Monday, 2 March 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 23 (Top Five): Hollies B-Sides

And now, after getting surprisingly up-to-date (well, for us at least), here is our latest top five – a handy guide to the best B-sides by neglected 1960s geniuses The Hollies. As anyone whose read my review of Oasis’ ‘Masterplan’ well know (Wow! That’s the second album I’ve mentioned this week that’s less than a decade old! What’s happening to me?!?) I love B-sides, especially in this period. All too often bands spent their early careers being told what to do by their managers, producers, record reviewers and general public – usually to wild acclaim, occasionally to the sounds of failure. But very few people except the band members themselves cared about the flipsides which were, after all, only ‘filler’ songs released in the early days for the sole reason that something had to go on the other side of a bit of plastic. Freed of the need to sound like ‘themselves’ – and aware that the writers received the same royalty fee as the composers of the A-side – many of our greatest songwriters cut their teeth writing flipsides. The Hollies may well have been the best of all – but, despite the fact that there are at least 60 Hollies compilations on the market, not one record label has sought to collect them all into a single compilation CD. Until they do, newcomers might struggle to find all of these classic tracks (try the three ‘Abbey Road’ sets, the ‘EP Collection’ CD and the Hollies box-set ‘Long Road Home’), but for the benefit of long-term collectors here is our handy guide to the best five non-album Hollies flipsides (the drop-dead gorgeous ‘So Lonely’ would have topped the list, but it was released on 1965’s ‘Hollies’ albums which might well be reviewed on here fully in the near future).

5) You Know He Did (B-side to ‘I’m Alive’, May 1965): People often dismiss the Hollies as a ‘prettier’ version of the Beatles. Those that do nearly always know nothing about this band – or, at the most, a couple of singles. This great Bo Diddley-like rhythm and blues song outdoes anything the Rolling Stones came up with that year and is as brash and abrasive as the Hollies are traditionally lush and warm. After all, this is a cautionary tale about how the narrator always told his ex-girlfriend she’d get hurt and his lack of sympathy for her when she finds that out – but oh, that middle eight that comes charging in out of nowhere with full three part Hollies harmony heaven. ‘Need someone to hold you tight, need someone when you’re alone at night’ – suddenly all is clear to the listener. The narrator isn’t some strutting Jagger-ish peacock, he genuinely cares about the girl and how she feels because he adores her, not that he’ll ever let down his guard and tell her of course. Other highlights of the song include Tony Hicks’ simple but impressive guitarwork, Allan Clarke’s vocal which is as believably nasty and cruel as his usual voice is warm and tender and Clarkey’s mouthorgan playing which ranks among the best in the business.

4) Don’t Run And Hide (B-side to ‘Bus Stop’, June 1966): From the opening Bobby Elliott drum lick to the closing round of gorgeous three-part harmonies, this song tries so hard to catch our attention as it breathlessly runs through one sequence into another a al Brian Wilson. Clarkey’s compelling vocal is this time urging his partner to stop hiding and show the world her talents to the accompaniment of a chirruping mouthorgan, a classic bass riff working as a complete mirror opposite to the vocal and a middle eight that tells us again what the narrator is up to (‘run, you’ll be hurting me, because I’m left on my own, haven’t got anything’). This song packs more into its two-and-a-half minutes than most bands manage in a lifetime; that this classic song was hidden away on the back of a Graham Gouldmann cover says much for the band’s and the band’s producer’s) lack of confidence in their material – they’d have set the charts alight with this track, surely.

3) All The World Is Love (B-side to ‘On A Carousel’, February 1967): As if ‘Evolution’ and ‘Butterfly’ weren’t gorgeous enough (see reviews 11 and 14), here is perhaps the Hollies’ prettiest psychedelic song of all. Tony Hicks seems to be playing his chiming electric guitar down the hallway, giving the song a ghostly feel, while the varie-speeded vocals of Clarke and Nash make the track sound very weird indeed. But that’s nothing on the lyrics – ‘I have left my mind somewhere floating behind me’ ‘wish my mind could be as clean as the clouds that swim above, all the world is love’, ‘bubbles forming all around, left my body on the ground, unattached too hard to move’ – all three classic summer of love couplets. Somebody help me turn this song into a rediscovered classic, please – much as I love the A-side, it’s this flipside that marks out what arranging geniuses the Hollies were (and occasionally still are).

2) Not That Way At All (B-side to the worst ever Hollies single ‘Sorry Suzanne’, err sorry Suzanne, yours is the most gormless song ever, February 1969): Was 1969 too late for a burst of psychedelia? Not according to Allan Clarke, who wrote this song for the band’s first post-Graham Nash single. Graham would have been proud – this is exactly the sort of challenging, dynamic, classy masterpiece he went on to write himself with CSN. A pained reflection on childhood and countless unwanted rights of passage, this nostalgic list of childhood memories seems as if its going to have a happy ending – but its, err, not that way at all. New member Terry Sylvester has already joined in with the Hicks and Clarke vocal harmonies so well it sounds like one voice here, half-sobbing, half-chastising the world for not being as innocent and delightful as it used to be when the narrator was wrong. The song even has a full minute-long instrumental section featuring sound effects rifled from the EMI store-cupboard – and a scarier lot of effects you’ll never hear. A quick plug too for Bernie Calvert’s under-rated bass-playing which is all over this track, making it claustrophobic and mind-blowing all at once and turning this song of childhood into a world even scarier than Syd Barrett’s creepy songs on the same theme. A forgotten classic.

1) ‘I Had A Dream’ (B-side to ‘Jesus Was A Crossmaker’, September 1973): A single so obscure and forgotten that even the official Hollies discography in the band’s box-set doesn’t have it listed (despite the track appearing in the box-set’s line-up!), this is one of the loveliest sleepwalking ballads you will ever hear. Allan Clarke has been replaced by Swedish singer Mickael Rickfors by this time but the old Hollies trademarks are here, more than any other Rickfors-era track; Tony Hicks’ bubbly guitar parts are superb, the three-part harmonies are even better and the songwriting top notch. This song by Terry Sylvester is the perfect re-creation of the narrator’s sleepy confusion of a dream about an old girlfriend he’s just woken up from. Only with the sudden charge of another typically wonderful Holies middle eight (‘lying alone I feel your golden hair, skyline and silver blue, thinking of words to pacify my feelings of loneliness for you…’) does the song turn full throttle, wresting the narrator awake from his dream with cruel emotion, leaving him even more lost and depressed as the song fades out. I have a dream too, that one day The Hollies will be recognised as being among the top strata of 1960s bands – and this track will be some very useful ammunition in my quest to get their music heard. Beautiful, simply beautiful.

Well, that’s it for another week guys. Join us next week for some more musical madness, nutty notation and astounding analysis. See you then!  



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