Psychedelic Skeletons in the Closet–The Searchers
Psychedelic Skeletons in the Closet–The Searchers
Everybody who made a record before 1967 has a bad psychedelic moment. The Searchers had four really good ones and one so awful it didn’t even carry their name on the label. Don’t worry, we’ll get to them all. But first an appreciation.
How fitting that The Searchers tagged themselves after the brooding Comanche hunters of the John Ford film classic—if ever a British Invasion band sounded like they’d seen their village burned to the ground and their kin scalped one too many times, it was The Searchers. It’s no stretch to suggest that songs like “Four Strong Winds” and “What Have They Done to the Rain” could’ve been plopped over the soundtrack of that movie and even the hippie-hating Duke wouldn’t have minded.
Who could object to four smooth lead vocalists, dripping with a determination to suffer quietly? Not even our precious Beatles (who always had to make excuses for Ringo) could boast four peerless harmonies and an almost Herculean lack of humor, both of which made the Searchers seem like serious adversaries to the mad moptops. Here was sensitivity you were never going to find in The Swinging Blue Jeans or The Undertakers. So believable was the Searches’ poker-faced delivery that no one ever questioned the reason why Mike Pender and Chris Curtis added an extra syllable to “Needles and Pins” to accommodate the added distress. The better to think that someone were puncturing Searchers voodoo dolls just around the corner, making it necessary to sigh “Needles and Pins…aaah!” Only the Zombies could grieve more morosely, but since Rod Argent and company passed themselves off as academicians, it was always felt that an invigorating chess match might draw them out of their gloom.
Joviality never looked right on the Searchers. Just listen to “Bumble Bee” from 1965 and it evokes the guy at the party desperately telling a joke wrong. Their biggest US hit, surprisingly, was a 1963 cover of The Clovers’ laff riot “Love Potion Number Nine,” which, in the hands of The Searchers, seemed the product of men psychologically scarred by not having a date since 1956, kissing a cop on 34th and Vine and then suffering said lawman’s rejection on top of that.
At least someone in power had the good sense to change the band’s name to Pasha to insure that the group’s nadir, “Somebody Shot the Lollipop Man”, might possibly never turn up on a Searchers’ discography.
Graciously dubbed by the Beatles as their “favorite Liverpool group” when “Needles and Pins” knocked a saturated “I Want to Hold Your Hand” out of the UK top spot. In fact, the Fabs were giving props to the Searchers as late as May 1965. When the single “Help” was released, George Harrison told Melody Maker the octave leap on the chorus was “a Chris Curtis falsetto part”. But by mid-1965, it was The Searchers who now needed “Help” in oh so many ways. Once the Byrds bought a twelve-string and started covering Pete Seeger and Jackie DeShannon tunes, The Searchers secret code was as good as cracked.That leads us to:
Searchers Psychedelic Skeleton No. 1
“Have You Ever Loved Somebody” (late 1966)
It probably went unnoticed when Chris Curtis, the most active song seeker in the group, also left to be an A&R man, taking with him a song pitched to him by the Hollies’ Graham Nash. When the Searchers heard the version of “Have You Ever Loved Somebody” with fuzzy guitars Curtis produced with Paul and Berry Ryan, they went head-to-head in a chart battle that benefited no one. This time it was personal, with Curtis dismissing using the music papers to grade his former group’s attempt as “icky,” hardly a word one would expect to come from a Searcher.
Click to hear The Searchers’ “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”
Searchers Psychedelic Skeleton No. 2
“Popcorn Double Feature” (early 1967)
Rather late in the game and with one year of cabaret gigs under its belt, the group and producer Tony Hatch (who in retrospect saved all his really far out instrumentation for Petula Clark), stepped up the production on its 1967 single “Popcorn Double Feature”. Despite being the grooviest song the band ever attempted, its sinister sawing cellos, housewife strings and hip lingo (“Everybody’s going through changes/Everybody’s got a bag of their own…” What? Of popcorn?), it failed to change any chart anywhere.
Click to hear “Popcorn Double Feature”
Searchers Psychedelic Skeleton No. 3
“Western Union” (early 1967)
Miffed about being ahead of their time three years ago, their 45 rpm chart failure drove the Searchers to release a cover version of a song by The Five Americans— Byrds soundalikes, for crying out loud! To their credit, they replaced the Farfisa solo with a guitar that sounded like an electric eel was being agitated with a stick.
Searchers Psychedelic Skeleton No. 4
“Second Hand Dealer” (early 1967)
The Searches’ official response to Sgt. Pepper came in November, a jaunty self-penned, self-produced Kinks styled number called “Second Hand Dealer” which would’ve been welcome anytime before but seemed somewhat under the mark now. This tasteful ode about a lonely junk shop peddler who goes unnoticed in his dying days was not unlike the Searchers‘ last months at Pye Records. A belated attempt at humor, it contains quite a bit of slapstick for the poor pawn broker.
“Trips on a bucket/ Knocks a cuckoo clock onto the floor / Leans on a table which collapses and falls right into the door of a cupboard”
Might’ve been a lot funnier if he didn’t also fall, break his neck and die friendless, trying to outrun Eleanor Rigby in the pitiable sweepstakes.
Click to hear “Second Hand Dealer” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCtEQaaiAAM&feature=related
Searchers Psychedelic Skeleton No. 5
“Somebody Shot the Lollipop Man” (1969)
It was left for the group to finish out the Sixties on Liberty, dragging The Searchers’ name through the mud with such atrocious records like “Kinky Kathy Abernathy” and passable sunshine pop like “Umbrella Man”. At least someone in power had the good sense to change the band’s name to Pasha to insure that the group’s nadir, “Somebody Shot the Lollipop Man”, might possibly never turn up on a Searchers’ discography.
What starts out with heavy drums, bongos, and fuzzy guitars and what might be trippy lyrics if developed: (“I used to pass him on the corner / The little man with the strawberry smile” quickly devolves into a faux African novelty number about a jolly murder in the bad bubblegum music part of town.
Click to hear “Somebody Shot the Lollipop Man” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3JFMaFbNp8&feature=related