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Status Quo

+ {The Spectres} + {Francis Rossi}

Although with over half a century in showbiz, the Quo are starting to regain a bit of respect from “classic rock” pundits that once worshipped them way back in their halcyon 70s period, today’s STATUS QUO are still something of a parody of themselves despite rocking all over the world – with the exception of every band’s ultimate holy grail: America. Amassing multi-platinum sales and a large “army” of acolytes in Old Blighty (and on the continent, especially Germany and the Netherlands), who cares that denim-clad Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt’s 12-bar blues vision has been sacrificed for heads-down-no-nonsense boogie. It’s a straight case of: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Formed in London, England as The SPECTRES, by frontman/guitarist Francis Rossi – then known as Mike – his middle name – and fellow school-chums Alan Lancaster (bass), Jess Jaworski (keyboards) and Alan Key performed in and around the Catford area; Key was duly superseded by drummer John Coghlan. By the mid-60s, the young 4-piece were playing a residency at Butlin’s holiday camp, as Roy Lynes now took over from the departed Jaworski.
In the midst of a transitional blues-cum-bubblegum boom in Britain, the group signed a lucrative 5-year deal with Piccadilly Records in July ‘66, but failed miserably with their Leiber & Stoller-penned debut cover of `I (Who Have Nothing)’, a platter better known to fans of Shirley Bassey. The SPECTRES run off another couple of flops, Lancaster’s `Hurdy Gurdy Man’ and a borrowed BLUES MAGOOS Stateside hit, `(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet’ – a sort-of lightweight precursor to DEEP PURPLE’s “Black Night”. A short-lived change of name to Traffic Jam resulted in their fourth failure in a row, `Almost But Not Quite There’, more than likely due to similarities with the now high-profile, TRAFFIC.
To bolster the band’s fresh moniker, The STATUS QUO, and their new-found psychedelic sound, they adding a second guitarist, Rick Parfitt. In October ‘67, Rossi reverted back to his proper Christian name, Francis. Moving along the proverbial corridor to Pye Records, the quintet unleashed their first breakthrough single, `Pictures Of Matchstick Men’, a Top 20 hit in both the UK and in America – a unique feat for the outfit. This was clearly an attempt to cash-in on the hugely popular psych scene, an enjoyable pastiche nevertheless, which remains one of their most enduring, timeless songs.
Despite the misfire of their follow-up, `Black Veils Of Melancholy’ – the opening salvo from debut LP, PICTURESQUE MATCHSTICKABLE MESSAGES FROM THE STATUS QUO (1968) {*6} – the lads were again melting the minds of teenyboppers by way of UK-only Top 10 bullet, `Ice In The Sun’. One of a handful of decent songs that were penned by MARTY WILDE and Ronnie Scott (the others being, `Elizabeth Dreams’ and `Paradise Flat’), it was somewhat dragged down by covers of The BEE GEES’ `Spicks And Specks’, TOMMY ROE’s `Sheila’ and The LEMON PIPERS’ `Green Tambourine’; the best non-single track was Anthony King’s `Technicolour Dreams’.
Leaning on songsmith Anthony King for minor Top 50 hit, `Are You Growing Tired Of My Love’ (plus `Mr Mind Detector’ and `Velvet Curtains’), STATUS QUO’s sophomore set SPARE PARTS (1969) {*5} shared a similar blueprint to their first long-player, with Rossi & Parfitt or Lancaster and roadie Bob Young taking the bulk of the credits; the exceptions were covers from Goffin-King: `You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today’ and their EVERLY BROTHERS outtake flop 45, `The Price Of Love’.
The advent of the 70s saw a raft of combos shedding their psychedelic trappings for either prog-rock or hard-rock; STATUS QUO choosing to extol the virtues of the latter genre, while creating a basic but bawdy British boogie sound a la CANNED HEAT (and writer Carl Grossman) on Top 20 single, `Down The Dustpipe’. Ill-advisedly omitted from their third set, MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON (1970) {*6}, the platter brought them closer to their trademark sound, although the album itself just failed to generate enough chart returns. Underrated by all but the ardent of true-blue fans, there was a genuine grit and guts in the likes of `(April) Spring, Summer & Wednesdays’, `Need Your Love’ and the 9-minute closing medley of `Is It Really Me – Gotta Go Home’; two covers: PETER GREEN’s `Lazy Poker Blues’ and STEAMHAMMER’s `Junior’s Wailing’ were also effective in their own way.
After yet another non-LP 45, `In My Chair’, gave the charts another post-blues angle, STATUS QUO stuck by their new-found denim-and-waistcoat style boogieing with the much-improved 1971 set, DOG OF TWO HEAD {*8}; their first without Lynes. Unearthing some classy pieces, including belated and exploitative 1973 hit, `Mean Girl’, 7-minute opening dirge `Umleitung’, the folky `Gerdundula’ and the FLEETWOOD MAC (Mk.I)-like `Railroad’, one had a sense that STATUS QUO were en route to finally make the grade. It was only a matter of time.
The Quo duly jumped ship when signing to Vertigo Records (home to BLACK SABBATH), while an impressive Reading Festive slot in August ’72 rounded off a transitional year for the band. Flying high on the back of a promotional tour, early ‘73 saw a confident STATUS QUO storm into the Top 10 again courtesy of signature single, `Paper Plane’; only this time it was accompanied by the un-glam Top 5 set, PILEDRIVER (1972) {*7}. Bolstered by a decent cover of The DOORS’ `Roadhouse Blues’, their three-chord barrage of rock’n’roll on `Don’t Waste My Time’ and `Big Fat Mama’ was matched with quieter numbers headed by the WISHBONE ASH-esque, `A Year’.
Maintaining their formulaic solitary spawn-from-accompanying-album approach through the excellent Rossi & Young-scribed `Caroline’ smash, 1973’s chart-topping HELLO! {*8} was widely regarded as the group’s twelve-bar tour de force. Bookended by the enduring and riff-tastic `Roll Over Lay Down’ and the 10-minute work-out, `Forty-Five Hundred Times’ (Andy Bown would mark his inaugural guest appearance), `Softer Ride’ too, gladly stuck to their harmony-driven blues manifesto.
Smash hit `Break The Rules’ and near numero uno, QUO (1974) {*7}, continued to rally against the tide of prog and glam-rock; the lads rather ironically sticking steadfastly to their tried and tested formula. The combination of Parfitt/Lancaster and Rossi/Young cues (in many respects harmonica man Bob Young was to STATUS QUO as Ian Stewart was to the ‘Stones), stand-out tracks came through `Drifting Away’, `Don’t Think It Matters’, `Backwater’ and the BO DIDDLEY-ish `Just Take Me’.
The same rock’n’roll recipe served them well for their next chart-topping outing, `Down Down’, edited er.. down from a similarly successful ON THE LEVEL (1975) {*6} album. Quo were now an institution. Although the set had its detractors and critics, long-haired fans (and purveyors of the air-guitar) were up in arms if anyone doubted their band’s ability and prowess. `Little Lady’ and `Night Ride’ turned up the volume to eleven on their boogie and blues rhythm machine, although despite the out-and-out cover of CHUCK BERRY’s `Bye Bye Johnny’, there was little for the outsider to grab on to. Led by the uncompromising concert classic, `Roll Over Lay Down’, the “Live” EP was their seventh to reach Top 10 status.
The need for change among the buying public was all but forgotten when it came to the aptly-monikered STATUS QUO, as up to a million disciples reached into their deep denim-clad pockets to make album number nine, BLUE FOR YOU (1976) {*5} another chart-topper. Ham-fisted and paint-drying for the more discerning rock’n’roll buff, there was little to shout about bar the opening dirge, `Is There A Better Way’ and its couple of credible hits, `Rain’ and `Mystery Song’. Toward the end of the year, while punk’s “Anarchy” bad boys The SEX PISTOLS were on the rise, the Quo opted for a rockin’ Top 10 version of Arlie Carter & William Warren’s country song, `Wild Side Of Life’. The times they were indeed a-changing. A hairy eight-legged hit machine, the quartet just kept on rockin’, oblivious to the punk upstarts on the Top 3, Glasgow Apollo-recorded concert double, LIVE! (1977) {*7}. Although still in the shadows of the band, Andy Bown was inducted into the fold around this time.
Perhaps the song most readily identifiable with the Quo, the cover of JOHN FOGERTY’s `Rockin’ All Over The World’ “rocked” the nation in the autumn of ’77; everyone from housewives to head-bangers getting down, down, deeper and down as air-guitarists extraordinaire. The accompanying Pip Williams-produced parent album, ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD {*6} struck gold one again, but to many the band had run out of new ideas. While there was merit in hard-driving albums, IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT (1978) {*6} – highlighting the derivative `Again And Again’ – and the rather cliched WHATEVER YOU WANT (1979) {*5}, the Quo were content to plod along regardless of any trendsetters surrounding them.
Subsequent Top 5 albums, JUST SUPPOSIN’ (1980) {*6}, NEVER TOO LATE (1981) {*6} and the overly-lambasted chart-topper 1982 {*4}, were again guilty of musical complacency, but by now their army of notoriously die-hard fans were happy to fork out coin for Top 10’ers, `What You’re Proposing’, `Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like’ (penned by Richie Supa), `Rock’n’Roll’ and `Dear John’; the double-header `Lies’ and `Don’t Drive My Car’ just missed out on the feat. The Quo became something of a reliable joke in the music journals as they veered more and more into R&B-by-numbers pop-rock territory. And had anyone really noticed that prior to their latter set, that Coghlan had made way for another veteran sticksman, Pete Kircher.
BACK TO BACK (1983) {*4} featured some further chart fodder: `Ol’ Rag Blues’, the ELVIS hit `A Mess Of Blues’ and `Marguerita Time’; the latter, Rossi and long-time songwriting partner Bernard Frost’s new low. Outtake `The Wanderer’ (yes, the old DION nugget) secured the Quo another Top 10 smash toward the close of ’84, but unrest in the ranks led to ROSSI and FROST delivering their own collaborative 45s, `Modern Romance’ (a minor hit) and `Jealousy’. A court case would keep the team(s) apart after their “Live Aid” charity bow, until a settlement ensued later in ’85.
With Lancaster and Kircher opting out (probably unable to withstand the repetition of retro-fried 3-chords played over and over and over again), their shoes were respectively filled by John “Rhino” Edwards and Jeff Rich. Co-produced by DAVE EDMUNDS and Pip Williams, the former’s cohort with LOVE SCULPTURE, John David, was drafted in to author the band’s comeback hits, `Rollin’ Home’ and `Red Sky’. Hardly recognisable as a Quo single, the dreary but effective Bolland & Bolland-scribed sing-a-long, `In The Army Now’, was just kept off the top slot, while its parent album IN THE ARMY NOW (1986) {*7} drew in some decent reviews; Rossi and Parfitt’s reading of IAN HUNTER’s `Speechless’ was also a highlight.
Their first in a long line of albums that failed to reach the Top 10, AIN’T COMPLAINING (1988) {*4} found the band in desperate mode as they also roller-coasted between respective minor and major hits: `Who Gets The Love’ (scribed by Williams & Goodison) and the Top 5, `Burning Bridges’. PERFECT REMEDY (1989) {*3} only managed a lowly No.49 spot and it was clear that the Quo had indeed burned their bridges full stop.
STATUS QUO’s past musical misdemeanours paled dramatically against the unforgivable early medley of golden oldie nuggets, entitled “The Anniversary Waltz Part One”; thankfully, “Part Two” never scaled the near chart-topping heights of its predecessor, and it was down to ROCK ‘TIL YOU DROP (1991) {*5} to fill a void for long-suffering Quo fans willing to listen to run-of-the-mill sing-a-longs and further covers from WILBERT HARRISON’s `Let’s Work Together’, SAM COOKE’s `Bring It On Home’ and other take of The EVERLYs `Price Of Love’.
Bolstered by pop sales of `Roadhouse Medley’ – tongue-in-cheekily dubbed by the band as “Anniversary Waltz Part 25”, LIVE ALIVE QUO (1992) {*6} gave their supporters something to scream and shout about. But most others outside the ticket barriers couldn’t quite forgive Quo for these aforementioned medley run-throughs, vying as they did for a knees-up-Mother Brown position previously held by cockney entertainers, CHAS & DAVE.
`I Didn’t Mean It’, `Sherri Don’t Fail Me Now’ and a soft-ish re-vamp of JENNIFER WARNES’ `Restless’, were all relatively effective hits from 1994’s THIRSTY WORK {*4}, but once again the Quo bottled out of anything meaningful.
DON’T STOP (1996) {*4} was downhill all way as the quintet took on a completely karaoke-styled of their favourite tunes. While there was a fair range of chartbusting material and guest spots, only their collaborative BEACH BOYS take of `Fun Fun Fun’ (with the group themselves), the BRIAN MAY guest spot on BUDDY HOLLY’s `Raining In My Heart’ and the connective STATUS QUO & MADDY PRIOR minor chart entry, `All Around My Hat’, were worthy of merit; others stemmed from JACKIE DeSHANNON’s `When You Walk In The Room’ (another minor staple), The MOVE’s `I Can Hear The Grass Grow’, CHUCK BERRY’s `You Never Can Tell’, The BEATLES’ `Get Back’, MEN WITHOUT HATS’ `Safety Dance’, FLEETWOOD MAC’s `Don’t Stop’, The MERSEYS hit `Sorrow’, CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s `Proud Mary’, LITTLE RICHARD’s `Lucille’, ROBERT PALMER’s `Johnny And Mary’, BOB SEGER’s `Get Out Of Denver’ and TIMBUK 3’s `The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades’.
Aided by BBC soundtracks writer Tony McAnaney on several cues (three others were with Bernard Frost again), ROSSI’s KING OF THE DOGHOUSE {*5} entered the Top 50 in 1996, although it was somewhat overlooked by critics, radio and even some diehard Quo fans.
STATUS QUO’s UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1999) {*5} – despite its title, a group-penned set with the exception of BUDDY HOLLY’s `Not Fade Away’ – and “another covers album” (as quoted by Rossi himself), FAMOUS IN THE LAST CENTURY (2000) {*3}, celebrated its way into the new millennium. But it should’ve been out with old – full stop. Apart from the obvious rock’n’roll staple [see discog for details], the closest thing to anything modern was their versions of STEVE MILLER’s `Rock’n Me’, IAN HUNTER’s `Once Bitten Twice Shy’, McGUINNESS-FLINT’s `When I’m Dead And Gone’ and TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS’ `Mony Mony’.
With Matt Letley in place of Jeff Rich, the Quo redeemed themselves to a certain degree on HEAVY TRAFFIC (2002) {*6}, claimed by some of their more excitable fans as their best record since the 70s. They had a point, certainly: the record’s brutally stripped down, live-in-the-studio, heads down blues-rock suggested that they’d been saving it up for years. The re-involvement of Rossi pen-partner, Bob Young, was the catalyst here as the old boys garnered some dignity on such jewels as `All Stand Up (Never Say Never)’, `Creepin’ Up On You’ and their first Top 20 entry for a dozen years, `Jam Side Down’.
The double-disc CD/DVD, RIFFS (2003) {*5}, meanwhile, carried that back-to-basics ethos forward to a lean covers/re-recordings set, with spirited interpretations of various good-time rockers, namely `I Fought The Law’ (Sonny Curtis), `Born To Be Wild’ (STEPPENWOLF), `Tobacco Road’ (J.D. Loudermilk), `All Day And All Of The Night’ (The KINKS), `Takin’ Care Of Business’ (BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE), `Centerfold’ (J. GEILS BAND), `Wild One’ (Johnny O’Keefe) and `Pump It Up’ (ELVIS COSTELLO).
The Quo returned in 2005 on fresh twilight label (Sanctuary Records) for umpteenth album, THE PARTY AIN’T OVER YET {*6}, another Top 20 entry that featured the odd hit or two including the title track and `All That Counts Is Love’; note that `Cupid Stupid’ was not the similarly-titled Connie Francis number. Talking of the odd hit or two, Rossi and Parfitt also made their impression (as STATUS QUO!) by “decking” character Les Battersby on ITV’s long-running soap, Coronation Street.
A play-on-words of a MOODY BLUES album as nearly as old as Quo themselves, the punningly-titled Pip Williams-produced IN SEARCH OF THE FOURTH CHORD (2007) {*6} – and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the elusive note that Rossi and Parfitt were always trying to find – was another in the series of hard-rocking sets. Led out by single, `Beginning Of The End’, other “fightback” songs such as `I Don’t Want To Hurt You Anymore’, the ZZ TOP-esque `Gravy Train’ and the GARY MOORE-ish `Electric Arena’, recalled their glorious 70s heyday.
Father of eight children by two marriages, the once pony-tailed FRANCIS ROSSI (now O.B.E. with Parfitt) was again moonlighting on solo album escapades; ONE STEP AT A TIME (2010) {*5} and LIVE AT ST LUKE’S (2011) {*5}, slightly swept under the carpet of the current Quo resume. STATUS QUO, meanwhile, supported the Help For Heroes/BFF charity by donating all proceeds of their reprised `In The Army Now’ hit. Included on the UK version of their 29th album, QUID PRO QUO (2011) {*5}, the heavy-leaded 5-piece continued to surprise even themselves by again reaching the Top 10; Letley would leave in December 2012 after contributing to one of the group’s many download concert sets.
Some 40 years after former pop-rock rivals SLADE (and their “Flame” flick) introduced them into the world of cinema; BOLAN and another certain “Rock’n’Roll-er” were also best remembered this way, STATUS QUO deliver their belated film feature/OST. Divided into the fresh disc of reliable songs and a part-compilation/live-from-2010, BULA QUO! (2013) {*5}, let the acolytes into their world of `Living On An Island (Fiji Style)’ and a few rockin’ sing-a-longs in `Bula Bula Quo (Kua Ni Lequ)’ and `Looking Out For Caroline’. Tame stuff if you’re not a carrier of the Rossi/Parfitt membership card, and one knows already the unfair BS paraphrase outsiders might be turning in.
2013 was certainly a year to remember for classic Quo fans across the nation, as Messrs Rossi, Parfitt, Coghlan and Lancaster played to a sell-out crowd at the Hammersmith Apollo that March. As a commemoration to this glorious one-off, fans who missed the concerts made do with Top 40 double-set of pre-split times: THE FRANTIC FOUR REUNION 2013 {*6}.
A year on, Rossi, Parfitt and Co unplugged the amps for 2014’s AQUOSTIC {*7}, an hour-long album serving to re-plough their back catalogue from `Pictures Of Matchstick Men’ and `Down The Dustpipe’ to `Burning Bridges’ and `Rock ‘Til You Drop’. Cajun accordions, violins and Morris dancing… self-indulgent, but ever so playful and pleasing.
Still going strong even after the semi-retirement of Parfitt due to a near-death heart attack in June 2016 – tour-only Freddie Edwards (son of “Rhino”) stepped in on short notice – Rossi and Co re-imagined more of their back catalogue under their subsequent Top 10 title, AQUOSTIC II: THAT’S A FACT! {2016) {*7}. Featuring a few fresh cuts as well as rock classics such as `Roll Over Lay Down’, `In The Army Now’ and `Backwater’, their winter tour brought in the young Richie Malone.
The sad news of rock legend Rick Parfitt’s death filtered through in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. If dealing with a defibrillator to his chest wasn’t bad enough, complications from a shoulder injury resulted in his passing away at a hospital in Spain. STATUS QUO fans rockin’ all over the world will be mourning for some time to come; he certainly lived life to the full.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-MCS / rev-up MCS Jun2013-Dec2016

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