It may not have been a hit, but Forty-Five Hundred Times is one of Status Quo’s best songs. Recorded for 1973’s Hello! album, it rapidly became a cornerstone of their live shows in a much expanded form. But it’s also the track that effectively ended the songwriting partnership of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt – the former has even said that he hates the song. But despite its turbulent beginnings, today it stands as a Quo connoisseur’s favourite, and the musical embodiment of the classic Frantic Four line-up.
By 1973 the band had put their faux-psychedelic beginnings far behind them, and had established themselves as one of Britain’s pre-eminent rock bands. The previous year’s Piledriver album found Quo perfecting their no-nonsense boogie, though they weren’t averse to stretching their wings when the mood took them.
Forty-Five Hundred Times was one such occasion. Rossi and Parfitt had begun work on the track during pre-production for Hello! – in an unusual location.
“It was first worked on at my first mother-in-law’s house,” Rossi recalls. “We were trying to write a song with three movements, like we later did with Slow Train [from the following year’s Quo album], among others.” But the pair soon discovered a tendency to over-complicate matters.
As a result, Forty-Five Hundred Times would be the last time just the two of them worked together on songs – they would collude in future, but always with another writer as well.
“Each time we thought we’d got something right, Rick would try to improve it and we’d lose track of where we were. It was like pulling teeth. Which is among the reasons why we stopped writing together.”
A triumph of light and shade, the song begins with a gentle intro before accelerating into a no-holds-barred dandruff-shaker. The lyrics bemoan the lonely existence of an individual who craved to be seated at ‘a table for two’.
“Rick and I were in a Yankee phase at he time, hence the song’s title,” says Rossi. “In real English it would’ve been called Four Thousand Five Hundred Times. Which doesn’t quite work, does it?”
The song was hammered out at top volume in the band’s old haunt of IBC Studios in London’s Portland Place, with the band – Rossi and Parfitt plus bassist Alan Lancaster and drummer John Coghlan – sitting in a circle around the amps. With the band themselves producing it, no one batted an eyelid when the finished song ended up running close to the 10-minute mark.
Parent album Hello! gave Quo their first No.1, but it was live that Forty-Five Hundred Times took on a life of its own. If ever a song summed up the band’s ‘take it or fuck off’ appeal, this was it, and it quickly became a fan favourite. On stage it was often jammed out to twice its original length, sometimes more; when the Coghlan-less band played it at Birmingham NEC (in front of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, no less) it was almost 22 minutes long.
“The first part of the song was the song, but we’d make the extra bits up,” Parfitt told us. “Night after night we would just read one another; there was almost a sense of telepathy between us. You’d just know when to get softer and then take it somewhere heavier. It was incredible. You’d be swept away by this roller-coaster of music. The only way to end it was to nod: ‘Shall we finish it here?’”
As Alan Lancaster recalls, on some nights the band got a little too carried away and messed things up. “There were subtle changes, so we would have to discipline ourselves to sit on the groove,” he says. “I always enjoyed the sense of danger, it’s what makes a live concert. If you go to a tennis game, then you look out for unforced errors, don’t you?”
In 1991 Status Quo re-recorded Forty-Five Hundred Times during the sessions for their Rock Til You Drop album, this time with an extra verse and four additional minutes of music (the results later appeared on an expanded edition).
“We were trying to make the song current for that incarnation of the band,” says Rossi. “Whether or not we were successful in that… well, probably not. Musically speaking, it will have been tidier than the original – the playing would have improved. But, as we discovered on the reunion tour, that’s not really what it’s all about. After doing it live again three years later we went: ‘What the fuck’s this extra verse all about?’ And we got rid of it.”
Alan Lancaster is the song’s biggest cheerleader within the band. The bassist regrets that on their reunion tour the Frantic Four cut the song down and segued into Rain.
“I didn’t like doing it that way because those two songs have different grooves,” he says. “Should we do it again, then I’d rather we play the full-length version.”
Surprisingly, Rossi agrees. Before the reunion tour, he told Classic Rock that there was “absolutely no fucking chance” of the band playing an extended version of the song. Today he’s mellowed on the subject.
“When it was first written, protracted arrangements were hip, man,” he explains. “We ended up cutting it down because today people want a three-minute fix. Or so we thought. I’d love to do the full version of Forty-Five Hundred Times – completely indulge myself and play guitar all night and bore the pants off people."
This feature was originally published in Classic Rock 189.