Wednesday, March 14, 2018


An infinite number of rockin' pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

THE SEARCHERS: "Hearts In Her Eyes"

Gerry & the Pacemakers. Billy J. Kramer. The Swinging Blue Jeans. In the early, heady days of Beatlemania, there was no shortage of competition vying for recognition as the second biggest act out of Liverpool.

The Searchers were viable contenders. With no disrespect intended to Gerry, Billy J., and those hippy-hippy shakin' Blue Jeans, I'd say The Searchers were Liverpool's finest combo outside of The Beatles themselves. The Searchers' c.v. includes a number of wonderful, wonderful records, from their debut single, a swoon-worthy cover of The Drifters' "Sweets For My Sweet," through their final British hit, a cover of The Hollies' "Have You Ever Loved Somebody." In 1964, their international smash cover of Jackie DeShannon's "Needles And Pins" presaged folk-rock the year before The Byrds would be credited for inventing that sound with "Mr. Tambourine Man." A buoyant cover of The Clovers' "Love Potion No. 9" was their biggest hit in the U.S. Covers of Joan Baez's "What Have They Done To The Rain," The Orlons' "Don't Throw Your Love Away," and Jackie DeShannon's "When You Walk In The Room" further enhanced The Searchers' rockin' pop resumé, contributing to a body of work that should rightly be considered among the best of the mid '60s.

You will notice the prevalence of cover songs in The Searchers' cavalcade o' tunes. The members of the group weren't prolific songwriters, so they relied heavily (if not quite entirely) upon outside sources for their material. When The Searchers weren't raiding old 45s for inspiration, professional song sellers provided the group with ace confections like "Sugar And Spice" and the grumpy (but cool) P. F. Sloan-penned "Take Me For What I'm Worth." Mick Jagger and Keith Richards shared The Rolling Stones' "Take It Or Leave It." These are all terrific cuts, regardless of who concocted the words and melodies.

The Searchers' line-up was not static. Originally formed in 1959, by the time of their recorded debut in '63 they were bassist Tony Jackson, guitarists Mike Pender and John McNally, and drummer Chris Curtis, all of whom sang. Jackson decided to search elsewhere in '64, replaced by Frank Allen. Curtis stayed until 1966, replaced initially by John Blunt, who left in 1970 as Billy Adamson took over the drum kit. The Pender-McNally-Allen-Adamson incarnation of The Searchers remained in place for fifteen years, 1970 to 1985. 

Hit records, however, were a thing of the past for The Searchers. "Desdemona" brushed the lower region of the U.S. Hot 100 in '71, the final time The Searchers would chart in America. The cabaret circuit beckoned. There was still an audience for "Needles And Pins" and "Sweets For My Sweet" in the supper clubs. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much.

Punk would seem to be an unlikely savior of The Searchers' fortunes. As The Sex Pistols sang of no future and The Clash yearned for a riot of their own, some within this new wave of rock 'n' roll eagerly acknowledged and embraced the rockin' pop sounds of the past. 

The Ramones covered "Needles And Pins." Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers--a group then widely considered at least a tangent to new wave--channeled The Searchers' sound in an original song called "Listen To Her Heart." The less nihilistic, more pop-minded acts within this broad not-really-a-movement admired and emulated the music of the British Invasion. The Searchers weren't among the most influence-checked bands--those accolades belonged to The Kinks and The Who--but nor were they without honor, without appreciation. More than a decade after needles, pins, and number 9 love potions brought them to fame and acclaim, The Searchers were part of the conversation of what was cool. Seymour Stein must have understood. Stein's label Sire Records--home of The Ramones--signed The Searchers in 1979. It was time for The Searchers to make another record.

The result was The Searchers, a lovely album released in 1979. The group wisely chose not to attempt to re-make themselves as new wave or something else that they were not, nor to pander to soulless, clueless nostalgia by remaking or imitating the Searchers sound of the '60s. This was simply a continuation, mature and contemporary, but not trendy. There was a Bob Dylan song, a Tom Petty song, a pub favorite by Mickey Jupp ("Switchboard Susan," best known from a then-recent cover by Nick Lowe). There were a couple of songs written by The Searchers.

And there was "Hearts In Her Eyes."

Like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Records were a new wave pop group that was proud to carry a '60s influence. They wrote some classic songs, made some terrific tracks, and should be considered immortal for "Starry Eyes," a tune deserving of its own separate moment as The Greatest Record Ever Made. The Records' John Wicks and Will Birch wrote "Hearts In Her Eyes" for The Searchers. And you'd be hard pressed to find a more perfect embodiment of the best of The Searchers.

Lyrically, "Hearts In Her Eyes" is...well, curious. The boy sings lovingly and admiringly of his girl--a pretty girl, I'm sure--who seems to practice serial hinge-heelededness. Like a kid in a toy shop/She can't stop/She wants all the boys/She's got hearts in her eyes. But the music is pure, pristine, irresistible, the folk rock of "Needles And Pins" and "Don't Throw Your Love Away" given power pop muscle, yet retaining The Searchers' familiar grace and charm. It explodes from speakers the way a rockin' pop song oughtta, and jangles with the delirious thrill of getting lost in the eyes, the lips, the arms, the heart of someone to love.

The Records--one of the best pop bands of this era--also recorded their own version of "Hearts In Her Eyes," and included it on their second album Crashes. I think I heard The Records' version before I heard The Searchers'. I love that album. and I loved The Records' rendition of "Hearts In Her Eyes." Once I heard The Searchers' take, there was no question that the lads from Liverpool owned the definitive version. The Searchers recorded one more album for Sire, 1981's Love's Melodies (aka Play For Today across the pond). This album was the equal of its predecessor, with ace material including covers of Big Star's "September Gurls" and John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night," and another Will Birch gem called "Everything But A Heartbeat," supplemented by a non-LP B-side written by John Hiatt. I remember calling up a rock station in Buffalo to request some Love's Melodies airplay; the DJ reacted as if I'd asked him to play Lawrence Welk.

After Love's Melodies, Sire pulled the plug on The Searchers' record deal. One regrets there wasn't more from this partnership, with The Searchers perhaps scoring some pop songs from fellow Sire stalwarts The Ramones and--especially!--The Flamin' Groovies, whose "You Tore Me Down" would have been awe-inspiring in the hands of Pender, McNally, Allen, and Adamson. One certainly regrets that The Searchers' Sire recordings didn't find the mass audience they deserved. If nothing else, "Hearts In Her Eyes" should have been playing in heavy rotation on every pop or rock radio station in the world. By now, it should be a beloved classic known and loved by everyone, not just by the relative handful of discerning fans who seek out and appreciate underground pop.

I had the great good fortune of seeing The Searchers play at a Buffalo nightclub in 1983 or thereabouts. They wore their suits, as if it were still 1964 and they'd be heading over to Hullabaloo! or The Ed Sullivan Show later. But it was emphatically not a nostalgia show. They played the old stuff. They played the recent stuff. "Bumble Bee." "Silver." "What Have They Done To The Rain." "Love's Melody." "Sugar And Spice." "Switchboard Susan." "Love Potion No. 9." "September Gurls." "Don't Throw Your Love Away." "Feeling Fine." "Sweets For My Sweet." "Everything But A Heartbeat." "Needles And Pins." "Hearts In Her Eyes."

The Searchers were in the moment. They played. Guitars chimed. Voices gathered force, harmonies filling the room with power and precision. Time abdicated its rule. The year didn't matter. Yesterday. Today. Right freaking now. The music was simply immortal. It was one of the best goddamned shows I will ever see.

Mike Pender left The Searchers within the next couple of years. The split has been described as...well, it's presumed there won't be any grand Searchers reunions likely in any of our lifetimes. The remaining Searchers soldiered on. John McNally and Frank Allen still perform together under the familiar name, and rival group Mike Pender's Searchers likewise continue to tell audiences of a rendezvous with Madame Ruth on Thirty-Fourth and Vine, feeling those needles and pins-ah, sweets for the sweet, sugar for the honey. 

I saw the Pender group several years ago. It would be unfair to compare that near-perfunctory oldies show to the sheer magic I'd witnessed when I saw The Searchers transcend expectations back in the early '80s. Man, why do oldies acts with a rich collection of their own cool tunes feel the need to pander? I don't go to see Paul Revere & the Raiders to hear Neil Diamond's "Coming To America." I don't wanna hear Gerry & the Pacemakers sing Lionel Richie. And I for damned sure didn't want to hear some act claiming to be The Searchers warblin' hits by Electric Light Orchestra, Bryan Adams, or the razzafrazzin' Eagles. I was about ready to walk out on Pender.

And then....

Well, I guess you can guess what song Pender surprised us by playing.

My lovely wife Brenda was standing in between me and Gary Frenay, bassist for The Flashcubes. Pender announced he and his boys were about to do a later Searchers number, a bit of a country-rock sort of thing (WTF...?!). As the unmistakable riff of "Hearts In Her Eyes" poured forth, Brenda was subjected to a delighted AHHHHHHHHH!!! in stereo, Gary and I both reacting with unfettered, unashamed glee. Much of Pender's show that night was forgettable. "Hearts In Her Eyes" was superb.

The Searchers are not in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. They have never been nominated, and I'm positive they never will be. They deserve the honor. They deserve some recognition. The group's original body of work in the '60s remains beguiling and essential, worthy of endless replay and enjoyment. And after all that, The Searchers came back in 1979 with something unexpected, something even greater than what had earned them hits during the British Invasion. Like kids in a toy shop, they never stopped. And they gave us The Greatest Record Ever Made.


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1 comment:

  1. Nice article.. Long Live The Searchers... my favorite era being the two Sire LPS you mention here. Cheers