Status Quo have so many great songs it is a very hairy challenge to try to choose a top ten.
While their famous ‘three chord’ heads-down rocking style is well known, they have also had enormous success with psychedelic numbers like Pictures of Matchstick Men and more soulful songs like In the Army Now.
Rick Parfitt’s white and Francis Rossi’s green Fender Telecasters are nearly as well known as the rockers’ long blonde hair and black pony tail. Rossi paid 75 pounds for his six string in 1968 and finally parted with it at an auction 50 years later for £118,813. Not a bad price for a guitar that he said he always had problems tuning and just ‘didn’t work anymore’. Almost as amusing is what he did to the guitar when he first bought it: "I sanded it down and painted it in green Ronseal. The purists can’t stand the fact it’s got different pickups, bridge, frets, machine heads, neck. The only thing that’s original is the body, and even then I’ve taken the lacquer off!”
Here are ten of Quo’s greatest songs:
Pictures of Matchstick Men (1968)
The second song that the teenager Rossi ever composed was a psychedelic tune that reached number 7 in the UK and 12 in the US Billboard Chart. Like several of Quo’s songs, it had more than one variant, with the original mono version containing a catchy wah wah guitar sound between the lyrics.
Rossi, inspired by the matchstick men paintings of L.S Lowry, says that he wrote the lyrics shortly after deciding that he had married the wrong woman; “When will this haunting stop…You make me cry, you lie" he wrote, which must have been the cherry on the cake for his soon to be ex-wife.
As he explained in one interview: “I wrote it on the bog. I'd gone there, not for the usual reasons...but to get away from the wife and mother-in-law. I used to go into this narrow freezing toilet and sit there for hours, until they finally went out. I got three quarters of the song finished in that khazi. The rest I finished in the lounge”
Caroline, which again had two versions, represented a big step forward for the Quo and became a standard opener of their shows. As Melody Maker said at the time: "Status Quo have finally hit the big time with their raw brand of rock and roll."
Co-written by Rossi and harmonica player and roadie Bob Young, the song was composed in the place where they were staying in Cornwall. As Young recalls: “We stayed in a right grotty hotel because it was all we could afford and continued writing the song there – in the dining room on a rainy day, when we couldn't take the kids anywhere and everybody was miserable. The hotel manager wasn't impressed that there were two members of Status Quo staying at the hotel. He was even less impressed when I leant against the dining room window and fell through it. But I managed to finish the lyrics – on a napkin."
Rossi adds a little more detail to Young’s story, about where the song title originated… “Bob [Young] did know a Caroline, which I mustn't talk about."
Later Rossi explained that Parfitt added the signature introduction: "He came up with the riff during a rehearsal, and I played against it. That always happens between us; it's like a conversation on guitars. We recorded it sitting in a semi-circle, doing take after take after take, thinking we'd get it right eventually – it was about capturing something."
Paper Plane (1972)
Paper Plane, also written by Rossi and Young, was taken from the album Piledriver, and reached number 8 in the UK chart.
The 12 bar boogie became the basis of many of Quo’s songs. Rossi explained: "To me the best bit was always the line: 'We all make mistakes, forgive me.'" That was a case of, "Yes!" he said, mock-punching the air. "From there the song just fell into place."
Meanwhile British DJ John Peel presented the song to his listeners by saying: “now hear this boys and girls, it is a real gem. If it's not a #1 single then you all deserve to be horsewhipped."
Roll Over Lay Down (1973)
Roll Over Lay Down was the A-side of an EP, Quo Live, which was released to celebrate Status Quo's thirteenth anniversary. Releasing an EP was thought to be commercial suicide at the time, but it became the first EP to reach the UK top ten.
The song is also unusual because of the number of co-writers involved: Coghlan (Quo’s drummer 1963–1981; 2013–2014), Lancaster (Quo’s bassist 1962–1985; 2013–2014), Parfitt, Rossi, and Young. As Rossi explained later “Everyone thought they had written it!”
Down Down (1975)
Rossi and Young combined again to write Down Down, which was the Quo’s only UK number one single. Again there are two variants, with the On The Level album version being almost two minutes longer than the single.
And again Rossi drew on his closest intimate relation for lyrical inspiration when he wrote "I want all the world to see, to see you laughing, and you're laughing at me." As he said: "In my mind I was speaking to my ex-wife..."
According to ‘soundfacts’ the introduction of Matchstick Men was used as the basis for the verse melody of Down Down. Rossi says that after he wrote it he realized that “he had stolen it from his own song.” Rossi began writing the tune while in Los Angeles on a tour of the US. “The rest of the band was out ‘exercising their pencils’" (as he puts it), but he was content staying put in his room. “I got the idea for the intro to 'Down, Down' and the whole melody," he said. "Bob Young was out with some sweet thing and came back and I said, 'Look, I quite like the way we do this.'”
Mystery song (1976)
Mystery Song, taken from the album Blue For You, has mild lyrics by today’s standards but was controversial at the time, as it was about a prostitute. This critic recalls his folks being scandalised by the line: “STs are showing, you really got me going” - but the initials simply stood for “stocking tops”. It is hardly Eminem’s Drips…
Reportedly Rossi wrote Mystery Song one night while sitting on the floor of a recording studio, having dropped some speed into his tea. This detail can’t be confirmed but as they say in the film 24 Hour Party People ‘if you have the choice between a good rock n’ roll story and the facts, print the story.’
Rockin’ all Over the World (1977)
Rockin' All Over the World was written by John Fogerty, of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame, and released in 1975. Quo’s heavier cover version was released in 1977, hit number 3 in the UK charts, and become globally well-known when Quo opened the whole of the Live Aid concert with the song.
The tune topped the charts in Ireland, which is perhaps one reason why supporters of the Northern Ireland national football team often sing their version of the song - "Drinkin' All Over the World" - when their team plays away.
Another anecdote concerns Quo’s bassist Alan Lancaster, who refused to attend the recording of the video for the song; so the band used a dummy with a bass guitar instead.
“…And I like it, I like it, I like it, I like it…”
Whatever you Want (1979)
Whatever you Want , penned by Rick Parfitt and Andy Bown, was taken from the album of the same name, and reached number 4 in the UK charts.
Reportedly largely co-written while they were drunk, Bown later took the song elsewhere in the house to ‘Quo it up’ by removing some chords, leaving just two during the verses. He came back down and claimed - "I think I've done it!" Rossi and Parfitt used fuzz effects on their guitars, and the song sometimes has three guitar layers on it.
Despite the tune’s huge success, however, Rossi has said that he was never really happy with his guitar solo on the track.
What You’re Proposing (1980)
What You're Proposing, co-written by Rossi and Bernie Frost, made the top 3 in the UK, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rossi explains that the lyric is about a woman who had offered herself to him, but this woman was somebody else's wife. Rossi declined the pass but later reflected: "Wish I'd gone there, now that I think about it".
Reportedly, the rare guitar sound came about because of Steve Acworth, a guitar-maker, who the band called "The Cosmic Cowboy." Acworth designed a piezo crystal model for Rossi, with crystal pickups, which at the time was unique. "I wanted a guitar that sounded like a telecaster before it hits that pickup," Rossi explained.
When he played the bespoke guitar the song quickly came together. “I get very enthused about the song”, Rossi says. “I love it, and it was a very big hit in this country, did extremely well, which makes me salivate!”
In the Army Now (1982)
In the Army Now was written by South African-born Dutch duo Bolland and Bolland and released in 1982. However Status Quo took the tune to number 2 in the UK chart, and in several other countries, when they released their version in 1986.
The song was written in the context of the Vietnam War – or as the Vietnamese call it, the American War – and mocks the way in which soldiers are enticed into joining the army by false promises and “a vacation in a foreign land.”
The song was an enormously inspired choice by Status Quo because of its huge success and particularly because it sounds very different to what most people think of when they think of the band. But then that is genius for you. Turning what seems so simple into pure gold. And the boys did it…
Again, and again, again, again …
In memory of Rick Parfitt (1948-2016)