23
Jan 08

STATUS QUO – “Down Down”

FT + Popular63 comments • 5,677 views

#363, 18th January 1975

There are records which could only have topped the charts in January (a phenomenon I’ve always known as the “Babylon Zoo effect”, though it far predates them). And there are records which are somehow January-ish: “Down Down” is one of them. A bracing, uncomplicated dollop of rock as the decorations go down and the festivants look ruefully at their waistlines. In the Summer this might be stodgy, the sort of number one that squats at the top and muscles brighter hits out the way. At this time of year though its hooky, muscular action is far more palatable.

Quo are an odd band – their reputation (such as it is) rests on the idea that almost all their records, barring the early stuff, sound exactly the same. As a result of this they are both icons and figures of vague fun – the Coronation Street plot from a few years back, where one middle-aged character idolised the band and just missed out on meeting them, couldn’t really have worked with any other group. Quo had the right comedy-drama combination of being a believable band for a bloke that age to admire, without being a respectable one. You could imagine a female character of equivalent age having Barry Manilow at the heart of the storyline, or an older or squarer one admiring Cliff. Which comparisons suggest that emotionally Status Quo are part of a light entertainment tradition as much as a rock n roll one, yet another point in British music where the two intertwine.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 23 Jan 2008 #

    quo i think quite early on also hit a really important button = NO ONE could gin up a way to consider them “pretentious” —> in the area of anti-pretention they just outflanked ALL, they were likeable, steady, solid, francis rossi’s dad was an icecream man, even the staunchest workingman’s bluesniks like rory gallagher, who hunted similar dues-paying ever-touring reliable territory, were up themselves by comparison (a bit too committed to rock-group blues as a form, hence outflankable)

  2. 2
    Mark G on 23 Jan 2008 #

    For something that sounded quite simple, it was quite a complicated piece! Shifts in beat, tempo, fade out, fade back in again, and it only gets into the quo boogie right at the end.

  3. 3
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Jan 2008 #

    I have quite a bit to say about Ver Quo (and a little more about beginning of year number ones) but so does the missus – so, being a kind and thoughtful husband, I’ll let her have a go first… ;-)

  4. 4
    Lena on 23 Jan 2008 #

    Ah, thank you, my fine husband!

    When I heard this I immediately and very favorably thought of The Ramones – really repetitive and vague lyrics (even more vague than “Rockaway Beach” which is practically a sociological treatise on why going to the beach was necessary) (if you didn’t like disco, that is). This is fast, purposeful – if only to go fast, then slow, then fast again…I know they have been going for yonks but I can’t help but think that their unpretentious and utterly open free-for-all whoo-hoo style had a liberating effect of some kind. The canon says that it took The Ramones to inspire a bunch of people to form bands, but I think those bands had to have someone before The Ramones as an example too, if only to say “hey Status Quo got to #1 so what the hell!”

  5. 5
    jeff w on 23 Jan 2008 #

    If Quo records did have a formula* then they managed to ring plenty of changes out of it. Play their 70s hits back to back (12 Gold Bars is all you need really) and you’ll see what I mean. “Down Down” is probably the ultimate Quo single though. Great to air guitar to and, as Mark says, scratches my prog itch a little too. I’d give it a 9.

    *and Philip Pope – aka The Heebeegeebees (along with Angus Deayton among others) aka composer of many of the Spitting Image pop parodies – made a memorable tho not very amusing attempt at nailing it with “Boring Song” c.1980

  6. 6
    Tom on 23 Jan 2008 #

    Yes in my review I tried to be cagey about the “formula” thing because I simply haven’t heard enough (and most of my Quo experience was 80s Quo). On paper I think they’re a Good Thing, for the reasons Mark and Lena outline, but I don’t know I’ve ever heard anything compelling enough to make me want to really explore.

  7. 7
    Rosie on 23 Jan 2008 #

    Ah, we’re back! Jolly good!

    I liked Pictures of Matchstick Men back in ’68; it seemed fresh and different. Thereafter each manifestation of Quo seemed staler and staler as the formula was trotted out again and again, becoming ever more simplified. I can’t say that Down, Down is their strongest or weakest. It’s not as good as that first one but it’s a good representation of a hard-working band who worked a simple formula into the ground. Nice to see them getting a mention and I think that to have such an unmistakeable sound for so long as to become a joke is a genuinely positive achievement. To consider this as any more than a good dancealong track to get an evening going would flatter them too much though. I was always baffled by those who got excited about them.

  8. 8
    Tom on 23 Jan 2008 #

    (Yes, apologies to all commenters for the longer-than-planned delay: having not moved house for 5 years I’d forgotten how bloody long everything takes!)

  9. 9
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Jan 2008 #

    Picture the scene on a damp and dark February evening in 1977; a bunch of schoolboys are reeling out of Glasgow Central Station and making the slow climb up Renfield Street towards the Apollo theatre, our heads already full of the Pistols and the Clash and the Damned and all those other punk names we’d read about but hadn’t yet necessarily heard much of.

    But the Quo were on that night, and they (together with Thin Lizzy and precious few others) were one of the very few rock bands to get an access all areas free pass when punk happened, and heads down no nonsense (but mindful) boogie was the nearest we could get to “punk” at the time, despite the fact that all the smoky-smelly denim-clad hard man hippies at the front wouldn’t have had anything to do with punk. They were fantastic that night; awesome power, fearsome drive and whatever you might think of their later work, utterly uncompromising. A particularly noisome, pogoing schoolboy present – who turned out to answer to the name of R Gillespie – was acting as though post-punk was already happening. All of us returned to the same venue three months later to catch the Clash but, thirteen-year-old cowards that we were, stood well at the back, which was just as well given all the chair throwing and punch-ups which occurred during that gig.

    In America, the Quo are remembered, if at all, for their solitary hit there – “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” (credited to THE Status Quo) back in ’68 – and presumably as another one of those psych-bubblegum one-offs (and besides they had their own no nonsense three-chord perennials in ZZ Top). But they were never comfortable with psychedelia and by 1970 and “Down The Dustpipe” had reverted to the far more comfortable denim and three chords by which ye shall know them.

    There is quite a radical minimalist sheen about Quo’s peak period, something almost comparable in its way with Kraftwerk – the guitars as efficient but loving machines. Statistically they are the most successful of all British rock acts from the point of view of the singles chart; they are now approaching their fortieth anniversary as chart regulars and there is currently no reason to rule them out for a further forty (triple figures? No problem!). Maybe it’s because, like Cliff and the Queen (and, for that matter, Queen), they have transcended everyday pop concerns to become an indestructible British Institution, a beacon of stability in a country changing in ways unpredictable and scarifying.

    However, in these forty years they have only had the one number one in their own name (though they contribute to the most famous number one of the eighties and were responsible for writing, producing, playing and backing vocalising on another number one in the nineties) which may point to the potential downside of a reliable long-term career, i.e. no real peaks. This clearly isn’t the case, but then again “Down, Down” does owe its chart topping status in no small part to the then recent phenomenon of records which do surprisingly well in the charts at the beginning of the year.

    This really started to become noticeable in 1974, and can directly be attributed to the sudden multiplicity of Christmas records doing the rounds at the end of ’73; after the holidays, their sales obviously tail off rapidly (though Slade’s was still charting in February!), and since at the time it was the tradition that no major releases came out in the first week of the year – because record sales in that period tended to be extremely low – this allowed singles in the lower regions of the chart to make sudden leaps upwards, and for otherwise unlikely singles to appear in the chart and become hits; thus it became a good period for new acts to establish themselves since there was no competition from the big stars. Thus did “You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me,” which had been dawdling around the top five for weeks on end, suddenly execute an about turn and make number one, practically by default.

    Similarly in ’75 there are a lot of singles (including, arguably, the next two number ones) which did markedly better than they might have done in, say, April or November, and “Down, Down” would normally have nestled comfortably in the top five or ten as most Quo singles were apt to do. But Mud and the Wombles were out of the way (and “Streets Of London” by Ralph McTell which after several years of availability suddenly vaulted to number two at year’s beginning) so the path was clear for the Quo’s triumph. Still at least it grants the opportunity to commemorate them in the Popular context, and it’s a fine chart topper with a greater sense of architecture than the Quo are generally credited as having; the slow, patient warm-up, the sudden explosions, the artful use of pauses and silence – superb. In their own affable way, the Quo played their part to help set the stage for the revolution to come.

  10. 10
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 23 Jan 2008 #

    relevant to prog itch: my pal chris at school was a quo fan, and liked them i think because he was diffident about himself — underplayed his intelligence for example, and seemed cvomfy to underperform generally — and identified with the way they seemed to (i think sustained minimalism is a tougher gig than it looks on the outside; the ramones for example didn’t sustain it) (i blame phil spector obv)

    the other quo fanatic i knew was i. a classical guitarist of some ability and ii. an equally militant fan of SKY, the classico-prog supergroup — sadly i don’t know if these were the two balanced wings of his taste (boogie vs baroque) or if he considered them the “same kind of thing” (i met him on a music course, so only knew him for abt a week)

  11. 11
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Jan 2008 #

    An opportune moment to reprint in full the best review ever written by the late, lamented RD Cook, namely of one of many interchangeable Sky albums:

    “Look, I’m a tolerant bloke but Sky’s the limit.”

  12. 12
    Erithian on 23 Jan 2008 #

    One thing Marcello didn’t point out is that not only is it their only number one, but it was only there for the one week, making Quo by some distance the act with the most weeks on the chart with just the one of them spent at the very top. (I don’t have the latest edition of British Hit Singles but imagine the Who and Billy Fury still head the list of those without a single week).

    I was going to mention, too, that 90s number one that they had a large but uncredited hand in. (It’s a bit of a spoiler, but it’ll be a while before Tom gets there, so I’ll relish it now – for two glorious weeks my team were simultaneously League champions, FA Cup holders and number one in the chart. Beat that, Wenger!)

    Anyway, if Quo were only going to have one week with a number one single in their entire career, I’m glad it was during the 70s, when they had that mighty run of singles such as “Caroline”, “Mean Girl”, “Paper Plane” and “Break the Rules”, rather than the 80s when they just sort of blanded out. I expect some of you would call it rockist, but I’m not ashamed of it – early 70s Quo were a damn good rock band.

    And like Marcello, funnily enough, I too saw the Quo at the Apollo – although it was the Manchester Apollo circa ’79. I can’t claim to have spotted any future stars in the audience (the Gig All The Stars Went To Then Formed Bands was of course in ’76) but I can tell you I had a backache for a week after an evening doing the Quo dance.

  13. 13
    Erithian on 23 Jan 2008 #

    Just to tie together posts #5 and #11 in a cosmic kind of way, I’m reminded of the interview on “Radio Active” (featuring Philip Pope and Angus Deayton) purporting to be with Sky:
    Q: “Was it difficult finding a sound that absolutely nobody likes?”
    A: “Well, we just wanted to blend classical music with rock music in a way that would piss off fans of both.”
    Q: “And what about the look, the famous Sky look?”
    A: “Well yeah, we were going for a cross between the Cambridge Buskers and Meatloaf.”

  14. 14
    Andrew Farrell on 23 Jan 2008 #

    The version of the video on Youtube is off TOTP2 and features the fact that they have been on Top of the Pops more than any other band. Which makes a lot of sense: regularly somewhere in the top 40, but rarely too busy to pop in for an hour.

  15. 15
    Lena on 23 Jan 2008 #

    Were the future members of Teenage Fanclub also there at the Apollo? Methinks so…

  16. 16
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 23 Jan 2008 #

    i spent half the evening playing old quo comps to see if i could work up a “SQ as pioneer guitarchord-interplay formalists like minehead’s answer to er TELEVISION” theoretical revisionism — to which the answer well NOT QUITE maybe, but LOTS of clever textural prettiness all the same, hidden behind the deceptive sameness (the boogie identikit is kind of a strange mask for this prject bcz it’s REALLY hard to look or hear past)

    david quantick coined the term “noisette” for the kind of fuzzpop sweetness the JAMCs traded in, and it’s pertinent here deinifitely, and honestly of the two i prefer quo’s mask i think: certainly it leads to a lot less disappointment than reid bros’ “WITH OUR WALL OF DARING SANDBLAST APOCALYPSE WE OVERTHROW YOUR WORLD yes even on our rather weedy fourth LP” blah blah

  17. 17
    fivelongdays on 23 Jan 2008 #

    As has been previously stated, it’s a bit of a surprise to see Quo only pop up in the list of chart toppers once, for one week.
    They are a bit of an odd band, critically speaking. Their stuff from the 70s is basically the sort of stuff that surprises you with just how good it is, but their stuff from the 80s is a bit, well, not so good. And because they’ve had their formula, but because of their longevity, one always feels one has to tread carefully around their work, which is, I know, rather stupid. I still think if AC/DC hadn’t existed, Quo would currently occupy the place in the rock’n’roll pantheon, the slot marked “no-nonsense balls out heavy rock’n’roll’, that the Antipodean Boogie-Meisters (TM) hold.
    In truth, the Quo number one could – should – have been any one of a number of the aforementioned hits. But it was this one.
    Also – on a side note – their version of Rockin’ All Over The World is one of those songs you keep forgetting is a cover. Now that’s class.
    So, for all the guilty (or not) pleasures, sod it, this has to be, at the very least, a 9.

  18. 18
    Waldo on 24 Jan 2008 #

    I remember rejoicing when this hit the top, as did my hero Johnnie Walker. Everything about “Down Down” hits the spot from the elongated intro right through to the reluctant fade (in this respect, it reminds me of Wizzard). In between is a terrific party song, a perfect antidote to that horrid rubbish it removed from the top. I can never claim to have ever favoured The Quo or taken them seriously in any shape or form. But Francis and Rick have never taken themselves too seriously either, as the appearance on “Corrie” proved in spades; and this is their immense charm, it seems to me. There are certainly far nastier and more sanctimonious folk in the industry than “Ver Quo” and “Down Down” will always get me bopping for as long as I remain conscious (which is anytime before 10pm most nights). God bless them, the numpties!

  19. 19
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Jan 2008 #

    About Teenage Fanclub – Norman & Co. were a few years younger than our lot (and as per their first album title went to the Cardinal Newman Catholic school on the other side of the M8) so I suspect they might have caught them at some point in the eighties but they certainly wrote the best song anyone’s ever written about the Quo (“Says she’s gonna get some records by THE Status Quo/Oh YEAH!”).

    Yes, Johnnie W audibly groaned at most of the records which got to number one over 1975 – indeed he got into deep trouble with The Man over prematurely fading one of the year’s biggest number ones on the Tuesday lunchtime chart rundown because (a) it had been at number one too long and (b) it was “total rubbish.”

    (For my part I think there were far worse number ones in ’75 than the relatively innocent one which he used as a strawman but these were the times)

    As far as chart stats are concerned, Billy Fury (about whom I’ll be writing on my own blog next week) and the Who still hold the record for most hit singles without a number one, but this in part demonstrates that the official Guinness-approved chart was only one part of the story; on the NME charts the Who had two number ones – “My Generation” and “I’m A Boy” (both #2 on Guinness) and Fury made the top with “Halfway To Paradise” (curiously only a #3 on the Guinness list, which marks his biggest hit as being the #2 follow-up “Jezebel”).

    Interestingly, however, the act which holds the record for most UK hit singles without ever making the top ten is – AC/DC.

  20. 20
    Erithian on 24 Jan 2008 #

    The other notable Corrie cameo in recent years was Noddy Holder turning up in the 40th anniversary episode in December 2000. The scriptwriters had him turning up in the street shouting “It’s Chriiiiistmas!” for no apparent reason other than that they could.

    Re Marcello’s point on January sales figures – I believe for a long time “Pipes of Peace” held the record for the lowest weekly sale for a number one single, and the record recently passed on to the re-release of “Jailhouse Rock” and thence to Orson (in the era when you don’t even have to get off your bum and go to a record shop). Do they still hold it? Any other significantly low figures? I read that Orson sold less than 20,000 the week they got to number one, of which precisely 101 were on 7” single. I wonder who those 101 people were?

  21. 21
    Tom on 24 Jan 2008 #

    I doubt Orson’s record is going to be broken in a hurry, as they were just on the cusp of the download sales era.

  22. 22
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Jan 2008 #

    Orson definitely hold the record for the lowest weekly sales of a number one.

    Excluding limited editions and reissues like the Elvis 2005 series, the lowest selling number one single overall to date is “Wonderful” by Ja Rule with R Kelly and Ashanti – approx. 65,000 total sales (if we include Elvis 2005 then the wooden spoon would go to “It’s Now Or Never” which shifted just under 40,000 – but then again that was a limited release and the original issue did well over a million in 1960-1).

  23. 23
    Tom on 24 Jan 2008 #

    Even I had forgotten that Ja Rule record getting to number one.

  24. 24
    Mark G on 24 Jan 2008 #

    By the time we get there, you’ll have to post bits of the track to remind us how they all went! Some of them, anyway.

  25. 25
    Waldo on 24 Jan 2008 #

    By the time we get there, my friend, we’ll all be sat in bath chairs a-burblin’ and a-dribblin’and able only to eat “Cow and Gate Lamb and Broccoli Dinners” through a straw. Waldo is familiar with this but what price you buggers?

  26. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Jan 2008 #

    However, it will be worth the wait to witness the spectacle of a grumpy 45-year-old Lex!

  27. 27
    Billy Smart on 24 Jan 2008 #

    Here’s an odd thing: In music, the slow season is January-March, in film I think that it’s supposed to be September-November, in television its June-August and in theatre its supposed to be Easter to May and August (when everybody’s decamped to Edinburgh). What other ones are there? Does every media have one?

  28. 28
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Jan 2008 #

    With music and publishing both January-March and June-August seem to be the slow periods; I guess they divide up naturally along these lines.

    With film it’s more to do with concentrating on the pre-Christmas (and Christmas) market. Hip hop & R&B oddly enough seem to operate on the same basis; witness all the major name albums which seem to flood out in December.

  29. 29
    crag on 25 Jan 2008 #

    Never had any time for any post “Matchstick Men” Quo for years till John Peel included this in 1999 in the ’75 edition of his brilliant Peelenium feature(i still dream of someone bringing that out as a cd box set someday). Hearing it in that context, complete w/ Peel proudly stating afterwards that he wanted the words “I PLAYED “DOWN DOWN” AT TRIBAL GATHERING” engraved on his tombstone really opened up my ears and helped me realise what a smashing(for some reason the only appropriate adjective when discussing the Quo in this way has to be “smashing”)rock tune this is.
    Everything they churned out after the late 70s was utter guff, mind you.I remember when i was about 13 a friends dad stating confidently that their godawful mid-80’s hit “Burning Bridges(On and Off and On Again etc)would defintely be the Christmas No.1 that year. Since it was only October and it was already mercifully sliding down the charts i ended up having a fiver wager with him on it failing. I never did see the cash though…

  30. 30
    Monitor on 25 Jan 2008 #

    This is a smashing song and something of its inscrutibility is revealed in the way we’ve detected affinities both to punk and prog. No mean feat. The reason we can find both of those movements in this song must lie in the way it manages to combine a propulsive forward momentum with those rhythmic interruptions: not just the slow down and stop shortly after the two-minute mark but also those triplets that take us from the first to the second line of the verse, the simple but crunchily exciting steps up the scale that bridge the second to third, and the false rallantando that propels us into the restatement of the chorus. It both rocks and interrupts.

    For all the talk that the Quo sound the same, their 70s singles are surprisingly varied. While the Quo riff underpins that great string of singles – ‘Paper Plane’, ‘Caroline’, ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’, ‘Whatever You Want’ – they manage to find some new hook that differentiates each from the last. Oddly, they most came adrift when they really tried to stray from the formula, semi-ballads like ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Living on an Island’ (and the later dirgey and slightly pious ‘In The Army Now’) none of which really work for me. The response to that seems to have been to withdraw into a parody of themselves, and in particular a rather mechanistic process of cover versions that just Quoized a series of rock ‘n’ roll and country classics (‘The Wanderer’, ‘Dear John’, ‘Mess of the Blues’, etc., to which they really add nothing).

    There was also the curious spectacle of them recording with the Beach Boys for the remake of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’; mind you, the Boys had done ‘Wipeout’ with The Fat Boys not more than ten years before, so their decline in quality control has clearly coincided with Status Quo’s.

    I also remember Francis Rossi talking about how proud he was of his gay son on TV in the 1980s, which has always rather endeared him to me.

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