I’m officially on a Status Quo jag now, so look the hell out.
I will always be fascinated by the difference in Status Quo’s public reception in the U.K. and the U.S.
I laid out some of their British chart statistics in yesterday’s post and don’t feel like repeating them, but suffice it to say that Quo is one of the U.K.’s longest-lasting and most successful bands. They’re still hitting, at least on what passes for album charts these days, and they’re still a successful touring band.
In the U.S., meanwhile, they’ve not had significant and sustained radio airplay since before man landed on the moon.
According to Wikipedia’s Status Quo discography, Quo’s last placement on the U.S. singles charts came in 1968, when “Ice On The Sun” hit No. 70. (The section of the discography devoted to Quo’s albums doesn’t even bother with a column for U.S. chart placements.)
The invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows a few brief pokes into American airplay after 1968 — but not many.
For a couple of weeks in July and August of 1970, stations in Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh, and Manchester slotted Quo’s “Down The Dustpipe” into their rotations, alongside chestnuts like “Make It With You,” “El Condor Pasa” and “O-o-h Child.”
British pop fans sent the song to No. 12. But in the States, Quo’s metronomic boogie was apparently too heavy for the pop fans and too pop for the heavy fans.
(Compare Francis Rossi’s pinched, whiny vocals with the robust vox of Bob “The Bear” Hite on Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together,” a more successful attempt to squeeze twelve-bar grunge onto American radio.)
Quo’s next — and last — stand on U.S. radio came almost four years later, in a setting so small-time it brings to mind Spinal Tap playing a U.S. Army base.
For the week of May 13, 1974, radio station WCHW — the sound of Bay City, Michigan, public schools! — clocked Quo’s “Caroline” at No. 38. God only knows where the kids got the record, but they did, and they spun it, at least for a little while.
(If you think I’m joking about the public-school thing, I invite you to click the link. The kids of Bay City actually had OK taste. Check the back-to-back pairing of “Midnight At The Oasis” and “La Grange,” for example. There’s something thematically related going on there; both songs are terrific; and yet you couldn’t find a more different pair of chunes.)
“Caroline” is another foamy draught from the river of brainless boogie.
It’s possible to imagine it as an American pop hit — after all, anything went in 1974, the year people sent “The Americans,” “The Lord’s Prayer” and “Seasons In The Sun” onto the U.S. singles charts.
But, whatever the secret ingredient was to crack U.S. radio play that year, Quo didn’t have it.
(In the U.K.? Number Five, thanks very much.)
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While the average American popular music fan is unlikely to have heard Status Quo on the radio, the individual members of Quo have popped up in a few settings that Americans might recognize.
None of them will make you sit bolt upright and exclaim, “Oi! So that was the bloke from the Quo, then?”
But, when a band hasn’t been on the radio since the Lyndon Johnson administration, any foothold is noteworthy.
-Multi-instrumentalist Andy Bown has the most extensive resume of work that American listeners might know, having played keyboards on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut and Roger Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Bown also played bass in the “surrogate band” that supported Floyd during its brief The Wall tour of 1980-81.
Also, Bown played various instruments on Peter Frampton’s solo albums Winds of Change and Frampton; if you dug Frampton Comes Alive! enough to check out the preceding solo albums, you’ve probably heard him play.
-Rossi and fellow guitarist Rick Parfitt are among the massed celebrity vocal chorus on Band Aid’s evergreen holiday single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
If Wiki is to be believed, Rossi and Parfitt were to have had a featured spot on the record, but were too hung over to properly harmonize. (Wiki says considerably racier things about the pair, as well, but I shan’t repeat them.)
Also, not many Americans happened to see the truly bizarre 1976 movie All This And World War II, but if you were one of ’em, you’ve heard Rossi sing a version of the Beatles’ “Getting Better.”
-Prior to joining Status Quo, bassist John “Rhino” Edwards played in Dexys Midnight Runners. He’s not on “Come On Eileen,” but if you happened to catch the band live on their 1983 U.S. tour, you would have seen him.
-Finally, getting about as far away from Quo’s sound as you can get while still being in the music business: Future Quo drummer Matt Letley played on pop singer Kim Wilde’s 1986 album Another Step, which included her U.S. Number One version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”
If this Kim Wilde fansite is to be believed, Letley doesn’t appear on the big hit. But the album that included his playing reached No. 40 on the U.S. charts.
By Status Quo standards, that makes him kind of a big deal.