“Pictures of Matchstick Men” is the first hit single by Status Quo, released in January 1968.
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 wah-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. Their following release, “Black Veils of Melancholy”, was similar but flopped, which caused the group to change direction.
Rossi later said of 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 “matchstick men” of the song refers to the paintings of Salford artist L. S. Lowry.
The song was reprised, in 2014, for the band’s thirty-first studio album Aquostic (Stripped Bare). It was featured in the ninety-minute launch performance of the album at London’s Roundhouse on 22 October, the concert being recorded and broadcast live by BBC Radio 2 as part of their In Concert series.