Monday, 20 February 2017

Jefferson Airplane "Long John Silver" (1972)





Jefferson Airplane "Long John Silver" (1972)

Long John Silver/Aerie (Gang Of Eagles)/Twilight Double Leader/Milk Train/The Son Of Jesus//Easter/Trial By Fire/Alexander The Medium/Eat Starch Mom!

'Gonna move out on the highway, gonna make the moment last, 'till it closes with the future, blending with the past"

Arrrr-harrr me hearties! There stands Long John Silver, deformed with a lost leg but still larger than life and winning at it, always getting one over the institutions that hated him, 'plain and pale, intelligent but smiling'. A figure in charge of a mutiny that will surely come one day, out to rob from the rich and give to his ragged band of counter-culture pirates, while dressed up to the nines in the finest clobber of the day - you can see why the pirate would appeal to the 1960s' leading counter-culture band. But this Long John Silver, both the song and the album, are not what you'd expect from the always fiery, always cross, always passionate Jefferson Airplane - a case of close, but no cigar, despite the packaging of a cigar box on the cover. Instead this is a humble, muted, understated affair in which a combination of the rise of Nixon across 1972 (with Watergate still years away), the failing relationships within the band and the murkiest production values this side of Credence Clearwater Revival add up to make the last Jefferson Airplane album for seventeen years something of a miserable, soggy affair. The band go after their usual targets - Christianity, sexual censorship and televisions - but the band that used to unite six so very different voices in one amazing partnership have lost all sense of cohesion and powerplay. This is the sound of a pirate crew when they know the game is up and they're about to arrested and clapped in irons, made an 'example' of by a society who've been trying to chase them down for the past six years and no doubt hung drawn and quartered. After so many years on the run on America's waters, the 'hippie dream' disappearing into the distance at a rate of knots, the band are fighting for survival now and seem haggard, fish-tails in their beards and ringworm in their wooden legs. The sleek streamlined and much more mainstream Jefferson Starship (or for that matter Hot Tuna) are only a couple of years away, the moment when the Airplane 'retire' to the mainland, their cutlasses stowed away.

In truth most people back in 1966 would have been surprised the Airplane had lasted this long ('miracles only go so far, you see'). They were a band built for fire and fuel and fury, not for longevity. By 1972 band members had come and gone (they're on their fourth drummer, with Johnny Barbata hired after the split of CSN one of their better decisions), controversy has followed to the band to the point where they have recently braved Nixon's wrath with a song about his incompetency over international relations (the standalone 'Mexico'- are this album's cigars a comment on Cuba?) and yet even though their targets have got bigger the Airplane are in danger of being blemished with the tagline of anachronistic hippies, out for love and peace in a world that's hungry for war. The Airplane are veterans and no longer cutting edge. Jack and Jorma are tired of the whole thing, with their side-shoot Hot Tuna offering a more earthy and 'real' way of making you point against 'the man', thanks to a combination of folk and blues and traditions (legend has it that their new hobby of speed-skating was now taking up all their other time, so the pair missed the rest of the band's frantic phone-calls about rehearsals and recording sessions). Paul and Grace are more interested in their newborn child China and their own duo albums - many reviewers assumed they were saving their better songs for outside projects like 'Blows Against The Empire' 'Sunfighter' and 'Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun', probably with some worth. Joey Covington has got bored with being the band's token novelty act and has split to go solo, recording his one and only album 'Fat Fandango'. Marty Balin is long gone and apparently in hibernation with the band commenting on how quickly he's dropped out of sight not knowing he's about to re-appear with the band 'Bodacious DF' the following year. That leaves this album's most enthusiastic members as being Johnny Barbata, the band's newly joined drummer and papa John Creach, a fifty-five-year-old fiddle player who gets more to do on this album than any Jefferson set before or after. The Airplane were a democratic outfit that once cruised at an in-formation altitude no other band could reach, instinctively following each other while everyone did their own thing - but now the band are clearly about to crash big time, recording most of these songs in pairs or duos.

As a result most fans dismiss 'Long John Silver' as a last roll of the dice that adds nothing to the band's oeuvre. This is an unhappy album where even the good bits are so horribly recorded you can't hear them (although the CD, which didn't appear for the first time until as late as 2008, does a good job at improving on the original vinyl - on the bad side you don't get the fold-out box of 'JA' cigars with which to 'celebrate' the band's demise or the inner-box shot of marijuana which drew many raised eyebrows even in the 1990s when I first  bought this album aged eleven. Well, it beats the fish with the false teeth from the previous front cover I guess). It's also, I've noticed, one of those occasional albums you get that's 'unlucky', with the 'bad vibe' of the studio somehow spilling out into the world when you play it - I always seem to go through mishaps and miserable times after playing this album as a warning, so if I'm not around for a while you know the piratical curse has struck again...

However, while no classic and for all its many faults, I have a real fondness for this album. Even at their disinterested, bored peak the Airplane are too quirky a band to simply go through the motions and even if they've given up on politics for now they're still brave and daring, pushing the envelope as far as any band could in 1972 with songs about sex, masturbation and the hypocrisy of Christianity. There's a toughness and a brittleness to this album that really suits the Airplane, so different to their usual free-flowing easy-going partnership, that brings a heavy feeling of doom and gloom to particularly doomy and gloomy songs. While Grace frequently shrieks off-key, Paul even more frequently sings off-mike and Papa John's violin curls are something only a committed fan could love (especially when they appear several times in nearly every flipping song!), there are still some great performances of some great songs here. Grace and Jack's unique collaboration on the title track is a last desperate attempt to unite the two different factions of the band together that works rather well and points the way to how the Jefferson sound might have moulded into the 1970s if the 'Hot Tuna' pairing had stayed the course. Grace and Jorma's unique collaboration on last song 'Eat Starch Mom!' is an angry, surreal slanging match which raises one last pair of weary fingers up to the 'parental' generation in what seemed a whole song built on slang.  Grace follows this up with the atmospheric Eagle song 'Aerie' which is as haunting as any of her best songs if not as clearly defined, throws in the jaw-dropping 'Milk Train' (the Airplane's last great ensemble performance) in which the new mother tells her husband Paul to stop masturbating because it means he has less left over for their nights of sex. Jorma excels with 'Trial By Fire', a weary goodbye to everything the band once stood for because even a musician has got tired of a decade of jibes about his long hair and unkempt figure with no real gains to show for it. Paul is on shakier form as he was on 'Bark', but 'Alexander The Medium' is a worthy hippie history tale and an earlier, more disciplined band with better production values would have nailed the funky groove waiting to be found on 'Twilight Double Leader'. While for the most part Long John Silver doesn't compare to past glories 'Pillow' or 'Baxters', lacking the innocence and purity of spirit, it's still on a par with 'Volunteers' and 'Bark' as the sound of a band maturing against their will. I love the gruffness of this album, the sound of a down-on-its-luck beggar who knows things are going wrong still proud enough to challenge for one last fight for the right causes. Even though 'Bark' was the last cover album to show it, this is the last Jefferson Airplane to properly have teeth. Far from being a disaster, this last walk down the plank finds the band still fighting hard and wonderfully well. Would that every band had ended their careers with this much fight in them.

The section of the album that doesn't quite come off is the Christianity section that's split between the two sides. Grace had always had great fun with the hypocrisy of a religion that talked about peace and tolerance and then wondered off to have a quick crusade and purge of non-believers every few years. Both Paul and Grace had been stung by the backlash of the Christian church in 1971 when they jokingly announced their newborn girl was going to be called 'god' ('With a small 'G' so she stays humble'). This was meant to ruffle a few feathers in the hospital where China had just been born after Grace took umbrage at the very Catholic care she was being given; it backfired when the nurse took the document Grace had jokingly signed and sent a copy to reporters. While not quite on the 'Beatles are bigger than Jesus' level of debate, this was used as a brick to beat the band and especially the new parents over the head with a few times. Grace, not that convinced by her own Catholic upbringing, was characteristically incensed. Unfortunately her digs on this album don't display her usual personalisation of a big issue which is her strength as a writer (she'll get it right for the title track of 'The Chrome Nun' where 'nobody need baptise me - anytime I laugh I got religion!') Instead she's feeling cheeky at Easter, painting some eggs and laughing at the Pope on the TV. It's exactly what a ticked-off teenager would write in her room after being told to go there without supper. Paul too gets in on the act and he's much more used to turning world history into epic songs but even his song 'Son Of Jesus' reads like a Dan Brown book: 'You think young Jesus never kissed a lady?' he asks (no he probably didn't, being an INFJ and all) and you can almost hear the Airplane's publicity machine revving up as he talks about Jesus' illegitimate offspring, especially his 'foxy daughter'. RCA should by now have been used to the Airplane's antics but they still took issue with many of Paul's lyrics which had to be both cut from the lyric booklet and 'mumbled' on the album (though you can still tell what they are if you pay close attention). At their best the Jeffersons were always blasphemous with no society, class, institution or tradition safe from youthful truth-loving eyes. But of all their pot-shots against all these institutions these songs against religion feel the least developed and the most desperate. It's an odd bee to develop in your bonnet on your seventh LP too, the album slowing right down in the middle.

Still the songs that bookend this LP are, by and large, more than worthy of the band name and largely deal with turning villains into heroes, the band perhaps fearing that if this was their last will and testament they ought to embrace the hippie ethos and show its longevity. Rather defensively, this album seems to portray hippies as all sorts of metaphors. 'Long John Silver' just does 'the same thing his father did' fleecing people with more money than sense and living off the land (was his father a banker or a politician one wonders? We never find out in 'Treasure Island'). All the countries he visits are 'ruled by a flag or a game' - only as a pirate can a man be truly free, Grace clearly identifying pirates with hippies living outside society with their own rules. 'Aerie' could be anyone with inner determination to live to their own rules (maybe Paul or Grace herself?), built with an inner moral compass and compulsion to break new ground compared to an eagle. Maybe it's even a whole hippie generation given the references to a 'nest' and a 'gang'. 'Twilight Double Leader' compares hippies to hermits living in the mountains, 'escaping' the cities. 'Trial By Fire' is Jorma's modern-day unflattering description of being a hippie but it's not the fellow hippies he fears but the society that still won't accept them and runs after him with a 'ten gauge shotgun at my head' for no other reason than that he believes in peace and has long hair. The title, though, harks back to past civilisations and their treatment of 'outsiders' too - this is almost like a cannibal tribe' or American Indian tribe's treatment of someone they don't understand a 'trial by fire' you're guaranteed to lose. And then there's 'Eat Starch Mom!' in which Jefferson Airplane sign off with a  burst of angry hippie slang which the 'elder' generation must have guessed was being aimed at them but could never quite fathom. By 1972 Jefferson Airplane and their fans have become a 'tribe' all on their own, living to a new set of values and morals and even with their own language. No wonder the elder generations and civilisations were scared!

But were they as scared as they should have been? Jefferson Airplane were promising that they'd 'gotta revolution!' as recently as two years ago. Much of 'Long John Silver's mood is down, as if the band realise that they've 'failed' in their ultimate attempt to overthrow the greedy world governments and phony leaders. It's easily the most sombre and 'down' album in their brief discography, without the playfulness of their first three albums or the big singalongs of the next three (the closest is 'Milk Train' - and you'd have to be as brave as Grace was in 1972 to sing that song out loud!) There are no instrumentals to break up the heaviness of the album, no novelty numbers by singing drummers and no utopian moments escaping to a 'rock and roll island'. Instead being a hippie has turned into a long-term slog and an effort the band can't sustain anymore. Living in the real world with Nixon in power has defeated even a band with as much energy as Jefferson Airplane and you can tell that the band are frustrated as hell rather than dancing on their leaders' grave as they usually do. The atrocities in Vietnam are getting worse. Planned peace talks are collapsing left, right and centre. The Northern Ireland troubles begin in earnest with 'Bloody Sunday' at Easter, perhaps the real subject of Grace's song about painting eggs (though it's a tight squeeze for the album sessions in April, suggesting this was a just-cooked song). There's a big miner's strike in the UK. This is the same period John and Yoko are crafting 'Sometimes In New York City' their 'newspaper' album and when Paul Simon is getting the 'Paranoia Blues': it's no longer safe being a hippie. Jefferson Airplane, as the band who were in the front-row of demanding change, feel as if they've 'failed' somehow - desperate to save the world, at the moment they're facing implosion of the sort that makes The Beatles look like best friends and the Davies Brothers in the Kinks look like supportive, loving family members, unable to even save themselves. You wonder what might have happened if the Airplane had known about the first inklings of Watergate which broke in June that year, a month before this album's release and delayed their recording sessions a precious couple of months. Would we have seen the Airplane skip this album and take off again?

Overall, then, 'Long John Silver' is a last bumpy ride on the Airplane and at times a slog to listen to. The much criticised murky and claustrophobic production values are surely deliberate, adding a sense of weight to the band's usual sprightly dancing legs that suits these tunes of frustration and hopelessness, though of course that doesn't make it any easier to listen to. The Airplane's performances, usually so full of life and excitement, now sound like they're playing in slow motion - a band of telepathic players trying to play while keeping out of everyone else's way (and not always managing that). Most of the album's spirit comes from the vocals, but these just veer on the histrionic, wild and shrieky and raw in a way that's less likeable than the 'old' way the Airplane used to do things. A couple of the songs are clearly not up to standard either. And yet this album is so much more than a farewell album that a band didn't want to make, with much thinking going on - it's caught somewhere between the rawness of 'Let It Be' and the discipline of 'Abbey Road' as the band return to their roots and yet go further into heavy rock than they ever have before. There are some moments across this album where things really gel and you realise that no other band would ever have been good enough to do this or even halfway brave enough to try. Whether it's Grace cackling over her sexual innuendos, the Airplane cruising in majesty as they soar like a 'Gang Of Eagles', Jorma's last bite of disillusionment on 'Trial By Fire' or the funky fiery rendition of the title track, the Airplane's last great outsider character, this is an album full of moments well worth owning. Compared to the sprawling, fragmented 'Bark' there's an impressive cohesion and unity to this record too, even if for the most part that just means all the songs are equally grumpy. This isn't the worthy farewell we demanded at all - and yet neither is it a disaster. At least the Airplane die out with dignity, fighting right up until the bitter end, it's just a shame that for such a peace and love era band this end turned out to be quite as bitter as it was.

'Long John Silver' himself swaggers with a pomp and circumstance that immediately catches your ear. Jack was probably thinking more 'cool hippy about time' when he came up with the main hook, his one and only credit on a Jefferson Airplane song that wasn't a group composition. Grace, though, picked up on the song's peg-legged ambitions, the fact that it's swagger is held back by a slight waddling beat that does suggest a peg-leg walk. Even then, however, her lyrics don't quite follow through on this: only the first verse is particularly relevant to the pirate we all know and hate - the rest arguably is about a different character entirely (having lost a leg, it sounds like more than to 'scrape the knee' which is what happens here) and in 'truth' (well, in the Robert Louis Stevenson book that created him) ol' Long John is hardly the world explorer depicted in these lyrics. So, given that we're dealing with an early 1970s 'hippie' song here, is Long John an allegory for a hippie? Living outside society rules, doing noble deeds to those society no longer cares, taking money from the rich to re-distribute to the poor for, living in fear of the state with its guns and a rootless traveller of the world - that sounds more like a hippie to me than a pirate. In which case did Grace have anyone specific in mind? This is only a guess, but I think she does. When Slick joined the Airplane she had a crush on co-writer Jack - something which didn't stop her going round the band and 'bedding' everyone from the 'classic line-up' except Marty! Most of them got their own 'songs' - 'Lather' for Spencer, a zillion songs for Paul - I don't quite know what Jorma got but maybe he had one too? Jack, though, never got one, till now maybe. He often wore rings in his ear like a pirate, may well have done 'the same thing his father did' (biographies disagree as to whether Jack inherited musical genes or picked them up himself) and has there ever been a better description of his thundering bass style than 'he's like an electric clock that needs no winding?' The quietest member of a very loud band, Jack was always being overlooked and overshadowed, but may well have been the most Jefferson Airplaney of all the band members: as stubborn as a mule, as brave as a lion and as hardworking as any horse. Interestingly many of the most 'political' messages on Jefferson sleeves are from Jack, who felt perhaps more than anyone the drag of travelling round the world and seeing everyone 'ruled by a flag'. The only thing he's missing is a 'talking parrot' always on his shoulder, which could even be an in-joke to Grace herself in the band's early days. Given that the tune was his, shyly handed over to Grace to write lyrics for in a hurry, is it any wonder she might have turned to thinking about him and the band's early days, offering up a tribute to Jack for what might have been the last time? Whatever the cause this is one two last great ensemble pieces for the album, with Jack's see-sawing riff starting off jovial and turning sinister by the time Grace picks up on the part on her piano and Jorma suddenly shoots off the end of the riff to 'walk the plank', dancing amongst the crocodiles in a superb middle solo. Grace's bark also puts the fear of God into any landlubber, her voice cutting through the murky production grease as the whole band 'live' this song for nearly the last time. Enough to make you shiver, my Jefferson hearties!

'Aerie (Gang Of Eagles)' is much shorter and compact and yet much more epic. Grace sounds other-worldly as she sings 'against' the tide of the song, pulling against her own slow-building terrified angular riff picked out by Jorma on typically scintillating form. Though the chorus speaks of that old American emblem, The Eagle, the rest of the song seems less...institutionalised somehow. This song about someone with an in-born compass, always taking them away from what they're told to new exciting lands is surely another modern-day hippie; perhaps a whole group of them. It's my guess - and yes it's another guess - that Grace is bidding farewell to the Jefferson fanbase here, in the months when Jefferson Starship wasn't even a spark plug in her and Paul's heads just yet, a tribute to a fanbase that would go anywhere and do anything and risk everything. 'You can't fly, human master, you can't fly by yourself!' cackles Grace, yet somehow the Airplane did and they couldn't have soared above the earth without their audience crowd-surfing them along. What's more they won this 'revolution' through peaceful means, 'without a rifle on your shelf!' Note too the track subtitle that this is a 'gang' of Eagles - what better way of summing up a brave and no-nonsense yet supportive fanbase?  Though there's less going on in this track - the tempo is very slow for all the noise, which makes every line sound as if it lasts for about half an hour - it really packs a punch, with Grace's vocal and piano plus Jacks murky bass physically fighting Jorma's guitar and Papa John's screechy fiddle as they prepare to fly and soar, as if the Airplane are appearing here with their earthly stabilisers on for the first time. Grace's vocal is a thing of beauty and one of her best, piercing and raw but magnificently in control as she 'fights' several centuries of civilisation with such determination you'd still put money on her to 'win' the fight, while 'aerie' magnificently becomes at least a twelve-syllable word. Only another murky production, which has instruments coming and going even though only some of the band play (Paul is only on backing vocals, for instance) prevents this from being a first-tier classic.

'Twilight Double Leader' is, by contrast, a bit of Kantner fluff. The song is based on a slinky and funky groove which features Jack purring on the bass and Paul slashing away on rhythm guitar and which make Jefferson Airplane sound more like Cream than their usual material. The lyrics are oddball though, even by Kantner standards, switching between sex to politics with even less cohesion than normal. 'Get down now and roll around me, get down now and be my queen!' seems as oddly outdated misogynistic thing to sing when your girlfriend is none other than Grace Slick, though she sounds quite happy shrieking along with Paul in shrill harmonies. I'm stuck as to the 'twilight double leader' of the title - it could be linked to the 'Sunfighter' cover with the sun setting, with Paul 'coming home to feed' his baby daughter. But if so what so the next verse, in which 'your brothers and your sisters are livin' in the mountains away from the city life!' Twilight is suddenly everywhere in the cities, mass populated areas dying out as hippies retreat to the country and for those 'lost' a third of the way through the working week a mysterious 'she' (Grace?) will come to save your soul and show you the way you should be living. Most of this song is, in truth, a lot of funky words that rhyme nicely without any true meaning ('charioteer - already been here!') but I do wonder too if this is an extension of 'Sunfighter' where proud daddy Paul imagines his daughter at the front of the next generation's revolution (it speaks volumes what while the rest of the hippie musician fanbase steps away from dreams of utopia as the 1970s rolls on, Paul is always there dreaming much the same dreams). Is China the one 'waling on the water' and performing miracles left right and centre? Though as a song this is sillier and dafter than most usual Kantner epics, this one gets by thanks to that fat chunky riff and a feeling of genuine excitement that makes us, too, feel we've 'got to go!' Hopefully one day this CD might be remixed to sound clearer and less muddy - if they do I have a sneaky feeling this song would sound a whole load better pared down to just the essentials.

Grace responds to Paul's slight sense of misogynysm with some feminism of her own. 'Milk Train' is another ballsy raucous rocker which, in alternating verses, talks about masturbation, oral sex and her own, erm, 'moistness' and milk-filled boobs. Nobody else would have written a song like this in 1972, never mind fronted an all-male band to sing it (even Janis Joplin would have blushed at this!) She tells her partner (presumably Paul) that she doesn't want to 'stop his milk train running' and 'just wants to ride it some of the time'. 'It'll cost you nothing!' she purrs, like a hippie prostitute. Next she urges her partner not to let her baby-orientated milk sacks go unused with what's leftover in return - 'don't leave the cow juice behind!' she pleads. She reasons that, as a couple, it's one of the perks - she has always got an open mouth on tap for oral sex while she, in turn, can choose to open her mouth to talk and offers a 'free milk tongue bath!' Next Grace looks outside her family and speaks about the male gender in general - some make her juices dry and turn her 'rigid', others create 'liquid in the mind' without her going anywhere near them physically and others seduce her and turn her 'dry'. The ones she desires most are, typically, 'so hard to find'. She wraps up by complaining at her gender feeling hemmed in by what can surely no longer be termed the stronger sex after this song - 'You got nearly all of my body - damned near all of my god-damned money!' Amazingly, despite the long-standing love-hate relationship the Airplane had with the censor, this most lurid and graphic of all their songs was for some reason overlooked, even though Grace's sultry, sumptuous shrieking vocal alone has 'X-rated film' stamped all over it. This is the last great ensemble Airplane performance, Paul and Jorma taking it in turns to reach, erm, climax while Jack and Johnny hit a terrific repetitive rock groove and Grace competes with papa John for attention, the fiddle player's greatest moment coming when he, erm, peaks at the end of the song. The whole is a glorious eye-opening noise. Paul took the same idea and a similar riff to 'ride the tiger', a spiritual metaphor, but Grace is too earthly and horny for that. My sexual awakening came from here I tell you, no magazine, website or encounter could ever compare with the sheer lust of this song which would be banned today - how the Airplane got away with it nearly fifty years ago is one of life's little mysteries!

It's surely a deliberate blasphemy that a tale about Jesus' love life comes next. 'The Son Of Jesus', amazingly, wasn't banned either though only because RCA intervened and ticked the band off for certain lines which they re-recorded under protest, 'dropping' the new lines in over on the wider left and right channels to make this obvious and leaving enterprising fans to fill in the 'real' lines (for the record these blasphemous lines are: 'God loved his bitching son!' 'So you think young Jesus Christ never fucked a lady?' changed to the ungrammatical 'smiled' and 'They had a son, they had a daughter' changed to 'raised' rather than had). Lines that weren't 'airbrushed' with overdubs include 'Jesus had such a foxy daughter!', 'Mary Magdalene smiled when she remembered how the people had been looser' and 'Public execution  enhanced by levitation and fancy mutilation!' just to show that RCA didn't take away all the 'good bits'. A Kantner song all the way from its slow marching tempo to its telling a story in wide brush strokes to its sheer outrageousness, unfortunately it's almost Kantner by numbers: gasp at the blasphemy, sink into the slow tempo with no surprises and strain your brain trying to work out what the hard-to-hear lyrics actually are (RCA didn't need to insist on re-recordings at all: I've spent many an hour trying to work out what's actually sung here!) This should really have been a Grace 'n' Paul song kept for one of their joint records as it has nothing really for the band to do here and the result is the single sloppiest performance on the record, the Airplane playing at cross purposes and plodding instead of soaring. As for the lyric, it's a nice idea with Paul pointing out the hypocrisies in the Christian Church with the venom with which he normally attacks politicians, but the band try too hard to make Jesus out to be both an earthly man with earthly urges and no ability for miracles ('they go only so far you see!') and a free-minded hippie. All hippies are magical, everyone knows that! Grace's decision to do what she always does on Paul's songs, improvise over the 'boring bits', also doesn't work here because she comes up with far better lines than her partner ('2000 years of your story dancing over me, Jesus you know God loved that man, you know God got off on his foxy daughter too!')

Over on side two, Grace is feeling miserable and turns in one of her typical moody piano ballads. 'Easter?' is Grace trying to come to terms with what must have seemed like the whole of the Christian church turning on her for a 'joke' only meant to be heard by one person and trying to do what Paul always does: turn her personal sorrow and hurt into an epic number that damns a whole group of people for the mistakes of a few. It speaks volumes that Grace never again tries to sound like Paul - she's too much of a personal writer for that and has a greater grasp of sudden spurts of emotion than a similarly slowed-down melody that never really goes anywhere (it's 'Son Of Jesus' all over again in fact). Still, her lyrics come with added bite: she watched Pope John Paul II talk on television with an open mind, trying to understand his world and al she hears is hypocrisy about peace from a religion that doesn't practise it. Feeling unmoved, she goes back to painting her 'eggs' because that's all Easter means to her, memorably rhyming it with 'nails in the holy legs'. Forget 'The Beatles are bigger than Jesus' this is the real thing: she dismisses his story as a 'mess', compares his 'story' to the paper-thin wafers he hands out like sweets, asks how anyone talking in the dead language of Latin can ever hope to appeal to the young and at the end gets so furious she turns on the unthinking follower with the cry 'no brains in the stupid Christian!' It all seems strangely OTT for Grace's usual songs, which usually wrap their attack in warm humour and often points back to Grace's own faults, but makes more sense if you understand that Grace has just been attacked left right and centre in the press of the day and, as the true Scorpio she is, had to get revenge somehow. The song makes more sense, too, when you realise that Grace grew up not in the heathen hippie paradise many fans assume but a rich family of devout believers that even as a child Grace loved to wind up something rotten. For Grace - and indeed much of her generation - the idea of people asking her to believe something on 'trust' and 'faith' and then not having any of that trust and faith in their own believes smacked of the biggest hypocrisy; this is the sound of a 34-year-old Grace realising that she might be about to lose the greatest pulpit she ever had and telling her parents 'and another thing!' as well as all the people who've just done her wrong. She'll re-write the song to much better effect on the title track of 'The Chrome Nun' the next year in which she longs to gain insight into this strange mystical world but even by 'crossing her forehead and her knees' feels no divine intervention and still feels closest to 'God' when she laughs.

That song isn't even the most defensive on the album, though - that award is taken by Jorma's 'Trial By Fire'. Characteristically the guitarist remains unflustered throughout perhaps his greatest song for the band, though he tells a painful tale about the problems he's faced being a hippie musician. It's a final reminder that being i the Airplane wasn't all fun, finding the guitarist even more fed up than on 'Third Week In The Chelsea' as he 'moves out on the highway' keen to put part of his past behind him even though he's scared, 'afraid of what the future might be'. Jorma can see his future playing out and he's not happy: there'll be a policeman ready to pull him over the minute he leaves the protection of the band, with a look 'that you'd rather be seeing me dead'. To his followers he was once a God - but from now on, he's going to be just another long-haired weirdo the rest of the world who doesn't get 'it' wants to shoot. Jorma's double-tracked vocal stings of disdain and helplessness, torturing himself and his pals for not being strong enough to 'finish' the Airplane manifesto of world peace, however much fighting had to be done to get it. Never had a band sounded more fed-up than here, with Jack's plodding bass and Papa John's fiddle the only colour darting out of this bleak song which, as many reviewers have said, sounds more like the guitarist's 'Hot Tuna' work. This song has to be on this finale album though: it's the sound of a disillusioned man adding up the bill after a party and deciding the thrills just weren't worth it after all. However, Jorma's too kind to leave us with such a sour taste in our mouths so he adds in a final, sweet verse that seems to be his own take on the Jefferson fan. 'We' shared a secret together and nothing can take away how wonderful that was for us and from now on, whenever our paths meet in the future, Jorma's going to recognise us and 'smile' our way in memories of time long gone. It's a sweet moment and a reminder of the solidarity of the hippie movement, away from the police brutality, narrow-mindedness and the gradual wearing away of the hippie dream. It was a trial by fire alright and we 'lost', but only because there were more of them all meaner than we ever were, Jorma vowing to fight to the last anyway, that 'I won't leave here till I sing this song'. Easily Jorma's multi-layered composition, this is one of the real album highlights - especially his stunning guitar playing, both ringing acoustic and stinging electric and Jack's bass dancing alongside him, while interestingly new boy Johnny Barbata sounds far more at home on this track than he ever will with the 'Starship' end of the family.

'Alexander The Medium' is Kantner's farewell to the band he made his name with and it's a shame that he ends his time as an Airplaner by simply recycling the music from 'When The Earth Moves Again'. This song tries hard to be a happy hippie eulogy but it struggles under the weight of its own pomp and circumstance. Kantner, a keen historian, reminds us of a time of 'glory and power' when Alexander the Great brought in a new prosperous age for the young (he was twenty when he got the 'throne'). At least in Paul's eyes - in reality he had the biggest army of anyone and ruled more like a tyrant than a hippie, conquering lands and moving on oblivious to the hurt he caused, but then that's ancient Greece and myths and legends for you. In Paul's eyes he's a hero who made everything possible: there was a unity back then and an understanding of nature that man has since lost and the tale portrayed here is one of Paul's earliest utopian tall tales, all the more unusual in that it comes from our 'past' not a possible 'future'. The hint is that Alexander was just the 'medium' by which people could experience change, perhaps the 'Beatles' of his generation' allowing the young to do things their way. Paul dreams that this time will come again: that as we're all products of 'fame fortune and liberty' anyone of us could take the reins and make the world a better place so we shouldn't give up believing in the hippie dream ourselves. Paul remained attached to his vision for much of his life, even naming his second child Alexander after the ruler and song. However for many fans it's the hardest slog on the Airplane's hardest slog of an album. The song lasts for 6:39 and never breaks away from its Greek parable feel for anything throughout - no chorus, no middle eight, no guitar solo, nothing. 'I don't even know your na,e' sighs Paul, 'but I thought I'd tell you all about it just the same!' like a pub bore who won't shut up! It doesn't help that both his double-tracked vocal and Grace's shrieking lead are all three wildly off-key, making this song sound as if we're being shouted at rather than told a story. Perhaps the album's weakest track.

At least Long John puts his Long Johns back on for the fiesty, fiery finale, even if it's a song that also happens to make less sense than perhaps any previous Jefferson lyric in their history, 'Eat Starch Mom!' is one last kick in the teeth for the parental generation, Grace setting a lyric full of gibberish slang to Jorma's angry and wild guitar riff. In many ways it's a sequel to Marty's 'Plastic Fantastic Lover', a much loved Jefferson song despite being similar gibberish as Grace also sings a love song to a TV, her 'man made mechanical mover' which we're clearly supposed to think is some sort of love toy following on from 'Milk Train'. 'When was the last time a television set gave you any shit about who you met last night?' Grace adds though, wrong-footing us again, as she praises the only 'lover' with the stamina to stay awake with her all through the night. The song then moves on to an oddball attack on someone who swears by only natural produce -a vegan you might say today. 'Preservatives might just be preserving you!' Grace snarls 'but I think you might have missed it!' For Grace life has to be full of raw meat and excitement and energy or what's the point of living at all? So she offers a last bit of advice to her fanbase, telling the women to stay 'warm and wet' for his 'machine' and add a little starch to spice things up. Jorma then has what sounds like a nervous breakdown on the guitar, with a wilder ride even than 'Milk Train', as he tries to buck Grace off his bronco. She's firmly in charge as always, though and is having great fun cackling her way through her daft lyric. Though not up to the band's best, deepest or greatest and a poor man's 'Plastic Fantastic Lover' (which was a lot funnier and made a lot more sense), it's a fun riff and another great performance, even if Paul seems to be missing once again. The last words on a Jefferson Airplane album? The highly unlikely 'Vegetable lover!' screamed at full pelt.

Overall, then, 'Long John Silver' is the sound of a fighter still giving it all even though the clock is ticking and he can't get up off the floor and knows he has to give in. Compared to the Airplane of old, none of the songs here dance as Grace-fully as they used to and there are no 'escapes', no little nuggets of collages or novelty songs to break up the flow, which combined with the all-on attack of every last song (even the ballads!) makes 'Long John' a very exhausting album to listen to. However, it's also great to hear the Airplane giving their all throughout and offering up nine songs that could never ev-uh have even possibly have appeared on an album by any other bands/. There's a cohesion and sense of righteous indignation missing from 'Volunteers' and 'Bark' and even if the execution isn't always the best, two-thirds of the material is amongst as worthy as any in the Airplane's illustrious history. It's an end of an era, with the band going out all-guns blazing, which was the only way they ever truly could have done and on that level is a success, even if at times it feels like the band wish they'd never 'taken off' at all and want to get everything over and done by - the cigars on the cover being perhaps an ironic gesture that the end is a 'celebration'. You miss the clarity of 'Surrealistic Pillow', sense of adventure of 'Baxters' and daring of 'Crown Of Creation', but that's not to say that 'Long John Silver' is in any way's a poorer relative. Rockier than any previous album and a lot angrier with it, this record is more of a wild animal than the other tamer beasts out there but this one too has a lot of heart, a lot of head and a lot of courage the old Jefferson way, if not the blissful harmonies and romantic ballads. 'Long John Silver' is a last bumpy ride for Jefferson Airplane before they go all luxurious and cruise-class with the Jefferson Starship albums, a by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience that will make you air-sick more often than show you the great sights, but which of us doesn't want our Jeffersons at least a tiny bit ramshackle and 'real'? 'Silver' is the real-lest 'Airplane out there by some margin and worth your pieces of eight for its bravery and courage even if it sometimes loses out on pure musicality and magic.

Other Jefferson-related articles you might be interested in reading:


'Surrealistic Pillow' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/03/jefferson-airplane-surrealistic-pillow.html

'After Bathing At Baxters' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-15-jefferson-airplane-after.html

'Crown Of Creation' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/jefferson-airplane-crown-of-creation.html

'Volunteers' (1969) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/jefferson-airplane-volunteers-1969.html

'Bark' (1971) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/news-views-and-music-issue-91-jefferson.html

'Blows Against The Empire' (Kantner)  (1971) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-44-paul-kantner-and-jefferson.html

‘Sunfighter’ (Kantner/Slick) (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/paul-knatnewrgrace-slick-jefferson.html?utm_source=BP_recent

'Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun' (Kantner/Slick/Freiberg) (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/paul-kantner-grace-slick-and-david.html

'Dragonfly' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/news-views-and-music-issue-51-jefferson.html

'Red Octopus' (1975) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/jefferson-starship-red-octopus-1975.html

'Spitfire' (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/jefferson-starship-spitfire-1976-album.html

'Modern Times' (1981) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/jefferson-starship-modern-times-1981.html

'Winds Of Change' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/07/jefferson-starship-winds-of-change-1982.html

'The Empire Blows Back'# aka 'The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra (Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship) (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/10/paul-kantnerjefferson-starship-planet.html

'Nuclear Furniture' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-87-jefferson-starship-nuclear.html

'Jefferson Airplane' (1989) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/jefferson-airplane-1989.html

Non-Album Songs 1966-1984 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/jefferson-airplanestarship-non-album.html

The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1974 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/jefferson-airplane-best-unreleased.html

Surviving TV Footage 1966-1989 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/jefferson-airplane-surviving-tv-footage.html

Tribute Special: Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/tribute-special-paul-kantner-and-signe.html

Live/Solo/Compilation/Hot Tuna Albums Part One 1966: 1978  http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/jefferson-airplanestarship.html

Live/Solo/Compilation/Hot Tuna Albums Part Two 1979-2013 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/jefferson-airplanestarship_16.html





The Searchers: Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2012

  
     


   Non-Album Recordings Part #7: 1968

By now The Searchers had been dropped from Pye and were making do with a much smaller record label, Liberty (traditionally the home of unpopular AAA bands - Davy Jones will end up on sister label Bell). [114] 'Umbrella Man' is where things should have started getting better for a band and is one of my favourite Searchers songs, sadly another undeserving flop single and thus missing from pretty much every career respective unknown to most people thanks to the cost of negotiating flop songs from Liberty for Searchers compilations. Unlike some of the band's increasingly desperate sounding singles for Pye, however, this one plays to the band's strengths: Pender's velvet lead is convincing as a narrator promising to 'keep you safe and warm', there's a great finger-snapping riff and a clever arrangement that gives everyone (even noisy new drummer John Blunt) space to shine. Seeing his girlfriend go through metaphorical 'rain', Pender's empathetic character is inspired to be her 'umbrella', sheltering her from the clouds to come ('all you gotta do is hold my hand - and I'll be your umbrella man!') A warm melody promises the same, a kind of aural hug that's most affecting, especially when the rest of the band join in some with sweet Searchers harmonies. This is one of those catchy pop singles that's just about heartfelt to work and should have been a big hit with football terraces everywhere (given the references to rain and being faithful even when it's 'raining buckets' it could be one of the Merseyside team's anthems!) The end result is The Searchers' most convincing stab at a single since [99] 'He's Got No Love' nearly three years earlier; sadly it came just that little bit too late to revive the band's fortunes and the rest of their batch of singles for Pye step a little bit away from the class and cleverness of this recording. There is, by the way, a rumour that The Searchers only sang and didn't play on this and the next six songs released by Liberty. I dispute that, actually, as John Blunt's drumming is too distinctive to hide (that's clearly him on 'Shoot 'Em Up') while I'd be surprised if that wasn't at least McNally on the guitar. The source of the rumour might be that the band might not have played on the psychedelic 'Pussy Willow Dragon' as it's rather far out of their usual style (then again why not - this band were a lot more adaptable than anyone gives them credit for) and 'Suzanna' mainly features Mike's voice alone with strings anyway. The Searchers, as per usual, have neither confirmed or denied this. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Frank takes a rare solo credit on B-side [115] 'Over The Weekend', a fun if rather flimsy music hall ditty complete with 'la la la la' chorus and a solo played on a flamenco guitar. The song is clearly intended to be exotic, with happy traveller Frank frustrated at being back home again on a wet and miserable Monday morning and longing for the day he can take off on the road again (see his book 'Travelling Man' for how enthusiastic the bass player was about getting to see new places and meet new people). However the song never quite leaves behind it's feelings of boredom back in this land and the song runs out of ideas far too quickly for a song that's all about how exciting life can be. Still, it's good to hear the band playing round with their sound, with Pender's flamenco flourishes still having a distinctly Searchers flavour without relying on that famous 'ringing' sound and Frank sings solo without any real harmonies on this track at all. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Struggling for a new career, someone hit on the brainwave of not using The Searchers name at all and recording a song no one would realise was by The Searchers anyway. They could have done reggae, psychedelia, heavy metal, blues, country, skiffle...instead the band went for [116] 'Somebody Shot The Lollipop Man', one of the unfunniest comedy records ever made. Frank copes well as a straight man against an unusual backing of out-of tune recorders and a chorus of the whole band singing 'woah-ho yeah' really deeply. The effect is liking 10cc prequel group 'Hotlegs' a couple of years early, when everything's weird for the sake of bein weird and the subject matter is one quite unlike anything else any band would ever do. The lyrics are brave and absurdist, bordering on commercial suicide about the death of a lollipop man though we never find out how (they're the people dressed in hi-viz jackets who help small children cross roads if you don't have them in your part of the world and no, it's very rare of any of them to die. Even the ones who worked at my school with the state of our local drivers). Here's a sample quote: 'He hadn't a beautiful body but he had a beautiful head, so everyone is crying why does he have to be dead?' Quite. I don't know whether it's just the relief of hearing The Searchers do something though or simply brainwashing down the years but this track has now reached a 'so bad it's good' kind of quality, as if the band are indulging themselves in bad taste because they know they might never get the chance to again. Every Searchers fan should hear it once - though no fan should have to suffer it twice. The band's pseudonym on this record was 'Pasha' by the way - once a high rank in the Ottomon Empire the equivalent of a 'governor'. Maybe this is a secretly a protest song over how lollipop men are treated over in Turkey and The Searchers were actually bringing a very major point of social significance to our attention? Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

Almost as weird was the B-side, a jazzy children's song [117] 'Pussy Willow Dragon', a song that was mis-titled as 'Pussy Willow Dream' on some copies. A sort of 'Puff The Magic Dragon' with strings and yet another 'la la la' chorus, it's a Kinks-like track about escaping into fantasy when the real world gets too nasty. Mike tells us that he can dance the Macarena all day - and I'm not about to argue with him or the 'wild applause' he hears in his head while he's dancing - before hitching 'a wagon to a dragon' and escaping 'choosy Susie'. Most memorable line: 'They all say I'm pretty hunky - we don't really see eye to eye!' Traditionally you'd never find a 1960s band less likely to take drugs than The Searchers (Frank's autobiography must be the only one of the period that actually regrets not taking drugs!) but this song makes you wonder if somebody once dropped something in their tea. Far too late for the summer of love boom, which had been over by six months by this point, you get the sense that this is another case of The Searchers going all out with a parody version of a style they'd never ever get away with recording in their 'day job'. Unfortunately, we all know who 'Pasha' is now and they can't hide it anymore. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Not that the next Searchers single is any more traditional. We moaned earlier that The Searchers should have recorded one mean-spirited and aggressive Rolling Stones song just to prove to the music world in general that they could. [118] 'Shoot 'Em Up' is - almost - that song, with Mike singing his usual romantic lead on the verses about how much he wants to take his baby 'away' before a chorus kicks in promising either murder or drugs, depending how you take it. The Searchers though, sensibly, sing this track straight as if what they're promising is nothing more than 'Sugar and Spice' and the song has a nicely breezy catchy melody - the sort of thing that would have been a big hit for them a few years ago with different lyrics. The song was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, a songwriting team  known for their 'bubble gum soul' who are shortly about to write almost the entire final Monkees album 'Changes' the following year. As weird and quietly subversive as 'Changes' is, though, there's nothing on it quite as weird or as subversive as this song. A nice example of The Searchers breaking out of their image, though it's not the sort of song you'll fall head over heels in love with, coming over a little bit detached. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Probably the worst ever Searchers single, [119] 'Kinky Kathy Abernathie' is a knowing winking novelty song that tries hard to be another 'Jennifer Eccles' with an R rating but just comes over as creepy. The Searchers turn into lecherous old men as they sing about sitting by the fire with a girl whose 'temptu-ous and scrumptu-ous' who pretends to be virtuous and pure but is actually anything but. She's also 'the greatest thing since motherhood' as well, worryingly - how many girls has this narrator pulled this line with and how many children has he got?! Each line ends with an added 'ba-dum-dum-dum -da' as if the writer (Kenny Young, who also produced this monstrosity and should know better after writing songs like 'Under The Boardwalk' in his youth) simply ran out of words and didn't know what to do. That's a good idea actually I might borrow it when I can't be bothered to finish a sen-ba-dum-dum-dum-da. Excruciatingly painful, if The Searchers ever wanted to record again after their third and final record with Liberty they were going about it the wrong wayFind it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

The Searchers had all but quit writing by 1968, with the main exception being John McNally's wistful [120] 'Suzanna', a torch ballad sung with gusto by Mike Pender that was used as a B-side on both of the above two singles. It's arguably more interesting than both songs, if a little overcooked, as the narrator remembers a lost love from years ago 'who once was my life'. There's nothing particularly original about this song, which sounds like it should have appeared in one of those 1960 film soundtracks (you know the sort of thing, they have Peter Sellers doing Indian impressions, chase sequences involving minis and Michael Caine pretending he can act, even though it's the same sodding wooden character he plays in all his other films). Pender doesn't sing with quite the subtlety of some of his later similar ballads, but then there isn't quite as much here to get his teeth into. Then again at least this song has a proper melody (thus beating every song The Searchers have made since 'Umbrella Man') and some nicely haunting yet subtle strings. It should have been the 'A' side, though it probably wouldn't have sold any better. Thankfully of all these new approaches it's 'Suzanna' that will most resemble The Searchers' later work with RCA. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #8: 1970

Bouncing back after a quiet 1969, The Searchers released their last single on Pye, ending a relationship that dated back seven whole years. Once again The Searchers were asked to record a song that had already been a hit in the hope of getting another one, but at least this time the song choice was suitable. Stephen Stills wrote The Buffalo Springfield's sole hit [121] 'For What It's Worth' after being appalled by the lengths the police went to in enforcing a curfew for teenagers at the Sunset Strip. Using the event and peaceful protests (mainly by the elder brothers and sisters of those who couldn't come out and play) as a 'warning' sign to Nixon's Government that a whole generation couldn't be made to be quiet, it was one of the songs of 1966: polite and careful to avoid a radio ban but full of fear and loathing just below the surface. The song has had many cover versions down the years and while this isn't the best, it gets more right than most: the evocative opening guitar 'pings' are now played on an early synthesiser, a pan pipe flits between two notes in sad protest, a gentle brass band lick plays in the background and a nice stop-start rhythm is a neat addition to a song that asks the world to 'stop' and take note several times throughout the lyrics. Only the lack of a sense of urgency prevents this version of the song from matching the original - everything is just a little bit too laid back for its own good. It was a good idea to revive this song in 1970 though, when Nixon was escalating America's involvement in the Vietnam War and had just given orders for troops to 'open fire' on a peaceful protest at an Ohio university, killing four un-armed students. In context, The Searchers have a right to sound livid - instead this song is still a 'warning' when by now it really deserved to be 'all-out war'. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

The nicely retro two-minute cover of David Gates'  [137] 'Don't Shut Me Out' might not be as deep as the best recordings from this era but proves that The Searchers could still make a great simple rock-band noise when the occasion demanded it. A snappy, funky guitar riff makes for a catchy chorus before making way for a slower, more meaningful verse: one of the Bread founder's better examples of his much-used template in fact. The Searchers sound like they're having fun on this one, perhaps enjoying the similarity between the song's message with what they want to say to both record company and fans: 'Don't, don't shut me out, shut me out of your li-i-ife!' Had the band gone more in this direction for their two 'new wave' era albums rather than recording so many ballads they'd have found a whole new audience - sadly this song was relgated to the vaults for 25 odd years despite it's obvious worth and the fact the band had been playing it in concert and promising as their 'next single' across most of 1969 and 1970. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

     Non-Album Recordings Part #9: 1971

In 1971 The Searchers were thrown a lifeline of sorts by record label RCA. Figuring that The Searchers were still a popular live draw and that Pye had to some extent given up on them, they poached the band and promised lots of recording time. As time grew, however, it became clear that RCA just wanted the band to record the 'hits' for them rather than their label and their own recordings were either left in the vaults (we're still not quite sure when in their contract between 1971 and 1974 some of the unissued recordings were made) or released to little publicity. What's more Pye got wind of what the band were up to, brought up a 'clause' in the band's contract that meant they couldn't re-record their old hits (a 'fake' according to the band, who were already to go to court to prove it before RCA began to get cold feet) and then re-released their own compilation 'Golden Hour' at the exact same time. Running to almost double the length for the same amount of money, most fans simply bought that collection and the RCA Searchers recordings were generally deemed a failure - another chance that wasn't taken the way it should have been. However, while most of the re-recordings the band made (effectively with a gun at their heads or - worse - a contract about to be torn to shreds) are pretty awful and largely pointless the new recordings (especially this first batch from 1971) are actually very good: easily the best the band had made since 1968 and the basis for a rather good full-length album had RCA realised it (the band still had a loyal following and enough time had passed since Merseybeat was passé - RCA even appeal to the nostalgia of ten years earlier with their press-cuttings heavy cover artwork). Sadly it wasn't to be: most of these recordings were released in both the UK and Us only briefly, either on single or on compilation records, most of these recordings were unavailable for years until a revived interest in the band in the 1990s at last saw these recordings widely available at last (although even then the 'Second Take' compilation of 1999 isn't exactly common knowledge - I had to really hunt for my copy).

 [123a] 'Desdemona' was so loved by the band that it's the one RCA song they chose to re-record for the label when asked to re-do their hits a year later (although this first version, the one that appears on all compilations and was made with a bit more time and care, is the 'better' one). That Desdemona sounds like a sweet little girl - but really she's a minx! A fun rocker about the narrator falling in love with the title character, it starts as a song about a very 'cute' sort of a love between two novices who've never done this sort of thing before  (although Pender's narrator has slightly more experience, adding that 'You're gonna see that love is oh so fine!') A fiery middle eight with an unexpected key change hints at the lust both halves are feeling, aptly sung by Pender in a mickey-take of Elvis and - it's hinted - closer to what goes on behind closed doors ('I'm not a boy with a toy I'm a boy who knows what loving is and I'm gonna give to you all the loving that I feel!') The result is a fast-paced, infectious pop song that's chirpy and sweet but not too saccharine either. No wonder the band liked it so much - this sounds like great fun to play as well as listen to, a turbulent set of chord changes held together by a few simple notes played on an organ throughout (a clever 'trick' to help listener's ears work out what's going on!) Alas this was yet another flop single, particularly sad given that RCA were prepared to spend a (little) bit of money on it at last and unlike the last days with Pye still had high hopes for the band; this single's failure meant the label spent more time asking for tired recycling of the band's old hits rather than their more daring, forward-thinking pop songs like this. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999), 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[124] 'The World Is Waiting For Tomorrow' is another Searchers original (with Allen's name given first), a ballad that promises much but never quite delivers. Another rather worried song, this sounds like a first attempt at writing [126] 'And A Button' to come - the world waits in fear and dread that something nasty will happen, breathing a sigh of relief when 'tomorrow' finally arrives and has survived through another day. Alas that nice idea for a song ends up becoming a rather trite chorus repeated too many times for comfort and Pender unsure whether to sing this song happily or sad (his hybrid of both never quite comes off). Unusually, this song is based around a piano lick and the guitars are secondary to that and the drums - a good sound for the band, actually, if only the song to go with it had been a little better. Still, other bigger names have had huge hits with dross far worse than this - I'm actually surprised the band didn't have a tiny hit with this one when released as a single. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[125] 'Love Is Everywhere' is probably the weakest of the Searchers' recordings in 1971 but even this one is head and shoulders above most of the band's late 1960s batch of recordings. Actually this early song by Errol Brown (of Hot Chocolate) is very 1960s, stealing a tiny bit from Love Affair's 'Love Is All Around' with a similarly catchy hippie-ish song about how love really is everywhere ('all you gotta know is how to make it grow'). An interesting arrangement features a loud bass and  typically heavy-handed drums set against a slow mournful organ part, an acoustic guitar strum and a subtle orchestra sweeping the song along in the background. Rather forgettable, but pleasant enough while it's on, it's the sort of thing The Searchers might have had a rogue hit with had this song been properly promoted (released an A-side, it missed the charts completely). Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

The end of the band's most successful recording year since 1968 came with [126] 'And A Button', a song surely unique in the band's canon. A cold war political protest song, this original composition (credited to the group but with Allen's name given first) proves once again what a good 'heavy' band The Searchers might have made (and a button, sorry that repeated line at the end of every sentence becomes a habit after a while...) Even a belated hippy lyric of 'have faith in your brother' (and a button) can't get in the way of a fascinating experiment that features a terrific booming bass and a driving  Pender guitar part. Allen takes the lead and his vocals are always welcome, asking why the stalemate goes on when the other side of the world there's a 'man like you, with a wife and kids like you...and a button' he too is waiting to press in retaliation. The first studio Searchers recording to push the four minute barrier (and a button), never mind the five minute one, this 5:05 recording is an epic, stretching out into some serious jamming interrupted at frequent points by the brotherly love chorus that says that if the world is going to blow up then we'll all go singing together. Fascinating, especially given the immediate pre-Watergate climate of the year (when Nixon and Brezhnev were in their merry dance around each other), it's a much under-rated song that proves once again how right The Searchers were to push for their new recordings in place of their old (and a button). Had this song come out, with the right publicity campaign, with the right song at the right time, this could have been a big hit for The Searchers who were right on the money for once...and a button. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) (And a button)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #10: 1972

The re-recording of [23b] 'Sugar and Spice' tries to use everything the Searchers have learnt through their years on the road: the band play slower, more simple and are rather tighter on the backing track (as befits a song they've played to death across nearly a decade, as opposed to a song they learnt a mere week before recording). However like many of these recordings this re-recording is a poor alternative, lacking the energy, drive and hunger of a band in their teens. Chris Curtis' rattling drums are especially missed here, replaced by John Blunt's simpler yet cruder rat-tat-tat. A bit of muttering deep in the mix about three-quarters of the way through shows how rushed and hurried this project is, even compared to the speed the band worked in during the 1960s! Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[59b] 'Don't Throw Your Love Away' features Mike singing slightly higher than normal, perhaps to cover up for the fact that Chris is no longer in the band to cover the harmonies. The result is a rather ugly re-recording of a classic song on which Blunt again hammers a simple song into the ground and only the presence of Frank's harmony vocals (not on the original of course) and some exquisite guitar work the equal of the band's earlier version shine through. Don't this pretty song away like this Searchers, no no no... Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

The re-recording of [14b] 'Farmer John' fares rather better, a wild beat tamed and now sounding almost grunge with a slower tempo and an added swampy riff that works far better than the energetic speed of the original. Frank's bass harmony support to Mike's lead works far better than Tony's original, slightly irritating falsetto as well, while John still gets to keep his cameo as the grumpy farmer ('Now look-a here!') Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

Alas the 'new' version of [78b] 'When You Walk In The Room' is the difference between night and day (or The Beach Boys and The Spice Girls if you prefer). The original is a tightly nuanced performance that fare leaps out of the speakers, driven forward a by a driving drum beat and some booming guitars, wrapping the listener up in it's warm enveloping sound. This version sounds like a tired pub-rock band after one too many beers: it's awfully sloppy, with Pender's double-tracked vocals appear to be laughing at the lyrics and a sound that doesn't so much drive on as much as amble. Even McNally, unusually, sounds less than convincing on his guitar part. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[53b] 'Needles and Pinzahhh' fares slightly better, with a faster tempo that's more rock than folk-rock, although once again the drumming is a tad LOUD! and Pender's gorgeous lead vocal from the original - all sighs and longing - has been replaced by one that spends too long 'smiling' and not enough 'singing'. Allen's harmony almost rescues the song, just about close enough to Curtis' to work - perhaps he should have sung lead instead? Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

The most 'modern' of all these recordings, [123b] 'Desdemona' is the closest recycled track to the original, the main difference being a neat harmony vocal from Frank and an even more Elvis-style vocal from Mike in the middle eight. Many fans were surprised that the band bothered reviving a flop song, but not enough people got to enjoy 'Desdemona' the first time round and it's perhaps the best of the band's post-1967 flops so I say good on them, even though the original still has a slight edge: the band are thinking a little too hard here compared to the fluent original. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[97b] 'Goodbye My Love' , though is a travesty. Who on earth heard the original, as near-perfect a pop single as can be, and thought 'I know what we'll do: we'll slow the tempo down, add a military drum part and re-act the subtle lyrics as a cod melodrama'? One of The Searchers' cleverest, nuanced songs that says so much between the lines now sounds like a sulky, sloppy mess. Interestingly Pender now sings the whole song, including the middle eight Curtis sang on the original (by and large Allen takes over the ex-drummer's parts for these recordings). Truly awful and probably the worst re-recording here. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[13b] 'Love Potion No 9' makes some kind of sense: The Searchers' original cover was already a 1960s style update of a 1950s song so this 1970s update (complete with congas and jazzy guitar licks) ought to be right on the money. Sadly it isn't: Pender's lead badly misses Tony Jackson's harmony vocal and the fun of the original is missing. It's all a little bit scruffy too: Mike and Frank blow the next verse that comes after the solo at 1:23, unusual for The Searchers but [perhaps evidence of just how hurried these sessions were. That said McNally's wailing guitar solo actually improves on the original, sighing and soaring rather than perfunctory - he's clearly been thinking about the arrangement for a while (in common with most of the other re-recordings here The Searchers still did this song in their stage act). Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[11b] 'Sweets For My Sweet' is like a grown man trying to re-create the look of his baby photos (seriously, people do this - the internet is full of them!): plain wrong. What used to sound cute, innocent and exciting now sounds old and tired, despite the fact that the band are clearly trying hard. Pender takes the lead vocal in Jackson's place and does as good job as he can, although that means the rest of the band have to 'move up', with Frank now taking Mike's distinctive harmony part. The result is a song that now sounds like it comes from a different century, not merely an earlier decade, delivered by a band as quickly as they can get away with in order for them to go on and record something they really want to do. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[96b] 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' is a nice surprise to see in the track listings: while a favourite with the band and fans, this was one of the Searchers' lowest charting singles on first release. The song clearly still has resonance, with the band putting in another strong band performance and Pender singing properly instead of throwing the vocals away, as per so many of these re-recordings. Unfortunately a decision to add a full-harmony chorus of outside singers robs the song of its nicely raw and grungy feel, resulting in an artificial reading of a very 'real' song. Still, compared to most of the other re-recordings here, at least this one is listenable. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

[79b] 'What Have They Done To The Rain?' is a shoddy version of a gorgeous song. Allen's harmonies do a good job at covering for Curtis' harmony on the original and Blunt has found some tom-toms to replicate the original, but this is a facsimile of the original's groundbreaking sadness and big heart: this is by contrast a karaoke version of a song the band are by now bored to death with. You also really miss the orchestra that gave the original version much of its grace and beauty. What have they done to 'What Have They Done To The Rain?!' Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

Meanwhile, in terms of the 'new' songs recorded for RCA this year,  [127] 'Sing Singer Sing' is easily the weakest of the band's original recordings made for RCA (and credited with McNally's name first this time), a rather irritating calypso track that sounds like a cross between 'Vehevala' and Harry Belafonte. Calling out for singers everywhere to sing and then we'll all have world peace, even the Eurovision audiences would have given this one 'nul points'. A brassy accompaniment tries to stir things up and make them interesting, but even that can't make this sloppy song sound any good. Even Pender sounds like he knows he's on to a bad thing and over-emotes terribly across the song. Not one of the band's better ideas - and yet this is one of the very few band originals RCA actually put out the first time round, leaving the superior stuff in the vaults (go figure...) Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[128] 'Lover Come On Back To Me' is a group original (with Pender's name listed first) that was the sole new song 'allowed' on to the American or British albums of re-recorded songs. It's sweet enough but hardly in the league of the band's best songs and sounds rather out of it's depth nestled alongside classics like 'Farmer John' and 'When You Walk In The Room' (even in inferior re-recorded versions). A slow, drippy ballad has the narrator promising his girl that he's mended his ways and things will be different this time - a neat metaphor for the change of label and idea of 'second chances', but just as the band wasted theirs by being a little too laid back and vague so this narrator sounds like he hasn't got a hope. Pender just doesn't sound moved enough and the rest of the band don't get much to do. Find it on: 'Needles and Pins' (1972) and  'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #11: 1973

I was thinking about the nights when I was a sailor...but then I decided to turn off [129] 'Vehevela' and get back to my job of reviewing records. Thankfully after a dirge of anything interesting to write about The Searchers give me their last truly classic song, a truly great performance of a power pop Loggins and Messina song that deserves to be much better known. A charming calypso featuring Pender getting into character as a sailor pining for the love he left behind somewhere abroad ('Vehevela' sounds very like a place name, but Kenny Loggins admitted later he made up the port and that it belonged to a 'fantasy island' of his imagination), The Searchers show off their arranging genius by adding all sorts of interesting ideas into this track to keep it moving. The song starts with a lonely accordion, the band kick in for the second verse, add in a power-pop chorus, a middle eight featuring steel drums and all sorts of exotic rhythms and finally a play out guitar duel featuring McNally and Pender sparring like never before. Yes the lyrics are a little silly (the narrator nearly gets court-martialled for a mad night out getting drunk with native girls), but the chorus is catchy and the band are in their element, especially Mike who excels at this sort of 'character' song (he should have got into musicals when he left The Searchers!) The result is a triumph, a fan favourite that's regularly used as the 'grand finale' of the better Searchers compilations around (the ones that don't simply end when the hits run out) and which became the band's last ever charting hit (even though a UK peak outside the top 100 is hardly a just reward for a recording this good). Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999) and 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

B-side [130] 'Madmen' is a group original credited to the three 'original' Searchers still in the band, with Pender's name listed first (a usual 'clue' as to who chief writer was) but curiously with Allen singing lead. A fun but rather slight slinky blues song with a catchy catchy repetitive repetitive chorus chorus where everything is repeated twice twice, it's the kind of thing that's either the best or the worst thing you've ever heard depending on how sober sober/drunk drunk you are. Lyrically this is a song about a cute girl the narrator met in Holland, Holland and flew out to New York, New York only to find out that she couldn't have been more opposite to him: dressed in white she even looks like a 'negative' of him. Both halves of the couple leave, declaring each other to be the 'madman', although in truth they're simply polar opposites (summed up by the by now rather dated phrase 'it's a drag she wasn't in my bag, oh no!') A nice gritty guitar track is almost punk, while the band play particularly well together here, with new drummer Colin Blunt at his best on these slower sleepier songs. Find it on: 'Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999)

        Non-Album Recordings Part #12: 1974

The Searchers had high hopes for [131] 'Solitaire'. Casting round for a song, they asked Neil Sedaka (by 1974 also a little down on his luck) if he had anything that might be suitable for them. They weren't too keen on the dated 1950s stuff Sedaka played them down the phone but they instantly fell for this glossy ballad, which gave Pender a lyric he could get his teeth into and some of that good old fashioned Searchers 'slow growing' crescendo in the middle. Sedaka even recorded the band a 'proper' full band demo, now sadly lost, which he recorded at Stockport's Strawberry Studios with the studio's 'local band' playing everything (little did everyone involved know that this studio band would turn out to be 10cc, weeks away from their breakthrough 'hit' with 'Donna'). The band were characteristically rushed and Pender didn't give quite the performance he was capable of (this is less 'Needles and Pins', more his sloppier re-recordings with his solo band), but nevertheless The Searchers were a good 80% of the way to a classic single which, with the right budget, could have been their 'comeback' song. After all, Sedaka's unusually sensitive lyric about a lonely man playing solitaire with his life as well as his with his cards touches a deeper nerve than his usual material and has a smashing power pop chorus. As the first group to pick up on it, a year after Sedaka's album track original (as taped with help by AAA band 10cc as it happens), The Searchers should have had a smash hit. But RCA didn't agree and released this song merely as the B-side of their favoured song 'Spicks and Specks' (at least until RCA discovered 'Solitaire' was getting all the airplay but by the time they turned the single round and re-promoted it, it was too late). Time proved The Searchers' instincts right: both Andy Williams and The Carpenters had top 20 hits with this song and were partly responsible for putting Sedaka back vaguely on the pedestal he'd enjoyed twenty years earlier. And if Neil Sedaka could do it then why not The Searchers? Another frustrating lost opportunity. Find it on:' Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[132] 'Spicks and Specks' was the 'breakthrough' song for The Bee Gees, although given that the band were only releasing singles in their adopted homeland of Australia at the time this song has become better known through copious cover versions rather than the real thing. Australia always took to The Searchers more than most countries (the band were 'special' there rather than just part of the 'British Invasion' lumped together - the same way Germany really love The Hollies and rate them on a par with The Beatles, America really loves The Moody Blues and The Beach Boys are actually bigger in Britain than they were in America) and toured there often -n which might be where they picked up on this song (still fairly rare in Europe and America at the time). It's clearly an 'early' song - Barry Gibb wrote it without his brothers (who were not quite in their teens at the time) and is one of those songs that tried to get by with a lot of huffing and puffing and a surreal lyric. However The Searchers improve on the original by losing the slightly gauche teeth-filled smiles of the Bee Gees' version and going for raw power, emphasising the angry guitar riff that's just part of the furniture in the original. Alas, Pender is pushed well out of his vocal range and ends up shouting rather than singing the lyrics, the recording only really coming to life in the middle when the song quietens down and Pender sings more sweetly, against an orchestra. The result is a little odd, but it's nice to at least hear the band doing something different to an established song (even if 'established' in this case means 'Down Under'). Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

Am I allowed to simply write 'what the?' for one of these reviews? You see [133] ? 'Bite It Deep' is one of those songs I'm not sure I quite understand - or want to. Life is an apple, so take a deep bite - and if your Eve is giving a bite to your Adam then forget all that incident in the Bible: 'if the apple is sweet then bite it deep!' Umm Ok. Personally I don't get the whole deal with apples: most are sour anyway, not sweet and to be honest the risk of snakes is more trouble than it's worth (it was a brave Christian who ate the first apple post-Bible; how come it took two thousand years for them to waive their protests over opening shops on the Sabbath ie Sunday - which gets a brief mention - but eating apples is fine, despite the fact the incident in the Garden of Eden is returned to by so many of the prophets who make up the Old Testament?) The Searchers might be being daring here - after all if the apple is a 'metaphor' for sin and lust then they're basically telling us to ignore our conscience and go ahead anyway. However they don't sound leery so much as dreary - this is a silly song that no one quite knows how to play. Mercifully left unreleased at the time, this sounds suspiciously like an unfinished recording (Pender muffs up his words at one point early on). The packaging for the song's first official release in 1999 says that the author is 'unknown' - which sounds less like a case of poor research and more a case of protecting the guilty parties from the loss of respect this would cause (for the record, this must surely be a Searchers original - it has their 'flavour' in this period, guitar riff and catchy chorus and all). Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

[134] 'Indigo Spring' is another originally unreleased song that's rather better. Slower but more thoughtful, a weary Pender tells his girl that her constant misery is getting on his nerves, offering the rather odd advice 'Look at the sun, you're not the only one going through it!' An echo-drenched Allen and McNally ooh and aah their way through the backing, softening Pender's increasingly bitter lead vocal. The melody cleverly reflects the narrator's turbulent state of mind, suddenly breaking off into new areas and going from laidback weariness to angry snapping in the blink of an eye. It's another of those hold-on-to-your-seat songs in other words, hard to listen to if heard in the background but great if you have the time to get into it. Alas the song runs out of ideas after two verses and badly needs a middle eight to truly bore its way into the memory. Still, this song should most definitely have been released in 1974 (or thereabouts): it's a fairly strong and much more Searchers-like song than some of the others recorded for RCA. Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

[135] 'I Really Don't Have The Time' is an oddly nasty song, again credited to 'unknown' (perhaps to rescue somebody's reputation!) Pender growls out the lyric which concerns a girl whose clearly head over heels in love with the narrator but he doesn't want to know - turning her down not because he dislikes her or feels nothing for her but because he's a little bit busy. A rather odd backing, mixed awfully low, sounds as if it's playing in another room, although that might perhaps hint at the 'complexities' in the song and all that suppressed emotion that's really going on behind the surface. This song is just too unlikeable for that to work, though, with Pender's vocal pushed past it's natural limit and a melody full of wide awkward angles and some pretty sniping lyrics. RCA were probably right to leave this one in the vaults the first time around. Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

[136] 'Think Of My Life' is another song that sounds as if it exists simply to break The Searchers' mould rather than because it's a 'good' song (once again it was left in the vaults and credited to 'anonymous' when finally released on CD in 1999). An awkward, heavier sound (but one that's dry and brittle, very unlike the gloriously echo-filled claustrophobic singles from 1965) doesn't really suit the band, although in another universe McNally would have made a fine heavy metal guitarist. Interestingly Blunt's drums are spot on the money: most drummers 'over-play' slow and gloomy songs like these but his increase the tension (he really was mis-cast in this band, who don't usually play like this). A nice use of dynamics in the middle brightens the sound up, the band dropping down to just Pender's vocal and guitar before taking off again for a rattled solo, but otherwise this is the 'wrong' sound for The Searchers who sound a bit lost here. The lyrics don't really say much except to add that the narrator is in nostalgic mood, lyrics about 'hiding' from his 'woman' and 'riding on a subway train' hinting that he's done a runner and left his family at home. That might explain the angst and tension of the song too, although a more conciliatory couple of verses suggests that the pair might still get back together ('I've loved other girls - but none like you!') Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999),  

The nicely retro two-minute cover of David Gates'  [137] 'Don't Shut Me Out' might not be as deep as the best recordings from this era but proves that The Searchers could still make a great simple rock-band noise when the occasion demanded it. A snappy, funky guitar riff makes for a catchy chorus before making way for a slower, more meaningful verse: one of the Bread founder's better examples of his much-used template in fact. The Searchers sound like they're having fun on this one, perhaps enjoying the similarity between the song's message with what they want to say to both record company and fans: 'Don't, don't shut me out, shut me out of your li-i-ife!' Had the band gone more in this direction for their two 'new wave' era albums rather than recording so many ballads they'd have found a whole new audience - sadly this song was relegated to the vaults for 25 odd years despite it's obvious worth. Find it on: Second Take - The Complete RCA Recordings' (1999), and 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)


Non-Album Recordings Part #13: 1981

At the end of 1981 The Searchers also recorded what was first a standalone single in [  ] 'Love's Melody', which then ended up being the 'title track' for a re-launch of the 'Play For Today' record. Nobody bought this version either sadly, but there's no doubting that 'Love's Melodies' serves as a better title and that this song is also a welcome album track. The band's chiming guitars sound good behind Pender's slightly over-falsettoed lead and I could imagine this song being a hit just for it's pretty chord changes, though it's not that deep as Searchers songs go. The narrator and his girl fall in love while the melody is playing 'for you and me' as if they're the only people that matter - ropey idea salvaged by a good tune and The Searchers finally grasping, late on in the sessions, how to update their traditional sound for the 1980s. That third Sire Searchers album really might have been the best one after all...  Find it On: 'The Sire Sessions' (1997)

The last ditch effort by The Searchers on 'Sire' was the third single 'Another Night'. Perhaps sensing that it might be a while before they got the chance to record again, The Searchers went back into the studio to record one last song for release as a B-side that barely anybody heard. In typical Searchers style, it's by far the best thing they ever did for the label: [ ] 'Back To The War, a catchy song that makes good use of the old trademarks but also starts to make sense of the synthesisers as part of the band sound too. Better yet, it's an old fashioned protest song of the sort that everyone except The Searchers were making in the 1960s. John Hiatt's song starts off with the line 'you're different from me' as the lyrics go on to both look at the reasons for war and use it as an extended metaphor for two lovers going their separate ways. It's unusually aggressive for The Searchers, with lines like 'those bullets in the park, those rendezvous after dark- somebody has to bleed' but as we've been saying quite often in this book that aggression suits The Searchers' style well: those slashing Rickenbacker chords, that endless bouncy energy, that sense of hidden darkness and melancholy there in all The Searchers' best songs (from 'Needles and Pins' to 'Goodbye My Love'). Mike sings one of the best vocals of his career, a mixture of war weary and triumphant as he sarcastically asks to stop the lovey-dovey stuff and get back to fighting ('That's what we're here for!) If the two Sire albums had been more like this one this book would run for another hundred or so pages and have another half-dozen albums in the discography at least. Sadly, in another Searchers tradition, it was all a bit too late. Find it On: 'The Sire Sessions' (1997)



Non-Album Recordings Part #14: 1982/1983

'I've got a sinking feeling this isn't how it should be...Maybe we should call it a day!' The Searchers return to their old paymasters at Pye, their Rickenbackers between their legs, as they reflect on the end of yet another record contract without the success they wanted on one more single. On [  ] 'I Don't Want To Be The One' the band were paired with producer John Verity for six more recordings in total, half an LP, of which only this A side and it's B-side were released at the time. Lead singer on both songs Mike Pender, especially, sounds fed up by now but The Searchers still have the presence of mind to put together a last cracking commercial single, dressed far more suitably in the clothes of trendy young 1980s things than most of their Sire sessions. Though written by a heavy metal pioneer in songwriter Steve Thompson, the song is a suitable vehicle for The Searchers, with lots of space for Rickenbacker guitars (albeit a bit more flashily than in the days of old) and a power-pop chorus. Lyrically, as seen, it's also a highly revealing choice for a band who know they're on the last throw of the dice pretty much, the narrator admitting that he knows a break is about to happen and things can't go on as they are, but he doesn't want to be the first one to mention it. Tensions in the band were reaching a peak around here, with Pender fed up at the idea that The Searchers were likely to end up an oldies act back on the cabaret circuit again. Though he won't quit for another three years yet, this is - ominously given the lyric - from his last recording session as a Searcher after a quarter century or so in the band. 'Is this really the way it used to be?' the song ends, 'Has the times changed - or is it me?' It won't surprise anyone to learn that this single, released by Pye more out of a sense of duty than with the promotion it needed to be a hit, was another in a long line of undeserving flops. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003) or 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

B-side [  ] 'Hollywood' continued the theme of disillusionment with fame and reveals that both John and Frank were feeling fed up as well. They only sing back-up, though, behind one last great glittering soaring Mike Pender lead as the singer informs us 'it ain't the same, though the late show's good!' A typical song about the traps of fame, from a band who can barely remember what those were, it sports a narrator who used to be a big star but is now a near-nobody. He can't believe those who tell him that he was a star 'only yesterday' when for him it seems a whole lifetime ago. A second verse covers the story of a young girl whose on her way up, anxiously waiting for the phone to ring with offers and The Searchers lend a protective era. Only a slightly over-bearing drum part from Billy Adamson gets in the way of one of the band's finest productions in some time and an original song that, in true Searchers style, may actually be better than the A side, though in truth both sides are much under-rated by fans. Find it on: 'The 40th Anniversary Collection' (2003)

The Searchers intended releasing a follow-up to 'One', another Steve Thompson pop-rocker named [  ] 'Innocent Victim' and taped it during the same sessions - sessions they hoped would grow into a full-length album. However Pye decided not to risk a second single after seeing the first one sink without trace and instead 'Innocent Victim' became a sadly rather aptly named casualty of yet more record company oversight. Though less memorable and Searchersy than 'One', with some awful 1980s saxophone squealing in the solo, it might have been just what the band needed to restore them to the charts by virtue of sounding more like period pop than The Searchers had since about 1964. Mike sings the hell out of this noisy tune and his guitar howls like he's auditioning for Guns and Roses. You wouldn't want every song to sound like this, but it's too good for the vaults, receiving its first release a full decade after it was taped. Find it on: 'The 30th Anniversary' (1992) and 'The 40th Anniversary' (2003)

Frank takes a rare vocal on his own song [  ] 'Good Way To Fall', an unusual country-rocker turned into pop. It sounds like something Shania Twain would go on to have a big hit with, but with Frank's less than perfect lead (it could be a guide vocal to be fair - we don't how 'finished' these recordings are), a slightly histrionic backing and a melody that's naggingly like something else, it probably didn't stand the same chances of success as some of the other songs. Frank's narrator tells us not to be worried if we tried to tell someone we loved them - it's better than 'never saying anything at all' and even if it gets rejected it's better to have loved and lost etc etc. He sneakily urges us to deny all knowledge if we write love letters to our beloved and get told 'no!' Likeable, but peculiar, this song would have made for an interesting album track but this, too, was held back for some ten years. Find it on: 'The 30th Anniversary' (1992)

Outtake 'In The Heat Of The Night' isn't quite up to the same standards and is probably the weakest of the six, though it still sounds good enough for release. It's something of an experiment to go all-out with a full synth-heavy 1980s pop feel (which, in a strange mirror of the 1960s, is almost identical to what The Hollies were doing at the same time), but don't let that put you off: it's probably more palatable than the half-sound of the Sire records. Pender gets a chance to go a bit more OTT than the band's old recordings ever allowed, while swapping the Rickenbackers for the synths give this song an unusual, creepy feeling. However the chorus, in which Pender promises 'we're going to make hot lurrrrrv in the heat of the night' do step rather far over the line. The majority of fans have never heard this song anyway, with the track making a surprise first appearance on the band's box set some thirty years after it was recorded. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

[  ] 'New Heart' is a bit odd too starting out horrid but ending up quite nice thanks to an unexpected dart down a minor key. Mike seems to think he's Hazel O'Connor  starring in 'Breaking Glass' and sings very oddly and aggressively as he promises that he's going to 'break a new heart'. 'You're going to remember me someday!' he cackles as much to the music audience back home as the lover in the song on one of his last recorded vocals with The Searchers. Thankfully the song is saved by Billy Adamson's inventive sound effect drumming (this is by his starring moment during his twenty years with the group) and some unusual new wave sound keyboard sound effects that turns the band into something akin to 'The Pet Searchers Boys'. They really should have released this one - if only because I'm intrigued whether it would have found a new audience and whether everyone would have loved it, or not. I fear not, but kudos to the band for at least understanding what the modern pop market had changed into, which is more than most of their contemporaries did. Find it on: 'The 30th Anniversary' (1992)

Non-Album Recordings Part #15: 2012

To end the 50th anniversary box set, The Searchers chose to include some recent live recordings of songs the band had been doing for a while but which had joined their setlists since the last official recording sessions in 1989. These songs thus became the first 'new' recordings the band had made in some twenty-three years, although any fan whose seen the band in concert in the past decade will know the songs well. [  ] 'Every River' is a nice souvenir, a country and western song by Kim Richey that was a surprise hit for Brooks and Dunn in 2002. I say surprise because the song sounded very out of kilter with its boyband pop times, being a very retro and 1960s sounding song from the heart. The Searchers were a band born to cover the song, spicing it up with a lovely melancholic Rickenbacker part and Spencer's voice was always a better fit for the band's more reflective, introverted material than the 'shouty' songs and he does the song a great service here. A sad song about how inspiration will always dry up like every river eventually will, the lyrics also try to put a happy spin on things by claiming that people in love can delay the inevitable for longer. The narrator admits that one day he might fall out of love with his girl, his mountains will crumble and his waters evaporate - but that just makes him more thankful for what he's got now. The end result sounds not unlike Byrd Gene Clark, what with the country lilt and ringing guitars and deeply depressed lyrics - which is a massive compliment, as anyone whose read our AAA book will know. The live recording is a little bit muted, though, and clearly not done to the same professional standard as the 'studio' tracks - let's hope the band get a chance to record the 'definitive' version of this lovely song sometimes soon. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)

The sound is better for [  ] 'Seven Nights To Rock' on what sounds suspiciously like a studio recording despite the credits listing this as 'live' again and some applause at the very end. John McNally - on his first lead vocal since 1965 - has actually never sounded better, having 'grown' into his voice. Admittedly this is a very silly song, an early rock and roll standards recorded as early as 1956 by 'Moon' Mullican though general music fans tend to know Bruce Springsteen's cover better.  The song is a nice chance for The Searchers to let their hair down near the end of a gig and have a bit of fun after so many intense songs in the set, while the in-joke is that out of all the bands in the 1960s The Searchers were probably the least likely to be partying seven nights of the week (especially after Tony and Chris left!), while John has long been pegged (a little unfairly, but that's labels for you) as the band's quietest member. It's the sort of thing you can hear done by any pub band up and down the country, but admittedly only the good pub bands and makes for a worthy encore to the band's first half century. Find it on: 'Hearts In Their Eyes' (2012)


More Searchers articles from this site:



‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-searchers-sounds-like-searchers-1965.html

'Take Me For What I'm Worth' (1965)  http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-5-searchers-take-me-for-what-im.html

'Play The System' (B sides and rarities) (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-89-searchers-play-system-1988.html