The Searchers were on the front lines of the British Invasion. John McNally and Mike Pender founded the band as a skiffle group in Liverpool in the late 50s, taking its name from the 1956 cowboy film starring John Wayne. They were joined by bass player/singer Tony Jackson and drummer Chris Curtis.
The Searchers’ earlier history parallels that of the Beatles and many other of Liverpool’s homegrown bands. They Searchers played at the popular local venues, the Iron Door and The Cavern, performing as many as three shows each night. Like the Beatles, the Searchers traveled to Hamburg in 1962 and performed at the Star-Club in the St. Pauli district.
Back in Liverpool, the Searchers signed on with Pye Records with Tony Hatch as producer. Hatch played piano on some recordings and wrote “Sugar and Spice” — the band’s second number one record — under the name Fred Nightingale; a secret he kept from the band at the time. Their first UK #1 record, “Sweets for my Sweet,” was released in 1963. “Sugar and Spice”, the Searchers’ second single, reached #2 on the charts.
In 1964, the Searchers released a Leiber and Stoller song that was a hit five tears earlier for a group called the Clovers. “Love Potion Number Nine” became the Searchers’ top-selling record in the US.
After scoring with “Needles and Pins” (a song co-written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche) bassist Tony Jackson left the band and was replaced by Frank Allen, who’s still with the Searchers today.
The Searchers toured with the Rolling Stones in the Far East in 1966, but their string of hit songs began to fade. Musical tastes were beginning to change (the Beatles had recorded Rubber Soul and Revolver), but the Searchers stayed with their original sound and their popularity began to wane. They continued to record for Liberty Records and RCA and had a minor US hit in 1971 with “Desdemona”.
The Searchers continued to tour through the 1970s and in 1979, they signed with Sire Records. Two albums were released: The Searchers and Play for Today (retitled Love’s Melodies outside the UK). While both recordings won critical acclaim, neither one was a hit.
Sire dropped the Searchers, and in 1981, they signed to PRT Records (an offshoot of Pye, their original label) and began recording an album. Soon after the PRT release, Mike Pender left the group and now tours as Mike Pender’s Searchers.
In 1988, the Searchers were signed by Coconut Records and released the “Hungry Hearts” album. It featured new versions of “Needles and Pins” and “Sweets For My Sweet” While the album was not a major hit, it did keep the group in the public eye.
In the summer of 1989, saw the Searchers played to their biggest audiences ever – more than 75,000 people at Wembley Stadium. In 1998 they headlined a major nationwide UK tour with The Swinging Blue Jeans and Helen Shapiro; returned briefly to the US, to play at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and gave their regular fans a private show at the fourth Searchers Appreciation Society Convention.
In 2003, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Searchers’ first number-one hit, they headlined another very successful “Solid Silver 60s Tour”, along with Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, Wayne Fontana, the Dakotas and Barry Ryan.
The Searchers today include founding member John McNally (lead guitar, 12-string guitar, vocals), Frank Allen (bass, vocals ), Spencer James (lead vocals, synthesiser guitar) and Scott Ottaway (drums and percussion)
Where are They Now?
Almost 50 years after they began, the Searchers continue to tour, including electric performances with an acoustic set. To confuse matters, former lead singer Mike Pender also tours, with his own band, Mike Pender’s Searchers, performing old Searchers’ hits in addition to some new material. Pender, who lives in Manchester, England, took part in British Invasion tours of the US in 2014 and 2015. Later in 2015, he’ll be playing in Bangkok, the Netherlands, the Channel Islands, Scandinavia and Germany.
“Needles and Pins,” live on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1964.
The Searchers perform a medley of their greatest hits in Queensland, Australia, in 2007.
The Searchers Hit Singles
Release Date — Title — UK Top chart position — US Top chart Position
1963 “Sweets for My Sweet” #1 –
1963 “Sweet Nothins” #48 –
1963 “Sugar and Spice” #2 #44
1964 “Needles and Pins” #1 #13
1964 “Ain’t That Just Like Me” – #61
1964 “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” #1 #16
1964 “Some Day We’re Gonna Love Again” #11 #34
1964 “When You Walk in the Room” #3 #35
1964 “Love Potion No. 9” – #3
1964 “What Have They Done to the Rain” #13 #29
1965 “Bumble Bee” – #21
1965 “Goodbye My Love” #4 #52
1965 “He’s Got No Love” #12 #79
1965 “When I Get Home” #35 –
1965 “Take Me For What I’m Worth” #20 #76
1966 “Take It Or Leave It” #31 –
1966 “Have You Ever Loved Somebody?” #48 #94
1967 “Popcorn Double Feature” – –
1967 “Western Union” – #115
1967 “Second Hand Dealer” – –
1968 “Umbrella Man” – –
1971 “Desdemona” – #94