Monday, 5 November 2012

The Searchers "Sounds Like Searchers" (1965)

“Try the monkey, it's a somethin' new, but I don't care what you do, Long as you dance and move your feet, get in a trance, feelin' the beat, children it’s rock and roll music, can’t your hear that music? Well alright, well alright, well alright now!” “I’d love to hear somebody say that she’d do things for me, with no strings tied and nothing to gain, she’d get love – true love from me” “I’m gonna have to put you down, you’ve been treating me like a clown, you hurt me once before, you’ll never hurt me anymore, shoo-ee, you hurt me like a bee, a bumble bee an evil bumble bee” “C’mon baby let the good times roll, c’mon baby let me thrill your soul, c’mon baby let the good times roll, yeah, all night long” “The teardrops that you stepped on as you danced across the floor, were crushed like my poor heart was when you walked out of the door, a tear fell when you told me that the flame in your heart died, darlin' have I lost you like these teardrops from my eyes? A fool am I, a fool am I in love” “You wanna make her happy, you wanna keep her smiling, then you’ve got to say you love her every day” “Mean your love and say so, when she’s sad and feels low, kiss her till her tears go” “You can twist me round your little finger, I love you and I know it’s a sign, you don’t have to try, you can just blink your eye, and I know I’m gonna lose my mind!” “Remember what we promised your mother, we promised that we’d be in by two, but one kiss can lead to another, and you know they always do, so are you going to go go now now? Are you going home now now? ‘Cause I don’t want your folks mad at you” “Goodnight baby, baby baby goodnight, kiss me again and hold me tight, goodnight baby baby baby sleep tight” “you’ll be standing there at your window, watching me till I’m out of sight, then you’ll lay your head on your pillow and dream of all the things we did tonight, are you going to go now now? Going home now now? I’ll think of you when I turn off the light!”

The Searchers “Sounds Like Searchers” (1964)

Everybody Come and Clap Your Hands/If I Could Find Someone/Magic Potion/I Don’t Want To Go On Without You/Bumble Bee/Something You Got Baby//Let The Good Times Roll/A Tear Fell/Till You Say You’ll Be Mine/You Wanna Make Her Happy/Everything You Do/Goodnight Baby

There are many bands on our list that I look at it and think ‘where did they go?’ Bands like the Stones and The Who still carry on in some form or another every few years when money runs dry, others like The Beatles and The Pink Floyd ended in such a blast of publicity that their careers are well known and still more, like Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Beach Boys occasionally get back together to play but don’t make a big thing of it anymore. Few fans realise that The Searchers continue right up to the present day, in a band with two original members of the band still playing which is a pretty rare occurrence in itself these days – and few ever realised it as early as 1966 when the band’s fall from grace came swiftly and dramatically. Sadly few people cared - after owning the charts in 1963 and scoring high with some excellent singles in 1964 The Searchers were forgotten by all but a faithful few in 1965 and an anachronism by 1966. According to most music books The Searchers disappeared because they couldn’t hack it with the big boys, that their music was restricted to basic Merseybeat and that they couldn’t keep pace with the originality of their peers. With the passing of nearly 50 years, and with knowledge of what happened to other bigger, brighter stars over the same period, that idea is clearly absurd. The Searchers died out because, unluckily for them, their record contract with Pye came up for renewal at a time when they were at their least popular (inspiring no new takers until as late as 1979; how much would The Kinks and The Who have struggled if they’d had to re-sign labels circa 1967/68 when they weren’t selling until ‘Lola’ and ‘Tommy’, respectively, rescued them from oblivion?) and that Pye themselves had all but destroyed the band’s reputation by delaying their records for weeks, often months at a time when the pop world was changing on a daily basis. The Searchers got left behind because their record company mis-read just how quickly their fans wanted new and fresh ideas. Seen now, coming up to 50 years on, their singles are as eclectic, forward-looking and experimental as any of their peers. Admittedly fourth album ‘Sounds Like The Searchers’ can’t quite match that accolade on a lot of the tracks and isn’t exactly the holy grail of lost albums, but at its worst it’s as good as anything else on offer in late 64/early 65 – and at its best it’s as inventive and ear-catching as any album made in the first half of the 60s, with The Searchers’ ever ready wit and energy.

Remember our review for final Searchers album ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’? (Don’t worry if you don’t, it was only the fourth review of our 275-odd we ever wrote and it was over four years ago now, so you’ve got a good memory if you’ve been here since the beginning and haven’t read it since then). In that review we said that, far from being washed up has beens, The Searchers may have been about the most pioneering band of 1965 and 1966, thanks to a sparkling array of borderline-psychedelia singles and a gem of an album that was ahead of the pack. Had ‘Worth’ come out in Easter 1965 when it was finished it would have been a nose ahead of The Beatles ‘Help!’ out that July and offered a similarly groundbreaking mix of folk-rock originals, updated old cover songs and a sense of something new and daring (and I say that as a fan who rates ‘Help!’ as the Beatles’ biggest single leap into the future in one go, not ‘Rubber Soul’ as most fans think). It wasn’t The Searchers’ fault that Pye decided they’d get more sales of the album if they released it at Christmas and delayed the album till November (when, as a close contemporary of ‘Rubber Soul’ ‘Worth’ really did sound hopelessly backwards looking and boring). Really, this review of the band’s fourth and penultimate album will re-iterate the same point again but on a slightly lesser scale, as the bulk of this album was recorded in the second half of 1964 and sounds like it too – ‘Sounds’ has that slightly country and Western feel of ‘Beatles For Sale’, together with a couple of rough and ready guitar hooks more in keeping with the ‘harsher’ sounds of The Kinks (new that year) and the Who. So why on earth was it released in March 1965, at a time when the few people who hadn’t switched their allegiance to folk were already heading into psychedelia? Because Pye were waiting for the band to score big with another hit single, apparently, waiting until the release of ‘Goodbye My Love’ (a number four hit) till releasing this LP – a canny move on paper, but a short term strategy that all but killed the band in the long term, with The Searchers always seeming to be one place behind the main pack. No wonder so many fans and critics gave this album short shrift when it came out several months too late to make an impact.

Treat ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ as a relic of 1964 rather than 65 however and there’s much to enjoy. The Searchers’ choice of cover songs is more unusual than their characteristically obvious choices, featuring the B-sides of obscure lesser known hits rather than the more famous songs and with a much more contemporary sound than before (the band are copying songs released between 1961 and 64 rather than the 1950s for the first time). The band’s originals, too, are every bit as good as the songs they ‘borrow’ and had the band not been content to leave so many of their songwriting gems on the b-sides of classy singles they’d have been hailed as pioneers in the songwriting stakes not just copycats (a similar thing happened with The Hollies, whose b-sides across 1965 and 66 outshine their ‘borrowed’ A sides by and large). You only need to hear the classy run of influential and ground-breaking singles from this period (songs like ‘When You Walk In The Room’ ‘What Have They Done To The Rain?’ and ‘Goodbye My Love’, all included on the Castle CD re-issue of this album as bonus tracks) to hear how good and contemporary the Searchers could be – and how out of time this album sounded. Just take a look at their gorgeous late classic ‘He’s Got No Love’, released in Summer 1965 and way ahead of the pack (as far as I’m concerned, it’s the first song that sounds ever so slightly psychedelic with its inventive use of echo and ‘heavy’ spaced-out feel, released a full two years before the ‘Summer of Love’ and beating even its more famous twin brother ‘Ticket To Ride’ by a matter of weeks). The gap between that single and this album seems like one heck of a lot more than three months, so it’s no wonders that fans were disappointed and that critics thought the band had lost the plot. ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ is a good album, but by March 1965 it was hopelessly out of time. Looked at in 2012, some 47 years later, it seems like the logical stepping stone between Searchers albums 3 and 5, a mixture of ballads and beat music with some forward-looking nuances thrown in – back in March 1965 it seemed like old hat.

The other key point about ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ is that the band have just parted company (some sources say ‘sacked’) Tony Jackson, the lead singer on the vast majority of their previous singles. Ostensibly this was because he got on the other’s nerves and got big headed with fame (at least that’s what interviews at the time said – the band have been quite about it since, which suggests to me they might have been covering a more serious fall-pout somewhere), but whether by co-incidence or done deliberately the loss of Jackson solved one of the band’s problems. Tony’s effortlessly bright-and-happy perfectly created falsetto pop vocals are a shoe-in for number one hit pop songs but not built for expressing deeper emotion or empathy. His vocals are simply so much of their time and place that, without meaning to, he was holding the band back come the ‘darker’ years of 1964 and 65 (ask an average articulate music fan with a good memory to come up with the abiding image of 1963 and you’d get Gerry Marsden’s cheesy grin, Tony Jackson’s vocal on ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ and ‘Sugar and Spice’ and lots of she loves you, yeah yeah yeahs). Most bands would have found losing their lead singer a bitter blow, yet The Searchers fared better than most simply because Jackson’s voice was so rooted in the past – the band had already found their ‘future’ sound via Mike Pender’s vocal on a cover of ‘Needles and Pins-ah’ in January 1964.

The problem, really, is not the loss of Jackson but how slow the Searchers were to capitalise on this – Jackson half-heartedly puts in an appearance on third LP ‘It’s The Searchers’ and instead of doing 12 different variations on a new formula that works (‘Needles and Pins’ was a good place to start) the band throw in a few experiments and half a dozen throwbacks to 1962 that confuses their audience even more (Jackson is no longer the lead vocalist, but he’s still a major part of the band’s sound harmony-wise; Ironically at least two of Tony’s solo singles released after the split from The Searchers are as psychedelic and pioneering as anything his old band ever did, though it would have been harder for him to re-invent himself as part of his old band). The Searchers need a new sound fast and to some extent they find one remarkably quickly and effortlessly, hiring Frank Allen (bassist with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers) who has a much deeper, darker voice than Jackson and a more soul/r and b background which is exactly what they need (soul is to 1964 what breathy female singer-songwriters are to the 2000s and boybands were to the late 90s). Allen couldn’t have sounded more different to Jackson and his vocals must be at least an octave deeper and yet the harmony sound of The Searchers sounds amazingly unchanged, with Curtis adding a higher harmony part to cover the deeper sound Searchers harmonies now possess. Just imagine how different The Beatles or The Hollies might have sounded if they’d lost their high-pitched vocalists (respectively Paul McCartney and Graham Nash) and had to change their band dynamics around as a result! It’s a testament to how quickly Allen became part of the band’s sounds that every Searchers collector ranks him as an integral part of the band, despite the fact he plays on only two albums and sings barely three leads during his time with the band! The only trouble is, the other Searchers are confused as to whether to push this new sound of his upfront or keep it lurking in the wings, like a secret weapon they hope never to have to use, so depressingly there’s less harmony on ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ than any of their other LPs (although what there is is superb). Unforgivably, too, there’s less of the band’s distinctive guitar-work, a surefire case of throwing out the baby with the bath-water as both guitarists are still present in the group and arguably should have become even more central to the band’s sound (weirdly that’s exactly what the band do with their singles, just not their album tracks – did the guitar parts take too much time to work out?)

As a result, ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ is an apt name for an LP where the Searchers are desperately trying to work out what the ‘Searchers’ sound is like without Jackson in the band and in many ways they really are trying to work out what the Searchers sound like. Some of this album plays it too safe and seems like we’ve time-warped back to the Cavern or the Searchers equivalent The Iron Door Club, with rock and roll covers even more basic than those heard on their first three albums – other parts of this album are too daring and an experiment too far, slow ballads with lots of strings (this is before ‘Yesterday’ made them fashionable again, remember) or harder, harsher sounds more akin to The Who and The Kinks than The Searchers that don’t quit them as well; only on two or three of the originals and one or two of the cover songs does it all come together, usually just as you’ve given up hope that the band will ever stop trying to impress and simply play. To show you how confused this album is, it starts off with Frank’s first lead vocal for the band, as if the band are trying to promote a whole new sound, but for some odd reason it’s almost Frank’s last lead vocal for the band too. He doesn’t sing lead again for the whole album and only pops up on harmonies a couple of times – it’s as if the band have forgotten he’s there. Fair enough if the band are simply unsure whether to shock their audience with such a radically new sound – but in that case why put Frank’s one and only lead vocal first on the album?

This would all be forgivable if the best bits of the album didn’t show such promise. Chris Curtis has been slowly gaining confidence as a writer across 1964, writing some terrific songs for the band which were released as B-sides on various singles (the charming ‘No One Else Could Love Me’, the gorgeous ‘Till I Met You’ and the hook-laden pop classic ‘I Pretend I’m With You’, which would have made a popular single in it’s own right). Surprisingly none of Curtis’ songs had ever appeared on a full album before – awfully late in the game compared to other groups, as even Gerry Marsden was writing his own stuff by then, even without Pye messing the schedules around – but the three songs here are excellent, among the highlights of the album. They’re much more suited to the Searchers’ ‘new’ style than many of their cover songs and you have to wonder whether Curtis had been stockpiling them until Jackson had been pushed out of the group (even John McNally gets his first lead vocal on a studio track with one of them, after years of singing ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ on the band’s tours, a song that sadly never made it to record until the excellent ‘Swedish Radio Sessions’ in 2002). The cover of ‘Bumble Bee’ by Lavern Baker, the most obscure cover on the record, is also superb and couldn’t have been covered as well by any other band, with the characteristic Searchers shuffle turned threatening and caustic, among the best tracks they ever recorded. Even the two (two?!) sweet and fluffy Jeff Barry songs are covered here better than anyone else I’ve ever heard, his main employers The Monkees included.

That said, though, all too often parts of this record can be filed under ‘forgettable’. Even at a bare two minutes some of the cover songs here really pall (‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’ was a drag when the original Denny Laine Moody Blues covered it, but at least they didn’t add strings and slow down the tempo to a crawl). Other songs are just banal: ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ has a fun groove but it just doesn’t go anywhere (it merely repeats the same verse five times over, with a couple of words substituted in verse two) while ‘A Tear Fall’ must rank as one of the most clichéd AAA songs of all (despite the title there’s no great emotional resonance going on here, just an excuse for the lamest rhyming scheme since Shakespeare’s sonnets). And even though ‘Something You Got, Baby’ has a welcome swagger and character, having a chorus that goes ‘my my woah woah I love you so’ in March 1965 is almost like painting a sign on your back saying ‘kick me rock critics, I’m dated’. Even the delightful little ‘Magic Potion’ isn’t a patch on the Searchers’ more famous ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ and comes off sounding like a band desperately trying to work out what made that old one a success – and failing. In short, ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ isn’t up to the highs of ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’, an album where even the retro covers were played with an aplomb and intelligence and they were surrounded by giant leaps forward in sound and commitment – and it would have been a big disappointment if you came to this record expecting the same quality The Searchers displayed on their hits of the same period. Still, to quote one of the many anonymous American covers on this record, something you got still makes me spend all my pay (in the hope that all the best features of the record will coalesce together)...

I’m confident too that this album was just an unnecessary dip on the way to future glories that sadly never came thanks to Pye’s decision not to renew the band’s record contract. There are enough good signs here to make ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ a promising stepping stone to greater things – things that for the most part the band fulfil – and it’s still pretty impressive for a band in such turmoil. You have to remember that, unlike today, the band arranged, designed, rehearsed and to some extent wrote this album in between constant heavy touring – nowadays bands struggle to get albums as half as good as this one and they get a year off to make them. The Searchers were no more immune from tiredness and overwork than other struggling AAA bands in late 1964 (The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Kinks are all showing various signs of depression and boredom during this period) and if this album is their least inspired then it might be because they had such a short space of time since third album ‘It’s The Searchers’ to come up with it. Naturally enough, in an era when singles were king, the band are saving their time and their biggest efforts on their singles – at this stage albums are still just a cash-in that rich fans bought or had their relatives buy for them (it’s interesting to note that the Searchers frequently topped the EP charts in this era, the four track halfway house between singles and LPs, second only to The Beatles for overall sales in the 1960s). Understandable indeed – but still a bit of a drag for fans like me who have to sit through the lesser moments of the thing 47 years on!

A final note for you – like The Beatles and Hollies but unlike pretty much every other 1960s group The Searchers’ albums were all made available in mono and stereo (both mixes are compiled on Castle’s excellent Searchers re-issue series of the 1990s). ‘Sounds Like’ probably has the biggest differences between the two, thanks to some slightly longer fade-outs and a couple of different mixes with different emphasis on different instruments and vocals (especially ‘Clap Your Hands’ where you can hear the double-tracking on Frank’s voice much more in mono); unusually for me I prefer the mono mix to the stereo as its slightly ‘punchier’ and the stereo versions are rather drenched in echo in an attempt to sound ‘fashionable’.

Sadly we’re going to spend most of this review going ‘if only the Searchers had done this...’ and opening track ‘Everybody Clap Your Hands’ is a good example of what the new look 1964 Searchers should have done. As mentioned, new boy Frank Allen takes the lead and adds a darker, more soulful edge to the band’s sound even though the backing and especially the harmonies are close enough to the band’s traditional style to make this new sound an evolution rather than a disruption. The song is one of many retro-type rockers the band recorded in their career, similar in style to those on the band’s first two albums, which makes the fact that we’re hearing such a ‘new’ style on this song with 1950s style lyrics about various dance crazes quite interesting, a real mix of the old and the new. Actually this song isn’t that ‘old’ at all by Searchers standards, having been written by future Monkees writer/producer Jeff Barry somewhere around 1962 and possessing a catchy riff and a call-and-answer chorus that the Searchers were doing better than anyone in this period (sadly they never did record a studio version of perhaps the ultimate example, their remarkable take on ‘What’d I Say?’, played frequently on tour across 1964). Frank copes well with the pressure of recording his first vocal for the band and altogether this is one of the band’s better performances on the record, the twin guitars of Pender and McNally meshing together in a style more associated with the Stones, all suffused with that characteristic Searchers high-voltage energy. If only the song was up to that high standard we’d have a winner on our hands– yes the chorus is catchy and the melody and riffs strong, but the lyrics were very dated by 1964 and the second half of the song merely repeats the first, to rather boring effect. All that said, the band’s performance is still strong enough to make ‘Clap’ one of the album highlights, as exciting and entertaining as any cover song in their canon.

Talking of which, Chris Curtis’ ‘If I Could Find Someone’ is probably my favourite track on the album. Like the best Searchers singles of 1964 the mood is downbeat and the lovely melody is framed by some fascinating echo-drenched Searchers twin guitars, recorded so well and with such clarity that they sound the harbingers of doom. The lyrics are actually pretty upbeat, however – the narrator is dreaming of all the things he’d say to and do for his soul-mate if only he could track her down. This song also features some of the best Searchers harmonies on record, with Mike Pender’s strict double-tracked vocal joined one by one by Frank’s deeper sound and Chris’ own voice, now promoted to the falsetto part in Tony Jackson’s absence. Curtis also gets his own sweet middle eight to sing (‘And I’d love to hear somebody say that she’d do things for me...’), which cuts across the song and takes in a different but related theme like all classic middle eights should do (in this case what she would mean to him rather than all he can do for her). The only real down-point is that, like too much of this record, the band get lazy and undo a lot of their good work by simply repeating the first half of the song again a second time round, losing the impact of the twists and turns of the song (to be fair, this is a common problem with many new songwriters who haven’t yet learnt the tricks to get you through to the end of a song when inspiration lags). There’s nothing else to fault, however; this lovely vintage pop song stands out as one of the band’s finest, easily as good as both the covers on this album and what their rivals like The Beatles were writing in this period, demonstrating what a strong, developing songwriter Curtis was at this time.

Curtis also sings a rare lead vocal on ‘Magic Potion’, a Bacharach and David song that’s so close in style to Leiber and Stoller’s song ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ that its clearly meant to be a sequel of sorts. To put this in context, ‘Number Nine’ had been recorded by The Searchers as early as their first album ‘Meet The Searchers’ (see news and views 133 for our take on this song) but for some reason Pye’s American branch decided to sit on it until Christmas 1964 when they put it out as a single, becoming The Searchers’ biggest hit in the process (it was only ever an album track in Britain). It makes perfect commercial sense for the band to record a ‘sequel’, although whether band or label came up with this similar sounding song is sadly unknown. The two are virtually the same song (the ‘new’ potion is even numbered ‘309’, which gives the band the chance to make the same rhyme with the word ‘mine’, in a complete copycat of the ‘old’ song. Curtis’ double-tracked vocal copes well with a song that sounds a mouthful to sing and playing the two back-to-back demonstrates well how much the band had matured as musicians in the intervening years (the earlier song is rough and raw, the second slick and polished). Alas ‘Magic Potion’ is rather inferior as a song, cutesy and singalong rather than heart-wrenchingly powerful and the rest of the band sound seem to realise it, with even Pender’s usually straightforward and authoritarian guitar solo more or less comes with a yawn. Not a bad song or performance by any means, but ironically the spark of ‘magic’ that made ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ a hit song seems to be missing.

Worse is to come with ‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’, a turgid ballad made famous by The Drifters that every Northern group around in 1964/65 seemed to have in their setlist (I don’t know why the Southern groups didn’t cover it, perhaps they had enough clichéd songs with strings of their own?) I own so many bad versions of this torrid song and none of them are good (the Denny Laine era Moody Blues recorded it too), but I have to say The Searchers’ version might be the worst. The slow tempo is reduced to a crawl and for some reason the band have added a yukky string arrangement over the top that’s overblown and louder in the mix than the band themselves. (As our fellow review site ‘Starling Reviews puts it ‘[This is] The British Invasion? You don't invade anything with a string quartet!’) At this point, in the pre-Yesterday universe, the only successful rock and roll song with an orchestra had been Gerry and the Pacemakers’ ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, but at least strings made sense in that song (it is taken from a 1940s musical after all and designed to be played by them); perhaps The Searchers were sensing a rivalry? The band try hard with their harmonies (a rare use of them on this record), but the tempo is so slow they’re reduced to filling in the notes with a decidedly un-tuneful ‘uhhhhhhhh’ noise twice every chorus, that sounds like they’re clearing their throat rather than singing. By and large the Searchers have one big ballad per album and more often that not they’re the highlights of the record, a chance for the band’s subtlety and ear for arrangements to shine through over their energy and speed, but not here – I don’t want to go on listening to ‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’, which is a drag from the title on down.

‘Bumble Bee’ is the other highlight of the album, however, an obscure song by singer-songwriter Lavern Baker, who sadly never scored big with her own ‘hit’ but had a few chart entries covering other people’s (she’s sort of an American Jackie De Shannon – The Searchers really seemed to do well with female songwriters in this chauvinist period!) The original is played for laughs to some extent, a daft metaphoric tale of the ‘sting’ in the lying partner’s words hurting ‘ evil bumble bee’, but the Searchers play it straight. Pender’s vocal is one of his best, a mixture of hurt and defiance, Curtis’ usual lopsided drum pattern sounds suitably menacing in this new context and the band’s twin guitars shimmer and shine on the down-stepping central riff like never before, suddenly pouncing like the bee of the title. Only a rather pedestrian middle eight (‘Don’t you know I cried night after night’) disappoints, but thankfully its short and swiftly followed by a killer chorus of ‘Oo-wee you hurt me like a bee!’ that sounds a lot better on record than it does in print. The band are clearly having fun with the song despite taking it so seriously – just listen out to the fade-out where one of the band (Pender?) does a pretty good bee imitation! Incidentally, the band did well to get this song past the censors (‘I gave you love as sweet as honey’, a risqué line by 1964 standards).

There’s no such qualms about ‘Something You Got Baby’, another song covered by seemingly every British pop and rock band in this era and as safe as music gets in this period. It actually started life as a gospel song, written and first recorded by singer Chris Kenner and something of a contemporary hit for Fats Domino when The Searchers recorded their version. Thankfully this time the Searchers have sped the tempo up a little bit rather than dragging it right down and turn in a much better performance than on some of their other covers on the album, especially Pender’s lead vocal which as close to pop perfection as you can get. Alas there’s just something undeniably empty about this song which makes it deeply uninteresting – the lyrics don’t go any further than the title, there’s no real shifts or twists and turns in the music and the chorus of ‘my my woah woah I love you so’ is as basic as it gets. The band sound rather underused on this song too – the chiming guitars only really break through the sound at the beginning of the song, Pender’s solo is another less than inspired attempt compared to his past triumphs and the fine backing harmonies by Allen and Curtis (whose voices blend together much better than with Jackson’s) are ducked far too low in the mix. A disappointing end to the record’s first side and a song and a production already well out of time by the Autumn of 1964 when it was recorded, never mind the Spring of 1965 when it was released. Even the album sleevenotes, by manager Tito Burns, can’t find anything good or interesting to say about this song except to say it’s ‘played competently’!

Alas ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ which starts side two suffers from all the same problems: the song is generic and empty, it repeats itself ad infinitum and the Searchers sadly pass over the opportunity to add any of their character to the song which has already been covered to death (The Animals’ version is about the best). There’s even a horrid tinny Hammond organ – played by Searchers producer Tony Hatch - that adds to the ‘camp night club’ feel of the song, although at least the guitar solo (which sounds like McNally’s work this time) is a bit livelier this time around. On the plus side too, at least this song has more ‘right’ to sound dated than the last, as its actually one of the oldest The Searchers ever recorded (along with the next song on the album...), dating back to 1956 when husband and wife act Shirley and Lee recorded their version (Leonard Lee wrote it). Surprisingly, the song only made #20 in the charts at the time and wasn’t really known until the 1960s when bands like The Searchers recognised its good-time feel as befitting of their ‘youth’ movement. There’s not much more to add, really – this is just basically ‘filler’ for the album, a song that’s easy to learn and quick to play, something necessary for a band working so hard between albums.

‘A Tear Fell’ is another poor cover of a poor song, written by Eugene Randolph and Dorian Burton and first recorded by Teresa Brewer in 1956 but better known done by Ray Charles. The song is more country-and-western than any songs the Searchers had recorded for some time (first album ‘Meet The Searchers’ had a few of these sort of songs before rock and roll took over the band’s sound) and its unknown why the band should want to go back to their past suddenly. Perhaps the song had been gathering dust in their set lists for a time and was an easy one to re-learn? I can’t say the song is really to my taste, with another quite horrible organ sound (playing the solo this time!) and a stomach-churningly repetitive riff on an acoustic guitar taking up space where the Searchers’ normal sound could and should be. The band also break down horribly at the end of the song, the piano rattling on long after everyone else has stopped (the bass and drums also come to a halt at different times), on a song that really should have been re-recorded. The song itself is also awfully over-dramatic, recounting the tale of a narrator breaking down in tears when his girl dances with ‘someone new’ but sounding like the end of the world (The drunken lurches of the song suggest the narrator might be slightly intoxicated too, which would explain the OTT dramatics). All that said, I still prefer this song to the last two cover songs as the Searchers’ version is way better than anything Ray Charles ever did and at least the band are sticking their neck out and trying to do something different – even though, arguably, ‘A Tear Fell’ is an experiment too far.

‘Till You Say You’ll Be Mine’ finds the band back on the right track and looking forward to the more orchestral, echo-drenched Phil Spectorish epic productions they’ll make their own on next and final album ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’. Pender excels at this sort of song where he can be both vulnerable and strong, and his Buddy Hollyish nods in the song (‘I-I-I won’t care...’) point to the past at the same time the curiously detached and austere guitar riff point to the future (this sound isn’t far off what The Beatles come up with a year later on ‘Rubber Soul’). The strings are still a little bit overbearing and yet again some fine harmony vocals are rather squashed into the mix, but at least the band are getting behind a good song at last. The song is by Jackie De Shannon, the writer behind ‘Needles and Pins’ and‘When You Walk In The Room’ and although not quite in the same league (this song isn’t as catchy and the guitar work isn’t as central to the song) all three songs share a catchy melody and a breezy, slightly breathless tempo. Indeed, I’m amazed that the band didn’t record more De Shannon songs for this album if they were pushed for time – as a friend of the band Jackie was more relaxed than most about the band re-arranging her songs and the formula had already proved to be a hit for them twice (sadly this is the last of her songs they end up recording). The orchestra is also much more suitable here than it was across the rest of the album, even if it does overpower everything else in the mix and indeed this production sounds not unlike The Beach Boys recordings of the day (circa the ‘Today’ and ‘Summer Nights’ records), production fests that make small subtle songs sound huge and epic.

‘You Wanna Make Her Happy’ is the second of three Chris Curtis songs on the record and though not quite up to the other two it’s still a sweet and well written piece that easily holds its own against the better known material here. Pender is again given the lead vocal to sing (generous given how much Curtis was singing in this period) and though it’s not up to his usual job (he sounds as if he’s got a cold coming on), thankfully Curtis and Allen’s harmonies more than cover up for it. The song might be basic and far more Beatle-ish than the other songs here (or should that be Searchers-ish given how close the band were to each other in their early days?), but it sounds awfully heartfelt, which already gives it more going for it than most of the other songs here. Indeed, in 1964 hearing a narrator expressing his love for his girl in such tender, romantic terms (‘A man should tell her he loves her every day’) is refreshingly kind for the period of supposedly ‘hard’ Northern bands. The band turn in another strong performance of the song too, with Curtis adding some wood blocks to the percussion sound for the first time since his glorious b-side ‘Till I Met You’ which work a treat in this song.

‘Everything You Do’ is the third Curtis song and the second of three lead vocals John McNally sang with the band (oddly he sounds just like Curtis when he sings, albeit an octave lower!) It’s probably the closest in style to the earlier Searchers albums in terms of song, a rocky pop song played with high energy and with an emphasis on the guitar work (played here also by McNally – Pender seems to be missing from this recording session). However the song also sounds quite new and contemporary, perhaps because McNally gets so few vocals with the band and his gruffer, less polished vocals are a good match for a rather retro song about all the great gifts the narrator’s girl has. Of all the band, Allen’s closest friendship from the first with McNally and the two make for a great harmony team, with Frank unusually singing the higher part and diluting the rougher edges without over-shadowing them – the sound is such a strong, ear-catching one that it’s a real tragedy the band didn’t exploit it more. For the third time out of three, Curtis is noticeably quiet singing on his own song and said in interviews of the time that he wrote it deliberately to show off John’s ‘hidden talents’ – given the stories about Curtis’ controlling nature and his perfectionism its lovely to see him be so selfless with his music at a time when, arguably, his songwriting made him more of the ‘leader’ in the band than ever.

‘Goodnight Baby’ ends the record where it started, with an empty, faceless pop ballad from future Monkee maestro Jeff Barry turned into a work of art thanks to a killer arrangement that makes the most of all the Searchers’ strengths. Pender, Allen and Curtis’ harmonies are rarely better than on this song, blending together to finely they sound more like The Hollies (one of the biggest compliments I can give them) and Pender’s thoughtful, unrushed guitar-work is back centre stage where it should be. The song is clearly not up to the best the Searchers ever did, but in its own undemanding way it’s pretty sweet too, with a swirly hazy melody fully reflecting the narrator’s floating dreamlike state as he rushed back to his house full of memories of his lovely night with his girl, not quite sure where he is. Listen out too for the verse about ‘forgetting’ to go home before a curfew so similar to the Everly Brothers’ big hits of the 1950s, anxious and uncaring about the consequences all at the same time. As the sleevenotes put it, this is a fine place to say goodnight (‘and if you’re not listening at night then please substitute morning, evening or afternoon’) as the Searchers are back to doing what they always did best, making lesser material shine thanks to strong performances.

To reiterate that point, I always felt that across their records The Searchers weren’t as good at choosing their own material as their rivals The Beatles and The Searchers were. This is not to kick the band down; The Kinks and The Who had the same problem in their early years before their songwriting took over and the same could easily have been true of The Searchers given how strong their original material is and how quickly their career was curtailed by Pye (who basically stop them recording albums from mid 1965 and even stop them recording singles past mid 1966, despite the fact they were recording some of the best on the planet). Had The Searchers broken through to the top tier of 1960s pop and rock stars again like so many of their contemporaries then this album would be viewed as simply a stepping stone towards the greatness of their ‘late flowering’ on final album ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ and their final singles, ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ being ‘their’ equivalent of difficult records like ‘Beatles For Sale’, the third self-titled ‘Hollies’ album and ‘Kinda Kinks’. We know now that those often awkward albums, uneasy hybrids of early original songs and cover material dregged up from fading setlists from several years past were stop-gap efforts before the touring eased off and the songwriting inspiration eased in. The same might have been true for The Searchers, had they gone on to explore greater things.

I’m never quite sure which my least favourite of the five original Searchers albums is, this one or what will be our final Searchers review sometime in the future ‘It’s The Searchers’ (I see the two 1970s Searchers albums in a different light – they’re blooming awful, without even the half-charms of this one, but I’m so glad someone took the chance on the band after 13 years without a record deal and the fact that they exist at all). I certainly wouldn’t recommend ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ to anyone who didn’t know the band as evidence of how good and - more importantly - consistently good they could be at their peak. But there’s still plenty here for fellow fans who love this band to enjoy, from the fiery cover of ‘Bumble Bee’ to three fine Chris Curtis originals to the chance of hearing the band go down completely new roads, cul-de-sacs of strings and country and western sounds. Does this album sound like the Searchers? Not really, no, but with the upheaval in the band’s line-up to disrupt things and a constant deadline and pressure to come up with the goods time after time in many ways its amazing it sounds as good as it does. My advice is to buy the CD re-issue with the bonus tracks of great A and even better B sides, follow up listening to this album with the career highlights to come on ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ and the superb rarities compilation ‘Play The System’ (still badly in need of a re-issue; the ‘45th Anniversary’ compilation released in 2006 is your next best bet) and there’s still much to learn and enjoy from this record. Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫ (5/10).

Other Searchers reviews from this site you may be interested in:

'Meet The Searchers'

'Sugar and Spice'

'Take Me For What I'm Worth'

'Play The System' (B sides and rarities)

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