Monday, 28 November 2016

The Searchers "Play For Today" aka "Love's Melodies" (1981)





The Searchers "Play For Today" aka "Love's Melodies"

Another Night/September Gurls/Murder In My Heart/She Made A Fool Of You/Silver/Sick and Tired//Radio Romance/Infatuation/ Almost Saturday Night/Everything But A Heartbeat/Little Bit Of Heaven/New Day

You wait fourteen years for a Searchers album and then two come along at once - well nearly, with the two year break between albums six and seven seeming like nothing to fans who had patiently been waiting for a full Searchers long-player since the band got kicked off Pye in 1965. Like their eponymous last album made for Sire it finds The Searchers traditional sound of Rickenbackers, teenage pop and harmonies updated for a new 1980s sound that sometimes tries a little too hard to sound contemporary but more often than not sounds as if The Searchers have always been making records like this one, in whatever genre happens to be in fashion at the time, and somehow moulding their elastic 'band' sound to fit it. That's both the album's strength and biggest weakness as The Searchers ape the period sound without ever really feeling part of it: it sounds as if The Searchers have always been doing this - recording a 1969 'protest' album here, a glam rock album there and a punk extravaganza in 1976 even though the only albums we happened to 'get' were the new wave ones. On the positive side, mind you, it means that The Searchers sound closer to their 'original' style than many bands who were so keen to sound like hot new wave young things that they started cutting their hair in funny styles and dressing accordingly and 1960s fans will find these two albums much more to their style than some of The Searchers' contemporaries like The Who and The Kinks that try to 'live' in the genre instead of making it a nice place to visit. You sense that The Searchers are making a new wave record in the hope of getting a hit, but it's a jacket they wear - that core sound is still The Searchers and can never be from anywhere else but Liverpool 1963-1965.

That's especially true of this second album, which is an altogether more interesting affair than The Searchers' 1979 comeback. Though that album was, predictably, a poor seller it received a lot of polite notices and a lot of enthusiasm from the new wave acts who'd been name-checking The Searchers for a while now so the band have a new confidence flowing through their guitar strings that maybe, just maybe, this second album would be the one to make them 'big' again. Equally predictably that didn't happen either (in fact this album sold even less copies than the first), but you can hear the hope in the studio as The Searchers play with a lot more fire and passion than the album before and they know what they're doing a lot more now, which mostly means guitar-based adult pop. Not everything works on this album - and the lows are arguably lower than anything that made it onto 'The Searchers' - but this time around even the 'failures' are interesting because they reveal how much more comfortable the band are and how ready they are to step away from their traditional sound on occasion. John David's hit-of-the-day 'You Are The New Day', for instance, is most definitely not a traditional Searchers song (and it sounds pretty awful with a synth-fiddle backing and Mike Pender shouting the words). 'Murder In My Heart' too is a dark and ugly song about jealousy and betrayal, quite unlike anything else The Searchers had ever done before and after twenty years of showing their lighter, sugary side they don't sound entirely comfortable with the change. But why not? This is a band who feel re-energised and able to do anything instead of being pigeon-holed with yet more re-recordings of 'Needles and Pins' and 'Sugar and Spice'.

For the most part, after all, they just sound like 'The Searchers' did circa 1964, albeit with a slightly tinnier drum sound and a few extra keyboards in the room. Mike Pender continues to sing with a tidy pop swagger most contemporary acts would have killed for, John McNally's twelve-string still rings through everything and Frank Allen remains one of rock and roll's most under-rated supporting vocalists. At long last, too, they've got pop material that sounds like they were built for The Searchers (in contrast to much of the 1979 album, which was chosen because it was written by big names, whether or not they had any natural feel with the material), with compact tales of love blossoming and dying that are performed without fuss and a great deal of precision. Though most of them are 'new' songs and the surroundings are too, most of the songs sound like they could have been hits in the 1960s: Dave Paul's charming chat-up line 'Silver', Randy Bishop's slow-burning love song 'Infatuation', the oh-so-nearly-a-hit-single 'Another Saturday Night', a tale of loneliness borrowed from Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Forgerty which suits The Searchers better than it did either the author or the better known hit version by Dave Edmunds,  the oh-so-catchy 'Little Bit Of Heaven', the other-oh-so-nearly-hit-single and unrequited love-fest 'Everything But A Heartbeat', the postmodernist 'Radio Romance' and the 'Needles and Pins' soundalike 'September Gurls'. All of these could have been big breezy hit singles in some alternative universe where fifth album 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' came out on time and The Searchers never ran out of steam and take The Searchers back to their pop-root basics quite brilliantly. Though I never quite got why so many fans adore the 1979 comeback album so, this similar (but better!) sequel feels like a much more natural part of The Searchers discography somehow and deserves to be so much better known than it is today.

Even so, the twelve-string playing elephant in the room on this album is once again that The Searchers could and arguably should have been doing more. In this period the band were blessed with three great songwriters - it seems a crying shame that they could only come up with two original songs between them after a two year gap (and 'The Searchers' isn't exactly overflowing with originals either). Great as the band are at re-arranging and interpreting, it would have been nice if they could have showed their not inconsiderable 'creative' skills too. Chris Curtis, their one-time drummer and driving force now living out a very different life working in a Liverpool tax office, must have heard this album (or perhaps had a glance at the writing credits on the sleeve, given the price of albums juxtaposed with his nearly non-existent salary) and laughed at how, even fifteen years on, The Searchers still hadn't found a natural replacement for him in the creative stakes. What's more the one song that is an original (the rather desperate and noisy 'Another Night') is probably the weakest song on here. What happened to all those glorious Searcher B-sides, the late 1960s flop singles - and 'And A Button'? Even though everybody always thinks of The Searchers as a 'pop' band, they'd also proved so many times across the 1960s that they were more than that, pioneering folk-rock, rockabilly, psychedelia, Walker Brothers-esque ballads and out-Phil Spectoring Spector during their late album run. The Searchers still haven't quite taken up the mantle they left off when they stopped making long-playing records in 1965 and while they could afford to go one comeback record without showing their full hand, going across two seems like a wasted opportunity. The moment when The Searchers could have broken out from only being a very good pop covers band is here and I'm afraid they don't take it, with final album 'Hungry Hearts' pretty much sticking to this one.

In case you hadn't noticed, 'hearts' crop up a lot on these three 1980s Searchers albums. Nobody seems quite sure why, given that most of the songs on all three records were by different writers - maybe The Searchers were just in a loved-up mood? Anyway, once again that's basically the theme of the record: boy meets girl, boy plucks up courage to speak to girl, on one occasion a boy has known girl a very long time and only just realised he has feelings for her. However when the boy finally gets to kiss the girl he invariably makes her cry, with songs full of guilt, regret, missed phone calls and in one case a vengeful murder the result, with the exception of the sort-of title track 'Love's Melody' where for once on this album everything is in tune. Largely, though, it's noticeable what a 'down' lot of songs these are when you look at them individually instead of getting carried away on the uplift of that twelve-string. While love is the theme that dominates this album, the way it does so many rock and roll and pop albums, this is a far from teenagery record. Love is an obsession here, a chance to look stupid or something that seems so unlikely for one person to feel that the odds of their partner feeling it too are astronomical. Hearing this record in one go is like wondering how the human race ever lasted this long with so many complications to get round in our genes. Clearly the band were thinking more 'Needles and Pins' than 'Sweets For My Sweet' when they made this record, even though the blistering pace, production values and glittering twelve-strings still make everything sound like pure pop.

The sound of this album is quite distinctive too, even if it does share most of its DNA with its predecessor. Producer Pat Moran once belonged to the 1970s prog rock band Spring, which makes both Sire's nomination of him as producer and the pretty much bang-on contemporary sound a surprise. Nor does a quick run through the acts Moran had worked with reveal any real devotion to a new wave sound with prog-rockers Queen, Robert Plant and Van Der Graaf Generators among his list of clients and Iggy Pop about as contemporary as he got. However Moran is clearly a Searchers fan too: though he doesn't get everything right, he knows their style well enough to allow them to carry on doing what they do, with the Rickenbackers up loud and central to the mix where they ought to be (it's a shame Moran didn't produce the band's 1970s material as well) and even when there are mistakes on the songs that really don't suit the band they still have a peculiarly 'Searchers' quality to them. The first album had everything Searchersy but a drumbeat, as it were - thankfully, while this album is another very 1960s-1980s hybrid of Rickenbackers and synthesisers there are no dodgy drum machines or 'special effects' this time around. The Searchers sound pure again, which is how it always should have been.

If there's a problem with this album though it's a) finding it and b) working out what name it comes under. We've asked you to dig out quite a lot of obscure LPs on this site down the eight odd years we've been running, dear readers, and I'm afraid this is one of the hardest. In Europe this album was released as 'Play For Today', which was a pun on words that name-checked the popular BBC TV drama slot which ran most weeks between 1970 and 1984 and on the other shows that the sound is The Searchers 'now'. Even so, it's probably a pun too far - and what self-respecting Sire-buying new-wave loving teen (very much the album's target audience in 1981) ever watched 'Play For Today'? The album also came with a terribly weak and ineffective cover that basically consists of a black background and a 'radio dial' on it in green and orange - a reference to the track 'Radio Romance' presumably, although as the song doesn't appear for most of the album and isn't mentioned on the cover it must have left lots of record-buyers shaking their heads (plus which self-respecting Sire-buying etc etc listened to the radio?) In America that title clearly made no sense whatsoever, so the album was re-named 'Love's Melodies' in a kind of reflection of one of the album's strongest tracks. Only this album had an even stranger front cover, with a heart-shaped lollipop stuck on a roadside as if it's a 'sign' even though there is no writing on it. Other than going back to this period of The Searchers' discography's obsession with hearts I can't see any reason for it either. Both albums feature the same tracks, by the way, but in a very different order - it's the earlier UK edition we've used here although actually the US one seems to flow better. Given all the hard work that went into making this album sound bright and contemporary it seems strange that Sire allowed it out with a cover that was so ugly and clunky. Both copies of the album are exceedingly hard to find, so your best bet is probably to ignore them both and head straight for 'The Sire Sessions' set of 1997 which includes both the 1979 and this 1981 album plus relevant B-sides on one handy disc (both albums are quite short). However even this set is now pretty darn hard to find so until both albums are re-issued the way they deserve then you might find even tracking this one down is a bit of a struggle. Sorry about that! You're a Searchers fan though if you've got this far, you're probably bitterly used to disappointment by now...

Talking of disappointments, it won't surprise you to learn that this album didn't represent a new beginning for The Searchers as hoped but a kind of ending. Though Sire very much believed in their token 'oldies act' (we still speculate that they wanted The Byrds really who were forever being name-checked by the other bands on their label and The Searchers were the next best thing) even they couldn't go on financing the band forever on poor record sales. After waiting so long for anyone to give them a chance The Searchers were stung by letting this second chance to become stars slip through their fingers. Singer Mike Pender, especially, was furious and felt let down by management, label and bandmates with the feeling within the band never quite the same again, even after re-signing to PRT, the 1980s variation of Pye, shortly after (where The Searchers were only ever allowed to make one single, with plans for a full LP nixed early on). Mike will become so frustrated at The Searchers' return to the cabaret circuit after their dalliance with young trendy twenty-somethings that he'll slowly come to the conclusion that he just has to get out of the band - and he does, quitting the band in December 1984 for one last crack at fame as a solo act at the age of 43. Sadly neither half of The Searchers ever quite regains the momentum lost after this record and to this day members of the band on both sides regret not being given the chance to make a third, planned record for Sire which they agree would have been 'one of the best' (and they don't agree on a lot anymore, these former friends). There will be one last Searchers album, in 1989, on Germany's Coconut album with new vocalist Spencer James on lead and the remaining band will sound as great as they ever did as they continue performing their well-polished set as part of multiple 'Solid Silver Sixties Nights' up and down the UK (sometimes in competition with Mike Pender's Searchers). However things will never be quite the same and for many the magic ends here - a sorry end to the regular recording life of a once great band.

The good news is that if you're persistent enough to track this album down in any format, it will be worth your while - for the most part. Unlike 'The Searchers' which so often sounded as if it was made on automatic pilot and through a lack of confidence that The Searchers could ever work in a new wave setting, 'Love's Melodies' aka 'Play For Today' is confident and brimming lots of very Searchers-esque moments with pure pop played to perfection. There are some horrors on there too which the band should never have gone near of course and you could never put this album on the same footing as the band's achievements in the 1960s, simply because they weren't anywhere near as involved in the creation of this almost-entirely 'covers' album. Anyone expecting another nugget of gold like 'Needles and Pins' or 'Goodbye My Love' or 'He's Got No Love' will be disappointed: rather than being slightly ahead of the curve (with these three songs all but inventing folk-rock, power-pop and psychedelia months or years early) The Searchers are squarely on it and simply doing what everyone else is doing (albeit, often doing it better). There are no great strides forward here and the few times The Searchers do step outside the rather samey template used across this album they have a habit of falling flat on their Rickenbackers (painful!) However, sometimes a record doesn't need to reinvent the wheel and sometimes it's just good to have old friends along sounding much the same way they always did, especially if you haven't really heard as much from them as you might in the last fifteen years. This record, whatever you want to call it and whatever version you happen to be lucky enough to own, won't ever be the greatest album you'll ever buy or even the greatest Searchers album you'll ever buy but it's easily the best of the trio the band went on to make in the 1980s and as a result is a curio worth looking out for, a minor forgotten gem by a great over-looked band.

The Searchers' only original begins the European edition of the album (Americans get 'Silver'). The credit to Allen's name first suggest that 'Another Night' is chiefly his and it does sound more in keeping with his wordier and slightly aggressive material, probably helped out by a stinging McNally guitar riff and a few inputs from Pender. Released as the third single from the album, it's a catchy but rather depressing song about the narrator finding himself alone again after so many nights on his own he's going a bit mad. He is, in fact, losing sight of who he really is, because he relies on always having somebody else to bounce ideas off. Pender does sound a little unhinged here, especially in the falsetto-sung middle eight. Though the song fits in well with the slinky pop of 1981, this song lacks the bite and catchiness of the best of this album and the 'night, another night, ooh wild lady' chorus is what you might call one of the band's more unusual. There was a review of this single in 1981 that said that if every radio presenter did his job then this track ought to be a #1 - plainly they weren't as the single didn't even make the charts, but actually this is almost the only song from the album which isn't an obvious big hit.

One of the few bands who used to be as obscure as The Searchers were the 1970s act 'Big Star', led by Alex Chilton. Somehow word of mouth and similarities with the clean, polished sound of the 'new wave' era meant the band were far bigger in 1981 than they had been in 1971 when they'd released their first record. The band only made three records before breaking up from lack of interest and personality splits anyway (which is two less than The Searchers managed in the 1960s) - this track, 'September Gurls', is from their second 'Radio City'. The original is a slow, emotive ballad that's unusual for Big Star in that it's quite quiet and understated. The Searchers cover is more like the general Big Star big sound: snazzy guitarwork, a vocal that's bright and aggressive and some really fine drumming from Billy Adamson. Pender's narrator sighs over a few of the girls he loved and lost down the years and his mixed feelings in wanting to 'stay away' and feeling love 'for all my days'. The 'September' bit is a puzzle: traditionally it's the time the school year starts in the UK so maybe it's a romance at the start of term - or as it's our Autumn over here, maybe it's a relationship that's doomed to be short and fall apart before too long. Big Star songs weren't exactly known for their rationality (some of the tracks on the last, the most original and maybe the best album 'Sister Lover' get very weird indeed) so look out for the last verse where suddenly, out of the blue, Pender's girl is making things 'right' in the 'dead of night' - though whether this is a 'September Gurl' he married/slept with/met up with again/some new through-the-winter 'January Woman' is unclear. Though many fans rate this song highly (It's interesting reading the forums how many Searchers fans like Big Star and vice versa), it's another track that doesn't quite have the same energy and life as some of the other songs and though The Searchers' new arrangement is inventive they don't radically re-work the song either.

Geez - if this was the American edition we'd have just enjoyed three classics in a row. Instead the European edition has yet another dodgy album cut stacked at the front, with Ronnie Thomas' 'Murder In My Heart'. Though the classic ring of The Searchers' guitar is turned way up loud the way it should be and though the melody is a very catchy bit of pop writing, there's something about this song that just doesn't suit this band. Pender's narrator turns his music way up high and tries to forget his troubles but it's too late to stop the dark nasty feelings he carries with him all day long and the murder in his heart. The Searchers could have gone to town on this song, perhaps the only one in their canon to truly explore their dark side, but musically this just sounds so much like typical Searchers pop that the opportunity is rather wasted. It's a shame, too, that the opening couplet about music being able to soothe anything, even the narrator's impending madness, wasn't explored further as that's a great theme for a band who've believed more than most in the power of pop music as escapism. The song was originally written and released by The Heavy Metal Kids, a short-lived London band who were better (and quieter!) than their name suggests and who put out a string of albums in the 1970s. Anyone who thinks The Searchers' version is obscure though should try and track down the original which is proving impossible to find! A shame, as this is a good song full of dark wry humour and a kind of gleeful manic grin, at least the way The Searchers play it - they're just not the right band to do this sort of song quite frankly and even when stretched and emoting Pender is too 'stable' a singer to do it justice.

John Martin's 'She's Made A Fool Of You' is a better fit, sounding much like a classic 1960s pop single full of guitar riffs and harmonies, even if 'Moon' Martin (he got the nickname because nearly all his early songs had the word 'moon' in them somewhere - though sadly this song doesn't!) actually wrote this and most of his other hits in the 1980s. Though my tastes and those of a few other Searchers fans stretch to their later, maturer works most of the record-buying public tended to think of the band as exactly thius: a bright breezy happy-go-lucky pop band who liked make people feel good about themselves. Recorded with the same rush of adrenalin and fast-paced tempo as 'Sweets For My Sweet' eighteen years earlier, The Searchers sound as if they know what they're doing here, with a great lead from Pender, some tight harmonies, some fierce drumming and some truly majestic twelve-string work from Pender and McNally. This is instantly recognisable as 'The Searchers', even though the original (on Moon's own 'Escape From Domination' record released in 1979) sounds much the same, just a bit slower and a little less glossy. It's notable though that despite this song's effortless pop hooks it's actually quite an adult song: the narrator fell in love and got taken for a ride and he's bitterly, desperately hurt even if he hides it well with a stiff upper lip (which is much more Searchers than resorting to murder).

Dave Paul doesn't seem to have written many other songs (a sole credit for a Textones album was the only other credit I could find) and that's a shame because 'Silver' is one of the album highlights. A clever cross between 1960s innocence and 1980s cynicism, a schoolboy tried to ask his classmate out telling her to forget her homework 'cause you're coming on out with me!' Simultaneously this song is full of such bitter regret (cleverly maintained through a natural switch back to the minor key in every verse) that you just know that this tale of cute first love is going to have an unhappy ending and that it's actually being written by an adult crying over what happened in his past. Even this early on the narrator is adamant that the couple won't hurt each other the way other couples do or 'play games' - something you know is said more defensively than accurately. This relationship is just too good to be true and Pender sings it with the sighing knowledge of someone re-reading their favourite book who knows his characters are going to come a cropper by the end. The McNally-Pender guitarwork. so strong across the whole of this record, is particularly strong here with a gutsy solo (probably played by Pender) which weaves effortlessly round  the choppy rhythm chords (probably by McNally), as if the couple in the song are building the basis for every relationship they're ever going to have. The fact that the young schoolgirl is named 'Silver' also suggests a much older age and stability, the narrator already imagining a long happy life together. A clever song that's well played by a band who know exactly what they're doing.

'Sick and Tired' was an old Iron Door Club favourite (heard in 1963 vintage form on the 'Star-Club Tapes') that the band revived for the album, though sadly this rather good and gritty cover version of an R and B song by Chris Kenner was dropped from the American edition of the album and replaced by the new sort-of title track 'Love's Melody' (by contrast this song is kind of an 'Enemy's Rhythm'). That's a shame because it suits the good-time feel of the record without just sounding like a bunch of ageing rockers returning to their youth either. Performed with a Jerry Lee Lewis style piano stomp, Pender has fun yelling the lyrics at full shout (even though Tony Jackson always used to perform it in the band's early days). Billy Adamson, occasionally flat-footed on the band's more elaborate ballads, sounds particularly at home here on this fast and messy cover. Shockingly this track is still missing on CD, having been skipped for the 'Sire Sessions' CD as well as the 'Love's Melodies' re-issue. Not that deep perhaps, but good fun and the hardest rocking The Searchers have been since about 1964!

Hands up whose heard of the 'Kursaal Flyers'! What, really? No don't be silly, you're just pretending! Anyway those of us who weren't cheating might be interested to know that the originators of 'Radio Romance' came from Southend in the 1970s and scored one lower top twenty hit with a different song, 'Little Does She Know', before disappearing. Which is a shame given that they very much sound like the 1970s' natural inheritors of The Searchers sound, all jingly-jangly guitar and stiff-upper-lip lyrics tied in a neat pop cotton candy bow. This song suits The Searchers a lot more than most on this album and this could easily have been one of their 1960s singles with a tale of how much the radio means to the narrator. It's often a one-way affair, though, as he doesn't always like what he hears but he's still addicted and has to hear more (he sounds like the perfect AAA reader if you ask me!) Someone (Pender?) plays their guitar with a much angrier, grittier tone than usual for The Searchers and it ever so nearly howls with feedback - or at least as close as the clean-cut clear-cut Searchers ever came to that in the studio. A sweet tale of obsession and the power of music to heal all, even when you don't always hear the songs you want to hear, this song was clearly made for top 40 radio itself and deserved to be released as one of the album's singles.

'Infatuation' is perhaps the only song on this album that's a pure love song, as opposed to one with a sudden nasty switch or one that's trying to grin through the tears. Randy Bishop's lyric ask the question 'is it infatuation or is it love?' but the two are clearly linked, as the narrator finds himself falling head over heels in love despite himself. Pender sings with a n audible silly grin plastered all over his face while the twin guitars weave their way through a rather Buddy Hollyish set of chord changes and the quick-stepping rhythm jollies the narrator along almost despite himself. The moment when the harmonies kick in on the middle eight is pure Searchers too as the lyrics make clear that the narrator has never found himself in this situation in his life before and doesn't make a habit of falling in love ('Someone to call my own!' is a stunning revealing moment sung with a cascade of voices that keep tripping over themselves in clumsy absent-mindedness). A sweet, clever song with a jokey Holly 'o-o-o-oh' from Pender near the end, once again this song isn't that deep or that clever but it's a very well crafted bit of pop from a band who know pop singles like the back of their hand. One of the album highlights, daft as it is.

John Fogerty's 'Almost Saturday Night' was the album's second single and a sensible choice as it's one of the most commercial songs here. Allen's falsetto joins in well with Pender's own on yet another album tribute to the radio as the band contradict 'She's Made A Fool Of You' with the advice that they're going to go out and party at the weekend, whatever happens. The sound of this song is again distinctly 1950s ish, as if the band have gone back to their childhood, but it's that peculiar 'Shakin' Stevens' version of the 1980s (but better), with a far gloissier and tidier and, well, mod production than any act in the 1950s would have actually delivered. The band sound right at home on this one and turn in a tight performance on the backing as well as the vocals, with Allen's unusual bass solo particularly catching the ear. Though there are no radios mentioned this time round in the lyric, it's notably the music again that keeps the narrator going, ringing in his ears all through the week while he's waiting for Saturday night to come round again. Beating the author's rather low-key original by a country mile, this is another strong song well suited to The Searchers sound. When is 'Almost Saturday Night' set by the way? I kept expecting the joke that it was only Monday night and the narrator didn't the hope of the weekend to keep him going again already...

The Kursaal Flyers also wrote 'Everything But A Heartbeat' which has everything that's 1980s apart from the central riff which is again is pure Buddy Holly 1980s ('Peggy Sue' to be specific). However the mood is decidedly more cruel this time around lyrically: the narrator's fallen in love with an ice maiden, whose perfect in looks, smile and temperament when they're out with people, but in private she's wicked and cruel, lacking the 'heartbeat' of love. The narrator is being 'spun round' by her even so, though, unable to keep away and everyone around them thinks they're the perfect couple. It's always going to fall apart though: as Pender sings resignedly here 'she's got everything but a heartbeat - but that heartbeat matters so!' A stomping performance has some fine keyboards and piano that push the backing track onwards, with another great Adamson backbeat (and even a cowbell, just to throw some 1960s Merseybeat in there too). Catchier than the plague, with more hooks than a pair of curtains and another good choice of song that could have been tailor-made for The Searchers and their ringing Rickenbackers, how this album highlight wasn't a bigger success as a single I'll never know.

'Little Bit Of Heaven' is the second and final original Searchers composition on the record (and therefore the last to contain a credit for Mike Pender during his time with the group). Though a stronger song than 'Another Night', it's still one of the weaker songs on the album and one which seems to borrow a little too heavily from period influences (the bass and drum are ripped straight from The Jam and the guitar and synths from Blondie - and no, if you haven't heard it, the two styles aren't that compatible now you mention it). Pender's quick-snapping lead tries hard to be a lad about town, but the repetitive chorus doesn't quite nail the effortless pop of the rest of the record and some of the verses are just weird. The best part of the song is when the twin guitars stop twinkling and start rushing at each like rutting stags in the solo, angry and desperate at rectifying the way the narrator has been wronged, the 'little bit of heaven' in his heart taken away forever. Though good to dance to, with a sturdy and unbreakable bass and drum riff (yeah, as if I'd know - I'd just fall over if I tried...) this song repeats the chorus a few too many times to be up to the rest of the album and is a sad way for Pender to end his run of songs with the band (though credited to all three Searchers again, this sounds more like Mike's work to me, especially the riff, perhaps with the others adding the lyrics along the way). For some reason the 'Sire Sessions' disc missed this song out too, which must have been a disappointment for the writers who really needed the royalties.

'Play For Today' ends with the weakest song since the first: 'New Day' (wrongly titled 'You Are The New Day' on some copies). So far The Searchers have been much braver than they were last time out in 1979 and chosen fairly obscure songs that few rock and pop collectors would have recognised, but this Airwaves a capella hit of 1978 was a huge seller for lots of bands (The King's Singers do it best) and had a 'Radio Romance' of its own in this era when it always seemed to be sung by someone. The Searchers go for a different interpretation to most, treating this fragile and loved-up track to a full band makeover which works quite well in that sense, but in their haste to make it sound different to the original they also speed up the tempo a lot which makes it sound less like life-long devotion and more like a quickie behind the bins. Somebody also needs to move the piano away from the wind tunnel where it appears to have been recorded! It's a particular shame that Mike Pender should end his career singing what should be the perfect reminder of his strong voice and sensitive touch on ballads to what is a particularly gruesome and ill-judged backing track. This is also the only track on the album which doesn't feature The Searchers' Rickenbacker sound, which could easily have been fitted into the quietly-hopeful-jubilation of this song. This is one of those tracks that sounds better if you 'accidentally' play it at the wrong speed and slow it down (actually it sounds like Barry White)...A new day for lots of people, but not The Searchers alas.

Overall, then, 'Play For Today' isn't perfect. The album gets quite a few things wrong arrangement and song-choice wise during it's opening and closing stints, although there are more than enough solid Rickenbacker-ready tracks in the middle to keep the album afloat. Certainly the album is an improvement on its predecessor, with new confidence and power on a majority of the recordings made here and whoever was buying records and making choices for The Searchers deserves a medal because there are some really inventive and obscure songs here which are a perfect fit for them. There's easily enough life in this formula for the band to have made a third record for Sire, which they were all geared up to do before the label broke it to them that the record sales just weren't happening quick enough to make that viable. You can't blame Sire - they did well to take a chance on The Searchers in the first place after a full fourteen year gap since their last album which wasn't just limp re-recordings - but it's a real shame that The Searchers couldn't have had just one more go at perfecting this formula, because they've almost got it right here and the band clearly learnt a lot from making these two LPs. They're both fan favourites for a reason these records, not least how hard to find and valuable they are, while The Searchers update their sound with more taste and flair than most of their peers. However they still needed a tweak or three (or seven in the case of 'The Searchers') to truly represent what The Searchers could have sounded like given the perfect song choice, production methods and recording time. The band could still give their new wave contemporaries a run for their money - which is impressive enough in itself - but any band with The Searchers' reputation to carry was always going to struggle winning a new audience over and these records don't add quite as much as they could to the band's legacy.

More Searchers articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'It's The Searchers' (1964) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/its-searchers-1964.html

‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-searchers-sounds-like-searchers-1965.html

'Take Me For What I'm Worth' (1965)  http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-5-searchers-take-me-for-what-im.html

'The Searchers' (1979/1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/the-searchers-19791980.html

'Play The System' (B sides and rarities) (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-89-searchers-play-system-1988.html



2 comments:

  1. a great study of the searchers and the play for today album-i bought the two sire albums on release and also had the big star albums back then-tho' i wasn't crazy about them as some were-i think in the chiltern bio [or somewhere]it says that a few of the girls that the guys in the band knew had birthdays in september-i think my interpretation was similar to one of yours.
    i thought the searchers albums were quite good, oh and i actually liked the sleeve on the second one.there's a few clips of the band playing live in clubs in the period after those albums were released and they are pretty a tight unit.the bass player is in the centre of the stage and being very much the cheerleader-good on him i say.

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    1. Thanks Billy, you clearly have excellent tastes in music - well my tastes anyway! I never really liked Big Star that much either, their third album was the only one I liked and I didn't love any of them. I love the 1960s Searchers - especially the 1965-67 period - not so much in the Sire era but I ran out of my favourite records to review a while ago! Yes The Searchers are a great live band and Frank Allen is a very under-rated player. I still miss Mike Pender being in the band though! Thanks for writing in! 8>)

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