Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Status Quo

NME once described Status Quo as a bit of a national treasure and this was in the days when the Quo was still a serious gigging band who toured the UK constantly and was probably also quite big in Europe yet meant diddly squat in the USA. Quo had perfected the heads down, no-nonsense mindless boogie, with sing-a-long times. and had built a loyal following of mostly young men that made touring a financially viable prospect and they even had hit singles and hit albums. They were big without ever becoming truly massive.

Status Quo came to my attention with their 1974 single "Down, Down", which was a tremendous bit of that no-nonsense, mindless boogie. It sounded good on the radio and it sounded even better being blasted from a fuck off PA at a University of Stellenbosch student carnival rock festival at the university's Planckenbrug River picnic site, probably in early 1975.

I was underage and not allowed to enter the grounds where the festival was being held. For most of the afternoon I was in position next to the fence that surrounded the picnic terrain. It was a rock DJ and he played the best rock hits of the past few years. "Down Down" was among them and the one I remember best because it sounded so much heavier and dumber than on the radio.

I had no clue what the band was about or who they were. The Blue For You album, with the lads dressed almost totally in blue denim, was available at Sygma Records and it was one of the records I made a mental note to buy one day when I had the money. When I did have money, though, I did not buy Status Quo. In the meantime, Status Quo was an excellent advertisement for Wrangler jeans, or whatever brand it was that they wore.

The next Quo single of note was "Rocking All Over The World", their 1977 version of a John Fogerty song and if it was pleasant enough, it did not have the brute rocking power of "Down Down."

"Rocking all Over the World" and its eponymous parent album were released in year as Status Quo Live!, a good collection of hits recorded at the Glasgow Apollo. For some reason it did not feature "Down Down".

I acquired Live! about two years after its release when it was on sale at one of the bi-annual CNA record sales. Coincidentally the other records I bought at that particular sale were Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True and Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps. This must be an indication of the eclectic nature of my record collection.

My relationship with Live! was not exactly wine and roses. Some of the time I really liked it, especially the fast paced boogie songs, yet the interminable "Forty Five Hundred Times" with the audience sing-a-long soon started to drag. Unlike say, Cream's Cream Live or Live Full House (J Geils band) I just could not fully internalise and unreservedly love Status Quo though, on paper, the Quo sound is just my kind of thing. Pile driving shuffle rhythms, lots of melodic lead guitar and hummable, memorable tunes. For all that, Status Quo live on stage did not gel with me.

Live! has this lack of complete identification in common with Deep Purple's Made in Japan. "Smoke on the Water" is in my all-time top ten of great rock songs and the piano breakdown from "My Woman From Tokyo" is so awesome I once taped it over and over into a ten minute repetitive loop. For all that the live Deep Purple also did not gel. I bought the album from my friend Native Grief, had it for a month of two and sold it back to him to raise cash to buy Cream's Cream Live, a truly seminal album in my record collection.

By the time I bought Status Quo Live! I had enough of an income not to have to sell records to buy other records and I kept the album until 2009 when I gave away my entire record collection. I had not listened to the album in probably 15 years or more. From about 1981 when I bought a Yamaha tape deck it had been my habit to tape all my records and then to listen only to the tapes and save the records. I never taped the Status Quo album.

Somewhere in the early years of the 21st century I bought a CD with some tracks of the early Status Quo, with songs like Pictures of "Matchstick Men" and "Down The Dustpipe", one of the earliest boogie Status Quo songs I knew. Some years later I bought Disc 2 of the 3-CD The Essential Status Quo set. It was the only one of the three available at a Cash Crusaders store. Somehow I never got that much into either of them though the older, more poppy songs on the one CD were on the whole tastier than the more rocking tunes on the other album.

Now I have bought a twofer one set of the albums Quo (1974)and On The Level (1975), mostly because On the Level has "Down Down" (in fact two versions; the single edit is a bonus track, along with a handful of live recordings) and also because each of them has a couple of songs I know from the Live! set.

Either Francis Rossi or Rick Parfitt complained about the tinny sound of their early albums. It was only once they stopped touring and got to the Eighties that they learnt how to make records that had a full, solid sound, the sound they had always had in their heads but could not reproduce in the studio. Perhaps they were just happy to have the typical Eighties production values at their fingertips, given that that sound was then the cutting edge of recording technology. Today the stereotypical Eighties production just sounds terrible to me whereas the stuff from the Seventies seems to have held its own over the years despite the relative primitivism.

On the Level does have a solid bottom end sound. The guitars do sometimes sound a tad too brilliant and fussy, until the shuffle kicks in, for the boogie the Quo boys make and the vocals often come across as weirdly nerdy. The pop aspirations of the Quo, who wanted audiences to be able to sing along, almost undercut the power of the guitar crunch.

Status Quo came from psychedelic pop and knew how to write recognisable tunes. Then they put down that bottom heavy boogie sound and rocked the house. If that is not a winning formula I would not know what is. They ought to have had many number one hit singles.

The sight of Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster dressed in tight denim flares, denim waist coats, legs wide and head banging in unison while digging deep into a Quo riff must have been impressive sight at the Glasgow Apollo, or anywhere else the band took the stage circa 1975 or 1976. The term bone crushing comes to mind. In their day, with the power cranked up, Status Quo would have been louder than Led Zeppelin. This is why the records sound so weirdly like the simple bubble-gum rock of The Sweet, Mud or Suzi Quatro. Status Quo has harmonies, arpeggios, tunes and pop smarts on record. Live they had no mercy for the audience and their collective eardrums.

In this twofer collection Quo is the straightforward album as released in 1974 and On The Level has 5 bonus tracks from the era, mostly live (except for the single edit of "Down Down") that could be outtakes from Live!, if it weren't for the duplication that would suggest previously unreleased versions of well-loved anthems. Both albums have the requisite number of ingenuous variations on the basic shuffle I will always associate with Status Quo as its unique contribution to rock and also the requisite number of slower songs. On the whole On the Level is more satisfying and has the better songs. Quo has been called the heavier album of the two but I do not quite see why this would be so. Each album has the same crunch and same heaviness; Quo simply comes across as having less inspired song writing. And a drum solo that serves as a segue between "Lonely Man" and "Slow Train."

The four live bonus tracks to On The Level take me back to Quo Live! though the more interesting connection is that the opening tracks of both On The Level and Quo, respectively "Little lady / Most Of The Time" and "Backwater / Just Take Me" were paired together on that official live album. This would probably be an indicator that these two albums are prime Status Quo, hence the budget price pairing.

The well-known songs are much better than the rest of the songs on these albums and that is the likely reason why they have become Quo standards. The albums do not by themselves serve as inducement to investigate the rest of the band's oeuvre. I would perhaps not mind owning Quo Live! again and my interest in the band would be limited to the preceding studio albums but that would be a passing interest motivated by curiosity. I would like to own Blue For You but only really because I knew the album cover so well back in the day and not because I believe the music would be completely fabulous.

Status Quo is an acquired taste now, though once acquired, it is not a bad taste at all. The singles sounded fabulous on the radio and a greatest hits package would be the best way to experience the band's music. Alternatively one should have been at the Glasgow Apollo, or any of the other venues where the Quo rocked the house time and again. The albums are not intended for the quiet listening experience or the intense studying of the meaning of the lyrics. They are intended for playing loud, very loud, and for heads down no nonsense air guitar boogie.












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