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Status Quo Buyers Guide

Where would we be without Status Quo? Or to give them their proper title – the Mighty Quo? Imagine a world where the concept of heads-down-no-nonsense-mindless-boogie had never existed; how culturally impoverished, musically bereft and just plain boring such a world would be. Because, of course, there is nothing ‘mindless’ about what the Quo do. Indeed, as they cruise this year towards their 75th hit single in 40 years – that’s more than the Beatles and the Stones combined, awright? – it might be argued that what we’re really talking about here is one of the most gifted artisans in the history of rock. Or pop. Or mindless boogie, if you must. And so, in staunch recognition of this fact, this month we here at Planet Rock celebrate all things Quo. This is just our opinion though. There are more than enough Quo albums to start an argument anywhere. Let us know what you think.

The Essential Album Releases

Hello (1973)

Hard to believe these days when one album every three years seems to be the norm for most bands, but this was the second top-drawer Quo album released in the space of just nine months. But whereas the first, Piledriver, had clearly established what is now regarded as the quintessential Quo va-va-voom sound – loud synchronised guitars, even louder no-messin’ bass and drums, and that indefinable yet instantly recognisable twin lead vocal quality, the Abba of heavy rock, if you will – Hello was the record that took the whole thing into overdrive, as well giving the band their first No. 1 album, to boot. Featuring some of the best original material the hydra-headed writing team of singer-guitarist Francis Rossi, guitarist-singer Rick Parfitt, bassist-backing vocalist Alan Lancaster, drummer John Coghlan and tour manager and occasional harmonica player Bob Young would ever produce, Hello was quite simply Status Quo at their utterly relentless best. Opening with one of the all-time great Quo movers and shakers, ‘Roll over Lay Down’ – co-written by the entire five-man team – Hello began on a tremendous high and just kept climbing. A bit like a Quo concert, in fact, which is essentially what this album represented. "We really wanted something we could take out on the road,” Rossi would tell me years later. "So we put the whole thing together like that.” Indeed, by the time we come to Rossi and Young’s classic track ‘Caroline’, which had already gate-crashed the Top Five singles’ chart, the show is in full hair-tossing swing. Other tracks like Parfitt and Lancaster’s ‘Softer Ride’ showed Quo also had use of a contrast control when they wanted it. But it was the album’s epic grand finale of ‘Forty-Five Hundred Times’ – written by Rossi and Parfitt and still regularly voted the most popular Quo song of all time on the band’s official website – that really lifted Hello out of the realm of being merely a great album and into the heady territory of true all-time classic. Footnote: this was also the first album to feature keyboardist Andy Bown, later to achieve full member status.

Rockin’ All Over the World (1977)

Proof that there was nothing formulaic about the phenomenal success Quo achieved throughout the 1970s – an accusation born of envy as the band went on an unbroken run of hit singles and albums – Rockin’ All over the World was a very deliberate attempt to try and broaden the band’s sound. Or as Francis Rossi put it to me, after four straight albums done in the Piledriver / Hello style, "it was time,” he said, "to see what else we could do.” To that end, they worked for the first time with a proper outside producer, the estimable Pip Williams, who did indeed add colour and a greater deal of variety to the band’s existing musical mien. At the time, there were a significant number of hardcore fans who objected to this approach. That didn’t stop Rockin’ All over the World becoming the biggest-selling album the band would ever have around the rest of the world. To this day, it remains many peoples favourite all-time Quo recording. Alongside typically catchy yet raunchy Rossi and Young numbers like ‘Dirty Water’ and ‘Hold You Back’, both of which would become instant highlights of the Quo live set, with Rick Parfitt having a hand in co-writing the latter, it also featured the song most people, Quo fans or not, now most readily associate with the band: the rollicking title track itself. Written by ex-Creedance Clearwater Revival frontman, John Fogerty, it was only added to the album as an afterthought. "We needed one more song to fill it out,” Rick told me, "and I was a Fogerty fan who’d always thought we’d do a great version of it. But Francis wasn’t keen. Guess who was right?” Used to open the show at Live Aid eight years later, Quo playing ‘Rocking All over the World’ is now one of the key musical moments in rock history. So much so Chris Martin even dropped in a chorus of the song during Coldplay’s appearance at Live 8 in 2005. (In 1988, to support Sport Aid, Quo also re-recorded the song as ‘Running All over the World’ with slightly amended lyrics.)

Expand Your Collection

Piledriver (1972)

Still the best, certainly the most musically descriptive title of a Status Quo album, Piledriver did exactly what it said on the tin: pile drive you with riffs, riffs and then just when you thought you could take no more – yes, more riffs. From its scene-setting opener, the freewheeling ‘Don’t Waste My Time’, via the pounding ‘Big Fat Momma’ and the album’s trademark headbanging hit single, ‘Paper Plane’, right up to its extended finale, their tootling version of the Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’, this was the sound of Status Quo being invented, piecemeal, before our very ears. Before Piledriver there had been only an approximation of what the band were now capable of in one-off singles like ‘Down The Dustpipe’ or ‘Mean Girl’, after it there was only one way left to go and that was on, and on and on and on. Or as Francis Rossi says now, "It was a first for us in all sorts of ways. Our first album on a new label, Vertigo, our first album with our new shuffling boogie sound, our first album we’d actually produced ourselves. And, best of all, our first album to actually become a big hit!” Though not their last…

Quo (1974)

By now the success of the band was such that you only had to utter the word ‘Quo’ for DJs across the land to know exactly what you wanted them to play, whether on the radio or at your local youth club disco, as in "Got any Quo?” A fact reflected in the splendidly tongue-in-cheek monosyllabic title. As for the music, with band co-founder and bassist Alan Lancaster co-writing five of the album’s eight songs with Rick Parfitt, this was by far the heaviest Quo album yet, as exemplified by opening track and still one of the fans’ all-time favourite Quo foot-stompers, ‘Backwater’. Of course, there was still room for more contrasting if equally thrusting Rossi and Young compositions such as ‘Slow Train’, which closes the album in anthemic style. The stand out track, though, and another huge hit single, was the only one, tellingly, written by all four band members plus Bob Young – the swaggering, pint-spilling ‘Break The Rules’. As Rick Parfitt recalls, "We were on the road the whole time then and the onus was still very much on delivering material that we knew would really get the fans off their bums and banging their heads.” Quo did exactly that.

On The Level (1975)

Their second No. 1 album in the UK, On the Level found Status Quo at the absolute height of their popularity in the 1970s. It also found the band operating at the very peak of their musical powers, more self-confident and capable of delivering the goods than ever. So much so that while Rossi and Young were still very much a lean, mean songwriting machine, contributing four of the album’s ten tracks, the others were now feeling sure enough of their own talents to write alone, with Parfitt turning in two tracks – including the barn storming opener ‘Little Lady’ – and Lancaster the same, most memorable of which was ‘Broken Man’, so good it was going to be the single until the record company insisted the band plump for another from the Rossi / Young stable, a little ditty on side two called ‘Down Down’. Lancaster was aggrieved – until ‘Down Down’ gave the band their first No. 1 single, hitting the top of the UK charts in January 1975. Now regarded as possibly the greatest – certainly the most Quo-like – of all the band’s zillions of hits, it remains a play-list must-have to this day, whether on the radio on down the Dog and Duck of a Friday night.

Blue For You (1976)

The band’s third and final No. 1 album in the UK, Blue for You took the On the Level philosophy – we can do anything we did before and do it even better – and pushed it to the absolute limit. The first Quo album to feature a song by Rossi and Lancaster – two songs, in fact: the crowd-pleasing opener, ‘Is There a Better Way’ and the classic eight-bar shuffle, ‘Rolling Home’ – it was also the first Quo album to have more than one single released from it. Needless to say, both of them were massive hits, too, starting with the brilliant ‘Rain’, written and sung by Rick Parfitt, and concluding with the possibly even better ‘Mystery Song’, which sounded like another winner from the ever-whirring conveyor belt of Rossi and Young but was actually written and sung again by Rick – with a little help from Bob. With Alan Lancaster also contributing both the surprisingly subtle ‘Ease Your Mind’ and the wonderfully over the top title track, this was Quo showing their versatility at a time when head-in-the-sand critics were accusing them of always writing the same song. As usual, though, the band proved the critics wrong. And how…

Whatever You Want (1979)

After two albums under the production helm of Pip Williams – Rockin’ All Over The World and If You Can’t Stand The Heat – which had notched up huge sales for the band but had a significant section of older fans yearning for the raw, more unbridled recordings of yore, Whatever You Want was a brilliant and unexpected return to exactly that. With Francis Rossi now writing more with new partner Bernard Frost – the best example of their three tracks here being ‘Come Rock With Me’ – Bob Young was now writing with Rossi (the pulsing ‘Shady Lady’), Parfitt (‘Living On An Island’, one of the album’s two hit singles) and Lancaster (the storming ‘High Flyer’). But it was keyboard player Andy Bown, now a full-time member, who would prove the catalyst to the album’s best moment and another career defining anthem for the band – and No. 4 hit single – when he co-rote the classic title track, ‘Whatever You Want’, with Rick, who also co-sung it with Francis. Since used as the soundtrack for countless TV ads – most memorably for Argos – and TV game-shows, it has also become one of the band’s most covered originals, most recently for hugely successful German techno outfit, Scooter. Strange but true, a bit like Quo itself…

For Die Hard Fans Only

In Search of the Fourth Chord (2007)

Having seemingly spent most of the 1990s concentrating on the kind of compilations and covers’ albums guaranteed to achieve chart success but not likely to endear them to longstanding fans who still looked back fondly on the ‘denim and dandruff’ sound of the band in the 70s and 80s, the Quo have achieved a massive turn around in their musical – and commercial – fortunes over the past few years, as exemplified by this, easily their best, certainly most original album since their headbanging heyday. With the songwriting team of Rossi and Young back together for the first time in years – co-writing six of the albums’ 14 tracks, not least ‘I Ain’t Wastin’ My Time’ – and Parfitt also back on form with songs like ‘Alright’, the band even felt confident enough to have a little poke at the critics with the self-effacing album title. A surprisingly good return to their glory days.

 

 

By Mick Wall

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