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"Pictures of Matchstick Men" is the first hit single by Status Quo, released in November 1967.
It reached number seven in the British charts, number eight in Canada, and number twelve on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their only hit single in the United States. Francis Rossi confirmed on DVD2 of the Pictures set that it was originally intended to be a B-side to "Gentleman Joe's Sidewalk Cafe", but it was decided to swap the B-side and the A-side of the single.
There are two versions of the song, a stereo and mono version, with significant differences: the mono version, which was the original single, has the trademark psychedelicwah-wah guitar in the breaks between lyrics, but the stereo version omits it.
The song opens with a single guitar repeatedly playing a simple four note riff before the bass, rhythm guitar, drums and lyrics begin. "Pictures of Matchstick Men" is one of a number of songs from the late sixties to feature the audio effect phasing. The song is an example of bubblegum psychedelia. Their following release, "Black Veils of Melancholy", was similar but flopped, which caused the group to change direction.
Francis Rossi said about the song:
I wrote it on the bog. I'd gone there, not for the usual reasons...but to get away from the wife and mother-in-law. I used to go into this narrow frizzing toilet and sit there for hours, until they finally went out. I got three quarters of the song finished in that khazi. The rest I finished in the lounge.
- The Slickee Boys released an up-tempo version on their 1982 album Cybernetic Dreams of Pi.
- In 1986, the Forgotten Rebels released a punk version on their album The Pride and Disgrace.
- In 1989, Camper Van Beethoven scored a USA number-one hit on the American Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart with their version from their album Key Lime Pie.
- In 1995, Johnny Q. Public, a Christian rock band, prominently used a riff from this song in the song "Body Be" on their album Extra-Ordinary.
- In 1995, Arjen Anthony Lucassen, a Dutch musician, performed the song on his cover album Strange Hobby.
- Ozzy Osbourne, backed by Type O Negative, covered it as part of the soundtrack to the Howard Stern biographical movie Private Parts in 1997.
- In 2000, the German band Atrocity covered it on their single "Taste Of Sin".
- Shy Nobleman, Tel Aviv's mod hero, covered it on his How to Be Shy tour in 2001.
- In May 2001, a live cover version appeared as a B-side on The Divine Comedy's single "Bad Ambassador". It was recorded during a gig at Oxford Brookes University in March that year.
- In 2003, Death in Vegas released the title track of their album Scorpio Rising as a single (featuring Liam Gallagher from Oasis on vocals). The song featured a melody and chord sequence almost identical to Pictures of Matchstick Men; so much so, in fact, that Status Quo were credited as co-writers.
- In 2006, Kasabian released a version of the song on the CD single of "Shoot the Runner", their second release from the album Empire. Although a first performance of this song was heard on Dermot O'Leary's BBC Radio 2 show, this version was recorded in the studio for the CD release.
In 2007, My Name is Earl Season 3, Episode 11: Burn Victim featured the song. In 2011, the original version of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" was featured prominently in a television ad for Target stores. In 2012, the original version of the song was played in Men in Black 3.