The Searchers return for a second run at the top. And if their first #1 – ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ – was a cute little slice of Beat-pop; then this is next-level stuff entirely. This baby is a classic!
Needles and Pins, by The Searchers (their 2nd of three #1s)
3 weeks, from 30th January – 20th February 1964
We start with a simple, chiming riff. In my previous post on The Searchers, I mentioned that they had a sound slightly removed from frenetic Merseybeat – a bit more sedate, a bit more melancholic – a sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on Indie records of the 1980s. Well, that sound is back here.
Lyrically, too, this is a more complex record than the likes of ‘Do You Love Me’ and other such pub-singalongs. And no, ‘Needles and Pins’ doesn’t refer to waking up with a dead arm; it’s about the feeling you get when you see a lost love. One that did you wrong. I saw her today, I saw her face, It was a face I loved, And I knew, I had to run awa-y…
It’s also a song about bruised pride… Because of all my pride, The tears I gotta hide… and a song with an air of revenge about it: Let her go ahead, And take his love instead, And one day she will see, Just how to say please, And get down on her knees, Yeah that’s how it begins, She’ll feel those needles and pins, Hurtin’, Hurtin’… This is one grown-up love song. It’s like the sophisticated older brother of discs like our last chart-topper, ‘Glad All Over’, looking down his nose at his younger siblings’ silly little songs.
I wish I had the musical vocabulary to describe the chord structures and the key and whatever it is that gives this record its ‘mood’. Whatever it is that makes this song so good. But then again, if I could dissect it and pinpoint it’s genius maybe it would lose some of its magic. It’s a sad-sounding song about a sad-sounding break-up; and it’s superb. By the final verse, it’s reached a bit of a crescendo. Two voices – the lead singer (Mike Pender) and a high-pitched back-up which just adds to the emotion. Oh, needles and pins… And those drum-fills. Oh those drum-fills.
I’ve been kind of surprised, listening to them all in a row, how cheesy (for want of a better word) these early Beat #1s have been. Musically they’ve been a huge step forward but, in lyrical terms, records like ‘From Me to You’, ‘Bad to Me’, and ‘I Like It’ haven’t moved on much from the 1950s.
‘Needles and Pins’ is different. Though I was shocked to find out that it is actually a cover. It’s a song I’ve loved for a long time and have assumed for years was a Searcher’s original. But no. It’s a Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono song, originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1963. I feel betrayed… I really do. This – and I realise that this is a bold statement to make – is the first pop song I ever loved. I must have been maybe seven, and it was on a sixties mix-tape (which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) in our family car. It would be playing on a Sunday evening as we drove home from dinners at my grandparents, along dark roads under orange streetlights. A melancholy scene for a melancholy song.
Actually, that’s another thing that has surprised me – just how many of these early Beat chart-toppers were covers. Since Gerry & The Pacemakers kicked the movement off in April ’63, I make this six covers out of eleven (I’m counting ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in this, though it isn’t your average Beat-pop number). I just assumed these boys with guitars were all writing their own songs. How wrong I was!
Anyway, the ‘Needles and Pins’ story doesn’t end with The Searchers. It’s classic status is confirmed by the fact it’s been covered by The Ramones and Tom Petty. It’s a song so good that it might just give you needles and pins! (Though I’ve always said ‘pins and needles’ – I guess that didn’t scan quite as well…)
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