Main Index Page General Ratings Page Rock Chronology Page Song Search Page New Additions Message Board


"Sugar and spice and all things nice"

Class E

Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Folk Rock
Starting Period: The Early Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Searchers fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Searchers fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

For reading convenience, please open the reader comments section in a parallel browser window.


Ever so often, while rummaging through the backlog of history, you fall upon something that twists and broades your perspective. Old knowledge: "The Who made the first rock opera". New info: "Uh-huh, it was actually the Pretty Things". Old knowledge: "The Beatles came up with the first true 'concept' album". New info: "No way, it was the Beach Boys, and let's not even mention Frank Zappa". Old knowledge: "The Byrds were the first 12-string-jangly-folk-rockers". New info: "Okay, but what about the Searchers?".

"WHO THE FRIG CARES?" is the natural reaction from the heart of the average disinterested 'nitpicking-is-the-plague-of-our-times' type of fellow, and in his own way, he's within his rights: it matters not who did this thing first, it matters who did this thing so it could actually be noticed and remembered as such. But equally within his right is the nitpicker who protests by saying that he doesn't care; artistic merits of "the biggies" do not by any means diminish those of "the real pioneers", and if you really strive for knowledge (which, as we all know, is power), broad horizons, systematic vision, that kind of crap, if you actually wanna wear the 'connoisseur' badge upfront, shiny and polished, you can't allow yourself to stay away from the guys that made it all happen. After all, it's not so much their own fault (although to some extent it might be) as simply a case of playing one's cards wrong. Missing the boat. Getting the bad break. Becoming an icicle in Hades. In short, whatever there can be found and consequently misappropriated in the phraseological dictionary.

It's not like the Searchers, out of the many millions of circa-Liverpool bands of the early Sixties, make for a real proverbial case of being "unjustly forgotten". Many of their former hits are still frequently played on Sixties' radio stations, and no marginally comprehensive audio overview of that decade's music, not even the ruddy stuff they constantly advertise on public channels ("and the first 100 callers get a bonus Neil Diamond greatest hits CD for ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!"), can really be complete without either 'Sugar And Spice' or 'Needles And Pins' (the latter of which has been revitalised and popularised for the new generations by the Ramones in 1978) or some other sappy little trifle from these lads. However, as it so frequently happens, it is at best inadequate to think of the Searchers exclusively in terms of these songs - and nothing else.

To be fair, the actual albums of the Searchers, upon first glance at least, don't come across as much more than just one or two of such singles padded out with forgettable, if not necessarily offensive, filler. But they deserve a little patience; my personal experience has led me to believe that they were significantly more professional (in some respects) and had a much more refined taste than quite a few of their colleagues. The band's biggest flaw was not being able to rock; their roots were in harmless skiffle, and their interests much more in pretty folk tunes than in rough boogie-woogie. In the late Sixties, they would probably just have followed their hearts' inclinations and become a wise and respectable folk-rock outfit like Fairport Convention. In the early Sixties, however, in order to get any sort of credentials, you had to rock; in order to earn the right to do 'What Have They Done To The Rain', you had to prove that you could also do 'Twist And Shout'; otherwise, you'd simply be pegged as yet another bunch of wannabe Frankie Avalons, and where would that get you?

Another obvious flaw was not being able to pay the dues to the Songwriters' League. The Searchers didn't start seriously trying their hand at creating original melodies until at least late '65, which pretty much makes them the last number on the running pad, and even then their main creative force, guitarist/vocalist John McNally, was extremely cautious. They could be terrific at interpreting - the hits, none of which were written by the band, prove that - but interpreting alone wouldn't get you far, especially not in 1965 it wouldn't, no matter how amazing a sound you would be able to offer along with the interpretations. The Beatles and the Beach Boys laid out the laws; transgressors were supposed to be punished with heavy slabs of oblivion.

But ooh, that sound. It's not always there, but when it is, it can be so dang beautiful. One thing that is indeed notable about the Searchers is that they were the first - okay, among the first (let's not tempt fortune) - bands to actually employ that 12-string guitar jangle which the Byrds later became famous for (and, based on some obscure insinuations, actually nicked from the Searchers, or at least that's what all them Anglophiles are murmuring from their underground). The "Searchers sound" first came into being on the R'n'B covers, which could, all of a sudden, become completely different sonic entities - milder, gentler, subtler, but preserving the melodicity and inventiveness of the originals. (An excellent, although chronologically late, example of this transformation is the band's reworking of Marvin Gaye's 'I'll Be Doggone'). A little later on, however, it was discovered that this sound was even better suited for rearranging folk tunes from the "white" rather than the "black" tradition, which led to a drastic expansion of the band's repertoire and their dragging out obscure, but fantastic, tunes first tapped by folk veterans from Pete Seeger to Ian Tyson.

This is why I think it is actually useful to hunt for the band's LPs rather than staying satisfied with hit collections. Okay, so there's no escaping the filler, but every now and then you'll be missing out on one or two underrated folkie gems the likes of which you couldn't really encounter among the output of their contemporaries, so much more intent upon rockabillying, rhythm-and-blueswailing, pop-rocking, or just plain surfing in style. Flawed, but unique in their tiny way.

The Searchers also have a sort of odd late-period history. Unlike other "conservative" bands of their stature, they didn't really disappear; they just stopped releasing albums by the mid-Sixties. Weirdly, they managed to crawl on, steadily and stealthily, through the Sixties and the Seventies - managing to issue a predictably pathetic album of re-recorded old hits at the beginning of the new decade and then even getting signed on to a new label at the end of it. It is actually said that they managed to release two really good albums with this new deal, although I have never even seen, let alone heard them. Since 1985, Pender and McNally, the two guitarists and the two cornerstones of the band, have been playing with two separate bands, one (McNally's) simply called "Searchers" and the other one called "Mike Pender's Searchers". If you're a Brit, check out your local club schedules and chances are you'll get to see somebody playing 'Love Potion No. 9' in your vicinity every now and then. Or maybe not.

Caveat lector, if you'll excuse my Latin: the reviews below will probably be very very boring. It's a very hard task to review a casual, cover-filled British Invasion record and actually have something to say, but I'll try to do my best, concentrating on moments which, in my opinion, accentuate the Searchers' unique qualities. Oh yes, and the band's entire early catalog has finally been issued on CD, often with huge amounts of bonus tracks (some of which are actually better than album tracks because they represent their contemporary non-album hits) and other goodies, so at least I'm not yelling at an empty wall here. If I can actually get anybody to get a Searchers CD, then my skills are complete. :)

Lineup: John McNally (vocals, rhythm guitar), Michael Pender (vocals, lead guitar), Tony Jackson (vocals, bass guitar), Chris Curtis (vocals, drums). Jackson left in mid-1964, replaced by Frank Allen; Curtis left, 1966, replaced by Johnny Blunt; Blunt left somewhere in the late Sixties, replaced by Billy Adamson. Pender left in 1985, Spencer James recruited as permanent replacement.



Year Of Release: 1963
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

Decent and even endearing in places, but you know the score with '63 albums.

Best song: LOVE POTION # 9

Track listing: 1) Sweets For My Sweet; 2) Alright; 3) Love Potion # 9; 4) Farmer John; 5) Stand By Me; 6) Money; 7) Da Doo Ron Ron; 8) Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya; 9) Since You Broke My Heart; 10) Tricky Dicky; 11) Where Have All The Flowers Gone; 12) Twist And Shout; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) It's All Been A Dream; 14) Liebe; 15) Farmer John (in German); 16) Mais C'Etait Un Reve.

The Searchers' debut album shows them as even less competent songwriters than the Hollies or the Kinks on the eve of their existence as recording acts - no original compositions at all, just one cover for a hit single and then eleven more hastily recorded covers to fill 'er up. The single in question, 'Sweets For My Sweet', is definitely good if you're in for a good bubblegummy treat, although there's hardly a trace of the band's upcoming 12-string jangle out there. (Or is there? Sure sounds like six strings to me). The falsetto vocal harmonies in the background are first rate, though, and the song certainly deserved some success. But where's the goddamn guitar solo? What's up with the never changing and eventually tiresome rhythm guitar playing? Ah well, we're speaking less than two and half minutes anyway.

As far as favourites go, though, 'Love Potion # 9' gets my personal vote. It's a little weird that this cool, "mock-dangerous" ditty had to be written by the Leiber-Stoller team, given to one of America's finest vocal bands, The Clovers, to have a hit with; and then brought back to America by a Brit band as an even bigger hit single (the song was the Searchers' biggest hit across the Atlantic, and remains their primary visit card up to this day - yet another case of a band's strengths being misrepresented through accidental chart success); but then again, maybe it's simply because it was the Searchers, and not Leiber-Stoller themselves, who fully realised its potential. It's just a bit of comic relief lyrically, really, but back in those days it wasn't all that natural for bands to record joke songs under the guise of 'serious' ones, and the combination of the tell-tale element, the comical ending, the steady R'n'B background and the overall generic catchiness, plus a certain mysterious air of delivering the lyrics - this all works towards making 'Love Potion # 9' the quintessential "eyebrow-raising" song of the early early early Sixties. Gotta love it! Of course, you can also spot a hint at social critique, what with the reference to cops breaking the protagonist's bottles of love potion # 9 (or is that a METAPHOR for something even more deeply Freudian?), but you know, I wouldn't go that far. Not today, at least.

Elsewhere, I'm surprised the Searchers actually manage to rock the way they rock - fast numbers like 'Alright' or 'Farmer John', which they speed up at least twice compared to all the other versions of the song I've heard, come across as fun rather than wimpy and false. Maybe it's because they don't do too much of that "let-your-hair-down"-style shouting which so often substitutes true energy and playing skills, instead just concentrating on getting the message across as precisely as possible. Sterile, maybe, but they're actually having fun with what they're recording, and when you sense that they're having fun, you're supposed to have fun too.

Where the Searchers actually fail on these early rockers is when they're doing Motownish soul. The version of 'Stand By Me' is just totally limp and lifeless, with the lead vocalist's ('scuse me if I don't name any names - the guys are all credited for vocals, I have NO idea who's singing what and I'm not in the mood to explore the limited number of Searchers' resources on the Net unless you wanna offer me a serious donation or something) technically weak voice failing to convey any real power that's supposed to be here. John Lennon could communicate that power with his manly snarl - and he did, actually, only it was twelve years later - but this guy couldn't, and the frail instrumental backing, however precise, can't help him.

The Eternal Beatles Curse hits much harder when they're doing 'Money' and 'Twist And Shout', though: these covers are absolutely useless when you have the Beatles' versions lying next to them. It's a good pretext, though, for one's developing a better understanding of the Beatles' phenomenon: the Searchers' 'Twist And Shout' is just a faithful cover, whereas the Beatles prove their exceptionality by the mere fact that it is obvious they intended to make 'Twist And Shout' exceptional. It's like 'everybody is doing 'Twist And Shout'; we have to think of a way to make our version stand out from the rest, and unless we can think of such a way, we don't do it'. Whereas the Searchers, they just do the song. That's it.

On the other hand, there are also a few nice ballads that presage the band's golden folksy hours - the best of these their arrangement of Pete Seeger's 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone', with guitar jangle a-plenty and pretty harmonies all in a row. The Everley Brothers also get a fine tribute in 'Since You Broke My Heart', with more majestic and emotional guitar lines that surely deserve attention. (Actually, the Searchers have a great approach towards guitar soloing: Pender has a more-than-limited technique, but compensates well for it by building terrific imitations of the vocal melody. As far as Careful Chord Consideration goes, he sure can give some competition to George Harrison).

These few songs, which for other bands may have constituted filler, for the Searchers are the cornerstone of their reputation, and require attentive listening if you're ever gonna do any Searchers attentive listening at all. They're in the miserable majority when you separate them from the chaff, of course, but given the fact that at least there are very few embarrassments (well, I'd count 'Stand By Me' and 'Money' as embarrassments, but concerning the latter, the Searchers couldn't really be blamed for not preventing the Beatles from releasing their own version, could they? besides, they actually released their version before the Beatles released theirs), I say it's all right for a debut.

PS. Apparently, Tony Jackson is responsible for most of the lead vocals, as I've just learned from reliable sources. Seems like the band's producer, Tony Hatch, for a long time couldn't bring himself to go the George Martin route and allow true "vocal democracy" within the band. Well, just one more piece of evidence for you.

PPS. In case somebody's really interested, the latest CD edition of the album I've acquired adds all but two of the tracks in stereo versions, as well as four bonus tracks: a contemporary sappy single ('It's All Been A Dream'), same single in French, and hilarious renditions of 'Money' and 'Farmer John' in German, which was pretty common practice back when the Anglo-Saxon rock market hadn't yet destroyed all the other pop markets. Hey, even the Beatles did that - 'Sie Liebt Dich', anyone? What is really strange is that the German version of 'Money' sounds at least thrice as aggressive and raunchy as the English original - concerning both the playing and the singing. I can only offer two possible reasons here: a) the German version appeared already after With The Beatles came out, after which the band couldn't help but re-direct the performance towards the new standard; or b) the German market was supposed to be oriented towards BRUTALITY in performance rather than subtlety. I have only to hope the boys didn't wear Nazi uniforms in the studio in order to 'get in the spirit'. Of course, this is all undermined anyway by the fact that the re-recorded song is now called 'Liebe' (!) and the lyrical message has absolutely nothing to do with the bitter sarcasm of the original.



Year Of Release: 1963
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

Just goes to show you how much actually depends on your choices - to hell with songwriting!

Best song: DON'T CHA KNOW

Track listing: 1) Sugar And Spice; 2) Don't Cha Know; 3) Some Other Guy; 4) One Of These Days; 5) Listen To Me; 6) Unhappy Girls; 7) Ain't That Just Like Me; 8) Oh My Lover; 9) Saints And Searchers; 10) Cherry Stones; 11) All My Sorrows; 12) Hungry For Love.

Another rushed album and another eleven songs chosen to prop up the band's newest hit single (the title track). The single shows how the Searchers are really starting to find their vibe: the delicious 12-string jangle, married to the ever-perfected harmony arrangements, gets you going even if you do realize that there's enough maple syrup in the song to drown all the pancakes of Holland in it. But progress is progress, and everything is forgotten as long as you really get a sound that no one else has got, right? Gone are the days now when everybody's ideal of a guitar-oriented band were the Shadows; this is the start of the exploration of the electric guitar's "subtler" sides. Granted, I doubt many people today will appreciate this subtlety - hey, after all, 'Sugar And Spice' is as dated to its own epoch as Nevermind is to Kurt Cobain's - but then again, I suppose there'll always be an audience for that kind of sound, even when all the baby boomers join their fathers high in Heaven. Ah, the sweet innocent spirit of the days when the Beatles' hair was supposed to be "long"!

But I digress. Now, truly, 'Sugar And Spice' is basically just 'Sweets For My Sweet Vol. 2', as is reflected in the mood, the lyrics, the melody style, and even the title - see how many S letters they try to have in their singles? Courtesy of the Smart Surreptitious Mr Tony Hatch, who actually wrote the song, believe it or not. Curiously enough, even though it was an obvious advance over its predecessor (at least, in terms of performance), it was nowhere near such a smash hit and dropped off the charts far quicker. Then again, look at the timeline: with the Beatles in full swing by late '63, you were lucky if you could stay in the Top 5 for a month, let alone at the top spot for a week.

Now the interesting thing about the rest of the material is that, while all of the songs are again covers, this time they prefer to focus on the obscure and oblique. I'm not a great expert on "pre-Beatles" music, of course, and I suppose a good Motown and rockabilly connoisseur will immediately recognize all of the titles, but even that kind of guy will have to admit that there are none of those 'evergreen chestnuts' like 'Money' or 'Da Doo Ron Ron' present this time. I do recognize the Leiber-Stoller classic 'Some Other Guy' (performed with gusto but still nowhere near the passion of the Beatles' live Hamburg or even BBC performances), the Buddy Holly ballad 'Listen To Me', and 'When The Saints Go Marching In', here camouflaged under the title 'Saints And Searchers'; I've never heard any other songs, although there's supposed to be a Coasters classic here somewhere ('Ain't That Just Like Me', right?) and Carl Perkins did 'Unhappy Girls' and... well, whatever. It's almost as if they just sat around in the studio and went, 'Hey! We can't write a song for shit, let's at least make ourselves stand out by covering some of the unpredictable ones!'

Surprisingly, these are all good songs! And the Searchers do them justice. They still do not raise proper rock'n'roll excitement, but as far as catchy, enjoyable, and even intelligent rockabilly goes, you won't be disappointed, because at least they're tight and professional and, well, fun. The choice of 'Ain't That Just Like Me' is brilliant - a love-rocker that features Mother Goose rhymes as verses before cleverly merging them with the more conventional chorus is certainly a curious creative anomaly for the early Sixties, and even if it wasn't invented by the Searchers, at least they had the idea to make it theirs. 'Unhappy Girls' features Curtis at his very very best, with delicious drum fills that keep your blood pumping even when the guitars get toned down (too bad the guitar solo doesn't quite live up to the song's main riff - hey Mike Pender, how come you spent so little time practicing the obligatory Berry-licks? Keith Richards you're not!), and the harmony arrangement on 'One Of These Days' is simple, effective, and first-rate.

'Cherry Stones' is the most idiosyncratic out of the rockers, what with that guitar jangle and all, betraying the Searchers' identity more than any other one - pay attention to the tasty transition from the simple chord-playing of the verses to the jingly-jangly treatment of the chorus. My personal favourite, though, is 'Don't Cha Know' with that shrill moody introductory riff that, unfortunately, gets too little actual play time. Not that it really matters - stylistically, they're all just the same song, only each one is memorable in a slightly different way, which is the key to success!

The one song that predicts their minor artistic triumph on the following album is the ballad 'All My Sorrows', a slow folksy chant with a much fuller and richer guitar sound than even the Beatles were managing on similar songs at the time, although the Beatles at least sure made their guitar sound louder. You can definitely hear the first baby steps of the entire folk rock movement in that song. Curious tidbit from the original liner notes: "...the Melody Maker asked, 'what makes their sound different from the other Liverpool beat groups?' Says Tony, 'it's because we're still using our original battered guitars stuck together with tape. You may think we're joking but it's true. It gives us a rough, raw sound'." Well, personally, I wouldn't call the Searchers sound "rough" or "raw", but it certainly gives one room for extra thought anyway. (Or maybe not, because the next "trademark" they're giving away are "the vocal aspects of the Liverpool sound... it means you sing through your nose". Sometimes I really think that it's much more of a gas to be reading liner notes from that epoch rather than listening to the actual music, you know).

In any case, it's a rare treat for 1963 - an all-cover album that manages to have some character of its own. And come to think of it, one shouldn't blame the Searchers too badly for not daring to put out any self-written material. Remember that, apart from the Beatles, most of the so-called "originals" by everybody from the Stones to the Hollies were, in fact, nothing but the very same covers, with maybe a slightly different set of lyrics and self-made rrangements to go for them. So in a way, the Searchers' approach is at least more honest because they never stole any royalties from anybody. Tee hee.

PS. The 2-fer CD edition that I have pairs this album with Meet The Searchers and throws on a whole bunch of bonus tracks ('I Pretend I'm With You', 'Someday We're Gonna Love Again', etc.), presumably all of them contemporary singles or B-sides or EPs or American edition-only bonuses or whatever the hell can be included as bonus tracks to an early Sixties album. In a certain way, these songs are even more interesting because they seem to be mostly originals, but in another certain way, they aren't interesting at all because the hooks are very, very tepid. The best I can say about them is they're all upbeat and relatively devoid of sap; however, they don't really betray any hints at the true potential these guys had in them. (All the more respectable is their rapid growth by early '64.) The only notable exception is 'What Have They Done To The Rain?', a lushly orchestrated folk ballad which sounds aeons beyond everything else on this disc - if you find yourself bogged down in the mediocrity of its predecessors, just skip to last track and revel in the romantic prettiness of the band's fantasy-land.



Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

As far as g-g-guitar-oriented pop of 1964 goes, this one should be top-ranked. And not more than one single original in sight!


Track listing: 1) It's In Her Kiss; 2) Glad All Over; 3) Sea Of Heartbreak; 4) Livin' Lovin' Wreck; 5) Where Have You Been; 6) Shimmy Shimmy; 7) Needles And Pins; 8) The Empty Space; 9) Gonna Send You Back To Georgia; 10) I Count The Tears; 11) Hi Heel Sneakers; 12) Can't Help Forgiving You; 13) Sho' Know A Lot About Love; 14) Don't Throw Your Love Away.

In case you're in desperate need of recreating some thirty-year-old slang, this album was originally supposed to be titled It's Fab! It's Gear! It's The Searchers! Luckily, only the last part, mercilessly deprived of the exclamation mark, caught up, and thus you got yourself a title completely unmarked, but at least completely cheese-free. As for the contents of the package - the record is occasionally considered to be the Searchers' zenith, and this review is yet another occasion. I concur!

Mainly due to the inclusion of 'Needles And Pins', of course. Today, most people only know that song as performed by the Ramones, of course; but while the Ramones' version is pretty classy and serves as a great decoration for what I consider to be one of the band's best albums (Road To Ruin), it hardly adds all that much to the original - and yes, I said "original"; it's true that the song was penned by Jack Nietzsche and Sonny Bono, but as far as I know, it was originally intended for the Searchers, and the band does this upbeat ballad real justice with the searing jangle of the guitars and moving harmonies, all over the course of a stunning two minutes and twelve seconds. There's this class of fab (gear!) pop songs where at first it's hard to discern between the verse and the chorus - the Beatles' 'If I Fell' is a good example - where the performer stuns the listener with what seems like an orderly-chaotic barrage of isolated phrases and hooks, like a broken, emotionally heated discourse, and that's 'Needles And Pins' for you. No guitar solo, though. Too bad.

The second best-known song and hit single off the album is the album closer, 'Don't Throw Your Love Away', which is a bit more playful than the rather 'wistful' 'Needles And Pins', but is quite a noteworthy pop single in its own rights. Noteworthy, but not spectacular, provided you feel the same difference between the two terms that I do. It marks a big first, though, Tony Jackson's first songwriting credit (unless it's a different Jackson - no, not Michael, of course).

But this is what I'm gonna say: It's The Searchers is, in fact, a very very even record. Even at their best, the Searchers are too timid to ever take your breath away ('Needles And Pins' almost works, but that vocal melody is just so dang good it'd take your breath away performed by anybody). But when it comes to consistency, with properly lowered expectations you might notice that there ain't a single throwaway on the horizon. Some of the old accusations still stand: the Searchers don't do proper justice to the more 'rocking' numbers: as before, they prefer to perform them rather tepidly and perfunctorily, Shadows-style, and therefore, songs like 'Glad All Over', 'Shimmy Shimmy', 'Gonna Send You Back To Georgia', and 'Hi Heel Sneakers' can be easily dismissed as half-hearted, phoney covers. But on the other hand, they are unquestionably getting better at it - John McNally's and Mike Pender's guitar runs are professional, economic and hard-hitting, and the technique is improved: check out the wonderful lead passage on 'Shimmy Shimmy', for instance, which puts contemporary George Harrison to shame. They got some hilarious guitar tones installed as well ('Hi Heel Sneakers').

Also, not only are the singing and harmonizing far more effective than, say, the Kinks' ragged efforts of the same year, but it looks like they're also discovering new ways of singing into the microphone or something. Or doubletracking. The vocals on 'Glad All Over' are particularly swell, and the sarcastic lyrics of 'Hi-Heel Sneakers' are delivered in an odd, almost proto-Zappaesque tone. Well, make that "proto-proto" because you really have to listen to that shit a long long time before it strikes you as a trifle odd, but that moment sure might come.

That said, I won't really argue that it's the softer, folksier songs that really make the grade here. 'Sea Of Heartbreak', for instance. Where did they dig this out from? How the hell did they think of using that bouncy piano melody with the guitar in a merely supporting function? And isn't that obvious that the song was a huge influence on Dylan (not the Searchers' version, of course, I mean the "original", whatever it is), such a huge one he even stole half of the melody for 'Don't Think Twice It's Alright' from it? 'Where Have You Been' is not really that much worse than 'Needles And Pins', just a wee bit more sappy. Curse all that impure sap stealing away from the purity of the melody, cheapening our impression of a potentially notorious composition. Wash it out!

However, 'This Empty Space' (originally written by Burt Bacharach for Dionne Warwick) is certainly far from sappy - just an excellent pop tune with a dark, creepy edge... of course, 'creepy' for 1964 usually means 'relating to a lost love affair', but for a song relating to a lost love affair, this one's pretty creepy. I totally love it how they lower the register on the last syllable of each line: 'There's an empty... PLACE.... beside me'. Just one little trick, and it accounts for a whole lotta maturity - all of a sudden, I hear a song that digs into the subconscious rather than just mildly taps on the outer surface of your brain. Rich and adventurous, great song. Ominous!

'I Count The Tears' will restore you to a joyful mood, though. Pointless trivia: one of the guitar lines around the thirtieth second or so would later become the main guitar riff of Fleetwood Mac's 'Gypsy'. Coincidence? Absolutely. (At least, until someone proves the opposite). Was it really worth mentioning? Absolutely. Because it's not up to us humble little music reviewers to decide what is a coincidence and what isn't. We state the facts (and opinions). We provide the metalanguage of the cultural paradigm! Available at zero price for Searchers fans worldwide!

The only song I'm absolutely not content with is 'Sho' Know A Lot About Love', because of the crappy lyrics. I know the guys aren't responsible for lyrics they didn't write, but they sang them, and this kind of pre-proto-cock-rock should better have been left for the likes of the Troggs, especially considering that I have a strong suspicion the Searchers belong to that category of people who are much more likely to indeed know a lot about golf than they are to know about love (they also sing about baseball, but I'm omitting that given their citizenship). Er, uhm, maybe it would have worked better as an instrumental. But who cares if it comes right after the wonderful ascending acoustic guitar lines of 'Can't Help Forgiving You'? If anything, the Searchers really knew the value of an acoustic and exploited the instrument for all its' worth while the other bands were way too busy trying to elevate feedback to an artistic form. I suppose we have to give 'em some props for that.

Some might complain about the lack of idiosyncrasy on here, but I would object to that. The closest in style at the time (of the more well-known bands, at least) were the Hollies - with whose contemporary album the Searchers even share the same track, 'It's In Her Kiss' - and the Dave Clark Five; but the DC5 relied on organ rather than on the guitar, for one thing, and wrote their own songs as well, which, perversely enough, means they were more formulaic than the Searchers because all of their songs followed one or two strictly limited patterns. As for the Hollies, vocally they could beat out the Searchers, I suppose, but instrumentally they were far behind, and they never used the 12-string. So here's some hard-earned (and poorly described, but spare me the grudge - I'm just an unlucky guy trying to catch up forty years later!) identity for you!



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

Am I the only one to feel the secret irony in that title? "Like" is the key word here.


Track listing: 1) Everybody Come And Clap Your Hands; 2) If I Could Find Someone; 3) Magic Potion; 4) I Don't Want To Go On Without You; 5) Bumble Bee; 6) Something You Got Baby; 7) Let The Good Times Roll; 8) A Tear Fell; 9) Till You Say You'll Be Mine; 10) You Wanna Make Her Happy; 11) Everything You Do; 12) Goodnight Baby.

What a disappointment. No, let me put it harsher: you ain't never known what a disappointment is unless you do happen to sit through It's The Searchers and Sounds Like S******** back to frickin' back. (So I do exaggerate, but that's what these reviews are there for - to prevent you from holding anti-globalist conferences and thinking up terrorist thoughts by getting you interested in minor, irrelevant, decadent production of the bourgeois world instead. In case you haven't noticed, that is).

Anyway, I'm always getting a little fuzzy when I meet up with a "sounds like..." type of phrase, and this album does little to nuke my superstitions. Without a warning, our boys are back on the rockabilly track, and getting back on the rockabilly track mostly just shortcircuits their newly found and oh-so-promising folk-pop vibe. Of course, I'm democratic enough so as to notice the soft fluffy shimmerin' minority still aboard the ship; but what exactly are they doing, plastering crappy Mantovani-style strings arrangements on ballads like 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You'? There's not a single guitar note (except for the bass part) on that track - just violinish wishy-washiness and piano wimpiness. Okay, as far as cheesy ballads go, you and me have probably heard much worse, but when I'm on the lookout for music, I don't happen to be on the lookout for music that's a little better than the worst music ever written, and I certainly don't want to associate the Searchers with this. The British Invasion? You don't invade anything with a string quartet; I wanna hear more guitar, dammit.

Same goes for 'Till You Say You'll Be Mine', where the tiny, hardly audible guitar chords are drowned in orchestration - whereas, with just a pinch of my imagination, I could envisage this as a perfectly lost Byrds tune (not to mention that the Searchers' vocal harmonies are actually more impressive than the Byrds', which I've never cared much for, always preferring McGuinn's solo singing). I'm very happy for the band personally - such a lot of orchestration could only mean a bigger budget and a generally more stable financial condition; but transformations like these are the perfect argument in favour of "lo-fi", and against big budgets in general.

Too bad. The album came out at the tail end of 1964/beginning of 1965, and made it obvious that the Searchers had gone about as far up the plank as possible; with the Beatles about to produce Help! and start breaking out of the Merseybeat formula, the Searchers were falling out of the race due to a serious asthmatic component. They still aren't writing original songs; they show no signs of "toughening up" or breaking away from pure commerciality (some of it already becoming obsolete by early '65); and they're apparently out of solid obscure cover material to go with. What the heck? The Animals could allow themselves to cover 'Let The Good Times Roll' at the time, since the Animals were on a mission from God to cover that kind of material; but when placed in the Searchers' hands, it merely shows there's something terribly wrong going on. It should be a brawley-brawney kind of pub rocker to make a notable - hell, any - effect. But when it's a happy-hippy, timid, restrained nursery rhyme, not even pumping the sound up with a real Hammond organ will help - I appreciate the idea (obviously, somebody in the camp did take note of the Animals and their style), but a good idea that's so poorly carried out is even worse than no ideas at all.

Not that they aren't trying to delve into new territory - I think that 'A Tear Fell', for instance, is one of the first, if not the first, attempt by a British Invasion band to do a straightforward country waltz, way before the roots-rock revolution. I may be mistaken, of course, but independent of that, it's not a very interesting song anyway, and totally forgettable by today's standards. Back in the day, though, it could have raised a couple eyebrows due to the "thickness" of production, and by the novel way of playing those mandolin-like trills on their 12-string (so sue me if I got it wrong!). That said, if the primary goal was to catch the eye of the American public by having a British band tip its hat to Nashville, I don't think it was a very good goal - nor a successfully reached one.

Everywhere else, the songs range from decent to mediocre, with not even a hint at exceptionality. 'Everybody Come And Clap Your Hands' opens the record with what is supposed to be a bang, but its kiddy shimmy rhythms are so over-exaggerated you'd think they were intentionally trying to send a big 'fuck you' to all the 'tough guys' on the contemporary stage, like the Stones etc., by saying "Look at us - we're still playing this inoffensive watered-down kiddie rock and we will play it because we're upholding our moral standard!". And then they go on with Bacharach covers ('Magic Potion' - which is to 'Love Potion # 9' as the Carpenters are to Janis Joplin) and cheesy Merseybeat stompers like 'Bumble Bee' which certainly is no 'I'm A King Bee'. Well, okay, 'Bumble Bee' is kinda fun and has a fun chorus, but you know, we're talking progress here. It's one thing if a major MTV star came out on stage today and did 'Bumble Bee' - that'd be cool, retro, stylish, unpredictable, and bizarre. It's another thing when you had a choice between doing 'Bumble Bee' and dragging a sitar out on stage. In 1965, even for the Hollies such a song would have been considered a kiddie-oriented disgrace.

Plus, if the Animals beat them with 'Let The Good Times Roll', then the Moody Blues beat them with 'Something You Got', which Denny Laine used to perform with much more raunch and gusto. And really, the entire album only gets redeemed towards the end, with 'Everything You Do' (a bare-bones rockabilly performance which actually is as much pure fun as all these other rockabilly numbers on earlier records) and 'Goodnight Baby', an excellent lullaby-like closer with the 12-string jangle in full flight.

The funniest thing is that I may be deluding myself, but it does seem to me that all those "late-period" records for one-time full-fledged British Invasion stars (where "late-period", as you understand, starts around 1965), although technically they may sound more or less the same as the "early-period" records, still give the impression of being recorded in a tired, lazy, and even disappointed overall state of mind. It's based on pure intuition, of course, but it just looks like the excitement is not there any more. And come to think of it, why should it be there? How much fun can it be staying put in the same groove when you see your competitors already several miles ahead of you on that choo-choo train? The solution is either to just close your eyes and refuse to notice all the changes going on, or to try and compete - and if you're not a genius of some sort, both decisions will be equally painful. Granted, Sounds Like Searchers was recorded at a time when these changes weren't yet obvious to the average listener, but they sure should have been obvious to anybody actually involved in the pop business, and they're subtly reflected in the album. And it's telling that Sounds Like Searchers was the first album not to yield a major hit for the guys - nothing on the level of 'Sweets For My Sweet', 'Sugar And Spice', or 'Needles And Pins' on here.

Then again, at least they had enough strength left for one more brief moment of semi-glory...



Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

Enjoyable, but forgettable R'n'B versus unforgettable, but not so necessarily enjoyable folk-rock intricacies.


Track listing: 1) I'm Ready; 2) I'll Be Doggone; 3) Does She Really Care For Me; 4) It's Time; 5) Too Many Miles; 6) You Can't Lie To A Liar; 7) Don't You Know Why; 8) I'm Your Loving Man; 9) Each Time; 10) Be My Baby; 11) Four Strong Winds; 12) Take Me For What I'm Worth.

...or was that "one more semi-moment of brief glory"? By the end of 1965, the Searchers not only were no longer representing a serious alternative to the major British Invasion bands, they weren't even a serious commercial proposition by themselves (granted, the title track to this album did become a minor hit single - as did a few later ones - but it's almost as if people were continuing to occasionally buy them mostly out of compassion). The reason is obvious: they still sound more or less the same way as they used to one year before, refusing to budge with the times and thus automatically confining themselves to the "oldies' market". In between February and November 1965, pop music, with assistance from Dylan, the Beatles, and the Byrds, had managed to redefine itself; the Searchers weren't about to. In a way, the title of the hit song and the album speaks for itself - the literal interpretation is different, of course, but in a figurative sense it can be guessed that it's the Searchers themselves who demand that the record buying public take them for what they're worth and not expect them to change. Judging by the sales, the public - by that time - didn't think they weren't worth all that much.

A disagreeable opinion, in my eyes, because by the Searchers' own (low) standards, this is a strong record, in fact, I'd rate it second best after It's The Searchers. At the very least, it's a major improvement over Sounds Like on several fronts: the covers are better selected and better suited to the band's abilities, and the originals are way more numerous than before and actually display some songwriting talent. This doesn't mean, however, that this isn't an enjoyable record anyway - in terms of individual songs, it's actually an improvement over Sounds Like, and finds the boys in somewhat higher spirits. Ripped out of the chronological context, the songs on here are, for the most part, really really cute without being cutesy and lovable without being lovey-dovable.

Granted, attempts to pass off for rockers are as fruitless as ever, maybe even more fruitless because with each passing month, you had to build yourself up more and more muscles to participate in the championship, and the Searchers - to expand on the metaphor - were still feeding on lettuce leaves. For some reason, the old tradition of opening the record with sappy pop hits never suited them anymore, and this album, too, begins with a "rip-roaring" interpretation of Fats Domino's 'I'm Ready'. I will admit that it's reasonable fun, the groove is tight, the harmonies well-rehearsed, and the guitar break walks a clever line between clean professionalism and passionate spontaneity. I won't admit that there's one single reason to listen to it if you can hear the tune performed by the master himself. (The one live version I've heard from Fats totally tore down the roof - the Searchers are just picking up the tiles).

But that's just one song. The ensuing covers, for the most part, are carefully packed inside a bag full of adequacy. Already on Marvin Gaye's 'I'll Be Doggone' they're acting in Beatle-mode, reworking the song into a half Mersey beat, half Byrds-like folk rock creation (the guitar melody is nicked straight off Gene Clark's 'I'll Feel Much Better' - which, in turn, was nicked straight off 'Needles And Pins', so we're dealing with the "steal the stolen!" principle here), and, although I have heard sour opinions that dismiss both 'I'll Be Doggone' and 'I'm Ready' as inferior re-runs in one sentence, I disagree: 'I'm Ready' is a re-run, but 'I'll Be Doggone' is a witty reinterpretation, and I like it. So the big unbeatable hook isn't theirs by right, but they work towards making it even less beatable, and that's enticing.

In other news, they are trying out the wall-of-sound approach: curious - for a band that had up to now specialised on quiet, understated folk-pop arrangements - but at least partially successful. Partially, because, once again, there's about as much sense in the band tackling 'Be My Baby' as there is in just about anybody tackling, say, 'Sympathy For The Devil'. Surely the Ronettes and other Spector-related projects had tons more great stuff that needed popularisation - why pick on the big boomin' hit that's already been covered by everybody in the business instead? And for which you can't offer any reinterpretation? Now Del Shannon's 'Each Time', that's a different story. I haven't even heard the original, and I'm probably not alone here. So I have no idea if they improve on the song or not, but it sure sounds great - a wonderful Spectorish ballad with gorgeous vocals (the falsetto on the chorus is the obvious hook, but don't forget about the quasi-operatic modulations during the middle-eight either). Big, pompous, catchy, self-assured. And still driven by luscious ringing guitars above all.

At the other end of the spectrum, they're continuing to milk the lonesome folk vibe, and do it better than ever - with Ian Tyson's 'Four Strong Winds', beautiful in a decidedly non-Byrds-like way; rather in a way that would, twenty years from then, be revived by Loreena McKennitt: the solemn, religion-flavoured, yet also romantically tinged manner. The elegant, exquisite vocals, the crystal clear acoustic picking, each note defined so precisely you almost get them shrink-wrapped, the subtle little counter-melody, the echoey effects, none of these things were completely new in 1965, but none of them were expected from a primarily pop band either. Maybe some of them were associated with crooners, and still others with scary country idols like Johnny Cash, but the fact remains that if you're looking for this kind of vibe in 1965 among the pop crowds, neither the Beatles nor the Byrds can give it to you.

Finally, there's the title track, which would become the template for the remaining handful of the band's minor hits ('Take It Or Leave It', which most people probably only know in the Stones' version, is a typical representative of this style) - brisk, upbeat folk-pop with a tiny streak of naughtiness and/or arrogance (I hesitate to utter the words "protest" or "rebellion" because once they're used on a Searchers page, it will be necessary to invent new ones for the Rolling Stones page, and probably still new ones for the Clash page). I love how they can go from sneaky tenderness and sweetness in the verses to the anger and uproar in the "take me for what I'm worth!" chorus, and I like the 'It Ain't Me Babe'-style message, and I just like the song, period.

As you can see, the album clearly marks a decisive return to "folk" territory, with drastic cuts in the bubblegum department, and consequently out of the four originals only one, Curtis' and Pender's 'I'm Your Loving Man', is more in the R'n'B territory (actually, it's somewhat of a cross between 'I Wanna Be Your Man' and 'Not Fade Away', if you can picture that), and - what an amazing surprise! - it's the only one of four that openly sucks. Or, at least, just doesn't seem to be real likable or memorable. Okay, so McNally's 'It's Time' is again "country-rockish" rather than "folk-rockish", but it's driven by good hooks and a funny vocal delivery that reminds me of the Moody Blues' Ray Thomas. But his other number, the martially arranged 'Don't You Know Why', is firmly in the Everley Brothers territory and... okay, now that ain't really "folk" either. It's folksy, but it ain't real folk. It's still fun.

But at least I'll stick to my word on the finest of the originals. The one big reason for this album to exist is the first six seconds of 'Too Many Miles'. I am ready - and I'm willing - and I'm able, if not to rock'n'roll all night, then at least to argue that the pop world had never heard anything like these first six seconds before November '65. That harpsichord-imitating guitar with flute on top could have been taken straight out of a Vivaldi piece, or lots of pre-Vivaldi stuff. "Folk-classical" influences, way before the psychedelic revolution and then psychedelia's evolution into art-rock made them common. The "body" of the song is nothing atypical for the Searchers, more or less in the 'Sea Of Heartbreak' style, but these flute interludes - woohoo! Just how many pop bands had actually used the flute prior to that? Some, I guess - but not many, and none used it the Vivaldi way.

So, as you can see, even if there's nothing big going on, the tiny little touches do make the album worth investigating. Certainly nobody who's a gentle folksie at heart should do without it, and today's the day for all you tender folksies to come out of the closet and confess that a little acoustic can go a longer way than a big power chord. Me, I still can't figure out just what this album exactly was: an intentional "fuck you" to commercial success or a naive hope that they themselves could be setting up trends for commercial success. Whatever the real answer might be, it's definitely one heck of an underrated record and it's a good thing it has finally earned a long-overdue reissue recently with a whole slew of bonus tracks and the album in both stereo and mono versions. (Unfortunately, I only own the original 12 tracks). Highly recommendable for all those with a secret penchant towards the year nineteen sixty-five.


Return to the main index page