March 13, 2024

Think you are a Quo completist? Not till you have this! 

Whether it was down to the band, or their label, or a bit of both, it’s a fact that Status Quo had paltry success during the five years they were signed to the Pye label. Except for one international hit with Pictures Of Matchstick Men in 1968, plus a couple of less-recognisable singles in Ice In The Sun and Down The Dustpipe, nothing really happened until the boys grew their hair, donned the denim, jumped ship to the Vertigo label, released the madcap single Paper Plane and shot into the stratosphere, becoming one of the best-known bands in Europe throughout the 1970s and beyond.

One by-product of their later success was that Pye suddenly found it had a vast archive of embryonic material it could use to tap into the new Quo market. Their four obscure early albums, plus a seemingly bottomless reservoir of singles, B-sides and radio sessions, have been chopped, hashed and re-released so many times it’s almost funny. Pye disappeared many years ago, but Quo’s back catalogue passed through multiple hands before ending up in its current home of BMG and its subsidiary Sanctuary Records, which has now released a new 5CD set named Status Quo – The Early Years (1966-69). But does the world need yet another boxed set of early Quo material?

Alamy stock photo from Status Quo – The Early Years (1966-69).

That just depends who you ask. Broadly speaking, the answer is no, the world doesn’t. But the army of mad Quo completists probably does. Personally, I slaked my thirst for early Quo material by buying a 3CD set named The Complete Pye Recordings several years ago, which rather led me to believe that I now had the complete Pye recordings. How naïve I was.

The amazing thing about this new set – for me at least – is that, beefy as it is, it starts from the band’s beginnings and only gets two albums into the story, 1968’s Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo, and Spare Parts from the following year. Think you are a Quo completist? Not till you have this!

In common with many 1960s records, those first two albums were released in both mono and stereo versions, so both are reproduced here in their 1998 remastered form – Disc One contains both albums in mono, and Disc Two both in stereo. It’s doubtful whether many buyers will play both versions with any regularity, so this arrangement of having both albums together is preferable to having two versions of the same album on the same disc in my opinion.

Disc Three jumps back to the beginning and catalogues all the singles and B-sides recorded under the band’s early names, The Spectres and The Traffic Jam, plus a number of BBC sessions from the same period, all remastered between 1998 and 2010. This necessarily means that some songs are on there multiple times, but it also means we pick up rarities such as the Spectres’ cover of Julian Bright’s rocking Bloodhound, and Bird Dog by the Everlys. Also included are two obscure songs that do not appear on my Complete Pye Recordings at all; acetate demos of Love In Vain and Say That You Need Me. It’s not the first time these songs have surfaced, but even so, serious Quo collectors may need this set on that basis alone. We are also treated to a wryly amusing one-minute interview with Francis Rossi, (variously known as Mike or Ross in those days), from one of the BBC sessions, before they attempt a cover of the Shirley Bassey Hit I (Who Have Nothing).

Disc Four starts with all the non-album singles and B-sides recorded under the Status Quo name during the period in question. Although it does get a little confusing at this point, because the 1969 B-side Little Miss Nothing is also included here, even though it appeared on the Spare Parts album. After this, we are granted a pile of demos, remixes and alternative versions of existing tracks of varying quality. Spare Parts rejects Do You Live In Fire and Josie (or José, depending who you ask), are mandatory additions, although the multiple mixes of Pictures Of Matchstick Men and Paradise Flat are similar enough to be indistinguishable. The clear exception here is the alternative take of the non-album 1969 B-side Auntie Nellie. It’s a strange but pleasant song about a lad’s ageing auntie, which didn’t make the cut for either of the first two albums. But they’ve found an unused take, which has been resuscitated, stereo-mixed, mastered and produced using modern technology, and is therefore now better quality than pretty much anything on the first two albums, and I am rather taken with it.

Disc Five comprises half a dozen BBC sessions recorded as Status Quo, and once again they include a few short interviews, and a small pile of songs that are not found on any official vinyl, such as the crackling Beatles pastiche Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) and Eddie Floyd’s Things Get Better. There is some great, imaginative bass work too, on the Saturday Club version of When My Mind Is Not Live, and some decent piano on Are You Getting Tired Of My Love from Symonds On Sunday. For my money, these Saturday and Sunday shows were tighter and more confident than the BBC Session shows just a few months earlier; the lads do come across a bit gormless in the interviews, but fortunately they are not very long!

So how do we sum up? Firstly, kudos to BMG for the presentation of this set; earlier Pye compilations shamelessly ripped off the later Status Quo’s look, using photos from their long-haired rocking shows on albums of what is basically psychedelic pop. This set is more fittingly packaged with colourful, recognisably 1960s graphics; the photos are few and far between, but they show the youngsters in their flash Carnaby Street duds. The first two albums – especially the second, Spare Parts – were definitely aimed at the teenage pop market, and the rockers were a while off yet. Having said that, it’s just as clear that, in the early days of the Spectres and The Traffic Jam, they were already hankering for the heavy. The Price Of Love, for instance, is a riffy rocker that stands up alongside anything the Kinks or The Who were doing at the same time. And their cover of Bloodhound is pure Chuck Berry, with the familiar, chugging Quo rhythm putting in an early appearance. After Spare Parts, they more or less threw in the towel on the pop arena, and started writing and playing beefier rock, which gradually evolved over the course of the next two albums, Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon in 1970 and Dog Of Two Head in 1971, into the boogie onslaught that made them superstars. As such, we can consider these first two albums a sidetrack, a diversion, an Umleitung if you will, on their road to fame. And this set beautifully isolates that period into a stunning set.

A thick booklet contains a great potted history of the band to this point by Dave Ling, plus the briefest of notes on some of the songs – personally, I would have loved to see that expanded a lot more, as there are clearly stories behind the choices, and especially the remixes and remasters. But still, if you’re serious about your early Quo, this is a great start. No doubt a similar set based on those next two albums will be forthcoming at some point; I hope so anyway, because that is where it will really get interesting.

Status Quo – The Early Years (1966-69) is released on 15 March 2024 via BMG on 5CD clamshell boxset

Left to right: Alan Lancaster, Roy Lynes, John Coghlan, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt