Monday, 5 November 2012
The Searchers "Sounds Like Searchers" (1965)
‘I tried a million charms but I can’t get her into my arms’
There are many bands on our list that I look at it and think ‘where did they go?’ Bands like the Stones and The Who still carry on in some form or another every few years when money runs dry, others like The Beatles and The Pink Floyd ended in such a blast of publicity that the end of their careers are well known even to the general public and still more, like Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Hollies, occasionally get back together to play but don’t make a big thing of it anymore. Few fans realise that The Searchers continue right up to the present day (editor’s note: make that last year now alas), in a band with two original members of the band still playing which is a pretty rare occurrence in itself these days – and few ever realised the band were still going as early as 1966 when the band’s fall from grace came swiftly and dramatically. Sadly few people cared - after owning the charts in 1963 and scoring high with some excellent singles in 1964 The Searchers were forgotten by all but a faithful few in 1965 and an anachronism by 1966. According to most music books The Searchers disappeared because they couldn’t hack it with the big boys, that their music was restricted to basic Merseybeat and that they couldn’t keep pace with the originality of their peers. With the passing of nearly 50 years, and with knowledge of what happened to other bigger, brighter stars over the same period, that idea is clearly absurd. The run of singles across 1964 had put The Searchers roughly equal with everyone behind The Beatles and ahead of most: after inventing folk-rock with  ‘Needles and Pins’, out-cranking the amplifiers of The Kinks and The Who on  ‘When You Walk In The Room’ and challenging the status quo on  ‘What Have They Done To The Rain?’ The Searchers had proved they could roll with the punches and even invent a few for other bands to duck. They’d also scored all three big hits after losing their highest profile member and proving that they were a band in it for the long haul. At the beginning of 1965 The Searchers looked as healthy as they ever had – but it was developments behind the scenes that helped kill them off. Pye weren’t into nurturing their bands over a long period of time. They only cared as long as the money was coming in and after ‘Rain’ missed the top ten and awkward oddball EP  ‘The System’ died a death along with the film it was promoting they simply pulled the plug on their publicity budget for this album, ‘proving’ that The Searchers didn’t sell as many LPs these days so they could be quietly dropped (while keeping the band under contract till 1968 so no one else could have them and inspiring no new takers until as late as 1979; how much would The Kinks and The Who have struggled if they’d had to re-sign labels circa 1967/68 when they weren’t selling until ‘Lola’ and ‘Tommy’, respectively, rescued them from oblivion?) In time Pye will self-destruct and all but destroyed the band’s critical standing by delaying their records for weeks, often months at a time when the pop world was changing on a daily basis. The Searchers got left behind not because they couldn’t match their peers but because their record company mis-read just how quickly their fans wanted new and fresh ideas. Seen now, coming up to fifty years on, their singles are as eclectic, forward-looking and experimental as any of their competitors. Admittedly fourth album ‘Sounds Like The Searchers’ can’t quite match that accolade on a lot of the tracks and isn’t exactly the holy grail of lost albums, but at its worst it’s as good as anything else on offer in late 64/early 65 – and at its best it’s as inventive and ear-catching as any album made in the first half of the 60s, with The Searchers’ ever ready wit and energy.
If you’re reading this book in order then you won’t have come to fifth and final Pye album ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ yet. In that review we said that, far from being washed up has beens, The Searchers may have been about the most pioneering band of 1965 and 1966, thanks to a sparkling array of borderline-psychedelia singles and a gem of an album that was ahead of the pack. Had ‘Worth’ come out in Easter 1965 when it was finished it would have been a nose ahead of The Beatles ‘Help!’ out that July and offered a similarly groundbreaking mix of folk-rock originals, updated old cover songs and a sense of something new and daring (and I say that as a fan who rates ‘Help!’ as the Beatles’ biggest single leap into the future in one go, not ‘Rubber Soul’ as most fans think). It wasn’t The Searchers’ fault that Pye decided they’d get more sales of the album if they released it at Christmas and delayed the album till November (when, as a close contemporary of ‘Rubber Soul’ ‘Worth’ really did sound hopelessly backwards looking and boring). Really, this review of the band’s fourth and penultimate album will re-iterate the same point again but on a slightly lesser scale, as the bulk of this album was recorded in the second half of 1964 and sounds like it too – ‘Sounds’ has that slightly country and Western feel of ‘Beatles For Sale’, together with a couple of rough and ready guitar hooks more in keeping with the ‘harsher’ sounds of The Kinks (new that year) and the Who. So why on earth was it held back to be released in March 1965, at a time when the few people who hadn’t switched their allegiance to folk were already heading into psychedelia? Because Pye were waiting for the band to score big with another hit single, apparently, waiting until the release of  ‘Goodbye My Love’ (a number four hit) till releasing this LP to get some extra sales – a canny move on paper, but a short term strategy that all but killed the band in the long term, with The Searchers always seeming to be one place behind the main pack from here on in. No wonder so many fans and critics gave this album short shrift when it came out several months too late to make an impact, the sound of an era that was receding into the distance at the rate of knots. But the fault is wholly Pye’s, not The Searchers and the band have been punished for being out of time for far too long when at the time of recording they were right on the money.
That matters less to the modern listener for whom 1965 is nearly as long ago as 1964, of course (a year’s difference in fact, I’m smart, me). Treat ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ as a relic of 1964 rather than 1965 however and there’s so much to enjoy. The Searchers’ choice of cover songs is more unusual than their characteristically obvious choices, featuring the B-sides of obscure lesser known hits rather than the more famous songs and with a much more contemporary sound than before (the band are copying songs released between 1961 and 64 rather than the 1950s). The band are at last putting their increasingly brilliant array of original songs on the album instead of keeping them as B-sides and these are every bit as good as the songs they ‘borrow’ and had the band been doing this earlier then surely they’d have been hailed as pioneers in the songwriting stakes not just copycats (a similar thing happened with The Hollies, whose b-sides across 1965 and 66 outshine their ‘borrowed’ A sides by and large). You only need to hear the classy run of influential and ground-breaking singles from this period to hear how good and contemporary the Searchers could be – and how out of time this album sounded. The gap between singles like  ‘Goodbye My Love’ and  ‘He’s Got No Love’ and this album seems like one heck of a lot more than three months, so it’s no wonders that fans were disappointed and that critics thought the band had lost the plot when this album came out when it did. ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ is a good album, but by March 1965 it was hopelessly out of time. Looked at in 2012, some forty-seven years later, it seems like the logical stepping stone between Searchers albums 3 and 5, a mixture of ballads and beat music with some forward-looking nuances thrown in – back in March 1965 it seemed like old hat.
The other key point about ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ is that the band have just parted company (some sources say ‘sacked’) Tony Jackson, the lead singer on the vast majority of their previous singles. Most bands would have found losing their lead singer a bitter blow, yet The Searchers fared better than most simply because Jackson’s voice was so rooted in the past – the band had already found their ‘future’ sound via Mike Pender’s vocal on a cover of ‘Needles and Pins-ah’ in January 1964. The problem, really, is not the loss of Jackson but how slow the Searchers were to capitalise on this – Jackson half-heartedly puts in an appearance on third LP ‘It’s The Searchers’ and instead of doing fourteen different variations on a new formula that works ( ‘Needles and Pins’ was a good place to start) the band throw in a few experiments and half a dozen throwbacks to 1962 that confuses their audience even more. The Searchers need a new sound fast and to some extent they find one remarkably quickly and effortlessly, hiring Frank Allen (bassist with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers) who has a much deeper, darker voice than Jackson and a more soul/r and b background which is exactly what they need (soul is to 1964 what breathy female singer-songwriters are to the 2000s and boybands were to the late 1990s, dabbled in by people who should know better). Frank had been a long time pal of the band’s since their days in Hamburg when he spent more time hanging round with them and their scatty humour than his own band Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. By the middle of 1964 the two bands had had quite different fortunes: Bennett had the critical clout The Searchers could only dream of but Curtis and co had racked up far more hit singles and become much bigger household names. Frank was an obvious replacement to the point where his hiring was about the only thing an increasingly fractious Searchers could decide on – he wasn’t going to turn out a prima donna like Tony and he had a nicely subtle, war voice that complemented the ones that already existed in the band. He was also particularly close to McNally, The Searcher least happy about getting involved in the big war of 1964 and who felt Tony was owed a better treatment; what better way to get John on board than to offer him the chance of working with a close friend? However things nearly went wrong. Frank was comfortable in The Rebel Rousers. He was younger than the others and at twenty-one had his musical career ahead of him still. The Searchers were still at the top thanks to  ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’ it’s true, but they might be a whole different prospect without Tony in the band and were a risk. Frank at first turned them down, leaving a distraught Chris to go back to the others and break the bad news – after days of trying to come up with a replacement they couldn’t thing of a single person. However Frank mentioned the offer to his good friend in the Rebel Rousers sax player Moss Groves. After years of hearing tales about his time with The Searchers and seeing his friend’s wistful look over their success Moss told him he was daft, to ring Chris up straight away and join the band he was destined to be a part of (‘and ask if they’d like a sax player too!’) After a difficult year it seemed that something was going The Searchers’ way at last.
The result is, with no disgrace to Tony who was never born to be a harmony singer, much richer and fluid. This is, in retrospect, amazing. I mean this is a group built largely on harmonies, it’s not just changing a bass player and they didn’t even do the obvious and just get in a Tony-sounding clone. Allen couldn’t have sounded more different to Jackson and his vocals must be at least an octave deeper and yet the harmony sound of The Searchers sounds amazingly unchanged, with Curtis adding a higher harmony part to cover the deeper sound Searchers harmonies now possess. Just imagine how different The Beatles or The Hollies might have sounded if they’d lost their high-pitched vocalists (respectively Paul McCartney and Graham Nash) and had to change their band dynamics around as a result! It’s a testament to how quickly Allen became part of the band’s sounds that every Searchers collector ranks him as an integral part of the band, despite the fact he plays on only two albums and sings barely three leads during his time with the band in by far their peak decade. And yet he’s perfect – his bass playing too is much more suited to the gentler, more thoughtful sounds the band were playing (itself a surprise after the ;largely up-tempo Rebel Rouser records he plays on, where the sound is more like the Jackson-era Searchers). Frank too had a good knowledge of records to complement Chris’ own collection yet it was in personality where he suited best: Frank was excited to be in the band, couldn’t wait to start writing songs with his friends and going out on tour. His excitement and optimism gave a tired and road-weary Searchers just the boost they needed as their fortunes plummeted in every other way. The only trouble is, the other Searchers are confused as to whether to push this new sound of his upfront or keep it lurking in the wings, like a secret weapon they hope never to have to use, so depressingly there’s less harmony on ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ than any of their other LPs (although what there is is superb). Unforgivably, too, there’s less of the band’s distinctive guitar-work, a surefire case of throwing out the baby with the bath-water as both guitarists are still present in the group and arguably should have become even more central to the band’s sound (weirdly that’s exactly what the band do with their singles, just not their album tracks – did the guitar parts take too much time to work out?)
As a result, ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ is an apt name for an LP where the Searchers are desperately trying to work out what the ‘Searchers’ sound is like without Jackson in the band and in many ways they really are trying to work out what the Searchers are after leaving behind their pop, rock and folk leanings. It is, in short, another album of learning a bit like ‘It’s The Searchers’ with some oddball repeats of period rock songs done softer and period pop songs done harder. Even more than last time, a lot of this album plays it too safe and seems like we’ve time-warped back to the Cavern or the Searchers equivalent The Iron Door Club, with rock and roll covers even more basic than those heard on their first three albums – yet other parts of this album are too daring and an experiment too far, slow ballads with lots of strings (after their successful use on ‘Rain’, but they’re more overbearing here) or harder, harsher sounds more akin to The Who and The Kinks than The Searchers that don’t quite suit them as well; only on two or three of the originals and one or two of the cover songs does it all come together, usually just as you’ve given up hope that the band will ever stop trying to impress us with experimenting and simply play. To show you how confused this album is, it starts off with Frank’s first lead vocal for the band, as if the band are trying to promote a whole new sound, but for some odd reason it’s almost Frank’s last lead vocal for the band too. He doesn’t sing lead again for the whole album and only pops up on harmonies a couple of times – it’s as if the band have forgotten he’s there. Fair enough if the band are simply unsure whether to shock their audience with such a radically new sound – but in that case why put Frank’s one and only lead vocal first on the album? Together with the lack of guitars the lack of harmonies gives the Searchers fan cause for concern. What are they doing?
This is a question I’ll be asking a lot across this confusing LP and it would all be forgivable given the circumstances if the best bits of the album didn’t show such promise before being snuffed out by obvious mistakes. Chris Curtis has been slowly gaining confidence as a writer across 1964, writing some terrific songs for the band which were released as B-sides on various singles (the charming  ‘No One Else Could Love Me’, the gorgeous  ‘Till I Met You’ and the hook-laden pop classic  ‘I Pretend I’m With You’, which would have made a popular single in its own right). Surprisingly none of Curtis’ songs had ever appeared on a full album before – awfully late in the game compared to other groups for a writer with two years already under his belt, as even Gerry Marsden was writing his own stuff by then, even without Pye messing the schedules around (poor Curtis really wasn’t too good at coping with pressure) – but the three songs here are excellent, among the highlights of the album. They’re much more suited to the Searchers’ ‘new’ style than many of their cover songs and you have to wonder whether Curtis had been stockpiling them until Jackson had been pushed out of the group (even John McNally gets his second lead vocal on a studio track with one of them, after years of singing  ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ on the band’s tours, a song that sadly never made it to record until the excellent ‘Swedish Radio Sessions’ in 2002). The cover of ‘Bumble Bee’ by Lavern Baker, the most obscure cover on the record, is also superb and couldn’t have been covered as well by any other band, with the characteristic Searchers shuffle and inner despair turned threatening and caustic, among the best tracks they ever recorded (The Kinks and The Who would have lost the subtlety; lots of other bands would have lost the power, but The Searchers are right in the middle and get it spot on). Even the two (two?!) sweet and fluffy Jeff Barry songs are covered here better than anyone else I’ve ever heard, his main employers The Monkees included.
That said, though, all too often parts of this record can be filed under ‘forgettable’. Even at a bare two minutes some of the cover songs here really pall (‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’ was a drag when the original Denny Laine Moody Blues covered it, but at least they didn’t add strings and slow down the tempo to a crawl). Other songs are just banal: ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ has a fun groove but it just doesn’t go anywhere (it merely repeats the same verse five times over, with a couple of words substituted in verse two) while ‘A Tear Fall’ must rank as one of the most clichéd AAA songs of all (despite the title there’s no great emotional resonance going on here, just an excuse for the lamest rhyming scheme since Shakespeare’s sonnets). And even though ‘Something You Got, Baby’ has a welcome swagger and character, having a chorus that goes ‘my my woah woah I love you so’ in March 1965 is almost like painting a sign on your back saying ‘kick me rock critics, I’m old fashioned’. Even the delightful little ‘Magic Potion’ isn’t a patch on the Searchers’ more famous ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ and comes off sounding like a band desperately trying to work out what made that old one a success – and failing. In short, ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ makes all the mistakes of ‘It’s The Searchers’ without as many excuses and isn’t up to the highs of ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’, an album where even the retro covers were played with an aplomb and intelligence and they were surrounded by giant leaps forward in sound and commitment – and it would have been a big disappointment if you came to this record expecting the same quality The Searchers displayed on their hits of the same period. Still, to quote one of the many anonymous American covers on this record, something this band got still makes me spend all my pay – these albums are pricey on CD nowadays you know and I haven’t sold that many copies of these books yet - in the hope that all the best features of the record will coalesce together)...
I’m confident too however that this album was just an unnecessary dip on the way to future glories that sadly never came thanks to Pye’s decision not to renew the band’s record contract. There are enough good signs here to make ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ a promising stepping stone to greater things – things that for the most part the band fulfil – and it’s still pretty impressive for a band in such turmoil. You have to remember that, unlike today, the band arranged, designed, rehearsed and to some extent wrote this album in between constant heavy touring – nowadays bands struggle to get albums as half as good as this one and they get a year off to make them. The Searchers were no more immune from tiredness and overwork than other struggling AAA bands in late 1964 (The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Kinks are all showing various signs of depression and boredom during this period) and if this album is their least inspired then it might be because they had such a short space of time since third album ‘It’s The Searchers’ to come up with it. Naturally enough, in an era when singles were king, the band are saving their time and their biggest efforts on their singles – at this stage albums are still just a cash-in that rich fans bought or had their relatives buy for them (it’s interesting to note that the Searchers frequently topped the EP charts in this era, the four track halfway house between singles and LPs, second only to The Beatles for overall sales in the 1960s). Understandable indeed – but still a bit of a drag for fans who have to sit through the lesser moments of the thing forty-seven years on! The result is an album too good to dismiss but not great or consistent enough to fall head over heels in love with; in Searchers terms it’s another marking time record that has the band discovering their new direction only after several mistakes along the way.
A final note for you – like The Beatles and Hollies but unlike pretty much every other 1960s group The Searchers’ albums were all made available in mono and stereo (both mixes are compiled on Castle’s excellent Searchers re-issue series of the 1990s). ‘Sounds Like’ probably has the biggest differences between the two, thanks to some slightly longer fade-outs and a couple of different mixes with different emphasis on different instruments and vocals (especially ‘Clap Your Hands’ where you can hear the double-tracking on Frank’s voice much more in mono); unusually for me I prefer the mono mix to the stereo as its slightly ‘punchier’ and the stereo versions are rather drenched in echo in an attempt to sound ‘fashionable’. Both though sound variable - a bit like the material – with this the usually consistent Searchers’ least consistent LP…
Sadly we’re going to spend most of this review going ‘if only the Searchers had done this...’ and opening track  ‘Everybody Clap Your Hands’ is no exception. This opening number comes so close to going somewhere new and bold. New boy Frank Allen takes the lead on this Jeff Barry song and adds a darker, more soulful edge to the band’s sound while freeing up the rest of the band to rock but in a gentler way than the Tony Jackson days. This song feels much more alive than the similarly retro tracks on ‘It’s The Searchers’ and like an entirely new band, even though the backing and especially the harmonies are close enough to the band’s traditional style to make this new sound an evolution rather than a disruption. Does this really sound like Searchers? Yes, but it sounds like The Searchers the way they should always have been, with a sophistication and tightness they’ve been lacking since they left the Iron Door Club. That’s just the backing track though: it’s with a depressed sigh that you reach the second verse and realise that The Searchers are banking on this brave new future being built on, yes, a dance craze. From 1963. The year they are supposed to be moving on from. Poor Frank spends his first (of only three in the sixties) spotlights as a Searcher telling us with a straight face to ‘dig the monkey because it’s something new’ - only it isn’t. To listeners at the time it would have been as old hat as anything from the craze before last could seem (for modern readers, erm, One Direction?) Frank never does get round to finally telling us how to do it so, in the services of education, here’s how you do it. You crouch facing your partners with your knees bent and your fists up like a gorilla. You bend forward, jerking your whole body and reaching an arm out as if reaching for a banana. You then straighten up and do the same with the other side, while trying not to knock your partner out. After that you scratch each other’s fleas or something. Frank copes well with the pressure of recording his first lead vocal for the band but nobody, even Mike Pender, would sound less than silly singing this novelty song and it seems odd that The Searchers should have spent so much developing and finessing a song that at its heart is a dog (well, a monkey). Because it sounds great: all those yelled call-and-answer sections (something The Searchers always did well) and the groovy little guitar riff that’s lighter than the band’s usual style, Pender and McNally meshing and weaving together for once in a style more like The Stones, all suffused with that characteristic Searchers high-voltage energy. Heck, someone (Mike?) even screams going into the lengthy fade-out and when did we last hear that much passion from The Searchers? If only the song was up to that high standard we’d have a winner on our hands but the band’s performance is still strong enough to make ‘Clap’ one of the album highlights, as exciting and entertaining as any cover song in their canon.
Talking of which, Chris Curtis’  ‘If I Could Find Someone’ is probably my favourite track on the album and makes good use of all the Searchers templates without directly repeating any of them. Like the best Searchers singles of 1964 the mood is downbeat but there’s also a swing to the song which is a prime example of their ability to do ‘yearning’ songs like no other band. The song’s lovely flowing melody is framed by some fascinating echo-drenched Searchers twin guitars, recorded so well and with such clarity that they sound like the harbingers of doom, chasing each other’s tail through infinity. The lyrics are gorgeous: the lonely narrator rehearses all the things he longs to say to the girl of his dreams, if only he could find her. He even practises getting engaged and wonders his diamond ring would look like, while vowing to ‘tell her that I love her always, more than anyone’. In return he longs for the day when somebody might do this for him too, ‘with no strings tied and nothing to gain, but someone who lived him for himself. Given Chris’ largely unhappy lonely life to come its awful to think that he probably didn’t find this special someone after so much rehearsal. The Searchers were always good at wistful and they really put their strengths to the test on this song which features some of the best harmonies of all, with Mike Pender’s strict double-tracked vocal joined one by one by Frank’s deeper sound and Chris’ own voice, now promoted to the falsetto part in Tony Jackson’s absence. Curtis also gets his own sweet middle eight to sing (‘And I’d love to hear somebody say that she’d do things for me...’), which cuts across the song and takes in a different but related theme like all classic middle eights should do, the musical ‘mirror’ of where the verse has just gone. The only real down-point is that, like too much of this record, the band get lazy and undo a lot of their good work by simply repeating the first half of the song again a second time round, losing the impact of the twists and turns of the song (to be fair, this is a common problem with many new songwriters who haven’t yet learnt the tricks to get you through to the end of a song when inspiration lags). There’s nothing else to fault, however; this lovely vintage pop song stands out as one of the band’s finest, easily as good as both the covers on this album and what their rivals like The Beatles were writing in this period, demonstrating what a strong, developing songwriter Curtis was in this period.
Curtis also sings a rare lead vocal on  ‘Magic Potion’, a Bacharach and David song that’s so close in style to Leiber and Stoller’s song  ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ that its clearly meant to be a sequel of sorts to arrest the band’s falling commercial fortunes. Though more serious and without the great punchline of its predecessor, I think I prefer this song and certainly The Searchers perform it rather better here, so much more confident than their younger selves. The two are virtually the same song though (the ‘new’ potion is even numbered ‘309’, which gives the band the chance to make the same rhyme with the word ‘mine’, in a complete copycat of the ‘old’ song). The main difference is the choice orf singer; Curtis’ double-tracked vocal copes well with a song that sounds a mouthful to sing and he sings with a mellow but still urgent patter that’s much more satisfying on the ear than Mike and Tony yelling at each other. Playing the two songs back-to-back demonstrates well how much the band had matured as musicians in the intervening years (the earlier song is rough and raw, this second slick and polished, with instruments added as the arrangement demands rather than closing your eyes, playing all the way through and hoping for the best). This one is all about precision, not raw laughs and the result is less hypnotic but oddly more commercial. Why this wasn’t a single is anyone’s guess given that this is clearly what the band are aiming for here.
Worse is to come with [47b] ‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’, a turgid ballad made famous by The Drifters that every Northern group around in 1964/65 seemed to have in their setlist (I don’t know why the Southern groups didn’t cover it, perhaps they had enough clichéd songs with strings of their own?) I own so many bad versions of this torrid song and none of them are good (the Denny Laine era Moody Blues recorded it too), but I have to say The Searchers’ version might be the worst. The already slow tempo of the original is reduced to a crawl and after abandoning a useable take earlier in 1964 for some reason the band have added a yukky string arrangement over the top that’s overblown and louder in the mix than the band themselves (As our fellow review site ‘Starling Reviews puts it ‘[This is] The British Invasion? You don't invade anything with a string quartet!’) The success of the string part on  ‘What Have They Done To The Rain?’ has clearly gone to the band’s head; at this point, in the pre-Yesterday universe, the only successful rock and roll song with an orchestra had been Gerry and the Pacemakers’ ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, but at least strings made sense in that song (it is taken from a 1940s musical after all and designed to be played by them); perhaps The Searchers were sensing a rivalry? The band try hard with their harmonies (a rare use of them on this record), but the tempo is so slow Mike, Chris and Frank are reduced to filling in the notes with a decidedly un-tuneful ‘uhhhhhhhh’ noise twice every chorus, that sounds like they’re clearing their throat rather than singing. By and large the Searchers have one big ballad per album and more often than not they’re the highlights of the record, a chance for the band’s subtlety and ear for arrangements to shine through over their energy and speed, but not here – I don’t want to go on listening to ‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’, which is a drag from the title on down and at 3:28 is not only twice as long as most of the other album tracks, it sounds at least ten times longer than that.
 ‘Bumble Bee’ is the second highlight of the album, however, another undeserved flop single and an obscure song by singer-songwriter Lavern Baker, who sadly never scored big with her own ‘hit’ but had a few chart entries covering other people’s (she’s sort of an American Jackie De Shannon – The Searchers really seemed to do well with female songwriters in this chauvinist period!) The original is played for laughs to some extent, a daft metaphoric tale of the ‘sting’ in the lying partner’s words hurting ‘like...an evil bumble bee’, but the genius of The Searchers’ take on it is that they play it completely straight. Pender’s vocal is one of his best, a mixture of hurt and defiance, Curtis’ usual lopsided drum pattern sounds suitably menacing in this new context while done for laughs on the original and the band’s twin guitars shimmer and shine on the down-stepping central riff like never before, until suddenly pouncing like the bee of the title. Only a rather pedestrian middle eight (‘Don’t you know I cried night after night’) disappoints by lifting all that marvellous tension, but thankfully its short and swiftly followed by a killer chorus of ‘Oo-wee you hurt me like a bee!’ that sounds a lot better on record than it does in print. The band are clearly having fun with the song despite taking it so seriously – just listen out to the fade-out where one of the band (Pender?) even does a pretty good bee imitation. A deeply unusual song for The Searchers which turns their hope into bitterness and their sadness into sarcasm, with a whole new style to play with that they sadly never return to again despite sounding tougher than The Who and more menacing than The Stones (for this track only). Incidentally, the band did well to get this song past the censors (‘I gave you love as sweet as honey’ is a risqué line by 1964 standards), but then The Searchers had such an (untrue) cutesiepie image by this time they probably could have got away with singing the Kama Sutra.
 ‘Something You Got Baby’ is however a much safer and rather boringly obvious song choice, another tune covered by seemingly every British pop and rock band in this era and usually a bit better than this I have to confess. This track actually started life as a gospel song, written and first recorded by singer Chris Kenner before being rocked up into something of a contemporary hit for Fats Domino when The Searchers recorded their version. Thankfully this time the Searchers have sped the tempo up a little bit rather than dragging it right down and turn in a much better performance than on some of their other covers on the album, especially Pender’s lead vocal which as close to pop perfection as you can get. Unfortunately though by simplifying the song the band have lost the darker edges of Fats’ cover and the hint of playful lust the way he sings it, turning ‘my my woah woah’ from a chat-up line into meaningless pop nonsense. There’s also something undeniably empty about this song which is just deeply uninteresting the ‘straight’ way the band sing it – the lyrics don’t go any further than the title, there’s no real shifts or twists and turns in the music and the chorus is as basic as it gets. The band sound rather underused on this song too – the chiming guitars only really break through the sound at the beginning of the song, Pender’s solo is another less than inspired attempt compared to his past triumphs and the fine backing harmonies by Allen and Curtis (whose voices blend together much better than with Jackson’s) are ducked far too low in the mix to really register. A disappointing end to the record’s first side and a song and a production already well out of time by the Autumn of 1964 when it was recorded, never mind the Spring of 1965 when it was released. Even the album sleevenotes, by manager Tito Burns, which spend the whole record finding glowing things to say about every other song on here can’t find anything good or interesting to say about this one except to say it’s ‘played competently’. Thanks for the faith there, Tito!
Alas  ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ which starts side two suffers from all the same problems: the song is generic and empty, it repeats itself ad infinitum and the Searchers sadly pass over the opportunity to add any of their character to the song which has again already been covered to death by this point (The Animals’ version). As for the song, well, it’s either an invitation to party all night or have sex depending on your age – the way The Searchers sing it though it seems safe to say they were thinking more about playing ludo than anything naughtier. One odd detail: why does the narrator only realise halfway through that he needs to close the door? Nobody believes this song and there’s even a horrid tinny Hammond organ – played by Searchers producer Tony Hatch - that adds to the ‘camp night club’ feel of the song, although at least the guitar solo (which sounds like McNally’s work this time) is a bit livelier this time around. On the plus side too, at least this song has more ‘right’ to sound dated than the last, as its actually one of the oldest The Searchers ever recorded (along with the next song on the album...), dating back to 1956 when husband and wife act Shirley and Lee recorded their version (Leonard Lee wrote it). Surprisingly, the song only made #20 in the charts at the time and wasn’t really known until the 1960s when bands like The Searchers recognised its good-time feel as befitting of their ‘youth’ movement. There’s not much more to add, really – this is just basically ‘filler’ for the album, a song that’s easy to learn and quick to play, something necessary for a band working so hard between albums. The American version of the album replaced this track with glorious period single  'What Have They Done To The Rain?' It was a smart move the Brits should have copied – it’s hard to believe these two are by the same band, never mind from the same period.
 ‘A Tear Fell’ is another poor cover of a poor song, written by Eugene Randolph and Dorian Burton and first recorded by Teresa Brewer in 1956 but better known done by Ray Charles. The song is more country-and-western than any songs the Searchers had recorded for some time (first album ‘Meet The Searchers’ had a few of these sort of songs before rock and roll took over the band’s sound) and its unknown why the band should want to go back to their past suddenly (country won’t be big in rock and roll until 1968). Perhaps the song had been gathering dust in their set lists for a time and was an easy one to re-learn in a hurry? I can’t say the song is really to my taste either, with another quite horrible organ sound (playing the solo this time!) and a stomach-churningly repetitive riff on an acoustic guitar taking up space where the Searchers’ normal sound could and should be. Even Mike Pender sounds unconvinced by this song and when even he can’t make something out of a lyric you know you’re in trouble. The band also break down horribly at the end of the song, the piano rattling on long after everyone else has stopped (the bass and drums also come to a halt at different times), on a song that really should have been re-recorded. The song itself is also awfully over-dramatic, recounting the tale of a narrator breaking down in tears when his girl dances with ‘someone new’ at a dance which of course sounds like the end of the world (The drunken lurches of the song suggest the narrator might be slightly intoxicated too, which would explain the OTT dramatics). The band’s screechy harmonies help set the scene, but are painful to listen to. All that said, I still prefer this song to the last two cover songs as at least the band are sticking their neck out and trying to do something different – even though, arguably, ‘A Tear Fell’ is an experiment too far and those aren’t tears of joy I’m crying, at least until the song brings to an end perhaps the worst three-song run of The Searchers’ career.
 ‘Till You Say You’ll Be Mine’ is no classic either but it at least sounds like The Searchers, whatever the album title says, and seems like the sort of thing they ought to have been doing. The song looks forward to the more orchestral, echo-drenched Phil Spectorish epic productions they’ll make their own on next and final album ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ and while not quite in that league has its moments, with the syrupy strings counter-acted by a wonderfully sour guitar riff every so often. Pender excels at this sort of song where he can be both vulnerable and strong, and his Buddy Hollyish nods in the song (‘I-I-I won’t care...’) as he tries to pretend that he isn’t hurt but fails, point to the past at the same time the curiously detached and austere guitar riff point to the future (this sound isn’t far off what The Beatles come up with a year later on ‘Rubber Soul’). The strings are still a little bit overbearing and yet again some fine harmony vocals are rather squashed into the mix, but there’s a swing back in the band’s step. This is the third of four and perhaps least suitable Jackie De Shannon cover the band performed and while not as catchy is as deep as either  ‘Can’t Help Forgiving You’ or  ‘Till You Walk In The Room’. I’m amazed that the band didn’t record more De Shannon songs for this album if they were pushed for time – as a friend of the band Jackie was more relaxed than most about the band re-arranging her songs and the formula had already proved to be a hit for them once already in 1964, with no end of great songs from her catalogue to purloin. The song itself cuts pretty deep for the period too: immediately lashing out against the usual romantic troupes, such as perfect blue skies and happy ever after, the narrator just wants to be loved and doesn’t care about the details. It is the perfect match for The Searchers’ career long penchant for songs about waiting impatiently and yearningly. This is perhaps the cleverest variation of that though – the lush orchestral chorus showing us how wonderful life can be once the wait is over – and the crunch of the sighing guitar with which we fade evidence of how awful the waiting period is. The result sounds deeper than many Searcher songs, the production style not unlike The Beach Boys recordings of the day (circa the ‘Today’ and ‘Summer Nights’ records), production fests that make small subtle songs sound huge and epic.
 ‘You Wanna Make Her Happy’ is the second of three Chris Curtis songs on the record and though not quite up to the other two it’s still a sweet and well written piece that easily holds its own against the better known material here. Pender is again given the lead vocal to sing (generous given how much Curtis was singing in this period) and though it’s not up to his usual job (he sounds as if he’s got a cold coming on), thankfully Curtis and Allen’s harmonies more than cover up for it. The song might be basic and far more Beatle-ish than the other songs here (or should that be Searchers-ish given how close the band were to each other in their early days?), but it sounds awfully heartfelt, which already gives it more going for it than most of the other songs here. Like ‘If I Could Find Someone’ part two Chris gives us advice on how to keep our girls happy and ‘smiling’: kiss away their tears, never leave, tell her everyday how much he loves her. It’s not exactly rocket science is it? However the band have their hearts in the right place and this perhaps most Beatley of all Searchers songs is very much of its period, innocent bordering on profound. Indeed, in 1964 hearing a narrator expressing his love for his girl in such tender, romantic terms (‘A man should tell her he loves her every day’) is refreshingly kind for the period of supposedly ‘hard’ Northern bands and reveals Chris’ gentlemanly, softer side. The band turn in another strong performance of the song too, with Curtis adding some wood blocks to the percussion sound for the first time which work a treat in this song. This two minute track might not win any awards for invention, but even if its period fluff then at least its well made period fluff.
 ‘Everything You Do’ is the third Curtis song and the second of three lead vocals John McNally sang with the band (oddly he sounds not unlike Curtis when he sings, albeit an octave lower!) It’s probably the closest in style to the earlier Searchers albums in terms of song, a rocky pop song played with high energy and for the first time a hint of jazz. However the song also sounds quite new and contemporary, perhaps because McNally gets so few vocals with the band and his gruffer, less polished vocals are a good match for a rather retro song about all the great gifts the narrator’s girl has. Of all the band, Allen’s closest friendship from the first was with McNally and the two make for a great harmony team on record for the first time, with Frank unusually singing the higher part and diluting the rougher edges without over-shadowing them – the sound is such a strong, ear-catching one that it’s a real tragedy the band didn’t exploit it more. For the third time out of three, Curtis is noticeably quiet singing on his own song and said in interviews of the time that he wrote it deliberately to show off John’s ‘hidden talents’ – given the stories about Curtis’ controlling nature and his perfectionism its lovely to see him be so selfless with his music at a time when, arguably, his songwriting made him more of the ‘leader’ in the band than ever. As for the lyrics, it’s much like the other two originals on the album, only this time she’s doing it to him, the narrator wowed by just how wonderful it is to have someone love him. She doesn’t even have to do much: she can ‘twist me round your little finger’ and only has to wink for the narrator to feel ‘that I’m about to lose my mind!’ Forget the daft lyrics if you want though – this song was I suspect really written to give John the chance to show off his growing guitar skills and they sound mighty fabulous on this tricky intricate fast-stepping piece that proves what a great player John was (Mike, for his part, rattles a little acoustic guitar in the left speaker but isn’t really here much after dominating this album like never before).
 ‘Goodnight Baby’ ends the record where it started, with an empty, faceless pop ballad from future Monkee maestro Jeff Barry turned into a work of art thanks to a killer arrangement that makes the most of all the Searchers’ strengths. Pender, Allen and Curtis’ harmonies are rarely better than on this song, blending together so finely they sound more like The Hollies (one of the biggest compliments I can give them) and Pender’s thoughtful, unrushed guitar-work is back centre stage where it should be. The song is clearly not up to the best the Searchers ever did, but in its own undemanding way it’s pretty sweet too, with a swirly hazy melody fully reflecting the narrator’s floating dreamlike state as he rushed back to his house full of memories of his lovely night with his girl, not quite sure where he is. Listen out too for the verse about ‘forgetting’ to go home before a curfew so similar to the Everly Brothers’ big hits of the 1950s ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, anxious and yet so in love its uncaring about the consequences all at the same time. As the sleevenotes put it, this is a fine place to say goodnight (‘and if you’re not listening at night then please substitute morning, evening or afternoon’) as the Searchers are back to doing what they always did best, making lesser material shine thanks to strong performances. However its also another oddly backward juvenile step for a band who in this place are desperate to be taken seriously: this is a teenage song, for the days when fans have school the next morning and can’t stay up late unchaperoned without their beau and as such is about as un-1965 (the breakthrough year of drugs and politics in music) as you can get. Even if released in 1964 as planned it would have seemed a little bit behind the times too, an oddly 1950s track even though it was newly coined by Jeff Barry. Well there we are dear readers, the time has gone too quick and I promised to get you back home in bed on time, so it’s one last embrace at the garden gate before we go back to dreaming about 1960s Searchers albums (and having the odd nightmare about The Spice Girls).
‘Sounds Like Searchers’ then smells like trouble more than it does teen spirit. There are moments here that as a career trajectory you know are absolutely hopeless: limp cover songs everyone else is doing better, too many failed attempts to be grown-up with strings that sound all icky to any like-minded teenager in the mid 1960s and yet far too many songs that are clearly made for a younger audience too. The band are both too late and too early for songs like these – and yet the few moments when the band get it right (such as ‘If I Could Find Someone’ and ‘Bumble Bee’ particularly) you find yourself wishing The Searchers could have sounded like this all the time. To reiterate that point, I always felt that across their records The Searchers weren’t as good at choosing their own material as their rivals The Beatles and The Searchers were. This is not to kick the band down; The Kinks and The Who had the same problem in their early years before their songwriting took over and the same could easily have been true of The Searchers given how strong their original material is and how annoyingly quickly their career was curtailed by Pye (who basically stop them recording albums from mid 1965 and even stop them recording singles past mid 1966, despite the fact they were recording some of the best on the planet). They struggle though, particularly on this album, to work out what songs suit them best and all too often end up going for the obvious and the faceless. Had The Searchers broken through to the top tier of 1960s pop and rock stars again like so many of their contemporaries then my take on it is that this album would be viewed as simply a stepping stone towards the greatness of their ‘late flowering’ on final album ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ and their final singles, ‘Sounds Like Searchers’ being ‘their’ equivalent of difficult records like ‘Beatles For Sale’, the third self-titled ‘Hollies’ album and ‘Kinda Kinks’. We know now that those often awkward albums, uneasy hybrids of early original songs and cover material dregged up from fading setlists from several years past, were stop-gap efforts before the touring eased off and the songwriting inspiration eased in. The same might have been true for The Searchers, had they gone on to explore greater things but the sad thing is their learning got cut off before they fully had the chance to show just how far they’d come. That’s not the band’s fault, it’s Pye’s and that missing five months really caught the band out badly. My advice is to buy the CD re-issue with the bonus tracks of great A and even better B sides, follow up listening to this album with the career highlights to come on ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ and the superb rarities compilation ‘Play The System’ (still badly in need of a re-issue; the ‘45th Anniversary’ compilation released in 2006 is your next best bet) and suddenly what used to sound like a patchy record in your collection sounds not just like The Searchers but the best Searchers, as the band were all set up ready to be at the forefront of music in 1965, not near the back as they’re so often pegged.