The group's lead singer Francis Rossi wrote this song - he was still a teenager and it was just the second tune he had ever composed.
Like many of his later songs, this one is about a woman who treats him wrong ("You make men cry, you lie"). In our interview with Rossi, he explained: "'Matchstick Men' was basically about my ex-wife. I'd just got married, and I thought, Oh, this is a mistake, what have I done?"
This was Status Quo's debut hit in the UK and their only hit in America. It was originally intended to be a B-side to "Gentleman Joe's Sidewalk Cafe," but at the last minute they decided to swap the B-side and the A-side of the single.
Status Quo are best known in Britain for their no-nonsense, heads-down boogie rock which they have played since the 1970s, but this psychedelic effort is their best-known hit in America, where it is a staple of oldies radio.
When the song hit the American charts, the group made the fateful decision to remain in Europe, focusing their efforts on the UK market. This paid off with wild success in their homeland, as Status Quo became one of the most popular bands in Britain, charting over 60 singles. They did tour the US in the mid-'70s, but never broke the American market. Their only other chart entry there was "Ice in the Sun," released later in 1968.
Lead singer Francis Rossi wrote three-quarters of this song on the toilet, where he'd fled to escape his wife and mother-in-law. The remainder he finished off in the lounge.
This song was inspired by the matchstick men paintings of L.S. Lowry (1887-1976). Lowry was an English painter who became famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial districts of northern England during the middle of the 20th century. They were peopled with spindly human figures who looked like matchstick men.
L.S. Lowry inspired another hit song, Brian and Michael's 1978 UK chart topper "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs," which was a tribute to the then recently deceased Lowry's life. Also in 2006 the Manchester Rock band Oasis paid tribute to Lowry with the new music video for "The Masterplan" single. The video, which was done to promote their new greatest hits CD, was done in the style of Lowry's matchstick men paintings.
It took a while for Jimi Hendrix to catch on in America, but his 1966 single "Hey Joe" was a big hit in the UK, and a huge influence on many British guitarists. Francis Rossi was one of the many who were enthralled by the song, and when he wrote "Matchstick Men," he used a similar chord sequence, which would be lifted many times hence.
"Lots of Oasis stuff are of that ilk and of that sequence," Rossi told us. "Chord sequences seem to come and go, become fashionable and unfashionable, but the favorite is the one with the 1/6/2/4 with the excellent minor in it."
Camper Van Beethoven covered this on their 1989 Key Lime Pie CD and it topped Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart. Their vocalist at the time, David Lowery, shared nearly the same last name with the artist who did the matchstick men paintings: L.S. Lowry.
If you picked up traces of this song in Status Quo's 1974 #1 UK hit "Down Down," that's because they used the intro to "Matchstick Men" as the basis for the verse melody. Francis Rossi explained that he realized after he wrote it that he had stolen from his own song.
In 2002, Death in Vegas had a #14 hit in the UK with their track "Scorpio Rising," which featured Liam Gallagher from Oasis on vocals. The song was so similar to "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" that Status Quo were credited as co-writers.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyRick Parfitt, guitarist for the British rock band Status Quo, has died at the age of 68, according to multiple news sources... Parfitt died on Saturday December 24, 2016, following complications from a shoulder injury he sustained in a fall recently... In 1968 the group's "Pictures of Matchsticks Men" peaked at #12 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, and later in the year their "Ice in the Sun" reached #70... May he R.I.P.
Ed from Kansas City, MoThe mono version has phaser, but the stereo does not, because the phaser effect can only be achieved in mono.
Cliff from Oakdale, NyThis past summer 2011 (Target) used this song for there introduction for their summer collection of summer items in their TV commercial Nationwide, very effective! Cliff Oakdale NY
Darren from Warrington, EnglandRE: Jack -
Sorry to disappoint this song is nothing to do with the constellations. It is about a famous painter from Salford, a city near Manchester, UK. L. S. Lowry, he was famous for drawing pictures containing matchstick men. Lowry was a small time painter in and around Salford, and it was only after his death that his paintings started to get recognised and that he made any money which was a real shame.
Now Lowry's painting are really famous and originals are worth a lot of money. Also at Salford Quays there is an entire shopping outlet village, cinema, theatre, and art gallery dedicated to his work called The Lowry, it is near to the Salford's new MediaCity which is where the BBC will be moving to from London, along with other TV and media companies such as ITV studios.
Jack from Mesa, AzThis seems to me to be about constellations in the sky, "matchstick men" if you draw lines between stars...
Brian from Chicago Area, IlThe Ozzy and Type O Negative cover of this tune was not for a Black Sabbath tribute albhum. The song wasn't even by Black Sabbth. It actually came from the soundtrack for Howard Stern's movie, Private Parts. Type O Negative did record yhe song "Black Sabbath," and that appeared on the Nativity In Black tribute album, which is where the confusion may lie.
One rumor going around is this song solidifies Ozzy Osbourne's "Satanic" dark side, because he recorded the line "You up there in the sky, you whip this guy, you made men cry, you lie", and it appears backwards no less. However, this lyric is originally part of the Status Quo recording, so how does it indicate anything Satanic about Ozzy Osbourne? It only shows me a faithful recreation of the osng with an added twist.
Joan from Fayetteville , Ar I remember listening to this song about 1974, sitting on the roof of my parents' house, looking at a pre-rainstorm yellow sky..
Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesI used to drown in this song. Completely swept away.
Farrah from Elon, NcThis song totally rocks!!!!
N from Staten Island, NyI remember a bunch of us riding our bicycles to the local recoed store to buy this, I think 45s were about 75 cents in 1967.
Original 45rpm info:
Label: Cadet Concept, Catalog# 7001, Runtime 2:59
Brutus from Wynyard, Australiaozzy osbourne and type o negative recorded this song for a black sabbath tribute album, very much a classic osbourne effort, quite heavy in the riff but is just terrific
Bill from St. Paul, MnThere are two versions of this song, a stereo and mono version, both quite different from the other. The mono version (the original single) has the trademark psychedelic wah-wah guitar between lyric breaks, but for some reason, the stereo version omits it. Quite a shock if you're used to the mono version.