The Searchers – When You Walk In The Room
6 x CD/DL
Released 29th March 2019
Huge boxset subtitled “The Complete Pye Recordings” which does exactly what it says on the tin, containing five albums in both stereo and mono versions plus a sixth disc which mops up all the EP and single sides. LTW’s Ian Canty hears the exciting sound of early 60s Beat music turn into something that paved the way for Folk Rock and Power Pop to come.
Named after the famous Western movie, The Searchers roared out of Liverpool with a live reputation that had some putting them ahead of scene leaders the Beatles on stage at least. With similar Skiffle-based roots to the Lennon and McCartney mob, founder members John McNally and Mike Pender (previously known as Michael Prendergast) were eventually joined by bassist Tony Jackson and drummer Chris Curtis by 1960. They had operated as a five piece with singer Johnny Sandon, but when he fled for the Remo Four, Jackson became the band’s main vocalist.
The band enjoyed a sojourn in Hamburg playing the fabled Star Club and regularly appeared at Merseybeat HQ the Cavern and also the Iron Door venue. It was a recording that was made at the latter club that found its way to Pye Records and word of their hot form in the concert halls and clubs probably played a large part in them being signed to the label too. This also instituted an alliance with Tony Hatch, an ambitious young producer with the company. It was to be a fruitful partnership.
When their debut single Sweets For My Sweet (originally a hit for the Drifters) topped the UK charts, the Searchers had arrived with a bang. The Meet The Searchers album followed in quick succession and this record managed to conjure up a lot of the excitement of the band’s live act and Merseybeat in general. It reached the number two position in the UK charts and is on the whole a very pleasing collection. Though not really an issue at the time, one area of concern was that the platter was entirely made up of cover versions. But at the time most bands recorded a fair amount of outside material, with the first two Beatles’ LPs having quite a few covers and the Rolling Stones debuted a year later with a self-titled record consisting mainly of other people’s songs. The problem of not having a built-in songwriting team would only increase for the Searchers as things went on, but for now it didn’t seem to matter quite so much.
Apart from a fairly sappy take of the old Folk number Where Have All The Flowers Gone, Meet The Searchers was pretty much wall to wall groovy Beat fun. A great version of Father John certainly would have set the cool cats shimmying and Money and Twist And Shout were both strong enough to go toe to toe with the Fabs’ attempts. A smart reading of The Clovers’ Love Potion Number 9 would later climb to number three on the US charts and the cheeky Tricky Dicky is a good one too.
Overall this is a top quality example of early British Beat Music. I prefer the mono version on this disc and probably throughout When You Walk In The Room if I’m honest – after all that was how the original records sounded in the UK. On this disc no stereo takes were found for Da Do Ron Ron (“somebody told me that her name was Jill” indeed!) or Where Have All The Flowers Gone, but the other LPs have the entire albums replicated in stereo and mono. This disc is rounded off with some foreign language versions including a French It’s All Been A Dream, credited to drummer Curtis.
So far, so good for the Searchers, though Hatch and Pye were soon demanding a quick follow up to Sweets For My Sweet. Hatch worked a flanker on the band by pretending that Sugar And Spice, a virtual clone of the first single, was written by someone called Fred Nightingale. In fact it was all Hatch’s own work. The band were nonplussed by the song, but still recorded it and Hatch was proved correct to an extent as the single nestled at number 2 in the charts.
Much like Sugar And Spice single, the identically titled second LP was not quite at the level of the first. Having said that, this album did have quite a lot to recommend about it and often the Searchers’ irrepressible drive saw them through the stickier moments. They do a good job on Hungry For Love, the Gordon Mills song I first heard by the Revillos on their debut single and Unhappy Girls is a real groover. There’s plenty of tough attitude on show and the flow of punchy numbers is only stemmed by a few the slower items like another Folk pick All My Sorrows. Their version of the John Jerome song Cherry Stones even seems to pre-empt Neil Hefti’s the Batman Theme a little!
The next single marked a sea change in the band. Recognising that another go at the Sweets For Me Sweet template might be over-egging the pud, they cast around for something a bit different. They settled on the Sonny Bono/Frank Nitzche song Needles and Pins. Tony Jackson had sung the two hits and most of the album tracks so far, but his more raw voice didn’t really suit this song, so Mike Pender stepped into the void with drummer Chris Curtis providing sensitive backing.
This record single returned the band to the top of the charts and in effect helped to kickstart their move to something resembling embryonic Folk Rock. The following Don’t Throw Your Love Away followed the same vocal format with similar success, which confirmed the Searchers as one of the biggest bands in the UK by the middle of 1964. This set the stage for the third LP It’s The Searchers, which saw Jackson’s role decrease further with only one song Sho ‘Know Enough About Love having his vocal featured prominently. Part of the reason was the Searchers needing to move away from the Merseybeat sound that was two years old, but also they had not been a happy camp for some time despite the onstage smiles. By the summer he would be on his way, the decreased role leading inevitably to his exit. Frank Allen, late of Cliff Bennett And The Rabble Rousers, came in to replace him. Allen would stay with the band right up to the present day.
So disc three collects the It’s The Searchers LP, two foreign language version (which gave me a chance to road test my CSE in German on Needles And Pins) and a couple of tracks I (Who Have Nothing) and Shame, Shame, Shame which were recorded during album sessions but not released at the time. This one is ultimately a satisfying album, but three platters in there was still no sign of a original composition. No doubt hectic recording and live schedules played a part, but most every band of the time had to put in the same work rate and still were managing to create some of their own tunes. Drummer Chris Curtis had written a couple of b-sides and had become something of a leader – his development as a songwriter would offer something to the band in the near future.
It’s The Searchers did feature a change of emphasis though, with a less hectic pace replacing the frantic “club” feel of their previous waxings. The guitars jangled nicely and were allied to piano and drums becoming more prominent in the mix. This presented a lighter, poppier record which at least offered the band some hope of a future in the rapidly changing music scene of the mid-60s. They do throw a little of Twist And Shout into lead off track It’s In Her Kiss, but that’s about it for glances back. Livin’ Lovin’ Wreck is fresh proto-Folk Rock and the speedy Shimmy Shimmy could make the departed dance. I Count The Tears is a good and gritty R&B/Soul rocker and they do a nice version of Mod favourite Hi Heel Sneakers. Needles And Pins glistens and the second number one on this LP Don’t Throw Your Love Away is a nice and gentle semi-ballad.
By the time next LP Sounds Like The Searchers was released it was 1965 and Merseybeat seemed some distance away in the past. The Searchers were inextricably linked to it and really needed to set a stamp some distance away from that sound as to not come over as yesterday’s men, despite their continuing commercial success. Their last single of 1964 was key in establishing something new. What Have They Done To The Rain, an anti-nuclear Folk song originally written and performed by Malvina Reynolds, wasn’t the big hit hoped for in the UK or US. But the arrangement the band gave it was highly influential, with many acts on both sides of the Atlantic taking up the baton for the Folk Rock sound this single spearheaded, including most importantly the Byrds.
However when album number four arrived, it was shorn of all the recent singles sides. Also, for the first time on a Searchers LP, it featured three self-penned tracks. Sharp guitar and vocal interplay is a feature of LP opener Everybody Come And Clap Your Hands, the song’s Brill Building origins not hampering the lively treatment it is given. Curtis’ sweet If I Could Find Someone follows, a more than decent effort that is able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the more heavyweight writers on show. I Don’t Want To Go On Without You is a little old-fashioned, but with strings and harmony vocals it eschews the band format almost completely and shows ambition at least.
On the other hand, something like Bumble Bee is pure dumb fun, bordering on a Surf beat. They manage to pop a Garage-sounding organ into old Rock & Roll favourite Let The Good Times Roll and Jackie DeShannon is again the provider with her Till You Say You’ll Be Mine being given a little Beat combo power under the string arrangement, resulting a good and novel mix. In the home straight we get the final two Chris Curtis numbers which are both pretty good, with You Wanna Make Her Happy having a satisfying ringing guitar sound being followed by the fast-paced but still relatively gentle Folk Pop of Everything You Do. The album ends with another dip into the Brill songbook, Goodnight Baby, a dreamy piece of harmony Pop.
The band’s fierce work-ethic meant that is was only 9 months before the next Searchers album and their final effort for Pye, Take Me For What I’m Worth. Released in time for Christmas 1965, it was unlikely that it wound up wrapped up under many trees at Yuletide, seeing as it was their first LP to miss the charts entirely. The contents were certainly not at fault – though were running out of time as chart act, this album is rewarding listening all the way through and for me their best long player.
It’s probably one of my flights of fancy, but listening opening track I’m Ready I’m put in mind of the Beatles’ nostalgic look back to their Rock & Roll roots near the end of their lifespan. Some lovely touches of guitarwork feature, an experimental coda to You Can’t Lie To A Liar and the neat R&B rumble of I’m Your Loving Man catching the ear. Each Time, another one from the pen of the prolific DeShannon, presages Power Pop and I’ll Be Doggone (previously performed by Marvin Gaye) is a real soulful ace. A really strong record, the Searchers must have seen the writing on the wall when it stiffed.
Chris Curtis left the band early in 1966 and a couple minor hits during the same year was their chart farewell. The band plugged on and released a couple of well-received albums in 1979-81 The Searchers and Love’s Melodies on Sire which put the band head to head with the Power Pop acts they inspired. A continuing presence ever since on the live circuit, they’ve decided to hang up their 12 strings at the end of March 2019.
The final disc here, entitled Take It Or Leave It, mops up the single and EP sides not released on any of the Pye albums. It features breakneck Merserybeat stompers like b-side Saturday Night, light Psych delights as Popcorn Double Feature (later recorded by the Fall who nearly got the words right) and their first self-penned single He’s Got No Love. The Searchers were a very consistent band on the seven inch as this selection proves. Hearing their gleaming and heartfelt version of When You Walk In The Room will always remind me of a prized memory of my childhood, with it taking pride of place on my mum’s old Dansette on many an early 70s summer Sunday morning when the old 60s singles she collected were given a spin.
The irony is that after a pretty run of the mill go at the old Bobby Darin song When I Get Home, they went on a stellar run of 45 releases. Their commercial profile was at its lowest ebb, but both sides of their last five single releases for Pye were excellent, particular the final two Western Union/I’ll Cry Tomorrow and the Pop Sike classic Secondhand Dealer/Crazy Dreams.
This boxset is pretty much everything a Searchers fan could want – a full picture of their Pye years, nicely presented in a clamshell box with a handsome booklet that details their early career and is adorned with period photographs and single sleeve shots. The first album is great and exciting, Sounds Like The Searchers charts the moves that would influence Folk Rock and Power Pop in the future and Take Me For What I’m Worth is a truly satisfying and great record. The non-LP singles and EP disc works nicely as an alternative Greatest Hits for the band. As I type this, the Searchers are just playing their final gigs before retiring their name at the end of the month. They were perhaps one of the best interpreters of other people’s material to come out of the UK and very much deserving of a last hurrah and this fine boxset.
You can find The Searchers online here
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here