UFO Too Hot to Handle picture sleeve
UFO was formed in August 1969 by Phil Mogg (vocals), Mick Bolton (guitars), Pete Way (bass guitar), and Andy Parker (drums). They took their name from the London club where they were spotted by Noel Moore, who signed them to Beacon Records. At first they were a hard rock/blues boogie band; their eponymously-titled debut LP (“UFO 1”, released in 1970) exemplified this early phase in the band’s development. [It contained such tracks as a heavy version of the Eddie Cochran classic “C’mon Everybody”.] Both the debut album and its follow-up, “Flying” (1972), were successful in Japan and Germany, but fared poorly in the U.K. and America. The second album contained longer tracks, like the 26-minute long title track, and could be classified as a cross between heavy metal and space rock. With the departure of guitarist Mick Bolton in January 1972, however, the band decided to change directions. For a time Larry Wallis replaced Bolton, and so did Bernie Mardsen. In June 1973, however, they recruited Michael Schenker of The Scorpions, and the band adopted a harder-edged sound. They switched to Chrysalis Records, which released their third studio LP, “Phenomenon” (1974). This album did not prove to be their breakthrough album in either the U.S. or U.K., but it did produce many fan favorites. Subsequent LPs “Force It” (1975) and “No Heavy Petting” (1976) increased their profile in America, and by now UFO was a success in the U.K. Keyboardist Denny Peyronnel was added to the lineup for “No Heavy Petting”, but he left the band in 1976. They replaced him with keyboardist and second guitarist Paul Raymond. This lineup of Mogg/Schenker/Raymond/Parker recorded “Lights Out” (1977), which is considered by many critics to be their magnum opus. It also contains today’s featured single: “Too Hot to Handle” b/w “Electric Phase”.
“Lights Out” is such a great album that Chrysalis could have selected any 2 songs from the album at random and they would have had a single worthy of inclusion in this blog. But I think that the selection of “Too Hot to Handle” and “Electric Phase” for the single was particularly inspired. There are a total of 8 tracks on the LP, and “Too Hot To Handle” is the first track. It’s also the second shortest track on the album (clocking in at 3 minutes and 37 seconds), and it’s unusually economical for a UFO tune. We get a relatively simple, catchy riff (E/Esus4/E/A/Asus4/A/D/g/E), and some testosterone-driven lyrics (“Wink of an eye, the feelings ran high/A real rock and roll molest/But I ain’t no romance/And I ain’t no slow chance/Wont get no quick change”). The three-guitar attack works well on the song, and while it’s structure is not atypical for a pop song, there’s still ample opportunity for Schenker to strut his stuff, especially during the instrumental break that starts 1 minute and 30 seconds into the track and continues for about 45 seconds. The Way/Parker rhythm section really clicks on this track, especially Parker, whose drumming provides a solid backbone to the track, including the inspired use of a cowbell. It’s an appropriate song to lead off the album, since it’s not only the single and a much more pop-ish, catchy tune than anything else on the LP, but in addition it sounds like an opening gambit that whets the listener’s appetite more than anything else.
The B-side of the single, “Electric Phase”, on the other hand, rather than being the short, catchy song that “Too Hot To Handle” is, has the feel of an extended jam (even though the running time of the song is a relatively modest 4 minutes and 20 seconds). The way it’s built around a monotonous, hypnotic riff and a much heavier guitar sound than the A-side, and the 47-second instrumental break that seems to be a journey to nowhere in particular distinguishes it from the more radio-friendly songs off the album like “Too Hot to Handle” and the title track (even so, it’s not that intimidating compared to some of their longer tracks). The lyrical content is much more ponderous: “On the wires I can hear you comin’ /With a rush and a strummin’/This electric phase ain’t no teenage craze/In your house a phone is ringin’/Just a hot touch that keeps lingerin’/You said loving’s easy only if you please.” “Electric phase” seems to refer to the song’s protagonist’s excitement at hearing his significant other on the phone; the analogy is an interesting one, if not entirely original (e.g. “Shock Me” by Kiss, released the same year). The song reminds me of other rockers with hypnotic melodies, like “Round And Round” by Aerosmith (also a B-side). In the context of the LP, it’s a welcome change of pace from the more subdued “Alone Again Or”, which precedes it, and dovetails nicely with the more epic “Love to Love”, which closes out the album. Schenker’s axemanship is creditable, is it is throughout the album, and Mogg’s vocals are particularly inspired, in my opinion.
The single (catalog #: CHS 2157) was issued by Chrysalis Records with a picture sleeve. We get the song title in big letters, above the UFO logo. As the picture shows, the original release of this single was on colored vinyl (red). The label is puke-green in color, with the track listing across the top and the Chrysalis logo across the bottom.
UFO performing Too Hot to Handle live
UFO performing Electric Phase live in 1998
Love Like a Man single (DM 299)
Ten Years After started life as a band in the Nottingham/Mansfield area of the U.K. called The Jaybirds, which was formed in late 1960. The original lineup featured Ivan Jay on lead vocals, Alvin Lee on lead guitar, Leo Lyons on bass guitar, and Pete Evans on drums. By 1962, Ivan Jay left the band and Alvin Lee assumed lead vocal dutirs. Pete Evans was replaced by Dave Quickmire in 1962, and Ric Lee replaced Quickmire in August 1965. Chick Churchill joined the band as keyboardist in 1966. In November 1966, the band changed its name to Ten Years After, in honor of Elvis Presley’s breakthrough year of 1956. They became the first clients of the Chrysalis Agency, and soon secured a residency at the Marquee. They also received an invitation to play the Windsor Jazz Festival in 1967. This led to a recording contract with Deram (a subsidiary of Decca). In October 1967, their self-titled debut album was released. After touring Scandinavia and the United States, they issued their second album, “Undead” (1968), a live album which contained “I’m Going Home”. This was followed by their second studio album, “Stonedhenge” (1969), which contained “Hear Me Calling”. In July 1969, they appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival, the first event in which rock bands were invited to play, and played at the Woodstock festival in August 1969. Around this time, they also released their third studio album, “Ssssh” (1969), which was their first hit album in the U.S. During 1970, the band released “Cricklewood Green”, their fourth studio album, and the single off the album, “Love Like a Man” b/w “Love Like a Man” (live) became their only entry on the U.K. Singles Chart (peaking at #10). This is today’s featured single.
“Love Like A Man” is, in many ways, the quintessential Ten Years After song: almost nonsensical lyrics and relatively simple riffs combined into an extended blues-rock jam. There is one riff repeated throughout the chorus that is the main musical motif running through the song, although there is a much shorter riff played during the chorus (D-A-E, in 4/4 time). On the album version, after the third verse (“You are the woman/You can’t deny”), slightly more than two minutes into the song, there is an extended instrumental break which includes a rather lengthy guitar solo (beginning about three minutes into the song). After the guitar solo, the song gets quiet, as Alvin Lee’s guitar is accompanied only by the light percussion of Ric Lee, before we get a reprise of the song’s opening accompanied by a fourth verse (“I’ll tell you something/I think you know”). After the final verse, the chorus is repeated as the song fades out. The single edit of this song presumably cuts out much if not all of the guitar solo, resulting in a tighter-sounding pop song rather than an extended blues-rock jam.
The B-side of this single is somewhat unusual for two reasons: (1) it is a live version of the same song on the A-side of the single (recorded at the Fillmore East earlier the same year), and (2) the B-side must be played at 33 1/3 RPM instead of 45 RPM because of it’s over 8-minute length (making it probably the first single to be issued with different playing speeds for the A and B sides). And it is fortunate that the B-side features an unedited version of the track, because this rendition of “Love Like a Man” features a blistering guitar solo that is even better than the one on the studio version of the track. Other than that, the song is structurally similar to the studio version. Overall, this is a great, classic track, and a staple of early and mid-1970’s progressive rock stations.
This single (catalog #: DM 299) was issued on Deram Records in June 1970. No picture sleeve was issued with this release (although the paper sleeve issued with the record clearly shows the Deram logo, as can be seen in the accompanying image). The band moved in a more commercial direction with their next album, “A Space in Time” (1971), which also contained their biggest hit, “I’d Love to Change the World”. They moved to Chrysalis Records for their next studio album, “Rock & Roll Music to the World” (1972). They released a double live LP, “Recorded Live” (1973), and another studio album, “Positive Vibrations” (1974), but by this point, Ten Years After was going through the motions, as Alvin Lee had already released two solo albums. Ten Years After broke up in 1974, and they would not be heard from again until 1983, when they reunited to play the Reading Festival. They reunited again in 1988 for a few concerts, and for the Eurowoodstock festival in Budapest in 1994. In 2003, they reconvened on a more permanent basis, releasing two new studio albums, “Now” (2004) and “Evolution” (2008), as well as a new double live album, “Roadworks” (2005), but with Joe Gooch replacing Alvin Lee on lead guitar and vocals.
Ten Years After performing Love Like a Man live at the Marquee
Leaving Here b/w White Line Fever picture sleeve (BUY 9)
Motörhead was formed in 1975 after Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister was sacked by his previous band, Hawkwind, for spending five days in a Canadian prison for drug possession. Lemmy decided to form a new band, to be called Bastard, but their manager, Doug Smith, suggested that they use a different name, so Lemmy chose the name Motörhead, the name of the last song he wrote for Hawkwind, and a British slang term for a speed freak (and the subject of the song). The first version of the band had Lemmy on bass and lead vocals, Larry Wallis (formerly of the Pink Faries) on lead guitar, and Lucas Fox on drums. They played their first gig at The Roundhouse in London, and after ten gigs, they became the supporting act for Blue Öyster Cult at the Hammersmith Odeon. After several more gigs, the band landed a contract with United Artists in 1976. By now, Fox was deemed unreliable and was replaced by Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. During the first recording sessions for United Artists, Motörhead recruited a second guitarist, “Fast” Eddie Clarke, but Larry Wallis quit, and the idea of having two guitarists was dropped. The band recorded a version of “Leaving Here” for their debut album, “On Parole”, but United Artists refused to issue it. Jake Rivera, a casual acquaintance of Lemmy’s and co-founder of Stiff Records, offered to have Stiff Records issue “Leaving Here” as a single (with “White Line Fever” on the B-side) as BUY 9. No formal agreement was signed and the band paid for studio time while Rivera paid all other expenses. United Artists intervened, causing Stiff to shelve distribution, but the single was issued in France on Skydog Records and in Sweden on Blitz Records. This is today’s featured single.
“Leaving Here” is a 1963 song written by the Motown songwriting team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr. (Holland-Dozier-Holland). It was written at the beginning of their partnership, and was released as a single by Eddie Holland. The original version peaked at #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Who recorded two versions of the song in 1965, but they didn’t get an official release for decades. The Byrds released a version of the song. This is what inspired the Motörhead cover version. “Leaving Here” starts with a three chord riff repeated twice in dramatic fashion by Clarke’s unaccompanied guitar before the rhythm section joins the melody. About 30 seconds into the track, Lemmy’s vocals begin: “Hey, fellows have you heard the news/The women in this town are being misused/Seen it all in a dream last night/You’ll be leaving this town ’cause you don’t feel right/’Cos I’m leaving, leaving here”. About one and a half minutes into the song, there is an instrumental break that includes a brief guitar solo, and the very end of the song features a very brief bass guitar solo. Overall the song is a pretty straightforward heavy metal tune, without any real hint of the blistering speed metal which would make the band famous. Nonetheless, “Leaving Here” is a good introduction to the band.
The B-side of the single, “White Line Fever”, is an original composition (credited to Clarke, Lemmy and Taylor) which opens with a drum fill, followed by a relatively simple riff, before Lemmy’s vocals begin. “White Line Fever” is also the title of a Merle Haggard song, but while the earlier song is about traveling, Motörhead’s white line fever is drug-related: “We can move around now/You know it’s so good/But I know you wouldn’t come clean now,baby/Even if you could”. The reverb used on Lemmy’s vocals complement the song well, allowing him to rise above the bass-heavy sludge that is the Motörhead wall of sound. The lyrical theme that resurfaces in many of the band’s songs, in which the protagonist is on the road to self-ruin but is unwilling or unable to change his behavior, is here, and is deployed fairly effectively, as Lemmy notes that white line fever is “a slow death”. This is a worthy addition to the Motörhead catalog.
This single (catalog #: BUY 9) was issued on Stiff Records in early 1977, but was not commercially released due to legal action by United Artists. If released, it would have gotten a picture sleeve (shown here on the left). The single was issued in France (on Skydog Records, catalog # MH001, black on white sleeve) and Sweden (on Blitz Records, MH001, purple on white sleeve). The tracks were included on two Stiff Records compilations, “A Bunch of Stiff Records” (catalog # SEEZ 2, released on April 1, 1977) and “Hits Greatest Stiffs” (catalog # FIST 1, released on September 16, 1977). The single did eventually see release as part of a box set of the first 10 Stiff singles, released in 1979 (and limited to 5000 sets), and both tracks were on the “Stone Deaf Forever!” CD box set. Not too long after this single was recorded, Clarke and Taylor wanted to call it quits, and they agreed to perform one last concert a the Marquee Club in April 1977. Ted Carroll of Chiswick Records showed up backstage and offered Motörhead two days at Escape Studios to record a single. Instead of recording two tracks they recorded eleven unfinished tracks, eight of which were released on the “Motörhead” LP in November 1977, which reached #43 in the U.K. They were signed to Bronze Records in 1978, for which they recorded a single (“Louie Louie”/”Tear Ya Down”), and eventually another full-length album, “Overkill” (1979). They released another album later that year, “Bomber” (1979), which reached #12 in the U.K. The next album, “Ace of Spades” (1980), provided what many consider to be the definitive Motörhead anthem in the title track and became the first Motörhead album to reached the Top 10 in the U.K., peaking at #4. Their first live LP, “No Sleep ’til Hammersmith” (1981), reached #1 in the U.K. and provided a Top 10 single, a live version of “Motörhead”. The following album, “Iron Fist” (1982), was another U.K. Top 10 album, and the last album with the Lemmy-Clarke-Taylor lineup. Eddie Clarke left following the release of this album, leading to his replacement by ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson for the “Another Perfect Day” (1983) album (U.K. #20, U.S. #153). Robertson only lasted for one album, and the band returned to the twin lead guitar concept by recruiting Würzel and Phil Campbell (ex-Persian Risk). This lineup recorded “Ace of Spades” for the comedy series “The Young Ones”, after which Taylor left the band, leaving Lemmy as the only remaining member from the “classic” Motörhead lineup.
No Smoke Without Fire album cover
Wishbone Ash had its roots in a band called Empty Vessels, which consisted of bass guitarist/vocalist Martin Turner, guitarist Glen Turner and drummer Steve Upton. Empty Vessels changed their name to Tanglewood and moved to London, where Miles Copeland offered to become their manager. Glen Turner quit, and in October 1969, the band needed a new guitarist. Turner and Upton narrowed their choices to two candidates, Andy Powell and Ted Turner. It was suggested that they try both guitar players to see what it would sound like to have twin lead guitars. A new name was chosen, and after band members wrote several suggested band names on two pieces of paper, Turner picked a word from each list: “wishbone” and “ash”; thus the band was rechristened Wishbone Ash. The band would incorporate elements of folk, progressive rock and classical music into their music. They opened for Deep Purple in 1970, and after jamming with Andy Powell during a sound check, Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was impressed enough to recommend them to producer Derek Lawrence, and helped them secure a deal with Decca/MCA Records. The first album, “Wishbone Ash” (1970), was a success, and spawned a single, “Blind Eye”. “Pilgrimage” (1971), which focused on folk and acoustic music rather than the blues rock that dominated the first album, also did well, reaching #14 on the U.K. charts. Next came the promotional EP “Live From Memphis” (1972). With their third studio album, “Argus” (1972), the band reached their commercial (and arguably creative) peak, as the album went gold and was named by readers “Album of the Year” in the year-end issue of Sounds magazine. The band was now a headline act and gaining international popularity. “Wishbone Four” (1973) was their follow-up to “Argus” and their first album without producer Derek Lawrence (they decided to produce the album themselves). It was a departure from the previous album, with none of the twin-lead guitar and folk harmonies of “Argus”. Sales paled in comparison its predecessor, and Ted Turner would leave the band after the subsequent tour, shortly after the release of the “Live Dates” (1973) live double album. Laurie Wisefield was recruited to replace Turner, relocated to America, and released their fifth studio album, “There’s The Rub” (1974), which featured more of a soft rock sound. The band continued this trend with “Locked In” (1976). Their next album, “New England” (1976), featured a mix of hard and soft rock songs, and was more popular than its predecessor, although the band did not achieve the level of commercial success they had with some of their previous albums. “Front Page News” (1977) did even better, becoming their most successful album since “There’s The Rub”. After years of experimental albums, Wishbone Ash would return to their roots with “No Smoke Without Fire”, which was also the first Wishbone Ash album produced by Derek Lawrence since “Argus”. This album also spawned the single “You See Red” b/w “Bad Weather Blues”. This is today’s featured single.
Although “No Smoke Without Fire” was touted as a “back to their roots” album, “You See Red” seems to retain many of the elements of its immediate predecessors. Featuring funky, tightly interwoven guitar melodies, harmony vocals by Turner, Powell and Wisefield, and a rhythm section that provides a solid backbone without being overpowering, Derek Lawrence has produced a radio-friendly song that is eminently suitable for release as a single. The song is built around a simple yet catchy riff, which is repeated as Turner sings about a man who has been cuckolded: “When a days work is done/And you’re down on the ground/You come home just to find/That she’s not around/You see red, you see red/When she takes you for a fool”. The album version of this song runs 5 minutes and 48 seconds, and this allows for several different sections. About 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the song, when Turner sings “So you drink your gin/And drown your sorrows”, this signals the beginning of a bridge that runs about 45 seconds, which provides a softer-sounding counterpoint to the harder-edged sound of the rest of the song. This is followed by an instrumental break featuring a guitar solo, then a reprise of the opening lyrics, but at first accompanied only by Upton’s drum, and then by a subdued-sounding guitar, before both guitars chime in one final time before the song’s coda, which features a few more chords, and then a drum fill which quickly fades out. Overall, “You See Red” was an ideal choice for the lead single (as well as the lead track on the album).
The B-side of this single, “Bad Weather Blues”, is a non-album track, and is live version of a Powell/Turner/Upton/Wisefield composition. It’s a rocking blues boogie tune that is a throwback to the band’s early days, and is about a man returning home after spending time in prison: “Well, I been away/I said I been away for so long/Tell me, have you/Have you done me wrong?” Even as the song’s protagonist asks this, he acknowledges his own infidelity, as he admit that he “done laid this high-class babe out in the hay”. Still, he wants to “shake the dust” from his shoes and return home. Wishbone Ash was likely a good live band, as they could feed off the energy of a crowd, and in the middle of this song, there’s a spirited exchange with the audience as Turner urges them to sing along and to sing louder. Although blues-rock in this vein was already old hat even in 1978, this song is a pleasant upgrade from the sort of filler that usually ends up on the B-side of many singles. Although it clocks in at 8 minutes and 36 seconds, it’s not tedious at all, and ends just as you’re really getting into it.
This single (catalog #: 12 MCA 392) was issued as a 12-inch single by MCA Records in 1978. I’m not sure what the label looked like, but I suspect it was MCA rainbow logo with clouds and blue sky in the background. Although “Bad Weather Blues” was originally a non-album track, it was one of the bonus tracks on a CD reissue of “No Smoke Without Fire” (a CD which, according to the official Wishbone Ash website, has now gone out of print).
After the release of “No Smoke Without Fire”, Wishbone Ash went on hiatus for about a year before reconvening to record “Just Testing” (1980). Pressured by MCA to come up with more commercial material, the band considered recruiting a new singer and restricting Turner to playing bass guitar. Turner soon quit the band, and was replaced by John Wetton (ex-King Crimson). Ostensibly, Wetton was also to be the new lead vocalist, but he only sang lead vocals on one song on their next studio album, “Number the Brave” (1981). All other songs were sung by Claire Hamill, who would permanently join Wishbone Ash on the 1981 tour. Wetton subsequently left the band and was replaced on bass by Trevor Bolder (ex-Uriah Heep). Wishbone Ash was dropped by MCA Records after this album and moved to Castle Records for “Twin Barrels Burning” (1982) an album which featured a New Wave of British Heavy Metal-influenced sound and peaked at #22 in the U.K., becoming their highest-charting album in years. Trevor Bolder left the band in 1983 and was replaced by Mervyn Spence (ex-Trapeze). Wishbone Ash switched to I.R.S. Records for “Raw To The Bone” (1985), which was another heavy metal album, with a sound similar to that of it’s predecessor; nevertheless it failed to chart in the U.K. Not long afterwards, Laurie Wisefield quit. In 1986, Spence quit and was replaced by Andy Pyle (ex-Kinks).
In 1987, I.R.S. Records wanted to launch a subsidiary label of all instrumental music (dubbed No Speak), but founder (and ex-Wishbone Ash manger) Miles Copeland felt he needed a high-profile act to successfully launch the label. He convinced the original members of Wishbone Ash to reunite for the first time in 14 years for “Nouveau Calls” (1987), an album which drew a mixed reaction from fans but which marked a resurgence in the bands popularity, as the band played large venues for the first time since the late 1970’s. “Nouveau Calls” had all instrumental music, but the follow-up, “Here to Hear” (1989) had vocals, thus becoming the band’s first studio album with vocals to feature the original lineup since “Wishbone Four”. After this album, Steve Upton retired from the music industry. The band used session drummer Robbie France on some tracks on the upcoming album but eventually settled on Ray Weston before the release of “Strange Affair” (1991). Later in 1991, the band decided to continue without Martin Turner, and again enlisted the services of Andy Pyle. Ted Turner left in 1994, ending his second tour of duty with the band.
In 1995, Andy Powell, the only remaining original member, restructured the band. Roy Weston was gone, and Andy Pyle was dismissed; he formed a completely new lineup with guitarist Roger Filgate, bassist/vocalist Tony Kishman, and drummer Michael Sturgis. The band, which had originally been an equal partnership of all the members, was now essentially his business venture, with the other members being hired help. This lineup released one album, “Illuminations” (1996). Martin Turner filled in for Kishman during the 1995-96 25th anniversary tour of the United States. In 1998, Powell formed a completely different lineup, with bassist Bob Skeat, guitarist/vocalist Mark Birch, and drummer Ray Weston. Two albums of techno and dance music were release in the meantime, “Trance Visionary” (1996) and “Psychic Terrorism” (1998) (the former was a surprise hit, reaching #38 on the U.K. dance chart). The band released an all-acoustic album in 1999 called “Bare Bones”. In 2001, Mark Birch was replaced by Ben Granfelt. The following year, they released “Bona Fide”, their first studio album of all-new material in six years. In 2007, Weston quit and was replaced by Joseph Crabtree, who played on their next studio album, “Power of Eternity” (2007).
Pictures of Matchstick Men single
Status Quo began life in 1962 when schoolmates Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster (both students at Sedgehill Comprehensive School in Catford, U.K.) formed a freakbeat band called The Scorpions. They changed their name to The Spectres, and in 1963 they added drummer John Coghlan. They began writing their own material and in 1965 they met Rick Parfitt; he and Rossi became friends and they made a commitment to continue to work together. In 1966, The Spectres signed a five-year contract with Piccadilly Records. The Spectres released three singles (two in 1966 and one in 1967); all three were commercial failures. By 1967, the band had discovered psychedelia and changed their name to Traffic (later to Traffic Jam), to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic. By this point the band’s lineup included organist Roy Lynes and they released the single “Almost But Not Quite There”, which also flopped. In late 1967 they changed their name to The Status Quo (shortened to Status Quo in 1970), and in early 1968 they released to psychedelic-flavored “Pictures of Matchstick Men” b/w “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”. This is today’s featured single.
“Pictures of Matchstick Men” opens up with a four-note riff (D/F/C/G) repeated twice (the first time the lead guitar is the lone instrument; the rest of the band enters the second time. The same four chords are used during the verses. The opening riff is quite memorable – it’s very difficult to forget once you’ve heard it – and no doubt this is one of the reasons why this track is probably Status Quo’s best-known song. But “Pictures of Matchstick Men” also owes much to its use of phasing. The lead guitar (played by Rossi) and bass guitar (played by Lancaster) play the same melody throughout most of the song, at first in unison but in slightly different tempos. As a result, the lead guitar and bass guitar fall out-of-phase, resulting in a dissonant, aural strangeness not unlike flanging (but using a different tactic to achieve the result). This sound is augmented nicely by Roy Lynes’ wah-wah organ. The lyrical content is rather weird (telling the tale of a man who is haunted by visions of a face until he is driven to distraction), and, one suspects, LSD-influenced: “When I look up to the skies/I see your eyes a funny kind of yellow/I rush home to bed I soak my head/I see your face underneath my pillow/I wake next morning, tired, still yawning/See your face come peeping through my window”. According to Rossi, the song was for the most part written in the bathroom: “I wrote it on the bog (i.e. toilet). I’d gone there, not for the usual reasons – having a crap and what have you – but to get away from the wife and mother-in-law. I used to go into this narrow frizzing toilet and sit there for hours, until they finally went out. I got three quarters of the song finished in that khazi. The rest I finished in the lounge.” It seems a rather inauspicious beginning for such a classic song, but I suppose it’s plausible. In any case, this is probably about as psychedelic you could get on a pop single in 1968. As other fans have noted, the song is a tour-de-force that seemingly transports the listener into another world, and it’s as colorful as the band’s Carnaby Street clothing.
The B-side of this single, “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”, was good enough that it was originally slated to be the A-side of the single, but then the A-side and B-side were swapped. In any case, this song is not without it’s appeal. It opens with a melancholy melody, which soon launches into a mid-tempo pop song, in which the protagonist frets about the possibility of losing his significant other: Hey Joe, have you seen my baby here?/Oh we used to share a table every night/Hey Joe, she’s the only girl who’s ever/Meant anything at all/If I lose her I lose all”. The melody is much simpler than the one employed on “Matchstick Men” – only three chords are used, and the song doesn’t use any psychedelic effects like phasing. Once again, Roy Lynes’ organ is put to good use, and it’s much more conspicuous than it was on the A-side. Overall, I liked the song – it remains somewhat of a fan favorite – even if the line about in which Rossi sings “Under a table we’d choose, she’d take off her shoes/And rub her feet against mine” was a bit too corny for me. Interestingly enough, the label on the single lists the track as “Gentlemen Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”, even though all the discographies I’ve encountered have it listed as “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”.
What’s really interesting about “Matchstick Men” is that in spite of how memorable it is, and in spite of its status as their first hit (it reached #12 in the U.S., and #7 in the U.K.), it’s not really representative of the Status Quo sound. The band itself never really took “Matchstick Men” seriously (which is perhaps why it almost ended up on the B-side). Nevertheless, they would dabble in psychedelia on their first full-length LP, “Picturesque Matchstickable Message from the Status Quo” (1968) and also on their second album, “Spare Parts” (1969), but they would struggle to repeat the success of “Matchstick Men”. In the 1970’s, they would reinvent themselves as a rock-blues boogie band (the aforementioned Rick Parfitt was now in the fold as the band’s rhythm guitarist, having joined the band in 1968; Roy Lynes had left the band in 1970). With this new direction, they went on to record 50 chart hits in the U.K. “Down Down” became their first and only #1 hit in the U.K. in 1975; they would eventually sell over 118 albums worldwide. They were less successful in the United States, where “Matchstick Men” remains their only hit.
The single (catalog #: 7001) was issued in the United States by Cadet Concept Records, a blues/jazz/folk label started by Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. It was a subsidiary of Chess Records, and was arguably a vehicle for the Rotary Connection, a pet project of Marshall Chess which featured the late Minnie Ripperton on lead vocals (long before her salad days as a solo artist on Epic Records). Apparently, the label also secured U.S. distribution rights for U.K. bands, as shown by the fact that they issued “Pictures of Matchstick Men”, which was also the first single issued by Cadet Concept. It features the standard Cadet Concept label design – gray with black print, with “Cadet” printed in pink and “Concept” printed in orange, both words printed with a swirl-style font across the top of the label. The track name and artist are printed on the bottom; publishing information is on the left side, and the catalog number and track length are on the right side. Cadet Concept also issued “Messages from the Status Quo” (catalog #: LPS-315), their first U.S. full-length LP, in 1968.
The Status Quo performing Pictures of Matchstick Men on TV