Arrows - The Complete Collection
With two of their first five singles hitting the UK charts and their own UK television series running for two seasons, the odds seemed on the Arrows side. Unfortunately, that initial chart success and being on TV wasn't enough, and after those singles and an album they called it a day. The roots of the band were formed when Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker performed together in 1966 in the NY band Watertower West. Merrill moved to Japan in 1968 and played briefly in the band The Lead before releasing a couple of Japanese only solo albums, Alone In Tokyo and Merrill 1. In 1971 he took a trip back to NYC and recorded some demos with Hooker and drummer John Siomos. He then returned to Japan and recorded with the band Godzilla before forming the band Vodka Collins who released a single and an album. During this time Hooker had moved to the UK, formed the band Streak and released an album and a single (drummer Paul Varley replaced their original drummer for the single). At this point Hooker convinced Merrill to come to England to form a band with him and Varley, resulting in the Arrows.
A few months after forming they signed to Mickie Most's RAK Records and he teamed them up with the songwriting team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who at that point had written singles for the likes of The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Mud. Over the next year and a half, they released five singles (all included here on disc two) starting with the Chinn and Chapman penned “Touch Too Much”, a glammy 70’s pop track with a guitar lick very reminiscent of “Summertime Blues”. Merrill wrote the flipside “We Can Make It Together”, a 60’s flavored pop song with a chorus that sounds a lot like “Hang On Sloopy”. The single hit number eight on the UK charts, which unfortunately was the best they would ever do. Chinn and Chapman were back for single number two, contributing “Toughen Up”, a catchy pop tune with a slight rock edge and a little bit of a Bo Diddley beat. “Diesel Locomotive Dancer”, another Merrill song, was again delegated to the flipside, and honestly the rocker with a bit of a poppier Rolling Stone-like swagger is the better of the two. They hit the charts for the second, and last, time with single number three. Written by Roger Ferris, who was known as the former Abbey Road sound engineer for The Beatles, “My Last Night With You” hit number twenty-five on the UK charts, and is a soulful ballad with a hint of doo wop. Merrill and Hooker wrote the B-side “Movin’ Next Door To You”, a catchy track with a bit of a laid-back glam feel (interestingly there is a live version on Youtube that once again has that Stones-y swagger and is really the better version). Ferris also wrote “Broken Down Heart”, a decent midtempo track that was initially the A-side to their fourth single, and featured John Douglas “Rabbit” Bundrick (known for his work with The Who, Bob Marley, Free and many others) on keys and Chris Spedding on electric guitar. The B-side to the single was originally “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which was written by Merrill and Hooker, and is a little slower and doesn’t have the bite that Joan Jett added to her version. After the single was released, Most’s wife convinced him that he had made a mistake and he then repressed it flipping the songs. ITV producer Muriel Young saw the band perform "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" on the TV show 45 and offered them their own series called "The Arrows", which replaced the Bay City Rollers' show "Shang-A-Lang". During The Runaways' UK tour in late 1976, Joan Jett saw them perform the song on their show and fell in love with it. She eventually recorded her own version in 1982 resulting in the massive hit we all know. Once again featuring Spedding on guitar, “Hard Hearted” is the last single the band released before their album. It was written by Ferris and while nothing special, it’s a nice laid-back seventies sounding track. As was almost always the case, the flipside “My World Is Turning On Love”, was a band original written by Merrill and Hooker, and is one of the best songs here. It’s a solid rocker not too far removed from Free or Bad Company and has some really strong guitar work. A few months before the April 1976 release of their album, the band did release a single containing two album tracks, but strangely none of their previous singles were on the album.
First Hit, which opens up disc one, ended up being their only album and was released in conjunction with season one of their TV show. As with the singles, the band contributed almost half the songs, with Merrill and Hooker writing four and all three of them writing another. This time around the songwriting team of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, who had written songs for The Troggs, Bay City Rollers, Cilla Black, Cliff Richard and many others, wrote five, and Craig McLearie and John Laurenson wrote one. This songwriting split made for an interesting album with the Martin and Coulter tracks being more radio friendly ballads and bubblegum/glam and the originals tended to be more on the bluesy rock end of the spectrum. While the originals are overall the better set of tunes, Martin and Coulter did contribute some solid tracks with opener “Once Upon A Time”, a pretty ballad with a big production that brings to mind classics from The Walker Brothers, as a perfect example. Originally recorded by J Vincent Edwards and then Waylon Jennings, “Thanks” walks the line between gospel and folky rock, but lyrically doesn’t really fit the band. While the title isn’t the best, “Boogiest Band In Town”, which was originally recorded by Midge Ure’s band Slik, is a catchy, upbeat boogie rocker with a hint of glam, and “Gotta Be Near You” is a dose of glam-tinged bubblegum pop. The last Martin and Coulter track is “Let Me Love You” and while it has a really strong vocal performance, the song itself is extremely reminiscent of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. Highlights of the band originals are “What’s Come Between Us”, a powerful slower rocker with a hint of blues, a really good guitar solo and some nice organ fills, and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Love”, a hard driving rock tune once again reminiscent of Bad Company. The title track is a breezy, laid-back track with hooks that dig in deep and “Love Is Easy” is a ballad with big production and a solid yacht rock groove. The biggest misstep of the originals is “Feelin’ This Way”, a somewhat generic seventies pop rock track. “Love Child”, the track from McLearie and Laurenson is an over the top orchestrated ballad in the vein of “Beth”.
Closing out disc one are three bonus tracks that are demos recorded after their second single in 1974, but unreleased until they were included on a 2004 compilation. First up is their take on the track “Dreamin’”, originally recorded by Johnny Burnette. Their version is fairly generic but is notable for pounding double drumming from Varley and guest Cozy Powell. Producer Most wasn’t happy with this track and had them write new lyrics that were then recorded over the original backing track, resulting in the even worse “Bam Bam Battering Ram”. They do redeem themselves with “Wake Up”, a catchy, upbeat pop track that shows a glimmer of new wave. During their TV show there was a segment called the "Arrow-vision Song Contest" where viewers voted for their favorite song so the band could pick a new single to record. They wanted to include some of these on that aforementioned compilation, but were unable to find the original recordings of these tracks. Due to this, Merrill went into the studio in early 2004 and recorded new versions of some of them. These four tracks along with a new version of “Movin’ Next Door To You” are included here at the end of disc two and round out the bonus tracks. Since they aren’t the originals, they aren’t exactly the Arrows, but they are a nice addition for fans. While the first three, “Bring Back The Fire”, a mellow AOR cut, “Love Rider”, a meat and potatoes rocker a la Bob Seger, and “Faith In You”, which is reminiscent of Eddie Money or Huey Lewis are all solid tracks, the final one, “Dare You Not To Dance” is more of a funky dance song with horns, and really doesn’t work. The original versions from the TV show are on Youtube, so it’s interesting to see how they originated. Although there are definitely some clunkers among the gems on this two CD set, it is definitely well worth checking out. It's a shame the band were weighed down with so many outside songwriters, because it seems like if they had been left to their own devices they would have been more successful. Also included is a really nice twenty-four page booklet full of pictures and containing a very informative essay on the band from Phil Hendriks. Sadly, all three members are no longer with us. Hooker married singer and actress Lorna Luft (Judy Garland's daughter) and managed her career until his death in 2014. Varley joined the band Darling and had a daughter with Marc Bolan's ex-wife but died in 2008. Merrill continued to have a very productive music career, working with Rick Derringer and Meatloaf, releasing numerous solo albums and much more. Sadly he passed away from Covid in March 2020.