published July 2011
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They’ve had more UK hits than the Beatles, the Stones, the Who and the Kinks. They’ve sold more albums than the entire current Top 40 combined. They’ve been together for over 40 years and have a worldwide discography that’s approximately twice the size of Connecticut. They are Status Quo and, as much as any of the handful of other bands that can rightly be termed a rock institution, they have maintained both a musical integrity and a commercial viability that defies any attempt to downplay their importance.
Written by award winning rock author Dave Thompson, “Status Quo – the Ultimate Listening Guide 1967-2011” is an exhaustive album by album account of the Quo, as they drove from picturesque matchstickery at the end of the 1960s, to a stately quid pro quo in at the dawn of the Twenteens.
Exclusive commentary from Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, Quo’s eternal mainmen, adds revealing background to the story, while Thompson’s balanced eye for detail combines with his lifelong love of Quo to tell a musical story that is second to none.
The classic image of Status Quo is captured on the cover of 1973’s Piledriver album but, in reality, it was everywhere, wherever Quo fans congregated. And it still is. Less hirsute than in their prime, they may be.But Quo on stage today remain the same – heads down over their instruments, long hair draped over the fretboard, frayed-denimed legs spread wide apart.
It was a simple look, and an economical one – Rossi still remembers the day he bumped into the then-hyper flamboyant Gary Glitter in Harrod’s. “He said to me, ‘fuck, I wish I was you… I could save a fortune in clothes’.” Even more important than the finances of the uniform, however, was the ease with which Quo’s audience could emulate it… assuming they weren’t already wearing it themselves. Jeans, T-shirts, sneakers – there wasn’t a student common room or pub in the western world where Status Quo couldn’t have walked in, sat down, and instantly blended with the furniture.
At a time – late 1970, 1971, early 1972 – when British rock was puffing itself up into its most vainglorious phase of peacock opulence ever, courtesy of the Glam Rock boom that was breaking out everywhere, Quo were the Wardrobe of the Common Man – and the common man loved them for it. There was Gary in his Glitter, Terry in his tinsel, Freddie in his finery, and there was Quo in their work clothes, working their balls off on every stage that would have them.
Quo were permanently on the road throughout this period, working their way up from the pubs and colleges to the theatre circuit without even pausing for breath. Between April 1970 and November 1972, they played London’s Marquee Club no less than eleven times – more than once every three months – and that’s just one venue out of the hundreds they touched down upon during that frantic spell.
By the time they signed with Vertigo in summer 1972, and started work on their fifth album, Piledriver, Quo were already regarded as one of the hottest live bands in the country. But, whereas other bands shouldering that magnificent honour often find themselves hamstring by the demands of the studio, Quo didn’t falter for a moment. Eschewing the services of an outside producer, and ignoring the possibilities of the studio itself, they simply set their gear up in the middle of the room – and played. Piledriver wasn’t recorded live per se. But from the moment the needle touched down on the vinyl, the effect was the same on the listener.
Piledriving, indeed, into the British Top Five, Piledriver would remain on the UK charts for the best part of the year. “Paper Plane” spun off as a Top 10 hit, “Caroline” followed and, by year’s end, Quo had scored their first chart-topping album, the rush-released Hello – to be followed, 12 months later, by their first #1 single, “Down Down.” By 1976, the band had scored half a dozen homeland Top Ten 45s, and two more #1 LPs, with countless more across Europe, the Far East and Japan. Only the United States held out against their charm, but they were hardly bothered about that. In their position, would you be?
Rossi explained. “When we were there in the 70s, our attitude wasn’t right. We had that strange anti-American thing that the British get, we had someone in the band who was very gung-ho British and always thought Americans were this, Americans were that, and I always thought because the American accent sounds so confident, you always feel that they know, and we were almost – well, if they know, why do they need us?
“And I learned from my wife, who’s from New York, that a lot of Americans think, because of the British accent, that we know. So, in the Seventies we never had any representation there, and when our manager came to me one time and said ‘how would you like an American manager?’ I was ‘fuck that.’ Whereas, if he’d said ‘well what we really need is an American manager, who’ll represent us over there,’ that might have made a difference.
“Plus we were doing so well in Britain and so well in Europe. Back when we still thought that a band’s lifespan was five years, there was the fear that you’d get a little bit further down the line and you’d be broke because you’d been chasing this carrot in America.” It was a fate, after all, that would soon scupper the careers of Slade, T Rex and the Sweet and, while Quo would scarcely have welcomed being bracketed with those bands under any circumstance whatsoever, still there was a lesson to be taken from their experiences.
“Now I really wish we’d done it properly,” Rossi confessed in 2003, ”because I do like being here. I like so many things about America… I’m fifty-bleeding three years old, what a time to wake up!”