The Infinite Jukebox: The Searchers’ ‘Everything but a Heartbeat’

There are a whole lot of reasons why songs end up on the Infinite Jukebox. Maybe they’re a song of great beauty, or of meaningful lyrics, sometimes they’re songs of phenomenal power, or of incredible significance, or they represent eras or personal memories.
Sometimes though, a song makes it into the Jukebox for no better reason that it’s a cracking good song, played and sung perfectly. That’s the reason for ‘Everything but a Heartbeat’.
I’ve written already about the brief career resurgence of The Searchers between 1979 and 1981, in the context of their classic overlooked single, ‘Hearts in her Eyes‘. Creative resurgence, that was, not commercial. The band signed to Sire Records and cut a self-titled album mixing covers of contemporary songs in a manner that echoed their classic Sixties 12-string guitar sound and their much-practiced harmony singing, but built this into a fuller sound with impeccable timing.
It was a great album, and ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ a cracker of a song but, having set The Searchers up for a re-emergence as a modern group, with ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ catching some attention, the band were starved of promotion and what promotion they were given was for compilations of their classic period.
Nevertheless, a second album appeared in 1981, this one entitled Play for Today (and re-titled Love’s Melodies after a track on the album in all other territories). Play for Today covered similar territory, the same full sound, the same contemporary music and brilliant harmonies. If it didn’t mark any real kind of progression, and if the choice of songs wasn’t quite as good as on The Searchers, it didn’t matter to me. It was more of the same and of a same I didn’t hear happening anywhere else and it hadn’t gone on so long as to start getting repetitive. Indeed, I could have stood a lot more of this sort of thing.
‘Everything but a Heartbeat’ was the stand-out track for me, even though it was mysteriously buried as track 4 on side 2. Like ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ it was written by Will Birch and John Wicks of The Records, but unlike that song it was exclusive to The Searchers and has never been recorded by anyone else.
And how right and proper that it. Why try to mess with perfection (though many misguided souls do)?
‘Everything but a Heartbeat’ is a simple and straightforward pop song, built on a cast iron rhythm and melody, with a fantastic, grab you by the ears chorus. The band attack it with relish and enjoyment, and the song’s sound is adorned by quasi rock’n’roll piano fills, inserted into the guitar sound like punctuation points.
The song’s about a girl, a beautiful girl it goes without saying, a wonderful girl and someone you’d love to have hanging on your arm, making everyone envious. But from it’s very first line (‘She may possess the best dress…’) it’s a song with a warning. There’s a reservation in every line about this gorgeous woman, this woman of taste, with the money to indulge it. I know you’re thinking that she’s quite a catch, the band ominously sound.
And she’s a doll. She has the smile of sunshine on a cloudy day. And they know what you’re thinking when she looks your way. She pays for everything she owns, but underneath it all…
Yes, underneath it all we have the pure line of a chorus, the instant catchiness that warns you that this girl isn’t real, doesn’t love, is a trophy yes, but nothing more than a trophy. ‘Cos she’s got everything but a heartbeat (heartbeat), she’s as cool as snow (do do de-do do). Everything but a heartbeat, and a heartbeat matters so, the note extended in keening fashion.
In a true and properly adjusted world, this song would have been released as a single, would have been given proper exposure on TV and radio and been a smash success. Surely the Great British Record Buying Public couldn’t have ignored this?
To my regret and disgust, I now understand that the band were set to record a third album for Sire when they were informed their contract had been cancelled. They joined up with PRT (an offshoot of Pye, where they’d first started), but only two tracks were recorded, and released as a single, as PRT withdrew from the deal.
By the time The Searchers recorded again, Mike Pender had left. I fell on the CD with delight when I saw it, only to find that although the song quality was good (except for re-recordings of two of their old smashes), the sound was not. Everything was dominated by a synthesizer, whereas a version recorded in their classic style would have been dynamite. I only played it once.
But I still have the two albums and if not everything is quite a ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ or an ‘Everything but a Heartbeat’, and if this was no more than a blip instead of being the career reviving moment it should have been, I still have two brilliant albums of ringing guitars and fantastic harmonies that I love.
It still should have been more.

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