Hearts in Their Eyes: Celebrating 50 Years of Harmony & Jangle

by: The Searchers

In a way, the Searchers are a footnote. Never entering the upper echelon of British Invasion beat groups, the band nevertheless had legs, outlasting all but the titans of the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and the Who. The Searchers always flew just below the radar, even if they had something of a renaissance at the tail end of the '70s with a new lineup headed by lead singer -- and only constant -- John McNally, with his lead guitarist companion Mike Pender directing the band through two superb power pop LPs and their jangle echoing in the stable of Shelter Records, heard strongly in the early records of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. They are best known for their earliest hits -- 1963's "Sweets for My Sweet," 1964's "Needles and Pins" -- which may be because they were their biggest hits but it's also because the Searchers never abandoned their pure pop template throughout their entire career, something that becomes blindingly evident over the course of the four-disc box set Hearts in Their Eyes. Every other Brit group of their time stretched their wings during the psychedelic years but the Searchers pledged their allegiance to jangling guitars and sweet melodies, dipping their toes into the soft slick waters left behind by Bacharach but pretty much adhering to their game plan of playing ringing rock and turning R&B into pop. When their peers were blowing their minds, the Searchers got a little bit bubblegum and while they consolidated their strengths during the power pop '70s, they were always somewhat restrained by the lack of a truly distinctive songwriter. McNally could turn out some handsome melodic tunes but they were at the mercy of other writers, borrowing heavily from American pop and R&B in the early years, then finding gems among the pub rockers in the late '70s. These strengths and weaknesses are in equal relief on Hearts in Their Eyes, which may not contain all of their released singles -- their cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" is nowhere to be found -- but it has all their best along with smartly selected highlights from their albums. Taken together, it is the big jangle: tuneful, crystalline pop that likely sounds better at a remove than it did at the time due to its unadventurous consistency. The Searchers weren't trailblazers; they were a dogged, dedicated beat group that never strayed from its hooky vision. They don't belong in the upper echelon of British beat but they have their place, as this entertaining and comprehensive box makes plain. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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