Some songs on the Infinite Jukebox evoke more than the impact of the music. Such a one is “Hearts in Her Eyes”, a slice of pure jangle-pop with a rock solid backbone that came and went without ever being seen or heard except by those who chose to hunt for it. “Hearts in Her Eyes” commercial fate is a perfect paradigm of the state of Radio 1 as it used to be.
If you’re not familiar with “Hearts in Her Eyes” in The Searchers’ oeuvre, don’t blame yourself. It was released as a single and an album track in 1979, long after the band’s heyday as a Merseybeat group. That long after their commercial peak, most similar Sixties bands had settled for the nostalgia circuit, playing to audiences who only wanted to hear what they’d heard before, and nothing new. And in many cases, the bands who had outlived their chart history only had that history to fall back on. Cut off from the professional songwriters of their time, beyond the context in which their ‘sound’ flourished, briefly, their new work would never begin to threaten their old.
Not so The Searchers. For a moment, a brief, shining moment, they rejected the past. It began with “Hearts in her Eyes”, written by the team of John Wicks and Will Birch (ex- of The Kursaal Flyers – “Little Does She Know” – and then of The Records). The Searchers took this song to their distinctive sound, those jangling guitars, the 12-string sound, the tight professionalism, those seemingly effortless full-throated harmonies still carrying that Liverpool twang, and they beefed up the sound, taking it into 1979. The result was something that came close to the perfect single, much like The Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action”.
And you don’t know about this song because you never heard it. Radio 1 didn’t play it. I’ll come back to that.
My own introduction to the song was third hand. I was living in Nottingham at this time, but when I was back for a periodic weekend, I would drop into Droylsden if they were at home. My mate Damien – who I remember buying “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” on picture disc before it charted – had similar tastes to me. He also had a mate who’d wangled the job of pre-match entertainment at the Butchers Arms. They both raved about “Hearts in Her Eyes” and he got his mate to play it for me. But on a 1979 non-League club tannoy, I couldn’t make out a note of it.
Back in Nottingham, on a Saturday afternoon visit to the record stall in the Victoria Centre covered Market, I found the single, in a picture sleeve, dirt cheap, 25p or something like that. Cheap enough to chance it. And I loved it from the first moment. The twin-guitar attack in the intro, the bright, confident voice, the swing into that killer chorus, it had everything. It might have been plotted with everything I loved about music, for me alone.
And the song itself was a cheerful, loving, happy portrait of the singer’s girl, who stood out from the rest, the girls who had a whole lot of trouble finding one boy, the girls in a hurry who just want a fun boy. No, this girl is smart, she’s never gonna give her heart, and she’s fly. She’s got hearts in her eyes, we learn, so much so that we’re told this again, and then that killer couplet, like a kid in a toyshop, she can’t stop. She wants all the boys.
Now there are ways you can take that. But the music, the confidence, the exuberance and the plain affection of the singing make it plain that she’s no slapper, and that this is no slut-shaming song. It’s in that bright, glowing, life-affirming jangle that we hear what we want to hear. This girl is tough, she gets going when the going gets rough, and she flies. She’s got hearts in her eyes.
Oh, the band are tight. These are working musicians with twenty years playing behind them. They know what they’re doing, down to that very Sixties moment of letting the sound break into a second’s silence before crashing back with a deliberately stuttered line, and letting the song bring itself to a perfect close. There’s too much life here, too much unadulterated fun, to fade away. Listen for yourself.
But I said this song relates itself to more than just the music, didn’t I? The music lived for a while: the track opened up the1979 album “The Searchers”, and carried over to 1981’s “Play for Today”, both chock-full of new, exciting, modern songs played with that ringing gusto, and then it was done. The next album didn’t so much flirt with synthesizers as enter into marriage with them: the songs were strong but the sound atrocious.
The point was, as I said, Radio 1 didn’t play this song. Ok, they’re under no obligation to play any given song, least of all from an oldies band, even one so completely revived and up-to-date. But this was the Radio 1 that had gone overboard on the reformation of The Shadows, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch giving up their unsuccessful but worthy period as Marvin, Welch and Farrar in order to reconstruct the essential Shadows style, except that instead of going for the kind of brisk uptempo material that had adorned their early-Sixties period, they preferred slow, seemingly serious tracks that only emphasised how weedy and amateurish the bits that weren’t Hank Marvin were. Prostitute your sound and score big, enhance and magnify it and get ignored.
Then a short while after we had The Q-Tips (with Paul Young on the vocals) doing imitations of classic soul that Radio 1 wet its knickers over, and early Dexy’s Midnight Runners using the classic soul sound on modern songs and unable to get airplay. Whilst The Police made their first breakthrough in 1979 with songs like “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You” blasted out incessantly, which was very interesting to hear because these were identical, note for note, to the same two singles released by The Police in 1978 and given the bum’s rush by the station. What made them suddenly so acceptable for airplay? They’d been hits in America? No, surely the station wasn’t so shallow?
But it was always like that, and it probably still is. But frustration at such wayward musical decisions, and especially the different treatments accorded The Searchers and The Shadows is bound up with listening to “Hearts in Her Eyes”, and weaved into the music that forms three minutes of perfection that was never given the chance to infect the minds of those who would have loved it. I should have heard it on the radio, should have been able to bounce up and turn up the volume half a dozen times a day. That was stolen from me. But I have the single still.