Saturday, 2 March 2019

Status Quo




"The sign on my gravestone would be, 'I've been getting away with it all my life" - Francis Rossi

Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon (1970)


Spinning Wheel Blues/Daughter/Everything/Shy Fly/(April), Spring, Summer & Wednesdays/Junior's Wailing/Lakky Lady/Need Your Love/Lazy Poker Blues/Is It Really Me/Gotta Go Home   
                
After a few years of psychedelic looking for Pictures Of Matchstick Men, Status Quo literally became a different band overnight with this album. They turned, seemingly overnight, from Paisley print shirt wearing flop-haired fops into no-nonsense, heads down bluesy boogie merchants, and there they would stay, for over forty years...

It began here with the Canned Heat-esque roadhouse blues of the rocking Spinning Wheel Blues and continued into the guitar and piano backed boogie of Daughter. Blues rock was very much "of the age" - Canned Heat, Led Zeppelin, Free and Black Sabbath were all strutting their blues rock stuff, as were The Rolling Stones and The Doors too. Status Quo were doing nothing ground-breaking, but for them, they were. It was a sea change.

For me, Quo's slow numbers were never very convincing. Francis Rossi's voice didn't seem to go with them, and they always seemed a bit wishy-washy. Maybe it was Rick Parfitt singing. If so, the same applies. The dreamy Everything would seem to exemplify that. 

Shy Fly is back to rock, though, with a very Black Sabbath-esque, driving riff. (April), Spring, Summer & Wednesdays is a strangely titled slow burning blues featuring another industrially impressive riff. It has echoes of some of David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World album on it in places, for me, anyway.

Junior's Wailing has what is now a totally recognisable Status Quo riff. Hearing it now anyone would say it was them. Not in the summer of 1970 though. Again, it has strong hints of Canned Heat, particularly in Rossi's voice and the slowed-down bit in the middle. 

Lakky Lady had remnants of the late sixties about it - acoustic guitar, T. Rex-style bongos. Just a little bit hippy/trippy., but rescued by a killer guitar solo. Both Need Your Love and Lazy Poker Blues are excellent rocking blues. "She put some coal on the fire so I can keep my poker hot.....". Hmmm. Great seventies lyrics!


Is It Really Me/Gotta Go Home is a nine-minute extended steady-pace rocking jam of a track. It is a little indulgent in places but it has an absolute classic bit of guitar riffage. 

** The single Down The Dustpipe didn't make the album, and is included on the remastered release of the album. It has the same sound as the later single Mean Girl

Its 'b' side In My Chair is a slow bluesy grinder. Another single, Gerdundula, is strangely Tyrannosuarus Rex-ish, however, with some Irish-sounding fiddle backing. An odd one. Apparently named after two German friends of theirs - Gerd Und Ula - geddit? There are also some good quality BBC sessions live cuts too.

It all began properly here for Status Quo. This is a good album and should be ranked up with the later ones but strangely, isn't. Great cover too.


Dog Of Two Head (1971)


Umleitung/Nanana (Extraction I)/Something's Going On In My Head/Mean Girl/Nanana (Extraction II)/Gerdundula/Railroad/Someone's Learning/Nanana            
Status Quo were laying down their riffy rock, heads-down guitar-driven boogie sound for real by now having dabbled with it considerably before. It is a little-mentioned album but actually a really good one. The late sixties psychedelic experiments had long gone now and the band started seriously showcasing their heavy rock credentials. Yes, they were maybe not as heavy as Deep Purple, not as bluesy as Led Zeppelin or as frenetic as Black Sabbath, but they were definitely up there with them. Quo had an ear for a catchy melody to go with the heaviness and the riffs. They never lost that, either.
                                            
Umleitung (German for "diversion", by the way) is a wonderful seven minutes of bluesy, riffy Quo rock to open with. That trademark sound that slowly began making itself known on the preceding album, Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon was truly on its way here. This is what listeners would come to instantly recognise as the Status Quo sound over the subsequent decades. 

Nanana (Extraction 1) is an odd little bit of folky messing around that barely registers before some wonderful, deep, bassy riffing comes along on Something's Going On In My Head, which is a great track. It has a lovely, warm, deep sound and Francis Rossi's slightly whiny voice giving it his all over some serious good guitar soloing. This is proper early seventies rock. Vastly underrated.

The quality continues on the hit single, the frantic but very catchy Mean Girl. Previous to this, as a twelve year-old when this came out, I had only memories of the psychedelic Pictures Of Matchstick Men regarding Status Quo. This single changed all that. I loved it back then and do now. Status Quo were a different band now - a serious, loud, riffy rock band. It wasn't actually a hit until re-released after the success of Paper Plane in 1972.

Nanana (Extraction II) is slightly longer than the previous Nanana, but not by much, which was a bit of a shame, as it might have been a nice enough, folky song. Never mind, a longer version would appear at the end. 

Gerdundula is, in its structure, a typically Quo riff-driven rocker. However, its riffs are acoustic ones, with Eastern/Celtic folky riffs driving it along, like early Steeleye Span on steroids. It was a re-recoding of a previous 'b' side. It is not long, however, before some serious heavy blues rock returns on the solid thump of Railroad

Someone's Learning is an interesting track. It is heavy and riffy but also contains some changes of pace and style that showed Quo to be the clever composers they are not always given the credit for being. 

The eventual Nanana was a couple of minutes of laid-back, slightly incongruous folkiness. All these Nanana's, to be honest, serve little purpose and it would have been better being replaced by another rock track, as all the others are in that vein. They sit rather uncomfortably with the rest of the excellent guitar boogie material. This is a very small nit pick, though. Overall, this was a very impressive, hard-hitting album of typical early Quo rock.



Piledriver (1972)


Don't Waste My Time/Oh Baby/A Year/Unspoken Words/Big Fat Mama/Paper Plane/All The Reasons/Roadhouse Blues      

Status Quo had progressed from being a late sixties psychedelic rock group, through dabbling with some folky, melodic, subtle sounds to eventually stumbling across that trademark blues-boogie, guitar-driven sound that would serve them well over the next God knows how many years. This was the first album that would really lay down the foundations of that style, consistently.

There were still quieter passages on the album, though, showing that they hadn’t quite shaken off that early seventies hippy habit that affected so many groups, but to a much greater extent, this was Status Quo discovering that riff-driven guitar sound for almost the first time. (Although, to be fair, they had done so on Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon and Dog Of Two Head, it has to be said). It is quite a bluesy album however, overall, with a full, punchy rock sound.

  
                     
The opener, Don't Waste My Timeis a typical Status Quo rocker, everything one would come to expect from them, with the obvious riff and what would soon become Francis Rossi’s instantly recognisable slightly nasal vocals. A powerful rocking beginning that was continued in the solid, bluesy and bassy Cream/Traffic-influenced Oh Baby. This is a track with some seriously potent blues instrumental passages. 

A Year is a slow ballad, very much in the vein of The Who’s Behind Blue Eyes, particularly in the guitar intro (you expect Roger Daltrey to start singing), while Unspoken Words has that afore-mentioned subtlety of approach not usually associated with Status Quo. It almost sounds John Lennon-ish in places. A great blues guitar intro here should not be overlooked.  Unfortunately then the voice kicks in. Rossi never really had a great voice, though, bluesy material like this was far better served by a Paul RodgersRod Stewart or Roger Daltrey. These are pretty good, powerful songs that are slightly let down by the comparatively weak voice.

Big Fat Mama is a fast-paced typically chugging rocker, with an interesting instrumental part half way through, that was almost “prog rock” in its feel. The song finishes with some classic heavy Quo riffing, however. An early Quo classic.

Paper Plane was the album’s only single, and was a medium-sized hit, and the first one to really familiarise the public with that Status Quo sound.  Listening to this, it could only be one band. I remember when it came out, you thought that was what Status Quo sounded like, and you expected the same next time around. They were not Slade, David Bowie or Alice Cooper. They were Status Quo, and they now had their own distinct musical identity.

All The Reasons begins like early seventies Steeleye Span or The Strawbs and then progresses into a melodic, light rock ballad with some admittedly heavy bass and drum backing at times. This really is quite an inventive piece of work, with more folky/prog bits in the final instrumental refrain. It certainly is no standard 12-bar blues rocker. Roadhouse Blues is, though. A solid cover of The Doors’ classic blues rocker to finish. A great harmonica/deliberately lighter vocal part half way through.

Overall, a solidly impressive blues rock album, but containing some interesting, unexpected musical diversions. I don’t play it too often, but every time I do, I enjoy it.





Hello! (1973)


Roll Over Lay Down/Claudie/Reason For Living/Blue Eyed Lady/Caroline/Softer Ride/And It's Better Now/Forty-Five Hundred Times/Joanne (Bonus Track)           
Status Quo produced perfect heads down, British blues rock, nothing more, nothing less. They should never be derided for it. This is probably their most obviously Quo album, packed full of riffs, pounding drums, Francis Rossi’s slightly nasal vocals and some searing guitar parts as well as the chunky riffs too. It continued the tradition of driving guitar boogie that had populated most of its predecessor Piledriver's tracks. It was even more pronounced on here though - this was a full-on attack. "No nonsense" would describe it perfectly.
                          
Roll Over Lay Down, often only played in its live incarnation, is great in is studio version too. A proper copper-bottomed Quo rocker, with a “false ending” quiet bit too. 

Claudie continues the riffage, with some Byrds/country rock-style jangly guitar in places. Reason For Living utilises the trademark Quo riff once more, to great effect. Sure, it has the same sound to it, but is a great sound, more power to it. It’s classic Status Quo, so just get your head swinging and enjoy it. There is a simple, beautiful perfection to it.

Blue Eyed Lady betrayed a few prog rock leanings in its initial intro, before kicking in to a full-on Quo riff and trademark Francis Rossi vocal. 

Just when you think the obligatory slow ballad is coming, up next is the barnstorming, archetypal Quo of Caroline. Maybe it is their signature song. You can’t go far wrong with it. From the very first notes it is Quo heaven. It has that wonderful extended intro and the rock doesn’t let up from beginning to end. It is based, as music snobs never tire of telling us, on very few chords. So what? They are great chords, and boy does it work. It is commonly thought that punk was the antidote to mid-seventies prog-rock's endless noodlings, doodlings and pretensions. Maybe this did it first. Not many ELP, Mike Oldfield, Yes or Greenslade fans had any time for Status Quo, did they? This was as "in your face" as glam rock as well, despite Quo's long hair and denim appearance. As a glam-rock loving proto-punk in 1973, I despised prog-rock (I have since re-assessed), but I loved this.

Softer Ride has a bluesy feel, particularly at the beginning, but that is soon blasted away by some sledgehammer riffery. It is seriously thumping and shakes your speakers. 

And It's Better Now has brief echoes of Quo's dreamy, hippy days in its cuter melody, but it also has its muscular moments. Something about the guitar has hints of Thin Lizzy about it too. 

Forty-Five Hundred Times sort of goes against the "antidote to prog" thing, however, by being nearly ten minutes long. It also has a wistful, acoustic beginning. It doesn't take long to get rocking, though. It also features keyboards and saxophone in its wall of sound too, an unusual thing for Quo. The saxophone, in particular, is pretty inaudible, though. The track has airs of The Rolling StonesMidnight Rambler to it. It probably does go on a bit too long, and, in comparison to the others, does't seem to get anywhere, lacking in structure somewhat.

** The bonus track, Joanne, was the 'b' side to Caroline and has a definite sixties feel to it. Overall, half an hour or so of this album with aurally blow your cobwebs away.





Quo (1974)


Backwater/Just Take Me/Break The Rules/Drifting Away/Don't Think It Matters/Fine Fine Fine/Lonely Man/Slow Train/Lonely Night (bonus track)       

After the all-out attack of Hello! from 1973, this album the next year is pretty much more of the same. Eight rocking tracks, the last one eight minutes long. That was the blueprint and it was followed here. Another interesting thing Quo often did was introduce songs with various un-Quo like bits of music that, after  a short while, launched powerfully into typical Quo riffery. Check out the first two cuts, especially, for examples.
                  
Backwater begins with a solid, slow rock riff, before veering off into a quieter phase and then, guess what - Quo's trademark riff arrives and Francis Rossi's distinctive voice heralds another heads-down, no-nonsense boogie. It has an almost Slade-esque glam rock stomp to it. It merges straight into the quirky drum rhythm of Just Take Me which soon settles into an almost funky (and even punky) guitar riff. There is considerable rhythm and groove to this track, something Quo were not known for. What they were known for was bar-room blues rock, and the album's hit single, Break The Rules, gave us that. Solid Quo blues all the way. It includes some boogie-woogie piano, which was slightly unusual.

Drifting Away is straight into a muscular, fast-paced Quo backing. It is a wonderful rocker. It has a thumping bass sound too. 

Don't Think It Matters is a chugging, somewhat predictable number, but eminently strong all the same. 

Fine Fine Fine is more upbeat and lively, catchy even. On most of their albums, Quo would include a somewhat dreamy, Led Zeppelin III-esque slower number. On this one, it is Lonely Man, although even on this one, some heavy duty guitar and drums come in half way through. It is a pretty impressive track.



Slow Train is the album's big closer. Its first passages are serious Quo riffing. It features some excellent soling in the middle - more than just a few chords. It mutates into an Irish jig and then a drum solo before the Quo we know and love come storming back. 

** Lonely Night, the latest release's bonus track, is another typical Quo rocker. Look, this album barely deviates from the Quo formula. No reason that it should, really, this was Status Quo at their rocking seventies peak. More power to them.




On The Level (1975)


Little Lady/Most Of The Time/I Saw The Light/Over And Done/Nightride/Down Down/Broken Man/What To Do/Where I Am/Bye Bye Johnny                              

Another of the great seventies Status Quo albums, with the band at the height of their hard-riffing success. It did't ever get any better than this for them. It was a number one album.

Little Lady is typical Quo fare - trademark riff, drums and vocal (Rick Parfitt, this time). It does have one of those parts where the riffing briefly stops and it goes quiet, before building back up again. Quo do that quite a lot. The track merges straight into the slower, Ronnie Lane-esque Most Of The Time. After a few minutes, though, it kicks into a slow-paced Quo rock ballad. Francis Rossi does his best at times to give us a Paul Rodgers-style vocal, but his voice is too high and whiny, unfortunately. 

I Saw The Light is back to archetypal riffing. Look, I know the formula doesn't change much, but if you like it, you like it, and I do.


Over And Done is another fast-paced rocker, although the guitar sound is slightly lighter, despite the riff being pretty much the same. 

Nightride is a chugging rock groove, solid and industrial. Then comes Down Down, the band's biggest hit single. It needs no introduction, really. Heads down, no nonsense Quo boogie. On the album you get the full album version, which has a delicious little bit of guitar interplay before it unfathomably fades out. 

Broken Man doesn't break much new ground, but What To Do, despite the seventies riffs, has a feel of Quo's psychedelic sixties material about it.



Where I Am is a surprisingly airy, light slow number before the album ends with a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry's Bye Bye Johnny. It ends, oddly, with a brief chorus of You'll Never Walk Alone as sung by Liverpool fans. Not quite sure why.

There is no pretension to this album, as you would not expect there to be. It rocks, Status Quo-style from beginning to end.



Blue For You (1976)


Is There A Better Way/Mad About The Boy/Ring of Change/Blue For You/Rain/Rolling Home/That's A Fact/Ease Your Mind/Mystery Song            

Since parts of 1970's Ma Kelly's Greasy SpoonStatus Quo had been producing albums of riffy, relentless guitar-driven boogie for six years. This was probably the last in that great run of albums, they moved, after this, towards a more laid-back poppy sound and became "national treasures", known by everyone - "good old Quo". Here, they are still a credible, heavy but accessible rock band and, as punk took off around them, the album still found a fair amount of acceptance. After all, those riffs were nothing if not punky, weren't they? Quo rode out the punk storm, rarely being lumped in as "boring old farts", probably because of their deafening loud riffing and general "don't give a fuck" attitude. Thin Lizzy fell into the same category.

In 1976-77, while I listened to David Bowie's "Low" and "Heroes", The Clash's first album, The Ramones and Patti Smith I still also listened to this and enjoyed it. It was loud, rocking and uncompromising. What was not to like?

                         
Is There A Better Way is typical Quo fare - a brief, slow-ish intro that bursts out in to the usual heads-down Quo riffage. As was also quite regular was a "bridge" in the middle where the pace slows down before it launches full-tilt back into the original riff. 

Mad About The Boy is Quo blues rock, which is slightly different (admittedly not by much) to Quo regular rock. There are small differences - the blues rockers contain no bridges or instrumental quiet doodling bits. 

Ring Of Change is classic poppy Quo rock (another sub-genre!). It is very much is the frantic Down Down/Caroline style. I cannot help but like it. The pace and attack doesn't let up from beginning to end.

On every album, Quo slowed down a bit and they do here on the gentle, melodic slow rock of Blue For You. There is something a bit McCartney-esque with tinges of Lennon too about it. The cymbal work is great and emphasises that Quo could do subtle if they wanted to. There is a great rock guitar solo in the middle as well.



Rick Parfitt's Rain is wonderful Quo blues rock - solid, heavy, loud but catchy too. The great thing about Quo is that many who would not necessarily like blues rock seemed fine with Quo. Disco girls would be happy to sing along with Quo on the radio. 

Rolling Home is a fast-paced, punky workout, sort of glam meets punk with some Celtic-sounding Thin Lizzy guitar in places too. That's A Fact is a slower, but still muscular number. Ease Your Mind, while still riffy, gives a hint at the poppier sort of material the next decade would bring.

Mystery Song is an excellent closer, with a suitably mysterious, laid-back intro that eventually leads into a classic, headbanging riff. The track is full of all sorts of other changes in pace and instrumental ingenuity. It demonstrates Quo's cleverness as composers and musicians while still retaining some of their trademark sound. The non-album single The Wild Side Of Life is excellent as well. For the last in a classic run of Status Quo albums, this was a really good one. Stick it on and rock for forty minutes.





Status Quo Live (1976)


Junior's Wailing/Backwater/Just Take Me/Is There A Better Way/In My Chair/Little Lady/Most Of The Time/Rain/Forty-Five Hundred Times/Roll Over Lay Down/Big Fat Mama/Don't Waste My Time/Roadhouse Blues/Caroline/Bye Bye Johnny        

As the seventies progressed, most rock bands/artists released a live double album - Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Thin Lizzy amongst others. Why, even the relatively unknown Peter Frampton scored a huge commercial success with Frampton Comes Alive. Status Quo had been big for several years by the release of this live album, with many chart hits and impressively-selling albums. This was Quo at their best, before they became "national treasures", for ever more providing singalongs for nostalgists. They main thing the album shows is just what a fine, credible rock band Quo were at this time. The concert is loud, abrasive and exciting from beginning to end. It is not simple a "greatest hits", it covers tracks from the early seventies when they were still unsure whether switching from hippy psychedelia to riffy, blues rock was a good idea or not, through their mid-seventies albums and also giving us some of their big hits.

The gig opens with Junior's Wailing from 1975's On The Level before progressing to Backwater and Just Take Me 1974's Quo. The rocking, punky Is There A Better Way comes from their latest album at the time, Blue For YouIn My Chair is a rare single-only release dating from 1970. It was of their first ventures into a busier, heavier sound. Little Lady and Most Of The Time are from On The Level.

  

The wonderful, heads-down, copper-bottomed blues rock of Rain is from Blue For You while the extended jam of Forty-Five Hundred Times is from 1973's Hello, as is the single Roll Over Lay DownBig Fat Mama, Don't Waste My Time and the mammoth Roadhouse Blues date from 1972's Piledriver.  Finally, you get the huge rocking, riffy hit Caroline and a cover of Chuck Berry's Bye Bye Johnny.

With regard to the two extended performances - Forty-Five Hundred Times and Roadhouse Blues, sixteen minutes and fourteen minutes respectively, they said that they simply played the song, then carried on improvising, unrehearsed until one of them nodded to stop. Innovative rock at its best. Jimi Hendrix would have been impressed.

The sound quality is good and the band's performance is raw and enthusiastic. The interplay between the two lead guitars, bass and drums is sensational. Just check out when Most Of The Time kicks into action. The whole album serves as a reminder that when Status Quo were like this, they were very good indeed. Funnily enough, in retrospect, Francis Rossi subsequently said he hated the band's performance. Rick Parfitt, on the other and, said much of it still "gave him goosebumps".





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