Sixteen years after they climbed to the top of the British chart with a 1963 remake of the Drifters “Sweets for My Sweet,” and more than a decade after they’d last cracked the Top 40 with a remake of the Rolling Stones’ “Take It or Leave It,” the second (or third, depending on how you feel about Gerry and the Pacemakers) most popular band out of Liverpool was back. Having continued to tour as an oldies act and cover band throughout the 1970s, it was a remarkably well-timed return to recording. The band’s two albums on Sire, 1979’s The Searchers and 1980’s Love’s Melodies, cannily conjured fresh music from the band’s classic harmonies and guitars, and the then-courant power-pop that had grown from ‘60s pop roots.
Pat Moran’s production of the first album, recorded at the same Rockfield Studios that served Dave Edmunds and the Flamin’ Groovies, has the clean sound of the era’s pop hits. The band’s two originals (“This Kind of Love Affair” and “Don’t Hang On”) are complemented by songs written by upcoming and established songwriters. The memorable “Hearts in Her Eyes” was written for the band by the Records’ Will Birch and John Wicks, and Mickey Jupp’s “Switchboard Susan” is given a low-key arrangement that suggests skiffle roots. Covers of Tom Petty’s Mudcrutch-era “Lost in Your Eyes” and Bob Dylan’s obscure “Coming From the Heart” highlight the band’s ears for good songs that had been abandoned by major writers.
In addition to the album’s original ten tracks, this collection includes an alternate mix of “It’s Too Late,” and early mixes of two tracks from the second album. The second album, like the first, combines a couple of band originals (“Little Bit of Heaven” and “Another Night”) with material drawn from up-and coming and veteran songwriters. Among the former are Moon Martin (“She Made a Fool Of You”) and a pair co-written by Will Burch; among the latter are John Fogerty’s “Almost Saturday Night,” Andy McMaster’s “Love’s Melody” and Alex Chilton’s “September Gurls.” The latter was an especially prescient selection, given that it would be six more years until the Bangles brought the song into the mainstream with A Different Light.
The second album is even richer in vocal harmonies and 12-string jangle, with well-selected songs from British writers that include Dave Paul’s “Silver,” Randy Bishop’s “Infatuation,” John David’s inspirational “You Are the New Day” and the Kursaal Flyers’ now-nostalgic “Radio Romance.” The album’s original dozen tracks are supplemented by four bonuses, including the original B-side “Changing,” two John Hiatt tunes and a hard-rocking cover of Chris Kenner’s New Orleans’ R&B chestnut “Sick and Tired.” Most of this material was previously released on Raven’s Sire Sessions: Rockfield Recordings 1979-80, but with that set out of print, and the additional tracks and new interviews added in this edition’s liner notes, this is the set to get. [©2017 Hyperbolium]