February 28, 2023

The album [First Hit] as a whole is a combination of big Walker Brothers-style ballads, pop-rock material which occasionally brings to mind some 1970s Kiss tracks such as Hard Luck Woman and others of that ilk, and lastly some rockier material to round out the mix. To be honest, the name which immediately springs to mind is ‘Badfinger’, as the spread of material is a very close match to what they were producing on highly regarded albums such as Straight Up or No Dice.

Anyone who is aware of the blink-and-you’d-miss-them mid-70s band Arrows will almost certainly remember them for one of two things. Firstly, the fact that they were the band who wrote and recorded the original version of I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, later providing Joan Jett with a virtual template for her entire post-Runaways career. Those with an even longer memory than Ms Jett co-opting that song and conquering the world with it might recall the band’s ill-fated and frankly ludicrous TV show, shown on UK kids’ tea-time television in 1976, which pushed the band to a non-sustainable audience and effectively killed any chance of them becoming a band to be taken seriously. Joan Jett took them very seriously, of course, but that didn’t help them when they imploded in 1977. This double CD set collects their one and only album, together with a string of A and B sides of singles, all of which predated the album’s release. As you might expect, it’s as patchy as a tramp’s overcoat in places, as the band were shoehorned like so many others into the ‘Chinn and Chapman’ hitmaking sausage-factory, but there are more than enough glimpses here of a band which had so much more potential than they were allowed to realise.

A three-piece, consisting of singer/bassist Alan Merrill, guitarist Jake Hooker and drummer Paul Varley, the band released their first single Touch Too Much in 1974. It reached Number 8 in the UK chart, but the band never hit as high again, and after four more singles finally released their debut album, First Hit, in 1976. In reverse-chronological fashion, that album occupies the first disc here, but in musical terms the order makes sense, as the album is definitely the band’s high-water mark in terms of quality. Consisting mostly of a mix of original compositions and some from the pens of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, then a potent hit-writing team who had worked with some successful bands including forgettable horrors such as Slik, Kenny and The Bay City Rollers. We won’t hold that against them however since, as this album showed, they did have a way with a song when the right band were around to record it.

Still from the Arrows TV Show

The album as a whole is a combination of big Walker Brothers-style ballads, pop-rock material which occasionally brings to mind some 1970s Kiss tracks such as Hard Luck Woman and others of that ilk, and lastly some rockier material to round out the mix. To be honest, the name which immediately springs to mind is ‘Badfinger’, as the spread of material is a very close match to what they were producing on highly regarded albums such as Straight Up or No Dice. The difference is that, though Badfinger were plagued by ill fortune and disaster during their whole career, that very fact together with their association with Apple Records and the Beatles, has led to them being re-evaluated over time as a rightly praised pop-rock outfit with a touch of real genius running through them. Arrows, with their association with Mickie Most and RAK Records instead of The Beatles and Apple, and regular appearances on TV desperately trying to appeal to an audience of pre-teens who probably didn’t care whether it was them, the Bay City Rollers or Mud up there on the TV screen, were never going to receive such reappraisal. Well, until now that is, when I’m going to give them a little!

While there are low points on the album (some filler on the second half in particular), the best moments truly shine. Opener, Once Upon A Time, is one of the most scandalously overlooked pop-rock classics I’ve heard, a soaring melody brilliantly put across by the band. Released as their last single, its failure to chart utterly baffles even today. Elsewhere there is other Category A material such as the gospel-meets-rock-meets Bad Company storytelling of Thanks, the harder rock of Don’t Worry Bout Love, the gloriously melodic Love Child and the excellent What’s Come Between Us. A brush with the title of ‘worst song title of all time’ gives us the cringe-inducingly named Boogiest Band In Town, which is a shame as it’s actually an infectious and very credible boogie-rock song. They could have done themselves a favour by making it, say, ‘Heaviest Band In Town’, or even ‘Rockingest Band In Town’ would have been better, but still the fact that it overcomes that title is a real credit to the strength of the track. The title song, First Hit, is an oddity in that it’s not one I really care for, and yet I found myself remembering it very very clearly just from hearing it on that TV show almost 50 years ago – so if they could craft an earworm that durable, you have to give them credit for the song-craft for sure! Overall, it’s a very strong, if flawed, record, which showed the green shoots of a band maturing from their early pop chart attempts, and it’s a real shame it came to nothing, and ended up as the end rather than the beginning. There are three Mickie Most session tracks, but they don’t add anything. And this time, Bam Bam Battering Ram IS almost as bad as its title – but they’re bonus tracks, so it’s nice to have them for completeness.

The second disc begins with ten tracks which are the two sides of their five 1974-76 pre-album singles, opening with the catchy glam-pop-by numbers of Touch Too Much. This and the next couple of tracks are utterly dated to the time, all handclaps, stomping drums and shouts of ‘Hey!!’ – entirely forgettable, and the sound of a band being pushed into a mould which ultimately claimed so many at the time. Like other bands of that same ilk, the B-sides are self-composed and mostly superior, beginning with the highly credible rocker Diesel Locomotive Dancer, which appeared on the flip of the ironically feeble Toughen Up. Movin’ Next Door To You is another decent ‘other side’, before I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll appeared – originally as the B-side to the weak Broken Down Heart but subsequently flipped over when Most realised he had made a huge error. The Jett version is tougher, but apart from that is is pretty well a note-for-note remake, with the arrangement and instrumentation effectively unchanged, and its failure to chart illustrates how thin the line between big hit and utter flop really can be. Finally comes the best track on the whole disc, the B-side of the Hard Hearted single, which is My World Is Turning On Love. A fine Free/Bad Company type groove, with a great chorus and a guitar solo straight from the Kossoff drawer, it’s the clearest indicator of where the band could have found themselves if left to their own ends. A key feature of the band’s live shows, the regularity with which they performed it on the TV show given its B-side status clearly shows how importantly they themselves regarded it. The disc closes with five bonus tracks, which have a slightly convoluted history – one of the features on the show was a spoof ‘Arrow-vision Song Contest’ slot, which featured unreleased songs each week to be voted for in a mock Eurovision manner. These were never recorded, but with the show masters unavailable, Alan Merrill faithfully recreated them in 2004 for a previous compilation so that they could be heard as close to their original form as possible. They’re a mixed bag, ranging from the excellent Bring Back The Fire and Faith In You to the ghastly disco nightmare of Dare You Not To Dance, which could be titled Dare You Not To Press The Skip Button, but again it’s nice to have them.

So, there we have it – over two discs the sadly too slim legacy of a band who suffered the familiar ’70s fate of being pushed in different directions, fatally compounded by the TV show. The Arrows programme actually took over directly from the Bay City Rollers weekly show Shang-A-Lang, which set it up to fail completely. This was at a time when those programmes were all the rage, with Marc Bolan also having his own show Marc in 1977, shortly before his passing, and the clearly desperately-picked Arrows simply weren’t a big enough name to carry it off. It’s too bad, and sadly all of the three members passed away in the last 20 years (most recently Alan Merrill in 2020 from Covid), but at least this set does showcase the fact that when the Arrows did hit the target (sorry – you knew I’d do that), they were a band showing real potential. This set shows just what that potential was, but also exactly why it never materialised. A fascinating look at an all-too-forgotten piece of 1970s pop-rock history.