Sensibly eschewing Status Quo's already over-anthologized early years, Rockers Rollin' opens with the band's arrival at the Vertigo label (A&M in America) in 1972, and carries on from there. Kicking off with "Paper Plane," the glorious hit single that announced the Quo's return from the post-"Matchstick Men" doldrums, the first half of the box powers breathlessly through the band's first decade, drawing as much from the album catalog as it does the band's stylish singles discography -- in fact, several notable hits have been omitted in favor of less readily trawled material, to deliver a more or less flawless portrait of the Quo at their peak. Of course, there are moments within that simply don't bear replaying -- the anthem "Rockin' All Over the World" is a reminder of how readily even "classic" Quo could sink into self-parody, while "Again and Again" was ultimately of greater value to the band's detractors than it was to the Quo's own reputation. Indeed, if anyone ever compiles the ultimate Quo box (which this set certainly isn't), both Alberto y los Trios Paranoias' self-explanatory "Heads Down, No Nonsense, Mindless Boogie" and the Heebeegeebees' "Boring Song" (performed under the Status Quid alias) demand consideration, if only as a reminder of just how culturally all-pervasive the band and, in particular, those two songs were. In terms of British Top 40 statistics, after all, Status Quo has outperformed the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Bee Gees, and Oasis, and when U.K. TV institution Top of the Pops celebrated its 2,000th edition in September 2002, guess who opened the show?
If the first half of Rockers Rollin' concentrates on the band's golden age, the other two discs deal with what can only be termed the post-1980 roller coaster ride that saw the band's fortunes (and, indeed, its music) soar from unexpected peaks to unendurable troughs. Only in concert did they retain their equilibrium, a fact readily testified to by the wealth of previously unreleased live tracks that pepper this section. Nevertheless, only occasionally does one's interest in the proceedings really need to take a lunch break, with even the band's periodic dives into self-parody (covers of Steeleye Span's "All Around My Hat" with guest vocalist Maddy Prior and, with the Beach Boys, "Fun Fun Fun") retaining at least the ghost of the excitement that the Quo patented so long ago. Plus, who else do you know who can still imbue "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Roll Over Beethoven," the most recent cuts on the album, with the fire and passion that they truly deserve? For the curious listener, anyone who's maybe eyed the Quo's backbreaking catalog with curiosity but never dared actually take the plunge, Rockers Rollin' probably packs too much extraneous material to make it a truly sound investment. For die-hard collectors and the ever-loyal fan, however, the only real problem is that there are only four CDs. Status Quo deserves far more.