Monday, 6 March 2017

Art Garfunkel "Scissors Cut" (1981)

Art Garfunkel "Scissors Cut" (1981)

Scissors Cut/A Heart In New York/Up In The World/Hang On In/So Easy To Begin//Can't Turn My Heart/The French Waltz/The Romance/In Cars/That's All I've Got To Say

'I close my eyes and walk away, trying not to hear the words you say'

Both cutting edge and unusually blunt, 'Scissors Cut' is one hell of a break-up album and re-defined forever what an Art Garfunkel LP should be right at the time when people stopped listening. This is a tragedy for, good as Arty's interpretations of romanticism and love could be, by his own admission the singer didn't have much access to love across his first two decades in the public eye, marrying once in the mid-1970s quite disastrously. Breakups, however, were Arty's speciality and never more than here on this fascinating record, which is never quite what it seems. 'Fate For Breakfast' had the feel of doom hanging over it, from the title to the track listing, and so it proved just three months after the album's release when Arty's big relationship number two ended in tragedy. Actress Laurie Bird (AAA fans might know her from Dennis Wilson's only film 'Two Lane Blacktop') was the first true love of Garfunkel's life and her death at her own hands in his own apartment from an overdose of valium while he was away filming the movie 'Bad Timing' clearly changed him forever. A naturally private man who hated scandal, Arty mainly spent the years after her death staying away from the public eye and trying not to draw attention to it, but still he felt he had to say something. Hence this album, which cuts deeper than usual full of songs about hurt and loss and devastation and yet which never speaks directly about death; almost all of these carefully chosen songs are about endings and Arty's expression-filled voice finds something to connect with on all of them, but far from the album of 'Bright Eyes' we were all expecting (the track even appears in US copies of the LP in place of 'The Romance' despite the fact it had already appeared on 'Fate For Breakfast'), this is more a 'where did it go wrong?' and a 'where did you go?' than an 'I can't believe you aren't there anymore' record. The clues, though, are there: the album is dedicated to 'Bird' and that's also her ghostly form on the back cover, a 'chest' shot instead of a head shot as if she's no longer in focus.

The biggest clue, though, perhaps is the front cover. The last few records feature Arty writ large in profile in various states of solemn dress. On this one he wears a particularly smart tuxedo and looks to all the world as if he's carrying on, business as usual. However just above his bow-tie is a plaster stuck above his jugular vein, the place many suicides choose to cut to stem the blood the quickest (it's impossible to see on CD but is plainly there on vinyl once you know to look for it). This is a singer not a million miles away from suicide himself and still hurting, while that cold intense stare is also quite different to the usual warmth of Arty's other sleeves, the look of a haunted man trying not to cry. Further nostalgic pictures inside reveal the life Arty intended for himself along with his golden girl - one as a teacher pointing to a chalk board and another in his role in the film 'Catch-22', the last time he had to re-start a career. Both seem to point to stop-off points on the road where Arty's life could have been different and he could have been happy; instead he's left pondering choices made.
The biggest tragedy of the Laurie Bird story is that some people close to her and him think that it was a cry for help with a twist, that Laurie had timed it for the moment when Arty was due back at his apartment and would whisk her away to safety and become her knight in shining armour - making her feel more 'loved' and him feel more sure that Laurie was the one for her. For the second time in a decade and in a tragic re-run of what happened with 'Catch 22', fate intervened and the movie shoot over-ran so Arty didn't get home when he expected to and didn't save her in time. Laurie, of course, should have guessed this: she was an actress, she was used to shoots over-running and knew as well as anyone that an actor is only there at the whims of their director. Arty wanted to be home, but his hands were tied. It seems likely that instead she put her future in the hands of fate: that if this relationship was meant to be then Arty really would have got home in time to save her; it was a gamble but she put her fate in the hands of the universe and tragically she lost.

Fate may have been the title of the previous Art Garfunkel solo LP, but it's really the theme of this one. 'I've been so far away from you, while standing by your side' pleads Arty on 'So Easy To Begin' as he re-thinks all he's been through in the past couple of years. Love fades due to the natural course of things, while at other times it was pre-determined that it should blossom. You can rail against the changing tides if you want, as on 'Hang On In', but it won't do you any good - life has other plans sometimes. The bomb in the title track is man-made and optional, but the fate of two lovers is destiny and cannot be changed or altered however hard the pair of lovers try. 'Up In The World' too celebrates man-made success, that pales feebly by comparison to the sheer splendour that life has to offer. 'I can't Turn Away' admits that wanting to be in love once more is a helpless, stupid idea that will only end in sorrow when fate has parted the couple - but still Arty longs to do just that, his heart not having quite caught up with what the world is trying to tell him yet. So many of these narrators want to make their life turn out differently, but their hands are tied - by their partners, by luck, by fate.
'Scissors Cut' is the most thoughtful of even Arty's run of thoughtful albums. It's also his bravest, given the deep subject matters of most of the songs here and in many ways his best, beaten only by the even more autobiographical record 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' in 2003 (which is also about Laurie on many songs). It's easily the best he's sounded on record away from Paul Simon, sleep-singing his way through dense background textures as if he's lost and trying to find his way back home, his voice more emotional than it's been on recent albums and quivering with feeling that he can't quite bring himself to confront head-on yet. We've been used, on the last few albums, to hearing Arty fully in charge of his destiny after a couple of false starts on 'Angel Clare' and 'Breakaway' - but here he's a passive force, struggling to keep up and trapped in a world he doesn't understand. Only twice on this album does he break through the fog long enough to prove he can still do it, on 'A Heart In New York' this song's curio (added to the recent setlist at Simon and Garfunkel's reunion in Central Park to give the crowd something to warm to) and 'Hang On In', one last desperate attempt to sound like the Garfunkel of old on a song that knows things will never be the way they were. All too often the solo Garfunkel albums rather pass you by, without any real album signature sound to tie them together or anything to make them 'special'. 'Scissors Cut', however, is an album where nearly everything fits together beautifully and which couldn't have been made any other way. Even in a back catalogue of similar overlooked gems, this is the solo record that got away.

Which is not to say that this album is perfect. Aware that he's entering a whole new world, Arty looks not so much to new writers as old friends doing something new. Jimmy Webb gets three whole songs on the album - all are better than the ones that appeared on 'Watermark' a couple of LPs ago but only the title track really goes towards the dark place the album is aiming for and Webb remains a less than sympathetic voice for Garfunkel's purity and spirit. 'The French Waltz' is a bonkers experiment too far, an attempt to stretch the Garfunkel style into Parisian music on a record that for the most part sounds as if it was made in Transylvania. Many of the backing tracks sound spookily similar too, dominated by the same Larry Knechtel keyboards, Rock Morotta drums and Dean parks guitar parts, whatever the 'blackboard' on the inner sleeve proudly states about how many diverse musicians worked on this album. The LP demands a strong finale and instead gets a single verse surrounded by strings. This record is also ridiculously short at just 32 minutes and badly needs another two really strong tracks to become the classic it so easily could have been, feeling as if it's even shorter than that at times. Though we've talked about this album living dangerously, in truth it also plays safe a couple of times too often for comfort too. Scissors Cut still needs a little bit of pruning in other words.

Ah well, no matter. Every time you think 'Scissors Cut' has slotted back into being just another Art Garfunkel LP it surprises you out of the blue all over again. The record begins with love played out not over roundabouts or Scarborough Fairs but the impending doom of a nuclear holocaust which once seemed as certain as the lovers' feelings for each other; now the bomb hadn't gone off but they've gone their separate ways. 'Hang On In' is a candidate for the greatest Garfunkel rocker (not that he did many in his solo work), perhaps equal with 'Love Is The Only Chain' on a storming moody riff-filled mini masterpiece. 'The Romance' takes everything we're used to hearing (that piano, that guitar, that production gloss) and makes it scary, the sound of a memory of something that used to be so perfect it's mocking the narrator in the present. The final song doesn't quite manage to last a verse, surprising us by claiming that 'I love you' is all the narrator really wants to say. And then there's the biggest surprise: weeks on from the Concert Park reunion there's Paul Simon's voice darting its way through Jimmy Webb's 'In Cars'. Unlike 'My Little Town' (clearly a Paul Simon song) or 'What A Wonderful World' (where Paul's harmony is heard straight away), this appearance is kept 'hidden' and is very much Simon guesting on Garfunkel's natural home territory. A final song of reflection and nostalgia for perfect times, it's clearly chosen to represent early days with Laurie but feels like it represents the pair's friendship too ('I remember you, everything was new' is Paul's refrain, while the song chills out with a line from 'The Girl From The North Country', a song similar enough to 'Scarborough Fair' to catch many fans' ears).

There's one other reminder of old days working on this album. Roy Halee is back, for the first time since Angel Clare nearly a decade earlier and the record is no small triumph for him either with it's intriguing production techniques of making a lot out of very little. While Arty wasn't sure yet what he wanted to sound like in 1972, here he already has a technique set in stone and Roy does well to subvert that constantly, playing with our idea of what a Garfunkel album will sound like before pulling the rug away from under us every time we're just getting comfortable. Like many of Roy's best productions, there's a lot going on here but it's all orderly, with nothing getting in the way and with Arty's voice central to the mess going on around him - even when it's clear he'd rather be hiding in the sidelines. The two old friends didn't leave on the best of terms in 1972, with Arty's perfectionism driving Roy up the wall (he had more fun recording in a few quick days with Paul), but here the pair instinctively understand what the other needs: Arty needs to sound small and fragile, Roy's production needs to sound big and strong. It's a good mixture for most of the record, only really letting go around the middle when the trick is played once too often.

Though Laurie died in New York, a 'typical' victim of the outsider mentality talked about in the papers (the busiest city on Earth is the loneliest place to live if you feel cut off from everybody) this record also feels like a homage to Arty's home town. 'A Heart In New York' was written by fellow New Yorker Steve Gallagher after glimpsing the skyline through a window when he got 'home' for the first time in a long time and can perhaps be seen as Arty's feelings on coming 'home' after his long movie shoot too. New York was taking a bit of a kicking at the time: it wasn't just Laurie, but John Lennon's death at 'home' in the Dakota while this album was being made in Wally Heider's in LA that had the city in the news (the papers neglecting to mention the fact that Mark Chapman, Lennon's assassin, divided his time between Texas, Georgia and Hawaii. Even the city's other favourite son, Paul Simon, was busy elsewhere finishing off his 'One Trick Pony' shoot. So it was left to Arty to proudly sing about his home city and why he loved it so much, offering a much nicer friendlier take on the city full of welcoming strangers even if it 'cost' him his girlfriend waiting for him. Not for Arty the speculation of what might have been - he's proud of where he grew up and his heart belongs there. A certainty for the album even before he sang it with Paul at the Central Park reunion shows, this is the album's upbeat optimism it badly needs, the one song that points out that memories can be good for us and past experiences can shape us for good as well as ill. Without this track near the beginning and the false-dawn of 'Hang On In' this might have been a very depressing album indeed; with these two tracks in place it merely sounds 'real'.

Overall, then, 'Scissors Cut' is an impressive entry into the Garfunkel canon, allowing the singer to deal with grief without getting stuck there. Arty's problem was that he couldn't yet write his feelings out in song the way that so many singer-songwriters including Paul could; instead the best that he could hope for was to reach out to some like-minded individuals who could express how he felt and then adapt that feeling. On that score Arty chose wisely, with a majority of the songs here excellent at expressing the inexpressible but without going so head over heels into grief that he left his audience behind. Indeed very few fans even realised that this was an album full of grieving, given how little he talked about it or the reasons for making it and even without the knowledge critics seem to consider this one of Arty's more cohesive efforts without quite putting their finger on why. There's a darkness and vulnerability to this record that few of Arty's other records match and he's not afraid to go to these places even if everything is still often tied up neatly with an orchestral bow. Just as the title refers to something usually sweet (or at least reserved for sweet occupations such as sewing or crafting) that can be used as a weapon in the right/wrong circumstances, so this LP takes what so usually ends up being a tad on the glossy schmaltzy side of Arty's art and uses it to puncture the production skin. While I wouldn't wish what happened to the singer on anyone, it's no coincidence that this downturn in fortunes instigates an upturn in creativity. The one real shame about this record is that it pretty much had to end here, with Arty becoming a recluse for the next five years going on long walks, reading lots of books (catalogued on shelves in the order Arty read them, complete with notes) and this time determined to make the most of the third great love of Arty's life, actress-director Penny Marshall, who was Arty's partner for most of the next five years and helped him overcome his loss. The next record won't be until 1986 and it will be a throwaway Christmas record, with the next 'proper' album in 1988 'Lefty' a last desperate roll of the dice that reverts back to commercialism and modernity. On this album little is commercial and most things are timeless, from the heart the way every good album should be made.

'If they ever dropped the bomb, you said, Alan's Album Archives would still be writing posts, and I would still be getting notifications from your flipping ghost!' Yes, the title track of 'Scissors Cut' is the only AAA song brave enough to use nuclear annihilation as a metaphor for love. That automatically makes this the bravest Jimmy Webb song around by some distance, but what's braver is that this song doesn't go where you expect it. A love that's stable in a world that isn't would be the perfect metaphor; instead this song claims that even love is insubstantial and can ebb and flow and slowly disintegrate in quite a different way to a nuclear threat. The ear-catching opening is easily the best start to a Garfunkel album because it catches us by surprise. The first line goes exactly where you'd expect ('I'd search for you in the flames') but the second is already pulling out the rug from underneath us ('But now we act like two people who don't know each other's names'). Love becomes a war, with two halves of a couple that used to think the same now dangerously out of synch with each other, fighting an endless battle of rock, scissors paper where one side 'wins' in turn and yet both ultimately lose. Though many fans complain the arrangement of this song is too sugary, that's exactly what's needed to counteract the harsh words and a reminder that things weren't always like this - 'Scissors Cut' isn't the sound of a couple that hate each other but one that no longer loves each other and that makes all the difference on this nostalgic bittersweet song. Art sounds shocked, stunned. How did it get to this? He doesn't know why they fight, that the only possible outcome is that 'she will go and he will miss her' and yet he can't stop himself on an excellent vocal that manages to be emotional without getting carried away. A guesting Andrew Gold, taking a break from working with 10cc this same year, adds some blistering guitar stings alongside Dean Parks that liven up the song a great deal while Leah Kunkel (wife of drummer Russell) adds the first of four subtle harmony vocals here, turning the song from one person's pain into a duet. A blistering beginning to the album, with everything that we associate with Arty (romance, strings, glossy production) turned inwards so that everything feels alien and strange.

'A Heart In New York' is pretty but feels as if it runs against the grain of the album a little. As we've seen, it's a slightly defensive response to the knocking of Arty and writer Steve Gallagher's home city in an era when it was under fire but it contains none of the misery of the rest of the album and merely the beauty. Arty aptly sings his heart out though on this sweet song about coming home, looking out the window and recognising all those landmarks that make him feel safe. This is a sweet song, with a lovely melody that keeps unfolding layer by layer, like the city outside the windows. However the lyrics are realistic enough to declare it's 'a place where you should not wander after dark' and that what the narrator feels is a 'scene like all those movies', but still he's overcome by the sheer awe and love he feels for his hometown. The music sums that feeling up nicely, full of strings and a guitar riff that subtly tug at the heart-strings and sounds more like relaxing in a warm bath than beating us over the head with how wonderful everything is. By the end of the song everything that was wrong in the narrator's heart has turned right, with 'a heart in New York, a love in her eye, an open door and a friend for the night'. Really, though, it's more about coming home than where home happens to be - the polar opposite to 'My Little Town' this is a place that might not be visited very often but always feels safe and welcoming. Without the depth of the rest of the album there's not many places to go and this song lacks the courage of the best of the album, but Arty's vocal makes it clear just how much this song means to him and how much he agrees with the sentiment and Roy Halee's busy but never crowded production gets the feel pretty spot on too.

'Up In The World' is a Clifford T Ward song that's amongst the more upright and classical in Arty's canon. It doesn't sound much like Arty's usual work, despite the sweeping strings, but that's to the song's advantage as it allows the singer to really be in charge of this track, singing alone against an orchestra at times. You can see why this song about a girl the narrator used to fancy before she moved on to better, more famous things would have appealed in his desperate search for both his own career identity away from Simon and Garfunkel and the aspiring actress whose just been taken from him, while perhaps trying to see things from Laurie's point of view as the nearly-star herself left at home while her boyfriend gets all the applause. It's a multi-layered song this one which tries hard to be kind and supportive and is more than a little proud of what she's gone on to become ('It's all to your credit'), but also rather sour and bitter, angry that someone who already seemed perfect to him had to change and move on at all. Wasn't she happy with him? Wasn't what they had enough? 'It's such a shame' he sighs, not because he thinks she isn't worthy of her fame but because he no longer feels like he knows her and certainly doesn't spend time with her, with an inevitable ending right around the corner. The song ends bitterly, complaining about 'your weak excuses and your condescending ways and your all-too frequent nights alone', with Arty reaching a zealous finale that finally breaks through the surface to what he really thinks. As someone whose been in this situation, long ago eclipsed by someone who was never going to hang around at my level all their lives, it's amazing how powerful and accurate this song is to a mix of feelings given that it's made up of just one longish verse of thirteen lines. Arty isn't quite the right authoritarian singer for it but he still gives his all and manages to tease out this song's darker side at just the right speed while the orchestra slowly turns from sugary sweet to sickly sour. Not the most listenable or immediate song in the Garfunkel canon, but an impressive attempt to go somewhere new.

'Hang On In' is an impressive piece by Norman Salitt (biggest hit: Air Supply's 'Here I Am Just When I Thought I Was Over You'), much closer to the electric Simon and Garfunkel style than anything we've had on a Garfunkel since 'Breakaway'. This burst of aggression suddenly kicks in without a pause from the lethargy of the last track and finds Arty trying to come to terms with a heavy loss that hurts so badly. Arty is feeling lost and 'empty', aware that he's given 'too much away' in a relationship and has lost himself along with his lover. He's never sounded more vulnerable than on the verses or more in need of a hug, crying himself to sleep and hanging around a telephone that never calls. He tries to set things right with a gloriously catchy chorus full of good advice as he urges himself to 'hang on in', to 'be strong' and with the hope that tomorrow's going to be a 'brighter day!' The song even moves into a major key, going all Eurovisony as it tries to dance it's way to better health. But the brilliance of the song is that just when we think it's all going to be ok the song de-rails again, an electric guitar passage leading straight back into the dark minor key verses. There's even a minor key that slinks further into minor key fury before suddenly bucking the melancholy mood and dropping several keys to the major again. Arty isn't ready to move on yet after his broken heart though and finds his mind wandering, searching for reasons things didn't work out. Eventually he concludes that for all his optimism the only thing that's going to make him feel better is 'time' and that he will find love and feel this way again, one day, though it might take a while to get there. Lovely as many Art Garfunkel orchestral ballads are, it's great to hear the singer back fronting what sounds like a 'proper' band once more and a sea of guitarists including Dean Parks and Michael and Jeffrey Stratton do him proud. In the end it's a toss-up whether the darkness gets him or the light, the song returning to an instrumental version of the verse before fading on a final chorus, as if the narrator is slowly finding his way back to normality but still isn't quite there yet. Catchy, but deep, this is exactly the sort of thing Arty should have been doing, acknowledging his broken heart while trying to find a way out of the gloom alongside his audience.

Side one ends on Bangles songwriter Jules Shear's piece 'So Easy To Begin'. It's the most typically Garfunkel moment on the album - a slow glossy heartbreaking ballad about how easy it is to fall in love with someone. However even this song, full of the glow of romance and the joys of springtime, has a darker side. Arty's narrator is looking back in retrospect at how wonderful a love was but acknowledges he didn't really pay it full attention when it was taking place. He realises to his horror that he was adrift from his lover even when 'standing by your side' and that he had to learn 'lessons' during a forced time apart. The hidden theme of the song is that either the couple have broken up, just as he was getting to feel safe and offering up more of himself in a relationship, or that she's died. You can see why this song would appeal to Arty so much at the time and the sentiments about wishing you'd made more of a relationship you thought could take all the time in the world but ended abruptly are common thoughts to people who've been through the same: all those things you were always going to say but could never quite bring yourself to make thinking you'd come back to them later. Though again this tries to be a happy song with a chorus keeps coming back to how easy it was to fall in love, the verses are quite ferocious and more about how hard it is to ever stop once you've fallen, whatever happens to a partnership to make it fail or drift apart. Arty sings as if he hasn't even noticed the bitter sentiments at the heart of this song, drifting by with the coo of a teenager on a first date.

Over on side two Arty is playing round with the world's favourite songwriter of the moment Eric Kaz, best known for the song 'Love Has No Pride' covered by everyone in the country-rock community from Johnny Cash to Linda Ronstadt. Arty, though, goes for a more obscure and braver choice with 'Can't Turn My Heart Away', a more heartfelt and direct take on the same theme as 'So Easy To Begin'. On one of the album highlights, Arty admits to both himself and her that a love affair is finally over - and what a fool he's been not to have prepared himself for the fact. The signs were all there, the 'constant goodbyes' both of the lovers were always covering up and his denial at hearing 'the words you tried to say'. But it's all out in the open now and he feels a mixture of relief and heartbreak, no longer able to hide his head in the sand and pretend it isn't happening. Arty can't 'see', both physically from his tears and emotionally from his confusion but still he ups and walks away because he realises it's the best thing he can do for both of them. Only for a final verse to rescind that: he can't walk away, he cares too much and he's hurting too badly. Really struggling to do the right thing anyway he comes up with a neat if heartbroken twist: 'You go' he sighs, 'but I'll stay', unwilling to give up what meant so much to him. Once again you can see why this song would have appealed to Arty in his circumstances. It's the goodbye he never got to say to Laurie out loud and he may well have identified with the narrator who didn't want to listen to the problems until it became too late to do anything about it (Laurie's mother also committed suicide when she was young - and like many people whose parents committed suicide it gets filed away as an 'option' when things get too bad rather than a taboo some would never consider). Even by Art Garfunkel standards this vocal is a thing of beauty, full of tears only just about held in check. Only the song's slightly anonymous melody lets the side down but even that drifts along sleepily in true Garfunkel tradition (sounding not unlike 'Crying In My Sleep' from 'Watermark').

'The French Waltz' is probably the album's weakest cut despite being the best known song her at the time of first release, with Adam Mitchell's song a bit hit for Neil Young's old duets partner Nicolette Larson (Arty may have known Adam from his time in short-lived band The Paupers, picked as one of Paul Simon's choices of talent when he was on the board of the Monterey Pop Festival committee back in 1967; Arty, much shyer than his partner but also keen on promoting talent, chose not to be on the board but would have kept his ears open too so the band may well have been his suggestion in the first place). This is an oddball track about falling in love under Parisian skies, but the lyrics don't necessarily go where the tune does (not least the lack of real French instruments). This is a song hat, like much of the album, sounds more like falling out of love with it's sad reflective acoustic silence and it's low-key vocal. The melody seems to have a down-turn at the corners at the end of each verse, like a frown appearing at the mouth. The lyrics too seem to emphasise not the stars in the sky or the look in your eye but the narrator again kicking himself for being stupid. 'I know I'm not the wisest of men' sings Arty 'And I guess I have the look of a fool' as he acknowledges that love is a kind of sickness. Somehow that part comes over more convincingly than the silly in-French chorus (which translates as: 'When I see your face I feel I love you in any language, Mary!') or the final verse that even in old age people will be laughing at the couple for being so in love. A rather anodyne, anonymous and over-glossy backing track also sucks all the heart out of this song which is perhaps a little too awkward for its own good. Had Arty done it properly (ie more like the famous version) and kept it safe for a different, more normal album it might have worked but compared to the rest of the record it's clear the singer's heart isn't in this one.

Kaz's second song on the album 'The Romance' is another highlight though, making it all the stranger it got the push in favour of the standalone 'Bright Eyes' single in America (it's on European copies of 'Fate For Breakfast' after being a surprise UK #1) and is one of Arty's rarest recordings in his homeland. Poor justice for a scintillating song that oozes passion and drama and is perfectly cast for Arty's strengths as he holds this slow-burning song together through sheer emotional commitment. It's another 'goodbye' song, but one that serves also as a thankyou letter for every good time the couple ever had and everything precious they once shared. It's the 'Maybe I'm Amazed' of the Simon and Garfunkel collection, Arty's narrator recalling how he was once stranded and trapped before his lover 'found the key' and allowed him to be himself. Even if they can't be together and his heart is breaking, he's well aware that he's in a much better and stronger place than when she first met him and much more able to stand on his own two feet. Arty begs his loved one to take his heart again and let him fly high in the sky, but at least he's on his feet and brought back to Earth gently, not the crawling mess he was before. Romance seems to him to work as a magic spell, giving him confidence and hope and it's potion lingers long after his lover has left and still leaves him feeling 'free'. Once again, though the writer was talking about this in terms of merely a split or divorce you can see why this song would have appealed to Arty in his situation, giving him a chance to address all sorts of feelings that he'd never been able to express before. The arrangement he and Roy Halee come up with for this album is excellent too. While the original is much more of your typical top 40 pop song, this one is much more low-key and teases out much more of the song's inner buried melancholy without entirely losing the hope and optimism in the song. Dean Parks is once again a star on guitar, giving Arty a stinging, angry base over which he and Larry Knechtel's keyboards can effortlessly glide, sounding much more like a song that not only says 'I love you' but realises that it's saying it much too late.

'In Cars' is a final fascinatingly surreal piece that packs a lot into just a few minutes. Though Jimmy Webb's original is a rather clichéd idea of American nostalgia, when teenagers found their first car and their first girlfriend more or less simultaneously, the re-arrangement here makes the past sound ghostly and threatening, a time of innocence and hope that could never possibly be sustained in adult life. Arty sobs through this track more than he sings it, picking out the lines in bursts of pure emotion as he tries to recover his age-old idea of the perfect romance and surrounds himself with an impossible ideal he knows in his heart can never be. To be fair some of the lyrics are quite poetic ('Silhouettes on the glass, memories in chrome'), but by and large it's the arrangement that makes this song, Arty and Roy adding a scary and surreal atmosphere to the track with its horror movie strings and the feeling that everything in the song is moving the 'wrong' way, almost backwards into an oblivious black hole instead of the beauty and happiness the narrator was once sure was his for the taking. The arrangement gets better still with the addition of Leah Kunkel making her best appearance on a Garfunkel song as a ghostly presence alternating between 'aaaah' and 'carrr' and Paul Simon, who sings just four lines on this recording but gets the mood completely spot-on. Speaking as Arty's present day self he sighs 'I remember you, everything was new' and later 'Talking in the dark, everything was true'. It's like a sadder reprise of 'Old Friends' after one of them didn't make it to sit on that park bench, life getting in the way despite their youthful promises to stay together always. Nothing more needs to be said: this was a relationship that seemed perfect and was meant to last forever and the narrator is heartbroken that it's there no longer, preferring instead to fool himself with memories of what once was. This moment in the song leads to a sudden increase in tension as the song all but folds in on itself in the Arty Garfunkel 'tidy' substitute for feedback and mayhem, full of glossy strings and saxophones going bezerk in place of smashed guitar strings and drumkits in swimming pools. It still works though, the trio of singers all giving their all in a song that's agonisingly close to losing the plot altogether until the sudden unexpected pay off with the first two lines from 'Girl From The North Country'. In many ways the mother of all future romantic songs, this age-old ballad inspired 'Scarborough Fair' and talks of a more innocent time though equally it could be that Arty is consoling himself that even this age-old ancient song  is about heartbreak and loss, feeling less alone as he listens to music. Less about cars than about youth, this is an oddball song that only really works in this arrangement and makes for a power and memorable near-end to the album.

The record really ends on the anticlimax of another Jimmy Webb song 'That's All I've Got To Say', first heard as part of the film score to 'The Lost Unicorn'. Sensing that this might be his last chance to bid his lover goodbye (Arty doesn't know about 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' just yet), this is a (far too) simple song about not being able to sum up everything a lover means to the narrator even in a book so he gives up writing a song and simply tells her 'I love you'. Arty buffs the song out to four minutes thanks to some extended Larry Knechtel piano playing (not that far removed from his opening to 'Bridge Over Troubled Water') and some lovely wordless Leah Kunkel vocals before a sweeping melodramatic orchestra takes over. Given that the song is so short, though, it's a shame we don't get an actual melody here to go with the words and after half an hour of the darker side of Art Garfunkel this full-on arrangement is too treacly for words. You can see why Arty chose this song, which sums up a million thoughts that must have been racing through his head with the simple words 'I love you', but in truth it's a corny idea and falls into the sugar-coated traps he's done well to avoid throughout the rest of the album. Scissors can't cut through honey, after all.

By and large, though, this is an excellent record that stays true to Arty's dark mood most of the way through and where the usual sources of light and happiness are clearly born from a dark place rather than singalong pop songs with orchestras as in the days of old. I've always considered Arty to be a much under-rated vocalist for all his success: most people agree that he has a gorgeous voice but people don't always agree that he does the right things with it. Arty always excels when the material matches his voice though and gives him depth and 'Scissors Cut' may not be his best album overall (that's the equally dark yet somehow prettier 'Everything Waits To be Noticed') it is arguably his best album as a singer. Many of these tracks demand more from him as a vocalist than ever before, with only a handful of them possessing really catchy and commercial melodies to do the work for him. Almost all the songs on this album come with emotional lyrics that would have been easy to over-sing, especially given how heartfelt many of these handpicked songs are, but Arty does them all proud - either placing his vocals on the edge of tears or acting as if nothing has happened and hiding the real beating dark heart of the song until closer inspection. Of course an album of cover songs can never be as revealing, intense or important as a record full of originals, but 'Scissors Cut' comes as close as any covers record can to bucking that trend: it's chosen with care, sung with love and isn't afraid to embrace the darkness. This is what Garfunkel was trying to do when he played around the concept of a darker record on 'Angel Clare' but here nearly everything works on an album that's impressively brave and frequently dark yet doesn't sacrifice that golden voice or the glossy production. Scissors cut, but the only really bad thing about this album is that it isn't a bit longer and that Arty never really recorded a sequel quite as bold or daring. 

Other Art Garfunkel reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Angel Clare' (1973)

‘Breakaway’ (1975)

'Watermark' (1977)

'Fate For Breakfast' (1979)

'The Animals' Christmas' (1986)

'Lefty' (1988)

The Searchers: Live/Solo/Compilation/US Albums/'Re-Recordings In Stereo' Part One 1963-1987

"The Iron Door Club Sessions: Their Earliest Recording Session"

(Pye**, Recorded Early 1963, Released March 2002)

Sweets For My Sweet/All My Sorrows/Jambalaya/Rosalie/Darling Do You Miss Me?/Maybelleme/Sho' Know A Lot About Love/Maggie Mae/Let's Stomp/Ain't That Just Like Me?/Sweet Little Sixteen

"You know that I love you - I just can't put you down!"

This fascinating little demo tape was believed lost for many years before mysteriously appearing in Tony Jackson's basement just as the bassist was short of money (how come things like that never happen to me?).Long discussed and little heard, even the other Searchers admit in the sleevenotes that they'd never heard so much as a playback before the demo tape got sent away to Pye's Tony Hatch (and presumably then sent back to Tony Jackson). For this is the moment when Searchers history changes and they go from zeros to heroes in the time it took to record a half hour set. The scene is 1963, the location their favoured Iron Door Club (a couple of roads down from The Cavern). The Searchers, frustrated that they were falling behind their Liverpudlian rivals The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, had decided that as as no one else seemed to be taking an interest in them they should hire a tape recorder to record a potential audition tape. The club boss and brief Searchers manager Les Ackerly even taped the show himself after closing the club for an afternoon to allow the band to record. The result was good enough to get the band a recording contract with Pye after Ackerley forwarded it on to their A & R man (although it seems likely given the time delay from recording to contract that, like The Beatles, The Searchers were turned down by a few record companies along the way).
The result is the earliest recording we have of the band and as such is one of those fascinating once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity must-hears, however so-so the music on it actually is and one that should be tracked down by everyone interested enough in Searchers history who wants to know what they sounded like in the early days. Unfortunately, like The Beatles' Decca audition tape, The Searchers seem to have deliberately 'cleaned up' their act for the tape, reducing ten minute live draw 'Ain't That Just Like Me?' to a quick 90 second jaunt and tidying up rowdy songs like 'Jamabalaya' and 'Maybelline' until all the fun has been taken away, in stark contrasts to raving period reviews of their pulsating scintillating act. The Searchers are still a charismatic bunch even when tamed, mind and their range is already tremendous with lead vocals switching between Tony, Mike and Chris and song genres hopping from pure rock to folk and pop already even this early in their creation. What's odd in retrospect after knowing the early Searchers so well on their first two albums is both how little pop there is ('Sweets' is the only real pop song here) and how little of Tony there is (just two songs, 'Sweets' again and 'Sho Know'). Hearing this you get the sense that Chris Curtis is very much the band leader and singer, as opposed to the more back role he would take on the band's single choices and album tracks for the next year or two. Interestingly it's mainly the harder hitting songs that come over best though and that you long to hear more of, with Curtis especially playing out of his skin (his wild drum sound is far better suited to the tight echo-ing walls of the Iron Door than the recording studios: just check out the difference in this fiery performance of 'Sho' Know A Lot About Love' to the timid re-make on 'It's The Searchers').

In total there are five of this album's eleven songs that the band will return to and re-record during their career. Of the ones not mentioned a sweet 'All My Sorrows' comes close to eclipsing the finished showstopper on 'Sugar and Spice' and Curtis is already demonstrating his talents as a writer with an early and slightly rushed version of 'I'll Be Missing You', in future the B-side to 1964's hit single 'When You Walk In The Room' but here a charming half-finished track named 'Darling Do You Miss Me?' The tape also includes an early version of 'Sweets For My Sweet' which was strong enough for Tony Hatch to suggest it as the first single and you can kind of see why as it stands out here a mile despite being completely different to anything else on the demo reel. For now the song is very much Tony's baby without much suppoort in the way of harmonies or guitar phrases behind him, but if anything this version grooves better than the finished hit product. By contrast though the band's other favourite on the tape 'Ain't That Just Like Me' is a huge disappointment too, with an off-mike Curtis drowned out by Mike and Tony and the song never really gets going.

As for the 'new' (or at any rate 'new to us') songs, you wish that the band had returned to the ferocious rocker 'Let's Stomp' complete with its fierce guitar duels, histrionic Jackson vocal and snappy Curtis drumming and Pender's take on Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Sixteen' is of interest, slower and more thoughtful than almost all the other myriad versions being performed up and down Britain at the time (The Beatles, for instance, sped their up and were in all likelihood playing it the same day down the road). A countryfied 'Maggie Mae' brings out the band's inner Liverpudlian too and is sung with more bounce than the fab four will later manage during 'Let It Be' and a revved up version of Cole Porter's 'Rosalie' proves that The Searchers have already established a fondness for unusual cover songs. Overall you have to say that The Searchers passed the audition with flying colours, although it's a shame that some of the much-talked about Searchers showstoppers of the day mentioned by heir earliest fans aren't here (such as Curtis' wild take on 'Runaway' or early versions of 'Twist and Shout' 'Some Other Guy' and 'Money'). A nice historical souvenir  fans thought they'd never get to hear complete and even though it makes for a short running CD (not quite twenty-five minutes in all) it's a highly valuable one for Searchers fans who'd been searching for this set for nigh on forty years and never thought they'd live to hear it. In fact, poor Tony nearly didn't but this release helped pay for his medical bills and ease his financial issues during the last year of his life - little did his 25-year-old self think he was providing his own pension when he first sang into the tape machine. Fans, though, are highly grateful that he let them in on his best kept secret, a record release that only enhances the band's reputation as one of the most gifted Merseybeat bands of the early 1960s.

"Live At The Star Club"

(Pye**, Recorded Early 1963, Released '1994')

Sweets For My Sweet/Ain't That Just Like Me?/Listen To Me/I Can Tell/Sick and Tired/Mashed Potatoes/Sweet Little Sixteen/Don't You Know?/Maybelline/Hey Joe/Beautiful Dreamer/Sweet Nothins/Shakin' All Over/Sho' Know A Lot About Love/Rosalie/Learning The Game/It's Always You/Hully Gully/What'd I Say?

"Hold it Tony - you've had enough for tonight!"

As with 'The Iron Door Club' tapes, these live recordings made a few months later are a must have for historical importance but don't always make for easy listening. First up, the good news: The Searchers are on far better form than the fab four were for their similar vintage tapes (hampered by poor sound and Lennon's audible depression over the recent death of Stuart Sutcliffe) and someone at the Star Club has actually invested in some proper microphones this time around so that, instead of sounding like a sonic mess full of echo and noise, these tapes sound a lot closer to the noisy sweaty, drum-laden thud that patrons would have been hearing at the time. The Searchers are, perhaps surprisingly given how quickly their music will go in a completely opposite direction, right at home here in the club scene where energetic rock and roll and noise are the currency of the day. They really sound like a 'band' here, stretching songs out with the sort of telepathy it was always assumed The Beatles had (but which only appears occasionally on their German recorded tapes) and the band members taking it in turns to share the spotlight. We've heard so many stories of how The Searchers secretly hated each other or plotted to kick band members out from the beginning that it's a relief to hear The Searchers as such a tight 'gang', pulling together for the sake of the others and each member working to their strengths (Curtis' affectionate - and often brave - audience teasing is getting people to look at the band away from their drinks, while Pender's voice and Jackson's charisma is keeping them there and at the back McNally is locked into the music and keeping things together). Just as it's a shame we didn't get at least one decent hi-fi Beatles recording in their natural club environment ('Please Please Me' the album was meant to be recorded at The Cavern before it was discovered how many microphones the sweat bouncing off the walls would ruin), so it is sad that The Searchers only exist via this semi-professional recording that they don't seem to be aware was recorded anyway (at least The Beatles got some free beers in return for their set!) How happy we should be though that anything exists at all, never mind something that sounds this good!

With that out the way, though, it's worth pointing how relatively few of the 'new' songs we'd not heard The Searchers record before actually work. The James Brown instrumental 'Mashed Potatoes' is a case of wrong song for the wrong band with the lazy addition of the title being shouted out by the whole band becoming quite irritating before the end and Buddy Holly cover 'Learning The Game' is awfully twee while 'comedy' song 'Hey Joe' is one of the un-funniest three minutes you could ever spend. Revved up attempts at traditional rock and roll classics like 'Sweet Little Sixteen' 'Maybelline' and 'Beautiful Dreamer' are also a little disappointing, without the distinctiveness that other bands of this vintage bring to this material. Early versions of future horror stories The Searchers will return to, such as 'Sho' Know A Lot About Love' and 'Listen To Me' don't sound any better here at this stage either, while 'Sweets For My Sweet' (the only future single here) starts off well with a great lead from Tony but quickly slows down and ends in a confusing mixture of unrehearsed 'aaahs' (changed on the record to 'oohs'!)
However when The Searchers find a song that really suits them, with a mixture of knowing laughter and heavy repetitive rock riffs - such as future masterpieces 'Ain't That Just Like Me?' (much like the record to come but with more screaming) and 'new' classics 'I Can Tell' (an unusual emotional ballad, exquisitely sung by Curtis at his best),'Hully Gully' (a novelty record about a dance which has never sounded so aggressive - if you try and do the actions at this speed you'll fall over!) 'Sweet Nothin's (with its playful band interaction) and 'What'd I Say?' (turned into a masterpiece of cat and mouse playing with the audience - The Searchers sound every bit as thrilling and un-missable as any other better regarded rock band of their day. Having heard that this tape was up for grabs, record label Phillips sensibly released these last two tracks as a single in 1963 (which to most fans seemed to be the official follow-up to 'Sweets For My Sweet') and considering The Searchers did their best to ignore it and tell their fans not to buy it at a time when the pop market never looked so healthy, the record's #48 chart position was highly impressive. In actual fact it's one of the best A and B side pairings the band ever released, gritty heavy and as tough as nails together with a cheeky charm. Had The Searchers played the rest of their career more like this, instead of being persuaded to sing songs about confectionary and sugar, they might have yet become one of the world's most beloved rock bands, as opposed to a band adored by only a small fraction of people like 'us'.

We couldn't recommend this record whole-heartedly then: even though it's been magnificently cleaned up for CD the concert sounds like what it did at the time: four men playing primitively in an echoey room definitely not built for recording purposes. At times The Searchers sound as if they're plugging out their extended three hour set with any old thing, whether it suits them or (more usually) not. However there's something special that happens even during the band's lesser songs, with a charisma so strong it shines out of these old dusty tapes of half a century's vintage and The Searchers light up the room from the minute they first walk into it. If I was passing I'd sure want to go in and see what this band were up to from the noise they were making (the whole idea of having so many noisy Liverpudlian bands play these clubs) and if I was Tony Sheridan I'd be recording 'My Bonnie' with the 'Searching Brothers', not the 'Beat Brothers'. It seems almost a shock to realise that in fact the next recording The Searchers will make will be a tidy professional version of 'Sweets For My Sweet', a song that will see this great rock band pigeon-holed as a pop act for the rest of their days when on the evidence of the best of this record they could have been so much more. 

  "Meet The Searchers: Needles and Pins"

(Vogue, 'Early 1964')

Needles and Pins/Since You Broke My Heart/Oh My Lover/Alright/Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya/Tricky Dicky/Ain't That Just Like Me?/Some Other Guy/Farmer John/Saturday Night Out/Cherry Stones/Don't Cha Know?

 "Won't you come with me on a Saturday night, everything's right, wooooh!"

If you're a regular AAA reader or simply had a lot of overseas friends who lived through the 1960s then you'll know by now that how you experienced your favourite band was not necessarily the way everyone else experienced them. Right up until 1967 (with 'Sgt Pepper's generally accepted as the benchmark) rock and pop musicians only had the tiniest amount of control over how their product was released and marketed compared to their record company, something that seems ridiculous half a century on when  everything's released on downloads through the internet anyway. As happened with nearly every other band in the 1960s from The Beatles on down, Pye just couldn't get any interest from the American markets to release anything by The Searchers at first, right up until the 'breakthrough' hit of 'Needles and Pins' (with a chart placing of #13 right at the very start of the year). The only way fans could buy Searchers records previous to this single and album was if you travelled abroad a lot and had room in your suitcase for fragile vinyl records by bands you'd never had any reason to hear of or had a passionate British Searchers fan as a cousin (and a rich uncle/parent willing to pay for transport costs).

Given that The Searchers won't last an albums act past 1965 anyway, they're one of the few AAA bands where virtually the whole of their discography was experienced differently by fans on different sides of the Atlantic, with American editions generally reducing the British 14-track all-new albums to ten songs with two recent A or B sides added. This first American record, for instance, came out at a time when The Searchers had already released two records in their homeland and were busy on their third and had already greatly developed their sound. Fans coming to this album, their views already formed by the Mike Pender-sung folk-rock pioneering 'Needles and Pins' would have been deeply confused by the largely Tony Jackson-sung rock and roll classics and the sheer energy of the record; effectively the opposite way round to the sudden switch European fans had just experienced. For some reason whoever compiled this album really doesn't seem to like The Searchers' slow songs and 'Needles and Pins' is the single most rock and roll record in The Searchers' canon, barely drawing breath as one high octane rocker comes hot on the heels of another. Oddly, too, record label Vogue ignore the long-held American tradition of sticking all of a band's past hits onto the first record (in the expectance that the chosen band have already lasted six months and won't be popular much longer anyway) and passes over both 'Sweets For My Sweet' and 'Sugar and Spice'. This record is split more or less equally between current stages of Searchers evolution: five songs from British debut 'Meet The Searchers' (mainly on side one),  five from second album 'Sugar and Spice' (mainly on side two) and the presence of A side 'Needles and Pins' and it's B side 'Saturday Night Out'. It makes for one of the better Americanised AAA albums actually, with an intelligently picked selection that comes close to representing the best of The Searchers in 1963 ('Saturday Night Out' is the only weak link) and sounds sufficiently different to every best-of from the era to be worth listening to, though clearly hearing these albums the way they're meant to be heard is the best way to go (the British albums last longer for a start). Vogue even fail in the one area the American companies traditionally beat the British ones counterparts like Pye - the album cover is shocking, even for a Searchers record, consisting of the band standing and looking awkward in suits against a plain white background that must have taken all of five minutes to come up with (left to right Mike, Tony, Chris and John - they look embarrassingly young so there's a chance you won't recognise them!) The album peaked at an impressive #22 in the Us charts.

"The Searchers Meet The Rattles"

(Mercury, Mid 1964)

The Searchers: Sweet Nothin's/Shakin' All Over/Sweet Little Sixteen/Don't Cha Know?/Maybelline/It's All Been A Dream

The Rattles: The Stomp/Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah/Bye Bye Johnny/Twist and Shout/Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream?)/Hello

"Quivers down the backbone, shakes in the kneebone, tremors in the thighbone, shakin' all over!"

Eager to cash in on the sudden boom for all things British (and especially all things Scouse), Mercury bought up the rights to The Searchers' Star Club tapes for release. However, they soon discovered that a simple tape recorder, an echoey room and a band playing sweaty rock didn't make for the easiest of listens back in 1964. Even they baulked at putting the whole thing out but, aware that they'd sell a few copies on the back of the band name at least, they went ahead with half a record of live Searchers. Rather frustratingly for collectors they then 'pretended' that these songs had been taped at the 'Cavern Club'; though The Searchers often played at The Beatles' second home most of these tapes were split between the Iron Door down the road and Hamburg in an entirely different country! As if that wasn't enough, Mercury decided to pad the rest out with another group taped at Hamburg that night: a forgotten local band named The Rattles. It seemed like a good idea at the time: the band were currently riding high in America with their rocked-up version of Disney whistling classic 'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah' (included here, alongside a cover of the Chuck Berry song 'Bye Bye Johnny' The Searchers also recorded), but it proved to be their only hit until as late as 1970 (when they charted with 'The Witch'). The Rattles remain, however, one of the few successful bands of the 1960s who are now even more forgotten than The Searchers and more than a few fans have scratched their heads over seeing this album listed in discographies (even The Beatles weren't immune - when VeeJay records had the fab four poached from under their noses after buying the rights to their first two singles they filled out  a compilation with songs by The Four Seasons', an album even more schizophrenic than this one!) The result is an odd and uneven little album, with some very lo-fi sound padded out with a couple of spare songs that Mercury had bought the rights up for (such as B-side 'It's All Been A Dream'). Perhaps not surprisingly, it's never been re-issued on CD and fetches quite a lot on vinyl today. You're not missing much if you don't have it, though, as all of The Searchers' stuff has come out on other albums since. 

"This Is Us"

(Kapp Records, 'Mid 1964')

Don't Throw Your Love Away/Unhappy Girls/Where Have You Been?/Hungry For Love/This Empty Place/Hi-Heel Sneakers/It's In Her Kiss/I Count The Tears/Can't Help Forgiving You/Love Potion Number Nine/Sea Of Heartbreak/I Pretend I'm With You

"Won't you please tell me where to begin, where have you been all my life?"

Though released only a few short months after the first Searchers album in America, suddenly everything has changed. Both The Beatles and Searchers have now appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and British rock and roll is now in (and in a big way too!) As so often happens, poor Vogue - the small record label that took a chance on The Searchers - have been ousted to make way for the big boys (relatively speaking) with The Searchers now transferred to Kapp Records. A good move as it turns out, as nearly everyone of a certain age is desperate to catch up on what they've been missing and fans are quickly dividing themselves into 'gangs' dedicated to a particular group (far more so than in Britain where fans tended to collect by songs they liked more than staying loyal to an artist, as a very general rule). The Searchers never reached the same giddy heights as Beatlemania but they weren't all that far behind: Unluckily for them Vogue had already taken up the rights to the band's first bona fide US hit 'Needles and Pins' while Kapp, surprisingly, passes over the band's breakthrough hits 'Sweets For My Sweet' and 'Sugar and Spice'. However the presence of the band's second American hit 'Don't Throw Your Love Away' and a surprise runaway hit in the release of American-only-single 'Love Potion no 9' still made this record a huge seller at the time and easily the band's biggest in the States. In truth though it's even more of a mess than the first, covering a wide variety of styles split between slightly rushed debut 'Meet The Searchers' (one track), the harder edged sequel 'Sugar and Spice' (two tracks) and the softer folkier and recently released third LP 'It's The Searchers' (eight songs), together with the B-side of 'Don't Throw Your Love Away' 'I Pretend I'm With You'. Some of the selections from the third album are questionable (no 'Shimmy Shimmy'?!) though at least 'Pretend' sounds good at the end of the album. The packaging too is something of an improvement on the British equivalents with a nice simple shot of the band leaning round Chris' shoulders against a photographic backdrop (and where the band actually seem uncomfortable, unlike the overly posed covers of the first four albums in Britain). 

"The New Searchers LP"

(Kapp Records, 'Early 1965')

Everybody Come and Clap Your Hands/If I Could Find Someone/Magic Potion/I Don't Want To Go On Without You/Bumble Bee/Something You Got Baby//What Have They Done To The Rain?/A Tear Fell/Til' You Say You'll Be Mine/You Want To Make Her Happy/Everything You Do/Goodnight Baby

"You don't have to try, you just wink your eye - and I think I'm about to lose my mind!"

The Searchers' third American album is effectively the band's fourth in Britain, 'Sounds Like Searchers', a few months late though it comes with a single replacement (period single 'What Have They Done To The Rain?' for 'Let The Good Times Roll' at the start of side two) which actually improves rather than detracts from the original and gives 'Sounds' even more of a folky feel. The front cover too is rather different, with a black and white shot of the band, grinning, grouped around Mike as he strums a guitar in the middle and with their first names in heavy black type over their heads (thanks to that and the deeply generic title - honestly, what were they going to call this album when the next one came out? - has lead to more than a few fans re-christening this album 'Chris, John, Mike and Frank'. Like the other Searchers American albums, this set isn't strictly available on album - stateside fans just got the European copy instead, although 'Rain' is available as a bonus track on the album anyway.

"The Searchers No 4"

(Kapp Records, 'Mid 1965')

You Can't Lie To A Liar/Goodbye My Love/Don't You Know Why?/Does She Really Care For Me?/So Far Away/I'll Be Doggone/Each Time/Til' I Met You/I'm Your Loving Man/Be My Baby/Four Strong Winds/He's Got No Love

"I never knew about love til' I met you"

Oddly the American Searchers album no 4 is a sneak preview of British Searchers album no 5 'For What I'm Worth', released at the time when it *should* have been (ie when they recorded it) rather than Pye looking for an extra seller over Christmas. Just to confuse us even more, the Americans have re-used the cover for album no 4 'Sounds Like Searchers' for this one (though they've played around with it a little bit, putting the photos of the band in line with each other and removing the writing from the top of John's head to a banner at the top). Apart from the fact that album no 5, 'Take Me For What I'm Worth', is arguably the best of The Searchers albums anyway, Kapp records actually improve on the British version anyway by including period A sides 'Goodbye My Love' and 'He's Got No Love' (candidates for their two strongest) and strong B sides like 'Til' I Met You' and 'So Far Away'. Of course, the American market can't break the habit of a lifetime and get it all right, so the songs that have been dropped from the 'Worth' album to make way for all this extra stuff unfortunately includes many of the best tracks: 'It's Time' 'Too Many Miles' 'I'm Ready' and even the semi-hit 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' itself. Ah well, this is still the strongest American LP of the lot (ending with 'Four Strong Winds' into 'He's Got No Love', which works rather well) - and sadly the last.

"Smash Hits"

 (Marble Arch, '1966')

Needles and Pins/Farmer John/Sugar and Spice/What Have They Done To The Rain?/Take Me For What I'm Worth/Love Potion Number Nine/Til' I Met You/He's Got No Love/Someday We're Gonna Love Again/Sweets For My Sweet

"My love would not only last forever but forever and a day"

Sometimes I don't understand record companies. Pye pushed The Searchers for more and more product as the years went by and then did their best to pretend the band didn't exist in 1965 by delaying their fifth album 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' to the point where it was doomed to failure. They then followed this up by releasing a best-of and trying to cash in on the band's name (a record made with such care and attention that the 'official' title used on the album sleeve is actually 'The Searcher's Smash Hits', complete with wrongly inserted apostrophe). What makes all this even odder is that most bands celebrating their third year had already had more than one compilation out by now - if anything Pye were rather too late at cashing in on the band's success. All that said, 'Smash Hits' was a respectable seller and a popular LP for many old fans who'd worn their old singles out, while it even gave the band a short burst of life with new ones too. 'Smash Hits' did all this by being slightly unusual: it passes over obvious hits like 'When You Walk In The Room' and 'Goodbye My Love' in favour of some relatively unknown songs: classic B-side 'Til' I Met You', album track 'Farmer John' and lesser known hits 'Someday We're Gonna Love Again', 'He's Got No Love' and 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' (all five of which sum the Searchers sound up quite nicely between them). Pye were obviously keeping a few hits back for 'Volume Two' which they were already working on for the following year. 'Smash Hits' has never been re-issued on CD in this form, although it's interesting to note how frequently this bunch of tracks will appear on future compilations of all eras, usually with the 'missing' hits re-instated. 

"Smash Hits Volume Two"

(Pye, 'Early 1967')

Have You Ever Loved Somebody?/You Wanna Make Her Happy/Hungry For Love/If I Could Find Someone/When You Walk In The Room/Don't Throw Your Love Away/This Feeling Inside/Goodbye My Love/Take It Or Leave It/Saturday Night Out

"Just take it - or leave it, either one will do!"

Top five hits 'When You Walk In The Room' and 'Goodbye My Love' plus number one 'Don't Throw Your Love Away' - a surprise absentee from the first volume - were, undeniably, smash hits; as smashing and as record breaking as any hits of the 1960s. But fans could probably get away with challenging the rest of this track selection under the trades description act: nothing else here made the top tenin fact. Instead we get the lesser portion of the lacklustre singles recorded towards the end (Stones cover 'Take It Or Leave It' and Hollies cover 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody?'), film soundtrack fodder 'Saturday Night Out' yet again, a B-side 'This Feeling Inside', one album track from 'Sugar and Spice' and two from 'Sounds Like Searchers'. This makes for one heck of a disjointed jumble, covering a two year period from the days when styles changed by the week and a record that's underwhelming compared to the constant hit rate of the first volume. Still, the cover's nice (with a moody shot of the band from the 'Take Me For What It's Worth' period) and for years this was the easiest way for collectors to seek out the rarer singles. 

"Golden Hour Of The Searchers"

(Golden Hour, January 1972)

Needles and Pins/When You Walk In The Room/I Don't Want To Go On Without You/He's Got No Love/What Have They Done To The Rain?/Farmer John/I Count The Tears/Someday We're Gonna Love Again/Goodbye My Love/All My Sorrows/Have You Ever Loved Somebody?/Sugar and Spice//Sweets For My Sweet/Take Me For What I'm Worth/Four Strong Winds/Love Potion no 9/Hungry For Love/Til' I Met You/Don't Throw Your Love Away/You Wanna Make Her Happy/Saints and Searchers/Sea Of Heartbreak/This Feeling Inside/Take It Or Leave It

"I always knew why the sun was shining and why the clouds passed by"

A typically strong and varied set from the 'Golden Hour' franchise (who also did compilations by The Kinks, Status Quo, 'Trad Jazz' and, umm, comedian Tony Hancock), this was a useful way back in the day of collecting some of The Searchers' rarer material that was rather hard to find five years on. Though all the hits are here, the hour running time means that there's also space for such lost gems as Hollies cover 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody?', obscure Searchers original 'You Wanna Make Her Happy' and pioneering psychedelic masterpiece 'He's Got No Love'. Of course, like most releases in the series the packaging is minimal, the running order leaps about all over the place (we start firmly in 1964, go back to 1963 and peak in 1965 somewhere in the middle) and you can buy this sort of stuff much more easily and comprehensively on any number of modern CDs. More than worth a spin if you come across it in a charity shop though and back in 1972 this was at least a candidate for the best Searchers LP to own, with far more care and thought given to it than the Searchers' earlier best-ofs. Followed by a second volume in 1973.

"Second Take" aka "Needles and Pins - Re-Recordings In Stereo"

(RCA Victor, '1972')

Sugar and Spice/Don't Throw Your Love Away/Farmer John/Come On Back To Me/When You Walk In The Room/Needles and Pins/Desdemona/Goodbye My Love/Love Potion Number Nine/Sweets For My Sweet/Take Me For What I'm Worth/What Have They Done To The Rain?

CD Bonus Tracks: The World Is Waiting For Tomorrow/Love Is Everywhere/And A Button/Sing Singer Sing/Vehevala/Madman/Solitaire/Spicks and Specks/Bite It Deep/Indigo Spring/I Really Don't Have The Time/Think Of My Life/Don't Shut Me Out

"This record wants to makes the old songs new, full of re-recordings too - and a button!"

By 1972 The Searchers  had been six years without a hit and seven years since they'd last made an album. Though RCA could have compiled a nice collection of songs from their recent run of flop singles for the label, they wanted something a bit more commercial and encouraged The Searchers to re-record their hit singles instead, enabling the label to go head to head with Pye's re-releases of their old material. That concept, though, was surely badly flawed. Fans interested enough to still be buying Searchers product were largely canny enough to know a re-recording when they heard them and RCA's insistence of simply re-recording these songs as closely to the originals as possible robbed the band of the chance to prove what they'd learnt and where they'd gone since making them. 'Take Me For What I'm Worth', for instance, could have been even more powerful if sung by a moody, hungrier band determined to keep true to their traditions, while 'Goodbye My Love' had added poignancy now that it seemed clear in retrospect that it was almost certainly a 'goodbye' to the charts and 'What Have They Done To The Rain?' was the sort of ecological protest far more in vogue in 1972 than 1965 and could have been great if made like a contemporary 70s epic prog rock ballad. Instead of this, we got  four middle aged men doing the audio equivalent of re-creating their baby photos, eager to get every last nuance the same under orders even though to audiences in 1972 the sound of 1963 sounded like a completely different time, not just an earlier decade. Given the fab songs the band were still writing and recording when given half the chance, this album seems like a big fat waste as the only Searchers album of 'new' material (well, you know what I mean) right in the middle of a fourteen year lean spell.

There are, at least, a few reasons that make this set still worth buying. The band do have to slightly alter their arrangements, if only to cover the fact that Tony and Chris are long gone from the band, with Mike and Frank doing double time on the vocals. Given that The Searchers still haven't ever released an official live LP, it's your only chance to hear what the post-1966 Searchers sounded like in concert re-doing their hits (although, to be frank, a straightforward live album complete with added atmosphere would have been a far better bet). As well as The Searchers' seven most famous songs, they throw in a few oddities: 'Desdemona' from 1971 is a lost classic and fully deserving of a second airing; 'Farmer John' is a surprise highlight, sung with a tongue-in-cheek feel worthy of a bunch of thirty somethings returning to their teenage years and trying to remember how to act 'wild'; the band also add a nice piano 'n' guitar riff to 'Goodbye My Love' and a heavy drum part that sounds like the narrator is being metaphorically dragged out the door - if only the vocals had been up to speed this sort of reinvention might have been the way to do this album. We also get one solitary new song in 'Come On Back To Me', a sweet new ballad from Frank, John and Mike that's by far the most comfortable with the 1970s sound settings and sounds not unlike The Moody Blues. As the original album went, however, this is a record that's thin on ideas and there aren't really many reasons to recommend an album of re-recordings that are less well performed and often rushed and given an overly glossy 70s production sound that really doesn't fit, with 'Second Take' easily the weakest of the original Searchers albums.

It was, too, far too costly a record in the long-term. When RCA made the offer to the band to re-record their old material they'd assumed that the band's old contracts made the way clear for them to make an album like this. The Searchers kind of thought that too. So they were horrified when Pye served the band and RCA with an injunction soon after release after finding a small print clause in their contract that prevented The Searchers doing exactly this sort of an album, leading to the album - eventually - being pulled from the shelves and killing even the paltry few sales of this record in one go. As a result the original vinyl copy of 'Second Take' is one of the rarest Searchers albums and many fans had never even heard of it until the CD re-issue. RCA, annoyed at being hit for extra money for so little return, promptly dropped The Searchers from their label and another promising lead of making music got snuffed out long before time, giving fans another reason to really really dislike this album.

That said, the CD - which finally appeared in 2005 - is a whole different beast, sensibly padded out with a bonus thirteen songs that combined run for longer than the original record. Four of these had been released as A and B sides prior to the 'Second Take' album, with 'Desdomona' plus 'And A Button' true inheritors of the Searchers' natural earlier brilliance, even if the other two - 'The World Is waiting For Tomorrow' and 'Love Is Everywhere' - aren't quite as strong. The Searchers eventually repaired their burnt bridges with RCA in time to release two more singles in 1974 with similarly mixed results: Neil Sedaka's 'Solitaire' was even a minor hit for the band (their first since 1965), while 'Vehevala' is a candidate for the band's last truly classic release (a naval-gazing song about the navy with a terrific catchy melody, though the flipsides weren't worth walking into the room to be honest. That leaves five songs originally unreleased: 'Don't Shut Me Out' is a worthy return to the two minute pop single and 'Indigo Girl' an even worthier attempt at something a shade deeper. The others, though, were probably best left vault-bound: 'Bite It Deep', especially, wins the award of 'weirdest Searchers song' and for once that's not a compliment with a weird and unpalatable mixture of lust, fruit and Biblical references. Ah well, at least it beats more re-recordings of the hits I suppose. Overall, then, a bit of a mixture even on CD but worth owning as the easiest place to track down the last brilliant half dozen or so songs of the band's career and as a reminder that The Searchers definitely had a 'second wave' in them somewhere - even if recording 'second takes' of old songs probably wasn't it.

Note: we've debated long and hard about to what to do with our layout here as, technically speaking, the original album only consisted of twelve re-recordings even though 99.9% of fans only know this album from the CD re-release anyway. After deliberation we've decided to keep the 'album' and 'recordings' separate - the way we have with all our compilations - but we've placed the actual review here rather than in 2005 when the CD came out so that it's spaced roughly in the middle of these releases- please look up and look down if you want to read about the tracks individually! A quick note too on the name: it seems generally accepted that this album's 'real' name is 'Second Take' but some discographies still list the 1972 album as 'Needles and Pins - Re-Recordings In Stereo' hence the fact we've included both; the CD re-issue is named simply 'Second Take'.

"Golden Hour Of The Searchers Volume Two"

(Golden Hour, '1973')

Bumble Bee/Does She Really Care For Me?/Second Hand Dealer/Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya/Magic Potion/Too Many Miles/Livin' Lovin' Wreck/Be My Baby/Something You Got Baby/Western Union/Dont'cha Know?/I'm Ready//Everybody Come and Clap Your Hands/Crazy Dreams/Stand By Me/Goodnight Baby/Some Other Guy/If I Could Find Someone/Each Time/When I Get Home/Let The Good Times Roll/I'll Be Doggone/Listen To Me/I Can't Help Forgiving You/Hi-Heel Sneakers

"I 'm ready and I'm willin' and I'm able so you better come go with me!"

The second volume of 'Golden Hour' recordings brings together an even more obscure collection of songs than its predecessor, with this surely the only Searchers compilation not to include a single top thirty hit on it (the closest is 'When I Get Home' which peaked at #35). For fans like who prefer the later, obscurer Searchers this a very welcome fact, with space given over to neglected songs from albums three, four and five plus a smattering of the band's rarer flop singles for Pye released between 1966 and 1967. There's a lot of great stuff here heartily recommended, including the voodoo jive of 'Bumble Bee', Phil-Spector-doing-The Walker-Brothers-epic 'Does She Really Care For Me?' and the cheery morse code joy of 'Western Union'. Unfortunately there's also a fair few disasters in here too - the silliness of 'Livin' Lovin' Wreck', the lack of passion felt in the Searchers take on 'Stand By Me', the depressing country of 'Too Many Miles' and the weirdest version of 'Hi-Heeled Sneakers' you will ever hear (and which makes for a particularly unsatisfying set closer). Had the Golden Hour series stretched to a third set they would surely have got things totally right, with the only things left to release such pure gold as 'Each Time' 'Til' I Met You' and 'Ain't That Just Like Me?' That was never going to happen given how poorly this set sold - it seems amazing in retrospect that the un-hip Searchers of the mid 1970s sold enough to make a second set (they remain the only 'Golden Hour; act to get two volumes; even The Kinks didn't sell enough for that!) Still, though far from perfect, this second hour goes some way to proving the breadth and depth of The Searchers catalogue, Would that more of the band's best-ofs followed suit and included even a tenth of the daring shown by this compilation. 

"The Searchers File"

(Pye, '1977')

Sweets For My Sweet/Sugar and Spice/Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya/Farmer John/Love Potion Number Nine/Alright/Needles And Pins/Saturday Night Out//Don't Throw Your Love Away/Some Other Guy/Saints and Searchers/Ain't That Just Like Me?/Somebody We're Gonna Love Again/No One Else Could Love Me/It's In Her Kiss//When You Walk In The Room/Sea Of Heartbreak/What Have They Done To The Rain?/This Feeling Inside/Goodbye My Love/Til' I Met You/Each Time//He's Got No Love/When I Get Home/Take Me For What I'm Worth/Take It Or Leave It/Have You Ever Loved Somebody?/Popcorn Double Feature/Western Union/Second Hand Dealer

"There's gonna be good times baby just wait and see, music and parties and laughter like there used to be"

At last, after four times of trying, The Searchers get the compilation they deserve. Few fans had been able to get hold of the obscure singles from the later Pye years, all of which were by now at least ten years old, so getting this double album felt like a whole new album in itself at the time. Even the first LP in this double record set was better than average, with a slightly longer running time that gave space to fan favourites like 'Ain't That Just Like Me' and 'No One Else Could Love Me', plus oddities like film soundtrack song 'Saturday Night Out'. It's the second disc, though, that really excites, starting with 'When You Walk In The Room' and including almost all of the ten singles on Pye that followed through to 1967 (with 'Bumble Bee' the one exception, oddly, perhaps because it's one of the few Searchers singles taken from an album). When you remember that this run of songs includes such greats as 'Goodbye My Love' 'He's Got No Love' and 'Popcorn Double Feature' you'll begin to wonder why on earth the second half of this file isn't as fondly remembered or as successful as the first. There are also two excellent additions from 1965: classic album track 'Each Time' and gorgeous B-side 'Til' I Met You', both of which should also have been singles - and hit ones at that. The packaging could certainly have been better (this really does look like a big blue cabinet file, with the 'Searchers' logo peeking through from the black inner sleeve if you happen to own the original vinyl edition), but then The Searchers were never particularly well served by Pye's art department so I guess this is just another band tradition. Released at the height of punk, when you'd have expected a pop band from ten years earlier to be crucified, 'The Searchers File' bucked the trend by getting glowing praise and - compared to past Searchers compilations - strong sales, leading to a renaissance of sorts across the next few years including eventually two new albums and a round-up of the even more obscure B-sides that went with this record's second half of A-sides. All in all, this is the best single purchase Searchers set until 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' devotes even more space to the band - file under 'wonderful'. 

"Love's Melodies"

(Sire, '1981')

Silver/Infatuation/She Made A Fool Of You/Almost Saturday Night/Little Bit Of Heaven/You Are The New Day/Love's Melody/Everything But A Heartbeat/Radio Romance/Murder In My Heart/September Gurls/Another Night

"It's a radio romance - but it's a one way love and it just won't set me free and the radio don't love me!"

Perhaps the closest The Searchers came to tradition in their 'Sire' period was being shafted by their record company yet again with a decision to re-market their last album 'Play For Today' for the American market (who wouldn't get the 'joke' of the BBC series name). The re-named 'Love's Melodies' tend to be what most people call this album nowadays, while the replaced front cover - a shot of the band smiling instead of a bland radio dial - is a great improvement too. The meddling with the track listing is less kind, however: to some extent this album runs the European one almost backwards, jumping from tracks 5,7,4,9,11,12,10,7,3,2,1 and replacing 'Sick and Tired' with a whole new song, the new title track 'Love's Melody'. None of this butchery - unusual for the 1980s when record companies and fans alike had rather grown out of this - really helps the album, though the new song is nice. After all that hard work the album flopped just as hard in the States anyway. 

"Play The System (Oddities, Rarities and Flipsides)"

(PRT (Pye), '1987')

It's All Been A Dream/Saturday Night Out/I Pretend I'm With You/No One Else Could Love Me/I'll Be Missing You/This Feeling Inside/Til' I Met You/So Far Away/I'm Never Coming Back/Don't Hide It Away//It's Just The Way (Love Will Come And Go)/Popcorn Double Feature/Lovers/Western Union/I'll Cry Tomorrow/Secondhand Dealer/Crazy Dreams/The System

(First reviewed as 'AAA Core Review #89' first published in July 2008)

"I only know every time I hold you near no one else could love me - but you"

Just like I do with The Hollies, every time I hear that there’s going to be yet another new Searchers compilation coming out onto the market, I groan. Not because the evergreen tracks that are trotted out yet again are in anyway bad – both bands seemed to be onto a winner seemingly every other week for most of the 60s, releasing tonnes of material even compared to everyone else in that decade – but because the true brilliance at the heart of both bands’ output just gets forgotten the more these old evergreens get played over and over again. You see, although Searchers Play The System is a compilation (of sorts), it's not your usual best-of album; it’s more of a mop-up job for all of the tracks that came out in-between the band’s long-playing records and for the most part are still missing from the band’s other releases. This collection of oddities includes classic B-sides from the band’s mid-60s heyday, some flop ‘A’ sides from the band’s last gasp during ‘66-‘67 and a rather weird song rescued from an obscure film soundtrack, almost all of which are virtually unknown to all but the biggest Searchers collector and almost all of which are fabulous. Usually only the most passionate collectors get jumpy over a band’s B-sides, which tend to be quickly recorded throwaways in the hands of most groups, but in the Searchers’ case in particular these flip-sides are stunning. These tracks are also incredibly important in the development of the band’s sound because, as well as being well respected cover merchants, The Searchers were all pretty fine songwriters in their own right and the group members all used these releases as opportunities to experiment with styles and ideas for their later albums. They gave the band the chance to flex their songwriting muscles for the first time away from the spotlight and play around with a band formula that record label Pye didn't want them to change. Calling yourself a Searchers fan and not knowing them is like saying you only know The Beatles from the 'One' compilation or the Rolling Stones from the same tired two hours trotted out in concert each year.

First, though, a word of explanation seems called for here. How do you explain B-sides to a modern audience who only know CDs, a format that plays on one side only? Yes B-sides are still around, but most CD single B-sides you get nowadays tend to be a popular album track you’ve already bought 18 times over or a re-mix of the A-side that sounds near identical to the track you’ve just played – only the artists that lived through the 60s and to an extent the 70s still value flip-sides as a useful commodity, a chance to prove all of the talents that the restrictive money-earning, radio play-securing A-sides won’t let you show. Like The Hollies again, The Searchers are a case in point. The sheer number of singles and albums being released at speed in the 60s and the mind-boggling competition meant that artists had to ‘play safe’ to a degree, building on past hits instead of shedding them entirely (only the Beatles and – to some extent – The Rolling Stones had a big enough fan-base to make the need to appeal to ‘general public’ rather than fans unnecessary and even they struggle to do this in their early days). By contrast, the B-sides were usually time off for good behaviour, with these tracks more a ‘bonus’ for collectors and a nice extra for fans once you’d got your single home and played the A-side to death, rather than an ‘important’ release in their own right. Today, these B-sides are a valuable idea of what music was like in a period away from narrow local radio playlists and one-off fashion trends and despite being more likely to have been rushed, these flips-ides often sound far less self-conscious and far more like the ‘heart’ of a band’s style as a result.

Both the Hollies and the Searchers used their B-sides as early experiments with their own songwriting styles (it helped that the writer of a B-side got exactly the same royalty figures as the writer of an A-side in those days, dependent on how many copies got sold rather than a standard fee, so in those days of million-selling discs no wonder so many groups suddenly started writing songs). These two groups usually knocked off their B-sides in quick bursts either side of recording their painstaking arrangements for their A-sides and – certainly in the 19565-66 era – these one or two-take flip sides have a spark and an energy missing from their better known 20-take-plus cousins. Both the Hollies and the Searchers are often accused of ‘playing it safe’ by modern ears, critics who fail to understand that bands who started in the immediate wake of the Beatles when pop music was still seen as a ’fringe’ and a flash-in-the-pan trend and who didn’t have the record company clout to experiment like their better-selling counterparts. All too often their singles had to keep ‘in’ with the rather more mainstream tastes of the general public and had no chance to develop an agenda of their own. However, these lesser heard B-sides are a great opportunity for showing off just how talented both bands were when they were finally left to progress naturally. 

By the mid 1960s The Searchers had fallen badly out of favour. The hits stopped coming around the first half of 1965 and a decision to delay their releases in order to promote bigger name bands meant that The Searchers were forever playing catch-up, forced to be six months behind the competition at a stroke. The general consensus of the day by then was that The Searchers were only a covers band, leftover from the days of Merseybeat when the world had moved onto something more interesting. That is clearly not true, as a quick glance through this compilation's contents will show you: early B-sides, written by the band themselves (particularly drummer Chris Curtis) are as strong as any of the 'A' sides. Pretty ballads 'No One Else Could Love Me' and 'Til' I Met You' are amongst the sweetest, most beautiful moments in the band's canon, right up there with 'Needles and Pins' and 'Walk In The Room' (even in their earliest days The Searchers were famous for their slow songs which really stood out in the middle of live sets full of gutsy rock and roll). Later B sides have the band further blossom into thoughtful, complex writers as good as any of the Sonny Bonos and Jackie De Shannons they were copying, the songs frustratingly thrown away on flipsides: the fierce put-down of 'I'm Never Coming Back', the epic 'Lovers' and the twisty turny 'It's Just The Way Love Will Come and Go' makes you long more than ever for a sixth Searchers long-player in 1966 (the band's album discography having been prematurely halted just as it was reaching its peak the previous year). As for the later flop singles from 1966 and 1967, they flopped because The Searchers were out of fashion, not because they'd lost the plot - even after losing early leading light and main arranger Curtis, The Searchers recorded some of their greatest material: the orchestral bitter sigh of 'Popcorn Double Feature' complains about the then-modern musical world while embracing music as complex as anything being made at the time; 'Western Union' updates the breathy enthusiasm and catchiness of early Searchers records with something a little deeper and 'Secondhand Dealer' goes in the opposite extreme, taking a narrator on the brink of suicide, a first film noir from a band who helped invent technicolour.

Drummer Chris Curtis is, as ever, the biggest and brightest star here, with his under-used baritone and his witty to-the-point songs veering from making The Searchers sound like a rocky Little Richard band to making them sound like a Phil Spector orchestra. The others back him up admirably though – from John McNally’s pretty guitar licks, Mike Pender’s dependable vocals, Tony Jackson’s under-rated and unfairly maligned falsetto and Frank Allen’s master-of-all-trades, the band have a lot of reliable foundations to build on. The later singles from 1966-67 also show a lot of maturity that earlier and better known Searchers songs just don’t have and are a fascinating glimpse into an alternative universe of what the late 60s might have been like had Pye renewed the Searchers’ contract and allowed them to keep releasing albums just as they were becoming the class of the field. Given that Pye wanted to bury the group and get their contract over with as quickly as possible, you could forgive these later songs for being diabolical. In fact, the Searchers seem to do everything in their power to re-capture their earlier magic but in a much more mid-60s rounded way than their raw and powerful early songs. Indeed, their last batch of Pye material - songs like Popcorn Double Feature, Western Union and Secondhand Dealer  - might well be the best Searchers singles of all time – so its criminal that only a handful of passionate collectors currently know about these songs.

By 1987 the late period Searchers singles were all but impossible to find and the band had long been relegated to 'five hit wonders', with a limited series of songs that everyone knew and nothing else (Pye simply didn't re-issue anything by The Searchers that wasn't a best-of for years - and even those were thin on the ground for a ten year stretch). By the late 1980s, though, everything has changed. New generations have sprung up, the more intelligent of them open to their parent's record collection and - in the wake of the '20 Years ago first-time-on-CD' frenzy of 'Sgt Peppers' that year - re-assessing old forgotten music by Liverpudlian bands was 'in'. 1987 is music collector’s ‘year zero’ in many ways, just as 1977 was punk’s intended ‘year zero’; the first year ‘proper’ of the compact disc and the first real chance for record companies to dig out dusty master-tapes for re-release, a phenomenon that hadn’t really happened in the years of vinyl when it was assumed you could beg, borrow or steal a second-hand copy of anything you were missing. It’s also exactly 20 years since the summer of love, a long enough period of time for the decade to be intriguing to newer collectors already cheesed off with music released in their own era and not too long ago for those who lived through the 60s to have thrown all of their period clobber and battered collections away. The cult of the 60s as being the greatest decade in the history of modern times – as opposed to just being a great one that bore the fruits of the 50s and the roots of the 70s – also largely starts here, thanks to programmes of the day looking back at such things as the recording of Sgt Peppers, Haight Ashbury, the Monterey Pop Festival and Merseybeat which—let’s face it—sound so much better compared to anything out at the time that it's amazing the whole population didn’t move en masse to San Francisco that year. This trend will be developed in the nostalgic 1990s, but for now this is the first time the 60s seem ‘new’ again, instead of being ‘what came before now’. For these reasons compilations of anything other than hit material is unusual pre the mid-80s to say the least, but they become dead common from now on (thank goodness all this stuff did become easier to find or arguably this list wouldn’t be being made at all). 'Play The System' is the sort of thing true fans had been after for two decades, but only now in the nostalgic CD age were there enough of them to make re-launching an old set of obscure recordings financially viable.

Not quite every track included here is a gem, but back in the recording-sessions-sandwiched-between-gigs, quickly-before-the-fame-wears-off early 60s and the darn-it’s-waned-already-mid-60s it’s a wonder anybody made B-sides of any quality, never mind as many gems like these, with 'Play The System' perhaps the band's most consistent album of material even including those plentiful best-ofs. Ironically the title track, a rather flimsy film soundtrack song from the 'glory days' of 1964, lets the side down and should perhaps have stayed obscure: instead the run of material and the breadth of it is deeply impressive. Play The System starts off by taking us back to those very beaty, meaty and energetic days of Merseybeat, with the falsetto of original lead singer Tony Jackson very much to the fore. Indeed, so far removed are these earlier tracks from the closing ones of side two that its hard to believe this is the same band at all, never mind the fact that there is only a three-year gap between the songs (which is nothing in today’s terms). This is partly because Merseybeat was at its selling-peak back then and this song is pure Merseybeat from start to finish – the daft and simple rhymes, the punchy stop-start tempo and the tight energetic harmonies. It’s also because Tony Jackson so dominates the sound here. Like the Hollies (yep, them again), the group is being very much led by their falsetto-voiced member (its Graham Nash in the Hollies), which might sound odd given how aggressive and matcho Merseybeat sounds to modern ears (although less so after the out and out aggression of the 1950s, perhaps). Tony Jackson is nearly as high as his Mancunian counterpart and his elevated vocals take the lead on most Searchers songs of the period (by comparison it’s usually Pender’s deep-ish baritone on later Searchers songs). For those that don’t know, Jackson was cruelly booted out of the band he helped found in 1965, ostensibly because he never fitted in and the others had been trying to oust him for some time (less generally, it could be said that Jackson’s vocals were just so tied up with Merseybeat that by the more progressive days of 1965 his sound was holding the band back).

Even with this last track, however, this compilation is a fine reminder of just how great a little band The Searchers were. Especially in the mid 60s, when the band’s singles stopped selling as their records got better and better, there is too much good stuff here that’s been overlooked. If you liked the recent Searchers compilation The Collection (and somebody must have done – it wasn’t that far off outselling Madonna’s latest, which is good going for record made forty odd years ago), you’ll love this one, the true reason why the Searchers appealed to so many people at the time.  Don’t play the system like everyone else. Put the Searchers back on the top of the musical pile where they rightfully belong – this album is a fine place to start.  A lot of the songs featured here probably hadn’t been heard by most fans since the band’s 60s peak until this fine record came out and this album is itself now a bit of a rarity, but if you’re a fellow Searchers nut or just interested in the mid-60s in general, get hold of a copy of this album somehow – you won’t regret it. 'Play The System' remains my single favourite Searchers album, though strictly speaking it's not an album, full of The Searchers at their most inventive, explorative, ambitious and daring. After hearing this you'll never want to hear 'Sweets For My Sweet' or 'Sugar and Spice' again and may well wonder how The Searchers got lumbered with such an out and out pop image when in truth they proved to be one of the most expressive and inventive bands of the 1960s given half the chance. 4000 cheers to Pye for having the sense to release this great set to what has always been a bit of a minority group of passionate Searchers collectors – and 4000 boos for the fact it's since been deleted! (Note: though you can get many of these songs on later compilations, with nearly a complete set on the 'Hearts In Their Eyes' box set in 2012 and all of these songs are available on something, 'Play The System' remains the only way of getting all of these songs in one go without repetition of album tracks or better known singles. This compilation desperately needs a re-issue!)


'It's The Searchers' (1964)

‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1965)

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

'The Searchers' (1979/1980)

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

‘Hungry Hearts’ (1988)

Surviving TV Clips  and The Best Unreleased Recordings

Solo Recordings 1964-1967 and 1984

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1963-1967  

Non-Album Recordings Part Two  1968-2012 

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

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