“Everything But a Heartbeat" /
Back at the height of the British Invasion, I knew the Searchers’ hits "Needles and Pins" and "Don't Throw Our Love Away." I even owned their cover of "Love Potion No. 9." (The single had an orange label; I can picture it still.) But by 1966, I never stopped to wonder what had become of them, the same way I didn't wonder about Gerry and the Pacemakers or Billy J. Kramer or any of the other
But on every British Invasion anthology I've bought over the past few years -- and I'm a sucker for British Invasion anthologies -- the Searchers really stand out from the pack. They've got a winning combination of crisp 12-string guitar and fat vocal harmonies, a sound that morphed over time from skiffle into folk-rock, even before there was such a thing. I never bought their albums back in the 1960s (had to save all my pennies for Beatles LPs) so when I finally ponied up for the 2-disc 40th Anniversary Collection, I was amazed at the depth of the Searchers' catalog.
Take their 1964 hit, “When You Walk In the Room,” a cover of a song by the seriously underrated Jackie De Shannon. (Note to self: Get hold of more Jackie DeShannon music.) What a well-crafted pop number it is. Verse 1: the singer describes his physical reaction to the girl walking into the room (“I can feel a new expression / On my face / I can feel a glowing sensation / Taking place.”). Verse 2: he drifts off and imagines what it would be like to be with her (“I see a summer’s night with a / Magic moon.”). Bridge: he admits he’s never had the nerve to talk to her. Verse 3: She appears again, and “Trumpets sound and I hear thunder boom / Every time that you [beat, beat, beat, beat] / Walk in the room.”
The percussion is all antsy snares and high-hats, and a jangly guitar hook keeps cutting through the mix, like the tingle of adolescent desire. Like the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” and the Kinks’ “Something Better Beginning,” this song just teeters on the threshold of teenage lust – fantastic.
And then lo and behold, I get to disc 2 of the collection, and I find out that the Searchers did not vanish from the scene in 1967, but continued to crank out solid music. Here’s this power pop gem from 1979, written by no less than Will Birch of the Kursaal Flyers and the Records (this guy is the Zelig of 1980s
In the bridge, he confirms our suspicion that he’s talking from experience: “She’ll use you any way she can / I can tell you so / And when she kicks you out again / You’ll be the last to know.” Underlaid with furious pulsing drums, the hooky chorus sums it all up: “She’s got everything but a heartbeat / She’s as cold as stone / Everything but a heartbeat / And a heartbeat matters so.” Sure, the guy’s been hurt and he’s hungry for revenge. But that doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth. If I were you, I’d stay away.
This is another of those Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience duos -- the ecstatic naive song from the outset of the relationship, pitted against a cynical post-heartbreak diatribe. Once she made your pulse race; now she just makes your blood boil. Ain't love grand?