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Under Cover: Camper Van Beethoven Tackle Status Quo on ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’

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On their 1989 album, ‘Key Lime Pie,’ underground darlings Camper Van Beethoven grabbed a slice of classic UK psychedelia, remolded it a bit and took it to the top of the Modern Rock charts. That song was ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men,’ a cover of the first single released by the legendary band Status Quo.

Camper Van Beethoven emerged from the anything goes underground scene of California in the early ’80s. Combining elements of fok, country, psychedelia, punk and a grand sense of humor, CVB caught the attention of the college radio crowd with songs like ‘The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon,’ ‘We’re a Bad Trip,’ and the classic ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling.’ In 1988, the band signed to Virgin Records where they continued on their eclectic path.

With ‘Key Lime Pie’ in 1989, the Campers broke through, getting a foot in the door to mainstream success with their cover of ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men.’ The song topped the ‘Modern Rock’ charts and their video flickered away on MTV. The band stay pretty faithful to the original, while still adding their own ingredients to the mix. Some of the overt psychedelia is washed away, and replaced by a more folky approach,with violin handling the main riff instead of the phased guitar of the Quo original. The dynamics and mood, however, remain in place. Updated, with one eye on the past and one on the present. All in all, they give the song a good go round here.

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Status Quo were one of the top rock bands to ever come out of the UK. They were, and still are, huge in their homeland. Before they settled into their nonstop rock groove, they began life as a beat group called the Spectres. Once the tidal wave of psychedelia hit, they moved in sync with the era, and looked for a new moniker, ultimately going with Status Quo.

Their debut single, ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men,’ was released in late 1967 and hit the charts in early 1968, sailing up to No. 7 in the UK, and just missing the U.S. Top 10. Within a couple of years, they would finally find their signature sound, look and style as merchants of loud, riff-driven rock and roll. Albums like ‘Piledriver,’ Hello’ and ‘Quo’ are all first rate hard rock. Though often seen in America as a mere one-hit wonder, Quo have had many years of success in their homeland, where to this day, they are still alive and kicking out the jams.

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