Thursday, 5 January 2012
Status Quo: The Alan Lancaster Years
With some bands, it’s quite easy to identify the point at which they “went rubbish”. With INXS, it was the death of Michael Hutchence, resulting in a bizarre “open door” policy with subsequent vocalists. With Yes, it was after they had split post-“Drama”, returning a couple of years later with a sort of “classic” line up, but with a new sound that was less Prog, more Howard Jones. With the Quo, it seems at first as though there was no cut off point, they just slowly started making terrible records like that cover of “All Around My Hat”. But there was a point at which the Quo finally lost it - around the time of Live Aid.
The Quo had actually split up at the end of 1984, but were one of several bands that were invited to reform as a one off for the event, along with the likes of The Who and Led Zeppelin. After Live Aid, they split up again, but such was the positive reaction towards their set, that Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt began toying with the idea of getting back together permanently. And they did. But one man was missing. Bass player Alan Lancaster had formed the band with Rossi, when they were called The Spectres, way back in 1962. But having relocated to Australia upon assuming the band had ended, he was unaware that Rossi and Parfitt were working on a new Quo album. Legal events duly took place once he was alerted, and although an arrangement was made between Lancaster and the “new“ lineup to allow them to keep the name, it would be many years before the two parties would make up. Nonetheless, Lancaster has not appeared on a Quo LP since 1983.
Since “Live Aid”, the Quo have gone totally off course. A quick look at the hits, and you will see that all of the classics date from the pre-85 period. In other words, records with Rossi, Parfitt and Lancaster in the band. In this article, I shall look at the releases from this period.
The Pye Years
After several years of going unnoticed, The Spectres were discovered by Pye and released their debut 45, “I Who Have Nothing”, in 1966. It failed to set the charts alight, but the band continued to try their luck, releasing two more singles, neither of which charted either. Somebody somewhere thought that a name change might help, as so, as Traffic Jam, they released a fourth single on Pye in 1967, “Almost But Not Quite There”. The newly launched Radio 1 took an interest, but after reviewing the risqué lyrics, banned it instead.
The band then changed their name to The Status Quo (the “The” would be dropped a year or so later), and Parfitt joined the band just in time for them to release their first single under the new moniker, “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”. It’s psychedelic vibe caught the attention of the BBC and the general public, and gave the band their first hit. However, when a follow up single flopped, it seemed as though the band were in danger of becoming one hit wonders. A third single, “Ice In The Sun”, returned the band to the charts, but for the remainder of their time on Pye, sales of both the band’s singles and albums would remain erratic.
By the end of the sixties, the band had released two psychedelic influenced albums, “Picturesque Matchstickable Messages” and “Spare Parts” and a number of 45’s, many of which included non-album material. But as the seventies came into view, the Quo changed direction, and debuted their new heavy rock boogie woogie sound on a hit stand-alone single, “Down The Dustpipe” and their third LP, the lost classic “Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon”. By the end of 1971, the band were still struggling to hit the charts on a regular basis, and following the release of their fourth LP “Dog Of Two Head”, the band jumped ship to Vertigo - where all of a sudden, they would have no problems in hitting the album and singles charts on a regular basis.
All four Pye-era albums were reissued on CD with bonus tracks in the mid-noughties. Stray A-sides and B-sides were added as bonus tracks, and all of the reissues except “Picturesque” also included at least one previously unissued recording. Expanded double disc deluxe editions of “Picturesque” and “Spare Parts” have appeared in recent years, with the mono mix on one disc, and the stereo on the other, along with bonus tracks on both discs. The “Spare Parts” one seems to include nothing more than the same bonus tracks from the single disc edition, but “Picturesque” now adds a number of previously unheard rarities.
If you fancy owning (nearly) everything the band issued on LP and 45 between 66 and 71, then you could do worse than get hold of the 3-CD “Complete Pye Collection”, which squeezes all four albums and their single counterparts onto three discs. Of course, as so often happens with these things, some of the albums are “lost” amidst the cramming in, so “Ma Kelly” appears in two bits - half on disc 2, and the rest on disc 3. However, disc 1 is quite nice - it includes all 15 tracks from the mid-noughties “Picturesque” reissue (the original 12 track LP, and the three “non album” bonus tracks), although the running order has been altered so the three singles (and their b-sides) appear first, before the remainder of the album. The disc is padded out with material from The Spectres and Traffic Jam days. What the set won’t give you though, is the previously unissued material from the various CD reissues of these LP’s, nor - rather strangely - the short interludes that appeared between several of the numbers on the original “Dog Of Two Head“ LP. “Dog Of Two Head” had included a re-recorded version of an old B-side, “Gerdundula” - both the single and album mixes appear on the box set, you will be pleased to know.
It was almost as if somebody had shown the Quo the green light as soon as they left Pye, for all of a sudden, the band could not stop having hits. Pretty much every LP that the band would release from 72 onwards would be a hit, with each album spawning at least one hit single.
“Piledriver” came in a classic cover of Rossi and Co, denims on, heads down, “rocking out”, which pretty much gave you an indication of what the LP sounded like. “Paper Plane” was lifted from the album as a single to coincide, and would be the start of an unprecedented run of top 40 hit singles. The 1973 follow up, “Hello!”, was the first Quo LP to use their “slanted” logo, a logo used on most (but not all) releases up until the end of the Lancaster years, and beyond.
Just as when they were on Pye, the band dabbled in the world of the non-album A-side and non-album B-sides now and then. Some songs were edited for single release, whilst some of the later singles coincided with the rise of the 12” as the format of choice, and as such, a few singles from the early 80’s appeared in extended remix form.
EP’s were thin on the ground, although a live version of “Roll Over Lay Down” appeared as the lead track on 1975’s “Live” EP, giving the band an unusual but huge hit - the band had been warned against releasing a live single. There were also two live albums during this period - 1977’s “Live!” and 1984’s “Live At The NEC”. This latter release had earlier appeared as a bonus album inside the 1982 triple LP box set “From The Makers Of”, an elaborate greatest hits set covering both the Pye and Vertigo years.
Whilst Pye were every so often issuing rarities sets trying to capitalise on the band, the first real Quo best-of of note was 1980’s “12 Gold Bars”. It would spawn a follow up, “12 Gold Bars Volume 2”, in 1984, which would turn out to be - along with “Live At The NEC” - the final Quo albums to be released whilst Lancaster was still in the group.
The end started in 1983, with the release of the “Back To Back” LP. Two versions of “Ol Rag Blues” were taped, one sung by Rossi, and another by Lancaster, and Lancaster was incensed when the Rossi vocal got the nod to be included on the LP instead of his. He also despised the waltz style pop of “Marguerita Time”, and insult was added to injury when Vertigo decided to release it as a single. When the single charted, and the band were invited to play on “Top Of The Pops”, he refused to appear, and Slade’s Jim Lea had to mime his parts.
With the end now fully in sight, the band recorded a stand alone cover of “The Wanderer”, issued as a 45 in 1984. It was added to the “12 Gold Bars Vol 2” set, and by the end of the year, the group had thrown in the towel.
Since 2005, the Vertigo albums have been reissued on Compact Disc via the Mercury imprint. The reissued albums from the period currently available hoover up pretty much all of the non-album A-sides and B-sides. Details of these bonus tracks are listed in the albums discography below.
I have listed below the Quo singles released in the UK after they had adopted their new name. Some of the Pye singles were later reissued, often in wildly different formats, once the band had started to gain success on Vertigo, but I have omitted these reissues on the grounds of clarity. However, any post-Pye singles released on Pye with an a-side that had never before been an a-side are listed. There’s not many of them. Quo’s own website has a discography page which lists the dates of the other reissues, which is worth checking out. Some singles were also issued on other formats with the same or less number of tracks, again, I have left these off the list as they are interest to completists only.
One query I haven't quite got the answer to yet is the "Live" EP. I don't own this, but do have the reissued "On The Level" CD which includes the three tracks from this single. But the version of "Gerdundula" on the CD sounds very much like a studio recording, maybe even one of the original versions, as opposed to a "taped on stage in 75" version, which is supposedly on the EP. Can anyone shed any light on this?
Pictures Of Matchstick Men/Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Café (1968, 7”, Pye 7N 17449)
Black Veils Of Melancholy/To Be Free (1968, 7”, Pye 7N 17497)
Ice In The Sun/When My Mind Is Not Live (1968, 7”, Pye 7N 17581)
Make Me Stay A Bit Longer/Auntie Nellie (1969, 7”, Pye 7N 17665)
Are You Growing Tired Of My Love/So Ends Another Life (1969, 7”, Pye 7N 17728)
The Price Of Love/Little Miss Nothing (1969, 7”, Pye 7N 17825)
Down The Dustpipe/Face Without A Soul (1970, 7”, Pye 7N 17907)
In My Chair/Gerdundula (1970, 7”, Pye 7N 17998)
Tune To The Music/Good Thinking (1971, 7”, Pye 7N 45077)
Paper Plane/Softer Ride (1972, 7”, Vertigo 6059 071)
Mean Girl/Everything (1973, 7”, Pye 7N 45229)
Gerdundula (LP Version)/Lakky Lady (1973, 7”, Pye 7N 45253)
Caroline/Joanne (1973, 7”, Vertigo 6059 085)
Break The Rules/Lonely Night (1974, 7”, Vertigo 6059 101)
Down Down (7” Mix)/Nightride (1974, 7”, Vertigo 6059 114)
Live EP: Roll Over Lay Down (Live)/Gerdundula/Junior’s Wailing (Live) (1975, 7”, Vertigo QUO 13)
Rain/You Lost The Love (1976, 7”, Vertigo 6059 133)
Mystery Song (7” Version)/Drifting Away (1976, 7”, Vertigo 6059 146)
Wild Side Of Life/All Through The Night (1976, 7”, Vertigo 6059 153)
Rockin’ All Over The World/Ring Of Change (1977, 7”, Vertigo 6059 184)
Again And Again/Too Far Gone (1978, 7”, Vertigo QUO 1)
Accident Prone (7” Mix)/Let Me Fly (1978, 7”, Vertigo QUO 2)
Whatever You Want/Hard Ride (1979, 7”, Vertigo 6059 242)
Living On An Island (Single Mix)/Runaway (1979, 7”, Vertigo 6059 248)
What You’re Proposing/A B Blues (1980, 7”, Vertigo QUO 3)
Lies/Don’t Drive My Car (1980, 7”, Vertigo QUO 4)
Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like/Enough Is Enough (1980, 7”, Vertigo QUO 5)
Rock N Roll (Single Version)/Hold You Back/Backwater (1981, 7”, Vertigo QUO 6)
Dear John/I Want The World To Know (1982, 7”, Vertigo QUO 7)
She Don’t Fool Me/Never Too Late (1982, 7”, Vertigo QUO 8)
Caroline (Live)/Dirty Water (Live At The NEC)/Down Down (Live At The NEC) (1982, 12”, Vertigo QUO 1012)
Ol’ Rag Blues (Extended Remix)/Stay The Night/Whatever You Want (Live) (1983, 12”, Vertigo QUO 1112)
A Mess Of Blues (Extended Version)/Big Man/Young Pretender (1983, 12”, Vertigo QUO 1212)
Marguerita Time/Resurrection (1983, 7”, Vertigo QUO 14, various collectors editions available)
Going Down Town Tonight (New Version)/Too Close To The Ground (1984, 7”, Vertigo QUO 15)
The Wanderer/Can’t Be Done (1984, 7”, Vertigo QUO 16, 12“ copies pressed on clear vinyl)
A big shout out must go here to the 2001 Sanctuary Box, “The 70s Singles Box”, which includes reissues on CD of the “Dustpipe”, “Chair”, “Tune”, “Mean Girl” and “Gerdundula” singles, and a single issued by Pye in 1973 in some countries (but not the UK), “Spinning Wheel Blues”. Each single comes in a picture sleeve, although only “In My Chair” appears in it’s original UK cover. This is primarily because most of the other singles, when first released, appeared instead in bog standard Pye company bags over here, and not picture covers.
Listed below are what are the current editions of the Quo’s live and studio records from 68-85. As mentioned earlier, these releases generally include - as bonus tracks - rare material from box sets or compilation records, plus non album A and B sides - and for the Pye albums, unreleased alternate takes. I don’t have them all, at least not in the formats listed here, but from what I can gather, few of these reissues offer anything that is not available elsewhere.
The 2001 box set “Rockers Rollin” offered up a number of previously unheard tracks, and many of these were used on the Mercury reissues in 2005 and 2006. It should be possible to buy any of the post 1971 albums below on Vinyl, all the singles and the box set, and thus end up with everything that was used to pad out these releases. The first four albums, originally on Pye and now repressed by Sanctuary, all include at least one otherwise-unavailable recording, so these CD’s are absolutely essential.
Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From (1968, 2009 2xCD, Sanctuary 179 9861, bonus tracks include “To Be Free”, “Make Me Stay A Little Bit Longer”, “Auntie Nellie”)
Spare Parts (1969, 2009 2xCD, Sanctuary 179 9868, bonus tracks include “The Price Of Love”)
Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon (1970, 2003 CD, Sanctuary CMQCD 754, bonus tracks include “Down The Dustpipe”, “In My Chair” and “Gerdundula”)
Dog Of Two Head (1971, 2003 CD, Sanctuary CMQCD 755, bonus tracks include “Tune To The Music” and “Good Thinking”)
X4CD (1972-1975, 2010 4xCD Box Set, includes reissues of “Piledriver”, “Hello”, “Quo” and “On The Level”. Bonus tracks include “Joanne”, “Lonely Night”, the “Live” EP, and the 7” mix of “Down Down”)
Blue For You (1976, 2005 CD, Mercury 982 597 6, bonus tracks include “You Lost The Love”, “All Through The Night”, “Wild Side Of Life” and the Single mix of “Mystery Song”)
Live! (1977, 2005 2xCD, Mercury 982 597 2)
Rockin’ All Over The World (1977, 2005 CD, Mercury 982 596 9)
If You Can’t Stand The Heat (1978, 2005 CD, Mercury 982 594 1, bonus track is single version of “Accident Prone”)
Whatever You Want (1979, 2005 CD, Mercury 982 596 8, bonus tracks include “Hard Ride” and the single mix of “Living On An Island”)
Just Supposin’ (1980, 2005 CD, Mercury 982 596 7, bonus track is b-side “AB Blues”)
Never Too Late (1981, 2005 CD, Mercury 982 584 3, bonus track is single version of “Rock N Roll”)
1+9+8+2 (1982, 2006 CD, Mercury 983 412 7)
Live At The NEC (1982, 2006 CD, Mercury 983 393 6, bonus tracks are the NEC b-sides of the “Caroline (Live)” 12”)
Back To Back (1983, 2006 CD, Mercury 983 412 6, bonus tracks include “The Wanderer”, “Going Down Town Tonight (New Version)”, and the extended mixes of “Ol Rag Blues” and “A Mess Of Blues”)
The “12 Gold Bars” and “12 Gold Bars Vol 2” sets have been superseded in recent years, as there have been numerous “Best Of’s” released in the CD era since which cover these years in major detail, although the former does exist on CD. Similarly, there has also been the recent BBC Box Set, which covers both the post and pre-Live Aid years. The 2-CD edition of “Pictures”, issued a couple of years ago as a definitive Greatest Hits set, is quite nifty, as the entire first disc covers Lancaster material only. There are also seven pre-“Live Aid” tunes on CD2, including “The Wanderer”.