Monday 28 May 2018

The Searchers Essay: It's All Been A Dream

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Everybody who writes about the early to mid 1960s music scene tends nowadays to see it through the filter of history as a race between the two bands that would end up as the biggest stars by decade’s end: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. That wasn’t true though, at least until the second half of 1965, as for a time there it was two other bands everyone saw as being the fab four’s rivals. The Hollies were an obvious choice (the whole Manchester-Liverpool fight made for good copy and their records sold heavily across 1963-1964), but so too were The Searchers, who were signed so hot on the heels of The Beatles that they quickly caught up and were level pegging in terms of number one hits and the amount of hit albums released until somewhere around the first half of 1965. Various things got in the way to conspire against what may well be – alongside Badfinger - the unluckiest band in music who actually made it and scored hits (there are lots of unluckier bands who fell apart before we ever had a chance to hear of them while Mersey giants The Big Three, nearly-rans The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Escorts were knocking on the door to name but three and poor old Terry Reid had to pull out of two bands who became big including Led Zeppelin before finally finding cult status). Even so, The Searchers were a band who really deserved to be at the forefront of music for much longer: they had the stars, the songs, the distinctive sound and the ability to change with the times, the thing that tended to scupper most ‘overnight successes’ back in the 1960s. So what went wrong? Here is our glimpse into several possible futures that The Searchers might have had if things had worked out just a little differently…

1)   That The Searchers came to Germany too late

Here’s one alternative scenario for you dear readers: Tony Sheridan and the Searching Brothers! The Beatles probably didn’t feel that lucky when they were ‘conned’ into playing a seedy strip-club in Hamburg in 1960 for a ridiculously pitiful amount to play several hours a night. They were probably resentful that *they* had to go through this wretched show business arrangements while their rivals back home were filling up their precious Cavern Club. But in the end it worked out brilliantly for them: they may have lost a bassist (Stuart Sutcliffe staying behind to paint) and several pounds in weight, but they gained an impressive musical ability and repertoire, a whole new look (thanks to German friends who gave them dark leather clothes and possibly the famous Beatle haircut over the forehead) and became tighter than any band could possibly be. By the time The Beatles were deported back home (George for being under-age, Paul and Pete Best for suspected arson) and met up again to play in Liverpool they knocked audience away with how tight and telepathic they had become. Most of all, though, they had a chance to make a record – a not very great record as it happened backing up a fading star and rocking up an old sea shanty and they weren’t even allowed their ‘real’ name on the cover. However ‘My Bonnie’ would play a huge role in their future.
The Searchers had no such luck. Or rather they did, but too late, being employed to play The Beatles’ old haunt at The Star Club for half the year, but only from July 1962 (by which stage The Beatles back home beat them to a record contract and a first single). It could have been very different if, say, Allan Williams had walked in on the Iron Door Club down the other end of town (The Searchers’ local) rather than The Cavern Club in town. The Searchers’ record collection and repertoire was more or less the same as The Beatles’ back then and both bands were performing, say, [22] ‘Twist and Shout’ [16] ‘Money’ and [25] ‘Some Other Guy’. If anything The Searchers were better equipped to deal with the need to fill out multiple hours of jam sessions in a noisy club as they were back then slightly more versatile: they already had the folk element of their sound that The Beatles wouldn’t really pioneer until 1964 and a whole number of ballads. The Searchers Star Club tape that exists (made as illegally and informally as The Beatles’) also suggests that they were more than up for a bit of improvisation to stretch songs past breaking point: just check out the extended versions on tape of showstoppers [9] ‘Ain’t That Just Like Me?’ and [44] ‘What’d I Say?’ Hamburg was wowed over because they’d never heard any band do this sort of material – it could just as easily have been The Searchers doing it.
This will also have a knock-on impact for the band. Brian Epstein discovered The Beatles because a fan in his NEMS store asked him for their German recording and mentioned that they were playing ‘down the road’ that lunchtime, piquing his interest enough to go looking. The NEMS store really wasn’t far away from The Cavern Club at all (sadly the shop went long ago – and is now an Ann Summers sex shop, something Brian Epstein is probably chortling about up there even now!) – would Brian have made the effort if he had to go down to the ‘other’ end of town to the Wirral to see The Searchers play ‘The Iron Door Club’? And how would he ever have discovered The Searchers without a single, even one performing drunken versions of ‘My Bonnie’ and ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ behind a fading 1950s singer? (Original Searchers vocalist Johnny Sandon, incidentally, sounded much like Tony Sheridan!) The Beatles got lucky – The Searchers got unlucky. Had they been born in the ‘opposite’ end of town I like to think that The Searchers would have blown people’s socks off the way The Beatles did on their Hamburg return, that a fan would have nagged Brian into getting a copy of, say, [30] ‘Saints and Searchers’ and he would have seen them at The Cavern (where they did sometimes play) instead of which they were stuck in flipping Hamburg wondering why their audiences kept telling them they were just copying some other Johnny Foreigners with an insect based name!

2)   The Searchers retained their original singer

Poor Johnny Sandon. There are few people in the music world unluckier than The Searchers themselves, but their singer is surely one of them. Loyal to the band through thick and thin since joining them in 1959, many fans who were lucky enough to be there in the early days reckoned Sandon was the Searcher with the biggest display of talent. The few recordings he made in later years bear this out too – while his material and backing bands tend to be abysmal, he himself possessed a gorgeous voice, a rich tenor with a wobble that would have matched Mike Pender for emotion, Chris Curtis for power and Tony Jackson for commercial appeal. However The Searchers were struggling to hit the big time, based as they were on the ‘wrong’ side of town, and he had an offer he couldn’t refuse from ‘The Remo Four’ to become their lead singer. An established act, with a recording contract, the decision made perfect commercial sense, but alas Brian took over The Remo Four and poached them to be a backing band to another singer he was promoting, Tommy Quickly, with Johnny pushed out of the band. Could Sandon have done as well with The Searchers as Tony? Well, it speaks volumes that during Johnny’s time in the band ‘Black Jake’ Jackson only got one or two songs at the most (to be fair he was learning how to play bass and sing simultaneously, which is quite an art form) while Sandon was the undisputed lead singer despite joining the band after the other four. Could he have coped with the material as well as Tony? Possibly not, but by the same token Tony’s high falsetto was so tied in with 1963 era Merseybeat that it meant The Searchers suddenly seemed like an anachronism to a lot of fans in 1964. Johnny’s solo recordings doesn’t suggest any great ambition, but he does do a great job on [54] ‘Magic Potion’ a year before Chris sang it with the band and he might well have progressed or adopted his tones even more than Tony did. The Searchers were unlucky to lose him – and he was horribly unlucky to lose them. In some parallel universe he would have sounded good singing the folk-rock songs like [53] ‘Needles and Pins’ too.

3)   They sign with Brian Epstein

The Beatles got Brian, a man who would do anything for his young charges, who kept fighting when any sensible businessman would have given up and who had a contacts book to die for. The Searchers got Tito Burns: he worked them hard, told them what to do without negotiation and had no real personal interest in the music business except how to make money out of it. Which one do you think ended up with the biggest success story? Oh and for the record for anyone doubting whether Brian would have liked The Searchers he tried endlessly to sign them as an act – as late as the day he died in 1967 he was due to meet them to discuss their future because he loved their sound (and he even told the press he considered [78] ‘When You Walk In The Room’ a ‘perfect’ single and expected it to be a #1 hit, which sadly it wasn’t). It really does look as if The Beatles just got lucky by being ‘first’. Maybe though The Beatles’ leather trousers would have swung it for him!

4)   The Searchers sign with EMI not Pye

Another brilliantly lucky day for The Beatles, which probably seemed horrifically unlucky at the time, was when they failed their audition with Decca and were beaten by Brian Poole and The Tremeloes. EMI were a young hungry artist’s dream: they had enough money for promotion, had realistic ideas of how many records their young charges could make (not like Capitol who demanded five LPs a year from The Beach Boys!) and supported them enough to leave them alone with the right people while sticking up for them where possible. To lose your contract with EMI you had to have done one of a small handful of things: bring yourself into disrepute or have endless flops in a row over a period of years. They were the label who gave The Beatles to George Martin, allowed Pink Floyd to grow and stayed loyal to The Hollies in the 1974-1981 period when they scored no top ten singles at all. Plus their records sounded so good, with a fat bass, space for harmonies and a crystal clear production: nobody else quite ‘got’ how to record rock and roll in the 1960s except EMI.
The Searchers ended up with Pye. Their records, while not as bad as the poor bands who ended up at Decca, were muddy and muffled and only started sounding good when they were re-mastered for CD (even then the first album sounds ropey and tinny, amongst the lightest sounding of all Merseybeat records). Instead of a sensitive man like George Martin who instinctively saw talent and wanted to encourage it, they ended up with Tony Hatch. This is the man who thought that [11] ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ was a stupid idea for a song to be recorded in as much of a rush as possible. When the song became a UK #1, rather than giving the band their head and assuming they knew what they were doing as Brian would have done, Hatch made up a ‘story’ about how he’d found their sequel from a nightclub act named Fred Nightingale and they had to record it or else. Effectively he conned them, writing the song himself and cashing in on a certain hit – not behaviour that Brian would ever have done to ‘his’ boys. Pye’s promotion, too, wasn’t as strong as EMI’s as they didn’t have as much money or indeed as much kudos as EMI. In another world, where The Searchers are on EMI, they have a marketing team with a budget who ‘gets’ them and they keep The Beatles seriously on their toes way into the 1960s.

5)   The Searchers have a hit with [22] ‘Twist and Shout’

There was a pact amongst most 1960s bands: most songs were fair game, but you had to do it *your* way. Somewhere along the way The Searchers and The Beatles both got hold of The Isley Brothers’ middling hit and revved it up into a rock and roll masterclass independently of each other and on the opposite end of town. Oh well, they shrugged when they found out, at least they are both turning their audience on to their favourite songs. Many fans who saw both bands though still claim The Searchers did it better – theirs was longer, slower and even more fabulous. When The Beatles got the chance to make their debut record ‘Please Please Me’ they had the pick of literally hundreds of songs at their disposal thanks to nights playing at Hamburg and throwing everything they could think of into the mix. Did they do a song that only they knew to play? Well yes, actually, no other Liverpudlian group was doing ‘Chains’ or ‘Anna (Go To Him)’. But they did record [22]‘Twist and Shout’ first, turning it into a masterclass of raw precision. The Searchers got their record contract late and recorded their own rushed version of the same song in similarly rushed circumstances. The atmosphere though was very different: nobody had ever sounded like this on record before and The Beatles knew it, with George Martin encouraging the studio engineers to become their ‘audience’ as Lennon stripped to the waist and drank gallons of milk. The Searchers got told to hurry it up please before the cleaners come in. Their resulting version is an embarrassment and they knew it – so did their fans who’d heard the real thing. But they didn’t get a second chance to put on tape how good this song *really* sounded when they played it and they got dismissed for being copycats. This happened again when The Beatles beat them to [16] ‘Money’ by a matter of weeks. The Searchers only had one showstopper left and when they heard The Beatles doing [25] ‘Some Other Guy’ for the radio they quickly recorded their own version and beat them to it. Even so that’s a 2-1 victory to the fab four; had The Searchers had those few precious months head-start it’s entirely possible that we might be looking back through old records and asking ourselves ‘Beatles who? Weren’t they just a Searchers copycat band?’ Would this have made a difference? Maybe…

6)   Here’s the big one: No Sweets For My Sweet

Wishing that a band hadn’t recorded their biggest hit seems like an odd thing to wish. But [22] ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ changed the whole identity of the band at a time when they were at their most fragile. Discovered by the band in Hamburg and given to Tony to sing as it suited his higher cuter voice, it was a pop anomaly in a setlist that was mostly serious and mostly sung by Chris. Fans went made for it, which encouraged them to make it their first single and in context it may well have been the right thing to do (The Searchers might never had the chance to make another). Inevitably, though, everyone around the band wanted them to sound the same on all their follow-ups, turning Tony overnight from the bass player into the star and Chris from the celebrity of Merseyside to just the drummer. It also confused the hell out of their fanbase, with their loyal fans wanting the band to return to their heavier material (more like the second record) and new fans wondering why they didn’t sound like this all the time. It also meant that Pye marketed them badly, as a ‘cuter’ version of The Beatles when an Andrew Loog Oldham figure would have recognised that this sulky argumentative band with hair twice as long as The Beatles’ should have been groomed as the ‘next’ Stones, bad boys from the ‘other’ side of the tracks. They couldn’t, though, in all honesty, keep up that image when singing a song titled ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ or sequel [23] ‘Sugar and Spice’, both of which demand something of a sweet tooth. In an alternative universe it’s The Searchers who sang the suggestive ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ and refused to bow at the end of The London Palladium while newspaper headliners asked ‘would you allow your daughter to go with a Searcher?’ In some alternate universe ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ is a song The Searchers turned down in favour of their own material, the way The Beatles did with ‘How Do You Do It?’ and thirty years later when ‘The Searchers’ anthology’ came out (complete with their own pilled-version of ‘What’s The New Mary Jane?’ but less messing around with outtakes being stuck together artificially) we would have all nodded our heads and said how wise they were.

7)   Here’s the other big one: Songwriting

The Searchers are, to my ears, one of the best songwriting groups in the business. Some of their B-sides are perfection and beat the better known A-sides hands down: [98] ‘Til I Met You’ is a better love song than any Lennon or McCartney ever wrote (at least in the first half of the 1960s). [76] ‘This Feeling Inside’ is as dark and edgy as any song was allowed to be back in 1964 and [102] ‘I’m Never Coming Back’ rocks harder than almost any other Merseybeat song. The Searchers, especially Chris, should be hailed as genius writers because of classy career peak and A-side [99] ‘He’s Got No Love’ alone. So what happened? The Searchers got into writing too late and nobody thought to play this up in the press. The Beatles lit a spark in 1963 partly because they cut out the middle man of Tin Pan Alley and were more direct to their audiences without having to filter their ideas through anyone else. When they wrote a song like ‘Thankyou Girl’, fans knew it was being written for them. The Searchers were late to the party and were never quite forgiven for it. When they did try and write their own rather wonderful songs to keep up (and quicker than most: they were the second most creative band in terms of compositions across 1963 after their Liverpudlian cousins) their marketing team worried that they were untried and untested and buried them as B-sides. The Beatles were allowed to release theirs as A-sides every time. Even ‘Love Me Do’. When The Searchers genuinely become a pioneering creative team turning out songs better than any cover band out there suddenly its 1965 and the opportunity has passed. Why oh why didn’t someone in management realise just how good their material was and encourage them to write more, highlighting it in the press as evidence that they were every bit as wonderful as The Beatles? Would this have made a difference? Hell yeah – if someone had got the band to try it early enough.

8)   Folk-Rock

They say that The Searchers started selling less because they were Merseybeat dinosaurs who couldn’t change with the times. But as anyone whose heard the lesser known third, fourth and especially fifth albums will tell you, that’s patently not true. If anything The Searchers invented the folk-rock craze that was so ‘in’ across 1965 – they just didn’t get the credit for it because their record label were too busy marketing them as a raw rock and roll group long after that particularly bird had flown. Talking of Byrds, that group always said that they were aiming for a halfway house between The Beatles and Bob Dylan. A closer listen to their music (especially the Rickenbacker guitars) suggests that The Searchers should ask for a paternity test. Then there’s the material: The Beatles’ earliest example of folk-rock is on ‘Help!’ where Lennon sings ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’. Around nine months before this, though, The Searchers have already turned Peter Paul and Mary’s ‘What Have They Done To The Rain?’ into a hit single – and you can’t get more folk than Peter Paul and Mary! As early as their first album [23] ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ can lay claim to being a folk-rock song too, though this was so early in 1963 nobody had even come up with that term yet! All they needed was somebody in the press saying this (again The Beatles got lucky with Derek Taylor who knew exactly what made that band different and special).

9)   Psychedelia

Saying who invented psychedelia is a bold claim, not least because it’s so hard to categorise and every band seemed to adopt it at once. Once though, just for fun, I spent a top ten column trying to work out what the earliest examples in the AAA canon were in terms of feel, mood or instrumentation. Inevitably The Beatles came early with ‘The Word’ in December 1965: it’s a song where ‘the word is love’ sung with acid-tinged knowing and suggestive lyrics about a shared experience that in retrospect is clearly about drugs. The Rolling Stones were hot on their heels with the sitar-fest ‘Paint It Black’.  The Kinks too got there in July 1965 with their jaw-dropping single ‘See My Friends’, played on regular instruments but based on an Indian style raga drone. However one group came out on top by a whole week. [99] ‘He’s Got No Love’ is an astonishing song. The mood is different to anything that anyone had ever done before. This is a tale of depression that sounds heavy (it’s clearly inspired by ‘Ticket To Ride’ and may well have inspired ‘Paint It Black’ – the Stones were bigger fans of The Searchers than many realise and often cite their cover of Jagger-Richards song[104] ‘Take It Or Leave It’ as a favourite). However unlike ‘Ticket To Ride’, which edges towards inventing heavy metal, this is a claustrophobia of a quite different kind. Though the band don’t have the know-how yet it *sounds* like later tracks from 1967 that play backwards, with the song swathed in echo. The Searchers’ ringing Rickenbackers, so much a part of their style, sound so ‘wrong’ here, like a fake grin or a haunting figure from a dark childhood and if that isn’t the sound of psychedelia I don’t know what is. Listen too to the whispered voices at the end of the track that are very Pink Floyd two years before that band even get a recording contract. It’s a tragedy that The Searchers weren’t allowed or encouraged to develop this sound: just think where they might have pushed The Beatles if they’d jumped back to being more or less equal with them? Would this have made a difference? Throw in a few psychedelic sleeves and I’ll buy that!

10)                Record Company Delays on ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’

For me The Searchers made some of the greatest Merseybeat LPs around: ‘Sugar and Spice’ especially hits hard and the band play tight and rough, but with just finesse to keep things moving. However to my ears its their fifth album ‘Take Me For What It’s Worth’ that’s their masterpiece. By now the band have worked out a whole new identity which takes bits from everywhere – rock, folk, psychedelia and a Spectorish wall of sound echo. They have started writing in earnest and have come up with some of their very best material. With Frank now in the band they have three lead singers (and an occasional fourth with John McNally’s growl) to choose from, adding variety to their vocal sound as well. ‘Worth’ is one of the greatest albums made up to the middle of 1965, with a finesse and sophisticated at one with the changing times. Only the public didn’t get to hear it in the Summer of 1965. In their infinite wisdom Pye rushed the band into finishing it, then decided that as the band’s singles had begun to drop slightly they ought to hold it back for the Christmas market instead when fans were more likely to buy an LP. By that time the world had progressed again, from the land of ‘Help!’ to the all original ‘Rubber Soul’, and I can see why in context ‘Worth’ didn’t sell well. However six months earlier it might have been a very different story and could have restored The Searchers back to the top of their perch (with the right promotion, if they’d finally sorted that out!) Would this made a difference? It was probably too little too late, but without that final nail in the coffin, who knows?

11)                A Delayed Sixth Album

The Searchers were just getting good in 1965. They became great in 1966. They weren’t that badly on the turn in 1967. But did we get a full album so they could prove to the world how good they were? No. Pye decided that it wasn’t financially viable – and yet insisted on keeping the band tied to their contract releasing singles rather than going elsewhere ‘just in case’ one became a hit. This is a tragedy: based on some of those singles ([97] ‘Goodbye My Love’ [99] ‘He’s Got No Love’ [106] ‘Have You Ever Loved Somebody?’ [108] ‘Popcorn Double Feature’ [110] ‘Western Union’ [112] ‘Secondhand Dealer’) this could have been the greatest Searchers album of all, with a more sophisticated, daring sound and a much wider palette of backing musicians. The Searchers, ironically, had more time to make these songs (though an even smaller marketing budget!) and just see how good they could sound when given half a chance! Would an alternate universe Searchers be enjoying the fruits of a more ambitious sixth album? I’d like to think so!

12)                Bye Bye Chris

This is all the more astonishing given that The Searchers lost their driving force in February 1966 when Chris had a nervous breakdown during an Australian band and quit the band in desperation and upset. He was the one who had picked all the band’s material (he even had their next single [106] ‘Have You Ever Loved Somebody?’ ready to go, which became a problem when they both decided to record it!) He was the one who spoke to the press about the band, the one who gave the announcements to the audience and who championed the band when they were feeling low. Without him the other three, plus new drummer John Blunt did incredibly well. With Chris they might have done better yet, bouncing back once their Pye contract was up in 1969 with a whole new sound and material. After all, it wasn’t that Chris wanted to leave – he was a combination of overworked and distraught that his ideas for the band weren’t working, while his mental health was never the most robust. What he really needed was a parental figure, a Brian Epstein to take that weight off his shoulders, to tell him don’t worry we’ll build up the band’s cult status and win them back the long way round, maybe while he stayed at home writing (which is what The Beach Boys did after their leader collapsed on them). Instead the band seem to have had no help at all, any of them. Did this make a difference? Hugely!

1)   More From Those Late 1960s Singles

Some of the best stuff The Searchers ever did came when no one was looking. While without Chris, The Searchers decided to return to being a covers act what covers they are and with the right marketing any of the following could have been a hit: the clever quirky [p118] ‘Umbrella Man’, a top cover of Buffalo Springfield’s [121] ‘For What It’s Worth’ (which didn’t even come out at the time), the classic catchy timeless pop single [123] ‘Desdemona’ and best of all the moving sailor sea shanty [129] ‘Vehevala’, one of the best things The Searchers ever did. However what did we get the biggest push for in this era instead? A re-make of sodding [11] ‘Sweets For My Sweet’! In the late 1960s! Madness!!! Aaaagh!!!!

2)   RCA and Sire

Most people assume The Searchers story stopped in 1965. Instead they’re still going today without a break – along with The Hollies the longest continuously performing AAA band of them all (The Stones are a little younger and The Beach Boys kinda split in the 1990s!) They have, alas, just announced that the next tour will be their last following John’s stroke last year, but I for one remain hopeful that they’ll be talked into staying on just a little bit longer – the UK club circuit would be a much poorer place without them. The Searchers had two extra bites at the cherry after their 1960s heyday, both of which should have led to something. RCA Victor in 1972 should have known just what to do with the band – they had the clout, the marketing, the nostalgia appeal and The Searchers had written a snazzy set of political glam rock songs that were very of their time. So what did they do? They sat on the album and then asked The Searchers if they could re-record some of their biggest hits too, in the end only releasing a handful of their twenty rather good recordings out until the digital re-issue age. It’s a waste: though not the band’s best work The Searchers were contemporary sounding enough to have scored a rogue underground hit and with just a tiny push the band could have been big all over again. RCA lost out as much as The Searchers, but the failure cost them hard. Seven years later they get another chance with Sire, on the back of some new wave bands who talked up how influential their signature Rickenbacker sound had been on their work. Perfect! The band release two albums that nearly hit the spot and fans are eagerly anticipating a third which, when rehearsed openly in concert, is said to have sounded amazing. But nope: Sire ends up becoming amalgamated with another company and suddenly it’s all about figures, with The Searchers too ‘cult’ a band to continue despite some pretty impressive sales figures given another lack of promotion. Surely all Sire had to do, in any case, was to get the band working with somebody, anybody who was currently big in the new wave era who loved their sound and play the link up for all they were worth? (The Cars, XTC, Television, anyone – it’s such a shame The Searchers ‘discovered’ ‘The Records’ too early as it was partly through their cover of [  ] ‘Hearts In Her Eyes’ that that band became a cult favourite at all). Did this make a difference? Probably not, but a third album on Sire particularly wouldn’t have hurt their career prospects and would have given us another cult album to buy!

3)   Bye Bye Mike

And finally, just to rub it in, The Searchers lost their latest de facto ‘leader’ when lead singer Mike Pender quit the band in 1985. You can understand his frustration facing another year down the bottom of the bill on a 1960s package and his need to try to see if he could go solo – but all he ended up doing was hurting both sides by putting together a ‘new’ Searchers who ended up splitting their fanbase in two. It was just bad timing too: had Mike gone solo in 1967, 1972 or 1977 no one really could have blamed him, but a German record company were already interested in the band (their eighth and final record was released as ‘Hungry Hearts’ in 1989) and he was only a few years away from a 1990s ‘nostalgia revival’ which thanks to Britpop made everything British from the 1960s cool again. The result was yet another lost opportunity that saw The Searchers just that too much in disarray to take full advantage of what they had to offer – which is more or less where we came in…
So, if The Searchers had not just made more records but put more original compositions on their records, got the call to Hamburg first and made a record that Brian Esptein might have heard, ended up on EMI and had a management figure soothing enough to help them through the loss of three key players in different periods, would The Searchers have been as big as The Beatles? The short answer is ‘I don’t know’. The longer answer, though, is that I hope so: The Searchers only ended up playing second fiddle to The Beatles because they were ‘discovered’ and signed second; had you asked anyone before Brian Epstein took that trip to the Cavern Club, though, and fans of the Liverpool music scene would have been hard pressed to say which band they thought was most likely to ‘make’ it (chances are they never expected either band to make it as big as they did; famous people came from America back then or at their most exotic London!) The Searchers had a lot to offer: they were harder edged than The Beatles (as best heard on the ‘Sugar and Spice’ record) and specialised in ballads which made them distinctive, especially when they started re-shaping how music could be made with tinges of folk and psychedelia. They were late to the party in the writing stakes but here too wrote a good half dozen songs that compare with the best Lennon/McCartney had to offer and might have written dozens more had they not been cut off in their prime.
Most of all, though, I suspect that The Searchers were so unlucky primarily because of the confusing way they were promoted: were they cute? Or were they streetwise? Pye were never quite sure – and as a result neither were we. In truth perhaps the best way of describing them is as a ‘second Beatles’ who had the potential to do it all. They had the potential to fill the vacuum a world without a ‘first’ Beatles might have been like too. The fact that the Searchers didn’t and largely disappeared just eighteen months in despite the major impact they had on music says more about how the average rock and roll band was treated in the 1960s (and how lucky in retrospect The Beatles were in so many ways) than any shortcomings on their part. A better first record wouldn’t have gone amiss either though! Mike has said in interviews since the 1980s that The Searchers formed through ‘fate’ – he got lucky Tony walked in to a pub just when he and John needed a bass player, that he bumped into old friend Chris at a bus stop just when he needed a drummer and that songs like [53] ‘Needles and Pins’ and [78] ‘When You Walk In The Room’ seemed to fall into their lap. But it’s a tragedy of immense proportions that fate wasn’t just that bit kinder still and could have given the band a Brian Epstein to become really big rather than a Tito Burns to become washed up so soon with so much potential left to simmer on circuit tours and package deals. The Searchers are what music was searching for across the 1960s and we missed it, thanks to bungled management, marketing, recording techniques and a couple of dodgy opening singles, even though it was right under our noses the whole time. Is this alternate future where The Searchers were bigger than The Beatles all just a dream? Probably – and short of a time machine no one will ever know for sure - but it’s fun to speculate!...
Meanwhile, over in the 'real' universe, The Searchers discography looks like this, with all articles available from this website:


'It's The Searchers' (1964)

‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1965)

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

'The Searchers' (1979/1980)

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

‘Hungry Hearts’ (1988)

Surviving TV Clips  and The Best Unreleased Recordings

Solo Recordings 1964-1967 and 1984

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1963-1967  

Non-Album Recordings Part Two  1968-2012 

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

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

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