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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Arrows


"Everybody's Talkin'" (Fred Neil), "Without You" (Badfinger), and "I Love Rock & Roll" (Arrows).  These are just few examples of  great songs that should've been hits for the people (in brackets) who wrote and recorded them originally - but weren't.  The history of popular music is littered with them.
And that's were our subjects this time around come in.  Arrows, a three piece mid '70s glam rock act, will forever be linked with a song they themselves never had a hit with (although they certainly did have other hits); namely the classic rock stable "I Love Rock & Roll" - a song that made at least one career (Joan Jett's, in case anyone's in doubt who exactly I'm referring to.  We won't even mention arguably atrocious latter day cover versions such as Britney Spears' and Miley Cyrus').

 
In 1973, glam rock reigned supreme on the British music scene.  Amongst its many hopefuls was Streak - a trio which managed at least one great single, "Bang, Bang Bullet", which later became a "Junkshop glam" classic, before they imploded.
U.S. born guitarist Jake Hooker and English drummer Paul Varley then contacted an old pal of Hooker's from New York, bassist/singer Alan Merrill, son of Jazz singer Helen Merrill, who in 1968 had followed his mother and stepfather Don Brydon to Japan, but Mr. Brydon worked for the UPI News Agency in Tokyo.
 when they relocated to Japan in the early '70s.  While over there Alan became a successful model as well playing and releasing music solo and with the band Vodka Collins.
Alan immediately joined Varley and Hooker in England and collectively they became Arrows.
In 1974 Arrows signed with RAK Records, the home of glam rock giants Suzi Quatro, and MUD, among others.  And the songwriting duo of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn just happened to be at the top of their game in 1974, penning hits for Quatro, MUD, The Sweet and others.  They supplied Arrows with their first and biggest hit.
 

 
"Touch Too Much", Arrows' debut single, was classic Chinnichap.  Produced, as was the majority of their output, by RAK boss Mickie Most, it entered the U.K. singles chart in May 1974 peaking at no. 8.  So far, so good.
However, the follow-up, "Toughen Up", another excellent Chinnichap composition, inexplicably failed to make the chart altogether.
 
 

Arrows' next crack at the charts fared somewhat better, in spite of it being probably their weakest single release.  "My Last Night With You", a '50s sounding Rock & Roll ballad-type-of-thing, became the band's second and last hit in early 1975, peaking at number 25.
 
 

Their next single, "Broken Down Heart", although fine on its own merits it was yet another non-original composition which contained the self-penned "I Love Rock & Roll" as its flip-side.  By this point in time the band was understandably becoming increasingly frustrated with the outside material Mickie Most fed them, and demanded the single be reissued with "ILR&R" as the A-side.  Which it was, with little if any immediate fanfare though.  They were only to reap the rewards some years later as it is believed that Joan Jett picked this single up on her first U.K. sojourn with The Runaways in the autumn of 1976.  So, as history would later establish, it really wasn't all in vain.
 


Followed up by another fabulous flop, "Hard Hearted", which went absolutely nowhere, Arrows somehow landed themselves one of the hottest gigs in town...their very own T.V. show. 
You see, The Bay City Rollers were apparently "deserting" their homegrown audience for greener pastures in Japan, the U.S. and Australia, so they really didn't have the time nor need to extend their Granada T.V. hit show "Shang-A-Lang" for another season/series.  So, enter Arrows...
 
 
 
But thus also begins the band's final and most frustrating era.  While being ever so visible daily to the teenagers of Great Britain, Mickie Most and the Arrows management weren't seeing exactly eye to eye.  As a result, RAK didn't release any more Arrows material to (finally) their adoring and awaiting public.  Albeit not before Arrows one and only LP had seen the the light of day. 
"First Hit", produced by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter of BCR/Kenny/Slik-fame, was an overall stylistically diverse and multi-dimensional debut.  A lost gem if you will.  From it, "Once Upon a Time", a big ballad worthy of (well, almost) The Righteous Brothers was culled as a single...
 

 
The Arrows' T.V. show ran for two series in 1976/77, after which the band had pretty much ran out of steam and all went their separate ways.  A second guitarist, Terry Taylor, briefly joined the band.
Sadly, both Paul Varley and Jake Hooker have now left this dimension while Alan Merrill is still musically active and well as far as I know, and carrying the Arrows' torch...


ARROWS Discography

(U.K. – unless otherwise noted) 
 

Singles:
 
Touch Too Much”/”We Can Make it Together” (RAK 171) 1974.

Toughen Up”/”Diesel Locomotive Dancer” (RAK 182) 1974.

My Last Night With You”/”Movin’ Next Door to You” (RAK 189) 1975.

Broken Down Heart”/”I Love Rock & Roll” (RAK 205) 1975.

Hard Hearted”/”My World is Turning on Love” (RAK 218) 1975.

Once Upon a Time”/”The Boogiest Band in Town” (RAK 231) 1976.

 
Album:
 

First Hit” (SRAK 521) 1976.  11 track Martin/Coulter produced L.P.

 
Selected CD Releases:
 

First Hit” W/10 Bonus Tracks (REP 4865) Repertoire Records, 2000.  Germany.

Singles Collection Plus…” (GLAMCD11) 7T’s/Cherry Red, 2002.  A compilation.

Tawny Tracks” (Gel-003) Geltoob Records, 2002.  A prev. unreleased rarities comp.

A’s, B’s & Rarities” (7243 8 75998 2 6) EMI Gold, 2004.  A compilation, but including recently recorded old material as well.

First Hit” W/11 Bonus Tracks (WPCR-16200) Parlophone/Warner Japan, 2015.
 

6 comments:

  1. Just a few things about the band Arrows...
    I refer you to this blog post http://alanmerrill.tumblr.com/post/48808935091/how-streak-became-arrows
    The original members of Streak were Alan Merrill, John Siomos and Jake Hooker AKA Falsworth

    Merrill, Hooker (as Falsworth) and Siomos recorded 4 songs in New York as Streak in 1972.

    Then Alan returned to Japan (His stepfather was not Japanese.. Don Brydon worked for the UPI News Agency Tokyo office and he and Alan's mother went there in 1966 Alan followed them in 1968 )

    In 1973 Streak whose line up was then Jake Falsworth - Hooker (guitar, vocals) Paul Varley- (drums, vocals) Ben Brierley (bass, vocals)Rick Steel (guitar, vocals) recorded “Bang Bang Bullit” (Deram Records) which was not a hit and the band split up.

    Meanwhile in Japan, Alan Merrill's band Vodka Collins had become huge... with 2 hit singles and an album close to completion. Vodka Collins were due to play the prestigious Budokan arena, but the management was cheating Alan and not paying him, so he couldnt even pay the rent. His mother advises him to leave Japan if he cant get his money . At the same time Jake phones from London to say he has a record deal lined up and buys Alan a plane ticket to London. That's how Alan and Jake ended up together with Paul Varley in Arrows.

    There are various other inaccuracies. Broken Down Heart was only an A-side for about a week before the single was flipped so Alan Merrill's "I Love Rock N Roll" was their 4th Arrows single with Broken Down Heart as the B side.

    Joan Jett caught one episode of the second season of the TV show and that is where she first heard the song "I Love Rock N Roll" and it took her quite a while to track down the single as by that time it was over a year since its release. She recorded a version in 1978 with Cook and Jones of the Sex Pistols, but it went nowhere. It was a hit on the second attempt however, in 1982 although the familiarity of the song to the British audience as an Arrows song meant that Joan Jett's was perceived as a cover in the UK and didn't hit the top. Joan got a whole career out of that song, but *somehow* the benefits to the songwriter only began to roll in when Britney Spears did her successful cover in 2002...

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  2. Important to note that the Arrows had hits when their label actually promoted them, as with "Touch Too Much" and "My Last Night With You" when RAK records got them Top Of The Pops, an essential show for any hit record in the UK 1970s and BBC Radio One air play was critical to a hit record as well. What was unusual for Arrows was after each hit, any band in that position is offered a Top Of The Pops appearance and BBC Radio play as a courtesy and the Arrows were an unique in that in both cases they had hits that were not followed up with a Top Of The Pops appearance! With "Toughen Up" the band's 2nd single they reached #51 in the UK charts with no label support at all. They had no TV appearances with that single but it made the top 100 based on the band's new exploding popularity in the teen market print press. Mickie Most must have felt burdened with what he probably thought was going to be a one record act. Their 3rd single charted while the band were on the RAK Rocks Britain tour 1975, surprising the label once again with a barely promoted record making the charts.
    Then, while "Broken Down Heart" was initially the A-Side of the Arrows 4th single in May of 1975, it was so short lived as an A-Side it was never even reviewed. Mickie Most's wife Christina strongly urged her husband to re-record the song and put it out as an A-Side. So she is integral to the story of "I Love Rock N Roll." Without her it might have stayed buried on a B-side. Mickie Most followed his wife's wishes reluctantly. The re-recorded A-Side Abbey Road recorded version of "I Love Rock N Roll" did get favorably reviewed in the music press, in Record Mirror, Melody Maker, New Musical Express and all were predicting a top 30 record for the band with the song.

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  3. Arrows were frustrated with their label's lack of energy where they were concerned and if their TV series hadn't come up they would have probably broken up after "I Love Rock N Roll" was promoted so poorly in 1975. Paul Varley and Alan Merrill had actually started to record demos for a possible new band with the newly split up Faces members Ian MacLagen and Tetsu Yamauchi at Basing street studios London.

    Tired of producing hundreds of successful pop singles in his career Mickie Most produced one more single with the Arrows, the lethargic sounding "Hard Hearted" a song picked by Most, which was also not promoted with the band once again only getting a TV appearance on the Arrows new super supporter TV producer Muriel Young's show "Look Alive". At this point it seemed as if the Arrows still had the TV series to look forward to, hopefully to promote record releases. Mickie Most however, was weary of trying to understand how to produce the Arrows effectively, handed them over to Phil Coulter as the band's new producer and they made the album First Hit. The only single off of the album "Once Upon A Time" came out a month before the first show of their weekly TV series in Feb. 1976, once again with no promotion from the label. The Arrows, in frustration, got a manager, Ian Wright from MAM Management who they thought could get the band some energetic promotion with their TV series.

    What followed was beyond belief. Mickie Most declared he would hold the band to their contract and release no new recordings with their TV series. So, the Arrows are an anomaly, the only band in the history of popular music to have two full series of their own weekly TV series and no records released at all during the entire run of all of their TV shows. The band were even banned from entering the RAK records offices.

    But fate steps in again. In the winter of 1976 the Runaways hit London for a UK tour and Joan Jett and Jackie Fox were watching the Arrows show on TV and they heard "I Love Rock N Roll" as a great song and both wanted the Runaways to do the song. But singer Cherie Currie wasn't interested. So Joan Jett released it solo in 1979 (as the Runaways were breaking up) with two of the Sex Pistols, Paul Cook and Steve Jones.

    So Mickie Most's wife believing in the song and Muriel Young offering the Arrows the TV series based on their version of "I Love Rock N Roll" were pivotal juncture points in the life/trajectory of the song.

    The cosmic joke of all this is that RAK publishing still own the copyright of "I Love Rock N Roll" their biggest earning song, earning the company millions of dollars in royalties and it was a song RAK owner Mickie Most didn't even like or hear as a hit song.

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  4. As you surmised, Alan Merrill is indeed still musically active. He has a trio that plays on the New York club scene, and returns fairly frequently to the UK and Japan.
    In 2015 the Arrows album "First Hit" was reissued by Warners in Japan http://wmg.jp/artist/arrows/WPCR000016200.html
    and in 2016 the Vodka Collins album "Pink Soup" (written and recorded by Alan Merrill in 3 days back in 1996) was issued for the first time outside of Japan and can be obtained here http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/vodkacollins
    Alan Merrill's other solo recordings are available here, http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/AlanMerrill
    He is currently working on an autobiography and another album

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