Monday 13 February 2017

David Crosby "Thousand Roads" (1993)

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David Crosby "Thousand Roads" (1993)

Hero/Too Young To Die/Old Soldier/Through Your Hands/Yvette In English//Thousand Roads/Columbus/Helpless Heart/Coverage/Natalie

'I'd give my last dime for coverage - but you will not cover me!'

In 1991, two years before this album's release, David Crosby turned fifty. This was as much of a surprise to him as it was to everybody else after years of living on the edge: while everybody in their 40s tends to imagine that they might get to this milestone one day in the far-distant future, for Croz he'd been in denial as recently as five years earlier when he spent his 45th birthday inside a Texas prison for drugs and unregistered weapon possession. He hadn't expected to make his 46th birthday and yet the five years had seen an explosion in creativity that would have socked his younger self, packed with comeback album 'Oh Yes I Can' in 1989, two CSN/Y reunions in 1988 and 1990 and a well received autobiography. After this burst, though, Croz's prolificness returned to normal as he'd spoken most of what was on his mind (with darker, more hidden things to come on the CPR records in another five years), but like many reformed addicts he didn't want to stop and think - because those are the moments when the demons shout the strongest. So, after the hard work of the past five years, comes the victory lap: an album that in many ways was harder work as it moved Crosby so far away from his comfort zone and in other ways was as simple as plugging the work by a number of people whose work Crosby wanted to promote. A covers album no less, some twenty years before CSN finally split (for the last time?) trying to record exactly the same idea.

For years Croz had been mockingly joking with fans that whenever there's a cover version of a CSN song it tends to be of a Nash pop nugget or a catchy Stills song and that few people ever covered his 'weird shit'. In some sort of twisted way 'Thousand Roads' sounds like a response to this, a seven-cover, three-original album that features Crosby as singer and interpreter more than it does as a creator. Croz naturally doesn't pick the obvious songs to cover, choosing instead for the most part complex, difficult songs by a number of obscure singer-songwriters (many of whom offer their support by playing along): the likes of Marc Cohn, Bonnie Hayes, John Hiatt, Noah Brazil and Stephen Bishop - only Jimmy Webb is a name often spotted on 'cover' records and even as dedicated a fan as Art Garfunkel hadn't discovered the hidden minor gem 'Too Young To Die' yet. Along the way Croz slots his songs in at the beginning and middle where, thanks to more lashings of production than ever before, his songs suddenly sound like the most rounded, catchy and commercial songs here. As much of an advert or a sampler as a fully-fledged record, 'Thousand Roads' feels like it exists as an invitation to future music-buyers to check out Crosby's solo product and keep both his legacy and income safe for the next few years of silence (broken only by the as-always unexpected reunion of CSN for 'After The Storm' the following year). In many ways it's the least distinctive or necessary album in the CSN canon: while Crosby sings like a Byrd still, not all these songs are worthy of his voice and the production makes even the songs that are worth the care and attention lavished to them sound like the sort of things any half-decent singer with a synth-heavy karaoke machine could have come up with. In a way it's the most 'Spice Girls' of CSN records, low on creativity, low on thinking and low on ideas.

It's also one of the most under-rated of CSN records simply for being so different to the rest, for that's the point at which most reviewers give up, dismiss this album and move on to rave about the first CSN album or 'Déjà Vu' all over again. Let me reiterate: Crosby sings not like a bird but  like a Byrd, his commercial instincts the strongest they've been since 1965 as he re-acts to a changing music world by deciding to out-pop the younger popsters around (it might have helped that this is the period when a young Drew Barrymore lived with David and Jan for a year, bringing teenage pop music back into the house again). We haven't heard this side of Crosby's art for years and it remains surprisingly undimmed despite years of re-inventing folk-rock with a dash of psychedelia, all wrapped up in weird jazz guitar tunings. That was what Crosby chose to do with his career when left to his own devices, but in a changing world where even Atlantic are set to drop him as a solo artist Crosby follows Stills (on 'Right By You') and Nash (on 'Innocent Eyes') by making an album that shows he can match anything his peers can throw at them. By and large 'Thousand Roads' is better than either record for its sheer listenability and lack of huge embarrassing mistakes, something that marred both 1980s albums (by contrast Stills' last album 'Alone' from 1991 is decidedly unproduced and anti-commercial, while Nash can't get a solo contract at all). For the most part Crosby's creative instincts are spot-on: all the cover songs beat the originals (by some considerable margin in a couple of cases) and the choice of songs all taken from the early 1980s (when Crosby was at his most drug-addled and then locked away) suggests that as well as keeping his career fresh for future purposes he was busy filling in the 'gaps' he missed from his recent past. New song 'Hero' also beat any single song from Crosby's post-prison songbook (perhaps equal with 'Arrows'), a very Crosby tale of a mixed-up world where the heroes lose and the villains win in an adult life very different to the one we were taught to respect as children. The fact that it's also hands down the catchiest song in his pantheon (perhaps because of Phil Collins' input) makes it sound less of a sore thumb on this album than any other Crosby original on a covers record would have been.

It helps, too, that there's a half-theme across this record of missed opportunities and a mis-spent youth. Though Crosby was only involved in three of the ten songs here, all of them were chosen by him - not recommended by producers and managers, as many covers albums tend to be (that may well be what scuppered the CSN covers project of 2012 for instance - although Nash trying to explain what The Rolling Stones' 'Ruby Tuesday' actually 'meant' to an increasingly cynical Stephen Stills seems to have been the turning point; for the record I've reviewed it and I don't blooming know what it means either!) Together with that recent 50th birthday and memories of 'ten years wasted in a blindfold' they find Croz in reflective mood. 'Too Young To Die' sighs that a 'so-called mis-spent youth...seems more worthwhile every single day' before turning into a generic car song. 'Old Soldier' finds the then-34 year old Marc Cohn audaciously complaining that 'youth is a treasure we waste when we're young'. 'Through Your Hands' is all about taking charge of life when you feel yourself drifting, an angel visiting a homeless man on a park bench to tell him to stop 'dreaming' and start 'doing'. 'Columbus' dreams of happier times when history was simple, that European explorers were heroes and their quests were romantic, not bloody and genocidal. There's even a mermaid thrown in for good measure. 'Coverage' actively tries to be young, a before-its-time song that dreams about being in the public eye years before social media but only finds loneliness - a very postmodern cover for an older star straining to be heard. 'Natalie' also starts the song at school, a beauty who bewitches the narrator all the way from his teens to the tragic moment he has to say goodbye to her, remembering all the happier golden times and realising that life is too short. If this album has a theme then it's one that life is too short, too precious, too wonderful to waste a second of. That's a lesson Crosby had found out the hard way and you feel that, in a way, he isn't even going to waste his precious middle-age writing songs about such subjects when so many songs exist already that people don't know.

The album's strongpoint is clearly Crosby's voice. Though the songs don't always give him anything to get his vocal teeth into, he somehow finds a way anyway. 'Columbus' drifts along beautifully mainly thanks to Crosby's wide-eyed awe, recalling his bigger 'nature' songs like 'Delta' and 'Lee Shore', though the song clearly isn't in the league of either. 'Old Soldier' is sung as if it's a wry cry from the heart, even if it turns out to be an even dumber song than 'Drive My Car'. 'Helpless Heart' is exquisite in Crosby's hands, sung with awkward shyness in a way we've not heard from Croz in a long time, thrashing the original in its haunting allure. Croz has a good go with 'Coverage' and  'Natalie' too, though neither are a natural fit for his style. Considering everything he'd put his voice through in the past decade and how badly some of his colleagues were beginning to go show strain in this period (poor Stills especially), it's rather amazing that he still manages to sound as sweet and warm as he does.

In a way, though, the elephant in the room is that Crosby still ends up wasting so much of his precious time on a project that wasn't what fans wanted and which doesn't add anything much to the Crosby catalogue: gorgeous as his voice is, most fans still think of Crosby as a writer first and singer second. It's a difficult one for fans, especially of this band: we aren't enough in number to give CSN instant hits anymore even when we buy five copies of every album (two for the collection, two for safe-keeping and one for your Uruguayan pen-friend - everyone should have one!) Of course CSN have to appeal to outside audiences, many of whom wouldn't know good music if it was playing an acoustic guitar and singing in three-part harmony and they fell over it. But how far is too far? There are times on this album when Crosby sounds like every other generic hack who ever picked up a microphone: charmingly insincere, hitting all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order, while a synth-heavy backing band appears to be piped in from an elevator down the recording studio hall. With Nash it was a problem, but those Hollie instincts saw him through - sort of, maybe. With Stills it was more of a problem, but then Stills has always been game to tackle anything - 'Right By You' feels in retrospect more like Captain Manyhands rolling his sleeves up and having a go at being 'commercial' in the same way Manassas played medleys of songs in twelve different styles before breakfast. But with Crosby the commercial instinct is more problematic: Crosby's always followed his muse wherever it takes him - and usually where that takes him is unchartered territory, where no one else would ever think to go. ' Thousand Roads' is the first album Crosby had a hand in since The Byrds' 'Mr Tambourine Man' debut twenty-eight years earlier that you could imagine any other act doing. 'I've never felt so much alive!' runs one of the lines on 'Too Young To Die'. It should be a valedictory moment. But this generic car song, which starts off well but hits the brakes really quickly, turns into a shlock fest of the first degree. Crosby has never sounded less alive - or inspired - on an album that seems designed to celebrate the very fact that he made an age he never expected to reach.

There are, at least, little nuggets that overcome their surroundings that really stand out, whether they sound like 'pure' Crosby or not. 'Hero' is what all songs with synths should sound like, treating the biggest cash-cow of the 1980s as a mere children's toy that takes us back in time to a day when the world was young and cosy and made sense, before Croz started asking 'what's happening?!?!?' The opening minute or so of 'Too Young To Die' - when you think it's going to be about life, not motors. The first half of 'Old Soldier' is beautiful, with a haunting Nash counter-harmony that's as perfect as any in their lengthy collaboration (in retrospect with everything that's happened recently Crosby's album credit to Nash 'for space and support in delicate balance' reads volumes, especially compared to some of the other credits, where Phil Ramone is 'a truly gifted professional' and where Phil Collins was 'so generous with his musicianship and time'). 'Through Your Hands' overcomes it's slightly unmemorable start with a loud shouted chorus that demands attention and really breaks through the slightly cosy production on this album. 'Thousand Roads' is half a good original, with the most typically questioning Crosby lyrics on the album, though it sounded better as a slow scary folk tune in concert than it does here as an uptempo blues. 'Columbus's is a nicely arranged bit of nothing, with Wix Wickens on loan from Paul McCartney's band playing most of the parts behind Croz. 'Helpless Heart', the song that stands out here for not fitting in with the rest of the album theme, somehow manages to overcome all the synths, syrupy strings and clichéd lyrics to truly pull at the heart strings. 'Coverage' is a noble attempt at something new that almost comes off. And 'Natalie' is one of those songs that changes with the wind - in the right mood it makes me want to cry; in the wrong mood it makes me feel like I'm about to be sick (and I've never said that about a Crosby recording before). It's an album of 'very nearlies' in other words, where most songs have something going for them but whose production trappings and the fact they're all lumped together means that only 'Hero' truly stands out for all the right reasons.

Only 'Yvette In English', a long awaited one-off collaboration between Croz and his long-time muse and friend Joni Mitchell, is truly something of a let-down. At first Croz asked for one of Joni's songs to cover, as his favourite songwriter, but she replied that she would rather write one. Sadly what could have been a great song if started as a partnership from the first, with two of the most distinctive writers of the era working together, instead became an exercise in Crosby sending a half-finished song written 'his' way over to Joni who would re-write it her way and then Croz re-wrote it back again. You somehow wonder why they bothered. To be fair many fans like it and it sounded a lot better in concert by either songwriter, but neither this recording nor Joni's even more over-produced version (on her 1994 album 'Turbulent Indigo') display any evidence of the jazz-fuelled risk-taking that both artists are known for. Somehow putting two very similar, very bright artists together led to them writing perhaps the blandest and least interesting song in both their canons. Hidden away on another Crosby solo record he might have gotten away with it, but here with only three original songs there's no place to hide songs like these. 'Thousand Roads' itself is also noticeably weaker than almost everything from 'Oh Yes I Can', with only 'Hero' a song that adds anything new to Crosby's oeuvre, which after a four year gap is a bit of a shame. And where is charming period B-side 'Fare Thee Well' which would have filled in at least one of these holes? An extra couple of songs of depth and warmth would have made all the difference.

Still, considering that this was billed as a 'covers' album first and foremost and the amount of questionable commercial choices taken (just check out the then-hip thermal image close-up of Crosby on the front cover - and the advert inside to buy a 'fine print' version of it, which I doubt many fans did somehow given that it must be one of the least flattering images of Croz ev-uh) it's not that bad. There were a thousand career paths Crosby could have taken in the early 1990s: this isn't one of the expected ones and it doesn't compare to such walks through the mountain as 'If I Could Only Remember My Name' before it or the CPR albums to come, simply because there's so little 'Croz' here. However, it's better than silence and at times it's nice to hear Crosby purely as a singer rather than doubling as a songwriter. With a different production, less noisy guest stars and a couple of deeper songs, original or otherwise, this could have been a strong contender. Instead it remains the least necessary to own of all the CSN albums, if only because it features less of CS or N than any of their other records.

'Hero' is the one out-and-out classic on the album, even if the production is more obtrusive here than elsewhere. Croz had become good friends with co-writer Phil Collins after the Genesis star got in touch during David's year in prison to say he was a fan and to wish him 'good luck' - as with many inmates, letters were the best means of keeping in touch with the outside world and I would bet that Crosby was a keen letter writer during his time inside. When Phil was working on his 'But Seriously...' mega-hit album in 1989 and wanted a higher harmony part for a pair of surprisingly political CSN-type songs he'd written Croz was the obvious friend to call ('That's Just The Way It Is', which is actually about the opposite and people's power to change society and 'Another Day In Paradise', a stark reminder of homelessness and third-world problems; both are amongst Phil's best songs). Crosby in turn asked for Collins' help on his covers record, the pair starting this song from scratch when Phil admitted he didn't have any spare songs (and marking one of the few times Croz ever worked with anyone else, S and N apart). The end result is a pretty good hybrid for both men's styles: it has Collins' big booming sinagalong tune and straightforward common time walking pace tempo (both common to songwriting but unusual for Croz), but a very Crosby set of words about the world being upside down and more unjust than it should be. In most stories the line between good and evil is easy: the hero always wins the maiden and he 'never had to wonder what was right or wrong - he just knew', something that appeals to his comic-book wife and the voracious reader who wants to feel safe and secure. In real life the narrator struggles to live by the same philosophy: he tried to be kind, he ends up hurting someone, while someone with bad intentions always seems to win. In a turbulent middle eight, that sounds like the main part of the song playing backwards in a mirror, the narrator then kills his maiden with his kiss. The lyric could have been basic and runs out of things to say before the end (when we get a straight repeat of the first part) but features some real Crosby nuggets along the way: there is no bright light surrounding the 'hero' just 'shadow and shade, black and white, the same as everyone else. Crosby then talks about 'my friend and I searching through the darkness to find the breaks in the sky', he and Phil looking for hope to offer the listener. Listen out too for the relish with which Crosby singing about how the villain 'should' go to jail, not the hero! Dismissed at the time as being a lightweight song, this is actually a pretty good attempt to fit what this album was meant to do: keep the essence of Crosby but make it tidier, prettier and more commercial than usual to get as many sales as possible. I'm surprised in retrospect this single didn't sell better: it has real crossover appeal without annoying audiences who want Crosby to sound like his old self too much. Only the sad fact that Phil's harmonies don't fit David's lead as well as David's harmonies once fitted Phil's and the slightly cloying, digital production landscape prevent this from being a late-period classic. It's also easily the best song Phil Collins ever had a hand in, his deft commercial touch given three-dimensional depth by Crosby's contribution.

'Too Young To Die' starts off so well. Over an 'In My Dream's style acoustic twirl (actually played by ex-Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon) David tells us that he recalls his so-called mis-spent youth with pride, his days of cruising down the road fast in his car meaning far much to him in adult life for the chance of being 'alive' than any of the lessons he should have been learning. From thereon in even a sweet Nash harmony part can't save this basic Jimmy Webb song which, in typical style, ends up rooted in place repeating the same riff over and over for nearly six full minutes while the lyrics talk about 'freedom' 'flying' and 'rule-breaking'. 'Life doesn't come with a warranty!' run the passionate lyrics as the narrator still believes in living fast and feeling alive, at any age, but the music sounds like an old man asleep in front of the fire in his slippers. After all, the whole song is built round the tagline 'too fast for comfort', performed at such a slow speed it sounds like dawdling. Things get better for the harmonious chorus ('sweet ol' racing car of mine...') and it's tagline that even now, in middle age, the narrator gets the same feeling of being invincible, 'too young to die', he once always had whenever he drives. However this is just a pair of headlights flashing in the night and even the slowed-down, simplified ending ('When I die I don't want to go to heaven, I just wanna drive my beautiful machine') is flat and lifeless, with even Crosby not managing to get through the layers of ickiness with the clichéd final words. The best you an say about this song is that at least it's catchier and more thought out than Crosby's own 'Drive My Car' from the album before, but it's still not a very good song and the lines about 'finding peace in losing control' also sound dangerous from someone who very nearly went to prison again for crashing his motorbike at speed into a fence that could have killed someone. Jimmy Webb's original came out just a few weeks before Crosby's on his 'Suspending Disbelief' album. Sung with a very Jeff Pevar-style guitar attack and arena-style drumming it's a more happy-go-lucky, aggressive take than Crosby's version and lacks even David's little bit of magic. Crosby guests on that version though, alongside JD Souther (who was once with fellow Byrd Chris Hillman in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band - guess which one he was!) and Eagle Don Henley.

'Old Soldier' finds Crosby and Nash much more at home on a song by pal Marc Cohn (Crosby's favourite writer of 'this' generation, after always naming Joni for the 1960s and Jackson Browne for the 1970s). This slow piano song, with its unusual chord structure and curious time signature feels more like a Crosby song than any on the album - even his own - and would have made for a fine 'CCPR' collaboration. Though Cohn was a generation (sixteen years?) younger than Crosby, what most appealed was probably the reflective lyrics about having lived long and hard as an 'old soldier' looks back on a busy life and is invited to remember past triumphs. The song is realistic enough to recognise a generation 'not getting any younger' but recognises that old age isn't all one way, that 'you've still got that hunger burning in you now'. By and large CSN had stopped singing about 'their' generation somewhere around the early 1980s when they all began to learn their careers were in jeopardy and they'd be better off pretending to be young and trendy. So it's with some relief Crosby picks up the mantle again, if only briefly and via another writer. The song does lack a little something extra that CSN would surely have thrown in there however: it floats and it nods it's head in respect, but doesn't really do much more than that. There's no sense of raging injustice a la 'Long Time Gone', no passion as per 'Ohio' and no great message as heard on 'Carry On'. Instead it's a song that speaks about not quite retiring while once again heading for the pipe and slippers in musical terms. Still, it's a pretty tune and one of the best on the album, with Crosby and particularly Nash adding just the right sense of awe and grit. Cohn's version appeared on the 1992 various artists Olympic Games compilation 'Barcelona Gold', for reasons best known to the compilers and features much more Nash-style harmonica and a much gruffer vocal, though otherwise the arrangements are much the same.

'Through Your Hands' is the one song here that doesn't quite improve on the original by John Hiatt (it's from 1990 album 'Stolen Moments'). Crosby's version, unusually, is prettier and more commercial, with an added electric guitar riff and a bigger jump between the quiet and loud passages, whereas Hiatt more or less screams throughout. It's a good song, but not a great Crosby song as the often awkward metaphors ('Past the scientific darkness, past the fireflies that float') sometimes get stuck in his throat. Plus he sings with much more of a croak than the rest of the album (did he have a cold that day?) The one song here recommended by producer Don Was, on 'holiday' from working with The Rolling Stones, you can tell Crosby's heart isn't really in it. Still, the powerful punch of a nagging chorus that has an angel appear to urge the world to get on with living and speaks so eloquently even the narrator believes it ('What am I not doing? My voice cannot command! In time I will move mountains!') is memorable. The best part, though, is the un-credited guitar work: oddly for such well-documented sleevenotes there is no mention of who performs the blistering Stills-like solos (though Bernie Leadon is down for acoustic work again). Could it be Stills himself playing more simply than usual? Or is it old buddy Danny Kortchmar (whose work also sometimes sounds like Stills')? Unfortunately, given the point of the song, this is the track on the album that rather slips past your ears.

'Yvette In English' is just weird. I think I see where Crosby and Joni were heading: it's a romanticised version of their own first meeting in a club in California, only here we're in a cafe in Paris. A strong alluring female 'slips in sideways like a cat' speaking English so most people don't even notice her, but Crosby's narrator is smitten. He tells her that if he was a painter 'I'd paint her from toe to head' and enjoys basking over a cup of 'instant bliss', more interested in her than the beverage. However, like much of this album, this song doesn't 'sound' like a bright, brief, shining love affair. It sounds more like a dull day in front of the TV if anything, without either writer's usual quirks and just a boring flamenco guitar part thrown in to liven things up (and even that doesn't fit the decidedly French setting). This isn't love, or even lust, it's just a natter over coffee. It's not just the music either: the lyrics try too hard to be clever, with an ABAB rhyming scheme that flops more than it hits ('Reaching for words and drawing a bistro on the left bank'). Where this song succeeds in summing up Yvette's contradictory character, nervy but focussed, why yet pen, giggly yet deadly serious. This song feels dangerous if you're paying close enough attention to it, with its sudden switches from exotica to pinging warning sounds from a synth, but it's not the journey of an innocent seduced it might have been and like many of the songs on this album doesn't really have much of an ending: after coffee she moved off and clicks away on her high heels, the narrator left none the wiser. To be honest nor are we.

'Thousand Roads' sounded promising in concert as a Dylanesque rule-breaking acoustic ballad (as seen in the CSN 'Acoustic Concert' of 1991). It's very Crosby in the way that it defies all natural songwriting logic while trying to answer a 'fistfull of questions' that no one on earth can solve, defying melody structure and gravity as the closest it can come to summing up an ever-changing life is the 'twist of an acrobat in the air, a twist to the knife'. Recorded for Crosby's most commercial record, however, all the interesting bits have been tidied away: though the song still talks about 'finding no patented path to set you free', it doesn't sound like a long list of questions, just a curious aggressive bluesy mood-piece that keeps threatening to blast into full-speed but never quite gets there. The lyrics still feature some great Crosbyisms, especially his pay-off that he doesn't have all the answers so we shouldn't listen to him as he walks down his life-path either ('Besides I wouldn't know where you wanted to go and it's probably not the same place as me!') and the reprise of the song 'Laughing' that finds him realising that humour is as close to understanding the world as he's going to get. But much of this song still sounds more like a man grasping with working out quite what he's trying to do - his bluesy cue for the Any Fairweather-Low solo ('talk to me!') taking on a new meaning in context. Crosby sounds lost - which is not all that common, he quite often sounds lost and doubly so in the CPR period or immediately after losing girlfriend Christine in 1970. But this is a different kind of 'lost', brushed off with awkward humour that doesn't quite work.

'Columbus' is nautical but nice, a sea-faring song that sounds on first hearing to be at one with the many schooner-filled songs in Crosby's back pages. But usually when Crosby sings about the sea he does so with a metaphor: a life-force that's bigger than him or any one human, pulling him on or nature getting on with stuff oblivious to his hurt and confused human feelings. Here it's just the backdrop to a Noah Brazil song about which I can't seem to find anything: nobody knows who the writer is, nobody else seems to have recorded the song and the only online references I can find all refer back to this album. Like 'Hero', it's a song about wanting to believe in an easy and safe world. The narrator, a whaler, has to stay safely behind his prey and likens it to his life back on 'land' too - if he gets too close to a woman they risk hurting each other; stay too far apart he gets lonely. So, in a line that's very Crosby, when things 'get twisted and crazy and crowded' he sits by the fire and remembers when he used to have a hero in Columbus, exploring new worlds and navigating them all down so other people could follow. Of course here, in the 21st century, Columbus seems like one of the biggest jerks of all time. He stole from natives he often killed, encouraged others to follow in his footsteps pillaging and gave most of his riches not to the people who'd prosper from them but the Royalty who already had more gold than sense in the hope it might give him a bit more 'power'. Columbus in reality is exactly the person no one should be dreaming of as a role model - but that's not the point, it's the romantic heroic idea before it became dashed that's the point of the song. Until the moment he set foot on another land Columbus was a hero and this is a song about needing heroes and people to believe in, on an album largely about needing heroes as well. A yearning middle eight reminds us that 'the tide ebbs and flows' but our heroes never should: they have to stay heroic and bright and bold and wonderful or what is the point of having them and what is the point of trying to act like them? In the best marriage of music and words on the whole album this song slowly sleepwalks by, it's not-quite-real air suiting a song that follows a cormorant dive into the water in 'our' world and wonders about the mermaids he meets on the way down. This is romantic, lurid, escapist fare but born from a world that's often too scary.

Crosby discovered 'Helpless Heart' after Phil Collins took it with him to the 'Hero' sessions and told him he'd sound good singing it (Phil performed it too during his 1995 tour). He does, even though it's not the natural sort of Crosby song at all, being a schmaltzy romantic ballad that sounds like so many other out there. It even comes with the same tempo throughout, no weird chord changes and no real surprises from first note to last. Crosby sounds suitably loved-up and works well as the scared and anxious lover wondering how to tell his loved one that he's fallen madly and helplessly in love with her. He feels a 'thread' tying him to his beloved and a 'dream deep inside my head' that compels him on, but still he can't quite believe that he's been sitting still in his flat for a month trying to pluck up the courage to tell her. He thinks he's being stupid and gives way to a sudden rush of emotion in the chorus and promises his devotion before realising that actually he's strong - most people would have given up or gone mad or found someone easier to get to know by now. Simple as this song is, sickly as it is (with a romanticised string arrangement that doesn't deserve to be here) and as ill-fitting as it's naked emotion is compared to the other album songs spoken in metaphor, it may well be the best cover song here. You can hear the author's original on his 1986 album 'Strange Moon' but it lacks Crosby's soul and feel.

'Coverage' is the biggest venture into something new, however. Bonnie Hayes recorded the very 1980s original for her album 'Good Clean Fun' in 1982 and it's a quirky song about demanding attention played in the short-term-memory-span music of the day. This being a very 1990s album (with the drums lower in the mix and other instruments along with the synth) this arrangement doesn't work quite so well and Crosby tries gamely but sounds a little lost in a world clearly not built for him (Kipp Lennon, of Crosby favourites Venice who guests on many of the songs here, sounds much more at home and steals the show). Crosby probably picked the song because in many ways it's his album manifesto: He wants to be noticed! He wants to be heard! He wants to be 'covered', even. But, he sighs to an uncaring world, 'you will not cover me'. The verses look in more detail at why the narrator feels so aggrieved, because there are more chances than ever for young talent: the TV, the radio (if this was a modern cover you could throw in a whole middle eight about social media right here), but even though the narrator keeps the TV on all night so it can 'whisper' to them he still hears nothing he can connect with and nobody talking directly to him. The final verse tells us why things failed: 'dream traffic', too much hoping and not enough playing (which fits the themes around why this album was made), while by the time the song came out it was too late: it 'blew the demographic' which had moved on to something else. By both pleading to be heard and mocking himself to trying to fit in with a new musical movement he doesn't believe in, Crosby just about gets away with this very different sort of a song, built around a catchy but impersonal 'Human league' style riff played by Bonnie herself.

The album ends with weepathon 'Natalie' by Stephen Bishop, who also wrote songs for Art Garfunkel and Hollie Allan Clarke. 'Natalie' is about the pick of them, sounding more sincere and heartfelt than most Bishop ballads which tend to go for the heartstrings by appealing to the lowest common denominator. This song about future hopes being dashed by cruel life events sounds as if it at least started as a 'real life' song, with the narrator falling in love with a girl at a schooldesk and growing up with her, still every bit as much in love. What he doesn't count on is that she grows up and leaves him behind and no longer wants to carry out their shared dreams: their bike-ride to China, their 'sailing away on a bottle-top'. She grows up and becomes an adult and has no time for his make-believe and it breaks his heart. He compares the first time he says 'I love you' to his sweetheart on a crowded carousel when he returns from the school holidays, to the last when she 'goes wild', with the hint that she takes an overdose of drugs (perhaps the part of the song that appealed most to Crosby). The narrator is left, stunned, wondering how his beautiful naive innocent little girl could ever have changed and distanced herself from him. He speaks to her picture, he calls out her name and talks to the walls but she won't hear - the first time we hear that middle eight we think it's because they've split, but by the second time we know that it's because she died. That's a clever and sweet little lyric and I'd have bet my numbered fine art print of the ugly album cover (if I'd bought one!) that Bishop had someone real in mind when he wrote this song, even if the ending might be made up (I'm willing to bet she really was named 'Natalie' as well, given that it's an impossible song for a songwriter to rhyme - sensibly Bishop doesn't try). It's the music and arrangement (Bishop's nicely arranged but badly sung acoustic version didn't come out until 2003's 'The Demo Album', which might be how Crosby first heard it) I have problems with, which are so sickly sweet I feel like a trip to the dentist every time I play it. Crosby is usually sharper than this, with sugary backing vocals (by Kipp and Bishop himself), a howling guitar part in the middle and twinkling synths even if his shocked vocal gets this song about loss exactly right. His extended ending, in which repeats slowly 'that was the last time I said I loved you to Natalie' to let it sink in, is beautiful and haunting, taking as long as he possibly can so that he doesn't have to move on with his life just yet. In other words, it's a draw: much as I want to laugh at this song and see all the major problems with it, something about it always makes me want to cry, first time or last time hearing this recording.

Overall, then, 'Thousand Roads' is an odd little record. It lacks Crosby's usual distinctive style and is about as unrevealing as any covers album will ever be - particularly from a writer so used to pouring out his heart in song. This album is a shot at the big time that failed, a commodity designed to sell even though it's often marketable, in the same way that it's this ugliest looking, most generically sleeved Crosby album that comes with the limited edition print. But it also has heart, occasionally, good songs some of the time and just enough heartfelt Crosby lead vocals to keep the song together. It's always interesting to hear what a singer's favourite songs of the moment are, especially when they're obscure, and while few of them are substitutes for Croz's own and aren't necessarily the ones I and many other fans would have chosen for him to sing most of them do share either an album theme or a structure that are very Crosbyish. There are a thousand ways that 'Thousand Roads' could have been made - you can probably think of a few yourselves and you might get lost if you try - some of them no doubt sounded much better, but many probably sounded worse. Losing might be better, but victory is sweet, old soldier or not. Crosby sadly won't be back with a full-blown (non-CPR/CSN) album until 2012, but at least it's a work that will feature less cover songs.

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

The Searchers 'Non-Album Recordings Part One: 1963-1967

You can now buy 'Once Upon A Time - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Searchers' in e-book form by clicking here

It makes sense that The Searchers began their demo tape with their revved up version of Pomus and Schuman's Drifters B-side [1a] 'Sweets For My Sweet'. Even in this early primitive form on the song that had probably been in the band's set list for the shortest time The Searchers sound a comfortable fit, especially Tony whose vocal twinkles with even more wit and humour than the finished version for Pye. The rest of the band behind him don't sound quite as comfortable yet, with Pender slightly hesitant on his blistering guitar solos, Chris a little heavy-handed on the drums and less backing harmonies in this version while the tempo audibly lags a little behind in the middle. No matter though - this performance still shines straight through the tape and Tony Hatch was quite right to pick up on its hit potential. Interestingly the only real change in the arrangement comes at the end when instead of ringing off with a rattle of harmonies, tom-toms and ringing guitars the song uncomfortably keeps going for some added 'ooh' ing. The version released on CD fades at this point, which would have been quite difficult to do on a tape recorder in 1963 - was there a mistake at the end the band were forced to let go on the original? Songwriter Shuman later commented that he rather liked The Searchers' version but complained that they always got the words wrong (The Drifters original has the line 'your tasty kiss' rather than 'your sweet kiss!')  Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002) 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

A much more 'famous' song in The Searchers' setlist at the time was their moving harmony drenched performance of [2a] 'All My Sorrows', a song better known by the name 'All My Trials' and re-recorded for second album 'Sugar and Spice'. It was unusually for Liverpool bands to play any ballads that weren't speeded up beyond all recognition and the song became a very famous one for The Searchers, giving them a small way of standing out beyond their competitors. Though a little too slow and a tad awkward, Pender and Curtis' harmonies already sound mightily good together here and you can see that the band are trying their hardest to impress with how tuneful they can be for a rock and roll group! Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002) and 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

The curious [3] 'Jambalaya', named after a Jamaican meat and fish dish, was another popular song around Merseyside with The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers doing it too, though funnily enough none of the three bands ever recorded a 'proper' studio take of the song. In a way this song was the rock scene's introduction to reggae/cajun music, though Hank William's original came with more of a country lilt and most rock groups went with a more straightforward 4/4 time beat as here. The song retains an unusual patois lingo though which Pender attacks with gusto, though he sounds far more comfortable letting fly on the million-miles-an-hour guitar solo that cuts through the slightly awkward air of the rest of the song. Curtis is right at home on the simple heavy drumming mind and this might well be the best band performance on the tape, the song really swinging by the end. You can tell why the band never returned to it though - with it's almost haiku style and clipped sentences ('Me gotta go, down the pirogue, down the bayou') it's not a natural fit for a band as 'normal' as The Searchers were desperately trying to be. Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002)

[4] 'Rosalie' is an interesting choice. An adaptation from Cole Porter's 1937 film/musical of the same name, it's been changed beyond all recognition here with a Chuck Berry guitar riff and some Berry style lyrics over the top. Pender is again on lead and is once more the star with a Texas-style drawl very different from his natural Liverpudlian and his ringing guitar solo too is impressive for someone so early on in his career. By the end someone (Pender?) shouts in the background and McNally and Jackson all but drop out, leaving the end of the song as a race between Pender and Curtis. It's genuinely exciting the way the band play it here, though as a song 'Rosalie' isn't as distinctive as some other rockers in the band's set. Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Curtis takes the lead vocals on his own [5a] 'Do You Miss Me?', the only original song in the set. Like The Beatles in this pre-Merseybeat period, it's interesting how much simpler and softer the song is than the heavy rockers or serious ballads the band are picking to cover. Given that Curtis is all of an inexperienced 22 here the song is impressive, sweet and catchy in a Buddy Holly type way as Curtis writes as if he's coming up with a letter home, asking if his lover misses him because he sure misses her (it's interesting to speculate whether The Beatles heard this one in Hamburg - it's very similar to McCartney's 'PS I Love You' written in 1962, or indeed whether The Searchers were inspired the other way. Chances are both songs were inspired by being so far away from home). The Searchers won't re-record this charming little song until the middle of 1964, some eighteen months later, when the song has got tidier and is largely handed over to Mike to sing but that B-side version slightly lacks the charm of this more innocent recording. The third Searchers original ever released, on the flip-side of 'When You Walk In The Room' it's a surprise the band didn't release it earlier when it might have helped with critics who dismissed them as 'just another cover band' - it's certainly strong enough by 1963 standards. Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002)

After playing around with Chuck Berry-fied versions of other artists, here's the real thing with Curtis hawing his way through [6] 'Maybellene'. Unfortunately The Searchers don't quite suit Berry's driving chugging songs that leave little space for guitar interplay and put most of the 'weight' on the bass and drums (still the weakest links here given that Tony and Chris are still learning). Chris' vocal also pops like crazy, but then he is trying to play the drums simultaneously in primitive conditions. Perhaps a little harsh for modern ears, Curtis tries hard to inject his own larger than life personality over the song to make up for any problems but just comes over as a bit bossy, demanding guitar solos and staccato stabbing at the song like a cross headmaster. He also messes up the last word, adding 'the things you used' a little sheepishly after he realises everyone else has just stopped playing. Still, I've heard worse - at least there's more life in this tape than The Beatles' audition tape for Decca! Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002)

Another early live favourite, especially with Tony's many female followers, it seems odd that  [7a] 'Sho' Know A Lot About Love' should have to wait for so long until appearing on record (third album 'It's The Searchers' where it's Tony's swansong with the group). Tony, clearly the most confident in the group at this point, again owns the song and overcomes any difficulties such as another slight slow-down in tempo in the middle of the song. I prefer this version to the slightly more ponderous finished version though, with Curtis' simpler heavy drumming spot on for the cheeky chat-up line lyrics, while Pender's ringing guitar solo isn't quite as tongue-in-cheek as what comes later. The Searchers sho' know how to get their signature sound on tape in this era! Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

By contrast [8] 'Maggie Mae' is rather thrown away, with Pender's best Scouse accent doing his best to disguise the fact that he hasn't quite learnt all the words yet (his own accent causes him to giggle around the 30 second mark!) Even for someone who lives just outside Liverpool and comes across these accents everyday, this song is hard to interpret and must have been a huge shock for the likes of Tony Hatch back when regional accents were something to change in a hurry if you wanted a job. he'd have been even more shocked if he had though back in 1963, given that this song is a cheeky Liverpudlian Victorian song circa 1830 about a famous local prostitute who hang around Lime Street to meet patrons off first trams and then trains (I'm sure I've spotted here there still at 180 more than once). This is probably the weakest offering on the 'Iron Door Club' tapes, with no variation between verses or even a guitar solo to liven the song up and you can see why the band never returned to it after this point. Instead it's The Beatles who'll cut the most famous modern day version of the song in between 'proper' recordings for the 'Let It Be' album (though they only seem to remember the last verse!) Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002)

The noisy [9] 'Let's Stomp!' blows the cobwebs away, built up around a thrilling fast paced rat a tat from Curtis' drumkit before all hell breaks loose on the guitars. Greatly suited to sweaty early morning club dates down at the Iron Door or to re-energise during three hour sets at Hamburg, this is a great example of how different the early Searchers sound was to their initial records: wild, raw and exciting. Unfortunately you can also hear why this sort of thing was impossible to record on The Searchers' later albums as sonically it's a mess with only Tony's piercing vocal shining through the sheer noise. This would have been another very recent addition to The Searchers' setlist, having first been released as a flop single by Bobby Comstock in December 1962 at a rather slower pace than the frenetic version here. Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002), 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Arguably The Searchers should have gone for a coffee break because they're beginning to lag during the second half of this tape. Nowhere is that shown better than with their 'other' showstopper of the day [10a] 'Aint That Just Like Me?', which back in the Hamburg days could be stretched out several minutes thanks to an inventive call-and-answer section added by singer Curtis. Another Coasters B-side, The Hollies beat The Searchers to the punch by releasing it as their first version where theirs is a scuffy song trying to sound sweet for the pop market; by contrast The Searchers' version is almost a parody of the juvenile nursery-rhyme quoting lyrics and concentrates more on the heart of the matter, the very real wild raw feelings of lust and love the narrator feels so desperately and in such contrast to the storybook romances he sees in stories. Alas this version seems over before it starts, the band never quite getting it together and with them all ringing off after a disappointing 90 seconds. Curtis has by now moved so far from his microphone he's inaudible, so all you get is Tony and Mike screaming 'don't you want to love me too?' at random moments over a far-too-fast version of the song's hypnotic riff. Given what you can read from those who were there about how thrilling early Searchers versions of this song were like, this was a crushing blow when the tapes were first released. Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002)

As with 'Maybelline', The Searchers aren't a band built for Chuck's aggressive grooves and though [11] 'Sweet Little Sixteen' is less of a mess than 'Maybelline' it's not up there with the performances recorded by the band's peers in this period like The Beatles, The Animals and The Hollies either. Pender sounds as if he has a bus to catch, his lead guitar part is far too 'polite' and far away from the microphone and Curtis seems to be using his drumkit as gym practice, pounding the hell out of it whether it fits with the song or not. Even so there's a certain charisma about this version, which - drumming aside - is delivered with a sort of nonchalant shrug. Find it on: 'The Iron Door Sessions' (2002)

Moving onto the 'Star Club' tapes, [12] 'I Can Tell' is perhaps the most thrilling find. Curtis sings this Bo Diddley number like a slow version of 'Just Like Me', teasing out the tension over a slow burning groove that's well augmented by McNally's chilling chugging rhythm part. Curtis has rarely sounded better as he lists all the reasons why he thinks his girl has fallen out of love with him and should have covered more Bo Diddley as he's captured the repetitive onslaught nature of Bo Diddley's work better than most of The Searchers' competitors. Only a slightly scruffy Pender guitar solo, miked too low, lets the side slightly down. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994)

Fats Domino's [13] 'Sick and Tired' is perhaps less of an obvious fit but The Searchers give this moaning song a good go anyway with Chris again the lead singer. There's a slinky groove about this track that's a bit subtler than most of The Searchers' rockers of the period and Curtis has curbed his wilder vocals to fit the song too, but at the same time there's less for the band to do with little space for the guitars or harmonies. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994) and 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2012)

James Brown's instrumental [14] 'Mashed Potatoes' gets a lyrical workover here - well, sort of as the only lyrics are the title sung over and over by Tony giving his all. It's a shame, then, that the lyrics he's singing aren't more interesting and that The Searchers seem content to stick in the same 12 bar blue riff rather than truly letting fly with their old passion and invention. Probably the weakest song from the Star Club tapes and one that we should thankful never ended up on LP. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994)

Now here's an interesting one as The Searchers cover not the future Hendrix/Byrds classic [15] 'Hey Joe' but the deeply silly novelty record by Carl Smith (from a song by Boudleaux Bryant, which must have been too silly even for his regular buyers The Everly brothers to turn down!) The Searchers, as with most of their 'comedy' songs, sing it straight (with Pender again on lead) and treat this track as if it's the most heartwrenching song about loss and betrayal imaginable as a guy tries to poach his best friend's girl instead of a song that runs 'come back my palsy walsy...I gotta have that dolly for my own!' Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Of all the songs I thought I'd hear given the 'Just Like Me' treatment, it wasn't Stephen Foster's pretty little song [16] 'Beautiful Dreamer' (also dressed up as a rocker by The Beatles for a radio broadcast, though not to quite the same extent as here). Pender handles the lead vocal while the others all chime in loudly behind him - a little too loudly for comfort if truth be known. It's a fun little diversion in the band's setlist which points towards some of their later quirkier numbers but doesn't quite come off. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994)

After watching 'Sweets For My Sweet' do so well in the British charts, record label Phillips had a look to see if they could buy a piece of Searchers history for themselves and discovered that the Star Club tapes were up for sale. Phillips chose to rush-release [17] 'Sweet Nuthin's' as a bona fide Searchers single, much to the horror of both the band and Pye who feared that the lo-fi sound and rather scruffy performance might kill off sales for their 'real' records. In actual fact this swinging little song by Ronnie Self probably enhanced the band's reputation in the wake of their slightly sugary hit, revealing that the band really could handle raw, wild rock as well as anyone else. Tony sings the lead superbly despite the chaos happening behind him as Chris and Mike throw in a few rejoinders at key points in this start-stop song ('Come on Tony, you've had enough for the night!' sings Curtis at one point). Daft, but powerful, The Searchers should have re-recorded this song which is one of the best in their setlists of the time and somehow manages to straddle The Searchers' schizophrenic selves of the period, split between laughs and heavy rock. The single remains one of the rarest releases in their canon and originally came in very poor sound, though it was cleaned up considerably for release on the 'Star Club' tapes in 1994 and unlike most of the rest of the German tapes occasionally makes appearances on Searchers compilations. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994) 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) 'and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Virtually the only decent pre-British rock and roll record was Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' [18] 'Shakin' All Over' which was played with much pride by any number of British bands. The Searchers are perhaps a little too conservative for such a wild and noisy number and Tony sounds completely out of touch on the song, though the backing is rather good with some great guitar interplay between McNally (though it's his turn to sound too quiet) and Pender while Curtis plays hard and simple. The result is quite hypnotic but quite as powerful as it perhaps ought to be. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994)

Buddy Holly's harmony-drenched [19] 'Learning The Game', meanwhile, is far too 'soft' for The Searchers who pile into this song with as much adrenalin and gusto as the others even though it's as slight and twee a pop ballad as Buddy ever wrote. Tony again sings the song but he's drowned out by some very heavy drumming and only Pender's cleverly facsimile of Holly's guitar licks really works. Still, if you're going to play three hour sets to a load of drunken Germans doing their best to ignore you, you have to throw something in between the heavy rockers. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Another Bryant Brothers leftover, [20] 'It's Always You' sounds very Everly Brothersy with Chris and Mike awkwardly singing together for one of the first times. Unfortunately the pair of them haven't quite got the hang of the telepathy and precision of their later performances and they quite often crash each other's lines and keys, while the lagging tempo is so slow it's surprising the drunken Germans aren't throwing things by now. It sounds to all intents and purposes as if McNally and Jackson have gone home too, leaving this as a duo performance (they're probably at the bar...) Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994)

The loud heavy rock drive of [21] 'Hully Gully' makes for one of the better Star Club performances though, with Chris and Mike singing the title as loudly as they can behind Tony's energetic lead. This silly little dance song was originally a non-charting flop by up and coming band The Olympics, but it seems the few people who bought a copy all performed it given how many versions there are out there (with 'The Beach Boys Party!' version from 1965 probably the best known). Again it suits The Searchers to a tee because it manages to be both great silly fun and adrenalin-fuelled take-no-prisoners rock with the band playing the silly dance-style lyrics as straight as they can. Delightful. A brief clip of The Searchers singing this song actually at the Star Club (though by the sound of it a more timid version than the one used here) also exists and was used on a period German documentary about how ghastly the German underworld was with these awful British bands making such a racket. had the director used a clip of some of the other tracks they might have had a point, but not this one - it's perfect for The Searchers and it's a great shame they never returned to it. Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994)

Finally, Ray Charles cover [22a] 'What'd I Say?' was another of the band's big showstoppers, sung with gusto by Curtis throughout his time in live appearances with the band even though they sadly never put it on record. Dispensing with the slightly gentlemanly and reserved original arrangement, Curtis demands cajoles and pleads with the audience to join in with the call-and-answer section while he bangs the drums with everything he's got (usually while standing up at the same time!) Though this slightly rushed version pales in comparison to the pair of truly great versions The Searchers recorded for Swedish radio in 1964 (and later released as part of 'The Swedish Radio Sessions'), this is still one of the best performances of any song The Searchers ever gave: messy and primitive but incredibly exciting like all early 1960s rock and roll should be. Curtis on his day was great a rock and roll singer as anybody out there, though he got so few opportunities to really strut his stuff, while Pender's fast-flying guitar solos are highly impressive too. No wonder Phillips picked this song as the flipside of their 'Sweet Nuthin' single - it's just a shame that one of the best Searchers performances of them all has languished relatively unknown in the digital world with just the one hard-to-find release. A shame too that the tape seems to click off just before the band are leading into a big climax! Find it on: 'The Star Club Tapes' (1994)

Non-Album Recordings Part #2: 1963 (Part Two)

 [33] It’s All Been A Dream (B-side to first single Sweets For My Sweet) doesn’t rise to the height of later period tracks and like much of the band’s first three albums is caught halfway between moments of ensemble magic and a generic and rather boring song that’s a bit of a throwaway. An early inoffensive cover, it still features what was for 1963 quite an inventive use of harmony between Jackson and Mike Pender, with lots of shades of their close musical cousins Lennon/McCartney, naturally, given what was out-selling everything else that month. Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987) , 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the CD re-issue of 'Meet The Searchers'

Ah yes, our book title track - and a song so obscure that it's probably left half the people buying this scratching their head as to why we used it instead of  the usual Searchers titles for things like this such as 'Needles and Pins' (which rather too accurately summed up how you feel after reading it in one sitting) or 'Don't Throw Your Love Away' (which sounded a little too much like 'Throw Your Book Away'). A lot of mysteries surround [34] 'Once Upon A Time', an outtake which wasn't known about amongst the Searchers fanbase at all until suddenly appearing, without comment, on first the final disc of the '30th Anniversary Collection' set and then the CD re-issue of 'Take Me For What I'm Worth'. Pye seem to have got themselves in something of a muddle, though, as the song is clearly with the 'original' line-up, with Tony Jackson singing lead and no Frank Allen in sight. What's more it sounds like a song from the band's early poppy days, presumably taped for the sessions for 'Meet The Searchers' or 'Sugar and Spice' (or possibly as a single - The Searchers seem to have spent more time on this track than most of their sometimes rushed early album sessions). Pye also get the author wrong the first time round: though Marvin Gaye did write a song called 'Once Upon A Time', this isn't it and the closest I've ever been able to find to this track while keeping an ear out for years and occasional searches across the internet is Maria Lynn's 'Once Upon A Time I Was A Hoe' - and I don't think it's the same song somehow. A second writing credit on the 'Take Me' CD then tries to claim that this song is by Charles Straus and Lee Adams, who wrote a song of the same name for the relatively obscure 1962 musical 'All American'. Only it isn't the same song, as a quick listen to either of the most famous versions (by Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett) reveal. Could this song be instead an early band original that the group had forgotten all about by the time the sleevenotes came to be written; probably one of Curtis' who adds a tender harmony part to Jackson's rather rock and roll delivery of the lead. With lots of ringing guitar and an ear-pleasing chord progression, this charming if slightly primitive song deserved a better fate than to be forgotten. Find it on: 'The 30th Anniversary Collection' (1993) or the CD re-issue of 'Take Me For What I'm Worth'

As we've seen, The Searchers weren't naturals at recording Chuck Berry: they don't quite have the swing or the speed for it. Perhaps sensing that, producer Tony Hatch never allowed any Berry covers through even though the band used to do dozens back in their 'Iron Door Club' pre-fame days. [  ] 'Bye Bye Johnnie' came the closest to finding a release, with a song that was apparently intended to be McNally's first vocal recorded for second LP 'Sugar and Spice'. he certainly sounds happier than he does singing 'Hi Heel Sneakers' on the next LP, but the track is something of a mess, speeding up and slowing down as Curtis struggles to keep the band together. On CD this is also one of the weaker examples of the recorded-as-mono, mixed-into-stereo approach of the producers as at times it sounds like the left and right channels are playing two completely different songs, both of them out of synch with each other. All in all, it was probably best to leave this curious Johnny B Goode sequel behind in the vaults. Find it on: the 'Sugar and Spice' CD re-issue.

Not that a first, rather limp go at Berns and Wexler's dreary [  ] 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You' is an awful lot better. Though the band will restore some slight dignity to the song when they re-record it for fourth LP 'Sounds Like Searchers', to these ears it's another song not really suitable for The Searchers who tend to make their fast songs a little too fast and their slow songs way too slow. The track would certainly have sounded very out of place on 'Sugar and Spice' with its piano-based backing and ponderousness. The main differences between this one and the future re-recording is the lack of Frank Allen harmonies (Tony doesn't sing on this version, just Mike and Chris) and lack of syrupy strings, which admittedly isn't a bad thing here. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Sugar and Spice'       

 Non-Album Recordings Part #3: 1964

 [72] Saturday Night Out (B-side to Needles and Pinzzzaaaaaaa) is just as basic but a lot more fun, making for a nice balance with its impressively pioneering but rather dour A-side. This energetic no-holds-barred rocker marks just about the last lead vocal for the group by Tony Jackson (who went on to record a great handful of psychedelic singles when he was sacked from the band in 1964, all of which are well worth seeking out) and the track is really revving up a storm when it abruptly fades. Indeed, this song is even more  typical of Merseybeat than its predecessor, with lashings of close-knit harmony the only escape from that relentless basic beat-worthy sound. Already, however, the Searchers are forced to play Beatles copycats in their desperation to sell records and their deadpanned Twist And Shout-ish ‘woohs’ sound terribly grafted on.  You can almost smell the atmosphere of the Cavern on this track (or at least The Iron Door, which was The Searchers’ equivalent Liverpudlian concert venue, although they too were Cavern favourites in this period). Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and the CD re-issue of 'Sugar and Spice'

Next up comes the band’s earliest writing credit, [73] Chris Curtis’ I Pretend I’m With You (B-side to Don’t Throw Your Love Away). Already Curtis’ work is superior to many of the band’s covers (though not quite up to the exquisite A-side this time around) and sounds tailor made for Pender’s deep expressive vocals and John McNally’s distinctive jangly guitar which adds a bit of a staccato Shadows kick to the song. Even this early on (mid-1964) the band are doing their utmost to leave their Merseybeat past behind them, although this song is more of an experiment to see what will work rather than a fully-fledged song in its own right. Curtis has already got to grips with the band’s strengths however: tight-knit harmonies, jangly guitar, Pender’s baritone up front – this is more or less the template the Searchers will always use from now up until Curtis’ departure in late 1965.  Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the CD re-issue of 'It's The Searchers'

The sessions for third album 'It's The Searchers' were difficult, what with Tony going from lead singer to background singer to out of the band within the space of weeks and as you might expect there are a few outtakes from the album. [80] 'I Who Have Nothing' would have been a real surprise had the band released it at the time - a really slow weepie performed with real emotion by Curtis. The Searchers' shimmering guitars are put to good use on the backing, once again suggesting turbulence rather than a sugar-rush as per the first two singles and they make for a fine platform for Curtis to sing his heart out over. The result is a song that would have been either people's favourite or least favourite song on the album at the time as it's so far away from anything the band had done before (presumably the reason it got left behind in the first place). Thirty years on though it's the shining jewel in the (admittedly rather sparse) crown of Searchers outtakes and proves once again just what a mesmerising lead singer Chris Curtis could be. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) or the CD re-issue of 'It's The Searchers'

By comparison, Curtis' hollered version of Jimmy Reed's [81] 'Shame Shame Shame' is a bit more ordinary. A rather flimsy and repetitive variation of the same rock and roll riff the band had already used on album tracks 'Hi Heel Sneakers' and 'Shimmy Shimmy', it all sounds a little strained with Curtis struggling to sing and drum and Pender messing up his guitar solo big time. The band were probably right to leave this song behind, but at least this one has some right to be a Searchers track unlike 'Livin' Lovin' Wreck' (*shudder*). Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'It's The Searchers'

After four straight top two songs, it seemed The Searchers could do no wrong - and then suddenly, without warning, it all goes wrong. Admittedly [74] 'Someday We're Gonna Love Again' is easily the weakest of The Searchers' first five songs, with a chorus that seems to keep repeating itself at random moments across the rest of the track and a lyric that can't decide whether to feel really sorry for itself and have a good cry or launch into a chirrupy 'der dip der doo' singalong. Repeated listenings reveal a good song in there somewhere though, with new boy Frank Allen really adding strength and breadth to the already great harmonies on his first outing with the group and a nice, slightly paranoid variation on the traditional Searchers guitar part (with the band still keen to break out of a formula almost before they had one). Really, though, this Barbara Lewis cover is an album track or a B-side rather than the all-important follow-up to 'Don't Throw Your Love Away' and the first cracks within The Searchers' reputation begin to show, with a chart placing of only #11 in their homeland - an one by The Beatles. Find it on: most Searchers compilations

Curtis, who chose the last track, should have gone with his own B-side, the start of a remarkable run of original songs that arguably eclipse the better known A sides. [75] No One Else Could Love Me . The flip certainly makes up for any defects on this A-side by being a classic Searchers ballad. While the words might not add much to the song, the tune is very special indeed, being one of those long unwinding cyclical ones with a well-above octave range – which is ridiculously complex for the era (Paul McCartney songs aside) and something almost unheard of for beat groups in 1964 in terms of covers, never mind originals. With added chiming castanets at the punctuation of each chorus, a slurping bass and the first use of new member Frank Allen’s gorgeous harmonies, it’s a hidden winner that’s long been denied classic status. Very 1964 (just check out the ‘hold you’ and ‘told you’ chorus rhyme) and yet very progressive at the same time, this is an early winner. Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the CD re-issue of 'It's The Searchers'

One of the most popular of Searchers songs, [78a] 'When You Walk In The Room' returned the band back into the top three at a time when they were beginning to look a bit shakey and not without good reason. Jackie De Shannon's 1963 original is an excellent one (co-written with 'Needles' co-author Jack Nietzsche), but the arrangement The Searchers give it makes it a masterclass, appealing to all of their strengths, with the excitement and energy of the band's early recordings like 'Sweets' and 'Sugar' now a deeper adrenalin rush caused by love. The opening false start is infectious, as if cleaning the palette of all inferior songs that have come before it on the radio and cleverly reflects the stutter of the narrator, desperate to tell a girl his feelings for her but unable to articulate the sheer music playing in his head. McNally and Pender's guitars need to light up the room here and they do, magnificently. There's also the never-before-used blend of Mike and Frank on the vocals, something the band only came up with after several experiments and different arrangements. Though I don't quite buy the common way of thinking that this is the best song The Searchers ever released as a single ('Needles and Pins' is even braver, while forgotten single 'He's Got No Love' is the band's most creative release), it's beloved by many fans for many very good reasons. Infectious, catchy and easily identifiable, but with a slightly harder aggressive edge to it and feelings of real frustration and emotion inside it, this is the perfect single for the pop market of 1964 and fully deserved its success. Find it on: every Searchers compilations in the world. Ever!

 [4b] I’ll Be Missing You (B-side to Jackie De Shannon’s powerhouse of a love song When You Walk In The Room) is the first of a handful of songs credited to all four group members, but in truth it has Curtis’ fingerprints all over it – from the way the song effortlessly moves between its verse and chorus structure to its use of three-part counterpoint harmony. Like many a song on this site, this one would be nothing without its middle eight, which breaks up the song by adding in a passage where the narrator can’t get to sleep because he’s worried his new and hard-found love will leave him if he’s not around, which puts this song’s nervous bundle of love-lorn romantic energy into quite a different context. If only the writers had come up with another verse instead of repeating the first two twice over, this might have been a worthy A-side, but as breezy light pop songs with jangly guitar go this song too is pretty special. Those castanets also seem to be back too, even though they’re mixed really low on this song and don’t really add anything to it – put those things back in the box Mr Curtis! Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the CD re-issue of 'Sounds Like Searchers'

Though it gets slightly forgotten in between the big hits  'When You Walk In The Room' and 'Goodbye My Love', [79a] 'What Have They Done To The Rain?' is another colossal achievement for The Searchers. Building on their simple cover of Peter, Paul and Mary's 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone?', The Searchers again turn ecological ambassadors, several decades before such things was popular. The original was a song by forgotten folk singer-songwriter Malvina Reynolds who wrote the track as a protest against a series of nuclear tests that were being carried out in America in 1962. Most fans assumed The Searchers' version was a more general protest song though about acid rain, with something so natural even the grass reaches out for its nourishment turned into man-made poison. Few people even noticed the original song anyway, except keen singles collector Chris Curtis who instantly heard this as a Searchers recording. Which it is, spectacularly, but not like any recording the band had done before - the first Searchers ballad released as a single using an arrangement with no drums at all and strings the most instantly recognisable sound. Yet it still sounds like Searchers. Pender sings the lead with his usual taste and precision, but it's Curtis' heartfelt nagging harmony vocal that makes the song (just listen to the disappointing RCA re-make with Frank vainly filling in that part), all tastefully decked out with a string arrangement that stays just the right side of Mantovani. The band enjoyed themselves performing this on TV shows where it was an early form of protest, not that most people noticed back in the days when teenagers were assumed to only like pop songs, with Curtis sitting front of stage for once with some bongos on his knees. A brave choice of single, the track did well to reach #13 but deserved to do even better. Find it on: most Searchers compilations.

[76] This Feeling Inside (B-side to everyone’s favourite ecological ballad What Have They Done To The Rain?) is McNally’s first solo song for the group and naturally, John being the band’s lead guitarist, the track centres around a very intricate guitar part. Interestingly, this might well be the first ever Searchers song not to feature much in the way of harmonies (Pender is double-tracked in the middle, but his secondary vocal is mixed so low it’s just an unidentifiable murmur), which suggests that vocals are a Curtis rather than a McNally hang-up. Unsurprisingly, it’s that tricky guitar part you remember most, working alternately in tandem and then in counterpoint with the vocal line. The structure is interesting too, as rather than separating the chorus and verse into two separate and easily identifiable factions, here the two run into each other pretty well seamlessly. However, for all its virtues, Inside seems to be missing something as a song and isn’t as involving as the others on the record, but it’s a brief, enjoyable and for 1964 virtuoso distraction nonetheless. Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the CD re-issue of 'Sounds Like Searchers'

As if it is an unwanted encore, Pye decided to include a 1963 film refugee called [77] The System on the end of the album, which after hearing the ’66-’67 festival of sounds seems to be from another century, not just four years earlier and is the aural equivalent of spotting a Panda wearing a black-and-white t-shirt lost in a sea of psychedelic colour (or alternatively a Jon Pertwee-era colour Doctor Who story interrupted by a black-and-white episode because the colour one is missing from the archives; hopelessly wrong). Just listen to that crazy chorus ‘I’m telling you how (oh yeah), I’m telling you why (wo yeah), I’m telling you when (woo-ooh yeah), I’m telling you no (let’s go!)’ – light years away from the carefully-created lyrics of the last few tracks. The performance is sloppy too, as if its come at the end of an ultra-long recording session and the band just want to go home – even the usually reliable Chris Curtis seems to have forgotten how to play the drums and is all over the place. Frustratingly we never do learn how to ‘play the system’ by the way – in fact, more than that, we’re warned off ever playing the system or breaking any rule ever again (if you do you’re – memorably – ‘all alone’. Yeah, thanks for that advice guys). The film The System is as badly forgotten as its theme song which, judging by its Searchers-by-numbers throwaway recording, with none of the group’s usual invention or flair, means it should stay in mothballs a little while longer. Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987)

Meanwhile, over in Sweden, The Searchers are performing Fats Domino cover [82] 'Let The Four Winds Blow' night after night and the 'Swedish Radio Broadcasts' CD includes two different versions from six months apart so you can hear how much the band has changed (they've got wilder, with noisier drumming and guitars!) McNally takes the vocal and the song suits his gravelly voice well, certainly better than the song choices he got lumbered with on record, as the character suits McNally's nervy, stumbling delivery in contrast to The Searchers' usual larger-than-life antics ('I like the way you walk...I like the way you talk...let me hold your hand...'). The Searchers sound like they know this song well so it had probably been in their set for much longer than just 1964 - they should have kept in the set longer too on this evidence. Find it on: 'The Swedish Radio Broadcasts' (2002)

Why why goodness why did The Searchers never put their exhilarating concert showstopper - a cover of Ray Charles' [44b] 'What'd I Say?' - on record? (a song so integral to the band's history we're covering it twice, despite the fact The Searchers never recorded a studio version of it!) The band's 'Money' (assuming 'Ain't That Just Like Me' was their 'Twist and Shout'), Curtis' powerful reading of a much-covered song beat every other version hands down night after night after night. Dispensing with the slightly arch, jazzy overtones of the original 'What'd I Say?' (Part One - the band never do 'Part Two', originally released as the 'B-side' to Part One) is straight ahead rock and roll, with the call-and-answer frame of the original ('Tell me What I'd Say?') turned into a thrilling ride for band and audience alike. Curtis clearly adores this song and comes to life in any concert where it's played, standing up and leaning over his cymbals as he hollers into the mike and does overtime with some fantastically fast cymbal bashing. The exuberant Curtis even joins in with the spirit of the song and points out people he sees in the audience ('See that girl with the red dress on? She's gonna do it all night long! Alrrrrrrright!'), before messing round with the band ('How about a real deep 'I wanna know?' he asks of Mike and Tony at one point). I've often marvelled at how two, maybe even three or four of the 1960s' greatest vocalists ended up in the same band: stuck on the drums Curtis didn't often get a chance to shine but on his good days he's an even greater vocalist than Pender, wowing crowds through his by turns hard-soft voice and his sheer charisma. He's made for a song like this too that's low on subtlety but big on thrills: like the original, this song grows in power every verse but the difference is The Searchers start at tense and go up from there, finally ending in a rattled chaotic crash of drums. Joined with a compelling double-guitar attack (more like something The Rolling Stones would do than The Searchers), Curtis is at his best here, the whole band just about holding on for a thrilling ride that audiences clearly love. Had the band's version of 'What'd I Say?' ended up on record in 1963, The Searchers would have had even more kudos, a last great farewell to their Merseybeat days before things get more serious in 1964...Find it on: 'The Swedish Radio Broadcasts' (2002)

A more unexpected live exclusive was Wilhelm Grosz and Jimmy Kennedy's energetic [83] [  ] 'Red Sails In The Sunset', a favourite with many Merseybeat bands in Hamburg with it's German parentage meaning that most clubgoers probably knew it. The song's tales of homesickness probably struck a chord as well. Kennedy, an Irish songwriter, actual had ships off the coast of his home port of Portstewart, Londonderry in mind when he wrote his lyric about wishing a loved one safe travel, though many Liverpool bands came to associate it with their own Albert Docks. It seems an unusual song for a band to start a radio broadcast with, particularly given the emphasis it places on new-boy Frank (who most of the fans in the audience wouldn't have seen before), but forty odd years on it's a nice curio and a souvenir to have. Find it on: 'The Swedish Radio Broadcasts' (2002)

Every band performed Chuck Berry's masterpiece [84] 'Memphis, Tennessee' it seems and The Searchers were no exception. However the curse of their Berry covers strikes again and though their performance is better than 'Maybelline' or 'Bye Bye Johnnie' compared to Beatles and Hollies covers of this song 'Memphis' just doesn't swing. Curtis, sensing this, vainly tries to urge the audience to sing and clap along louder but The Searchers' version is too slow and too ponderous for a song of such turbulence. After all, this is a song of divorce, the twist at the end of the song being that the narrator isn't trying to track down a woman at all but his young daughter. McNally (at least, it sounds more like one of his ideas than Pender's) comes up with an unusual slowed-down ringing guitar riff that's quite distinctive compared to other versions and sounds more like a sigh than the usual fast-paced covers of this song, but that aside The Searchers don't sound as if they've understood this song too well. Find it on: 'The Swedish Radio Broadcasts' (2002)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #4: 1965

 [97a] 'Goodbye My Love' is one of The Searchers' more convincing singles. Till now the band have been the go-to place for high energy enthusiasm and giggles, but this long-delayed follow-up to 'Needles and Pins' is exactly what they ought to be doing: moody and magnificent. The narrator tearfully waves his lover goodbye, for her good as well as his: she isn't happy, it isn't working, it isn't meant to be, you've found someone else etc. But this isn't some light brush off - Pender's narrator has clearly been doing a lot of thinking and the decision clearly hurts him. Every pained 'goodbye-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e' chorus arrives in a pool of tears that sounds wrenched from his very soul, while the middle eight (sung exquisitely by Curtis) is one of the most emotionally charged moments of the band's career ('I know I'm the one you really love - but I can't go on sharing you!') The song rightfully comes to a full stop at this point, so overcome with grief and the finality of the situation that it has to have a rest before carrying on. A mesmerising band performance is one of the band's greatest: this time the guitars aren't part of the solution, they're part of the problem (gruff fiery chord-slashings rather than crystal clear solos), the drumming filled with echo is the very essence of weight and oppression and the vocals are all first-class (with new boy Frank Allen's voice pulling The Searchers sound towards darker places the Tony Jackson era band could never have gone). The result is glorious and a big favourite with many people 'in the know' in the era (Brian Epstein, still fond of the band after trying to sign them post-Beatles, called it his favourite record of the moment in 1965 and reportedly played it endlessly, usually after his various doomed love affairs - this was also a key reason behind his attempts to 'poach' The Searchers away from Pye in 1967 - the band were due to meet with him the weekend after his sad death in September that year). Brian Epstein was said to be so in love with the song he spent a fortune betting that it would make #1. Sadly it just didn't sell that well, peaking at a relatively lowly #4, the band's last top ten hit. No matter, The Searchers will give their next single a similar weight and feel, aware that they're onto a good thing; against the odds this release will be even better...Find it on: If you own a Searchers compilation and it doesn't contain this track, take it back at once!

[98] Til' I Met You (B-side to Goodbye My Love) is more like it – just as the A-side’s impressive high tension and poise marked a big breakthrough for the group’s recordings, so was this pretty little B-side a huge leap forward in the songwriting stakes (though credited to all four current band members, it's generally acknowledged to be a McNally composition with the others chipping ideas in). All acoustic, with tapped drumsticks from Curtis and a Spanish guitar part from McNally, it’s a very romantic and expressive song, with Curtis wrapping his new-found falsetto around Pender’s bass vocal until getting the chance to shine on his own for the delicate and atmospheric middle-eight. Even the lyrics, often the weakest link of a Searchers song, are impressive. The narrator of the song seems to think he has access to everything great in life, from the stars to the moon to the world’s greatest poets, but even he has to admit he knew nothing about love ‘until I met you’, offering a humble vulnerability that would have been unheard of for most Merseybeat bands even a year earlier (and sounding not unlike an early Lennon ballad in the process). The harmonies are back for this song too and they’re the class of the field, with Frank Allen now firmly ensconced in the mix. Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)  and the CD re-issue of 'Sounds Like Searchers'

[99] 'He's Got No Love' is the track I play when people ask me why I collect the recordings of a band generally agreed to have peaked before most of the bands of the 1960s really got going. As we've seen The Searchers were more unlucky than most: their trademarks became old hat because of all the copy-cat bands who used them to death (including The Byrds) and were actually ahead of the pack, not behind, when their releases stopped selling. This momentous song (written largely by Curtis, with help from Pender) isn't just one of the greatest singles The Searchers ever released, but one of the greatest singles of the 1960s period. You see, 'He's Got No Love' - a song that touches on suicide and desperation and with a 'Ticket To Ride' claustrophobic style weight to match - it came out in July 1965, just weeks before The Beatles stole their thunder with a similar trick but if anything is even more indicative of the growing psychedelia to come. Had this song come out even a few months later The Searchers would have been greeted as pioneers of psychedelia too (or at least an updating of Phil Spector's signature sound): just listen to that echo, that droning sound, even those lyrics - a cut above the 60s average. This song is all about the 'new' - the narrator isn't just upset, he feels he's going to 'die' because his heart is so empty and song sounds so different to anything heard before that you half believe it: the guitars throb, the drums pummel, the vocals sound trapped, echoing to us past some distant horizon we can no longer see. Every goalpost in Western music in 1965 has changed and while the lyrics verge on the melodramatic ('He'd give the world to know someone would care for him!') they're highly suitable for the moodpiece the band have come up with. Curtis, the band's best writer for now (even if the others quickly catch him up) writes all his best material about feeling lonely and isolated: this moodier version of 'If I Could Find Someone' finds the narrator further on down the same road,  nights of groupies and empty fame leaving him not just yearning for his soulmate but desperate: 'she's not going to arrive' goes the song, 'I might as well give up - and give up living'. Pender does a great job of a song so alien to his own sensibilities (the most 'no-nonsense' member of a usually 'no-nonsense' group) but then everyone plays their role to perfection here: McNally and Pender's guitar work shimmers with icy coldness, Curtis' drums clatter away ineffectually (played loud but echoed to the point where they sound like the narrator banging his head against a wall) and new boy Allen's darker backing tracks (clearly something Tony Jackson would never have been able to do) are right on the money. This should have been The Searchers' biggest seller since 'Needles and Pins'. It should have brought the band recognition: if not on release then in the years since, when all sorts of 'nearly' flop records from the 1960s are oohed and aahed at with hushed reverence ('I Can See For Miles' 'Days', even 'Strawberry Fields Forever'). Instead 'He's Got No Love' was yet  another flop single that nobody bought and few even noticed, a poor reward for a song that more than any other showed how much The Searchers could do that no other band could (while naturally a 'happy' band, the melancholic Searchers in 1965 and 1966 are exceptional, heavy and oppressive with only John McNally's crystal clear tut-tutting head-shaking guitar sounding like it knows where it's going). Of all the band's half-hearted attempts to find a way forward past their 'Merseybeat' past (holding them back across most of 1964), this is clearly the best and the cod-Phil Spector echo sound will indeed be all over their fifth and best LP 'Take Me For What I'm Worth'. But by then it's too late: The Beatles have moved on even further, the bar is raised even higher and suddenly The Searchers are getting into trouble for sticking to a genre they practically invented while the fab four get away scot free. Sometimes music making is a rotten, unfair art...Find it on: As a mid-selling hit this is your litmus paper test for Searchers compilations - if it's on then buy it, if it's missing then avoid

[100] So Far Away (B-side to He’s Got No Love) is another Curtis song, but this time it can’t compare to its stupendous A-side – He’s Got No Love might not be the best known Searchers single and this gorgeous echoey drama isn’t on this album so I really shouldn’t mention it, but its so good I just have to plug it. There. I’ve said it. Back to the B-side. So Far Away finds The Searchers back in the production special effects box, sounding like a Phil Spector record trapped in a revolving door full of echoing chiming guitars. Whilst I agree with the Searchers’ decision to add echo to most of the backing tracks of their later recordings (McNally’s jangly Rickenbacker sounds even more vibrant and yet somehow ghostly with this technique), why on earth did the group ruin their polished harmonies by adding echo on their vocals too, making them so muddy and messy? As for the song, there are worse Searchers tracks around but it’s unusual to hear a group original sound this poor and uninspired – maybe Chris Curtis’ last solo song for the group is an early indication of the exhaustion and mental problems that would see him leave the band later on in 1965. Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the CD re-issue of 'Take Me For What I'm Worth'

Always overlooked, [101] 'When I Get Home' is usually seen by fans as something of a failure. It certainly was commercially, reaching only  #35 in the UK charts (the band's lowest yet) and it's failure had major ramifications for the band, persuading the others that Chris Curtis' stranglehold over choice of material wasn't always going to come up trumps. While not as immediate as 'Room' or 'Pins' and not quite as groundbreaking as 'He's Got No Love', it is however an impressive song that grows on you the more you play it. The song somehow manages to sound like everything The Searchers had done before (another variation on the 'Needles and Pins' guitar riff and those harmonies) but with a twist (the harmony voices join verse by verse). Lyrically this Bobby Darin cover is interesting too, the narrator trying just a little too hard to persuade a girl that 'there's gonna be good times baby, just wait and see!' Everything about the claustrophobic production on this record screams the opposite though and hints that the narrator's desperate attempts to get a girl to fall in love with him all over again are doomed to fail (the unusually moody last note - ho-ooome - even sounds like a door being slammed unexpectedly in someone's face for good measure). Note too the unusual hook of 'baby' that sounds as if it's been inserted from another song (actually in many ways it has; it's identical to the hook from 'I'll Be Doggone', a song The Searchers have already recorded but not yet released). For once Curtis pushed a little too hard for a song he loved and didn't take the band with him (Frank dismissed it  later as 'an album track, nothing more') - it's only a small amount of time until he's out of the band, something that would have been unthinkable even a release before. However, even if the song would have made a better album track than an all-important single, it would have made a blooming good album track. Some trivia for you too: this is the only instance when The Searchers recorded a song that had the same name as a Beatles song (with the obvious exceptions of songs that were the same like 'Twist and Shout' and 'Money').- actually this song's slightly frayed at the edges desperation is pretty similar all round to John Lennon's 'A Hard Day's Night' piece. Find it on: some Searchers compilations   

[102] I’m Never Coming Back is more classic beaty Searchers, a rocker played with the growing finesse rockers were beginning to be played with back in 1965, together with some wry witty lyrics and a chiming guitar lick that’s really starting to growl nicely by the fade. It’s also more evidence of the great interplay developing between Pender, Curtis and Allen, with Pender’s lead interrupted or embellished by the full three-part Searchers chorus at key moments in the song. These lyrics are even dafter than the last track’s words (better brew yourself some strong coffee, honey, because I’ve got bad news for you), but this time around the group seem to realise that and perform this song with a chuckle in their voices. This rare joint collaboration between Pender and Curtis sounds as if it started out as a joke (even McNally’s typically tricky guitar part sounds just so uncharacteristically over the top here in its brief burst), but take away the lyrics and slouching guitar riff and this could have been a ferocious snarling rocker - the band are certainly playing ‘tightly’ enough for it to be one of their best uptempo numbers without the words). Find it on: 'The Searchers Play The System' (1987), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and the CD re-issue of 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' 

A rare outtake from the 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' period reveals how much more time the band were spending on their productions in their later years with Pye compared to their earlier album-in-a-day sessions. An early version of [  ] 'I'll Be Doggone' doesn't sound that different at first, but the more you play it the more alterations you can hear. For a start that's Chris singing in falsetto, though he sounds remarkably close to Frank's finished vocal (he was clearly asked to sing as close to Chris' guide as possible as they're very similar, right down to the dropped octave vocal for the 'please believe me' line). The backing vocals are sporadic, creeping in at random moments, drenched with echo as if they're a ghostly choir rather than being right there with the lead singer. The backing too sounds very similar but is actually remarkably different when you analyse it: the spooky echo-drenched Phil Spector-ish piano now takes a back seat, arriving only on the introduction and shorter fade, the Rickenbackers don't 'ring out' with quite so much clarity and the drums are far simpler here. However the same echo is draped over everything which still creates the same overall effect. An intriguing insight into The Searchers' evolving ideas, it's a shame there weren't more of these style outtakes on the band's CDs. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Take Me For What I'm Worth'

        Non-Album Recordings Part #5: 1966

Covering a song by an established group was probably a good idea for 1966, when The Searchers were struggling to sound 'hip'. Even better they've got hold of a brand new Jagger/Richards song The Rolling Stones haven't released yet (well, not for another two days at it happens, with this single coming out on April 13th 1966 and the Stones' version on fourth album 'Aftermath' on the 15th). The Stones have, against all odds, become good buddies with the group after playing a tour together. What could possibly go wrong? Well, [104] 'Take It Or Leave It' is, sadly, about the least inspired and least suitable song on the all-original 'Aftermath' (those Rickernbackers and harmonies would have sounded great on 'I Am Waiting' for instance), unusually passionless for Mick and Keith and with a rather rambling structure that lumps the verses and choruses together. Weirdly there's hardly any guitar and what there is seems to be played on an acoustic, not like the signature sound of either band. It's almost unique in the Stones collection of originals in the 1960s in that the narrator is the 'victim' not the 'oppressor' (a shame, as a bit of aggression might have helped The Searchers' clean-cut image) but instead of getting annoyed he just tells his girl she can take him or leave him and he doesn't even seem that cross when she 'makes eyes' at all his 'so-called friends' (past Stones songs would have had a 'Stupid Girl' style taunt going on for that part). Unfortunately it's not necessarily 'mature' Stones either (that won't happen for another year or so), so we also get an insipid 'la la la la la 'chorus. The Searchers sound even more bored on their version than Mick Jagger did on his, though as ever Mike Pender's lead has a nice brash dignity and character about it. However by Searchers standards the harmonies are a mess and the song just kind of ends without ever having done very much, lacking Brian Jones' inventive collection of instruments on the 'original'. Frustratingly Chris Curtis' last single as a Searcher - and the only song he didn't choose - barely features him at all. For all that the song still (just about) made the top 40 in Britain and is a semi-regular on Searcher compilations today. Find it on: most Searchers compilations.

 [105]  Don’t Hide It Away seems like a power-play to me, credited to the three non-Curtis members of the band and sounds like a copycat version of one of his usual romantic ballads. The B-side of Take It or Leave It, it’s the equal of Curtis’ best songs (and far better than the weak Stones cover on the A-side), with a particularly impressive piano solo in the middle pushing the song towards jazz. Pender’s vocal positively reeks of heartbreak and the recording’s low-key detached manner makes the song sound even more powerful than if the band were playing their normal beat-group backing. Indeed, this song sounds a world away from the tracks we’ve just heard, as if the band are consciously using this B-side to step away from their usual sound and see what else they can do (the answer: just about anything on this basis!) Even the lyrics are good this time around, with Pender’s straight-faced narrator urging the listener to give into their emotions if the love of their life leaves them – even though he’s pretty detached about his own experience as far as doomed lover’s vocals go. We know though, both from the carefully-paced minor key backward track and the soul-searching lyrics, that this narrator is really crying his eyes out, he just doesn’t want anyone to know that. Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2004)
Not many people immediately follow a Rolling Stones cover with a Hollies cover, but The Searchers did in September 1966. Chris chose [106] 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody?' after hearing a version The Hollies did backing The Everly Brothers for their 'Two Yanks In England' album a few months earlier (The Hollies won't release their own power-pop version until the 'Evolution' album in June 1967), saying that he was already hooked on the song just from the title (declaring 'A title like that could go anywhere - it could be happy or sad!') Actually it's hard to tell just what writers Clarke-Hicks-Nash were feeling about this song, veering from in-the-moment ecstasy to deep worry in the space of a few bars ('If you cry I'll sympathise with you - if you laugh I'll die!') Chris had duly arranged the song for The Searchers to sing before embarking on a 1966 Australian tour with them, speeding the song up slightly from the Everly Brothers version (though it's not as fast as The Hollies) and swapping the country-rock lilt for all-out pop (The Hollies' version, by contrast, is heavy rock with glorious feedback-drenched Tony Hicks guitar). Unfortunately for Chris, by the time he returned and the studio dates for the next single were booked he was out of the band. Without any other choice of material The Searchers went ahead with this song anyway, breaking in their new drummer John Blunt who acquits himself well even if the engineer has clearly set up the microphones for Curtis' slower, more gentlemanly style of playing ('It sounds like a rat running across the snare kit!' Curtis complained when he heard it). Not that Curtis knew about this release for quite a while - he'd safely assumed that The Searchers wouldn't borrow 'his' song (or at least his discovery) without his say so and had already recorded a version of the track using his arrangement as producer for Paul and Barry Ryan (which is pretty darn close to The Searchers' version but with slightly better sound). Both songs were due to be released on Pye around the same time, Curtis losing the battle by having 'his' version delayed - much to his annoyance (the Ryan version of the song didn't chart at all). Though a good song (a great one when The Hollies finally get round to making the most of it), once again it's not a natural Searchers song: there's no room for Rickenbackers and though there is room for harmonies this is a song that's built for 'contrasts', with one singer staying level and one rising up a note syllable by syllable. The Everlys and The Hollies both do this, but The Searchers don't and just chirrup away all at the same time, with Pender ending up taking an uncomfortable falsetto now that Curtis isn't there and Allen the bass in the choruses. It's not bad (and it's better than 'Take It Or Leave IT') but by clean-cut pristine Searchers standards it's a bit messy and comes over a bit rushed. This single ended up being the last top 40 record The Searchers will ever have in the UK. Find it on: most Searchers compilations.

[107] It’s Just The Way (Love Will Come And Go) (B-side to Hollies cover Have You Ever Loved Somebody) is light years ahead of McNally’s other songs for the band, a moody edgy song about the ebb and flow of a relationship with an updated, mature sounding guitar lick that still sounds obviously Searchers. Pender and Allen do a good job of the vocals too, with Frank’s moody bass/falsetto hybrid in contrast to Pender’s open and straightforward vocal. Chris Curtis is long gone by this period (indeed, the idea of doing the Hollies’ song on the A-side is his last influence on the group – and that was an idea the others nicked from his proposed first solo A-side rather than a group decision) but you wouldn’t tell from John Blunt’s drumming, which is typically eccentric but rock-steady. If only the band had been able to record albums in this period, they’d surely have been full of gems like this, songs that keep in touch with the Searchers’ old trademarks but take them somewhere deeper. Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #6: 1967
By 1967, The Searchers were in free-fall, dismissed by critics for copying The Beatles (wrong! Unlike most 60s groups they were contemporaries not successors and no more influenced than anyone else was in ‘the Beatles’ decade’ ™ The History Channel), still only doing cover versions (wrong! See the above and below B-sides!), sticking to one style (Hopelessly wrong! See above!) and sounding more than a little out of date by 1967 (not really – the band had come on leaps and bounds in ‘65/’66, just not at the 3000mph charge of The Beatles). Oblivious of their contemporary backlash, 40 years on these A and B sides sound like winners, every bit the equal of more famous summer of love classics but from a selling point of view the band were ‘old hat’, destined to be forgotten. Till now anyway.

Flop A-side [108] Popcorn Double Feature is in some ways a bit of a backward step. A ‘borrowed’ song, rather than an original, it contains a half-hearted worryingly racist line in the chorus but if you can get over that (the band don’t sound that convinced by it either) it’s a fantastic production that really shows off the band’s arranging prowess. Indeed, there isn’t much the band don’t throw into this last-gasp attempt at getting a hit: an ear-catching opening tack piano/Rickenbacker riff, clattering drums, polished restless harmonies, some swoopingly exciting violins and seemingly more chord changes than on the whole of The White Album make for a memorable aural experience. This is also the Searchers’ most ‘three-dimensional’ and least straightforward song, of this decade at least. Pender’s vocal on the verses about the excitement of the mid-60s and a changing society sounds genuine and yet his vocal on the chorus sounds uncharacteristically sarcastic, as if the world’s being duped about the wonders of modern life thanks to the media and films and his closing comment ‘no need to be alarmed…not much’ is about as sneering as the straightforward Searchers ever got. These lyrics, a less than happy glimpse at a modern ever-changing world throwing away its past traditions, seems like a fitting and rather postmodernist response to The Searchers’ feeling of abandonment by this point in the 60s. All in all, it’s a classic track that deserves to be better known, even if well known and popular 60s songwriters English and Weiss don’t do themselves any favours with their sneers at a modern multi-cultural society. Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987), 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and occasional Searchers compilations

[109] Lovers, Popcorn’s B-side, is a Rod McKuen song with more than a nod to Till I Met You. It’s taken at a much faster lick but is melodically almost the same song, being nicely atmospheric but not terribly groundbreaking (the band also sound more desperate to sound ‘contemporary’ with this song than earlier and lose the gentle naivety of the original as a result). There’s another nice lead vocal from Pender though, taken at a slightly higher pitch than normal (perhaps they speeded up the tape because the backing sounds un-naturally fast as well?!) and at least this song is never boring (just as you think its settled down, in come some kettle drums and we’re off again into the energetic chorus). Hyperactive would be the modern term for this song - downright bizarre would have been the contemporary view. Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987)

[110] Western Union – another flop A-side – is an out and out commercial classic and even at The Searchers’ lowest ebb this song would surely have made at least the lower regions of the charts had the song not been banned from radio because of its nonsense morse code riff (This catchy phrase—with people singing ‘doo de doo de dum’ over the top of it - could have been interpreted as an SOS signal according to radio censors. Oh yes sure, as if a stranded seaman was really going to sing ‘western union beep beep beep beep beep’ over the top of a morse code and with a guitar accompaniment while they were drowning!) There’s every bit as much going on musically to hook the listener as with the last track, but this time things have been properly thought through. Witness the way the harmonies add a singer every line in the chorus, the way the drum pattern suddenly breaks into something new just before the vocals change tack and the way Pender alternates the way he sings the title just as the song’s getting boring on the fadeout. This is a mature group who know exactly what they’re doing after four years in the business – what a shame that its about the last time the Searchers ever have this much influence over what they’re able to record and its all downhill from here. The song’s witty lyrics are hard to decipher though and don’t seem to have much to do with the Western Union at all (a man from the company just happens to be the one delivering a bad-news telegram in person, although we never learn what the bad news is) – its more  a chance for Pender to belt out some nonsense words into a microphone with an added ragged guitar solo from John McNally in the middle. Great fun and – altogether now – catchy, but deep. Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987), 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and occasional Searchers compilations

Equally impressive is the song’s B-side [111]  I’ll Cry Tomorrow. With Curtis out of the picture, the other members of the band make a surprise return to writing their own songs and Pender and McNally seem to pick up where they left off, as if the past few ‘cover’ tracks have been a bad dream. Another moody dramatic ballad, it still has a very rock and roll edge to it to underneath Mike Pender’s best Tom Jones impression and McNally’s growling double-tracked guitar part is as far away from the ephemeral pop nonsense of the last few tracks as its able to get. For all of its adventurism, however, this is still a very catchy song with a singalong killer chorus and a killer guitar riff that sounds like a prototype for every Noel Gallagher electric guitar solo ever recorded. The song’s fade, with its chiming echoing Rickenbacker guitars and rumbling sound effects sounds at once very Searchers and as far away from the band’s early sound as its possible to get. List favourite Nils Lofgren nicks pretty much the whole of this song for his own I’ll Cry Tomorrow (I Ain’t Got Time Today) for his Nils Lofgren LP of 1979 (the second, later version – there are two with this name confusingly).Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987), and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Pender and Allen’s [112] Secondhand Dealer was the band’s last A-side for Pye and compared to their last two efforts it’s a very sombre and cold song, with studio effects making Pender sound as if he’s singing from the top of a hill a million miles away (a Leslie speaker maybe?!?). The theme for this cold-hearted song is, fittingly, loss of emotions, with an edgy lyric about a narrator who is surrounded by broken and rotting second-hand rubbish, with his goodies a metaphor for his love life no doubt. Uncharacteristically, this is a very ‘real’ lyric for the Searchers – just listen to the fine and rather gruesome detail in lines like ‘the whole of his life rushing by’ ‘he’s a heavy drinking whiskey man’ and ‘he’s eyes so dim they could be knives’.  The rhyming of ‘pretty ‘ and ‘pity’, however, show the Searchers haven’t completely forgotten their hit single roots. Again, it’s McNally’s ominous guitar riff, plus one of the scariest xylophone riffs on record, that makes this song the little-known gem it is. Note the similarities with Beatles track 'I'm Only Sleeping' (the 'gulping' bass line riff) on the 'cupboard' section, the last real great to-ing and fro-ing from two great Liverpoudlian rivals who once shadowed each other with everything they did. Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987), 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003), 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012) and occasional Searchers compilations

McNally’s B-side [113] Crazy Dreams is a fine rocking way to go out and judging from its 1967 vintage The Beatles and The Stones’ return to basic rock in 1968 wasn’t as pioneering as people thought it was because the Searchers (and indeed The Hollies and The Beach Boys) got there first. The opening drum riff is a direct steal from the contemporaneous Mary Mary by The Monkees, however, with its tub-thumping primitivism although fittingly the slightly chaotic sound, the poorly double-tracked guitars and a spectacularly loose and raw Pender vocal makes this band sound even more like a garage group than their rivals! The song’s central riff is perfect, driving the song forward and taking the band as far out on a musical limb as they ever dared to go, even though McNally’s Rickenbacker is still present and correct. In many ways, this is the Searchers coming round in a full circle, returning to the Merseybeat rock of their past once more, but with much more of an idea of how to grab their listener’s attention and work on their arrangements than in the years previously. Find it on: 'Play The System' (1987) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Meanwhile, over in Sweden,  The Searchers have largely done away with the ten=-song track list they were playing back in 1964 and now have a short half-hour set. Most of it is made up of hits and favourites but the band choose to play out with their favourite new encore, [103] 'See See Rider', a popular 1920s blues that was recorded under endless titles by endless artists (the only other AAA example is Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin do it on their first self-titled album as 'Easy Rider'). An excuse for some wild manic rocking after 25 minutes of being good, it sounds rather out of place amongst everything else with Frank and Mike taking a rare harmonised lead and new drummer John Blunt proving why Keith Moon was his favourite drummer. There's an uncomfortable segue into Mitch Ryder's similar 'Jenny Takes A Ride' single from 1966 where the band have to suddenly play in double-speed which proves rather too difficult for the band to navigate. However until that moment this is a fine and enjoyable rocker, one given a nice Searchers touch about the harmonies and guitars and one you wish they'd recorded for an A or B side. Find it on: 'The Swedish Radio Broadcasts' (2003)


'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