One Random Single a Day #60: “Love Potion No. 9” (1964) by The Searchers

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The Searchers were an English group that formed in 1957; after reaching chart success in the UK, they then found further success in the US with the help of The Beatles’ ushering in the British Invasion. They are regarded as being one of a handful of bands to spearhead the movement known as Merseybeat, which essentially boils down to the style of beat, skiffle, and rock ‘n’ roll music that emerged from the Liverpool area throughout the 1960s. After The Beatles initially found unparalleled popularity with their numerous top ten singles in the US, The Searchers tailed along about became the second band from Liverpool to have a US hit with their cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Needles and Pins”. In general, they were mostly known for their Merseyfied covers of American pop, rock, and R&B singles; indeed, their only original single to get the top ten treatment was “Sugar and Spice”, yet although it went to #2 in the UK it failed to crack the top 40 in the US. Nonetheless, they still managed to get a few of their singles to crack the top 20 in the US, especially impressive considering that The Beatles practically invaded every sector of popular music at the time.

I like this band pretty well. Although its easy to forget about the massive wave of talent that came in the wake of The Beatles’ ridiculous success, the Monkees, Kinks, Dave Clark Fives, and Peter and Gordons of the world should not be so quickly brushed aside. There was clearly an entirely new sound emerging from across the sea, and The Searchers portrayed it just as well as any other British group of the time. Their sound is textured, playful, and demonstrative of a more creative lyricism and melody that records from the likes of teen pop and early rock ‘n’ roll often lacked. And this was true even if the lyrics and melodies they emitted were not written by them!

In the US, their cover of The Clovers’ “Love Potion No. 9” proved to be their most commercially successful, going all the way up to #3. This was surely more profitable than the original, which only went to #23 back in 1959. It should be noted that the song was written by the Leiber-Stoller songwriting duo, who have penned a number of memorable hits for the likes of Elvis Presley, The Coasters, and The Drifters. Known for their ability to craft playful metaphors and imagery in their compositions, this particular song tells of the sudden powers of the titular potion, which turns out to be an aphrodisiac for the song’s speaker. I do oppose the song’s usage of the slur “g*psy” at the start, as well as the stereotypical demonization of the woman who prescribes the potion. However, the unexpected visuals of the speaker “kissing a cop down on 34th and Vine”, while only subtlety gay, is far more than what was in circulation at the time – and I’ll take all that I can get!

Overall, though, it’s about as straight-forward as a Searchers single can get. It’s probably their strongest in exemplifying the band’s understanding of melody and form and it’s a pleasant listen through and through. With that said, the arrangement and production is simplistic enough to be sure that the group probably didn’t have much more up their sleeves besides the constant covers that they were churning out. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – I love me a good cover song, especially when the artist makes valid efforts to keep their recording from just being a carbon copy of the original. With The Searchers’ cover, the Coasters-esque doo-wop is removed and replaced with a lighter breed of British rock ‘n’ roll that was becoming all the rage in ’64. For that, I say this cover is all for the better.

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