Monday, 20 February 2017

The Searchers: Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2012

  
     


   Non-Album Recordings Part #7: 1968

By now The Searchers had been dropped from Pye and were making do with a much smaller record label, Liberty (traditionally the home of unpopular AAA bands - Davy Jones will end up on sister label Bell). [114] 'Umbrella Man' is where things should have started getting better for a band and is one of my favourite Searchers songs, sadly another undeserving flop single and thus missing from pretty much every career respective unknown to most people thanks to the cost of negotiating flop songs from Liberty for Searchers compilations. Unlike some of the band's increasingly desperate sounding singles for Pye, however, this one plays to the band's strengths: Pender's velvet lead is convincing as a narrator promising to 'keep you safe and warm', there's a great finger-snapping riff and a clever arrangement that gives everyone (even noisy new drummer John Blunt) space to shine. Seeing his girlfriend go through metaphorical 'rain', Pender's empathetic character is inspired to be her 'umbrella', sheltering her from the clouds to come ('all you gotta do is hold my hand - and I'll be your umbrella man!') A warm melody promises the same, a kind of aural hug that's most affecting, especially when the rest of the band join in some with sweet Searchers harmonies. This is one of those catchy pop singles that's just about heartfelt to work and should have been a big hit with football terraces everywhere (given the references to rain and being faithful even when it's 'raining buckets' it could be one of the Merseyside team's anthems!) The end result is The Searchers' most convincing stab at a single since [99] 'He's Got No Love' nearly three years earlier; sadly it came just that little bit too late to revive the band's fortunes and the rest of their batch of singles for Pye step a little bit away from the class and cleverness of this recording. There is, by the way, a rumour that The Searchers only sang and didn't play on this and the next six songs released by Liberty. I dispute that, actually, as John Blunt's drumming is too distinctive to hide (that's clearly him on 'Shoot 'Em Up') while I'd be surprised if that wasn't at least McNally on the guitar. The source of the rumour might be that the band might not have played on the psychedelic 'Pussy Willow Dragon' as it's rather far out of their usual style (then again why not - this band were a lot more adaptable than anyone gives them credit for) and 'Suzanna' mainly features Mike's voice alone with strings anyway. The Searchers, as per usual, have neither confirmed or denied this. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Frank takes a rare solo credit on B-side [115] 'Over The Weekend', a fun if rather flimsy music hall ditty complete with 'la la la la' chorus and a solo played on a flamenco guitar. The song is clearly intended to be exotic, with happy traveller Frank frustrated at being back home again on a wet and miserable Monday morning and longing for the day he can take off on the road again (see his book 'Travelling Man' for how enthusiastic the bass player was about getting to see new places and meet new people). However the song never quite leaves behind it's feelings of boredom back in this land and the song runs out of ideas far too quickly for a song that's all about how exciting life can be. Still, it's good to hear the band playing round with their sound, with Pender's flamenco flourishes still having a distinctly Searchers flavour without relying on that famous 'ringing' sound and Frank sings solo without any real harmonies on this track at all. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Struggling for a new career, someone hit on the brainwave of not using The Searchers name at all and recording a song no one would realise was by The Searchers anyway. They could have done reggae, psychedelia, heavy metal, blues, country, skiffle...instead the band went for [116] 'Somebody Shot The Lollipop Man', one of the unfunniest comedy records ever made. Frank copes well as a straight man against an unusual backing of out-of tune recorders and a chorus of the whole band singing 'woah-ho yeah' really deeply. The effect is liking 10cc prequel group 'Hotlegs' a couple of years early, when everything's weird for the sake of bein weird and the subject matter is one quite unlike anything else any band would ever do. The lyrics are brave and absurdist, bordering on commercial suicide about the death of a lollipop man though we never find out how (they're the people dressed in hi-viz jackets who help small children cross roads if you don't have them in your part of the world and no, it's very rare of any of them to die. Even the ones who worked at my school with the state of our local drivers). Here's a sample quote: 'He hadn't a beautiful body but he had a beautiful head, so everyone is crying why does he have to be dead?' Quite. I don't know whether it's just the relief of hearing The Searchers do something though or simply brainwashing down the years but this track has now reached a 'so bad it's good' kind of quality, as if the band are indulging themselves in bad taste because they know they might never get the chance to again. Every Searchers fan should hear it once - though no fan should have to suffer it twice. The band's pseudonym on this record was 'Pasha' by the way - once a high rank in the Ottomon Empire the equivalent of a 'governor'. Maybe this is a secretly a protest song over how lollipop men are treated over in Turkey and The Searchers were actually bringing a very major point of social significance to our attention? Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

Almost as weird was the B-side, a jazzy children's song [117] 'Pussy Willow Dragon', a song that was mis-titled as 'Pussy Willow Dream' on some copies. A sort of 'Puff The Magic Dragon' with strings and yet another 'la la la' chorus, it's a Kinks-like track about escaping into fantasy when the real world gets too nasty. Mike tells us that he can dance the Macarena all day - and I'm not about to argue with him or the 'wild applause' he hears in his head while he's dancing - before hitching 'a wagon to a dragon' and escaping 'choosy Susie'. Most memorable line: 'They all say I'm pretty hunky - we don't really see eye to eye!' Traditionally you'd never find a 1960s band less likely to take drugs than The Searchers (Frank's autobiography must be the only one of the period that actually regrets not taking drugs!) but this song makes you wonder if somebody once dropped something in their tea. Far too late for the summer of love boom, which had been over by six months by this point, you get the sense that this is another case of The Searchers going all out with a parody version of a style they'd never ever get away with recording in their 'day job'. Unfortunately, we all know who 'Pasha' is now and they can't hide it anymore. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Not that the next Searchers single is any more traditional. We moaned earlier that The Searchers should have recorded one mean-spirited and aggressive Rolling Stones song just to prove to the music world in general that they could. [118] 'Shoot 'Em Up' is - almost - that song, with Mike singing his usual romantic lead on the verses about how much he wants to take his baby 'away' before a chorus kicks in promising either murder or drugs, depending how you take it. The Searchers though, sensibly, sing this track straight as if what they're promising is nothing more than 'Sugar and Spice' and the song has a nicely breezy catchy melody - the sort of thing that would have been a big hit for them a few years ago with different lyrics. The song was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, a songwriting team  known for their 'bubble gum soul' who are shortly about to write almost the entire final Monkees album 'Changes' the following year. As weird and quietly subversive as 'Changes' is, though, there's nothing on it quite as weird or as subversive as this song. A nice example of The Searchers breaking out of their image, though it's not the sort of song you'll fall head over heels in love with, coming over a little bit detached. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Probably the worst ever Searchers single, [119] 'Kinky Kathy Abernathie' is a knowing winking novelty song that tries hard to be another 'Jennifer Eccles' with an R rating but just comes over as creepy. The Searchers turn into lecherous old men as they sing about sitting by the fire with a girl whose 'temptu-ous and scrumptu-ous' who pretends to be virtuous and pure but is actually anything but. She's also 'the greatest thing since motherhood' as well, worryingly - how many girls has this narrator pulled this line with and how many children has he got?! Each line ends with an added 'ba-dum-dum-dum -da' as if the writer (Kenny Young, who also produced this monstrosity and should know better after writing songs like 'Under The Boardwalk' in his youth) simply ran out of words and didn't know what to do. That's a good idea actually I might borrow it when I can't be bothered to finish a sen-ba-dum-dum-dum-da. Excruciatingly painful, if The Searchers ever wanted to record again after their third and final record with Liberty they were going about it the wrong wayFind it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

The Searchers had all but quit writing by 1968, with the main exception being John McNally's wistful [120] 'Suzanna', a torch ballad sung with gusto by Mike Pender that was used as a B-side on both of the above two singles. It's arguably more interesting than both songs, if a little overcooked, as the narrator remembers a lost love from years ago 'who once was my life'. There's nothing particularly original about this song, which sounds like it should have appeared in one of those 1960 film soundtracks (you know the sort of thing, they have Peter Sellers doing Indian impressions, chase sequences involving minis and Michael Caine pretending he can act, even though it's the same sodding wooden character he plays in all his other films). Pender doesn't sing with quite the subtlety of some of his later similar ballads, but then there isn't quite as much here to get his teeth into. Then again at least this song has a proper melody (thus beating every song The Searchers have made since 'Umbrella Man') and some nicely haunting yet subtle strings. It should have been the 'A' side, though it probably wouldn't have sold any better. Thankfully of all these new approaches it's 'Suzanna' that will most resemble The Searchers' later work with RCA. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #8: 1970

Bouncing back after a quiet 1969, The Searchers released their last single on Pye, ending a relationship that dated back seven whole years. Once again The Searchers were asked to record a song that had already been a hit in the hope of getting another one, but at least this time the song choice was suitable. Stephen Stills wrote The Buffalo Springfield's sole hit [121] 'For What It's Worth' after being appalled by the lengths the police went to in enforcing a curfew for teenagers at the Sunset Strip. Using the event and peaceful protests (mainly by the elder brothers and sisters of those who couldn't come out and play) as a 'warning' sign to Nixon's Government that a whole generation couldn't be made to be quiet, it was one of the songs of 1966: polite and careful to avoid a radio ban but full of fear and loathing just below the surface. The song has had many cover versions down the years and while this isn't the best, it gets more right than most: the evocative opening guitar 'pings' are now played on an early synthesiser, a pan pipe flits between two notes in sad protest, a gentle brass band lick plays in the background and a nice stop-start rhythm is a neat addition to a song that asks the world to 'stop' and take note several times throughout the lyrics. Only the lack of a sense of urgency prevents this version of the song from matching the original - everything is just a little bit too laid back for its own good. It was a good idea to revive this song in 1970 though, when Nixon was escalating America's involvement in the Vietnam War and had just given orders for troops to 'open fire' on a peaceful protest at an Ohio university, killing four un-armed students. In context, The Searchers have a right to sound livid - instead this song is still a 'warning' when by now it really deserved to be 'all-out war'. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

The nicely retro two-minute cover of David Gates'  [137] 'Don't Shut Me Out' might not be as deep as the best recordings from this era but proves that The Searchers could still make a great simple rock-band noise when the occasion demanded it. A snappy, funky guitar riff makes for a catchy chorus before making way for a slower, more meaningful verse: one of the Bread founder's better examples of his much-used template in fact. The Searchers sound like they're having fun on this one, perhaps enjoying the similarity between the song's message with what they want to say to both record company and fans: 'Don't, don't shut me out, shut me out of your li-i-ife!' Had the band gone more in this direction for their two 'new wave' era albums rather than recording so many ballads they'd have found a whole new audience - sadly this song was relgated to the vaults for 25 odd years despite it's obvious worth and the fact the band had been playing it in concert and promising as their 'next single' across most of 1969 and 1970. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

     Non-Album Recordings Part #9: 1971

In 1971 The Searchers were thrown a lifeline of sorts by record label RCA. Figuring that The Searchers were still a popular live draw and that Pye had to some extent given up on them, they poached the band and promised lots of recording time. As time grew, however, it became clear that RCA just wanted the band to record the 'hits' for them rather than their label and their own recordings were either left in the vaults (we're still not quite sure when in their contract between 1971 and 1974 some of the unissued recordings were made) or released to little publicity. What's more Pye got wind of what the band were up to, brought up a 'clause' in the band's contract that meant they couldn't re-record their old hits (a 'fake' according to the band, who were already to go to court to prove it before RCA began to get cold feet) and then re-released their own compilation 'Golden Hour' at the exact same time. Running to almost double the length for the same amount of money, most fans simply bought that collection and the RCA Searchers recordings were generally deemed a failure - another chance that wasn't taken the way it should have been. However, while most of the re-recordings the band made (effectively with a gun at their heads or - worse - a contract about to be torn to shreds) are pretty awful and largely pointless the new recordings (especially this first batch from 1971) are actually very good: easily the best the band had made since 1968 and the basis for a rather good full-length album had RCA realised it (the band still had a loyal following and enough time had passed since Merseybeat was passé - RCA even appeal to the nostalgia of ten years earlier with their press-cuttings heavy cover artwork). Sadly it wasn't to be: most of these recordings were released in both the UK and Us only briefly, either on single or on compilation records, most of these recordings were unavailable for years until a revived interest in the band in the 1990s at last saw these recordings widely available at last (although even then the 'Second Take' compilation of 1999 isn't exactly common knowledge - I had to really hunt for my copy).

 [123a] 'Desdemona' was so loved by the band that it's the one RCA song they chose to re-record for the label when asked to re-do their hits a year later (although this first version, the one that appears on all compilations and was made with a bit more time and care, is the 'better' one). That Desdemona sounds like a sweet little girl - but really she's a minx! A fun rocker about the narrator falling in love with the title character, it starts as a song about a very 'cute' sort of a love between two novices who've never done this sort of thing before  (although Pender's narrator has slightly more experience, adding that 'You're gonna see that love is oh so fine!') A fiery middle eight with an unexpected key change hints at the lust both halves are feeling, aptly sung by Pender in a mickey-take of Elvis and - it's hinted - closer to what goes on behind closed doors ('I'm not a boy with a toy I'm a boy who knows what loving is and I'm gonna give to you all the loving that I feel!') The result is a fast-paced, infectious pop song that's chirpy and sweet but not too saccharine either. No wonder the band liked it so much - this sounds like great fun to play as well as listen to, a turbulent set of chord changes held together by a few simple notes played on an organ throughout (a clever 'trick' to help listener's ears work out what's going on!) Alas this was yet another flop single, particularly sad given that RCA were prepared to spend a (little) bit of money on it at last and unlike the last days with Pye still had high hopes for the band; this single's failure meant the label spent more time asking for tired recycling of the band's old hits rather than their more daring, forward-thinking pop songs like this. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999), 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[124] 'The World Is Waiting For Tomorrow' is another Searchers original (with Allen's name given first), a ballad that promises much but never quite delivers. Another rather worried song, this sounds like a first attempt at writing [126] 'And A Button' to come - the world waits in fear and dread that something nasty will happen, breathing a sigh of relief when 'tomorrow' finally arrives and has survived through another day. Alas that nice idea for a song ends up becoming a rather trite chorus repeated too many times for comfort and Pender unsure whether to sing this song happily or sad (his hybrid of both never quite comes off). Unusually, this song is based around a piano lick and the guitars are secondary to that and the drums - a good sound for the band, actually, if only the song to go with it had been a little better. Still, other bigger names have had huge hits with dross far worse than this - I'm actually surprised the band didn't have a tiny hit with this one when released as a single. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[125] 'Love Is Everywhere' is probably the weakest of the Searchers' recordings in 1971 but even this one is head and shoulders above most of the band's late 1960s batch of recordings. Actually this early song by Errol Brown (of Hot Chocolate) is very 1960s, stealing a tiny bit from Love Affair's 'Love Is All Around' with a similarly catchy hippie-ish song about how love really is everywhere ('all you gotta know is how to make it grow'). An interesting arrangement features a loud bass and  typically heavy-handed drums set against a slow mournful organ part, an acoustic guitar strum and a subtle orchestra sweeping the song along in the background. Rather forgettable, but pleasant enough while it's on, it's the sort of thing The Searchers might have had a rogue hit with had this song been properly promoted (released an A-side, it missed the charts completely). Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

The end of the band's most successful recording year since 1968 came with [126] 'And A Button', a song surely unique in the band's canon. A cold war political protest song, this original composition (credited to the group but with Allen's name given first) proves once again what a good 'heavy' band The Searchers might have made (and a button, sorry that repeated line at the end of every sentence becomes a habit after a while...) Even a belated hippy lyric of 'have faith in your brother' (and a button) can't get in the way of a fascinating experiment that features a terrific booming bass and a driving  Pender guitar part. Allen takes the lead and his vocals are always welcome, asking why the stalemate goes on when the other side of the world there's a 'man like you, with a wife and kids like you...and a button' he too is waiting to press in retaliation. The first studio Searchers recording to push the four minute barrier (and a button), never mind the five minute one, this 5:05 recording is an epic, stretching out into some serious jamming interrupted at frequent points by the brotherly love chorus that says that if the world is going to blow up then we'll all go singing together. Fascinating, especially given the immediate pre-Watergate climate of the year (when Nixon and Brezhnev were in their merry dance around each other), it's a much under-rated song that proves once again how right The Searchers were to push for their new recordings in place of their old (and a button). Had this song come out, with the right publicity campaign, with the right song at the right time, this could have been a big hit for The Searchers who were right on the money for once...and a button. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) (And a button)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #10: 1972

The re-recording of [23b] 'Sugar and Spice' tries to use everything the Searchers have learnt through their years on the road: the band play slower, more simple and are rather tighter on the backing track (as befits a song they've played to death across nearly a decade, as opposed to a song they learnt a mere week before recording). However like many of these recordings this re-recording is a poor alternative, lacking the energy, drive and hunger of a band in their teens. Chris Curtis' rattling drums are especially missed here, replaced by John Blunt's simpler yet cruder rat-tat-tat. A bit of muttering deep in the mix about three-quarters of the way through shows how rushed and hurried this project is, even compared to the speed the band worked in during the 1960s! Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[59b] 'Don't Throw Your Love Away' features Mike singing slightly higher than normal, perhaps to cover up for the fact that Chris is no longer in the band to cover the harmonies. The result is a rather ugly re-recording of a classic song on which Blunt again hammers a simple song into the ground and only the presence of Frank's harmony vocals (not on the original of course) and some exquisite guitar work the equal of the band's earlier version shine through. Don't this pretty song away like this Searchers, no no no... Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

The re-recording of [14b] 'Farmer John' fares rather better, a wild beat tamed and now sounding almost grunge with a slower tempo and an added swampy riff that works far better than the energetic speed of the original. Frank's bass harmony support to Mike's lead works far better than Tony's original, slightly irritating falsetto as well, while John still gets to keep his cameo as the grumpy farmer ('Now look-a here!') Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

Alas the 'new' version of [78b] 'When You Walk In The Room' is the difference between night and day (or The Beach Boys and The Spice Girls if you prefer). The original is a tightly nuanced performance that fare leaps out of the speakers, driven forward a by a driving drum beat and some booming guitars, wrapping the listener up in it's warm enveloping sound. This version sounds like a tired pub-rock band after one too many beers: it's awfully sloppy, with Pender's double-tracked vocals appear to be laughing at the lyrics and a sound that doesn't so much drive on as much as amble. Even McNally, unusually, sounds less than convincing on his guitar part. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[53b] 'Needles and Pinzahhh' fares slightly better, with a faster tempo that's more rock than folk-rock, although once again the drumming is a tad LOUD! and Pender's gorgeous lead vocal from the original - all sighs and longing - has been replaced by one that spends too long 'smiling' and not enough 'singing'. Allen's harmony almost rescues the song, just about close enough to Curtis' to work - perhaps he should have sung lead instead? Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

The most 'modern' of all these recordings, [123b] 'Desdemona' is the closest recycled track to the original, the main difference being a neat harmony vocal from Frank and an even more Elvis-style vocal from Mike in the middle eight. Many fans were surprised that the band bothered reviving a flop song, but not enough people got to enjoy 'Desdemona' the first time round and it's perhaps the best of the band's post-1967 flops so I say good on them, even though the original still has a slight edge: the band are thinking a little too hard here compared to the fluent original. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[97b] 'Goodbye My Love' , though is a travesty. Who on earth heard the original, as near-perfect a pop single as can be, and thought 'I know what we'll do: we'll slow the tempo down, add a military drum part and re-act the subtle lyrics as a cod melodrama'? One of The Searchers' cleverest, nuanced songs that says so much between the lines now sounds like a sulky, sloppy mess. Interestingly Pender now sings the whole song, including the middle eight Curtis sang on the original (by and large Allen takes over the ex-drummer's parts for these recordings). Truly awful and probably the worst re-recording here. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[13b] 'Love Potion No 9' makes some kind of sense: The Searchers' original cover was already a 1960s style update of a 1950s song so this 1970s update (complete with congas and jazzy guitar licks) ought to be right on the money. Sadly it isn't: Pender's lead badly misses Tony Jackson's harmony vocal and the fun of the original is missing. It's all a little bit scruffy too: Mike and Frank blow the next verse that comes after the solo at 1:23, unusual for The Searchers but [perhaps evidence of just how hurried these sessions were. That said McNally's wailing guitar solo actually improves on the original, sighing and soaring rather than perfunctory - he's clearly been thinking about the arrangement for a while (in common with most of the other re-recordings here The Searchers still did this song in their stage act). Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[11b] 'Sweets For My Sweet' is like a grown man trying to re-create the look of his baby photos (seriously, people do this - the internet is full of them!): plain wrong. What used to sound cute, innocent and exciting now sounds old and tired, despite the fact that the band are clearly trying hard. Pender takes the lead vocal in Jackson's place and does as good job as he can, although that means the rest of the band have to 'move up', with Frank now taking Mike's distinctive harmony part. The result is a song that now sounds like it comes from a different century, not merely an earlier decade, delivered by a band as quickly as they can get away with in order for them to go on and record something they really want to do. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[96b] 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' is a nice surprise to see in the track listings: while a favourite with the band and fans, this was one of the Searchers' lowest charting singles on first release. The song clearly still has resonance, with the band putting in another strong band performance and Pender singing properly instead of throwing the vocals away, as per so many of these re-recordings. Unfortunately a decision to add a full-harmony chorus of outside singers robs the song of its nicely raw and grungy feel, resulting in an artificial reading of a very 'real' song. Still, compared to most of the other re-recordings here, at least this one is listenable. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[79b] 'What Have They Done To The Rain?' is a shoddy version of a gorgeous song. Allen's harmonies do a good job at covering for Curtis' harmony on the original and Blunt has found some tom-toms to replicate the original, but this is a facsimile of the original's groundbreaking sadness and big heart: this is by contrast a karaoke version of a song the band are by now bored to death with. You also really miss the orchestra that gave the original version much of its grace and beauty. What have they done to 'What Have They Done To The Rain?!' Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

Meanwhile, in terms of the 'new' songs recorded for RCA this year,  [127] 'Sing Singer Sing' is easily the weakest of the band's original recordings made for RCA (and credited with McNally's name first this time), a rather irritating calypso track that sounds like a cross between 'Vehevala' and Harry Belafonte. Calling out for singers everywhere to sing and then we'll all have world peace, even the Eurovision audiences would have given this one 'nul points'. A brassy accompaniment tries to stir things up and make them interesting, but even that can't make this sloppy song sound any good. Even Pender sounds like he knows he's on to a bad thing and over-emotes terribly across the song. Not one of the band's better ideas - and yet this is one of the very few band originals RCA actually put out the first time round, leaving the superior stuff in the vaults (go figure...) Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[128] 'Lover Come On Back To Me' is a group original (with Pender's name listed first) that was the sole new song 'allowed' on to the American or British albums of re-recorded songs. It's sweet enough but hardly in the league of the band's best songs and sounds rather out of it's depth nestled alongside classics like 'Farmer John' and 'When You Walk In The Room' (even in inferior re-recorded versions). A slow, drippy ballad has the narrator promising his girl that he's mended his ways and things will be different this time - a neat metaphor for the change of label and idea of 'second chances', but just as the band wasted theirs by being a little too laid back and vague so this narrator sounds like he hasn't got a hope. Pender just doesn't sound moved enough and the rest of the band don't get much to do. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #11: 1973

I was thinking about the nights when I was a sailor...but then I decided to turn off [129] 'Vehevela' and get back to my job of reviewing records. Thankfully after a dirge of anything interesting to write about The Searchers give me their last truly classic song, a truly great performance of a power pop Loggins and Messina song that deserves to be much better known. A charming calypso featuring Pender getting into character as a sailor pining for the love he left behind somewhere abroad ('Vehevela' sounds very like a place name, but Kenny Loggins admitted later he made up the port and that it belonged to a 'fantasy island' of his imagination), The Searchers show off their arranging genius by adding all sorts of interesting ideas into this track to keep it moving. The song starts with a lonely accordion, the band kick in for the second verse, add in a power-pop chorus, a middle eight featuring steel drums and all sorts of exotic rhythms and finally a play out guitar duel featuring McNally and Pender sparring like never before. Yes the lyrics are a little silly (the narrator nearly gets court-martialled for a mad night out getting drunk with native girls), but the chorus is catchy and the band are in their element, especially Mike who excels at this sort of 'character' song (he should have got into musicals when he left The Searchers!) The result is a triumph, a fan favourite that's regularly used as the 'grand finale' of the better Searchers compilations around (the ones that don't simply end when the hits run out) and which became the band's last ever charting hit (even though a UK peak outside the top 100 is hardly a just reward for a recording this good). Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) and 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

B-side [130] 'Madmen' is a group original credited to the three 'original' Searchers still in the band, with Pender's name listed first (a usual 'clue' as to who chief writer was) but curiously with Allen singing lead. A fun but rather slight slinky blues song with a catchy catchy repetitive repetitive chorus chorus where everything is repeated twice twice, it's the kind of thing that's either the best or the worst thing you've ever heard depending on how sober sober/drunk drunk you are. Lyrically this is a song about a cute girl the narrator met in Holland, Holland and flew out to New York, New York only to find out that she couldn't have been more opposite to him: dressed in white she even looks like a 'negative' of him. Both halves of the couple leave, declaring each other to be the 'madman', although in truth they're simply polar opposites (summed up by the by now rather dated phrase 'it's a drag she wasn't in my bag, oh no!') A nice gritty guitar track is almost punk, while the band play particularly well together here, with new drummer Colin Blunt at his best on these slower sleepier songs. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #12: 1974

The Searchers had high hopes for [131] 'Solitaire'. Casting round for a song, they asked Neil Sedaka (by 1974 also a little down on his luck) if he had anything that might be suitable for them. They weren't too keen on the dated 1950s stuff Sedaka played them down the phone but they instantly fell for this glossy ballad, which gave Pender a lyric he could get his teeth into and some of that good old fashioned Searchers 'slow growing' crescendo in the middle. Sedaka even recorded the band a 'proper' full band demo, now sadly lost, which he recorded at Stockport's Strawberry Studios with the studio's 'local band' playing everything (little did everyone involved know that this studio band would turn out to be 10cc, weeks away from their breakthrough 'hit' with 'Donna'). The band were characteristically rushed and Pender didn't give quite the performance he was capable of (this is less 'Needles and Pins', more his sloppier re-recordings with his solo band), but nevertheless The Searchers were a good 80% of the way to a classic single which, with the right budget, could have been their 'comeback' song. After all, Sedaka's unusually sensitive lyric about a lonely man playing solitaire with his life as well as his with his cards touches a deeper nerve than his usual material and has a smashing power pop chorus. As the first group to pick up on it, a year after Sedaka's album track original (as taped with help by AAA band 10cc as it happens), The Searchers should have had a smash hit. But RCA didn't agree and released this song merely as the B-side of their favoured song 'Spicks and Specks' (at least until RCA discovered 'Solitaire' was getting all the airplay but by the time they turned the single round and re-promoted it, it was too late). Time proved The Searchers' instincts right: both Andy Williams and The Carpenters had top 20 hits with this song and were partly responsible for putting Sedaka back vaguely on the pedestal he'd enjoyed twenty years earlier. And if Neil Sedaka could do it then why not The Searchers? Another frustrating lost opportunity. Find it on:' Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[132] 'Spicks and Specks' was the 'breakthrough' song for The Bee Gees, although given that the band were only releasing singles in their adopted homeland of Australia at the time this song has become better known through copious cover versions rather than the real thing. Australia always took to The Searchers more than most countries (the band were 'special' there rather than just part of the 'British Invasion' lumped together - the same way Germany really love The Hollies and rate them on a par with The Beatles, America really loves The Moody Blues and The Beach Boys are actually bigger in Britain than they were in America) and toured there often -n which might be where they picked up on this song (still fairly rare in Europe and America at the time). It's clearly an 'early' song - Barry Gibb wrote it without his brothers (who were not quite in their teens at the time) and is one of those songs that tried to get by with a lot of huffing and puffing and a surreal lyric. However The Searchers improve on the original by losing the slightly gauche teeth-filled smiles of the Bee Gees' version and going for raw power, emphasising the angry guitar riff that's just part of the furniture in the original. Alas, Pender is pushed well out of his vocal range and ends up shouting rather than singing the lyrics, the recording only really coming to life in the middle when the song quietens down and Pender sings more sweetly, against an orchestra. The result is a little odd, but it's nice to at least hear the band doing something different to an established song (even if 'established' in this case means 'Down Under'). Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Am I allowed to simply write 'what the?' for one of these reviews? You see [133] ? 'Bite It Deep' is one of those songs I'm not sure I quite understand - or want to. Life is an apple, so take a deep bite - and if your Eve is giving a bite to your Adam then forget all that incident in the Bible: 'if the apple is sweet then bite it deep!' Umm Ok. Personally I don't get the whole deal with apples: most are sour anyway, not sweet and to be honest the risk of snakes is more trouble than it's worth (it was a brave Christian who ate the first apple post-Bible; how come it took two thousand years for them to waive their protests over opening shops on the Sabbath ie Sunday - which gets a brief mention - but eating apples is fine, despite the fact the incident in the Garden of Eden is returned to by so many of the prophets who make up the Old Testament?) The Searchers might be being daring here - after all if the apple is a 'metaphor' for sin and lust then they're basically telling us to ignore our conscience and go ahead anyway. However they don't sound leery so much as dreary - this is a silly song that no one quite knows how to play. Mercifully left unreleased at the time, this sounds suspiciously like an unfinished recording (Pender muffs up his words at one point early on). The packaging for the song's first official release in 1999 says that the author is 'unknown' - which sounds less like a case of poor research and more a case of protecting the guilty parties from the loss of respect this would cause (for the record, this must surely be a Searchers original - it has their 'flavour' in this period, guitar riff and catchy chorus and all). Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

[134] 'Indigo Spring' is another originally unreleased song that's rather better. Slower but more thoughtful, a weary Pender tells his girl that her constant misery is getting on his nerves, offering the rather odd advice 'Look at the sun, you're not the only one going through it!' An echo-drenched Allen and McNally ooh and aah their way through the backing, softening Pender's increasingly bitter lead vocal. The melody cleverly reflects the narrator's turbulent state of mind, suddenly breaking off into new areas and going from laidback weariness to angry snapping in the blink of an eye. It's another of those hold-on-to-your-seat songs in other words, hard to listen to if heard in the background but great if you have the time to get into it. Alas the song runs out of ideas after two verses and badly needs a middle eight to truly bore its way into the memory. Still, this song should most definitely have been released in 1974 (or thereabouts): it's a fairly strong and much more Searchers-like song than some of the others recorded for RCA. Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

[135] 'I Really Don't Have The Time' is an oddly nasty song, again credited to 'unknown' (perhaps to rescue somebody's reputation!) Pender growls out the lyric which concerns a girl whose clearly head over heels in love with the narrator but he doesn't want to know - turning her down not because he dislikes her or feels nothing for her but because he's a little bit busy. A rather odd backing, mixed awfully low, sounds as if it's playing in another room, although that might perhaps hint at the 'complexities' in the song and all that suppressed emotion that's really going on behind the surface. This song is just too unlikeable for that to work, though, with Pender's vocal pushed past it's natural limit and a melody full of wide awkward angles and some pretty sniping lyrics. RCA were probably right to leave this one in the vaults the first time around. Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

[136] 'Think Of My Life' is another song that sounds as if it exists simply to break The Searchers' mould rather than because it's a 'good' song (once again it was left in the vaults and credited to 'anonymous' when finally released on CD in 1999). An awkward, heavier sound (but one that's dry and brittle, very unlike the gloriously echo-filled claustrophobic singles from 1965) doesn't really suit the band, although in another universe McNally would have made a fine heavy metal guitarist. Interestingly Blunt's drums are spot on the money: most drummers 'over-play' slow and gloomy songs like these but his increase the tension (he really was mis-cast in this band, who don't usually play like this). A nice use of dynamics in the middle brightens the sound up, the band dropping down to just Pender's vocal and guitar before taking off again for a rattled solo, but otherwise this is the 'wrong' sound for The Searchers who sound a bit lost here. The lyrics don't really say much except to add that the narrator is in nostalgic mood, lyrics about 'hiding' from his 'woman' and 'riding on a subway train' hinting that he's done a runner and left his family at home. That might explain the angst and tension of the song too, although a more conciliatory couple of verses suggests that the pair might still get back together ('I've loved other girls - but none like you!') Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

The nicely retro two-minute cover of David Gates'  [137] 'Don't Shut Me Out' might not be as deep as the best recordings from this era but proves that The Searchers could still make a great simple rock-band noise when the occasion demanded it. A snappy, funky guitar riff makes for a catchy chorus before making way for a slower, more meaningful verse: one of the Bread founder's better examples of his much-used template in fact. The Searchers sound like they're having fun on this one, perhaps enjoying the similarity between the song's message with what they want to say to both record company and fans: 'Don't, don't shut me out, shut me out of your li-i-ife!' Had the band gone more in this direction for their two 'new wave' era albums rather than recording so many ballads they'd have found a whole new audience - sadly this song was relegated to the vaults for 25 odd years despite it's obvious worth. Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999), and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)


Non-Album Recordings Part #13: 1981

At the end of 1981 The Searchers also recorded what was first a standalone single in [  ] 'Love's Melody', which then ended up being the 'title track' for a re-launch of the 'Play For Today' record. Nobody bought this version either sadly, but there's no doubting that 'Love's Melodies' serves as a better title and that this song is also a welcome album track. The band's chiming guitars sound good behind Pender's slightly over-falsettoed lead and I could imagine this song being a hit just for it's pretty chord changes, though it's not that deep as Searchers songs go. The narrator and his girl fall in love while the melody is playing 'for you and me' as if they're the only people that matter - ropey idea salvaged by a good tune and The Searchers finally grasping, late on in the sessions, how to update their traditional sound for the 1980s. That third Sire Searchers album really might have been the best one after all...  Find it On: 'The Sire Sessions' (1997)

The last ditch effort by The Searchers on 'Sire' was the third single 'Another Night'. Perhaps sensing that it might be a while before they got the chance to record again, The Searchers went back into the studio to record one last song for release as a B-side that barely anybody heard. In typical Searchers style, it's by far the best thing they ever did for the label: [ ] 'Back To The War, a catchy song that makes good use of the old trademarks but also starts to make sense of the synthesisers as part of the band sound too. Better yet, it's an old fashioned protest song of the sort that everyone except The Searchers were making in the 1960s. John Hiatt's song starts off with the line 'you're different from me' as the lyrics go on to both look at the reasons for war and use it as an extended metaphor for two lovers going their separate ways. It's unusually aggressive for The Searchers, with lines like 'those bullets in the park, those rendezvous after dark- somebody has to bleed' but as we've been saying quite often in this book that aggression suits The Searchers' style well: those slashing Rickenbacker chords, that endless bouncy energy, that sense of hidden darkness and melancholy there in all The Searchers' best songs (from 'Needles and Pins' to 'Goodbye My Love'). Mike sings one of the best vocals of his career, a mixture of war weary and triumphant as he sarcastically asks to stop the lovey-dovey stuff and get back to fighting ('That's what we're here for!) If the two Sire albums had been more like this one this book would run for another hundred or so pages and have another half-dozen albums in the discography at least. Sadly, in another Searchers tradition, it was all a bit too late. Find it On: 'The Sire Sessions' (1997)



Non-Album Recordings Part #14: 1982/1983

'I've got a sinking feeling this isn't how it should be...Maybe we should call it a day!' The Searchers return to their old paymasters at Pye, their Rickenbackers between their legs, as they reflect on the end of yet another record contract without the success they wanted on one more single. On [  ] 'I Don't Want To Be The One' the band were paired with producer John Verity for six more recordings in total, half an LP, of which only this A side and it's B-side were released at the time. Lead singer on both songs Mike Pender, especially, sounds fed up by now but The Searchers still have the presence of mind to put together a last cracking commercial single, dressed far more suitably in the clothes of trendy young 1980s things than most of their Sire sessions. Though written by a heavy metal pioneer in songwriter Steve Thompson, the song is a suitable vehicle for The Searchers, with lots of space for Rickenbacker guitars (albeit a bit more flashily than in the days of old) and a power-pop chorus. Lyrically, as seen, it's also a highly revealing choice for a band who know they're on the last throw of the dice pretty much, the narrator admitting that he knows a break is about to happen and things can't go on as they are, but he doesn't want to be the first one to mention it. Tensions in the band were reaching a peak around here, with Pender fed up at the idea that The Searchers were likely to end up an oldies act back on the cabaret circuit again. Though he won't quit for another three years yet, this is - ominously given the lyric - from his last recording session as a Searcher after a quarter century or so in the band. 'Is this really the way it used to be?' the song ends, 'Has the times changed - or is it me?' It won't surprise anyone to learn that this single, released by Pye more out of a sense of duty than with the promotion it needed to be a hit, was another in a long line of undeserving flops. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) or 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

B-side [  ] 'Hollywood' continued the theme of disillusionment with fame and reveals that both John and Frank were feeling fed up as well. They only sing back-up, though, behind one last great glittering soaring Mike Pender lead as the singer informs us 'it ain't the same, though the late show's good!' A typical song about the traps of fame, from a band who can barely remember what those were, it sports a narrator who used to be a big star but is now a near-nobody. He can't believe those who tell him that he was a star 'only yesterday' when for him it seems a whole lifetime ago. A second verse covers the story of a young girl whose on her way up, anxiously waiting for the phone to ring with offers and The Searchers lend a protective era. Only a slightly over-bearing drum part from Billy Adamson gets in the way of one of the band's finest productions in some time and an original song that, in true Searchers style, may actually be better than the A side, though in truth both sides are much under-rated by fans. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

The Searchers intended releasing a follow-up to 'One', another Steve Thompson pop-rocker named [  ] 'Innocent Victim' and taped it during the same sessions - sessions they hoped would grow into a full-length album. However Pye decided not to risk a second single after seeing the first one sink without trace and instead 'Innocent Victim' became a sadly rather aptly named casualty of yet more record company oversight. Though less memorable and Searchersy than 'One', with some awful 1980s saxophone squealing in the solo, it might have been just what the band needed to restore them to the charts by virtue of sounding more like period pop than The Searchers had since about 1964. Mike sings the hell out of this noisy tune and his guitar howls like he's auditioning for Guns and Roses. You wouldn't want every song to sound like this, but it's too good for the vaults, receiving its first release a full decade after it was taped. Find it on: 'The 30th Anniversary' (1992) and 'The 40th Anniversary' (2003)

Frank takes a rare vocal on his own song [  ] 'Good Way To Fall', an unusual country-rocker turned into pop. It sounds like something Shania Twain would go on to have a big hit with, but with Frank's less than perfect lead (it could be a guide vocal to be fair - we don't how 'finished' these recordings are), a slightly histrionic backing and a melody that's naggingly like something else, it probably didn't stand the same chances of success as some of the other songs. Frank's narrator tells us not to be worried if we tried to tell someone we loved them - it's better than 'never saying anything at all' and even if it gets rejected it's better to have loved and lost etc etc. He sneakily urges us to deny all knowledge if we write love letters to our beloved and get told 'no!' Likeable, but peculiar, this song would have made for an interesting album track but this, too, was held back for some ten years. Find it on: 'The 30th Anniversary' (1992)

Outtake 'In The Heat Of The Night' isn't quite up to the same standards and is probably the weakest of the six, though it still sounds good enough for release. It's something of an experiment to go all-out with a full synth-heavy 1980s pop feel (which, in a strange mirror of the 1960s, is almost identical to what The Hollies were doing at the same time), but don't let that put you off: it's probably more palatable than the half-sound of the Sire records. Pender gets a chance to go a bit more OTT than the band's old recordings ever allowed, while swapping the Rickenbackers for the synths give this song an unusual, creepy feeling. However the chorus, in which Pender promises 'we're going to make hot lurrrrrv in the heat of the night' do step rather far over the line. The majority of fans have never heard this song anyway, with the track making a surprise first appearance on the band's box set some thirty years after it was recorded. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[  ] 'New Heart' is a bit odd too starting out horrid but ending up quite nice thanks to an unexpected dart down a minor key. Mike seems to think he's Hazel O'Connor  starring in 'Breaking Glass' and sings very oddly and aggressively as he promises that he's going to 'break a new heart'. 'You're going to remember me someday!' he cackles as much to the music audience back home as the lover in the song on one of his last recorded vocals with The Searchers. Thankfully the song is saved by Billy Adamson's inventive sound effect drumming (this is by his starring moment during his twenty years with the group) and some unusual new wave sound keyboard sound effects that turns the band into something akin to 'The Pet Searchers Boys'. They really should have released this one - if only because I'm intrigued whether it would have found a new audience and whether everyone would have loved it, or not. I fear not, but kudos to the band for at least understanding what the modern pop market had changed into, which is more than most of their contemporaries did. Find it on: 'The 30th Anniversary' (1992)

Non-Album Recordings Part #15: 2012

To end the 50th anniversary box set, The Searchers chose to include some recent live recordings of songs the band had been doing for a while but which had joined their setlists since the last official recording sessions in 1989. These songs thus became the first 'new' recordings the band had made in some twenty-three years, although any fan whose seen the band in concert in the past decade will know the songs well. [  ] 'Every River' is a nice souvenir, a country and western song by Kim Richey that was a surprise hit for Brooks and Dunn in 2002. I say surprise because the song sounded very out of kilter with its boyband pop times, being a very retro and 1960s sounding song from the heart. The Searchers were a band born to cover the song, spicing it up with a lovely melancholic Rickenbacker part and Spencer's voice was always a better fit for the band's more reflective, introverted material than the 'shouty' songs and he does the song a great service here. A sad song about how inspiration will always dry up like every river eventually will, the lyrics also try to put a happy spin on things by claiming that people in love can delay the inevitable for longer. The narrator admits that one day he might fall out of love with his girl, his mountains will crumble and his waters evaporate - but that just makes him more thankful for what he's got now. The end result sounds not unlike Byrd Gene Clark, what with the country lilt and ringing guitars and deeply depressed lyrics - which is a massive compliment, as anyone whose read our AAA book will know. The live recording is a little bit muted, though, and clearly not done to the same professional standard as the 'studio' tracks - let's hope the band get a chance to record the 'definitive' version of this lovely song sometimes soon. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

The sound is better for [  ] 'Seven Nights To Rock' on what sounds suspiciously like a studio recording despite the credits listing this as 'live' again and some applause at the very end. John McNally - on his first lead vocal since 1965 - has actually never sounded better, having 'grown' into his voice. Admittedly this is a very silly song, an early rock and roll standards recorded as early as 1956 by 'Moon' Mullican though general music fans tend to know Bruce Springsteen's cover better.  The song is a nice chance for The Searchers to let their hair down near the end of a gig and have a bit of fun after so many intense songs in the set, while the in-joke is that out of all the bands in the 1960s The Searchers were probably the least likely to be partying seven nights of the week (especially after Tony and Chris left!), while John has long been pegged (a little unfairly, but that's labels for you) as the band's quietest member. It's the sort of thing you can hear done by any pub band up and down the country, but admittedly only the good pub bands and makes for a worthy encore to the band's first half century. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)


More Searchers articles from this site:



‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1964) 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

'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 fascinating read about the searchers .i'm going to have to check through exactly what i have on the mid to late period of the band.pretty sure i've seen a ytube of shootem uo.i know i defiinatly bought umbrella man years ago and have seen it on beat club. i'll have to go through this piece again,great info

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    1. Thankyou Keith! I think you're right, those are about the only two Searchers of this period they performed that I know about. There's an article on all the Searchers TV stuff here http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/02/the-searchers-surviving-tv-clips-1963.html My recommendation is the '40th Anniversary Collection' set if you want to own these recordings. Not complete by any means sadly (they really need to start re-issuing all the Searchers stuff together some day!) but it's about the best there is at the moment. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Searchers-1963-2003-40th-Anniversary-Collection/dp/B00008R0ZL Thanks for taking the time to comment 8>)

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