Monday, 9 September 2013
Dear all, yes you've read that title right - after a three year absence Max The Singing Dog and friends are back on your screens (well, on youtube anyway, you might be watching it on some sort of a screen mustn't you?!) How has Max coped with life since 2010? What will he make of X Factor, Gangnam style dancing and angry birds? Will he be lost forever in the Maxtrix?! Get watching now to find out!...
You can buy 'Reflections Of A Long Time Past - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Hollies' in e-book form by clicking here!
The Hollies “In The Hollies Style” (1964)
Nitty Gritty-Something’s Got A Hold On Me/Don’t You Know?/To You My Love/It’s In Her Kiss/Time For Love/What Kind Of Boy?//Too Much Monkey Business/I Thought Of You Last Night/Please Don’t Feel Too Bad/Come On Home/You’ll Be Mine/Set Me Free
What is ‘The Hollies Style’ exactly?! It’s a question asked again and again on this eclectic LP, which seems to define the Hollies sound more by their desire to use a bit of anything and everything. Thirteen reviews into Hollies history and I’m still not sure I know myself: a Mancunian variation on Merseybeat, The Hollies were around for considerably longer than most bands (Allan Clarke and Graham Nash were singing together as a duo back in the days when John Lennon hadn’t met Paul McCartney yet and the Beach Boys were only singing at family Christmas get-togethers) taking on rock, blues, folk, country, psychedelia, glam rock, punk rock, ballads, a strong hint of bossa nova (unique of all the rock acts of the 1960s) and everything else in between. With a pair of singers brought up on folky Everly Brothers harmonies, a bassist and guitarist who came from two of Manchester’s premier rock bands and a drummer steeped in jazz, the Hollies whole is fascinatingly different from every other sounds around at the time. The public never really ‘got’ the Hollies style either: is it their early R and B covers? Their novelty pop singles? Their deeper, mature albums? Or their increasingly sophisticated B-sides, which show even more of an arc of triumph than the A-sides? Forever placed in the public’s mind between a rock and a hard place (or the Stones and the Beatles to be precise), this album tries so hard to answer that question. Even the sleeve-notes for this album (written by producer Ron Richards as a ‘puff’ piece to go alongside George Martin’s ones on the early Beatles LPs) are adamant about the answer, claiming that the originals are ‘tailor made’ for the group (twice, in fact), but never in fact gives us an answer anywhere (it’s odd, too, that the sleevenotes should make out what a ‘developed’ and together group they are – and then praise the band one by one for their individual achievements). No, what with the odd front cover and all (see below), nobody in ‘charge’ has a clue what the ‘Hollies style’ is all about and the range on this second album suggests the band don’t know the answer yet either (although they have a lot of fun trying to work it out).
In the year of this very album (1964 alone) the Hollies will bounce from one extreme to another, following one of their most commercial, breeziest pop singles (‘Here I Go Again’) with the single heaviest song released in 1964 (the killer kiss-off song ‘We’re Through’). ‘In The Hollies Style’ reflects that, veering from wild, raw, exciting, gutsy rock and roll that out bops anything The Beatles or Stones record in 1964 to stately, clean covers of ballads on which even the band suddenly go all proper and start singing in received pronunciation. That’s both a strength and a weakness in this record; the Hollies prove once and for all that they are a real ‘band’ who pride themselves on being able to tackle anything and that fans will never guess where they might be going next when they hear a new album for the first time. Unfortunately, not being able to pigeon-hole the band starts hurting them deeply from this point on because every time the press has them sussed they turn around and do something else. The record buying public never quite knew what to make of The Hollies either: one minute they’re out-rocking the Stones (‘Stay’, the single noisiest single of the 1960s before Keith Moon ends up on record), the next they’re making Herman’s Hermits style novelty singles like ‘Jennifer Eccles’ and as far as I’m concerned it’s this uncertainty that always prevented the Hollies from making the premier league of bands alongside the Beatles and Stones, not any musical or songwriting inadequacy. Perhaps afraid of what they might get after shelling out for a full album (a lot of money for most teenagers and 20 something in the mid 60s, much more so than now) The Hollies got left in the public’s mind as a ‘singles’ band and only the committed few ever bothered to buy their albums (despite the fact that most of the band’s best and certainly their most adventurous work were on long-players, not 45s). Fans, though, have always recognised that one of the Hollies’ greatest strengths is their ability to go in any direction at once and never had the possible directions been as ‘open’ as they sound on this record.
A sign of how confused the Hollies’ marketing campaign was can be seen in the cover. Five be-suited gentleman gaze smilingly at the camera, looking to all intents and purposes like a quintet of lords of the manor having been dropped off back home after some grouse shooting. Behind them is a traditional antique fireplace, above that sits a venerable painting of fruit (possibly by 19th century Holland artist Rebecca Ruysch, although none of my appeals for information on the internet have come to anything concrete as yet) and – off to either side – a pair of traditional-and-boring vases sit unadorned, the second of them comically coming out of drummer Bobby Elliott’s head. It’s not very rock and roll is it? In 1964 image is everything (much more than it is now even with Lady Gaga in the news every five minutes) and – like The Searchers – this musical triumph of an album is also the point at which The Hollies are forever branded ‘uncool’. If EMI had spent as much time trying to please teenagers as mums and dads, well, the sky would have been the limit. I mean, just compare this cover to, say, ‘The Who Sing My Generation’ from the following year, all teenage sneers and casual clobber; by contrast The Hollies look middle-aged before their time, pop’s ultimate no-no in any era. That’s a pity because the music on this album is raw and wild, even by Hollies standards, featuring the band at their most untamed and ‘live’ and a lifetime away from those restraining suits. Allan Clarke barks with the confidence of a soul singer twice his age, Graham Nash strains his pristine harmonies to their maximum, Tony Hicks is a fireball of guitar distortion and grit, Eric Haydock swings with a relentless sway of staccato that keeps every song moving and Bobby Elliott hurls himself round the drumkit, like a drunken octopus having a party. Compared to the first album The Hollies have really come alive as a band and have such gusto and confidence in everything they play that this second album sounds way more polished than anything The Stones or The Kinks will do till 1966 (even the fab four never quite manage to do an album this relentlessly energetic-but-not-sloppy-no-siree from beginning to end until ‘Rubber Soul’).
It’s always hard to judge one Hollies record against another one – the musical world was moving so fast throughout the 1960s that they sound little like each other, after all – but ‘In The Hollies Style’ is one of their very best ‘early’ albums. The drums are centre-stage (though not in a bad, artificial way like some 1980s recordings), Eric Haydock’s bass is loud and proud (not ducked the way it is on some later recordings when the band have a bit of a falling out with him circa 1966) and on top of it all sits one of the greatest three-part harmonies of all time. Throughout the album are whoops and cheers from Clarke and Nash and even on the sadder songs there’s a real drive and vavavoom about the whole thing. In short, The Hollies’ dreams have been realised and they’re cherishing every minute.
If the 1960s were a football league then this album would have seen The Hollies promoted a division, (all too) briefly sharing the spotlight with The Beatles. Their debut album, given the deeply un-hip name of ‘Stay With The Hollies’ in deference to their third single, was a slightly awkward patchwork of black American rock and twee white American ballads from a band in transition (Tony Hicks had only been in the band a matter of months – drummer Bobby Elliott a matter of weeks). There are many highlights on it (a sparky ‘Talkin’ Bout You’ that makes the Beatles’ BBC version sound like Freddie and the Dreamers and the gorgeous Conway Twitty song ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ among them), but the overall sense is of a band who are being rushed into things when – after years of waiting with nothing happening – the band get a manager, a record contract, a new guitarist and a new drummer in the space of 12 months. ‘Hollies Style’ isn’t the sound of a band still learning, it’s of a band that know each other inside out and can turn out recordings fast (the band making the whole of this album, along with the A and B side of both ‘Here I Go Again’ and ‘We’re Through’, in just four separate dates fitted in at Abbey Road between gigs in April 1964). Most Hollies albums are fairly energetic (right up until the early 70s when ‘Distant Light’ sends them down a whole new road as pioneers of laid back slow-burning grooves), but this one is probably the Hollies album Tigger would enjoy the most: high octane spurts of adrenalin played at a tremendous speed (just check out Tony Hicks’ finger-burning guitar solo on ‘Too Much Monkey Business’) with only one really slow song (‘I Thought Of You Last Night’).
You cannot fault the performances of this record, which are among the Hollies’ best and 1964 is arguably their peak as an instinctive, no-frills band – it’s the material that sometimes leaves a little to be desired. Like many a Merseybeat/Mancunian second album, The Hollies used almost all of their popular stage act on their first album and in casting around for some other ideas they’ve gone for some inspired, obscure choices (‘Nitty Gritty’, one of the best pre-Beatles rockers, transformed into an inspired medley of four minutes, an epic by 19864 standards!) and some really obvious selections that everyone was doing in their act (‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and ‘It’s In Her Kiss’) and a cover of ‘I Thought Of You Last Night’ that’s so positively slow and gormless it would make George Bush sound intelligent.
As for their own material, hats off to The Hollies for managing a whole seven of their own songs back in the days when everyone but the Beatles was still primarily recording cover material (The Hollies had got just one song, the slight ‘Little Lover’, onto their debut), but it has to be said that due to the triumphs to come ‘Style’ is a transitional songwriting album too. Come the next record (‘The Hollies’ in 1965)the band will be turning out songs like the gorgeous ‘So Lonely’ and forward-thinking ‘Too Many People’, a pair of aces that aren’t just the equal of the American ‘cover’ songs but arguably the superior to any cover they recorded, but there’s nothing even close to that leap forward here just yet. On the plus side, ‘To You My Love’ is forgotten gem that’s already showing the path ahead to the folk-rock to come and ‘Set Me Free’ is as glorious a kiss-off r and b style song as you’ll ever hope to find, all twirling mouthorgans and bone-rattling drums. Alas the other songs here aren’t quite there yet – The Hollies’ songwriting team of Clarke-Hick-Nash still too audibly in awe of their musical heroes to have a full crack at trying to match them. That said, they’re arguably as good as anything The Searchers are making in 1964 and easily beat Jagger-Richards (who are so early in their career they’ve only had one song released – a slow breathy ballad recorded by Marianne Faithful!) and only really pale badly compared to The Beatles or The Beach Boys. What’s sad is that so few people around in the 60s ever knew that The Hollies were writing their own stuff. You see, it’s on this second record that the band start using their pseudonym ‘L Ransford’ for the first time: the band were allegedly told that ‘Clarke-Hicks-Nash’ was too long to fit on an album cover so elected to use Graham’s grandfather’s name, one that always tickled him for its quirkiness (personally I think they should have stuck with their first attempt ‘Chester Mann’ in honour of their home city, which C-H-N used on ‘Baby That’s All’, the b-side of ‘Here I Go Again’).
What’s interesting is that although ‘Hollies Style’ is about the most upbeat album the band ever do, the band’s songwriting team are already pioneering the sadness and occasional grumpiness that’s at the core of much of their album work to come (on such as ‘The Hollies’ ‘Would You Believe?’ and especially ‘For Certain Because’). Of the seven songs The Hollies write for this album five of them are ‘goodbye’ songs about the end of relationships or at least cracks showing. Interestingly the only points on this album where The Hollies use a minor chord for any length of time (a future Hollies trademark when they start playing down the rock and turning up the folk from 1965 onwards) are on the two original ‘happy’ songs, two unexpected middle eights giving both ‘To You My Love’ and ‘Time For Love’ a comparatively darker, more sinister edge than most rock and roll acts around in 1964. Even ‘What Kind Of Boy?’ - the one cover song on this album we haven’t mentioned yet - shows how The Hollies were already getting a reputation for glumness. The story goes that Big Dee Irwin, a fairly obscure singer-songwriter from the 1950s, realised how much money his contemporaries were making from royalties on Beatles records and tried to interest the fab four in recording one of his ‘oldies’. Not quite sure who he was (and if passionate record collectors Lennon and McCartney don’t know you you know you’re in trouble), the Beatles passed; like The Everly Brothers in 1966 Irwin decided to go with the next likely option and sought out producer Ron Richards, offering to write a new song ‘especially’ as a sweetener. The story got a lot of press at the time (probably the reason Richards agreed to recording it), despite the fact that not many music papers actually knew who Irwin was (he’s best remembered today for his brief spell partnering ‘The Locomotion’s Little Eva). Incidentally, the fact that ‘Big Dee’ offered to ‘write especially for them’ brings up once again the question of what exactly is ‘The Hollies Style’?! ‘What Kind Of Boy’ sounds quite unlike anything The Hollies will ever record again and sounds more like a relic from the 1950s than the actual 1950s songs the band cover; that said he’s already caught their slightly downcast mood quite well. The difference compared to, say, The Beach Boys who were well known for doing slow, sad songs is that The Hollies hardly ever recorded a slow song (during Nash’s time in the band anyway); instead everything is tackled with fire and energy and sometimes a little raw anger (‘I Thought Of You Last Night’ being a rare exception – which is probably why it sticks out like a sore thumb so badly on this LP). The Hollies don’t get sad and reflective – they get sad and try to find a positive spin on things, turning break-up song ‘Please Don’t Feel Too Bad’ into a kind of indirect love song or they pour their sadness into bile, as on ‘Set Me Free’. If the 1960s music scene was a Masterchef final, the Hollies would win on points by virtue of filling everything with that now clichéd word ‘passion’.
Overall, then, ‘In The Hollies Style’ is something of a mixed bag. The band never sounded better or tighter, turning in riveting performances of both their own songs and cover choices that are never less than ear-catching and always played with passion and care. The songs vary considerably, though, alternating between such peaks as ‘Nitty Gritty’ (a riveting r and b ,medley), ‘To You, My Love’ (a cute pop-ballad ahead of its time by a good six months) and ‘Set Me Free’, a soulful blues howler that sounds so genuine to the bluesy 40s and 50s that it’s rather a shock to find it’s a Hollies original from 1964....and some real troughs (‘I Thought Of You Last Night’, which in 1964 terms are about as square as The Beach Boys’ shirts...or in 21st century terms are about as revolutionary and relevant as ‘The Spice Girls’ Greatest Hits’). Come to these albums backwards and the gulf between the depth of what’s on offer here and what’s to come is colossal; not a ‘fault’ of this album, because back in 1964 music didn’t go any deeper, but a difficulty enough for modern ears to stop this album being perceived as one of The Hollies’ best. After all, The Hollies go on to write and perform some of the greatest songs of all time (says me, anyway), so five iffy originals, four iffy covers and only three gems aren’t really going to cut it. That’s not really the problem of the record though but a problem with records from 1964 in general. The real trouble is that this is a dying gasp from an already decaying world, the Beatles moving on to the country-rock depressing world view of ‘Beatles For Sale’ just two weeks later making this whole album null and void in a stroke. To be honest, a part of me mourns this lost world when music was largely innocent and fun and The Hollies were as good as anybody at injecting a bit of depth into the music being made at that time, though still safely within respected limits.
In that magical year of 1964, when the Beatles swept the whole of the old world aside in the space of three albums and half a dozen singles, it’s the Hollies (along with The Searchers) who are there as the band’s rear gunners, future world beaters like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who not quite up to their speed or eclecticism just yet. Everything here is breezily confident, like ‘With The Beatles’ without the occasional downbeat Motown covers, the band going for some slightly more out-of-the-ordinary cover choices (like The Beatles, The Hollies specialised in covering obscure B-sides of better known A-sides) and an impressive seven original songs (this back in the day when the only song Jagger and Richards have had released is a breathy ballad for Marianne Faithful!) Had they been marketed right, The Hollies could have been the next big thing, instead of having a career of being bridesmaids to the next-big-thing but as it happened they fell between two stools: their image tweer than The Beatles’ and their music rawer than The Stones’. The year 1964 always gets overlooked in musical history, sandwiched between the ‘breakthrough’ year of 1963 and the year when everything changes in 1965, with folk-rock the stepping sound between Merseybeat and psychedelia. In many ways, though, it’s the purest year: bands who had been playing clubs and pubs for a handful of committed fans have realised their dream to communicate to the outside world and are still giving it everything they’ve got, before the jadedness of the album-single-tour treadmill and the relentless of the competition takes all the fun out of their work. Almost every album from 1964 has the same joie de vivre and a sense that music and by association the teenagers who buy it can go anywhere after this (up until ‘Beatles For Sale’, released for Christmas that year, anyway), a whole world opening up from a door made from 12” of vinyl. ‘In The Hollies Style’ is the best album from that year from my point of view – alongside it’s close cousin ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – the two albums perfectly encapsulating all the joy, energy, spirit and hope of a whole generation coming together at once and finding they are not alone. What a shame, then, that just the month after this album’s release a sea change will and gradually see the Merseybeat groups dead and buried. The Hollies will survive, but a change is gonna come (mainly courtesy of Nash’s future partner David Crosby and the other Byrds) and this album’s thrilling cornucopia of pop, rock, soul and bossa nova will turn out to be simply another one of The Hollies’ many styles after all.
The medley of ‘Nitty Gritty’ and ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’ is an inspired choice, neatly showing off the Hollies’ full range of authentic r and b style sounds. Chances are few of the band’s English fans would have known either song (the first was a comparatively recent American hit, first released by Shirley Ellis – the second an early 1950s song performed and co-written by Etta James) and whoever came up with the pairing (some sources say it was Nash) deserves a medal. ‘Nitty Gritty’ is a real stomper swaggerer of a record, not as the raw as the title makes it sound but a slow-burner, building up steam with every staccato chug of Hicks’ guitar. Clarkey sounds especially at home hollering in a call-and-answer form with Hicks and Nash, revelling in the song’s prettiness and grittiness. The trouble with ‘Nitty Gritty’ as a song is that it doesn’t go anywhere – it’s one of those ‘tension building exercises’ that never quite finds a release to let off all that steam. Full credit to The Hollies then for finding one, Elliott suddenly placing his foot on the acceleration pedal and steaming ahead into ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’. All adrenalin rush and head-over-heels enthusiasm, this song is the polar opposite, the band seemingly competing over who can play the fastest. Eric Haydock absolutely shines on this record, this four-in-the-bar stomping song much more in line with what the Hollies played when they were ‘his’ band (back in the days before the others joined), taking flight on a groovy bass-run section in the middle and holding the band together like never before on the verses. One other point to raise is how well Clarke has taken to double-tracking (as far as I can tell, the Hollies had never used it up to this point). A hard trick to master, The Beatles only manage to cope this well on slow songs (bands like The Kinks never really master it at all – just play the contemporary ‘Kinda Kinks’ alongside this album!) but Clarkey is thriving whilst singing at full throttle, the two voices perfectly in synch but not taking the easy path of simply ‘doubling’ but throwing in the occasional note higher or lower. Musically and lyrically these songs are quite different too: ‘Nitty Gritty’ is clearly about sex (it’s a tad risqué for 1964 actually, asking for a lover to forgo all that romantic nonsense and ‘get right down to the real nitty gritty’) and the second a simple ebullient puppy of a song about head over heels in love. The two combined sound like The Hollies showing that love and lust need to go together (or something like that – maybe they just liked both songs!) Add in the fact that The Hollies broke the four-minute time barrier on a rock and roll album for the first time (a fact made easier by The Animals hitting #1 with the 4:29 ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ single in May) and you have something of a triumph. A regular choice of ‘opener’ on Hollies compilations to this day, the ‘Nitty Gritty’ medley represents the pinnacle of The Hollies’ achievements as an r and b covers band, being both very clever and thought out and excitingly raw and breathtakingly exhilarating.
‘Don’t You Know?’ starts with an absolute barrage of drums from Bobby Elliott. Maybe Clarke-Hicks-Nash gave him such a memorable intro to make up for the rather chaotic and tricky stop-start sequence that underpins the song. The first original song on the album, ‘Don’t You Know?’ is a bit of an experiment, only a smidgeon away from The Beatles’ equally experimental (and difficult to play – the Beatles recorded some 20 takes across two different album sessions) ‘Hold Me Tight’. The verse is annoyingly empty, drawing attention to itself with the stop-start rhythm section and the band’s slightly off-putting attempt at American accents. The chorus is much better though (starting ‘That your love me has got to be real...’), the song finally soaring into full flight in a scrumptious cascade of delightful harmonies. It could be that the band are being too clever by half here: the song is, after all, about a relationship that’s hit something of a roadblock and the narrator is waiting for his loved one to love him as much as he loves her (hence all that stopping and starting, the musical equivalent of a tug-of-war). It’s just a shame that the end result is a bit off-putting, the song too obviously made in two sections and stapled together with a guitar-and-drum solo. In fact, Bobby’s easily the best thing about this recording though, hiding the quite complex and off-putting chord sequence back from the chorus back to the verse with a mesmerising drum-break. What’s happened to the harmonies though? The Hollies really don’t sound like themselves on this song (indeed, they sound more like The Animals or the early Stones). Like many a song on ‘Hollies Style’, this is a so-so composition with some good ideas rescued by a thrilling band performance.
‘To You My Love’ doesn’t sound much like The Hollies either, the band going more or less ‘unplugged’ here and featuring Graham Nash’s first lead vocal (and he’s uncharacteristically nervous, the double-tracking failing to hide the cracks in his voice). The song’s a good one though, with a classic circling guitar motif from Tony Hicks that’s deeply memorable and adds just about enough fire to accompany what are unusually straightforward and love-lorn lyrics from Nash. Fans who know the ins and outs of the band well will know what a stormy relationship Nash had with first wife Rose Eccles though (yes, one half of the inspiration behind ‘Jennifer Eccles’ and almost certainly the inspiration for this song too), Nash leaving her for good when he leaves The Hollies and England behind for CSN in 1969 – and musically this is far from being as straight-forward as the lyrics. A sudden lurch into the minor key in the middle eight (on the line ‘Long to be near you and hold you and kiss you, my sweet’) adds a bit of drama into proceedings and throughout Nash seems to be going out of his way to hit as many ‘unresolved’ (ie not part of the song’s dominant primary three notes, dictated by the key at the start) as possible: just check out the uncomfortable held note on ‘sweet’ or the very end of the song, where Nash ends up growling ‘to yo-o-o-o-o-u my love’, which sounds more like a chord progression that would take place in a Hammer Horror film than a love song. Some fans find these touches off-putting, but I think these little ideas give the song real depth: ‘To You My Love’ could easily have become twee and fluffy, but the listener instinctively knows something is wrong, even if they’re not quite sure why that is. A very under-rated song again played with this album’s customary ‘band’ panache, though with Tony Hicks’ juddery guitar-work the true stand out. Interestingly Allan Clarke doesn’t seem to appear on this song at all – the only time this happens on a Hollies track right up until ‘Butterfly’ in 1967!
‘It’s In Her Kiss’ is another case of great performance, rotten song. First recorded by Betty Everett and best known for being covered by Cher and re-titled by her to ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’, it’s a typical middle-aged man’s idea of what sounds like a fun teenage pop song in the early 60s (writer Rudy Clark being The Hollies’ equivalent of The Searchers’ Mitch Murray). The song was in fact rejected by The Shirelles – and given what dross they recorded it shows how low the song was thought of on first release. That said, the Hollies’ speedy cover version (the song had barely been out months by the time it ended up on the ‘Hollies Style’ record) puts right a lot of things wrong with the original. Clarkey sings the lead vocal with such soul it’s easier to overlook the crummyness of some of the lyrics (‘Is it in her charms? Or her warm embrace? No, that’s just her arms!’), the Nash and Hicks backing of ‘that’s where it is!’ is much grittier and memorable and the band take the brave but clever decision to change the middle eight to a minor key, adding a touch of tension to proceedings. Hicks also turns in another memorable guitar solo, seemingly turning the echo up high and double-tracking it for a twangy rumble that’s at least two years ahead of its time – great as it is, it doesn’t fit the song, though. The mono mix of this song even has a brief rocking ending, the band going double-time to finish the song which is really effective (you just wish they’d done it a bit sooner!) You still feel, though, that any other 60s band (except, perhaps, The Searchers, who enjoyed this sort of thing) would have either made the thing tongue-in-cheek or most likely left the song on the cutting room floor. The Hollies sound deeply earnest here, which is usually one of their biggest strengths; sadly on material like this their earnestness is a fault.
‘Time For Love’ is much better, the quiet album highlight in fact, featuring what the Hollies do best on one of their prettiest early original songs. Finally we get to hear the full Hollies harmony sound more or less untouched and the sound is magnificent, like what The Everly Brothers should have been doing in the 1960s when they were busy playing with country music. Only The Beach Boys had come close to perfecting a sound like this on record by late 1964 – and I’d probably still take The Hollies’ sound over anything they do until ‘Smile’. The song itself is simple and straightforward but effective, a McCartneyesque melody that may well have been inspired by The Kinks’ contemporary ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ (the songs share a theme of having to wait for a loved one to agree to something, possibly marriage or maybe even sex, and the same hazy, lethargic quality). The verses are upbeat and reflective, the narrator still trying to urge his girlfriend to announce their love to the world but the middle eight is especially poignant, the harmonies disappearing to leave Clarkey solo, possibly reflecting alone on how the relationship is never going to happen, which puts a whole twist on the verse when we return to it (‘What can I do? What can I say? We both know we love each other!’) A classy if brief harmonica solo from Allan is also a neat touch, taking this more folky-style Hollies sound right back to the blues and as regular readers of these Hollies reviews will know, I’m a sucker for mouthorgans (especially when a player of Clarke’s calibre is playing). Perhaps this is the ‘Hollies Style’ then – sophisticated harmony-drenched pop that producer Ron Richards claims is ‘unmistakable’ on his sleeve-notes; but if that’s true why does this beautiful song sound so out of place on an album largely full of r and b and pop? A much under-rated song and arguably the Hollies’ best record up until that time, eclipsing even their best-selling singles in this era.
The first side of the record ends with ‘What Kind Of Boy’, Big Dee Irwin’s last-gasp attempt to jump on the Merseybeat bandwagon. To be fair to him, it’s easily the best non-Hollies song on the record after the well-worn ‘Monkey Business’ and the Hollies-arranged ‘Nitty Gritty’, with a proper hook and a memorable melody – it just doesn’t sound much like The Hollies. It’s clear too that this song belongs in the 1950s, even if it was written for The Hollies in 1964. For a start, calling yourself a ‘boy’ in the mid-60s when everyone clamoured to be either an ‘adult’ or a ‘teenager’ gives away that this song is written by someone ‘older’ (only Brian Epstein got away with calling The Beatles his ‘boys’ and even then there were looks). The theme is also very 1950s: the narrator’s mistakenly been caught kissing another girl and tries to pacify his loved one with claims that she ought to know he’d faithful by now; the summer of ‘free’ love is only two-and-a-half year away remember! Listen out for the Buddy Holly-ish ‘well, you know, well you know’ repeat too, which is so 1950s it should come with a teddy boy quiff. The Hollies do well to ‘re-arrange the song, Hicks turning in a strong guitar opening and a solo that manages to skirt Chuck Berry and The Kinks and the band adding a middle eight with ghostly step-by-step harmonies that’s really effective (‘Here in your arms I want to be, little girl...’). As ever with this album, The Hollies clearly relish playing together, even on comparatively ‘soppy’ songs like this and theirs is a killer performance, Clarke especially nailing the vocal and making the song sound an awful lot better than it actually is. Still, you have to ask yourself just how closely Dee Irwin had listened to the Hollies’ past records if he thought this song was ‘tailor-made’ for them; it’s actually much more like a Searchers record and would have fitted onto their middle album (‘It’s The Searchers’) from this same period well.
Side two begins with a Hollies live favourite, a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’. A much covered classic, The Hollies win by a nose from the likes of The Kinks and The Beatles (sadly only on BBC radio broadcasts and not on record). Certainly they come the closest to the style and wit of Berry’s cheeky lyrics, with audible grins as they gabble the words (taking verses in the order Clarke, Hicks and Nash before the solo and then Hicks, Nash and Clarke after) and even manage a cheeky homage to Berry’s duck-walking guitar in a great Tony Hicks solo that speeds up typical Berry chords to about triple the speed! Like many a song from the 1950s, the song is about the curse of the teenager in middle America, forced home early by curfews and poverty when there’s simply so much fun out there to be had (compare with Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Young Man Blues’ plus the Everly Brothers’ ‘Man With Money’, all three covered by The Who; In slightly more upbeat form this is also the spirit that runs through so many early Beach Boys songs, which is why we occasionally call them the ‘missing link’ between 1950-s rock and mid 60s Merseybeat on this site). The Hollies clearly relish their chance to tap into one of the ‘key’ songs from their ‘childhood’ and the innocent naughtiness in the lyrics. Paul McCartney has started calling Chuck a ‘poet’ in recent interviews; while perhaps a little overstated ‘Money Business’ is one of his greatest, simplest, most compact of lyrics and in this song especially the clear pre-cursor of rap, with snappy words about disillusionment caught partway between tragedy and comedy (‘Telephone, something wrong, dial gone, wheel mail, always to the operator telling me a tale’). Listen out too for the full burst of Hollies harmonies that finally kicks in, belatedly, on the last chorus before the song slows down into a typically mid-60s choral fest (‘Too much monkey business for me to be invi-i-i-i-i-ted’), as if the band are providing a mini-musical history lesson about how music has been changed and adopted since 1956 (when this song first came out). Incidentally, what are those lyrics in the chorus? I’ve always assumed them to be ‘too much monkey business for me to be invited again’; however the lyric site I’ve been reading has them as ‘...for me to be in by 10’ and The Kinks, bless them, clearly can’t make them out at all on their version (on first album ‘The Kinks’) and turn them into the strangely English ‘...for me to be bothered by you’. Answers on a postcard (if you aren’t up to too much monkey business to send one...) Still by any lyric this is a great song and a clever cover – perhaps the best of the cover songs on this record - the Hollies adding variety from the different voices (it’s nice to hear Tony sing lead for the first time on record) and keeping up both the frenetic pace and the put-upon comedy of the original. Incidentally, if you get the chance, have a look for the Hollies performing this song live (sadly only on youtube at the time of writing) or the audio on the ‘live’ disc of the Hollies ‘Long Road Home’ set: every time the band did this live they used to wander off into contemporary songs before hitting back into the chorus (playing ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ ‘I Feel Fine’ and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Daydream’ among others), a trick that’s really effective, but probably wouldn’t have been allowed on LP for copyright reasons.
Alas ‘I Thought Of You Last Night’ is everything wrong with The Hollies in late 1964 and symbolic of why they never quite made the premier league of bands, despite possessing the talent. Imagine you’re a teenager in 1964. ‘Rock’ is still a dirty word, parents and teachers are scornful and sceptical – the way they are now about anything urban or with swear-words in them but even worse and it’s taken weeks of saving up your pocket money to save up for an album you know you won’t get much of a chance to play because your mum and dad and elder brothers and sisters are hogging the set. Time is precious, music has to effectively be immediate and every song you hear counts. After buying this record you go straight to side two because you vaguely remember hearing that Chuck Berry song (before someone probably banned it) – and then you hit against this treacly track, which so reeks of ‘mainstream’ you begin to wonder if the rocking out you’ve just heard was only in your head. The Hollies clearly chose this Ralph Freed song (or perhaps had it chosen for them by producer Ron Richards) because of the close harmony parts, which like many other early Hollies covers are very Everly Brothers-ish (without a third part for poor Tony Hicks). But they’re clearly not having much fun – the turgid tempo really sinks the song, Clarke and Nash have never sounded more insincere (or grateful to get to the end, if Nash’s sailing falsetto release at the end is anything to go by) and for the only time on the album Bobby Elliott is so muted he barely plays. Worse, Tony Hicks appears to hit a wrong guitar chord at the end and nobody cares enough to correct it (even by 1964 bands could ‘drop in’ and correct small mistakes), a very unusual mistake for The Hollies which suggests the song was rattled off hastily under protest – not that Hicks’ perfunctory solo in the middle is a lot better. While not every rock and roll track has to be uptempo and on the quiet I’m a sucker for a good ballad, especially one done by the Hollies, this song doesn’t simply change the pace of the record, it kills it stone dead. The song is also appallingly repetitive, the narrator all too clearly demonstrating his frustration at having to wait a whole night before he sees his beloved again – sadly for us, we have to endure that interminable sounding night too. Easily the worst Hollies song up until this point (and to not beaten until the equally unlikeable ‘Stewaball’ two albums later), emphasising all the ‘squareness’ of the Hollies sound and none of its pizzazz, warmth, sparkle and energy.
‘Please Don’t Feel Too Bad’, though, because ‘Please Don’t Feel Too Bad’ is up next. A stomping Clarke-Hicks-Nash original with a driving rocking tempo, this song is everything that’s right about the Hollies: a gritty Clarke vocal, stunning harmonies, an authentic sounding r and b rhythm section and an unusual, stabbing guitar riff that sounds unlike anything else around in 1964. In fact, stuff the other sounds on this album, this should have been ‘The Hollies Style’; a kind of brighter, snappier ‘Animals’ or Stones’ with the shining glossy harmonies of the Beatles. As a song, well, it’s not all that great – there are two verses here, repeatedly incessantly, and a rather curious middle eight that’s basically the same as the verses, just in a new key (which is a shame, usually the Hollies are among the most imaginative of AAA bands and the problem is holding their imagination back!) It’s tempting to see the few lyrics there are in this song as autobiography though: the narrator, torn away from his new wife by pressing work matters, promising to be home again soon (it’s a common Hollies theme of the 1970s, with the 1973 album ‘Out On The Road’ virtually a concept album of living life in hotel rooms). Instead of thinking about the distance, though, the narrator simply imagines himself back home ‘in your arms’, the song transporting from a stoic but despondent minor key into a happy, bouncy major one that’s quite effective. Still, though, this song needs a little something more to keep it going and yet again on this album its the stunning near-telepathic group performance that makes this song sound as good as it does, not the composition itself.
‘Come On Home’ is kind of the last song in reverse, a heartbroken narrator sat at home wondering why his girl is never at home (or is this is the wife/girlfriend/groupie of the last song wondering when her rockstar husband is ever coming home?) Less intense than the last song, with a more traditional 1960s rather than 1950s sound, this is another powerful track with perhaps the opposite problem: too much variety! Opening with a single line from the ‘shouty’ chorus, the song gets mildly sinister and reflective on the first verse (with shades of the darker ‘We’re Through’, a song that wasn’t recorded until four months later), before rising to a sunnier middle eight and back to that chorus again, then there’s a typically energetic solo (with Clarkey back on the mouthorgan, yey!) and a laidback second middle eight (‘In future darling be true...’). Phew – that’s enough for some prog rock album-long concept records, but the Hollies rattle all this off in just 1:49, which must be some sort of a record. Still, I’d rather a song have more going on in it than too little and at least it’s fitting to the theme of the song, the narrator desperately imploring his loved one to get home right now, his anger and frustration rattling through the framework of the song. I do in fact have a soft spot for this song, another of the album highlights, even if it rattles along at a rather breathless, frantic pace and in all its pretty daring for 1964, if not quite as sophisticated as other Hollies originals to come. If you happen to be lucky enough to own a copy of the album in both ‘mono’ and ‘stereo’ mixes, have a listen for Tony’s ‘heyyyyy’ whoop of joy at around 1:30 into the stereo mix (and heard a bit quieter on the mono) as he successfully navigates what by 1964 was quite a tricky chord progression.
‘You’ll Be Mine’ is a bit of a curio: another sad, bordering on angry lyric set against more of a rhythm than a melody and no real Hollies harmonies (although Clarke sings triple-tracked here, from what I can tell, again demonstrating that he’s head and shoulders above everyone else trying to double their vocals in this period). What’s even more curious is that the song is largely built on dissonant, clumsy notes that find Clarke fighting the ‘natural’ pitch of the backing rather than the Hollies being in unison as they are on 99% of their other songs (especially on the word ‘night’ in the first verse and ‘day’ in the second, that makes Clarke sound like a creepy serial killer at times). As a result, this song sounds oddly detached and lifeless, despite featuring another great band performance (and possibly a rare Nash acoustic guitar solo, or at least that sounds more like his playing at the end to my ears than Hicks, who sounds like he’s playing his usual electric strumming) – and clearly not in ‘The Hollies Style’. Lyrically, this is an early performance by The Hollies’ occasional, aggressive, predatory narrators (see ‘What’s Wrong With The Way I Live?’ and ‘I Take What I Want’) refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer despite the fact that his girl has clearly left him and isn’t coming back (‘I’ve made up my mind not to be left on the shelf...’). Along with the backing, this makes for a quite unlikeable song but also quite an impressive one which must have taken a lot of work and planning to come out sounding so differently to anything else around at the time (the one song it does have a ‘feel’ in common with is Beatles B-side ‘I’ll Get You’, with its taunting ‘oh-yeah’s). I’m reluctant to recommend it as one of the highlights of the LP, but ‘You’ll Be Mine’ is at least proof that the Hollies were thinking outside the box – and as a song the eerie stalker couldn’t be more different to the goofy charm of the one on the band’s contemporary single ‘Here I Go Again’.
The album ends in fine style with ‘Set Me Free’. Very similar in style and feel to ‘Candyman’, the closing track from ‘Stay With The Hollies’, the Hollies are clearly aiming for a similar end to their early albums as The Beatles had with ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Money’. The band are on top form, especially Clarke (who not only double tracks his superb gritty vocals but also his harmonica this time around, which is an even trickier technique to perfect!) and Elliott, whose instrumental solo on the drumkit is wild, playful and exhilarating, but clearly fully in control (unlike, say, what Keith Moon plays on the Who’s first album the following year!) – indeed, it’s his best solo on record until his even more thrilling work on ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ in 1970. Lyrically, it’s interesting to see yet another Hollies original that’s not just sad but deeply bitter, Clarkey’s narrator virtually howling his desperation at being in a relationship with a girl who blows so hot and cold (‘If you don’t want my love, SET ME FREE!!!’) he doesn’t know where they are any more. While The Beatles’ stab at Barrett Strong’s ‘Money’ was about wanting to be rich and nothing else, many fans pounced on that song for its central howl of pain ‘I wanna be free!’ – which coincidentally or not is also the central premise of this song (Clarke even howls in a very Lennonesque manner). Lyrically there might not be much going on here, but the song is really just an excuse for some r and b shouting and there are plenty of worse lyrics around from 1964. All in all this is one of the most exciting Hollies songs of them all, with another note-perfect performance making the most of the band’s bristling energy and passion, a fine end to a mighty fine record.
So what was ‘The Hollies Style’ then?! In truth there isn’t one of them but many, as a newly formed band try to come to terms with the fact that their career could go in several different directions from hereon in: a band who writes their own crafted retro pop concoctions, a Searchers-style ballad-based group specialising in close harmony or an exciting r and b collective who can match anything The Animals, The Kinks or The Stones are coming up with in this same period. As it happens none of these styles stay very long in the Hollies’ oeuvre: their singles will get more and more commercial and their group originals more and more complex, with the sound the band find on their next album ‘The Hollies’ (folk-rock with a bit of gospel and soul) closer to the traditional ‘Hollies’ sound most fans will think of. That’s no bad reflection on this album, though, which shows several mighty fine parallel fine Hollies styles that might have been alongside a couple of cul-de-sacs. Overall, then, how you judge ‘In The Hollies Style’ depends on what you’re looking for. By comparison with later Hollies albums there are a couple of poor cover choices and the group originals are simpler and more basic than what’s to come. Compare ‘In The Hollies Style’ to any other album around from 1964 though and its every bit as daring, groundbreaking and exciting as anything by The Beatles et al, with perhaps the greatest single display of the Hollies’ raw live power (give or take some double-tracking). Alas ‘Beatles For Sale’ is released mere weeks after this record, its darker hues of melancholy and guilt rendering fine powerhouse r and b albums like this one largely null and void. No matter: the Hollies will combine the two sounds on their next LP to make perhaps the real beginnings of ‘The Hollies Style’.
‘You’re so vain...you probably think this song is about you!’ Carly Simon’s biggest hit has – at various times – been referred to as about men in general, a combination of people or one specific person. A canny look at the narcissistic qualities of the men in Carly’s life, the singer-songwriter has very rightly refused to talk about the true subject of the song – although she has enjoyed dropping titbits to her fans down the years. She even allegedly revealed the person she was thinking of to the highest bidder at a celebrity charity auction in 2003, on the basis that the winner (Dick Esbersol, the president of NBC Sports) never told another soul. Carly has also revealed a ‘letter’ from the person’s name (first or last) every eight years or so, the letters now adding up to ‘a’ ‘e’ and ‘r’. A whole plethora of people have been linked to the song, not all of them AAA stars, with the list of possible subjects now said to include film star Warren Beatty, singer David Bowie or (the most likely candidate in my eyes) Carly’s muse and lifetime singing partner James Taylor (not the ‘a’ ‘e’ and ‘r’ in both the first and last of these names). Then again, it could be about someone we haven’t heard about at all – some acquaintance of Carly’s from before she was famous. There are still four very credible candidates amongst the AAA team of musicians, however, so for this week’s top four we’ve got our detective caps on and had a look at the evidence for each person. I doubt we’ll ever get a full and proper answer from Carly and if we do I doubt it’ll be just one person who inspired the song but still, there is evidence that points to all four of the following...
1) Cat Stevens
As we discussed in our issue two weeks ago, Cat and Carly were close. They were both working in the same Island studios in California, used the same producer (Paul Samwell Smith) and had birthdays very close together. Opinions differ as to whether the two were ‘just good friends’ or a genuine item for a short while, but the split between them seems to have come surprisingly suddenly (Cat leaving to become a tax exile in Brazil of all places)...at exactly the time (early 1972) that this song would have been written. As ‘evidence’ we also draw your attention to the fact that Carly had already written two songs for Cat by 1972 (‘Anticipation’ and ‘Legend In Your Own Time’); while both of these songs are deeply complimentary, Cat’s own song for Carly (‘Sweet Scarlet’) sounds regretful, even a tad guilty. The 1972 style Cat Stevens isn’t exactly what you might call ‘vain’, his near-death experience from TB in the late 1960s seemingly putting at end to that, but his 17-18 year old self was most certainly vain, eager to be seen with as many celebrities and talked about in as many gossip columns as possible, all whilst wearing the very best in frilly shirts. Cat also has two of the three ‘revealed letters’ in his name (‘A’ and ‘E’ - though not an ‘R’).
2) David Crosby
Although I’m such a fan I’ll defend David Crosby to the hilt over anything, if he does have a weakness it is for being slightly vain. I’ve not just selected someone at random here either – Crosby was a good friend of Carly’s (both he and Nash sing on lots of her albums and she in turn sings on their second joint album ‘Wind On The Water’) and if you treat this song as a joke rather than a put-down Crosby would make a lot of sense. As extra fuel to the fire, Carly admitted on an American show called ‘Soundcheck’ in 2009 that she’s added the ‘real’ inspiration’s name into the recording by placing it ‘backwards’. The event caused a lot of interest and speculation so the crew went through the whole crew checking for clues and confidently came up with the name ‘David’ (which could stand for Crosby, Bowie or maybe even Carly’s manager (and Neil Young’s manager) David Geffen. Carly’s denied this (she claims she was saying the word ‘ovid’, as in a greek mystery play and that the name she meant is another word entirely) – but that could have been because she didn’t want the person’s identity to be revealed so quickly and uneventfully. It’s also worth adding that David Crosby has the letters ‘A’ and ‘R’ in his name – although not the third and confirmative ‘E’.
3) Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger has never really been connected to the song recently, but suddenly became a major candidate when Carly revealed in 1983 that he’d sung un-credited backing vocals on the track (at the same time issuing a ‘denial’ that the song was about him). Mick would kind of fit though – he relishes his image as a strutting peacock playboy and is the same in private if any number of Stones books are to be believed (Keith Richards revealed in his autobiography of 2011 that the band had taken to calling him ‘Brenda’ in honour of all his hair creams and facial products). The fact remains, however, that Mick and Carly were casual acquaintances at best, the two only working together on this one occasion as far as we know – would Carly have really written about someone she only vaguely knew? That said, the fact that he was singing on this track rather than the other dozen or so people linked to this song would seem to raise him a bit higher in the list of likely candidates – and his name also features all three of the ‘reveal letters’ Carly has given over the years (‘A’ ‘E’ and ‘R’).
4) Art Garfunkel
One candidate who hasn’t been mentioned yet (as far as I know) is Art Garfunkel. He might not be the most obviously narcisstic member of the AAA bunch, but Art’s careful and rather obsessive nature has been known to drive his friends mad, including the time he spends doing his hair. Moreover, Carly said in an interview at the time that the person ‘might or might not be’ famous and that even if they were famous, they might not be someone the public necessarily thought of as being vain. Art was a good friend of Carly’s too, Art being an especially good friend of James Taylor, and the pair sang on each other’s records numerous times in the 1970s and 80s (indeed, Art’s such a regular he probably appears on more Carly Simon recordings than anyone barring her and James). He also has the three ‘reveal’ letters ‘A’ ‘R’ and ‘E’ in his name – the only person who does apart from Jagger and Beatty out of the dozen or so names on the ‘guilty’ list.
So, is one of our four candidates the guilty party? Are all of our candidates the combined inspiration for the song? Was the inspiration someone else entirely? (James Taylor is still the likeliest candidate, with all three letters to his name!) We will probably never know – but part of the fun of this song is with speculating, so let’s hope Carly never properly tells (although a few more clues to keep us guessing would be nice!) What’s more, if Carly ever re-records the song (again!) she can now add the line ‘You’re so vain – you probably think that Alan’s Album Archives article was all about you!’ And we’re vain enough to hope you’ll be back next week for some more news, views and music! See you then!