBC) and The Hollies’ versions
and finally best of all [9] ‘Let’s Stomp’ which, well, out-stomps every other
rocker and this record (and shows how raw the band could be at their best).
Compare it back to back with The Beatles’ Decca Audition Tapes (heard in part
on Anthology One) and its clear which band have the greater talent (although
admittedly this set was taped in January 1963, not January 62 as per The
Beatles’ version) and this debut album might have been better had the band
stuck to re-recording these songs instead of some of the lesser material they
use here. Having said that, enjoyable as these tapes are (still the earliest
recordings of The Searchers known to exist) in a Beatles-Hamburg type way, the
improvement in clarity of arrangement and musicianship is huge. The Searchers
have clearly put a lot of practice into these arrangements, even if the nerves
of the studio puts them off a little, and the speed with which they grow is,
like The Beatles, perhaps the most impressive part of their whole story.

Detractors of The Searchers complain about how there
isn’t a single song written by the group on this album – a true point, but
that’s because the Searchers’ material had all been used up on the B-sides of
the band’s early singles (Curtis’ ‘It’s All Been A Dream’, out as the flipside
of the first single, is the equal of anything on this record) and Pye simply
had less faith in the band than EMI had in The Beatles (The Stones didn’t start
releasing their own songs on albums till 1965 as a point of reference, by the
way). The biggest talking points of this record today are the #1 hit single (chosen
purely to show that the band could do ‘commercial’) and the covers of two songs
the Beatles also did, ‘Twist and Shout’ (mocked then for coming so soon after
the fab four’s version) and ‘Money’ (mocked now by people who don’t realise The
Searchers covered this Barrett Strong single some three months before the fab
four). Those who know their Beatles may also notice a cover of ‘Stand By Me’ on
this record, already something of a Merseyside standard some eleven years
before John Lennon’s cover on his lost weekend solo album ‘Rock and Roll’. The
other eight tracks, though, are the real Searchers, as eclectic a band as any
the times would allow, with a power that was seen as verging on raw in the days
before the Rolling Stones became household names and making what used to sound
clichéd and dull a few years before sound exciting and ‘now’. ‘Alright’ is a
fiery feisty rocker, ‘Farmer John’ is rattled off with good cheer, ‘Love Potion
No 9’ is good fun’ (though like the band I’m surprised it was quite as big
Stateside as it was), Tony shines on the sweet and sour structure of ‘Ain’t
Gonna Kiss Ya’ and The Searchers excel on the exquisite ‘Since You Broke My

Talking of eclectic, just check out the back cover
where the band talk about their music collections. Tony Jackson’s favourites
range from ‘rhythm and blues and country and western to opera’. Mike Pender
like rhythm and blues and country and western too, although curiously as the
only member of the Searchers not to have worn a beard at some point, he counts
shaving as his greatest dislike! John McNally like rhythm and blues and
ballads. Meanwhile Chris Curtis likes ‘records and mad magazines’ (he’d have
loved Alan’s Album Archives then, while his record collection was said to be
huge!) As with the rest of The Searchers’ output, you’ll find yourself
wondering how this disparate band of individuals ever ended up coming from the
same home town, never mind ended up in the same band, but for 1963 at least
this range of tastes and styles means that The Searchers are ahead of the pack
and only a smidgeon behind The Beatles. Sure this album is rushed, it all needs
to be played slower and there’s perhaps a bum note or a missed cue too many to
make meeting The Searchers on ‘Meet The Searchers’ the rewarding experience
that listening to our AAA classic albums ‘Play The System’ and ‘Take Me For
What I’m Worth’. But there’s surely enough even in this early album to disprove
the idea given on Yahoo Answers that The Searchers didn’t deserve to be famous.
Not bad for five hours’ work by a band who’ve never played in front of
recording equipment before! On the contrary, they deserve to be better known,
better loved and better appreciated. Let’s meet them all over again...


The album starts with the hit single [1b] ‘Sweets For My
a song chosen by producer Tony Hatch from the band's recent
repertoire as their best chance of a hit - much to their annoyance given that
they disliked the song by and large and one that, for all its instant success,
the band probably wishes they’d never heard after years of playing it live and
fans thinking it was all they could do. As a one-off novelty song in the band’s
set it’s actually a fine performance of an OK song, originally a minor hit for
The Drifters in 1961 but dressed up to sound more exciting, more flamboyant and
more, well, ‘now’ (back when now was 1963). There’s an electric chug familiar
from The Beatles, but this is also a song that’s light on its feet, the very definition
of a wolf in sheep’s clothing as all the lyrics and cutesy harmonies point
towards a sweet romantic relationship but the primal backing and especially the
jittery guitars point towards sex. It is, had it been a one-off the band had
needed to get out of their system, great as evidence of just how far the sheer
brutality of The Searchers’ music could have been turned into prettiness. But
as the band’s first big hit and the first track on their debut record it gives
off all the wrong signals, marking the band as a novelty pop cover act with
syrupy overtones, something that follow-up copycat hit [23] ‘Sugar and Spice’
didn’t help (in the same way, Gerry and the Pacemakers’ long term hopes were
doomed as soon as ‘How Do You Do It?’ became a hit, however good their later
material, and I thank my lucky stars again that George Martin had the sense to
reject the song after hearing how little faith the Beatles had in it). This is
not the sort of ‘acting’ song you want to do at the start of a career when
nobody knows who you are yet, but more the throw of the dice you send out to
keep your audience on their toes; sadly given that no one outside of Liverpool
knew who this band were just yet everyone assumed ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ was the
whole cake, not the sugary icing on top. That said, even this song has a
rawness The Beatles had already passed on by this time: the drum sound to this
song particularly is wonderful, from the opening drum roll to the heavy
rat-tat-tatting on the cymbals during the song’s main riff hinting at the sheer
weight of lust going on behind this song’s cutesy lyrics (the oom-pah beat
after the line ‘thrills me so’, as if the narrator’s heat is beating faster, is
such a clever touch). Tony does a great job at sounding sincere on lyrics which,
frankly, are beneath him and exist only for the pun on the ‘sweets’ being
brought for the ‘sweet’ loved one and which are basically busked past the title
(if the narrator really cared about his girl he wouldn’t bring her so many
candies to rot her teeth!) Good as Tony is though, its Pender and Curtis’
tongue-in-cheek backing vocals that steal the show, innocent enough to make it
to the record but sarcastic enough to show their hearts aren’t fully in this
song. Pretty darn good for a band at their first recording session, co-writer
Schuman recognising that this sped-up arrangement – so different to how the
song was planned and how The Drifters did it – was ‘infectious’, perfect pop
confectionary that doesn’t think too hard or for too long. All in all, it’s a
better song and performance all round than ‘Sugar and Spice’ and this song so
reeks of 1963’s joy and optimism with earthy rootsy backing I’m not surprised
it was a number one hit – though you
still end up wishing that The Searchers hadn’t done it and had made something
more, well, substantial as their first single and then they might have added
another hundred odd songs to this book instead of dying out when songs like
this become the most unfashionable thing you can imagine.

[23] ‘Alright’ is more like it and exactly the sort
of track that would have gone down well had the band played this album live. I
wish I knew more about this song, which was written by unknown composers Jerry
Ross and Lester Venadaore and which doesn’t seem to have been recorded by
another band. Were they, perhaps, friends of Tony Hatch desperate to get some
money out of his young charges (is it, just possibly, another Hatch pseudonym?
It seems odd that there’s so little known about these writers). This sounds, a
little like the last track, a piece written by people who have no idea how rock
and roll works but want to have a hit anyway so recycle bits from different
places: there’s a chorus chant of ‘Hey Hey Hey Hey’ that’s a direct steal from
Little Richard, lots of cries of ‘alright alright alright!’ that had long been
a favourite of first blues and then rock and roll songs and lots of ‘yeah yeah
yeah yeahs’ nicked from The Beatles. For all that, though, somehow The
Searchers turn this clichéd empty song into a track that sounds as if it means
everything. Tony is totally believable as the smitten narrator desperately
trying to get the girl of his dreams to notice him, a tight backing track has
Chris flying all round his kit and the two guitarists are bang on the money, a
mixture of careful rehearsal and inspired improvisation, not to mention Mike’s
delightful hollered harmony part. The song’s stop-start structure would have
confused lesser bands but Chris is firmly in charge and everyone just follows
without question, the song ending a triumphant peal of cymbals that’s truly
exciting. Even more than ‘Sweet’s this is an infectious song that you can’t
take your ears off for a second, perfect both for the clubs where the Searchers
would have been trying to draw in the crowds to buy a drink and for the all
important second track on the first Searchers album that proves just what this
band can do away from the singles chart. Given how 60s these performance tricks
are and how 50s the song is (cool, calm and detached), the effect must have been
even more exciting to hear at the time, the real sound of something new
arriving. In all, one of the best of The Searchers’ early days and their best
rocker on this record.

[24a] ‘Love Potion Number 9’ is the ‘other’ song from this album best known to collectors
today, although contrary to most thoughts it was only ever a hit in America,
not in Britain (where it became a kind of ‘bonus’ single in the wake of ‘Sweets
For My Sweet’ in the same way that ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Eight Days A Week’ were for
The Beatles). It’s one of those fun novelty songs Leiber and Stoller used to do
as a break from writing their ‘serious’ songs about a teenager down on his luck
buying a bottle of love potion from a mysterious gypsy seller and using it on
the girl he’s fallen in love with. He tells us he’s been ‘a flop since 1956’ –
the first of many Searchers narrators down on their luck in the love stakes –
although oddly the band don’t update this timing the way other bands do even
though they’d have been all of fifteen for the most part (though Tony was
eighteen that year). Alas a policeman walks by before he has a chance to meet
up with his girl and hilarity ensues (though The Searchers follow The Coasters
in dropping the original ending: ‘I had so much fun I’m going back again, I
wonder what will happen with love potion ten?!?’) Had this been a later song
than its 1950s vintage and by a less gentlemanly writing act I’d put this down
as a ‘drug song’ (especially the ‘drug bust’ ending), but chances are it’s just
a cute novelty number. Not quite as funny or as subtle as Leiber and Stoller’s
similar song ‘Fortune Teller’ (as recorded by AAA bands The Hollies and The
Who), this song still has a sweet daftness about it that suits The Searchers’
earnest deadpan delivery. Lyrically it’s a good fit for The Searchers, a band
who always sounded as if they were going to make a joke with you before
stealing your lunch money (unlike the sheer ugliness or the pure brutality of
The Rolling Stones and Who). Musically though it seems odd: it’s a music hall
patter song a million miles away from The Searchers’ musical twist on sheer
blunt force and after you know how the band should sound in time to come leaves
you waiting for the pay-off: the cynical middle eight or the bonkers guitar
solo or the sudden power charge near the end. Instead this song just sits
there, wise-cracking, from first note to last. In many ways The Searchers
struggle in years to come because they sold the public another dummy with this
song (released as a single in the USA against their knowledge); once again
everyone assumed this was the ‘real’ sounds like Searchers and fans will get
more and more disappointed with every single as the band revert to type (even
if I, for one, think the real underlying Searchers sound is better). However
even given this song’s high cute factor I’m surprised that this song took off
quite the way it did as The Searchers did similar song much better: while
Jackson and Pender have terrific voices separately, heard together here
(without Curtis’ harmonies for some reason) it just sounds a mess, Curtis’
drumming slows down painfully by the middle and the guitar solo in the middle
must be the tiredest sounding in Merseybeat (outside The Beatles’ cover of
‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’ perhaps), a simple ten note phrase repeated
twice over. Sadly I don’t know in which order these songs were recorded (Pye
weren’t as obsessive with their cataloguing system as EMI) but I’m willing to
bet its near the end somewhere, with The Searchers just too tired to be light
on their feet the way this comical song demands. Yet again it sadly had The
Searchers penned as being a novelty band akin to Freddie and the Dreamers
rather than the rockers they were at heart, the right song for the wrong band.
Mind you, has anybody really nailed this song? The Clovers original and The
Coasters’ better known covers don’t quite get this song’s ironic sigh quite
right either. I’m amazed this song was quite as big as it was, The Searchers’
biggest American hit at #3, but there you go.

[25a] ‘Farmer John’ is
a mess too, but in a much more exciting almost punkish way, with instruments
colliding up against each other in the mix and a frantic, hurried garbled vocal
from Jackson and Pender, both of whom are only just about hanging onto this
track by their fingernails as it rattles along just outside their control. The
‘wo-ah-yeah, ah-hah-hah’s in the chorus quickly become tiring and the garbled
chorus is repeated too many times for comfort (even if John’s first
professional vocal, a stern cameo saying ‘now look a here!’ as the dad, steals
the show). All that said there’s an urgent pace to this recording that’s
genuinely thrilling and again I’d have loved to have heard this song recorded
live as there’s nothing wrong with the song or arrangement, just the
performance where the band aren’t quite connecting to each other but are still
too inexperienced to ask for a re-take. Like much of the LP, poor ‘Farmer John’
is taken at about twice the speed as normal compared, to say, Don and Dewey’s
little heard original from 1959 (though it was he Premiers who turned it into a
hit) although this franticness does quite suit this song about the teenaged
narrator who is deep in lust. After all, this isn’t just any girl but one with
‘champagne eyes’ on a delightfully over-written lyric that conjures up the mad
rush of the melody, the narrator falling headlong into a song that has him so
stirred up by love that he isn’t thinking straight. Just look at the lyric
after all: how well does he know this girl? The lyric doesn’t even provide her
name to us, even though it has every description of her under the sun. Have
they even met and is this a stalking song? (There is a line about how she
‘tells me lies’, but for all we know the ‘lie’ is that she doesn’t want to go
out with the narrator). It certainly seems premature for him to go to her own
father to ask to take her out (and what does the narrator want to achieve by
this anyway – his agreement? Her hand in marriage? Or, more the way it’s
written here, for him to get her on side to agree to go out with him?) This is
a teen so in love he’s not thinking straight at all, with Pender’s guitar
buzzing around his head like a bee while Jackson’s bass and Curtis’ drums have
the narrator trapped, sending him down a tight Chuck Berry style groove that
seems to have him entranced and is never letting him go. Alas writers Terry and
Harris seem to have given up on their song after a first flush of inspiration
and there’s none of the clever twist-in-the-tail ending that made other comedy
songs of the day like ‘Fortune Teller’ and indeed ‘Love Potion No 9’ so
memorable (when done right). As a result, we never find out what happens to
this couple or what the farmer thinks about this sudden interest in his
daughter ‘with the champagne eyes’. Incidentally you can hear the polar
opposite of this performance’s mad rush on fellow AAA band Neil Young and Crazy
Horse’s ‘Ragged Glory’ from 1990 where everything is slowed to a crawl – a mess
as The Searchers’ version is, at least their energy suits the song rather

As for [26] ‘Stand By Me’, it’s surprising that this
Ben E King song – a big hit in America but not Britain in the late 1950s –
became such a key song to Liverpool bands. A regular in The Beatles’ set list,
John Lennon had a big hit with this song in 1974 as part of his ‘Rock and Roll’
covers album and the fab four may well have done their own version on one of
their first records had The Searchers not beaten them to it here (there was an
unspoken rule that one band never copied another’s material, although ‘Twist
and Shout’ ‘Money’ and [36] ‘Some Other Guy’ all ended up being special cases).
Chris Curtis slows the tempo down slightly for his cover version and, rich as
his voice is in comparison to Tony Jackson’s, he simply can’t match the power
of the original and seems to realise this, dropping his slot as the ‘romantic
one’ for wilder rock and roll on future albums. He also seems to understandably
having problems playing the drums while singing at the same time – a necessity
of these rushed sessions where overdubbing was a luxury too far (the recording
slows down painfully in the middle, so much so that you can hear Pinder
struggling to work out where to place the opening notes of his guitar solo).
Curtis does seem to have identified with this lyric though; perhaps as a
mistake or maybe from a gut feeling that he was already suffering from the
manic depression that was left undiagnosed for so long, he changes the words
here, urging ‘whenever I’m in trouble…’ rather than the more usual ‘when you’re
in trouble…’, turning this song into a heartfelt plea not to be abandoned. This
makes, given the way Chris’ and indeed Tony’s life turns out, this song seem
something of a retrospective cry for help but the odd thing is that Chris isn’t
crying but being reverential, copying the sombre tone of the original to the
letter (the only time on the album The Searchers do this). This version simply
sounds hollow now after Lennon’s throat-ripping exercise on this song, which
needs to be heartfelt and desperate – how typically that on this most
passionate band’s most passionate album they choose here to become detached and
distant from us! The Searchers’ version isn’t bad, especially for the time
period, it’s just lacking something - mostly another take when the band might
have been fine.

The first side of the album ends with The Searchers’
version of Barrett’s Strong’s lone hit [27] ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’. While the
original is a kind of leisurely laidback discussion of how money can solve all the
world’s problems, The Beatles’ November 1963 version is a howl of
poverty-ridden despair. This earlier version, most likely from March 1963, is
the stepping stone between the two, an urgent call to arms about need and greed
that can’t match The Beatles’ much discussed version but is still pretty darn
impressive. Whilst the fab four’s version goes in peaks and troughs, The
Searchers stick to a steady beat for most of the way, building up a head of
steam rather than playing cat and mouse with the listener. Tony again tries
well with the vocal, but declarations of love and hurt pride are more his thing
than greed and this deep primal song doesn’t suit him very well – by contrast
its McNally’s howling bass-heavy guitar, circling the song like a hawk, that displays
the most passion in this performance. They should have given this song to
Curtis to sing, as his take on the similarly driving angst-rock of [10] ‘Ain’t
That (Just Like Me)’ on the next album knocks spots off this recording.
Actually the song doesn’t suit any of the band that well; The Searchers were
searching for many things during their career but unusually for a 1960s band I
never felt riches were it (or why would the band self-destruct at all the wrong
moments and follow their head over their heart?) It’s an unusual 1960s indeed
that calls for greed over love (that may be why the 1979 cover by The Flying
Lizards did so well: this is a much more 1980s song although funnily enough,
given The Searchers’ high standing with new wave acts, they were as likely to
learn the song from The Searchers as The Beatles). Lacking the threat and
acting of the fab four version, this is another case of right song, wrong band,
definitely the wrong take.

[28] ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ is a real curio. Surprisingly
this is the only Merseybeat take on a Motown song that was another one every
Northern British band played in their setlists in the early 1960s and is
similar in many ways to ‘Boys’, the ‘other’ Phil Spector-written/produced song
everyone did. Unlike ‘Boys’, at least the band updated the lyrics from girl
band to boy band so that the Searchers are singing her about ‘Jill’ (not ‘Bill’
as per the The Crystals’ version) and also add a cute guitar-drum battle after
every chorus that’s the highlight of the song, Pender and Curtis really pushing
each other to the limits. Even with the similar re-stylings on ‘Please Please
Me’ it still would have sounded deeply odd to the rock and roll knowledgeable
public to hear four white boys sing a black girls’ song and even though its
decidedly less gender-heavy than ‘Boys’ the band can’t quite throw off the
feeling that lyrically this song is not for them. Musically they cope better
with a sense of drama that comes to a head at the end of each line, the track
suddenly switching to double time (and ending on a cute tah-dah ending). In
fact Curtis’ eccentric drumming steals the show, especially the one
-two-three-four-whackity-whack-whack ending which suits this cute and (even by
1963 standards) naive song about falling in love, perhaps chosen for the record
because lyrically its the closest thing in The Searchers’ catalogue to the daft
cuteness of ‘Sweets For My Sweet’. Of course the title ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ means
nothing and shouldn’t really fit but, like many of Spector’s 1960s songs, it
somehow does. Cute but not up to the best of this album, it’s interesting to
hear that The Searchers’ fascination with Spector (which exploded into life on
fifth album ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’) started so early.

[29] ‘Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya’ is much more like it, a
much more ‘Searchers’ kind of song on which they sound much more comfortable,
despite this being yet another song originally written for a girl band (The
Ribbons, an act only known nowadays for this song). Jackson’s lead is bright
and full, Pender’s mirrored second vocal gives the vocals depth and Curtis’
half-mocking ‘woo-ooh’s at the back give the song a really original flavour.
Like many of the best Searchers’ best arrangements there’s a real contrast
between the semi-serious and single-note verses and the funny, melodious
choruses that make the song sound like a real journey every time we travel from
one to the other. Basically it’s a narrator in a huff, someone whose been kept
waiting by the girl he loves and who keeps running around with someone else.
Rather than hate her, though, the song keeps switching from the minor key to
the major key, his adoration showing through and giving him away long before he
hits the ‘just crazy about you’ line (his line ‘you won’t even know if I care
at all’ is clearly a bluff). Again, it would have been fun to hear this song
played live or at a later date when the band are more used to the studio as tis
version is still terribly scrappy and more than a little fast, but all in all
this is one of the band’s better performances of the period and with a ‘style’
uniquely Searchers, not just something The Beatles or Gerry and the Pacemakers
might have done, perhaps because it treads that thin line between heartfelt and
hilarious so well. This is, you could say, the missing link between the
Searchers as heard in the single charts and the ‘real’ them as heard on album.

My favourite song on the album, though, is [30] ‘Since You Broke
My Heart’
. The Everly Brothers’ folky original was always ripe for
re-picking in a rock format with its great big open sobbing chords and angry
accusatory lyrics and its perfect for a band who get by through the sheer
weight of their emotional commitment. This is the one song here where The
Searchers improve quite a deal on the original (and I say that as an Everly’s
fan), perhaps because this song could have been written for them (The Searchers
were always more comfortable in songs where things go wrong than when they are
winning!) Pender and Jackson fit together better than usual on the close harmonies,
each of them heading in separate directions (Tony’s sneer and Mike’s tears) but
meeting in the middle more often than normal. Curtis gets plenty of chances for
his eccentric drumming that rattles around the song like a man trapped trying
to find his way out. McNally’s guitar urges the song on, restlessly chugging
away, looking for a chink in the armour, so caught up in his own emotion that
he’s stuck in place. Above it all soars Pender’s lead guitar, the sound of
howling as it picks up on a phrase that’s a lot more heavy-handed on the
original but sounds a perfect part of the arrangement here. As for the song
itself it is impressively deep for 1963 (or indeed 1959 when the Everlys did it
as the flipside to hit single ‘Let It Be Me’): it feels as if the narrator is
crying genuine tears on a song that’s dark and sombre. Everyone keeps giving
him advice, telling him that his romance was just a silly crush, the way every
other teen romance is in pop songs. They even tell him to stop crying and man
up. But the narrator ‘kinda feel I never will’ as all he sees is gloom and
despondency, the loss of the love of his life going so much deeper than usual
pop fare. The song then seems to be heading for the usual trite
things-will-be-alright scenario with a picture of the girl back in his arms but
even then something strange happens, with the narrator sighing ‘but I have the
feeling I never will’, quite a brave thing to say to a teenage audience back
then! The Searchers always excel when there’s real emotion in a song and this
is one of the best of their earliest achievements, gritty yet pretty, and
totally believable. Interestingly there are lots of lyrical references to ‘the
blues’, often listed as an influence for both The Everlys and The Searchers,
but both versions of the song are pure rock and roll (perhaps with a touch of
folk). This song should have been a big hit, both times over.

After a relative improvement on side two, [31] ‘Tricky Dicky’is back to the tired arrangements and performances of the first half of the
record, being a rather undistinguished Leiber/Stoller rocker about a teenager
having his girlfriend stolen from under his nose. The Searchers didn’t have to
look too far for this song: it’s the B-side to Ritchie Barrett’s [36] ‘Some
Other Guy’, a favourite amongst Liverpudlian bands then and now. However
there’s a reason this song never took off in quite the same way: it’s a mess as
a story, the narrator switching from first person to third as we first see him
breaking out of prison enviously as we work on a chain gang and then are him
being betrayed by a girl he stops to chat up on the way. This odd lyric, which
is never quite sure if Tricky Dicky is a true villain or lovable rogue,
includes an early reference to being ‘stoned’; while The Searchers were almost
as clean-cut in this regard as their reputation, it is true that Chris for one
was already quite a pill addict and would surely have been familiar with the
hidden meaning behind the word (when Dicky is drugged) even if it wasn’t really
part of the world he lived in just yet. The Searchers try to liven up the
original with a rocky arrangement, something that works fine in the case of the
shrill harmonies and McNally’s almost grungy guitar, but Curtis’ characteristic
drum rolls just sound like they’re intruding into the wrong song. The whole
thing sounds awfully short too, even for the period, although at (2:08) it’s
actually only the fourth shortest song on the LP! There’s really not much more
to say about this recording, which tries to go for effect rather than subtlety
and, like much of this record, would have been better served by the later, more
experienced Searchers as there are some good touches on the arrangement but
they’re kind of lost in the speed and nerves of this delivery.

[32] ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ is, in retrospect, this
album’s most important moment and the one track that none of their peers would have ever
considered putting onto an LP in 1963. Most of the Merseybeat era bands, The
Beatles included, won’t be getting into folk until 1964 and won’t really touch
true melancholy until 1964 at the earliest and yet it’s the put-down,
laughed-at, soon-to-be-mocked-for-staying-still Searchers who got there first.
Admittedly their performance of this Pete Seeger classic doesn’t do him or them
any real favours, but just for a pop and rock band not known for their subtlety
to be considering doing a song like this from the purist folk world is huge.
The Searchers don’t even change this arrangement that much: the acoustic guitar
is switched for electric and there’s a bit of drumming but it’s the harmonies
(between Mike and Chris) that drive the song on, while there’s no attempt to
dumb the lyric down which was always one of Seeger’s best. Indeed, this could
be considered the earliest AAA recording about war, with haunting images of
young soldiers died too soon, their graves turned to new life when flowers grow
out of them (the unspoken and worrying thought being that dead and decomposing
bodies are great for compost though Seeger probably had the poppy fields of the
first world war on his mind when he wrote this). The clever part of the song is
that it never specifies which war, the pained chorus sighing ‘when will they
ever learn?’ as if the narrator is immortal and apart from the human race,
looking over as each generation seems doomed to repeat the same mistakes. This
is very much a hippie song which – combined with the band’s understanding of
the early genre on songs like [99] ‘He’s Got No Love’ – makes it even more of a
crime that Pye never let the band make a psychedelic record (I reckon it would
have been their best). Just having this song on an album in 1963 meant for
teenagers is a brave move, but alas the performance isn’t as special as the
decision to sing it. The Searchers will go on to do many more folk tunes and
generally with more care and attention than this rather slapdash performance,
singing this piece oddly with less sincerity than ‘Sweets For My Sweet’.

The album then ends with its safest way of ensuring
a sure-fire hit. [33] ‘Twist and Shout’ was the most popular song of 1963 bar none
thanks to The Beatles’ release in June that year and the public took this song
to their hearts more so than even ‘She Loves You’ or ‘Please Please Me’ (it
never was the single but did become the title track of a Beatles EP that was in
the charts for well over a year). What few people outside Liverpool knew was
that The Beatles’ arrangement of this Isley Brothers song was only one of
dozens of different versions being played up and down Merseyside. The
Searchers’ attempt to jump on the Beatles bandwagon is probably less
copycatness, as some people claim, as petulant jealousy that they didn’t get to
release their own raucous version of the song first, coupled with management
pleas for them to sound like their rivals in an epic misunderstanding of the
rivalry between all the bands back then. The Searchers don’t know this song
that well – chances are they backed off singing it the minute The Beatles
started becoming famous for doing it and were never as protective as they were
over ‘Money’ or [36] ‘Some Other Guy’ (which both bands continued to do).
However this is the band’s second ever time in a recording studio, their
producer has no interest in getting anything out of them other than sales and
no one understands the unspoken rule that one band will never do another band’s
song;. So The Searchers dust this song down and sound deeply uncomfortable
about the whole exercise. For a start they’re a band, much more so than The
Beatles, built on emotion and there isn’t really any in this song. They’re also
a band who, even compared to their rivals, are British through and through;
raucous and wild as their Hamburg tapes are its notable how little shouting,
whooping or yelling they do and they’re certainly not going to do that in front
of a producer and engineer rolling their eyes at them for being juvenile.
Instead what we get is a very dry performance with Tony on lead while Mike and
Chris sing behind, one that’s driven by a sanitised version of The Isley
brothers’ riff. The ‘ahhhs’, which The Beatles turned into a call-and-response
scream of joy and energy, sound particularly tired, with Pender for one
sounding like he’s opening his mouth up wide for the dentist’s drill. There’s
no passion in this performance, no excitement, no rock and roll or indeed twist
and shout; it’s not that The Searchers’ performance is bad (perhaps because
they’re still learning it they turn in the tidiest performance on the album
behind the hit single), just that they aren’t living this song. And if you
don’t live and breathe this song then it’s a dumb song about dancing, nothing
more. The one part of this song that does work is the finale: rather than climb
to a huge climax The Searchers go a different way to their rivals and stick on
a gruff guitar part that brings the song to an assertive halting stop (which is
actually much better for dancing to).

As ever, then, this album ends with The Searchers
clearly in The Beatles’ shadow on territory the fab four had marked as their
own. For most people, then and now, The Searchers never quite escaped that
shadow – and yet I’d like to think that they easily could have done had the
people around them given them the confidence to be themselves a bit quicker.
Few bands have the brilliance of three first-class vocalists the way The
Searchers do and yet they don’t often use that harmonic blend on these songs,
singing in ones or twos. Few bands have the sheer oompah power of The
Searchers, but they’re not often allowed to let it roll, always being made to
tidy it up or sing songs that then settle down for a cuter chorus or key change
instead of just letting go. The Searchers have two of the finest guitarists in
the business yet the longest guitar solo here last just six seconds (‘Alright’).
The Searchers can do ballads, particularly folk ballads, better than almost
anyone else with a subtly unusual for the era, but they simply don’t have the
time in five nervous hours to re-create in the recording studio what they’ve
carefully honed for years back in the clubs. The Searchers needed nothing more
than a bit of extra help, but in their song choices and especially single
choices the people around them were nothing more than a hindrance. Rushed as
this record is, even in comparison to ‘Please Please Me’, there’s an undeniable
something about this band which means that they could and should have been much
bigger than they were. I guess this whole article has just been my way of
explaining to the guy who posted that question on Yahoo Answers that The
Searchers never got the chance to play stadiums, not because of any deficit on
their part but because of how the cards fell and how badly and quickly
Merseybeat fell from favour circa 1965 (when, sadly, The Searchers’ contract
was running out). Alas, my answer got deleted before anyone else had a chance
to read it (my answer was long – of course it was! – a deletion that seems to
be typical of both my luck and theirs). However, those of us who have a fond
regard for Merseybeat and can see past the ‘holes’ and ‘whatmighthavebeens’
will know how great The Searchers could have been and still can be, if only we
can get their records accepted by a wider audience. My answer to critics who
see The Searchers as a poor second to The Beatles is to play them ‘He’s Got No
Love’, a single from 1965 and dabbling with psychedelia a full two years before
the summer of love and way ahead of the pack. Failing that (it is a hard record
to find, after all), heck any of their records will do because they all have
their moments when The Searchers sound like the best little band in the world
(although sadly they all have their misfires too). Meet The Searchers? They’re
not quite here yet but blimey are they worth meeting when they can be
themselves and don’t have the need to keep pretending. There’s still way too
many even serious collectors of 1960s music who pass this band by even now and
oh so few times they really got the chance to shine that only the few fans like
us really know who The Searchers were. Change that now – put that singles
compilation and go buy a Searchers album right now!


'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

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