Status Quo/Camper Van Beethoven: “Pictures of Matchstick Men”
Status Quo (1968)
Camper Van Beethoven (1989)
This week on Cover Friday we take a look at one of my favorite one-hit wonders of the ’60s, Status Quo. But let me qualify that: although they have only had one hit in the U.S. — the song we’re looking at today, “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” from their 1968 debut album, Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo (clearly they knew what the hit was going to be) — they are still around after 43 years, and have released over 25 albums (including no less than four live albums)! Not exactly what you would call a one-hit wonder, and I’m sure their fans would berate me for even suggesting it. The thing is, aside from that debut album and hit, they have been unable to find their way back onto the U.S. charts. They have been extremely successful in the U.K., however, having numerous Top 10 hits and a number more in the Top 20 — you don’t last that long without some sort of solid fan base, after all.
The fact remains, however, that in the United States, the only song they’re really known for is “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” And what a great song it is — I discovered it in the late ’70s when I purchased a double album called The History of British Rock, released on Sire Records (prior to its becoming a successful punk/new wave label), and immediately fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard the song before — it quickly became my favorite on that great collection. To this day, although I do hear it occasionally on the radio, it still seems to be a bit of an obscurity. But in 1989, Camper Van Beethoven paid tribute to the song on their Key Lime Pie album, making it one of the very few covers they ever released — well, if you don’t count the fact that they covered the entire album (Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk) in 2002. The song fit their sound quite well, particularly in their use of the violin (a standard instrument for them) to play the song’s intro riff. Interestingly, it was the only hit that CVB ever had, reaching #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart (although I don’t believe it cracked the Billboard Top 40 chart). So in essence, “Pictures of Matchstick Men” was a one-hit wonder of a song . . . twice.
Previously Reselect-ed songs by Camper Van Beethoven: “(We’re a) Bad Trip“