Status Quo was formed in 1962 under the name “The Scorpions” by Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster at Sedgehill Comprehensive School, Catford, along with classmates Jess Jaworski (keyboards) and Alan Key (drums). Rossi and Lancaster played their first gig at the Samuel Jones Sports Club in Dulwich, London. In 1963, Key was replaced by John Coghlan and the band changed name to “The Spectres”. In 1965, when Rossi, Lancaster, and Jaworski had reached the end of their school education, Jaworski opted to leave the band, and was replaced by Roy Lynes.
They began writing their own material and later that year met Rick Parfitt who was playing with a cabaret band called The Highlights. By the end of 1965, Rossi and Parfitt, who had become close friends, made a commitment to continue working together. On 18 July 1966, The Spectres signed a five-year deal with Piccadilly Records, releasing two singles that year, “I (Who Have Nothing)” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (written by Alan Lancaster), and one the next year called “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” (a song originally recorded by New York psychedelic band The Blues Magoos). All three singles failed to make an impact on the charts.
By 1967, the group had discovered psychedelia and named themselves Traffic, but were soon forced to change it to “Traffic Jam” to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic, following an argument over who had registered the name first.[ The band secured an appearance on BBC Radio’s Saturday Club, but in June their next single, “Almost But Not Quite There”, under performed. The following month saw Parfitt, at the request of manager Pat Barlow, joining the band as rhythm guitarist and vocalist. Shortly after Parfitt’s recruitment, in August 1967, the band officially became The Status Quo.
In 1968, their first hit single was released on the 5th January.
The groups official Facebook page kindly reminded us that it reached the high spot of number seven in the British charts on the 30th January (today).
And here is the video from Top Of The Pops.
The song reached number seven in the British charts, number eight in Canada, and number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their only hit single in the United States. Francis Rossi confirmed on DVD2 of the Pictures set that it was originally intended to be a B-side to “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”, but it was decided to swap the B-side and the A-side of the single.
There are two versions of the song, a stereo and mono version, with significant differences: the mono version, which was the original single, has the trademark wah-wah guitar in the breaks between lyrics, but the stereo version omits it.
The song opens with a single guitar repeatedly playing a simple four-note riff before the bass, rhythm guitar, drums and lyrics begin. “Pictures of Matchstick Men” is one of a number of songs from the late 1960s which feature the phasing audio effect. The band’s next single release, “Black Veils of Melancholy”, was similar but flopped, which caused a change of musical direction.
The “matchstick men” of the song refers to the paintings of Salford artist L. S. Lowry.
The song was reprised, in 2014, for the band’s thirty-first studio album Aquostic (Stripped Bare). It was featured in the ninety-minute launch performance of the album at London’s Roundhouse on 22 October, the concert being recorded and broadcast live by BBC Radio 2 as part of their In Concert series.