Pictures of Matchstick Men - Status Quo and Camper Van Beethoven
Pictures of Matchstick Men was the first single, and first hit record, by Status Quo in 1968. Back then, they were a psychedelic band, trying to follow in the footsteps of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, I guess. Lead singer and former ice cream van driver Francis Rossi wrote the song, apparently while on the toilet of his London apartment (I'm not making that up).
"When I look up to the skies, I see your eyes, a funny kind of yellow..."?
Hmmm. But just what was the inspiration? Jaundice?
Either way, it was a hit in that heady time that was the late 1960s. Looking at the clip below, you'd be surprised that this even exists. From 1970 onwards, the band hit upon the denim 'n' boogie formula that would pay them massive dividends (and earn them scorn and ridicule) for the next four decades. Prior to that, they were very Carnaby-Street, Swinging Sixties, almost bubblegum pop at times. The band didn't play this song in their live sets much after 1970. Apparently they play it a bit more now, at least since their 40th anniversary celebrations in 2008.
The Quo version of the song has all the hallmarks of a psychedelic record of the era - obtuse lyrics, strange, almost off-key guitars, wah-wah guitars, flanging, phasing, paisley shirts...
It was a sizable hit in Australia and in the UK. However, the Quo have never been at all popular in the United States. This track was a reasonable hit in 1968 however, as such, this track has rarely been heard over there in it's original configuration, until...
...the arrival of Camper Van Beethoven, stage left.
College rockers who were peers and labelmates of other college rock scene stalwarts such as REM and Oingo Boingo, they gave this track a spit polish and shine, adding it to their first LP for Virgin records in 1989, "Key Lime Pie". It was a number one Billboard Modern Rock hit for the band.
The CVB version is almost note-for-note identical to the original. The main difference is that, where Quo's version sounds thin and dinky, it is largely because of the then-state-of-the-art, now-primitive, recording gear it was captured on. The Camper version sparkles and shines. The trippy flanged/tremolo guitar of the original is replaced with a violin, and the guitars are revved up significantly.
Here's the original Status Quo version, live on BBC's Top Of The Pops:
And Camper Van Beethoven's version:
Verdict? Both versions are great. They both keep the integrity of the song intact, but the additional polish of the Camper Van Beethoven version has the edge for my taste.
Which one do you prefer? Drop us a line in the comments below.