Monday 13 December 2010

"The Hollies" (1965) (Revised Edition 2015; First published as part of News, Views and Music 83 in 2010)

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The Hollies “The Hollies” (1965)

Very Last Day/You Must Believe Me/Put Yourself In My Place/Down The Line/That’s My Desire/Too Many People//Lawdy Miss Clawdy/When I Come Home To You/Fortune Teller/So Lonely/I’ve Been Wrong (Before)/Mickey’s Monkey

I don’t often agree with Apprentice magnate Alan Sugar (as his name suggests, a cross between insincere and grumpy gardener Alan Titchmarsh and the Honey Monster from the Sugar Puff adverts) at the best of times, but he got it completely wrong on the latest series when he declared in the first sentence  that he didn’t want a ‘steady Eddie’ or a ‘cautious Carol’ working in his company. Of all the strengths you need in business, consistency comes out somewhere near the top along with intelligence and people skills (not that the Apprentice candidates have much of any of these this year) and while off doing something else I’d far rather trust my company with someone like, say, Paul Simon known for their cautious and diplomatic skills and consistently racking up albums on their discography than a Keith Moon who’d no doubt have the office in stitches and would certainly think outside the box, but would make the trashed rooms and the Rolls Royce in the office water-cooler somewhat hard to live with. Consistency is a severely under-rated strength everywhere these days, including music. The Beatles had it in spades, in their heyday groups like CSNY and The Who had it too and other groups like The Rolling Stones – erm, well, let’s not go into the Stones’ extreme roller-coaster career of ups and downs here.  But for my money the band that most consistently gave value for money and a series of terrific songs one after another, year after year, for 47 years now and 23 albums are The Hollies, the group that racked up more top 20 singles than any other band during the 1960s (The Beatles included) and yet still had their biggest sellers in the 1970s.

I’ve been doing a few compilation CDs for our IT consultant Mike over the past few weeks (known to us Skills Exchangers as ‘The Face Of Bo’), passing on titbits from my collection usually without him knowing who the groups in question are and along with Simon and Garfunkel the one band he consistently chooses are The Hollies. So last week I decided to put a Hollies compilation together for him and – well – how on earth do you cut such a fine body of work down to just a few tracks at CD-length? It’s blooming impossible! By rights I should have made a 10-CD compilation for him but that seemed a bit over the top even for me (instead the compilation ended up as 2 CDs in the end after a lot of head-scratching but I still keep thinking about the great songs I left off it...Ah the curse of the collector) Anyway, what I’m trying to say is this – people only know The Hollies singles and don’t realise what a fantastic body of work exists in their album back catalogue. Barring a few cover albums and a rather dodgy pair of modern albums I can honestly choose any LP from The Hollies’ archives and tell you all to go and buy it, so my apologies if this review ends up sounding like every other Hollies review on this site. But, as I said earlier, consistency is an under-appreciated strength in music and I’m far more likely to stick on an early or late-period Hollies LP than an early or late Who or Stones LP (as opposed to both bans at their peak).

Usually 1965 is when things tend to go wrong for AAA bands, when theendless cycle of touring-recording-touring and the pressure of becoming rich millionaires after years of obscurity was felt most (and if you want to know what that looks like in pictures, just have a squizz at this album’s back cover where The Hollies seem to be at the end of a particularly long day at Abbey Road – the picture’s even printed in black and white as if to disguise their tired eyes and surly expressions which you can see much clearer in packaging for the ‘Long Road Home’ box set, although sadly they’ve cut bassist Eric Haydock out of the picture). Even the best of bands tend to lose their consistency at this point – The Beatles and ‘Beatles For Sale’ and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Out Of Our Heads’ being cases in point; not bad albums exactly but rather tired and jaded-sounding long-players by each band’s 1963-64 standards without the energy or ‘bounce’ of old. This is especially true given the uneven-ness of music at the time, which split into several different genres by the mid-60s. 'The Hollies' too is a prime example of that sound, perhaps even more so because from the very beginning this is a band that has been all about energy, optimism and 'bounce'. What's odd though is that The Hollies, more successfully than most, manage to navigate the brave new landscape of 1965 without losing the essence that makes them The Hollies: many Beatles wondered if the fab four would ever sound the same again when 'For Sale' starting adding country songs about depression and loss while The Stones just played what they always did, but worse. By contrast The Hollies sound exactly like they've always done on the surface - even if buried below it is a healthy dose of worry and a bunch of characters who actually have quite a rotten time of things (again not unlike 'For Sale'). 
With Merseybeat dying on its feet (both Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Searchers were busy making their last released recordings at the time this set was being recorded), The Hollies needed to do something to keep up with the Paul Joneses (or at least the Lennons and McCartneys). They could have done all sorts of things at this point: followed The Beatles down the country road, turned to Vaudeville like The Kinks or gone for pure blues like The Animals. Instead they chose the 'new' hit genre of the year that was the closest to their own sound: folk-rock. The Hollies may have been going for a lot longer than Graham Nash's future partner David Crosby's band The Byrds, but like many other teens and twenty-somethings they were already smitten and - for the moment - well suited to a genre that said something deep whilst staying commercial: instead The Hollies loved the sound and the idea of putting the harmonies of their beloved inspirers The Everly Brothers to a rock beat. Folk-rock will only last in The Hollies' discography for another album at least (the even more Byrdsy with Simon and Garfunkel overtones 'Would You Believe?') and yet in many ways its the sound that makes the most sense for the band: the genre always put the emphasis on the vocals and Clarke Hicks and Nash's harmonies were always amongst the best, while The Hollies' original songs had already shown a tendency to be deeper than the average Merseybeat fare. On this album their writing is leaps ahead, taking up the folk-protest banner on songs like 'Too Many People', while their choice of cover songs is widened compared to before thanks to covers of Peter, Paul and Mary's warning of doom 'The Very Last Day' and - even more astonishingly - Frankie Laine's 'That's My Desire'. Interestingly, unlike most bands who went the same route there are no Bob Dylan cover songs just yet (they don't want to be seen to be leaning on The Byrds' legacy that heavily) and this is also a remarkably English folk-rock album, from a time when only American folk-rockers were seen as 'cool'.

However The Hollies are still in conversion mode on this album and there are still many a flashback to their 'old' sound for pretty much the last time (bar a couple of increasingly dated sounding stragglers on 'Would You Believe?') in terms of both original material and cover songs. In many ways that's a shame because, tour-ready and full of confidence after scoring their first number one with 'I'm Alive' earlier in the year, many of these final rockers are amongst the band's best, played with the energy of old for pretty much the last time and with none of the jaded it'll-do feeling of 'For Sale' and 'Out Of Our Heads'. The Hollies are clearly running out of the old standards they used to play live by this point and instead of reaching back to Chuck Berry hits or indeed anything 1950s go instead for more obscure cover songs,: their cover of Allen Toussaint's 'Fortune Teller' knocks spots off the better known Stones and Who cover versions with the comedy of the song ignored in favour of pure hard-hitting rock; Roy Orbison's funky 'Down The Line' which swaps brooding melodrama for a feisty whallop; Curtis Mayfield's rockiest soul song 'You Must Believe In Me' which sounds surprisingly good handled by a 'white' band in such an un-Curtis like way; even the pure novelty of The Miracles' 'Mickey's Monkey' isn't as teeth-curling as it might have been, a slow-burning groove turned head over heels into a maelstrom of confusion and fun as only Merseybeaters can provide. Only Lloyd Price's 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' (best known from a lazy Elvis cover) would have been known to the average Mancunian rock fan in the street in 1965 and frankly that's the one track here too 'of the past' to quite work. Not that the band are looking over their shoulders merely at the cover tunes - a lot of their originals come in various flavours of Merseybeat too: the 'A Hard Day's Night Side Two' style rocker 'When I Come Home To You' and the poppier 'I've Been Wrong'. Interestingly, though, the other originals sound like hybrids of these two sounds, with the head of a folk-rock orc track on the body of a Merseybeat mule if you will, with the sheer panic of songs like 'Put Yourself In My Place' 'Too Many People'  and the breath-takingly gorgeous 'So Lonely' all somewhere right in the middle of the two (the band rocks like never before, but the mood is sad and despondent).

Usually on this site we use the Beatles as a reference (this album’s timeline cousin is the similarly hybrid folk-pop-rock of ‘Help!’ by the way, largely fun but with an air of melancholy), but in this case the closest record to ‘The Hollies’ in the AAA canon is The Searchers’ final LP ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ which followed it into the shops by a matter of weeks. Both albums were recorded in an era when musical styles were changing more or less by the week and many many popular bands of 1963 and 64 fell by the way side because they were just a little bit too slow to adopt their sound (Gerry and The Pacemakers is a case in point – the height of sophistication and cool by 1964, their career is all but over by 1965). The Hollies should have been harder hit than most – their early style is all about enthusiasm, energy and bounce, even more so than their rivals and yet somehow, amazingly, they managed to re-condition their sound for a new audience and a new genre. The Hollies haven’t quite jumped into the waters headfirst yet, as they will on their next two wonderfully individual albums ‘Would You Believe?’ and ‘For Certain, Because’, but they are learning at an incredible speed. Aside from a handful of throwbacks to the old sound, the difference and distance between this record and album no two ‘In The Hollies Style’, is impressive. I can’t picture any other band kicking off their third album with the folk rock protest of ‘Very Last Day’ barely months after making a name for themselves as a pop-rock group and if there are two records out there that sum up the different moods of 1964 (fun, energy and hope) verses 1965 (sadness, worry and austerity) I've yet to hear them. It’s like hearing The Beatles go straight to ‘Help’ after doing ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ without the segue of ‘For Sale' in between. Most impressive of all, however, is how consistent this album in particular is, with Merseybeat powerhouses that rock, ballads that reflect moodily on the future and lyrics that for the first time are the equal of the melodies. All of which are so utterly different from each other - and yet all of which sound as if they somehow belong on this LP, which can somehow get away with the incongruity of warning us to save out immortal souls when Armageddon arrives on track one and can laugh at the antics of a monkey just eleven tracks later. The 1960s moved at speed - something modern fans just can't understand when the same songs hang around in the charts for months and the next year features copycats of the breakthrough hit by all sorts of unsuitable acts anyway; in the 1960s things were changing by the week. Few bands display this change in sound better and The Hollies will never again make quite the leap they do here between LPs (though that said there's quite a gulf between albums five and six 'For Certain Because...' and 'Evolution'!)

The Hollies writing team of Allan Clarke (who famously wrote the middle eights according to interviews of the 1960s), Graham Nash (who wrote the verses) and Tony Hicks (who wrote the choruses) picked up a pace on ‘Hollies Style’, but it’s on this third album that their songs are not only the equals but head and shoulders above most of the songs they cover. Even ignoring the folk-rock background, however, this is the start of a major shift in songwriting: the start of The Hollies as a moody rather than a hopeful band. This album is also the start of a Hollies trait in the 1960s for writing ‘moody’ songs. Their songs might sound dementedly happy from now on, but there's an inner sadness from this album on that even The Beatles hadn't quite tapped into this early. ‘Put Yourself In My Place’ is an angry song about being misunderstood (a feeling that reaches its zenith with 1966’s spot-on ‘What’s Wrong With The Way I Live?’), ‘Too Many People’ is an angry song about the very un-1960s theme of over-population and death (where did that come from?), ‘I’ve Been Wrong’ is an angry song about a girl mistreating the narrator, ‘When I Come Home To You’ is yet another angry about a girl’s ‘lies’ and even the shimmering perfection of ‘So Lonely’ is about regretting anger now that the narrator is on his own. For all the shiny-suits, bright-smiles and great-teeth image The Hollies had in the 1960s (mainly courtesy of their singles and album covers), their albums are far more cutting, direct and snarling and this one is more than most.

One other thing that modern fans just won't understand is how quickly this album and others like it were recorded. Believe it or not this album was made in the largest amount of sessions yet: a deeply generous five afternoons, all slotted in at Abbey Road in between whatever The Beatles were up to and numerous touring and media responsibilities. June 30th 1965 alone saw the band record two album tracks, the 'Little Bitty Pretty One' outtake and top three hit 'Look Through Any Window' - not bad for a few hours' work! As we've seen already, 1965 is the year when most bands fall off the treadmill: the endless touring, the relentless pressure, the changing record market and the fact that the songs are now being rushed through in snatched hours in hotel rooms almost inevitably led to cross words between band members and a loss in quality as bands get frustrated. Even the fab four went through this syndrome on 'Beatles For Sale'. The Hollies aren't immune, losing bassist Eric Haydock one more album into their run in mysterious circumstances (Illness? Tiredness? Too many arguments? Unreliability when they needed it most?) and Graham Nash too is just four more albums away from leaving for America and pastures new. That's all in the future though: this is the point in time when The Hollies were at their tightest, rattling off one-take wonders and getting the nuances of some quite complex material right straight off and for a little while there none of their compatriots from 1963 could keep pace with them, what with even The Beatles briefly dropping the ball, The Searchers fading away and The Stones only right now at this very moment in time starting the growth spurt that will see them come from nowhere to match any other band of the era. Things are already changing faster than even The Hollies can keep up with but for now, as one of the hardest working English bands across 1965 keen to play in as many countries as possible (even the ones The Beatles rarely reached - though in America the even more rushed Beach Boys might have a point to make about all this!), this seems like The Hollies' year as The Mancunians shuffle through the pack to somewhere nearer the front. Hold on tight from here though - its' going to be one hell of a ride from here to hero and zero and back again, pretty much to the present day.

In other words, what we have here is a band still travelling to their destination, one they won't reach until either 1967, 1970 or 1974/75 depending on what Hollies style you consider the most 'natural' and progressive one and an album that's ever so nearly but isn't quite there yet. However it's an enjoyable stop along the road, pretty neatly halfway between the past and the future and featuring several of their best moments without any real howlers (although this album's many outtakes would have made it arguably even better, with originals such as 'She Gives Me Everything I Want' 'I Can't Get Nowhere With You' and 'You In My Arms' plus a storming cover of Bobby Day's 'Little Bitty Pretty One' all preferable to the limp cover of 'Clawdy' and best of all the EP only 'I'm Alive' soundalike 'Honey and Wine'). The band are a tight unit throughout, so confident in their own style by now that they have the ability to try other genres like folk, soul and Motown without the results sounding like anything except The Hollies. And in 'So Lonely' the band have written a real breakthrough song, a sort of 'I'm Alive' in reverse with the same soulful big heart but a tale that's sad rather than uplifting -a daring change on the band's usual sounds (and presumably the reason why it was a B-side not an A-side, after similar struggles with the 'down' mood of 'We're Through'). The band may go on to make better albums than this, but the fact that The Hollies have such a strong back catalogue (especially in the 1960s) that classics like this one can be overlooked and shuffled to the middle of the pack shows what a gloriously consistent band they were. Sorry Alan Sugar, consistency gets my vote as a collector any day - you're fired! 

The opening track ‘The Very Last Day’ might not be a Hollies original, but it sounds like it should be given the similarity of their own songs on the album – and so drastic is their new arrangement of this Peter, Paul and Mary original that it sounds like an entirely new song. We’ve mentioned on this site before the push-and-pull theme of religion on Hollies songs; more or less uniquely among the AAA bands The Hollies progress from whole-hearted belief as on this track and 1969’s message to Jesus’ persecutors ‘Why Didn’t You Believe?’ to the where-the-hell-are-you? anger of ‘You Know The Score’ and Allan Clarke’s solo religious dismissal ‘People Of That Kind’. Religion isn’t even mentioned on most other AAA albums, give or take a Neil Young rant at Catholics, George Harrison’s early 70s messages to his creator and Paul Simon’s sudden bout of songs about God in 2005, so hearing two such extreme reactions suggests that this song meant to The Hollies than just being a funky song. Certainly there’s a conviction in the whole band’s performance which is impressive, from Allan Clarke’s first fully double-tracked vocal to Tony Hicks’ fiery guitar solo, Bobby Elliott’s impression of doomsday on the drums and the always-overlooked bubbly bass of Eric Haydock. Only Graham Nash sounds slightly out of place here, as if he’s already looking to the future with CSN rather than re-casting himself in the folk rock circuit.

The Hollies harmonies are here at their peak or near enough to their peak, adding a depth and horror to this track that might otherwise have sounded like Harrison-ish prickly speeches. Whilst the original of this song is austere and bare, a sort of pious Cromwell vision of religion with no adornments or enjoyment whatsoever, the Hollies sound like the restoration, full of crackling colour, flourishing touches and something happening in every available space in the arrangement. Even though the singers in this version, too, are warning us to end our ways, the doomsday heard in this song sounds enticing, exciting even. Whether the new arrangement is fitting to the song or not is up to you, but there’s no denying that the band are already sizing up the new folk-rock sound of 1965 and converting it to the rock and roll they’ve spent five years learning how to play. Tony Hicks’ brief solo, especially, is a really ‘new’ sound by early 1965 standards – it’s not the riffing of Chuck Berry or the rhythmic seismic shifts of Bo Diddley but a whole new sound, frail and pressurised by the song’s words, spinning off into a completely new key and desperately trying to escape the growing bombast of the song, as if pleading for mankind to get a second chance. Far from sounding uncomfortable with their new sound or a subject matter alien to much of their audience, The Hollies sound admirably at home on this track.

‘You Must Believe In Me’ is a bit of light relief by contrast and a slight step back to the old Hollies sound. But even this Curtis Mayfield soul song has been tailored to fit the folk-rock boom with Merseybeat edges The Hollies are making their own, swathed in glorious three-part harmonies and snatches of Allan Clarke’s breathlessly exciting harmonica parts. Bobby Elliott drives the song ever forward with some exotic rolls up and down his kit as the narrator urges his narrator over and over again to believe in him, getting more and more desperate as the song progresses. Although the lyrics to this track are fairly pedestrian by Hollies covers standards, there’s no doubting the  belief in the performance, with Clarke especially showing off just why his voice may be the best of any lead singer of the 1960s. Nash’s harmony parts, either singing in contrast to Clarke’s or joining him in full throttle, are exciting too, a neat touch on a song that takes no prisoners in the performance. When even a throwaway song like this is invested with so much time and care, it’s probably fair to say that The Hollies were the only band to escape the 1965 ‘blues’ of the album-tour-album cycle that broke so many lesser bands.

‘Put Yourself In My Place’ is a similar sort of song, with the narrator again adamant that the girl should believe he is acting with the best of intentions, but this time it’s a Hollies original. Whilst it’s probably the weakest original on the album, even this song has it’s positive touches, from the seductive rat-a-tat rhythm to the band’s excellent harmonies and Tony Hicks’ intriguing guitar part, one which somehow manages to double both the heavy rhythm of the drums and bass and the more tuneful vocals at the same time. Whilst lyrically this song runs out of things to say early on (there’s just two verses and one endlessly repeated chorus to this song), the instrumental middle eight is magnificent, with Hicks’ solo rising out of nowhere to a peak of righteous indignation before Haydock’s playing riffs over and over in the highest registers of his bass guitar, an unknown guesting pianist (possibly our old AAA friend Nicky Hopkins) with a sound deeply unusual for The Hollies in this period and Clarke comes in over the top with a terrific harmonica part. One of the most exciting passages of any Hollies song, it sounds to me as if the band have been listening closely to the similar section in The Beatles’ ‘No Reply’ (released at Christmas 1964) and it’s a bit of an anti-climax when the song kicks back in again, even with a memorable full ending that rolls to a climax with a typical Elliott type drum-fill.

‘Down The Line’ sounds like a sudden reversion to 1964 (though curiously it was recorded near to the end of the sessions in September 1965), not least because it’s by one of 1964’s best-selling artists Roy Orbison. Again, though, The Hollies adapt this popular rock song (also murdered by Elvis, recorded is too kind a word for it!) and make it completely their own, with Nash’s whoops in the background (so common to the first two Hollies LPs but less common from here on in) and a battle royal going on between a tight and unmoving performance from both Nash’s rhythm guitar and Elliott’s drums and an all-over-the-place one from Hicks’ guitar and Haydock’s bass. The message of the song is hidden well but it is there – as much as the narrator lyrically wants to move on from an unsuccessful relationship, his heart won’t let him and this new arrangement nicely sums up the narrator’s dilemma. The only thing that doesn’t suit the song so well is Clarkey’s faux American Elvis drawl on the song’s verses although he too is in fine voice by the time the song gets going. Not one of the best Hollies covers, perhaps, but it does its job as album filler nicely and is far more in keeping with the writer’s original intentions than any of their Dylan or Buddy Holly covers.

‘That’s My Desire’ is the weakest link on the album, a rather dreary ballad which should suit The Hollies well with its emphasis on harmonies but ends up sounding like a relic from a different era (1962 to be exact, just to underline how quickly time moved on in the 1960s). Clarke tries his best with the song, but the slow and chugging tune seems to put the emphasis on all the wrong places, leaving his voice cracking in places (highly unusual for The Hollies and far more common to Kinks and Who LPs of the same year). Nash’s harmony part is similarly struggling and often out of tune, whilst poor Tony Hicks sounds like he’s having to make his own part as he goes along (I’ve heard one and two part versions of this song down the years, but never three-part like it’s done here, so perhaps that’s the problem). Having said all that, even on an off-day The Hollies always offer something other groups can’t handle and the guitar and bass parts are again spot on for this song of teenage yearning.

‘Too Many People’ is, by contrast, a fascinating song and one that’s so out of keeping with both The Hollies’ originals and, well, any other song around in 1965 that it’s hard to accept how this song really fits into the band’s canon. In a nutshell, this song has a narrator leafing through a history book, realising how futile most of the deaths of forgotten souls in wars, famine and plagues were and how he’s only just realised the same thing could happen to him and he, too, could end up unloved and useless. While it’s true that death and history were a big part of the folk movement the Hollies are trying to add into their own sound, no other song of 1965 has a chorus like ‘There ain’t no fooling death so you just got to sit and wait’. Considering the band’s reputation, right or wrongly, for being a pop ‘singles’ band, this is a very impressive track, not to mention the fact that this deeply adult song was written by a band with an average age of 23! Intriguingly this original ‘Ransford’ song also has the doomy line ‘that’s how they planned it – you can’t do nowt about it’, suggesting either some great conspiracy or the ideas of pre-determinisation, which was the complete polar opposite of the mid-60s belief that the youth could change the world and do it in their own lifetime. Whilst most of this song’s tune is a fairly normal one by Hollies standards, built for a descending guitar riff, harmonica and three-part harmonies, the song starts on a very intriguing wordless ‘ooh’ from Clarke and Nash that nicely sets the tone for this rather serious song. One of the highlights of the album, both for its unexpectedness and the sheer commitment of the performance, this is The Hollies at their early peak before they fully hit their stride in the psychedelic years. If you’re lucky enough to own the mono-/stereo version of this album listen out too for the completely different endings to the song on the two mixes – whilst the stereo version ends fairly normally, the mono version ends with a barrage of sound effects, from gunfire to what sounds like the dropping of weapons after a ceasefire.

‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ is the old style Hollies doing what they do best, updating the slightly dark and edgy Little Richard-recorded original so that it sounds bright and perky. This song couldn’t be more different to the last track if it tried, being a bit of light fun in contrast to ‘Too Many People’s sad realisation of the inevitability of death, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, its just that this album shows off all sides of The Hollies’ characters. Barring the last track of this album, its also the group’s last gasp hurrah for the rock and roll covers they’d been playing ever since forming the band and it sounds like a load of fun for a bunch of early twenty-somethings, already nostalgic for their youth before the music business got deep and heavy. Tony Hicks apes Chuck Berry nicely on the guitar part while Clarke tries to reinvent Little Richard’s histrionic vocals for his own, rather more laidback persona and Nash and Hicks add some typically nonsense Hollies harmonies (possibly speeded up here), although even these are inventive for their day, being comprised of fourths and fifths rather than the more common harmony thirds. A lot of fun, if not quite up to the sterling rock and roll covers on ‘In The Hollies Style’.

‘When I Come Home To You’ is another Hollies original that seems to sum up this album’s schizophrenic nature well. The song starts off as a moody bluesy rocker a la ‘Down The Line’, suddenly twists on an unexpected key change into a higher-pitched style more akin to the first albums’ ‘Candyman’ and ends up uncomfortably modulating back again into a poppy chorus that’s one part pop and one part vaudeville. That’s quite a journey for one little song and this one goes through the same journey three times over, an uncomfortable listen if you’re hearing this song casually as background music (not that I ever hear any music as background music!) but a thrilling one if you’re listening to and living with the song. The difficulty of this song might also explain the rare example of a Hollies mistake on this track, when on the second verse Nash and Hicks enter with ‘I...we...’ before finally hitting the lines ‘you’ve got to come on home...’ In those early primitive days of recording, when re-doing tiny mistakes like this meant days on end in the editing room, this would have been a major dilemma for any producer, but luckily the Hollies’ longterm boss Ron Richards saw sense and realised the rest of the performance was such a good one he’d let it pass. This very complicatedness also fits the lyrics of the song about the narrator looking forward to coming home to his loved one, until he suddenly remembers the betrayal she caused him on their last meeting and wonders how he will react before deciding to forgive her if she comes home when he will ‘take you in my ar-r-rms’ (ending the song on a display of harmony and one of the best examples around of the three-part Hollies harmony technique, a magical sound rivalled only by Nash’s later partners in CSN). This complicated and convoluted song is never one you’d want to place on a best-of but it is impressive for a song so early in the writers’ run of material and the middle eight, especially, is tremendously exciting like The Hollies of old (well, this is only the third album but it sounds like an ‘old’ style suddenly) , catching fire as only the best recordings can.

‘Fortune Teller’ is my favourite of all the covers on this album – indeed, I listed this composition as one of my five favourite ‘pre-Beatles/Beach Boys’ rock and roll songs on our top five for issue 27. This now sadly forgotten track was popular in its day, gracing an EP by The Rolling Stones and several live concerts by The Who among others (the latter’s ‘Live At Leeds’ Deluxe Edition’ features Roger Daltrey reading an even longer list of people who have covered the song). And deservedly so – the tight rhythmic hook is the perfect platform for some guitar riffing and some eccentric drumming from Bobby Elliott on particularly fine form, while the lyrics are both touching and hilarious. For those who don’t know the song, the narrator is a lonely teenager so desperate to meet the girl of his dreams he visits a fortune teller, is told that he’ll meet the love of his life very soon and mopes when he fails to meet her within the next 24 hours. Rushing back to the fortune teller to complain, he suddenly realises how lovely she is and they fall in love (letting him get his ‘fortune told for free!’) The Hollies rattle off the song like they’ve been performing it for years (though to the best of my knowledge it never made it to their stage act and I think I’ve heard performances of every Hollies tour there ever was up to the late 60s), singing the song much straighter than the Stones though not with the deadly earnestness of The Who. Fans who love their music deep and purposeful might not ‘get’ it, but for those of us who enjoy a quick chuckle now and again, this song is one of the funniest of the lot, all tied together with another great Hollies performance.

You cannot say the same for ‘So Lonely’, one of the most exquisite, heart-breaking and deep songs The Hollies ever recorded. Not many people know about this song but they should – vaguely intended as the follow-up to the band’s own composition single, the marvellously catty ‘We’re Through’, the band were dissuaded from releasing any more of their own songs when the single ‘flopped heavily’ and only made #7 (no 7 is deeply impressive in my eyes in a chart made up of Beatles, Beach Boys, Kinks and Stones hit that week or the week after). In the end, the band sat on the song before releasing it as the B-side of ‘Look Through Any Window’ and as much as I love that song this B-side beats it hands down on every level.

There’s a series of Hollies songs, originals and covers, generally B-sides, that are truly spine-tingling in the way they sum up a heartbreaking situation in just a few simple lines with a connection and power that no other band can manage (well, maybe CSN and the Beatles on a good day) – ‘The Air That I Breathe’ is the most famous one but there are plenty of rarer examples, from the 1973 B-side ‘I Had A Dream’ to the so romantic it hurts 1976 B-side ‘Love Is The Thing’. All of these songs have a power that’s hard to convey in words – on print a song about the narrator seeing his loved one without another and ‘feeling lonely’ sounds trite and unoriginal. But oh the record – Allan Clarke’s searing voice, perfectly placing every line along with Graham Nash’s poignant middle eight, Tony Hicks’ shimmering guitar work – all but metaphorically shutting the singer out of the song – and Bobby Elliott’s increasingly desperate drum fills all add to a magic performance. When the song finally moves on it’s way, onto that middle eight of Nash’s, finding him ‘ keep you satisfied forever’, the detached feel of the song dissolves into one of the most splendid examples of harmony you will ever hear, tugging at the notes in tight tricky harmonies as if trying to get the girl to change her mind. This isn’t just a pop song about sadness, this is an oh so believable song that throws everything into the pot to try to show us just how heartbreaking this event in the narrator’s life is. No wonder Peter Doggett – the highly respected editor of Record Collector Magazine, back in the days when it really was the best publication in the UK on music – pulled out this song for special praise in an end-of-year focus on the late-80s Hollies CD re-issues, calling it one of the best songs The Hollies did – and The Hollies one of the world’s best and most overlooked bands. Magical. You can hear The Hollies backing The Everly Brothers on this song from the latter’s ‘Two Yanks In England’ LP but, good as it is, it doesn’t break your heart the way this performance does.
[54] ‘I’ve Been Wrong’ (when this song was re-recorded with the ‘Everly Brothers’ they added a  ‘(Before)’ to the title) suffers by direct comparison to the last track, being a rather more pedestrian Hollie original better suited to the Merseybeat years than the folk-rock ones. It’s still a lot of fun, though, despite the rather sad message of yet another narrator being betrayed for reasons unknown. Where the song truly comes alive is with the middle eight sung by Nash once more, turning the song on its head with a message of hope that he’s now in a position to offer his partner ‘everything’ if she’ll come back. This part of the song is much more in keeping with the ‘folk rock’ elements of the album, a sweet little section that sounds suspiciously like Nash’s later solo songs with its quiet but determined philosophy of winning the girl over and cautious but optimistic hope. That Everly Brothers recording is one of their better Hollies covers on the ‘Yanks’ album and is much more suited to their slightly retro 1950s sound, with its long drawn-out vowels and rocky feel, though again not quite up to The Hollies original. The sleevenotes for the CD of that album, incidentally, dismisses the Hollies material as being ‘quite good’ and scratches its head over why the duo should want to work with this band above all others (their original plan of working with The Beatles being unfeasible). As we said before, the answer is consistency – this is a workmanlike song that nevertheless hits all the right buttons.

The album ends on a curious note with the truly retro [55] ‘Mickey’s Monkey’, a novelty song similar in feel to ‘Rockin’ Robin’ (but better – The Hollies did that too on their first LP and its one of their few tracks to be truly toe-curling). But even though the lyrics to this odd little song are among the most banal the band ever did (a ‘lum-di-lum-di-lum-di-e, lum-di-;lum-di-li-aye’ chorus for instance and lyrics that detail a dance where the partners have a ‘monkey on their back’, similar to the twist and the rug so I’m told, not that I’d ever know with my allergies to the dance floor), musically this is another tight little performance as raucous as any The Hollies ever did. With better lyrics, this would have been the perfect send-off to The Hollies part one, with Bobby Elliott’s wild and frantic drumming the model for all of Keith Moon’s later recordings, Tony Hicks at his most off-the-wall and spontaneous and breathless vocals from Clarke, Hicks and Nash driving up the excitement levels far higher than they deserve to go. Clarke especially excels himself on this track, growling deep in his register for much of the song and giving such commitment in both his vocals and harmonica playing that its hard to realise this song is really just about a stupid dance. The song ends on a truly backward note as well, with a curiously old fashioned sign-off chord that will never be heard again in the post-Merseybeat chords (and sounds suspiciously like the end of ‘She Loves You’ that caused George Martin apoplexy when he first heard it). Still, as trivial as the song might be and odd as parts of it are, this song might well be the Hollies’ finest band performance, as tight as they comes and with all five players bouncing off each other to tremendous effect.

 So, in retrospect it’s fitting that its this third album that became known simply as ‘The Hollies’ for, like the reunion album of the same name in 1974, this is the band finally discovering their true identity after a few early attempts at aping other bands’ sounds. It contains some of the best and deepest of all Hollies songs, along with some of the silliest covers they ever did and manages that extraordinary and very 1960s feat of pointing in lots of different directions at once. Not everything on this album works, but when its good it’s very very good and when it fails – well, it just shows how fast the music movement of the decade was moving that songs as tremendously moving as ‘So Lonely’ can sit side by side with such good fun fluff as ‘Mickey’s Monkey’. A fine and overlooked album by a fine and overlooked band, ‘The Hollies’ is more than worthy of a place in your collection if you collect any of the many styles this album covers (and let’s face it, other than later movements like rap and disco, this album covers pretty much everything!) 


'Stay With The Hollies' (1964)

'In The Hollies Style' (1964)
'Would You Believe?' (1966)

'For Certain, Because' (1966)

'Evolution' (1967)

'Butterfly' (1967)

‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ (1969)

'Confessions Of The Mind' (1970)
'A Distant Light' (1971)

'Romany' (1972)

'Out On The Road' (1973)

'Headroom' (Allan Clarke solo) (1973)
'The Hollies' (1974)
'Another Night' (1975)

‘Write On’ (1976)
'A Crazy Steal' (1978)

'5317704' (1979)
'What Goes Around..." (1983)
‘Then, Now, Always’ (2009)

'Radio Fun' (BBC Sessions) (2012)
The Best Unreleased Hollies Recordings
Surviving TV Footage 1964-2010
Non-Album Songs Part One: 1963-1970
Non-Album Songs Part Two: 1971-2014

Live/Solo/Compilation/US Editions/Covers Albums Part One 1964-1975
Live/Solo/Compilation/US Editions/Covers Albums Part Two 1976-2014

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