Sunday, November 16, 2008

“When You Walk in the Room"
“Everything But a Heartbeat" /
The Searchers

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 Liverpool artists that had slipstreamed behind the Beatles’ success. In the end, I guess, constant comparisons to the Beatles may have worked against these guys, who were neither teen-idol material nor strong original songwriters. Once the Beatles moved past Merseybeat, so did I.

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 UK pop, I swear). A much more bitter song, as befit the times; “Everything But a Heartbeat” is absolutely drenched in disillusionment. Each verse follows the same tight pattern: It starts out promisingly, with a bouncy melody and glowing descriptive details – “She may possess the best dress / She’s got the looks to match”; “She’s got a smile like sunshine / On a cloudy day” – but then the verse pivots halfway through to tell you, in anxious minor chords, the flip side of her story, “She will chew you up and then she’ll spit you out,” “She will wind you up / And then she’ll spin you around.”

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?

When She Walks In the Room sample


44 said...

The early Searchers didn't use 12-strings; they played duplicate parts on 6-strings to achieve that uncanny and distinctive effect.

Two of them are dead; Chris Curtis, the drummer and what's-his-name, the singer. Neither of them got along with the other. The singer wanted more solos and Chris, the band's leader, wanted the other guy to sing, instead.

Trouble and strife.

Personally, "Bumble Bee" has always been a favorite; "Saturday Night Out", as well. How can anyone not love a song with a line like "Ohh wee, you hurt me like a bee; a bumblebee, an evil bumblebee!".

Are there nice bumblebees? Please tell me; I need to know.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks for the background -- you are just a MINE of information! I stopped trying to keep all the personnel changes straight, I have to confess. Apparently Mike Pender had to sue for the right to use the name, which is why there are records out there by "Mike Pender's Searchers." Who knows, maybe it was all the in-fighting that kept them from being bigger? Although it certainly didn't stop the Kinks. ;)

I believe there are nice bumblebees out there, though they're in the minority. I met a nice one at Kew Gardens once. Wasps, though, they're another story.

Mark said...

Can't say I know anything about the Searchers, I get them mixed up with the Seekers. But I like the use of the word "nonchalant" in the sample of "When You Walk in the Room." And the Searchers did have a hit with a cover of the Rolling Stones' song, "Take it or Leave it." (The title kind of sums up the quality of the song.)

Holly A Hughes said...

The Seekers? Their one big hit I liked was "Georgy Girl." They always struck me as more of a folk group, like the British equivalent of the New Christy Minstrels. (Jeez, what vat of pop culture did I drag that name up out of? I feel like I need to go watch A Mighty Wind now.)

It's funny how hampered these guys were by their lack of songwriting. Even Manfred Mann had more songwriting on deck than the Searchers did. Pre-Beatles, that wasn't an issue; after 1963, it was everything. I can't think of anybody except maybe Rod Stewart in the past four decades who's become much of a star without also being a songwriter. But I'm sure as soon as I post this somebody will come on here with half a dozen other examples.

44 said...

The Seekers were from Australia and had three sizable US hits before disappearing here.

"I'll Never Find Another You" - 1965
"A World Of Our Own" Summer 1965
"Georgy Girl" - 1966(?)

They later morphed into The New Seekers by replacing their female singer and, perhaps, a few of the backup guys - but who was paying attention at that point?

Iñaki said...

I don't know Everything But A Heartbeat, it's strange because I know most Searchers songs. I googled it, and guess what was the first result?

In any case When You Walk In The Room is a killer. Now both bands exist: The Searchers (with John McNally and Frank Allen) and Mike Pender's Searchers (with Mike Pender). I think both sound pretty similar to what they did in the 60s, but I recall someone (I think it might have been Pete Quaife) saying in an interview I read long ago that Mike Pender's were much better.

Mark said...

Yes, the Seekers were more folk/pop, like the New Christy Minstrels. It's just the similarity between "seek" and "search" that throws me.

And Rod Stewart was actually a pretty good songwriter, at least in the 70's, when he still wrote songs with some kind of frequency. He wrote, or co-wrote, "Maggie May," "Every Picture Tells a Story," "You Wear It Well," "Tonight's the Night," and of course, the classic "Hot Legs."

Carabella said...

I think that when Rod bleached his hair it damaged his brain! I loved early Rod and then...

Anonymous said... the selection of "Everytime That You Walk In The Room." The sentiment, simple and encompassing, is also true for any young bloke whose heart has been recently stolen.

Speaking of young bloke's, I know everyone out there knows that "Needle's And Pins" was written by none other than Barnaby Street/Mary Quant/Veddy English, ahem, Sonny Bono.

I think "Needle's and Pins" can truly be classified as a "perfect song." And there aren't too many of those..."Fool Around And Fell In Love," might be another.