The Searchers – The Very Best of . . .

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I am pretty sure I got this out of an interest in rock history. As such, I don’t really listen to it that much. But there is some good stuff here, and worth a spin every now and then. The Searchers were from Liverpool and got together in 1959. After some early reshuffling of members, the core lineup of Mike Pender, Tony Jackson, John McNally, and Chris Curtis emerged around 1962. They spent some time honing their skills in both their hometown and Hamburg. They had some chart success but were essentially over as a musical force by 1967 (if not earlier). Jackson died in 2003; Curtis in 2005.

What I Think of This Album

The Searchers were the early British version of the Byrds, including before the Byrds existed. That’s my take. The difference is that the Searchers mostly played covers (or at least, their hits were all covers), and thus they had a very flat artistic arc. Still, it’s nice to hear that jangle and those harmonies.

True, some of these covers come across as silly, like  “Love Potion No. 9” (which for reasons I don’t understand the Searchers titled as “Love Potion Number Nine”) and “Sweets for My Sweet.” This latter song (written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman) was a hit for the Drifters in 1961, while the former (a Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tune) charted for the Clovers in 1959. The Searchers also recorded “Sugar and Spice,” which is a ripoff of “Sweets” and is likewise very lightweight, though the Cryan’ Shames recorded a garage band version in 1966 that made it onto the Nuggets comp in 1972, which is the opposite of lightweight. Also, despite the tough, bluesy vocals – which, admittedly, I sort of like – “Ain’t That Just Like Me” is literally a medley of nursery rhymes. This song was also performed by the Coasters (1961) and the Hollies (1963, beating the Searchers by several months). If I’m being totally honest, “Bumble Bee” (by LaVern Baker – the second female solo artist to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) also is sort of cringey.

Most of the rest is more sophisticated and compelling. Someone displayed excellent taste in selecting Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk In the Room”. And it’s hard not to love “Needles and Pins,” a song that DeShannon herself recorded, and also claims to have co-written despite credit traditionally going to Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche. If you really pay attention, you can hear the bass drum pedal squeak at the beginning of the song (and maybe if you have better ears than me, throughout the rest of the track). 

“Needles and Pins” featured a 12-string sound that predated the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” by just over a year. But, this was achieved by double-tracking a six-string guitar. In any event, it is pretty clear that the riff that the Byrds used in “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” was pretty much lifted straight from the Searchers’ version of “Needles and Pins.”

Another excellent track is the cover of P.F. Sloan’s “Take Me for What I’m Worth.” They do a great job with “Don’t Throw Your Love Away,” and with protest song “What Have They Done to the Rain?” (written by Malvina Reynolds and also performed by Joan Baez and Marianne Faithful (not at the same time)). Also, there is a lot to like about “Someday We’re Going to Love Again,” originally performed by Barbara Lewis and written by Sharon McMahan.

The revolving door of vocalists helps make the collection more interesting than it might otherwise be (also true of the Hollies, actually). Bassist Tony Jackson took lead vocals on the early hits, like “Sugar,” “Sweets,” and “Love Potion.” But “Needles and Pins” and “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” were handled by guitarist Mike Pender (neé Prendergast). After Jackson left the band in 1964, they recruited Frank Allen (originally Frank McNeice), who took the mic for “When You Walk In the Room,” “Rain,” and “Take Me.” 

It is worth noting that the Searchers covered several songs written by women, which I am guessing was not the norm for bands in the early 1960s, so kudos to them for recognizing and popularizing those overlooked and unrewarded artists.

Also, the Searchers experienced a surprising resurgence in the late 1970s, when they were signed to Sire Records and released two albums that are reportedly very good:  The Searchers and Love’s Melodies (though this album was titled Play for Today in the UK). I am informed by the internet that these have never been released on CD in the US, though you can stream them . . . which I intend to do.

Trivia:  Drummer Chris Curtis (whose real last name was Crummey) has some fascinating connections to rock history. He replaced original Searchers drummer Norman McGarry, who left to join Rory Storm’s Hurricanes after that band’s drummer, one Ringo Starr, had been poached by the Beatles. When Curtis left the Searchers in 1966, he formed a band called Roundabout, and that group – which included Richie Blackmore – became Deep Purple (thought Curtis had been dismissed well before that).  

More trivia: Malvina Reynolds also wrote “Little Boxes,” a hit for Pete Seeger and which became the theme song for the show Weeds.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitar jangle and the harmonies, though I am very close to picking “Take Me for What I’m Worth.”

Release Date

2002

The Cover Art

Whatever. The blue looks good.

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