By the end of the 1960s, the hits had dried up as rock ‘n’ roll moved towards harder and more progressive directions. The Searchers continued to tour throughout the ‘70s, however, performing contemporary songs by artists like Neil Young and Loggins & Messina alongside their ‘60s hits. When rock music began to turn back to the past as younger ‘new wave’ artists incorporated ‘60s-era sounds and influences into their songs, the Searchers had hung around long enough to take advantage of the musical evolution. They were the real deal, ‘60s-era music-makers who had updated their sound with enough of a contemporary edge to land the band a deal with Sire Records. The Searchers recorded a pair of excellent albums for Sire – 1979’s The Searchers and the following year’s Love’s Melodies – both of which stand proudly among the best power-pop releases of the era. Both of these long out-of-print albums have been combined as the two-disc Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981 by archival specialists Omnivore Recordings, with seven bonus tracks added to the original albums.
The Searchers’ Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981
The only other single released from the album – the kinetic “It’s Too Late” – also failed to chart in spite of its delicious start/stop dynamic, bouncy harmony vocals, and infectious melodic hook. The performance sounds like a new wavish take on British rockers Argent (with a dash of the Zombies, perhaps…), the band coming full circle artistically while delivering a solid radio-ready ‘should-have-been-a-hit’ that easily trounces rivals, er…contemporaries like the Babys, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Split Enz, Squeeze, the Rezillos, the Undertones, the Tourists, the Knack, and the Cars…all of which released similar ‘60s-flavored power-pop LPs during the year. The band’s cover of Nick Lowe’s transcendent “Switchboard Susan” (penned by his pub-rock pal Micky Jupp) is more languid and lusty than Lowe’s original and falls short of the mark only because Lowe’s reading is so definitive.
The ignorance of the record-buying public notwithstanding, there’s a heck of a lot of great music to be found on The Searchers. “Feeling Fine” is an upbeat rocker with downbeat lyrics about a lost love, the song’s protagonist lying to himself above the din of twangy guitars and propulsive drumbeats. A cover of Tom Petty’s “Lost In Your Eyes” takes the song into the stratosphere, Pender’s echoed vox achieving an ethereal tone while guest Bob Jackson’s gorgeous piano underlines the song’s pathos. The band does Dylan equally proud, a cover of the Scribe’s “Coming From The Heart” provided a heartfelt reading of the lyrics above lush instrumentation. Among the band’s few original tunes, “Don’t Hang On” offers a rockabilly heartbeat with the soul of the performance fueled by bassist Frank Allen’s jaunty vocals while “This Kind of Love Affair” buries Pender’s vocals beneath swirling guitar licks and heavy rhythms that do nothing to dislodge the song’s undeniable melodic hook.
Play For Today
Much like its predecessor, Love’s Melodies/Play For Today offers a plethora of solid cross-genre performances all anchored by the band’s innate sense of melody and the twin jangle-pop guitars of Pender and McNally. The album’s opening track, “Silver,” is as maximum ‘new wave’ as a band could crank out at the time, the song challenging similar outfits like Blondie, the Rubinoos, or Katrina & the Waves with a delightfully 1960s-era pop/rock vibe comprised of glimmering guitar strings, on-point harmonies, and solid percussion work. “Radio Romance” comes courtesy of the band’s pal Will Birch (The Records), the song seemingly handcrafted for FM airplay with taut fretwork, whipsmart lyrics, and a fierce jangly sonic vibe that could blast effortlessly above the din from a car radio. The Searchers’ choice of cover songs are among the best I’ve seen and heard in four-and-a-half decades of poring over rock ‘n’ roll vinyl and they picked some tasty treats for Love’s Melodies/Play For Today, starting with John Fogerty’s “Almost Saturday Night.”
Performed with the same sort of ramshackle charm as the original, Pender’s vocals on “Almost Saturday Night” mimic those of Fogerty’s original as the band lays down a mighty rhythmic bedrock embroidered upon by twangy guitarplay. Big Star’s “September Gurls,” recorded years before the Chilton revival, captures the magic of the original with echoed harmonies and melancholy guitars matched by rollicking percussion. Whereas The Searchers disc included bonus tracks in the form of alternative mixes of “It’s Too Late,” “Love’s Melody,” and “Silver” that display a different facet of the band’s talents, the bonus tracks appended to Love’s Melodies include the engaging band original “Changing,” the B-side to the album’s first single, while John Hiatt’s “Back To The War” is an electrifying take on a then-obscure songwriter. Released as a B-side to the “Another Night” single, the song’s angular dynamics and Pender’s vocal approach make it the most ‘new wave’ sounding tune they had recorded. The band liked Hiatt’s material so much that they also recorded his “Ambulance Chaser,” unreleased until now, the song a definite stylistic throwback with charming vocals and distinctive instrumentation that would sound more at home in 1968 than 1980.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
With The Searchers and Love’s Melodies/Play For Today, the band reached the creative pinnacle of their lengthy career. More than mere interpreters of song, the Searchers imbued every recording with their own unique sound – gorgeous vocal harmonies, innovative use of twelve-string guitar, driving rhythms – making each performance their own, no matter who wrote the song. It’s no different with these two albums, the band rising to the occasion to deliver a pair of power-pop treasures that, while sorely overlooked at the time, nevertheless proved why the Searchers were a major influence on everybody from the Byrds and Big Star to Tom Petty and R.E.M. If you’re a fan of any of these bands, you owe it to yourself to discover the Searchers. Grade: A (Omnivore Recordings, released December 8, 2017)
Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Searchers’ Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981