Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Hollies "Sing Hollies" (1969) (With New Added Paragraph 2015!)

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The Hollies “Sing Hollies” (1969)

Why Didn’t You Believe?/Don’t Give Up Easily/Look At Life/Please Sign Your Letters/My Life Is Over With You/Please Let Me Please//Do You Believe In Love?/Soldier’s Dilemma/Marigold-Gloria Swansong/You Love ‘Cos You Like It/Reflections Of A Long Time Past/Goodbye Tomorrow

The story of how Graham Nash came to leave The Hollies is an oft-told tale, full of betrayal and new horizons, summing up the change in philosophy between the 60s and 70s better than any other. We’ve studied it in details ourselves in our reviews of the early CSN/Y and Nash solo albums because it makes for a fascinating story, the change in Nash from a cheesy-grinned pop star teenager to a politically and spiritually aware young adult summing up in one nifty image the changes in our culture between 1963 and 69. After all, Nash was leaving certain economic and commercial success for an uncertain future with another sacked musician (Crosby) and the leader of a band that had barely lasted 18 months (Stills), abandoning his band, his wife, his home country and – as we’ll be revealing – his childhood friend. It really wasn’t an easy break to make and you can hear the uncertainty and doubt throughout at least the next three years of Nash’s work.

What’s less covered, however, is the equally fascinating story of what the Hollies went on to do next. A troubled 1968 sees the band’s final days with Nash where they muck around with an intended follow-up to ‘Butterfly’ that never quite happens (it would undoubtedly have been a classic however, what with ‘Wings’ ‘Like Everytime Before’ ‘Open Up Your Eyes’ ‘Relax’‘Tomorrow When It Comes’ and possibly ‘Horses Through A Rainstorm’ all vying for space on it). The big question mark comes when Crosby and Stills appear as ‘guests’ on the Hollies’ 1968 European tour, with Nash hanging out in their dressing rooms instead of the band’s and given the stark choice between a new life in America or recording an album of Dylan covers (the other four’s choice of career path after a troubled 1967 full of sitars and controversial songs about God and love and ego and drugs, mainly written by Nash). By and large the Dylan album as done by The Hollies is a mess (the only outright mess in The Hollies’ canon until the 1980s) and Nash was right not to do it: after years stuck singing Dylan songs with The Byrds Crosby was particularly adamant that artists should stick to their own material and in the far-looking rock world of 1969 its release didn’t help the Hollies look ‘hip’. Worse still would have been their next planned release: ‘Hollies Sing Country’, a planned album of Buck Owen covers and pedal steel guitars not dissimilar to Ringo Starr’s second album ‘Beaucoups Of Blues’ in 1970. ‘Louisiana Man’ made it to the studio (you can hear it on ‘Hollies Rarities’ – now sadly a rarity itself – or the ‘Long Road Home’ box set), covers of ‘Dang Me’ ‘Help Me Brother’ and ‘Kentucky Women’ made it to concert. None of them sound that great to be honest and sound like a band searching for a new identity. Curiously, I’ve just had a look in the Hollies sessionography printed in Record Collector magazine and surprisingly the ‘Country’ and ‘Sing Hollies’ albums seem to have been made side by side – were the band less than confident about their own material or were they simply hedging their bets?

In this context it’s a relief that The Hollies decided to go back to basics and write their own pop-rock material, although to be honest ‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ is also a little confused in terms of direction. Rather than being ‘about’ Dylan or country this album proudly declaims ‘Hollies Sing Hollies’, emphasising the fact that, yes, this is indeed the band you’ve known and loved for all those years even if one of the members is different without wiping out the heritage of the Nash years. In retrospect, it was the only sensible choice if The Hollies wanted to continue making music, although it’s a surprise that there aren’t any cover songs here at all after all that work (there’s one outtake from this album, ‘She Looked My Way’ – another Hollies Rarities refugee and the box set – that’s superior to almost all of the recordings here, with even more startling Hollies harmonies to enjoy. The track was recorded the same day as ‘My Life Is Over With You’ and would have made for a far more consistent LP, especially if rumours that Hollies classic ‘Too Young To Be Married’ really was held over from this album to the next. If so then we’d be talking about quite possibly my favourite Hollies album – along with ‘Romany’ and ‘Butterfly’ – rather than a curate’s egg that’s excellent only in parts).

Strangely enough, one of the first things The Hollies do when Nash disappears is correct what he saw as the instability of the writing credits.  As every Holies fan knows, in their early days the band were credited under the pseudonyms 'Chester Mann' and the more illogical 'L Ransford' (the name of Nash's grandfather - nobody seems to know his first name!) At the time many fans assumed the band had copied their Everly heroes and used their own 'in house writing team - a Mancunian equivalent of the prolific Bryant brothers Felice and Boudleaux who wrote everything from 'Bye Bye Love' to 'Wake Up Little Susie' to 'Claudette' for the duo. The official line from EMI was that 'you can't fit more than two words on a record label or the print will be too small too read' - clearly nonsense and in retrospect sounding more like EMI wangling to make their logo look bigger. Amazingly it wasn't until 1966 and the 'For Certain Because...' album that The Hollies were even credited by their own names, the 'Clarke-Hicks-Nash' credit becoming common for the first time, long after the time when it became seen as integral for bands to write their own material. At first every song really was written by the trio (with the famous divisions of Nash writing the verses, Hicks the choruses and Clarke the middle eights, although in truth only 'Carrie Anne' seems to have been written 100% in this way) and as they wrote the material more or less equally it made sense to credit them as such, an unspoken rule between them and their publishing company 'Gralto' ('Graham Allan Tony') being that all three would always get the credit in line with Lennon and McCartney. But one of the main reasons Nash got cross was that he felt he was doing all the work, his twin discoveries of the natural pairing of drugs and psychedelia fuelling his creativity like never before. Even socially the three were beginning to split with Nash staying up late and never around when Clarke and Hicks were writing their songs. Nash fought tooth and nail to have this decision changed - and it was, just missing his decision to leave by a matter of months and a Dylan's covers record. For me, though, what's fascinating about the 'new' divisive credits on 'Hollies Sing Hollies' is whose working with whom (new boy Terry Sylvester largely providing the musical know how for Clarke's lyrical ideas while Hicks, having warmed up with his first song 'Pegasus' on 'Butterfly', is keen to work solo). Given that this sounds like the most unified Hollies album in nearly five years, it's surprising that the band write as apart as they do. Even bassist Bernie Calvert gets his one and only writing credit on a Hollies LP! (oh and in case you were wondering The Hollies' publishing company Gralto is briefly reformed as the nicely musical 'Alto' for two songs that are presumably the first written for the album ('Don't Give Up Easily' and 'Do You Believe In Love?') before winding the company down and signing with Copyright Control. 
As we’ve seen often across this website, when a band suffers a split they can do one of four things: they can keep on going the same as before as if no change has taken place, they can do the same as before with a more modern, contemporary sound, they can stretch their wings in a completely new direction, one they’ve never dared to try before, or they can write songs about that very act of betrayal and loss. ‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ must be unique in the annals of music because it tries to do all four things at once. If ever an album was schizophrenic it’s this one: for every inane attempt at empty pop like ‘Do You Believe In Love?’ that sounds like a 1950s b-side gone wrong, there’s a marvellously daring piece of 1970s social commentary like ‘Soldier’s Dilemma’; There are songs that are light and fluffy (‘Look At Life’), deep and meaningful (‘Marigold’) and downright controversial (the atheist baiting ‘Why Didn’t You Believe?’) Along the way The Hollies mourn the loss of Nash with two of their most heartfelt nostalgic songs (‘My Life Is Over With You’ and ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’) yet on the other hand try to ignore his loss altogether and carry on much as before (‘Please Let Me Please’ is the perfect bridge between the Hollies of the 60s and 70s). There’s even the Hollies’ one and only attempt at an orchestral instrumental (as a group) which features the only writing credit that bassist Bernie Calvert, plus only the second Hollies song to feature guitarist Tony Hicks as lead vocalist (‘Look At Life’). ‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ plays it safe one minute and then rattles on to distant horizons the next, on a journey that’s hard to keep pace with. Like many albums released in 1969 it’s searching for a new sound while giving a last hurrah to the old one and that makes for thrilling, compelling, often wonderful occasionally infuriating listening.

Key to the band’s new sound for this album is the addition of Terry Sylvester, who despite being a scouser to four Mancunians fits in remarkably well, so much so that unless Nash was your one and only love (not that unusual, it has to be said) you’d be unlikely to spot the difference. Terry is too often forgotten nowadays (I’m shocked at how few twitter followers this genuine rock legend has) but is a real talent, his stints with the under-rated Escorts and the last gasp line-up of the classic Swinging Blue Jeans good preparation for life as a Hollie. By his own admission his youthful energy and enthusiasm brought new life into the Hollies’ songwriting team (who, ironically, decided to dispense with the joint writing credits that Nash had so hated, just at the point when they began to work as a ‘team’ again for the first time since about 1965). Let’s not forget, Nash had been the dominant force for two albums by now (the classic ‘Evolution’ and masterpiece in miniature ‘Butterfly’) and both Allan Clarke and Tony Hicks had only just begun writing individually. Having Sylvester on board gives the duo a new, sympathetic voice to bounce ideas off and its interesting that its Terry who at least co-writes the most traditionally Hollies sounding material here (‘You Love ‘Cos You Like It’, ‘Do You Believe In Love?’ and Terry’s first lead vocal ‘Look At Life’). Best of all, that familiar Hollies harmony sound (ironically matched only by prime CSN in terms of perfection) manages to come through unscathed, against all the odds (Sylvester has a quite different accent and didn’t perfect that illustrious harmony after years on the road like Clarke-Hicks-Nash did). Best of all the band use it as the ‘hook’ to let new fans know that this is still very much The Hollies: I admit I haven’t gone through all of their records in my collection to add it up, but I’m willing to bet there’s more songs on this album sung in full three-part harmony throughout than any other.

If Sylvester brings in the bounce and energy that’s traditional on Hollies albums, then Clarke especially is in very contemplative mood. Having known Nash since the age of five in a reception class at Manchester (when Clarke had, on a whim, offered his hand when a teacher showed new boy Nash into the class and asked for a volunteer to sit next to him) and being in a band with him for some 10 years before the first line-up of The Hollies, the loss hit him particularly hard. Interviewers have, inevitably, asked Clarke repeatedly what he felt about Nash leaving the Hollies behind and every time Clarke gives a different answer, all of them true: it was a devastating blow, a shocking betrayal, a chance to step out behind his partner’s shadow and become more of a ‘leader’, a chance to bring variety to the Hollies sound, a return to the ‘old’ Hollies sound before psychedelia and kaftans. Clarke’s ‘My Life Is Over With You’ somehow manages to filter all of these thoughts by depicting Nash as some longterm lover who gave no warning for her betrayal: bitterly upset at the loss, Clarke’s narrator vows never to speak to her again before announcing that he’s ‘found a new part to play in life’. It’s probably the best song ever written about the loss of a key member of the band, poignant to those who know the story and accessibly to those who don’t and beats other AAA attempts hands down (The Rolling Stones ‘I’ve Had It With You’, George Harrison’s ‘Wah-Wah’, even Paul Simon’s ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’). If anything ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’ is even sadder, a melancholic reflection on how life will never be the same again after a major life crisis and (ironically) this Nash kiss-off song is exactly the kind of deep, meaningful material he wanted to record with the band. I’d love to know whether Nash heard this pair of songs about him by his old colleague and what he thought about them (the closest Nash comes to writing about his Hollies past is ‘I Used To Be A King’, a sequel to Hollies single ‘King Midas In Reverse’, which sheepishly admits he might not have been right to leave).
Ironically, too, the Hollies’ own work is getting deeper just at the point when Nash left them behind because his work was being rejected for those reasons. The highlights of the album – ‘Marigold/Gloria Swanson’ and ‘Soldier’s Dilemma’ – are way more controversial than Nash’s rejected songs (‘Marrakesh Express’ ‘Lady Of The Island’, erm perhaps not ‘Sleep Song’ just yet) and show The Hollies being very much influenced by the first CSN album (released five months before this one) and among my all time favourite Hollies songs. ‘Soldier’s Dilemma’ condemns the Vietnam war much more directly than CSN ever did and its mix of Hollies innocence and energy and big themes is actually probably more effective than a more ‘adult’ protest version could have been. ‘Marigold’, meanwhile, is a show-stopper, a two-part epic that takes in lost innocence, old age and fading film stars wrapped up in vintage Hollies harmonies and a powerful riff that doesn’t dilute the very adultness of the theme. Frankly, I wish there’d been more of this on the albums The Hollies will make in the 1970s – but the good news is that, for a couple more albums at least, this is the direction the band goes in (our classic AAA album ‘Confessions Of The Mind’ is next in the Hollies discography and contains many a song like this one).

Then again CSN would never have dared try anything so ‘pop’ as the trio of pure carat gold Hollies tracks that sit alongside the deeper, darker material. With psychedelia now all but dead by 1969 and Nash – the band’s most prolific writer between 1966 and 67 – now gone, it must have been hard working out what to do next. ‘Please Sign Your Letters’ is a pretty failed attempt at trying to sound commercial, but ‘You Love Cos’ You Like It’ has much of the Hollies charm and ‘Please Let Me Please’ harks back to the Hollies’ golden era of 1965 in style but adds a crystal clear shimmering guitar sound that’s very 1969. I’m surprised that none of these three tracks were considered as a single (closer ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’ was a single in parts of Europe; opener ‘Why Didn’t You Believe?’ the radio airplay hit, still heard today occasionally on radio two) as they contain much of the essence of the old Hollies sound.

If there is a mistake on this album its that awful cover: flowery shirts and beige trousers were never a good look but in 1969 particularly seemed like a relic from a different age. Throughout the album’s contents the band have been covering up the change in sound (pretty well it has to be said) and yet – for the first time in three album covers – have the band proudly facing the camera (that’s Terry on the far left), actually flaunting the fact Nash isn’t in the band. This picture is a microcosm of everything Nash wanted to escape from: the idea of a ‘band’ uniform, the uncomfortable pose for the camera and the tired gimmicky ‘prism’ effect (new in 1967 but tired by 1969) and large band name (Hicks looks especially uncomfortable given where Clarke has put his hand...) The CSN cover, one so ramshackle it doesn’t even feature the trio in the right order, does much to sum up the three men’s individuality (never have three men with such different dress sense been part of the same band) and features each name in big bold lettering as if separating themselves from each other. This Hollies album cover, by contrast, is a step backwards and probably did more harm than anything else the Hollies did in the post-Nash years at hurting their credibility with the general music buyer, with the quintet looking like some renegades from cabaret than a bona fide rock band with this album’s intelligence and panache. A shame because, as you should all know by now, you really can’t judge a record by it’s cover.

‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ doesn’t always get it right, then, but like last weeks’ Byrds album ‘Easy Rider’ from the same vintage it’s a fine stepping stone to greater things and a good example of what a band in disarray does to overcome the loss of a key member (that said, the Byrds shed Crosby a full year before The Hollies lost Nash). Sometimes looking backwards, sometimes forwards, occasionally sideways, its a typically eccentric Hollies mix of the delightful and the deep, the foot-tappers and the thought-provokers. Some tracks are truly abysmal, some are career highlights – its that kind of an album, as the band struggle to make sense of their place in the world of rock and roll without their most prominent member.

'Why Didn't TYou Believe?' is a surprise, being probably the most pro-Christian song in the AAA canon. Following on from the horror of the Hollies’ cover of Armageddon song ‘The Very Last Day’ in 1965, this Allan Clarke original does nothing less than condemn the disbelieving Romans of 0BC when they crucified Jesus. The song could easily have got very silly, what with the mock gospel chanting in the middle (‘You gotta believe!’) and a backing track that moves slowly from a peaceful crawl to turbulent angst, like a record playing at the wrong speed. But it doesn’t because of the sumptuous melody (one of Clarke-Sylvester’s best efforts of the period) and Clarke’s breathtaking performance on the vocal. Frankly I’m half a believer after hearing the commitment from the whole band on this song, which would have fitted in nicely into the Godspell musical (still the best musical ever made on musical terms, whether the listener is an atheist or a believer). Deeply unfashionable by 1969 standards, its also probably braver to release a song like this to the Woodtsock-era record buying public than it would do to go all Ozzy Osbourne and worship a musical Satan. What’s interesting, however, is how quickly Clarke will renounce the ideas on this song: the Hollies track ‘YouKnow The Score’ in two albums time will basically say ‘there can’t be a God if the Vietnam war hasn’t been stopped yet’, while his first two solo albums ‘My Name Is ‘Arold’ and ‘headroom’, respectively, feature ‘St Francis of Assisi (Let Us Prey)’ in which no deity comes to save a village on the brink of collapse and ‘People Of That Kind’ which damns a God ‘whose changing his mind all of the time’. Did something happen circa 1970-71 to convince Clarke that his childhood beliefs weren’t co certain after all? And why in that case did he wait till the Hollies’ sixth year to put pen to paper on the subject for the first time?

Well one possible answer is that there’s another half-story going on here. Nash’s defection crops up a few times on this album and I’m willing to bet that this song’s central painful howl of ‘why didn’t you believe?’ is addressed every bit as much to Clarke’s childhood friend as it is to the Romans (Clarke may have changed it as a bit self-indulgent or because he didn’t want Nash to hear his real feelings perhaps?), with The Hollies ‘crucified’ for Nash’s journey in the States. Whatever the source of the story, whatever your feelings about the words, ignore them if you like because ‘Why Didn’t You Believe?’ is still a tremendous track, perfectly judged with a female chorus that really adds to the ‘gospel’ feel and pristine Hollies harmonies in the background (slightly sped-up). Rather than simply move from slow to fast in a direct line (hard to bring off even with a band of the Hollies’ calibre), the song is punctuated by several sudden rushes of adrenalin as Clarke’s fury kicks in from time to time, with the band picking up the pace slightly every time they return to the song’s verses. Hicks’ guitar shines here (seemingly channelling Robert Johnson, the blues player who met with the devil at the crossroads in mock-protest), Bernie Calvert has plenty of space for a wonderful fat bass sound and Bobby Elliott drums his heart out. Also someone (possibly Calvert again) plays a pulsing church organ dubbed low in the mix which really adds to the religious aura of the song. The result is a real ear-catching song that shows the Hollies at their best, especially Clarke’s passionate intense vocal which ranges from anger to joy to guilt in the space of a line. The song, so out of touch with the 1969 market, has deservedly become something of a retrospective hit for the band, often appearing on the radio (especially Wogan’s old breakfast show of 10 years ago, where it cropped up about once a month).

‘Don’t Give Up Easily’ is a fascinating Tony Hicks song that, like many the guitarist will go onto write in the next couple of years, features a throbbing bass line and sudden violent switches from verse to chorus. By and large Hicks prefers to write the music to a collaborator’s lyrics (his Surrey neighbour Kenny Lynch is a favourite on the next two albums), but unusually Hicks writes alone – and his lyrics are the best thing about this sensitive song. Announcing himself as a ‘foolish fool’, the narrator sings humbly that even blind old him can tell that his loved one’s unhappy and calmly tries to figure out what to do. Realising that ‘lovers have always had this problem’, he suddenly dispenses with his timidity and starts urging nosily ‘don’t give up easily!’, asking her to hang on. This is an impressively mature song for a writer aged not quite 26 at the album’s release (Hicks won’t actually marry until 1974 so chances are this is all imagination rather than life) and The Hollies cope with it well, using their harmonies to get across tranquillity and desperation in separate sections. There’s a neat use of a synthesiser too on the solo, which is unusual for this period of Hollies History (the band use them more and more as the 70s progress though) – and full credit to Hicks for not just sticking in another guitar solo in there for himself. Only a weak and stupidly childish middle eight (‘I know you’re feeling bad, sometimes I make you sad...’) stops this song from being another first-class entry on this album.

Alas if the last two tracks emphasise everything great about The Hollies (first-class harmonies, top notch playing, intriguing songwriting), then ‘Look At Life’ features all their worst aspects (a rather nursery rhyme melody and a slight gaucheness about the lyrics and performance). There’s a sweet song in here somewhere that tries hard to come out: the melody itself is pretty, if pretty simple and the theme of the song (‘isn’t life wonderful?’) original, is still hard to dislike. Despite being a Clarke-Sylvester song Hicks sings the song (most sources assume its Terry, but if so it doesn’t sound like any other vocal he ever gave) and while not a bad vocal Tony isn’t comfortable enough to get away with such occasionally awkward lyrics. For once the rest of the band judge the song badly too: Bernie’s usually sympathetic bass simply gets in the way of a lovely guitar part, while Johnny Scott’s orchestration rather overpowers the song and turns a sweet little song into something rather sickly. Interestingly neither Clarke nor Elliott appear (even though the former co-wrote the song), making this threeway effort by Hicks, Sylvester and Calvert something of a unique entry into the Hollies’ back catalogue. Some nice ideas, but the whole thing is simply too awkward to come off.

‘Please Sign Your Letters’ is even worse, a retro 1950s doo wop song that must have sounded hideously dated at the time (and further proof that Nash was right to leave the band). The slow oompah-oompah backing must be one of the most tedious the band ever made and the simplistic nature of the song (repeating a two-chord chorus every four lines or so) makes it extremely irritating to even the most hardened fan. What the band perhaps should have done is turn the fiery middle eight into the full song (‘Your letter said we’d met some time ago...’), where Clarke finally gets the chance to show off his power and control, yanking the song upstream against the current in a passionate rise upwards that’s then walloped on the head by a stunning swirl of a capella harmonies. Unfortunately that moment is all too brief and, far too soon, we’re back into the same steady plod of the opening section, together with an added Hicks guitar growl so deep it sounds like a frog. The lyrics in this song talk of ‘reading between the lines’ – ironically the one thing this song doesn’t have is the subtlety to help the listener hear it on more than one level. Not one of the band’s better ideas.

Across this album The Hollies are at their best when dealing with their own feelings and thoughts, rather than trying to invent empty songs. ‘My Life Is Over With You’ is one of their all-time best efforts, a passionate heartfelt song of goodbye written by Clarke that absolutely definitely is about the loss of Nash, even if Clarkey twists the metaphor to make it a departing lover. Clarke starts the song like a huffy teenager, telling us ‘You want to explain, that’s why you called – save your breath it doesn’t matter at all’. He then goes on to say that their friendship won;’ matter to him anymore because ‘I’ve found a new part to play in life, with different actors on my stage’. On paper this song sounds bitter and callous, but this recording is a fine example of how music can change our feelings about a song because this song’s achingly lovely melody is beautiful and makes it clear how deeply the narrator is hurting, how ever much he tries to deny it. ‘I don’t want to hear the things that you say, ‘cause my life is over with you’ runs the chorus – but it’s because the narrator’s heart is already breaking and he can’t take it, not because he won’t give his partner a chance. There’s even a final croaked ‘goodbye my love’ at the end of the song just to get the point across. The bad blood between the former childhood friends didn’t last that long, I’m pleased to say and the Hollies work with Nash again in the early 1980s, even if that partnership too ends in rather bitter circumstances. The last verse (‘Maybe we’ll meet some other time’) thus sounds like a bit of accurate soothsaying and opens the way to a conciliation that’s a brave olive branch to offer given the circumstances. If Nash wasn’t moved, or didn’t feel a little bit regretful over leaving his teenage band and childhood friend behind then he should have done – ‘My Life Is Over With You’ is The Hollies at their best and Clarke’s vocals have never been better. If you aren’t moved by this song then, my friend, you’ve been exterminated by a Dalek and ought to get to the doctor quick!

‘Please Let Me Please’ is the other side of the Hollies at their best; its nothing like as deep or as poignant as the last track but in its own way its every bit as successful despite being ‘empty’ pop music. The character Eloise crops up on many a Hollies song (‘Dear Eloise’ and lots of songs on ‘Russian Roulette’ come to mind), mainly because her name rhymes with ‘please’, and this urgent song about a narrator desperate to win over his sweetheart is based around a classy relentless guitar riff and some of the best production on the album (Hicks’ double-tracked guitars on the left and right channels, playing a few split seconds apart and drenched in echo, sound tremendously exciting). The whole song is gloriously exciting even though it chronicles only a minor lover’s tiff and for once on this album Johnny Scott’s orchestration is subtle and suitable. Clarke has great fun shifting his narrator slowly through the stages of denial too: the first verse shows hurt, the second confrontation, the third joy and the fourth anger. The title, of course, comes from The Beatles’ ‘Please Please Me’ via the song they nicked it from (Bing Crosby’s ‘Please’ – as in ‘Please lend an ear to my pleas’). Why this wasn’t released as a single I’ll never know.

Side two of the album starts off with ‘Do You Believe In Love?’ thus starting both side of the vinyl LP with songs that have ‘Believe’ in the title. This time the faith is not in religion but in love, but the Hollies themselves sound less than convinced either in the song or in ‘love’. A curious mix seems to bring a heavy fog around the band, with only Elliott’s unusually simplistic drumming cutting through. Not that you’re missing much in terms of lyrics as its another of the band’s less than inspired numbers, harking back to the 1950s in style and content. The song sounds almost accusatory in places (‘Do YOU believe in love?’), but for the most part is simply yet another song about how everyone in the world seems to be in love with somebody (hmm, The Hollies never have been round my way in Ormskirk then). There’s a slightly exciting section when Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks suddenly start gabbling really fast and spill out the words in double quick time, but to be honest even that isn’t as exciting as it should be because you can’t hear the words properly. Another sad waste of a song that’s little better than filler and another song Nash must have been pleased he didn’t have to do.

With ‘Soldier’s Dilemma’, however, things instantly improve, with The Hollies back to their daring best. Even CSN weren’t writing protest songs as blatant as this in 1969 (though 1970’s ‘Ohio’ single probably counts), with Clarke’s song about the Vietnam War wrapping up in slightly less than three minutes all hippie arguments about what a pointless, unwinnable war it was. Sung to a strict tempo march, this song pokes fun at military institutions with every line, with quick witted rhymes about the absurdity of going to war ‘fighting for peace’, how ‘the trouble we’re in I didn’t begin’ and how ‘it’s just a lie so why should I die?’ – brave lines for this early period of Nixon’s reign. The song even makes fun of military advertising campaigns, telling the army bosses they can ‘keep your kitchen suite’ they give to soldiers when they sign up (as its no substitute for taking life).Throughout some superb oompah-ing drums from Bobby Elliott make the whole thing sound like a joke, but things get sombre in the penultimate verse when ‘it seems I don’t have any choice’ and the reluctant soldier is carted off to war by soldiers who, themselves, have never seen battle. Throughout the Hollies three-part harmonies sound terrific, loud and proud and standing together in some form of solidarity that must have been a joy to sing. Another song Nash must have been sorry he missed out on, ‘Soldier’s Dilemma’ rivals even the band’s own later ‘Soldier’s Song’ as the best recording ever made about the stupidity of war, hilarious and serious all at the same time. If only The Hollies had been seen as ‘hip’ by more record-buyers back in 1969 this song would undoubtedly have become a standard, sung at all the anti-Vietnam rallies and Nixon bashing demonstrations . It’s not The Hollies’ fault that no one noticed how brave they were and its high time that this song got the respect it deserves. Easily one of the highlights of the album.
Another is ‘Marigold/Gloria Swansong’ which has claims to being my favourite ever Hollies track. Another song mainly written by Clarke it starts off as deliciously epic and halfway through twists and turns into an epic about fading fortunes and film star actresses, a sort of technicolour ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Clarke’s narrator, lost and alone, stumbles across a book with a message from a mysterious stranger and a single marigold ‘pressed between leaves’ and ‘just had to write to you because I felt the same’. Comparing the letter writer to the flower (‘the beauty was there to be found, but fading away’) the narrator finds himself wondering about her circumstances in the present day (‘Its been such a long long time since the flower was born’) before, surprisingly, deciding not to write to her after all as she must be long dead. Sung to a single acoustic guitar, Clarke’s slightly echo-drenched vocals are superb, soaring across his own lovely melody-line on a song that sounds like a standard. Interestingly the song uses the ‘write right away’ pun 17 years before Paul McCartney builds a whole song round it (a coincidence, or did the old Beatles-Hollies Northern rivalry still exist come the mid-80s?)

The sudden to orchestral pop in the second half is less successful (Johnnie Scott isn’t up to the band’s usual arranger Mike Vickers, of Manfredd Mann) but still compelling, as the mysterious ‘Marigold’ turns into silent movies actress Gloria Swanson, looking back on her past. There’s a pun about a ‘swan’ in there somewhere (‘Swansong’, get it?!), which shouldn’t work but does, but the take on the whole ‘fading glories’ theme is surprisingly upbeat (‘Winter did not mean despair’). Clarke’s vocal heard against just the orchestra is enticing (like the best parts of ‘Butterfly’ the orchestral part turns the song into something bigger and more sinister) and its rather a shame when the rest of the band kick in with a more traditional Hollies sound, but the rollercoaster of emotions is far from over and the last verse (‘Someday I know you’ll see something...’) is truly beautiful and uplifting. If ever there was a band that brought optimism to music it was The Hollies and rarely did they follow-through on their joy de vivre better than here. Moving from despair to joy in a little over five minutes this Marigold’ suite is simply staggering in its range and beauty, making the stories of ordinary people sound epic and huge. The Hollies were clearly struggling for direction in 1969 if this schizophrenic album is anything to go by; thanks to building on their older sound and making it bigger and more sophisticated without losing the joy and energy, this track is a clear pointer to the way forward and thankfully the band milk it (for another album at least) on the similar songs that make up ‘Confessions Of the Mind’. If Nash wasn’t jealous of the group he’d just left behind, he should have been.

We fall to earth with a bump, though, with ‘You Love ‘Cos You Like It’ more sign that inspiration is fading fast. There’s something rather charmless and false about this song, even though the band try hard with it. The chirpy flute parts are cheesy, Hick’s plucked guitar is irritatingly trite rather than cute, Calvert’s having a bad day on the bass again and even the Hollies harmonies sound contrived and out of sorts. Only Clarke’s lead vocal stamps authority on this Sylvester-Clarke song, with a stirring pair of middle eights that, though quite different, both do a good job at linking the rather similar plodding verses and choruses together. The first (‘When we first met some time ago...’) quickens the tempo and sounds to all intents and purposes as if the narrator is whispering confidentially to us about his hopes and fears and the second (‘It came so easily, now I don’t want to be free’) is pretty and extremely Beatlesy in the way Clarke holds the last note of ‘you-u-u-u-u-u’ (Mancunian they may have been, but there’s several hints at Merseybeat across the band’s first five or so albums; Elliott hitting a cowbell at the end of the track is another nod towards The Beatles). Alas these highlights of the song are only passing moments that interrupt the rather plodding basic song that isn’t really up to standard and appears to last one hell of a lot longer than its 2:53 running time.

‘Reflections Of A Long Time Past’ is a fascinating attempt at doing something different by bassist Bernie Calvert; it’s the only writing credit he ever got. A fully orchestral instrumental, centred around Bernie’s piano playing, you’d be hard pressed to tell it was The Hollies and the band might have been better off releasing it as a b-side or something. That said, with words this would be a lovely song and even without it there’s a pretty tune and a neat middle where the song appears to have ground to a halt, only for the orchestra to divide in half, some strings sounding ethereal and high-pitched, the rest sounding ominous and deep. It’s a clever trick (close to what Peter Knight does on the Moody Blues’ ‘Days Of Future Passed’ album), but whether that’s enough to sustain a precious 2:30 of a Hollies album is another matter. Incidentally Calvert had been trying to record the song for some time and there’s another earlier, rougher version of this song doing the rounds on Youtube (where its re-christened ‘Snow On The Heather Moor’) that’s even prettier. Clarkey, for one, seems to have loved the idea as there’s an orchestral ‘medley’ of all the songs on his fourth solo album ‘I’ve Got Time’ that’s not too dissimilar to the song we have here. If nothing else we should give full marks to Bernie for having a go and writing such a lovely title for the song – one that those of you who’ve read about my own compositions (see the ‘links’ page of our blogspot site or the ‘Alan’s songs’ page of our moonfruit site) will recognise.

At first ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’ sounds like a relief, returning to that classic Hollies pop-rock sound, but on closer inspection even this song sounds ‘wrong’. Another song by Clarke that’s almost definitely about the loss of Nash it’s as sad and melancholy as the band ever have been in their 50-odd years together and even a souped up production and fabulously noisy staccato drumming from Bobby Elliott can’t disguise it. In fact, if you read this song rather than hear it it’s basically a suicide note (‘Goodbye tomorrow, I’m leaving you today, don’t you be grieving because I’m leaving, it won’t matter to you anyway’). Clarke sounds on the verge of tears throughout too, and while less obviously heartfelt and subtle than his vocal on ‘My Life..’ it’s still moving, especially when drenched in Terry Sylvester’s superb harmonies. Clarke seems to be more depressed than ever over losing his childhood friend (‘Now it’s over what am I to do, will I find another you?’) and I would hazard a guess that this song dates from soon after Nash’s departure, perhaps around late 1968 when for all they knew The Hollies might have been over too. There’s a wonderful tune too, which spirals down in every verse only to plunge straight back again in another poppy chorus which, despite the sad words, sends us musically back on familiar ground and sounds much more upbeat than the rest of the words. Alas, though, this song isn’t quite as inspired as the similar ‘My Life...’ and rather gives up at the end, Clarke choosing to repeat the final verse another time rather than write a new one. It also makes for an uncomfortably downbeat end to the album – the only time this ever happens in the Hollies’ canon bar ‘Another Night’ and the cancer tragedy of ‘Lucy’ – in place of the long standing Hollies tradition of ending their LPs on a jolly or at least an energetic note.

Still, its nice to hear the band trying something new – and that really is the thing about ‘The Hollies Sing Hollies’; when the band try and reach out and try something different they generally succeed, yet when they try and go back to their old pop song formula the whole thing falls flat. There are a good four or five songs on this album that rank amongst the best things The Hollies ever did – and yet there are another four or so recordings that I would gladly never listen to again. This truly was a difficult time for the band and its easy to sympathise with this album’s faults given the circumstances; if the band hadn’t scored such big hits with their first post-Nash singles (the appalling ‘Sorry Suzanne’ and the majestic ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’) it might have been the end of their story. Instead newboy Terry Sylvester is the perfect replacement: he gives the band a new voice (literally and metaphorically), a new pair of ears to bounce ideas off and fresh enthusiasm for a world of endless tours and fame that the other four must have been growing slightly sick of. The absence of Nash also gives space to both Clarke and Hicks to come forward as songwriters in their own right after several team efforts with Nash down the years and occasional solo songs and, thanks to Terry’s blend, those songs sound barely different to the band’s old sound at all. It’s no wonder, with so many differences, that the band try out so many different avenues on this album; what’s surprising is the ones that work are the ones furthest away from the traditional Hollies sound whilst those that hark back to the glory days sound uninspired and tired. ‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ isn’t a classic then (it loses points for the shirts on the front cover alone) but if you’re a fan then there’s much to enjoy – and even if you’re a CSN fan checking out Nash’s old group there’s much in the CSN spirit to enjoy. The irony of it all is that never have The Hollies sounded less like the Hollies for a whole album – and yet that’s what they choose to call the album, right at the point when The Hollies meant many things to all men.


'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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