Three Chords, Straight Beats And Catchy Hooks

Status Quo have stayed true to their trademark boogie rock for more than 45 years

Advertisements

The other day, I spotted a live album from Status Quo called Down Down & Dirty At Wacken, (a place in northern Germany of an annual open air heavy metal festival), which was released only a couple of weeks ago. While starting to listen, I was reminded what a fun live band they are and how they’ve pretty much stuck with the same formula since 1970 when they changed from psychedelic to boogie rock. This brilliant insight inspired the idea of a post and playlist!🤓

The origins of Status Quo date back to 1962 when high school mates Frances Rossi (guitar), Alan Lancaster (bass), Jess Jaworski (keyboards) and Alan Key (drums) formed a band called The Scorpions in London (not related to and predating the German hard rock band Scorpions by three years). In 1965, Rossi met guitarist Rick Parfitt. They became friends and later that year started what would become a longtime collaboration until Parfitt’s untimely death in December 2016 at the age of 68. The following summer, the band, which had changed their name to The Spectres, got their first record deal, with Piccadilly Records, and released various commercially unsuccessful singles.

By 1967, the band had embraced psychedelic music, became Traffic, then Traffic Jam to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic, and eventually Status Quo in August that year. Parfitt had joined them as rhythm guitarist the previous month. January 1968 saw the release of Status Quo’s first hit single Pictures Of Matchstick Men. This was followed by their debut studio album Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From Status Quo in September – gee, what a memorable title!

Status Quo
Status Quo circa 1977 (from left): John Coghlan (drums), Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitar, vocals), Alan Lancaster (bass, vocals), and Francis Rossi (lead guitar, vocals)

After the release and commercial failure of Status Quo’s second album Spare Parts in September 1969, the band decided to change their musical style to straight boogie-oriented rock – a decision that is safe to assume they didn’t regret! Piledriver, their fifth studio record from December 1972, finally brought the breakthrough, peaking at no. 5 in the U.K. charts. Since then, Status Quo have released 27 additional studio albums. Their impressive catalog also includes 10 live records and nine compilations.

Given the band’s faithful adherence to the three-chord boogie rock formula, their music starts sounding repetitive after a little while. But so do Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys’ surf rock, to name two artists who spontaneously came to mind! Besides, if it’s fun, who cares! Okay, enough of the blah-blah-blah and time for some of that repetitive music!😆

While the band’s psychedelic phase was comparatively short, it’s still part of their long history, so I’d be amiss not to acknowledge it. My favorite tune I know from that phase is the above mentioned Pictures Of Matchstick Men, which was written by Rossi. It climbed to no. 7 on the U.K. Singles Chart and reached the top 10 in many other European countries. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, the only Status Quo song that got noticed in America. In addition to its release as a single, it was also included on the band’s debut album.

Next Up: Paper Plane from the Piledriver album. The song was co-written by Rossi and Bob Young. Since 1969, Young had contributed to writing Status Quo’s music and was often called their unofficial fifth member. He frequently joined the band during live performances in the ’70s and also occasionally thereafter.

Another co-write by Rossi and Young is Caroline, which became a no. 5 hit in the U.K. in August 1973, Status Quo’s highest charting single at the time. The tune was also included on the band’s sixth studio album Hello!, which appeared in September that year.

In November 1974, Status Quo scored their first of two no. 1 singles in the U.K. with Down Down. Yet another Rossi/Young co-write, the song also appeared on the band’s eighth studio record On The Level from February 1975.

Perhaps my favorite Status Quo tune is Rockin’ All Over The World. As a boogie rock fan, how can you not love that tune, which was written and first recorded by the great John Fogerty in 1975! Status Quo released their cover as a single in September 1977. It also became the title track of their tenth studio album that came out in November the same year. Since this tune is made for live performances, I chose the following clip captured during a 1990 concert in Knebworth, England.

Whatever You Want is another Status Quo classic. It was co-written by Parfitt and keyboarder Andy Bown, who has performed on all of the band’s albums since Rockin’ All Over The World and became a full member in 1982. One of the things I’ve always liked about this tune is the cool-sounding guitar intro.

Status Quo’s biggest hit in the ’80s was their cover of Bolland & Bolland’s In The Army Now from September 1986, which topped the charts in various European countries, including Austria, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. In the U.K., the tune peaked at no. 2. Since I’m not particularly fond of it, I’m highlighting another cover instead: The Wanderer from October 1984. Written by Ernie Maresca, the tune was first recorded and released by Dion in November 1961. While I prefer the original, Quo’s cover isn’t bad either.

To make this playlist career-spanning, I also like to touch on Status Quo’s music beyond the ’80s. Since I’m basically not familiar with it, it’s a bit of a challenge. As such, the remaining selections for this playlist are somewhat arbitrary. Here’s Can’t Give You More from the band’s 20th studio album Rock ‘Til You Drop, which appeared in September 1991. Written by Bown, the tune is another typical Status Quo boogie rocker – if you like Quo’s ’70s music, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2002, Status Quo released Heavy Traffic, their 25th studio record, which peaked at no. 15 on the charts in the U.K. and earned them silver status there. Here’s Creepin’ Up On You, which was co-written by Parfitt and then-Quo bassist John ‘Rhino’ Edwards. It’s shuffling along nicely!

The final studio release I’d like to touch on is called Acoustic (Stripped Bare) from October 2014. It’s a compilation of stripped down versions of previously recorded Status Quo songs. While there’s no new material here, I’m kind of intrigued by this album and will probably further explore it. The record became another success for Quo in the U.K., climbing to no. 5 on the charts and earning Gold certification there – not to shabby for a band that by then had been around for 52 years, if you include their 1962 origins; if you start counting from when they became Status Quo, it still adds up to a mighty 47 years! Here’s Again And Again, a tune credited to Parfitt, Bown and Jackie Lynton, and first recorded for the band’s 11th studio album If You Can’t Stand The Heat from October 1978. It’s got a nice Cajun feel to it!

So what’s going on with Status Quo these days? Well, it’s more three chords, straight beats and catchy boogie rock – in other words the status quo – that was clever, huh?🤓 Rossi remains the only founding member. Bown (keyboards) and Edwards (bass) are still around as well. The current lineup, pictured on top of the post, is rounded out by Leon Cave (drums) and Richie Malone (rhythm guitar), who replaced Parfitt in July 2016, after he had suffered a stroke and could no longer perform.

I already mentioned the new live album. In addition, a look on setlist.fm revealed the band has been pretty busy touring Europe since May. The current tour schedule on their website shows upcoming gigs in Lisbon, Portugal (Sep 29); Innsbruck, Austria (Oct 4); Kempten, Germany (Oct 5); and Zurich, Switzerland (Oct 6).

Sources: Wikipedia, Status Quo official website, setlist.fm, YouTube

19 thoughts on “Three Chords, Straight Beats And Catchy Hooks”

  1. Wow, this is so weird. I’m reading a special issue by Guitarist magazine called “100 Guitar Heroes” which consists of excerpts from the magazine. I know most of the guitarists but just yesterday – literally – I read Francis Rossi’s profile. And I said to myself, Who the hell is he? When I found out he was in Status Quo I said, A) are they still around? and B) I kinda, sorta know the name but not one song or anything about them. How this is possible when they’ve been around so long I can’t say but it’s true. Anyway, maybe I checked them out once and they weren’t my cup of tea. I’ll listen tonight. But I just HAD to report on this strange coincidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I guess you got some reading to do!😀

      Unlike in Europe where Status Quo has enjoyed a significant degree of popularity, especially during the ‘70s and ‘80s, they haven’t gotten any traction in the U.S. The only exception was a whooping 50 years ago with the psychedelic rocker “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” which peaked at no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. That was prior to their musical transformation to straight boogie rock.

      I’m a bit surprised Status Quo has been ignored in the U.S., given their boogie rock focus and the popularity bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd; though I will add Quo’s brand of boogie rock is much straighter and simpler than Skynyrd’s.

      In Germany, you literally couldn’t switch on the radio during the late ‘70s and not encounter Quo’s cover of “Rockin’ All Over The World” or “Whatever You Want.” In the ‘80s, they were all over the place with “In The Army Now,” another cover, and one of the few hits that aren’t boogie rock.

      Like

  2. Well, “Pictures of Matchstick Men” is a song I certainly know reasonably well. It was a fair hit in its day. And until I read your post I could not have told you the name of the band who did it and I had no freakin’ idea they were still around and so popular. Yeah, their stuff is catchy -if, like AC/DC, somewhat formulaic -so I don’t know why they didn’t really make much of an impact over here. It’s not like there’s a conspiracy of DJ’s to not play a band’s stuff. Not only did I not hear them in their heyday, I’ve had satellite for a couple of years and to my recollection, they’ve never once shown up. As a minor historian of rock music, I confess to being totally puzzled by how a band can be huge in one country, virtually nonexistent in another.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While it’s obviously quite common that different folks have different tastes, you are right it is puzzling that you can have such a stark division across to two major music nations – especially for a band like Status Quo whose music was pretty mainstream in the ‘70s and very radio-friendly.

      I’m wondering to what extent U.S. promotion or lack of it may have been a factor. I imagine to break into a vast market like the U.S. must require a lot of effort, including TV and radio appearances, media interviews, tours, etc. I don’t know to what extent Quo ever undertook such efforts.

      Like

      1. I think you’re right about the promo or lack thereof. It’s funny because most bands want to make it in the US just to say they’ve conquered it (not to mention the amount of dough that can be made.) But in reading about them, they’re so wildly successful elsewhere they probably just said fuck it.

        Did you know they played Live Aid? I didn’t. This conversation piqued my interest and so being the curious sort, I did a little research. Read this:

        https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=812721

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, not only did I know about Quo’s performance at Live Aid’s Wembley show, I watched it on TV at the time. I also simultaneously taped the radio broadcast on MCs – as you can see, I already was a little nuts about music then!😆

        I had contemplated including a clip of Rockin’ All Over The World from Quo’s Live Aid appearance but felt the footage I ended up selecting had better sound.

        Like

      3. Ha, too funny you should mention that. As I was writing my previous response, I was literally thought about Collins flying with a supersonic jet across the Atlantic, so he could make both events!

        Though I wonder whether he regretted his decision afterwards, given Zeppelin’s less-than-stellar reunion performance during the Philly concert!😆

        Like

      4. Probably – I mean how cool must it be to share the same stage with these legends – no matter whether Plant’s voice sounded hoarse and Page’s guitar was out of tune!😆

        As for Collins’ back issues, yep, I’ve read this as well. That’s why Collins is relying on his teenage son who apparently plays the drums as well and timing performances to the kid’s breaks from high school!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s