Their roots can be traced as far back as 1962 when, still at school, Mike (later to become Francis) Rossi, Alan Lancaster and Alan Key (who later left the group) formed a band called Scorpions that then transformed into a five-piece called Spectres. Almost five years later, during which time they'd secured a contract with Piccadilly Records, released three unsuccessful singles and played a summer residency at Butlins in Minehead, they became Traffic Jam for a couple of months and released another single that flopped. Clearly a change of direction and fortune was needed if they were to continue – another guitarist Rick Parfitt was recruited, the name Status Quo was adopted, flower-power outfits were donned and at the end of February 1968 they suddenly had a No. 7 hit single with the psychedelically-tinged 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men'. Momentarily in tune with the times they had a follow-up No. 8 hit with 'Ice In The Sun' in October but then faded almost as quickly as they'd bloomed, two albums and five subsequent singles in the next two years making very little impression on the charts or the record-buying public.
At the beginning of 1970 though there were signs of yet another change in direction. 'Down The Dustpipe', with its straightforward riff and wailing harmonica, was their most successful single since 'Ice In The Sun' and gave an indication of where Quo might be headed, and the album released later that year, 'Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon', reinforced that suspicion. One more personnel change – long-time keyboard player Roy Lynes had had enough – reduced them to the classic quartet of Rick Parfitt (guitar/vocals), Francis Rossi (guitar/vocals), Alan Lancaster (bass/vocals) and John Coghlan (drums) that during the next 10 years or so enjoyed truly enormous success. They embarked on an astonishing and unprecedented run of 11 consecutive Top 5 UK albums and only one of the 15 singles they released in that period failed to make the Top 20. A more dramatic turnaround in fortune is hard to imagine and they basically did it by adopting the simple expedient of stripping away all pretension, muso-instrumental doodling and unnecessary elaboration from their music, honing it, in its most primitive form, down to three chords, donning t-shirts, jeans and trainers in favour of kaftans, and then working their socks off. Their new, raw and ecstatically infectious boogie-rock appealed immediately to an audience that wanted loud, solid, uncomplicated rock to dance to – music to have a good non-cerebral time to. The crowds who saw them at the 1972 Reading and Great Western Festivals will attest to that. Another album, Dog Of Two Head, released at the end of 1971, was just too early to benefit from this new impetus and then the band went a whole year (unheard of in those days) without troubling record retailers until they made another career-changing move and signed to Vertigo, ironically a label known more for its top-heavy roster of largely obscure prog-rock bands than as a home for no-nonsense, riff-based boogie. Nevertheless in January 1973 they released what was Status Quo's fifth album, Piledriver. A Top 5 album containing the No. 8 hit single 'Paper Plane', it nailed the formula that, with some tweaking and augmentation, the band adopted from thereon, and it truly marked the emergence of a powerful and lasting presence in rock music. The beauty of their recorded music was of course that, unlike a lot of their contemporaries, they could play it live and actually add something to it – energy, power, more guitar! – rather than deliver a diminished album listening experience. And audiences worldwide lapped it up.
Quick to ride the crest of this wave, in September of 1973 they released what many Quo aficionados still regard as their tour de force. Entirely self-written, self-produced and packaged in a stark black sleeve that mirrored the new minimalist approach to their music, Hello! entered the UK album chart at No. 1 and has been in the intervening 40 years, a constant steady seller. The press were predictably a bit sniffy and condescending about it, as they have been with a lot of Quo's recorded output – NME said mysteriously that the band were "slaves to a musical cliché rather than masters of it" although Jon Tiven in the US Zoo World opined more generously that the album was "pure chunka-chunka music a la Canned Heat, taken to a much higher level". Hello! also contained the band's first Top 5 single – 'Caroline', the first of a string of 1970s Top 10 hits – 'Break The Rules', 'Down Down', 'Rain', 'Wild Side of Life', John Fogerty's 'Rockin' All Over The World' and 'Whatever You Want' – that meant that Quo were supreme on three fronts – Top 5 albums, Top 10 singles and huge concert draw. Unbeatable.
The other 1970s albums were Quo (No. 2 in the album chart), On The Level (No. 1), Blue For You (No. 1), Live! (No. 3), Rockin' All Over The World (No. 5), If You Can't Stand The Heat (No. 3) and Whatever You Want (No. 3) and by the end of the decade their sound had become perceptively more polished, as outside producers were used, but without losing any of its edge or ability to deliver the primal, unfussy music that their fans adored and demanded.
The 1980s were a time of continued all-round success if on a less stable footing. 1981 saw the departure of founding-member and drummer John Coghlan to be replaced by ex-Honeybus member Pete Kircher, and this line-up lasted until the band's appearance at Live Aid in July 1985. Around that time they also recruited two ex-Climax Blues Band members – drummer Jeff Rich and bassist John 'Rhino' Edwards – plus keyboard player Andy Bown who had actually been an on-off member of the group since 1974 but for contractual reasons couldn't until now be counted as such. Original bass player Alan Lancaster had already departed in less than amicable circumstances (the tried and trusted cliché "musical differences" was quoted – they've recently patched up these differences apparently) and actually tried to stop the band continuing as Status Quo. It would have taken more than that to stop the Quo juggernaut though and the band went on to record their In The Army Now album. This line-up was actually the longest lasting (1985 to 2000) and in that period enjoyed seven Top 20 albums and eight Top 20 singles. One personnel change since has seen Matt Letley replace Jeff Rich on drums but essentially the band has retained, through the dominant Parfitt/Rossi axis, the same persona and character.
To this day Status Quo continue to tour and play large, prestigious gala concerts, arenas and festivals on a regular basis and, almost as a mark of their rock-establishment status, Rossi and Parfitt were awarded OBEs in 2010 for services to music and their work for various charities. In 2011 they released their 29th studio album, Quid Pro Quo, and, almost as regular as clockwork, reached No. 10 in the album chart. Last year they announced a new venture that promises to raise a few eyebrows – the band's first feature film, a comedy, starring themselves and set in Fiji! And on a more prosaic note last October a two-and-a-half-hour documentary film was released in cinemas and on DVD. Titled Hello Quo! it charts the band's history in uncompromising fashion and does much to place their commercial, if not artistic achievements into some kind of perspective within the framework of rock history. The film reveals some surprising devotees such as Paul Weller, Jeff Lyne and Brian May, who appreciate the talent and expertise it takes to distil and refine a sound and to remain true to a clear, uncluttered vision. That Status Quo have done that, and will probably continue indefinitely to do so, spectacularly, becomes ever clearer as time marches on.
Following the success of Piledriver, Status Quo opted not to change a thing, unfurling the mind-numbing boogie attack of Hello! The strategy worked, resulting in the group's first number one album and in "Caroline," its first top-five single. Mostly, the album succeeds in spite of itself. "Roll Over Lay Down," not immediately impressive, builds into a tizzy over the course of five minutes. It is one-upped by "Caroline," the definitive Status Quo rock song, a not particularly hard or fast four-on-the-floor stomp saved by a massive, deceptively simple guitar hook. "Forty-Five Hundred Times," less catchy but harder rocking, is brutally long, but is rescued by its placement as the album's closer. In between, the group, writing in some instances with coordinator Robert Young, offer up slight variations of their standard formula. Several of those, like the rickety, Beatlesque "Claudie" and the bluesy "Softer Ride" transcend their three-chords-and-a-riff construction enough to render them decent, memorable pop songs. Down to the proto-Spinal Tap black-on-black cover, this was the vanguard of British denim rock in 1975, and given the narrow conceptual and technical limits within which the Status Quo had to work, it has held up well, though it is certainly not for the faint of heart or attention span. Clearly the product of a band at their commercial and creative peak, Hello! wears its strengths and weaknesses well: not particularly flashy or intelligent, but without exception confident, comfortable and fun.
Words: Steve May
Though Status Quo is best known for fast and undistinguished boogie rock, they were quite capable of subtlety when it suited them. Despite the name, most of the music on Piledriver is varied and subtle enough to be interesting. The power boogie is indeed there, as represented by crowd-pleasers like "Don't Waste My Time" and "Paper Plane," but so also are quieter, softer pieces with acoustic textures and progressive structures. The melancholy "A Year" is a standout track, a stark, melancholy song about carrying on after a loved one has died. The soft rock intro gradually shifts to a more powerful guitar piece in a way that is reminiscent of early Fleetwood Mac and has that band's delicate sense of dynamics. Elsewhere on Piledriver the band turns in a very credible slow blues piece and a folk-inflected duet for 12-string guitars. Still, most of the Status Quo fans wanted power rock, and the band obliged with one of their best pieces, the tempo-shifting "Big Fat Mama," which actually managed some U.S. airplay, though no actual chart position. The only major misstep is a version of "Roadhouse Blues" that only serves to remind the listener what a good vocalist Jim Morrison was. On the whole Piledriver is still an enjoyable listen, one that has aged much better than later albums by the same band or much other hard rock from this period.
Words: Richard Foss
By spring 1974 and the release of Status Quo's seventh album, the band was already regarded as among the most reliable institutions in British rock, denim-clad purveyors of a rocking, rolling boogie beat that never knew when to quit. And, when "Break the Rules" peeled off the still unreleased LP to give the group its fourth Top 20 hit in little more than a year, it was clear that Quo would be business as usual. Eight tracks followed the now standard format for a new Quo album, a neat division between the two sets of songwriters (Rossi/Young, Parfitt/Lancaster), a final track that went on forever, and -- best of all -- a couple of intros that sounded nothing at all like Status Quo. Only the intros, though, and it quickly become one of the best games of the age, trying to predict how long it would last before the bandmembers ripped off their disguises and unleashed the boogie. "Backwater" keeps the mask on for one minute and eight seconds, but it's a hallmark of Status Quo's genius that, all these years later, it can still keep you guessing. "Just Take Me," too, packs more than its fair share of surprises, rolling in on a drum solo that itself grows out of "Backwater"'s back end. And if "Break the Rules" contrarily doesn't break a single one, that's probably just as well; there have been enough shocks already. Elsewhere, Quo indeed settles down to the status quo, with even the ballad "Lonely Man" holding onto the spirit of the band's earliest boogie excursions ("In My Chair" and "Gerdundula" spring to mind). The pièce de résistance, however, is the closing "Slow Train," an eight-minute epic that confusingly drives like an express, then collides with a Gaelic jig. The Chieftains would do such things a lot better -- but Status Quo did it louder.
Words: Dave Thompson
If any single song sums up Status Quo in the hearts and the minds of the millions, it's "Down Down." Other songs may have been bigger, others may have more resonance, and some ("Rocking All Over the World " comes to mind) may be so permanently ingrained that it's hard to remember that Status Quo cut anything else. But, if you want to nail the very essence of Status Quo, only "Down Down" will do. It was their first British number one and their first all-time classic. And it was also their first grinning, winking acknowledgement that not only was there a formula to the records they made, but they were not afraid to list its ingredients. "Down Down" is the perfect Status Quo record, and the fact that it doesn't arrive until six songs into the band's eighth album just proves how much fun it had coming up with it. On the Level is Quo at its single-minded best. It doesn't matter whether its driving the boogie through your skull with the relentless precision of "Little Lady" and "Over and Done," lurching loosely around the ghosts of blues and ballads ("Most of the Time" and a positively maniacal finale of "Bye Bye Johnny"), or even glancing back to their days as one of British psych's finest pop bands ("What to Do"). Still, all roads lead back to "Down Down," a dynamic riff, a perplexing lyric, and a mood that's so compulsive that you'll still be shaking your head in time long after all your hair's fallen out. And, just to make it even better, the album version's almost two minutes longer than the familiar hit, littered with false starts, fake endings, and one of the cruelest fade-outs in recorded history. It comes just as you're really getting into the groove.
Words: Dave Thompson
After releasing the hard and perhaps excessively raw Live! album in March 1977, Status Quo decided it was time to give a new turn to their music, trying to achieve a cleaner and fresher sound. Recruiting Pip Williams to produce the new album, this was the first time since 1972 that Quo gave such control to someone outside the band. Subsequently, Williams played an essential part in the British band's evolution. A clean, focused, and friendly pop record, Rockin' All Over the World displeased the band's hard rock-oriented fans. Guitars were left in the background and the band's famous wall of sound -- tough guitars and a powerful rhythmic base -- was nowhere to be found, even though it had been an important element of the band's sound during the first half of the '70s. Strangely enough, a lot of the album's songs would become live favorites of the bandmembers and fans alike in the years to come. The first single issued from the record, "Rockin' All Over the World," Status Quo's cover of a barely known song from ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival leader John Fogerty, became a huge success all around Europe and, paradoxically, grew to be one of the group's most recognized anthems. Indeed, 21 years later, the song, retitled "Runnin' All Over the World," would be released again as the official signature to Sport Aid's Race Against Time event. Other songs that would claim an obligatory presence in the band's live shows over the upcoming decades included the silly but hooky "Dirty Water," the boogie rocker "Hold You Back," and the country-rocker "Can't Give You More" (featured with a different approach in Rock Til You Drop). The straightforward and danceable "Baby Boy" and the soft ballad "For You" also stood out among the record's winners. Rockin' All Over the World features improved, remastered sound and a cover of the Beatles' "Getting Better," originally included on the All This and World War II film soundtrack of Beatles songs performed by rock bands from the era.]
Words: Robert Aniento
This 2CD was recorded live from an amalgam of performances at Glasgow's Apollo Theatre in October 1976 using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio when the band were arguably at it's zenith. It is generally considered as being one of the truly great live albums. Using material mainly from their early albums 'Hello' 'Quo' and 'Piledriver' the two CD's are crammed with hard rock at it's best. The version of 'Forty-Five Hundred Times' is now a renowned classic and another of many highlights is the version of their huge hit 'Roll Over Lay Down'. The mid 70s were a golden age for live rock albums and Quo 'Live' is a timeless reminder of how much power and excitement this band possessed.
Part of Vertigo's chronologically impaired "Back 2 Back/2 for 1" series, this offers up a straightforward repackaging of Status Quo's seventh and ninth albums, from 1974 and 1976, respectively (Blue for You was released as Status Quo in America). Beyond the obvious value for your money, the package offers little in the way of frills -- the booklet opens up to track listings alone, and the absence of either remastering or bonus tracks renders it a very poor substitute for the Repertoire label's subsequent forays into the mid-period Status Quo catalog. Nevertheless, a pair of albums that are frequently overlooked in the stampede to acclaim "classic" Status Quo more than repay investigation, with the epic "Slow Train" and the full-length "Mystery Song" standing as pointed reminders of just how singularly the band blueprinted boogie for the mid-'70s.
Words: Dave Thompson
Status Quo shouldn't need any introduction, so I'll jump right in by telling you that the band decided to put together a comprehensive selection of their work that has appeared on the BBC over the years and release it officially. And, as befitting a band with forty years under their belts and stacks of hit records, it's quite a big collection!
The deluxe version of 'Live At The BBC' comes in a fantastic eight disc box set. Take it out of it's main case and you are presented with a 60 page booklet containing sleeve-notes from Dave Ling, along with many rare and archive photographs (some of which can been seen in my interview with Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan elsewhere in this issue). Behind that are the eight discs - seven CD's and a DVD.
Disc one starts at the very beginning with the band as The Spectres, performing 'Gloria' and 'I (Who Have Nothing)' alongside other golden oldies like 'Bloodhound' all the way back in 1966. While interesting, I don't think the band are up to much on them - but they were only young lads back then! Things move on to the band as they become Traffic Jam and eventually morph into Status Quo. I wasn't that enthralled with the REALLY old stuff, but once we hit 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men and 'Ice In The Sun' things improve. The first disc ends with a Dave Lee Travis session featuring 'Junior's Wailing', 'Down The Dustpipe', and 'In My Chair' which I assume will begin to interest most fans a lot more.
Disc Two offers more radio sessions, including a rocking 'Mean Girl' from 'Sound Of The Seventies' in 1972, plus five songs from another broadcast of 'Sound Of The Seventies' featuring many favourites such as 'Don't Waste My Time', 'Softer Ride' and 'Paper Plane'. Those two also pop up on some John Peel sessions the year after, before we leap forward to 1989 which sees the band on Steve Wright's show playing what is basically an unplugged set. That's as entertaining as it is unlikely, before the disc is rounded off by a five track performance by the current line up on Ken Bruce's show, playing old favourites and material from 'The Party Ain't Over Yet'.
The rest of the discs offer actual concerts that were broadcast. There's an energy packed show from 1972 at the Paris Theatre in London which hardcore fans will absolutely devour, along with the excellent show recorded at the Birmingham N.E.C. in front of Prince Charles which was originally released as 'Live At The N.E.C.'. However, this version brings you the full show with the missing tracks restored to their rightful place. A show from 1988 at Wembley Arena is also present, offering a chance to hear live performances of rarely heard tracks like 'Who Gets The Love' and 'Cream Of The Crop'.
Disc six is taken from the 'Party In the Park' at Birmingham in 1992 - you have already heard this show if you own the 'Live Alive Quo' album, but the reason it was put out as a live CD is because the band kicks ass on it - it's a superb gig. Disc seven may be better still, recorded at Brighton Centre on the 'Don't Stop' tour, the band blaze through old favourites, accompanied by some of the better covers from that album such as 'Get Back' and 'Proud Mary'. The shows have something for everyone - vintage material, classic era Quo gigs, shows from both side of the eighties, and one from the 90's.
Disc eight offers an hours worth of the N.E.C. show that was broadcast on TV, voiced over by the legendary Tommy Vance and is well worth watching. If that wasn't enough, it also contains 17 'Top Of the Pops' performances, from '...Matchstick Men' in 1968 all the way up to 'The Party Ain't Over Yet' in 2005, covering all points inbetween. On top of that, there are extra performances from every conceivable show such as The Old Grey Whistle Test, Little And Large, The Generation Game, Pebble Mill and Wogan.
Any Quo fan would surely be slavering at this - if the full eight disc set is too much for your wallet, there is a four disk version (basically what you see above whittled down into four CDs), a two CD version, or you can buy the DVD as a standalone product. However, if you're a serious Quo fan and you can spring for the full thing, it's worth it. Awesome!
Words: James Gaden
Although Status Quo's commercial status has never been in doubt, few long-time fans have truly rated their '80s-'90s era output alongside the bedazzling blues boogie classics that they unleashed earlier in their lifespan -- that peerless run of albums that stretched between Piledriver and Rockin' All Over the World. Too many clichés, too much fuss, too little heads-down, no-nonsense rock & roll. If you gave up on Quo any time in the past 20 years, you're not alone. But, if you return to the fold for Heavy Traffic, you won't be alone either.
Quite simply, Heavy Traffic is Quo's finest studio album since Blue for You -- bar none. Recorded with all five bandmembers simply standing together in the studio and playing -- exactly like they used to work, before producers and computers and technology came along -- it offers nothing more or less than Quo ever should have represented. Crunchy rhythms, driving tempos, a blue-collar barroom barrage that doesn't even let up for the ballads -- because there aren't any!
Neither are there any cover versions and, if a few of the band's own old ghosts do filter through, that's only to be expected; there are, after all, only so many things you can do with the trademark Quo sound. So "Creepin' Up on You" has a hint of "Roll Over Lay Down" playing around its fringes, and "All Stand Up" is a bit like "Down Down." One might also detect a distinctly Free-esque edge to "Rhythm of Life," but that's no bad thing either. Indeed, it serves only to remind us just how closely affiliated the two bands were during their early-'70s prime -- and this is the sound of Quo re-establishing their half of the balance. Beyond the realm of any expectation -- a masterpiece!
Words: Dave Thompson
Talk about rockers rollin'! This fantastic four-CD set from the veteran British rockers includes all 75 of their A-sides (many of them being radio edits not available on the original albums) plus Jump That Rock (Whatever You Want), their 2008 collaboration with the German techno act Scooter. Love 'em or hate 'em, Status Quo have been rockin' the charts for four decades. While they remain living legends and rock icons in the U.K., Europe, South America, and elsewhere, they can't even get arrested in the States! The "hip" U.K. press love to take as many potshots at them as possible, which is all the more reason to love Quo. But we all know that, deep down (deeper and down), those critics probably have a soft spot for quite a few of Quo's hits but will never admit to it in public. At any rate, the band has always managed to maintain a certain quality level that may not always touch the stars, but, at the least, will always rock the house! From their psychedelic beginnings with hits like "Pictures of Matchstick Men" (later turned into a college radio hit when covered by Camper Van Beethoven) and "Ice in the Sun" to their boogie-fueled rock & roll hits like "Caroline," "Down Down," and "Paper Plane," Status Quo were, and still are, the ultimate party band. When T. Rex were prancing about on-stage with feather boas and glitter, Quo were wearing blue jeans and t-shirts and playing head-down, floor-shaking Rock & Roll. When the Rolling Stones were jetsetting all around the world with beautiful models, Quo were treading the boards, playing sweaty blues-based rock, and perfecting the ultimate three-chord symphony. For some reason, Foghat's brand of boogie rock clicked in the States (albeit briefly) while Quo were only able to build a cult following. Sadly, even the casual American fans who bought their classic 1973 album Hello! probably have no clue that, 35 years later, Quo are still going as strong as ever.
Pictures: 40 Years of Hits may not redress the situation in the U.S. (since it's not released here), but hopefully, this fantastic collection will make its way into the hands of the curious, the casual fan, and the hardcore Quo nutter. When Quo released their holiday single, "It's Christmas Time," in December of 2008, it became their 75th single, and this four-disc box set celebrates the band's history by presenting each and every A-side in chronological order. Starting things off with "Pictures of Matchstick Men," their psychedelic debut single, the listener is taken on an amazingly fruitful journey that has peaks that touch the heavens and the occasional dip that might make the stomach feel a bit queasy, but those moments are few and far between. While the psychedelic period is presented by the band's six early singles, things don't really start picking up until the band completely changed direction with the bluesy boogie of "Down the Dustpipe." From there, songs don't really deviate too much from the Quo blueprint, although it's nice when they break things up by releasing untypical singles like "Living on an Island" and "Marguerita Time." Though the band has been derided for its '80s and '90s output, it was still putting out some great tunes based around that great Quo formula. OK, the two Anniversary Waltz singles were kind of silly, but look beyond those and you'll find some real gems here, folks. With plenty of absolutely killer tracks, this four-disc set is the best Quo collection for fans, although most folks wanting to investigate the band should stick with the two-CD version.
Words: Steve "Spaz" Schnee