Skiffle groups were a thing in the late fifties in the UK. John McNally formed one with two friends in 1957, but the other two lost interest and quit. John’s neighbor Mike Prendergast joined him and they recruited singer Tony Jackson and a drummer in 1959. Mike changed his last name to Pender. The group inspiration from the 1956 John Ford western called itself Tony and the Searchers. Lead vocal chores went to a new singer who joined the group, and they became Johnny Sandon and The Searchers while they performed at a Liverpool club. Johnny left in 1961 and Tony took over lead vocals again.
Similar to the path followed by the Beatles, the Searchers played at the Cavern and other Liverpool clubs and then spent four months playing at a club in Hamburg. Tony Hatch signed the group to a recording contract when the group returned to Liverpool. He produced their cover recording of the Drifters hit song, Sweets For My Sweet. The record topped the charts in the UK in 1963. Later that year, Tony also wrote and produced Sugar And Spice, which reached number 2 in the UK and number 44 in the US.
The group finally broke onto the US top forty with the release of their next single. Jackie DeShannon recorded Needles And Pins, a song co-written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche. Her single only reached #84 on the Hot 100 in 1963. The Searchers covered the song in 1964 and their single reached the top of the UK chart and #13 on the Hot 100 in the US.
The group went through more membership changes but still managed six more top forty singles in the US by the end of 1965. They had three #1 singles and three more top ten singles in the UK, but ironically their biggest hit in the US (their #3 cover of the Clovers’ Love Potion No. 9) didn’t even get released in the UK.