Monday, 17 August 2015

The Hollies "For Certain Because..." (1966) (Completely New Review!)




"He's painted his smile on upside down!"

After years and multiple records of uncertainty about what their post-Merseybeat sound actually is The Hollies are certain because....well, I'm not actually certain why at all. However the Mancunian five do most certainly sound more confident across this album don't they? Gone are the 'should-we-be-doing-this?' doubts of the folk-rock years and the can -we-get-away-with-this? doubts of the protest years and The Hollies are suddenly a-roaring and a-snarling and playing with all the aggressive sounds they last had in 1964. Could it be that after struggling to hang on to the coat-tails of some of their contemporaries The Hollies are now back in charge of their career? Well, sort of. 'Bus Stop' has been the band's big breakthrough hit in America (even though it was their twelfth in Britain) and the fact that the band are back with an album only six months after the last one suggests that they'd locked into a groove and feel they're on the right path! However, rather than an album of superior pop songs in the vein of 'Bus Stop' or what the Beatles are doing (the early psychedelia mixed with adult ballads heard on 'Revolver') we get...big band crooner songs! Vaudeville! Bossa nova! Banjos! Even for a band that so often surprise and go down an avenue completely out of left field you have to say 'What the?...' No one, whether they knew The Hollies backwards or were simply a general collector of music in 1966 would have seen any of 'For Certain Because' coming. The album leaps out at you on The Hollies' discography as the weirdest side-journey on the route from A ('Ain't That Just Like Me? in 1963) to B (which for our purposes is the moment things went back to 'normal' with the oh so similar song 'The Woman I Love' in 1993). If it wasn't for the presence of the oh-so-Hollies hit single 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' at the end (It's all so joyous and yet the adult world still sounds ever so slightly threatening...) you'd wonder if you had the right band at all

There are other, bigger changes afoot too than just the music. When we last left the Hollies in the summer of 1966 they were still deep in folk-rock mode and (by and large) sounded their usual upbeat energetic and positive selves - even when tackling songs that shouldn't have sounded upbeat, energetic or positive ('I Am A Rock' has never sounded so much fun!) Suddenly, though, just six months on there's been a change and this most enthusiastic of bands sound surly, grumpy and more than a little bit miffed. Don't believe me? Check this lot of lyrics out: 'What's wrong with the way I live, the way I use my time? People should live their lives leaving me to mine!' 'Too many people need me - I've got so much so much to do!' 'Is it just that you can't face the future with me, can't you tell me to my face?!' 'He's painted his smile upside down!' 'You've got Suspicious look in your eyes!' 'Don't raise your voice to me and don't be unkind!' 'If you could look my way you'd know that I exist!' 'Oh what have I done?!' 'When people put you down it's 'cause they're jealous of you!' Every sentence seems to come with an exclamation mark of surprise and a nagging tone usually reserved for me talking about The Spice Girls and Conservative politicians talking about the poor. The pre-1966 Hollies sounds like one of the funnest of all sixties bands to be in, a band who never had a cross word and went about their ways with much laughter and comradeship, but now they just won't smile at anything - even the songs like 'Clown' where we're normally meant to be laughing. What happened?
The clue might be in a throwaway line hidden in 'Suspicious Look In Your Eyes' - 'I gave you my best but then you stopped trying!' and backed up by most of the lines in 'Tell Me To My Face' 'Clown' and 'It's You'. Graham Nash has just had a life-changing experience. Till now the band's 'secret weapon' on stage and on album with those high harmonies has been more than happy just being in a band with his pals - its brought him fame, more than a few women and an escape from the poverty he seemed doomed to for the rest of his life. But 1966 isn't your typical year in music: it's a daring year, when all things change, when new doors open and other snap firmly shut and when horizons are altered forever (in Chinese astrological terms it's the year of the bucking ambitious horse, who sets the scene for the healing powers of the artistic 'Goat' in 1967).  Graham Nash was beginning to feel it's effect before the band broke big in America in 'Bus Stop' when the band went on tour there - and he's certain of it the day The Hollies are invited back to Mama Cass' house to chat music and is greeted as a poet by the many big names passing through. The other Hollies want to get back to the hotel and fit in a drinking session before a radio interview the next day - but Nash is stoked; he's amongst like-minded musicians who see pop music as so much more than the way it's treated back in Britain and who connect with him as 'one of them'. Once Cass turns Graham onto drugs that same night his life is never the same again: the eyes that see the world knows that there's more to life than money and girls and pop songs about romances at bus stops. The greatest division of The Hollies' career occurs right here, on a seemingly innocuous night in the Autumn of 1966 (some sources say it's September though others disagree without saying when it was) and the band are never quite the same again.

While the three-way writing credits fooled a lot of people (this is incidentally the first album to give the 'Clarke-Hicks-Nash' credit rather than the 'L Ransford' pseudonym the band have been using ever since parting ways with 'Chester Mann' in 1963) and Graham only gets his usual two lead vocals, this is the start of his three-album domination of the band. Note too that the two Nash songs are sequenced together, as tracks three and four, with no other recognisable Hollie sound in the mix as if he's already testing the waters about what he might sound like alone. The lyrics across this album seem to point to a division: this being The Hollies and the time being the 1960s most of this division comes through as a relationship between a boy and girl but it might not have been that way when Nash started writing lines like 'there's a reason I don't love you like I should' and 'the way we carry on I think we'll drift apart'. Throughout the record there's a tug of war going on between doing what The Hollies always do and what the bands that Nash has just been talking to do and the result is an uneasy, harsh, brash compromise where the usual lovely Hollie harmonies intone not 'I'm Alive' or 'Just one look was all it too' but the sighing 'why can't I love you?' and demand 'I'm a man who is demanding all his rights to live in peace!' While 'For Certain Because' tackles the usual impressive range of subject matters (including an impressive song imagining life in the Crusades and the peculiar tale of two best friends 'who don't make love' ('Peculiar Situation' is the first Hollie track to sound as if the more daring relationship-traditions-breaking David Crosby might have written it, though the pair haven't actually met just yet), most of it can be diluted down to the essence of 'do you wanna come down the pub Graham?' 'What again - but I've got songs to write just as soon as I've had a puff of this!'

Not that Graham was the only crack in The Hollies' till now impenetrable sheen. The waters are still muddied over how Eric Haydock came to be replaced for the tour shortly before this album and why Tony and Bobby's former 'Dolphins' bassist Bernie Calvert got the nod to join the Mancunian five. Bernie got lucky: he was stuck in a dead end factory  job in Runcorn of all places (and having worked there myself I can tell you that 'stuck' is the perfect verb for it) and so desperate to escape and so envious yet supportive of his friends' success that like then he'd signed up to see something of the world at the end of the year - though as a P&O Liner steward rather than a musician. Bobby and Tony suggesting giving him the call up to join, though in a temporary position at first - Bernie thought he might be forced to decline as his factory was very strict about taking time off for just a months' work and he was needed immediately so would certainly have lost his job; luckily, unbeknown to him his 'charge hand's daughter was a huge Hollies fan and ordered him to take the job in return for an autograph! After a difficult couple of weeks using Jack Bruce (who wouldn't commit to being a Hollie) and even their own manager Mike Cohen (who didn't have a clue how to play) The Hollies finally had not just a decent replacement but arguably the only possible replacement all four would have agreed on. Unassuming and smiley, Bernie was as talented as Eric and without some of his predecessor's alleged 'problems'.

Why was a new Hollie needed at this point in their career? If you ask the band Eric became 'unreliable', failed to turn up to some key sessions (including the 'After The Fox' date when the band kept Peter Sellers and Burt Bacharach waiting - Cream's Jack Bruce, then still a session musician for hire, took over the bass part at short notice) and calling The Hollies impeccable reputation as the professionals of rock and roll into disrepute. Nash for one later thought that the bass player had been showing signs of exhaustion for some time but dismissed his struggles with the questionable claim that they were all tired and that 'the bass players does the least work in a group anyway'. If you ask Eric he contracted a genuine illness - a virus of some sort - that left him bed-ridden for only a few days and for which he got a doctor's note to cover. Other reports claim that Haydock had the 'nerve' to question the band's managers about the low pay rate they were on - with commentators disagreeing over whether he was right or wrong to bring up the accusation. Too much time has passed for there to ever be a firm answer but its worth pointing out that, despite technically being the only 'founding member' of the group that became The Hollies (Allan and Graham arriving a few months later, with Tony and Bobby years down the line) Eric never seemed to fit. Quiet and legendarily taciturn, there's a highly revealing BBC interview doing the rounds from this period (sadly not on the official 'Radio Fun' release) where Brian Matthews decides that as Eric never says anything he'd like to get a word - which the others treat as a joke, interrupting Brian with their own tales of the bassist's behaviour ('It took me a year in the band before Eric said hello!') and taking up so much air time he never does get to speak. Even producer Ron Richards' sleevenotes for 'In The Hollies Style, full of warm anecdotes and praise for the rest of the band, only mentions the bass player in the line that 'we tried to get everyone in the mood to enjoy themselves and we must have succeeded because on the playback even Eric smiled!'

However you don't fire a bass player just for being quiet (well, unless you're Oasis when that was the only reason given for Paul 'Guigsy' McGuigan leaving the band...) - the whole sixties vibe was that they were 'heard and not seen' or something like that, with few doing any media anyway - and Bernie was only slightly chattier. After all Eric had only just played the ultimate bass riff on 'I Can't Let Go' earlier in the year, the point at which his tenure as a Hollie had seemed the most stable - and to this day some sort of rift seems to exist between him and his bandmates (his photograph is cut from the middle of the 'Long Road Home' box set middle, which seems a pointless bit of cultural vandalism given that most fans already owned that picture as the front cover to 'The Hollies' (1965) where Eric is right in the centre. Alas it seems as if we'll never know all the ins and outs of the change so all we'll say is this: The Hollies were in many ways wrong to let Eric go; he was a soulful, hard-hitting raw bassist whose fierce playing was the perfect accompaniment to Bobby's drumming and his sounds was badly missed as The Hollies continued; however his replacement Bernie is also an all too often unheralded expert on the instrument, more melodic and less likely to stick to the riffs than his counterpart but equally hard-hitting when the occasion demands it.  Both are among the most under-rated bass players of their generation and played a key role in The Hollies' sound in their respective eras.

Bernie is certainly thrown in at the deep end of this LP, which is treated as a good excuse for a change in sound by all and sundry. Caught between the two extremes of the energetic [past and the more thoughtful future, the first all-original Hollies LP comes out sounding like the odd LP out, certainly amongst the band's 1960s collection (though the pre-Clarke split 'Distant Light' in 1971 has a similar feel of unspoken doom and gloom). It doesn't have the energetic hope of the first two  Hollies albums, the growing thoughtfulness of the pair of folk-rock albums or the new-awakening re-birth and understanding joy of the coming pair of psychedelic magnum opuses. The two halves, the past and the future, have collided and left the band going down all sorts of unlikely avenues the band never go down again. The big band 'High Classed', where Allan Clarke ponces about in front of a full orchestra as Bobby taps along (perhaps the rest of the band couldn't be trusted to keep a straight face?) is a strong candidate for the strangest Hollies moment. Closely matched by the horror movie sound effects and claustrophobia of 'Clown', a track that sounds like a clever witty music hall ditty slowed down to an evil half-speed. Or how about the bossa nova kick off to 'Tell Me To Your Face', the band's much delayed sequel to 'We're Through' and written to make a similar point (only this time the song is guiltier and sounds as if Nash imagining taking 'the coward's way to say goodbye' himself, leaving either band or first wife Rose Eccles in the lurch). Even the album's qualified success 'Pay You Back With Interest' sounds...odd (and yes many 1966 songs do sound odd, but not like this, all slowed down chiming bells and a love affair related in terms of a bank account). At times The Hollies only get through thanks to the spot-on targets of some of the songs ('What's Wrong With The Way I Live?' and 'Don't Even Think About Changing' sound like two parts of the same song, an early hippie protest anthem dressed in folk-rock colours) and the sheer breezy confidence throughout the set that yes, of course it will work, even amongst the non-Nash members of the band.

However get by it does and The Hollies maintain their reputation as if not the greatest band of the 1960s then arguably the most consistently great band of the 1960s. Highlights on the album like 'Way I Live' 'Clown' and 'Crusader' can hold their heads up high even against the best of The Hollies in that decade, excellent songs that stretch the band's usual template without necessarily breaking it. While not all the album has quite so much to write home to Eloise about, even the 'mistakes' like 'High Classed' with it's outrageous rhyme of 'most' and 'toast' and the thunderous-yet-overtly cute  'What Went Wrong?'  are a little bit silly rather than stupidly wrong-footed. While I'm rather glad the Hollies didn't make a whole career out of productions as eclectic and eccentric as this, I'm also rather pleased to have 'For Certain Because' as part of the collection, proof of what great bounds The Hollies might have made even if psychedelia had never been invented (and this is a curiously un-psychedelic LP for Christmas 1966, even amongst bands who didn't inhale back then, with only the fuzz overtones of 'Interest' sounding anything like any other record out that year).

One last comment to make before we move onto the songs: 'For Certain Because...' contains one of the best sleevenotes of any AAA album out there (certainly it's the best Hollies sleevenote, although then again the only competition comes from the producer being asked to write some nice words and a stock history of the band on the first LP from someone who has clearly never met the band and probably never heard any of their music). Though credited to Beeds and McDoug, it's actually written by Walker Brothers drummer Gary Leeds (who was a good friend of the band - Clarke will go on to produce one of his solo singles in fact) and Hollies publicist and wit Allan McDougal (Sssh ssh). We've already discussed the fact that Nash might have been smoking illicit substances during the making of this LP - these two almost certainly were. Just listen to this: 'The Hollies are going to musically hammer you, polyphonically dent your ears, rhythmically roust you until your brain spins and steam comes out of your navel. As the poet said, 'Their Weapon?' This here LP...Clarke-Hicks-Nash wrote all the album tracks. Plus a railroad track, a race track and a dirt track but we couldn't get them all on ubnfortunately...' and more in the same vein, much more, for approximately six hundred words! As well as being plain daft, though, the notes are genuinely interesting: how else would we Hollie dollies know that Gary himself was hurling peas in a box to try to get the sound of marching feet on 'Crusader' before the band reckoned it wasn't working and dug out a tape from the copious Abbey Road archives? (So we ate the peas...') Or that Bernie Calvert himself plays the wonky piano part on 'Pay You Back With Interest' ('first time he's touched his 'real' instrument since becoming a bass Hollie guitar'). Or, wittily but revealingly, that 'all the arrangements on this album are by Argu Ment' (perhaps a more apt description of this troubled album than the pair of writers intended!) Finally we also concur that 'we wouldn't change The Hollies sound for all the Scotch and Coke in the world' , although that said the Hollies sound has never really been stretched as far as here. What a shame the pair didn't come back for more Hollie hilarity on later LPs! Not that there's much laughing matter on a lot of this LP, on that I'm certain because...

The Songs:

The opening track 'What's Wrong With The Way I Live?' is perhaps the best evidence across the LP of the different ways The Hollies were pulling in two. Musically this isn't too far removed from the breathless excitement of recent hit 'Stop! Stop! Stop!', complete with banjo backing and oompah-comedy bass, but instead of a breathless giggle the narrator doesn't really mean the lyrics are a slap in the face to teeny-bopper fans. 'What's wrong with the way I used my time? People should leave their lives leaving me to mine!' Clarke all but growls with a mass of scary sounding full-on wailing harmonies behind him on what despite the very English folk banjo is a notably very American song (where there were lots more of these sort of 'equality for oppressed young hippy' type songs). However they go even further than most Americans would ever dare go by 1966 in hippie sloganeering: the narrator is a 'man who is defending all his rights to live in peace' but already knows, before the brightness of the summer of love has even bloomed, that he can't win against 'the man' - the job is 'never ending' and the song ends on a typically Hollies unresolved question mark on the line 'and 'we're losing'. Note too that after years of trying to sound younger than they really are the by now 23-20 year olds talk about themselves as a 'man' - this is a grown up song and sounds rather jarring if you've been playing these albums in order (or if you own the 'Clarke-Hicks-Nash Years' box set where these tracks are all in order), with 'What's Wrong?' appearing soon after the pure joy of 'Bus Stop' and the good-natured silliness of 'After The Fox') I'm tempted to see this as an early Nash solo song, but if it is then the rest of The Hollies are right there with him with one of their last great non-psychedelia band performances, with Clarke' nagging vocals perfectly cast for this sort of song and Hick's banjo rooting the song and blocking in its path in a way that a more 'contemporary' sounds could never have achieved. The lyrics too, though occasionally clunky, are remarkably good for a band who've never worked in this idiom before: we're instantly on side with this narrator for all his grumpy teenager-dom, as this isn't a passing fad but a personal crusade that goes deep: all his life 'people tried to get at me, tried to bring me down and hurt me!' and Nash (or whoever wrote these lyrics) did a good job at making the narrator defensive, not aggressive: he's not trying to tell anyone else how to live so why should he care about them? Underneath it all, though - and perhaps with memories of the Holliefied 'cover' of Paul Simon's 'I Am A Rock' from their last LP - we know that for all that bluster and denial a lot of those wounding arrows do indeed get through. With The Hollies currently big in Sweden (as the biggest of the 'Merseybeat' era acts still touring) this song made it all the way to #14 in the charts there although it was never a single anywhere else. A fascinating song, one small step for 1966 hippieness and one giant leap for Hollie kind.

The wobbly 'Pay You Back With Interest' is perhaps the best known song on the album after the hit single 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' and was in fact a top thirty hit in the States back in the days when the American markets squeezed an extra single out of UK band per calendar year. I'm intrigued why they went with this one because, excellent and clever as it is, this track doesn't obviously scream 'hit single' and probably went over the heads of most of The Hollies audience at the time. The title is a pun, the narrator talking about his romance in the cold hard terms of a banker - he 'sells' himself and admits that his job (presumably in finance) will keep him away from the family home for long working hours, but that in time his hard work will pay off and he'll 'pay you back with interest', not just in financial terms but in the amount of time he'll spend with her. Like much of the album, the narrator is worn out to the bone ('I've got so much, so much to do!' he moans) and the melody cleverly follows that path: an early chance for Calvert to shine on the wonky varispeeded piano-lick (the most 'futuristic' sound on quite a conservative backward-looking LP) and the long long loooooong lines on the verses test Clarke's breathing to the limit, until finally the song can sink into the delicious energetic burst of a typically uptempo Hollies chorus. The irregular metre would catch out lesser bands, but they've clearly been practicing and turn in another solid band performance with Bernie the star working overtime on the 'weird' piano, some 'normal' block piano chords and some excellent bass playing, with Bobby trying to trip him up throughout (the drummer's greatest moment on the album coming with a jazz shuffle fade that takes place when the narrator finally gets home exhausted, adding a cheeky hi-hat 'sneeze' that might be a knowing wink to the audience about what sort of thing the couple are getting up to - see 'The Games We Play' and 'Step Inside' on the next two records for more of this sort of thing!) If you happen to own an 'old' copy of this song you might notice a sudden drop-out in sound near the end (at the start of the final note in fact before Bobby's drums) which appeared in every copy of this song in the 20th century - the fact that it's not appeared yet in the 21st century suggests that some mastering has gone on to correct a glitch in the original tape. The whole is another fascinating track, less immediate than The Hollies songs of the past but cleverly made and well handled and perfect for a band who are having the best of both worlds, playing around with their usual uptempo breathless sound whilst still using it as the 'release' for the first half of the song.

'Tell Me To My Face' is fascinating too. For all the 'ho ho ho' of the opening (Nash saying what sounds 'Kreen-Akore', the African tribe who will inspire a whole instrumental of that name on a certain ex-Beatle's first solo record 'McCartney', in homage to the opening Elliott shuffle rhythm that sounds like him banging out a rhythm on the Abbey Road radiators), this is another very adult song. The first Hollies song in the Brazilian bossa nova style since 'We're Through', it's a 'goodbye' song very much in the same league with a similar threatening tone and snarling, pinging acoustic guitars with Hicks at his angriest (how interesting that The Hollies should use what is in many ways the 'Hollies' of musical genres - upbeat, poppy and yet more complex than you might think until you play it - to make such a point. Of course I don't know every bossa nova recording ever made - It's taken me too many years to buy up all the Grateful Dead releases in the world alone to dive into too many other genres - but I'm willing to bet that there are only two unhappy bossa nova songs in the world and both of them are by The Hollies). However it's the lyrics that live on in the memory, Nash starting a new Hollie trend of a 'letter' saying what he cannot be said in person (see 'Dear Eloise' and its message of 'read between the lines') and gets in some delightful tongue-twisters along the way ('Will you try to justify the meaning of the note you sent this evening, to my door? - you're not deceiving me!') This is clearly more than just the Hollies' boy-girl crush gone wrong. He's incensed at her leaving by letter and demands she tell him in person. What's interesting though is that Nash himself will be playing the role of the one deserting himself in a few years and while he did leave 'to the face' of both band and wife, it does sound here as if, post that American party, he's trying the scenario on for size and seeing how it sounds from the opposite end. A third fascinating track in a row, quite unlike anything else doing the rounds in 1966 and a million miles from any Hollies song - even close cousin 'We're Through' sounds impeccably polite in contrast!

Nash stays as lead singer for an even more fascinating song in 'Clown', the first of a Hollies trilogy including 'Mr Heartbreaker' and 'Harlequin' (possibly even 1980s single 'When Laughter Turns To Tears') where a performer known for giving people a fun time and making them smile is collapsing inside. Taking his cue from 'the sad clown', Nash sings the song in third person 'seeing' a clown backstage putting his make up on and is struck by how unlike his stage presence he seems. Though Nash knows that 'the show must go on' and that 'people are there to laugh at him and he mustn't let them down', he's disconcerted by how extreme the differences between the persona and the real star is, with him bursting into tears on the inside as he clowns around onstage. For even clowns must suffer tragedy and this performer has 'lost someone close to him', although whether it's through death or divorce is never made clear. Once, though, the mask slips and the clown physically reveals how sad he feels, 'painting his smile on upside down'. Another compelling Hollies backing track makes the most of this funny-yet-tragic world, starting off with a clown 'whoop' (which must surely have inspired the fab four's 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite' going on in the next door studio in a few months' time) that teaches us all about context - if you don't know the track then it sounds silly and jolly at the start of the track - and truly upsetting when re-used again at the end, swatted nonchalantly away by Bobby's hurled drumstick. The rest of the song sounds like a room of mirrors, with an eco-drenched acoustic and a distant-sounding electric guitar part circling each other in an ongoing battle between two sides, which only Bernie's melancholic bass can penetrate (as with the last track, Clarke is notable by his absence here, with no backing vocals). I'm running out of ways to say 'fascinating track' but this is another one, a fourth song in a row completely unlike anything The Hollies have ever tempted before and another breakthrough for the band, showing that they can do complex layers and sophistication with the best of them. It's Nash who deserves the most credit though: his vocal is right on the money, caught halfway between laughter and tears, the 'realisations' he's just understood via his recent mind-altering acid trips put to good use in this hazy surreal dreamlike world where actions are acting and people are never just the stereotypes they seem. The biggest single stepping stone leap in his long journey from 'Little Lover' to 'Songs For Beginners', this is a key song in Nash's voyage of self-discovery and one that, for now, the rest of The Hollies are more than happy to accommodate as richly as they can.

Despite the unusual setting (which sounds more like Motown - The Hollies had been doing The Four Tops' 'Reach Out I'll Be There' in their act across 1966 as can be heard on the 'Long Road Home' box set) and yet more lyrics about breaking up, badly, 'Suspicious Look In Your Eyes' is the first song on the album that's obviously Hollies. Instead of 'Reach Out!' Graham and Tony bop away while singing 'Bop! Bop! Bop! Bop! Bopbopbopbop!' just like the old days and a pop powerhouse of a chorus dispels all the blues away, even though its actually about the sad subject of two soulmates no longer trusting each other. Clarke sings sarcastically throughout, a world away from Graham's directness but well suited to this song, where nobody trusts anyone anymore. 'You've no control over what you say and no faith in the things that I do!' he slurs, before regretting an inevitable change between two halves that once went together so well: 'We used to act and think alike'. While Clarke sings the song and the almost crooning melody sounds as if it couldn't be further removed from the summer of love, though, note how many of what will become Graham's traditional fingerprints are all over this track. The first verse is very much like an acid trip, at one with the 'revelations' of 'Butterfly' ('Somehow at times I read your mind, you just float in a cloud above me') while the eyes that 'pierce, they glare, they seem to stare' recall the 'real' insight into the 'soul' of the clown gazing at himself in a mirror from earlier. Could it be that this song is an early plea from Nash that he feels like an 'outsider' in The Hollies, a band that did indeed 'use to think alike' but have now gone down two different paths where neither understand the other. If so the middle eight may well be the first bit of real Nash confessional, torn in two between the life he's always known and the new one he's just discovered: 'I believe in you, so it seems worth trying' he urges the other Hollies, 'you sound so sincere - but when I look at you...' From here on there will be a ticking time bomb counting down the next two years or so before the break is finally made. Yet another fascinating song, then, although this one is harder to love than the others somehow: Clarke suffers from the same 'this is what lead singers do' syndrome as some of his solo albums, despite the fact that his 'normal' voice is already amongst the best in the business without having to use any 'tricks' and a little sarcasm goes a long way and makes the lyrics hard to hear. The angular melody, while fitting to a track where the two halves are at right angles to each other, is also hard to navigate - in many ways it's a relief when the song collapses in a puzzled heap on a final 'bop bop' at the end of 3:36 of musical torture.

'It's You' ends the first side with even more of a nagging finger. Though the B-side of 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' nbefore appearing on album, the song used to be rather obscure in the pre-CD age before becoming something of a 'retrospective hit' in the modern era, appearing on several Hollies compilations, B side sets and EP collections in addition to the re-issues of this album. As a result this song has rather a high standing, proving to casual collectors just how many styles there were to wear in The Hollies' wardrobe. Caught halfway between the moody blues of their earlier B sides ('Nobody' and 'You Know He Did') and their current love of saying one thing while meaning another, this song uses the typical Hollies gusto and bluster in a completely different way, the narrator now excited because he's in a bitter feud with his former girlfriend and energised at the thought of getting out. 'To break up is a shame, it spoils the chance we had' the narrator wearily sighs, before denying all responsibility: 'But its you - yes it's you oh it's you!' A kinder middle eight admits he might be 'wrong' too ('Because I'm not the kind of man you are looking for!'), but the song quickly returns to the finger-waggling riff, Clarke gets so intense he sounds as if he's about to swallow his harmonica and Bobby uses his drums like a punch-bag. Once again, lyrically this could be Nash debating whether to split or not, or perhaps a rebuttal from Clarke and Hicks that it isn't them that's changed and messed with the formula. Note how the harmonies have now split into two halves - Allan on one side and Graham and Tony the other, the two 'fighting' throughout the song and only joining on the few seconds of truce on the mutual sighing middle eight line 'why can't I love you?' The Hollies always played hard and fast, but this is a new variety on their sound - aggression. It's not an unlikeable sound either with another strong backing track, but it's still something of a relief that things will get much mellower in the new year.

'High Classed' is perhaps an experiment too far. Clarke struts his stuff on a big band song that's caught somewhere between being genuine and being a parody, with only Bernie, Bobby and an acoustic guitar part that could be by either Graham or Tony for company. I'd love to know which came first - the daft lyrics about social climbing or the idea to do a 'Rat Pack' style song - but whichever inspired the other this track  may well have been inspired by 'The Lady Is A Tramp' but - in typical Hollies style - done 'in reverse', with its tale of a rich girl dating a poor boy ('You eat caviar while I eat toast, I know I can't buy you the things you like most...') However given the setting, it could be that for 'class' you can read 'age bracket' - of all the daring things going in the sixties, the single most daring was sounding like the music your parents were listening to. What The Hollies were trying to say, though, depends on how 'ironic' you consider this track to be. Arranger Mike Vickers, once of Manfredd Mann - and younger than The Hollies themselves remember - conjures up a really authentic arrangement and for the most part Clarke sings 'straight'. However some of these rhymes are best described as 'silly' ('Most' and 'Toast'?) as if it's a send up of the whole scheme, something that seems to be 'confirmed' by the tah-dah we're-back-again stripper-show ending. Are The Hollies laughing at their mums and dads, using their own music to mock them and thus widening the generational gap (see 'What's Wrong With The Way I Live?') Or is this a genuine attempt to stretch The Hollies sound so that a group that were already considered a bit of a 'safe' option against the hysterics of The Stones, The Kinks, The Who and even to some mums and dads The Beatles appealed even more to the elder generation? Is this perhaps another case of the band pulling in two different directions, Nash sarcastically undercutting what the others meant quite genuinely? It's the real 'microcosm' of this album in a way - are we meant to be nodding along to this or laughing? What we do know is that Clarke tries his best but doesn't really sound at home, while Mike Vickers clearly has a lot of Nelson Riddle-arranged records in his collection. Even after thirty years of regular playing I'm still not quite sure if I like this song or not - I'll leave the verdict open for another thirty!

'Peculiar Situation' is perhaps the most 'Hollies' song on the record, a gorgeous singalong anthem about the small yet oh so significant moments when two people realise they're falling in love and the very genuine warmth of this song sounds all the better for appearing in the middle of what's actually a very 'cold' record. Interestingly, though, the most 'normal' moment on the record is all about a 'peculiar situation' where - for whatever unspoken reason - neither half of the partnership can admit to being 'in love' with the other. They're lovers in mind only who 'don't make low-ove!' physically as a bottom-of-his-range Clarke sings it; soulmates who share so many little insignificant things that soon pile up. He's also adamant that he's not in love for the usual reasons: 'I don't care if your father is too rich, if your mother thinks I have good taste and it's not because you're beautiful' coos Clarke, it's because 'when you're busy you make time for me', that 'when she's wrong she doesn't mind saying so' that in an argument 'you never turn away' and 'you ain't too proud to phone me when you're down'. After a series of boyfriend-girlfriend dates, based on artificiality and good looks, the narrator has finally found something far more comfortable: someone who makes him laugh, makes him comfortable, understand him brightens up his world and who he knows he brightens hers too. Some commentators have this down as a 'Clarke' song though the usual 'three-way' credit applies. I'm tempted to see this as at least partly another Nash song though, the Cassanova of the early Hollies explaining how his mind has been opened to more than just the surface and how he's after brains not looks. Sounds like a good match to me - even the fact that the relationship can never be made public or apparently consummated (a curveball here - is Nash singing in a non-romantic way to the other Hollies, who he's certainly have spent more time with than most married couples, remembering all the good times they've had together - hence the fact it's purely platonic?) can't get in the way of the narrator's joy and one of the best singalong Hollies powerpop choruses. There's even a hummed middle eight (Nash upfront and an echoed Clarke humming behind, in tandem) and a classic gear/key change going into another straight repeat of the chorus at the very end that sounds like sinking into a favourite cosy armchair. Glorious - 'Peculiar Situation' is one of the most overlooked of all 1960s Hollies recordings and a fabulous return to everything the band once did so well and so effortlessly for (more or less) one last time (though the remarkably similar 'Step Inside' from 'Butterfly' is arguably even more of a 'farewell' to this signature sound).

More big band antics next with the dramatic 'What Went Wrong?' Though apparently intended as 'straighter' than 'High Classed', this epic number featuring Bobby having fun on a pair of kettle-drums and a mammoth Mike Vickers orchestral arrangement has it's fair share of silly moments too: the 'bah-bam!' after Clarke's line 'If you could look my way you'd know that I exist' and the angelic choir boys 'la la la la la la la love' backing from Graham and Tony. The song is much better all round, mainly thanks to the memorable melody, larger presence of The Hollies underneath all the orchestra trappings and the real punch in the arrangement. However the lyrics are a little odd, to say the least. Though I hadn't really noticed this in decades of listening to this song, the narrator must surely be a stalker - the love of his life doesn't even know he 'exists' in the opening verse, she's 'the only reason' that he's 'leaving town' in the second verse (ie he's following her) and additionally the only reason 'he'd come back' as he plucks up the courage 'to find out what to say to you'. However the chorus is an entirely different kettle of fish fingers: 'tell me' Clarke implores 'what went wrong with our love?' Well, something can't go wrong before it even starts - this is a relationship that's clearly all in the author's head. That might be why this song has always sounded slightly off, even before I studied the lyrics properly (alas The Hollies never did feature their lyrics on an album very often, even when it was fashionable post 'Sgt Peppers' - 'Confessions Of The Mind' and 'Write On' being two exceptions) - all the ingredients are here for a successful song and yet it doesn't quite connect up somehow.

'Crusader' however is near-perfect and one of my favourite 1960s Hollie songs. Briefly returning to the folk-rock of their past two records, The Hollies recycle the melody of 'Too Many People' for an even better song, a pretty track that surely has another Nash acid trip in there somewhere (this is the first Hollies song about their 'new' favourite theme 'nature', with a possible pun on the line 'the grass has grown much taller now, over running everything'. If that reading is right, though, note that the next line is not 'yippee' or 'wahoo' but a mournful 'oh what have I done?') Were it not for the title I'm willing to bet few people would have guessed this endless march was about soldiers in the crusades (that curious medieval desire to spread Christianity to half the world which is so often portrayed as the 'right' thing to do even though we lock some Muslims up on the flimsiest of excuses for talking about doing the same in this day and age). Instead this is a track about the journey not the destination and nicely atmospheric it is too, with some gorgeous Hicks flamenco guitar and the best Hollies harmonies on the album exploring the world around them in Haiku-style clipped phrases ('All is dark, the moat is dry, shadows fall, the roof lets in the sky') and the warriors wait for something to happen, 'the memories going round in my head of the life I have led' (another favourite Hollies phrase that will be recycled on 'What A Life I've Led' in 1971). Four straight repeats of his nostalgic middle eight make it clear that the song is really about remembering not where the soldiers are now, though other details suggest they're getting uneasy sleep in a bran the night before a big battle. Nash will go on to be a passionate believer in reincarnation  (famously writing the 1977 CSN track 'Cathedral' after waking up from a birthday acid trip on the grave of a medieval soldier who shared his birthday) so this could be an early 'suggestion' of what his future partner David Crosby will come to write about as 'deja vu' rather than mere invention. As the witty sleevenotes make clear, the song ends up using a simple tape of people marching in step with the song's time signature - a low stately plod suggesting the end of a weary march- although the band tried over abandoned ideas first including shaking peas inside a box. Warm and intimate (especially on the stereo mix where you can hear Allan and Graham take a huge breath in at the beginning), hauntingly beautiful and inexpressibly sad without ever quite saying why, 'Crusader' is another much overlooked song, one of the best and certainly earliest examples of the 'Hollies template phase two' : harmonised glossy ballads that get by on subtlety and hints rather than energy and emphasis as in the past. A towering achievement, similar to the warmth-yet-coldness and helplessness of The Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby' from earlier in the same year but made with an even more elaborate orchestration, perhaps the best Mike Vickers ever did for the band.

'Don't Even Think About Changing' is very much the sound of The Hollies in 1966 - it shares the same driving rhythms and snarling protest as 'What's Wrong With The Way I Live?' 'Don't Run and Hide' and 'I've Got A Way Of My Own'. The lyrics sounds like Nash's growing sense of hippiedom again and perhaps reflecting the stares he was getting himself by 1966 having grown a distinctive beard and developed a love of kaftans so at odds with what his bandmates were wearing while urging his fans going through the same boat not to let the stares get them down. 'When people put you down it's 'cause they're jealous of you' is his helpful suggestion, adding hopefully 'one day they'll realize and wish that they were me' (ie young, trendy, hip and  more concerned with inner peace). Note though that most of this uses the universal pronoun 'our' - this isn't a personal crusade but a generational one. 'We are so near to all the things they tried when they were young' appeals this song, calling the youth of the day together for one last try. We aren't quite in 1967 yet but this track is very much setting the tone. Given that yet again this isn't the sort of the song the other Hollies would have fallen into naturally, it's impressive how much of a band they still sound here, especially Clarke whose vocal is again just the right side of conviction and anger without getting OTT and his passionate harmonica puffing puts this track much closer to the distinctive Hollie sound of old. Indeed the whole track seems to have been modelled as a compromise - 'if you have to write these sort of things, Graham, then at least let's try and sound like we always did', as its so in the moment and yet so of the future all of the same time. If that was the advice, though, it's good advice, The Hollies digging much deeper than their usual status at the time would suggest and saying something that manages to be both helpful and pioneering, telling the world of mums and dads that there's more to this new alien revolution that they don't quite get than just wearing silly clothes.

'For Certain Because' ends much as it began, with a banjo. However 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' - only the second Clarke-Hicks-Nash song selected for release as a single and one of The Hollies' bigger hits - is much more like their older selves. Given that Nash has already written about one American 'awakening' over the course of the album, the band come together to write about another, earlier incident during a less successful American tour of 1964 (some reports say that this track was in fact based on an earlier abandoned song from that time which hasn't yet come to light). There the Hollies were turned on not by drugs or peace but by sheer freedom, chaperoned by their managed to a belly dancing club that must have seemed shockingly daring for sheltered early twenty-something Brits. The song was then finished in hurry in the back of a taxi - about the only place Clarke Hicks and Nash were all three together off-stage by this point - to go with their driving riff which Hicks had found went rather well with a lovely new banjo he'd just bought. The banjo will go on to become the key sound of The Hollies in 1966 and nicely plugs them back into the 'folk rock' sound they were just about to abandon, pulling them 'backwards' at the same time they were going 'forwards' which made the transition easier for more conservative fans as well as giving them a distinctive sound unlike any of their rivals. In fact there was originally a lot more banjo, with an extra round of the speedy 'derba dooba deedly-doodly-dabby-dah-dun' riff cut from the solo in the finished single and accidentally 'leaked' on a German 30th anniversary set (appearing later in the rest of the world on 'At Abbey Road Volume One' in 1998). The result is classic Hollies, almost the last great use of their template energy and enthusiasm and the song is both catchy and exciting, the breathless narrator intrigued by the exotic beauties 'shimmering around the floor' as his very English conscience and his falling energy calls him to yell 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' (though of course what he really means is 'Go! Go! Go!) A clever compromise between Nash's daring and the others' slight hesitation to follow him down such a road, the result is one last great union between this five-way band of brothers that's exquisitely performed, especially by Tony who has already mastered a whole new sound. The result was a deserving #2 hit in the UK and a #7 hit even in the US (just two places behind breakthrough hit 'Bus Stop'), one of the band's cleverest catchiest 45s that manages to find a middle path between the old and the new that appeals to both halves of fans. The band won't be quite so lucky with this tactic in the new year but now The Hollies have rarely sounded more fabulous.


Overall, though, 'For Certain Because' doesn't quite get this compromise right. The album veers between extremes throughout, sounding either very traditional or very  'new' (or what would have seemed 'new' in late 1966 anyway) and more than any record since the second one this is the band in search of 'The Hollies Style', no longer certain what that is in anymore in a changing market where twee bands got left behind and over-adventurous ones imploded. Though difficult, confusing and at times heading down totally the wrong path, for now The Hollies are still enough of 'a band' to still have the 'Midas' touch where everything they touches somehow works - some parts more than others it has to be said ('Peculiar Situation' and 'Crusader' being the most successful mis-mash of the old and new worlds to my ears and notably both would have sounded right at home on 'Would You Believe?') but nothing here truly fails to work and The Hollies maintain their crown as the most consistently consistent band of the decade. 'For Certain Because' is as good a transition album as any from the Merseybeat bands who'd lasted long enough to go all flower power, even if the power struggles within the band mean that this album doesn't go anywhere near the sort of half-psychedelic routes other bands were using in late 1966. That however is something that is about to change in the most dramatic style possible with their very next LP....

Other Hollies articles from this site you might be interested in reading:


'Stay With The Hollies' (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/the-hollies-stay-with-hollies-1964.html

'In The Hollies Style' (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-hollies-in-hollies-style-1964-album.html

'A Distant Light' (1971) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-hollies-distant-light-1971-album.html

'Romany' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-52-hollies-romany-1972.html

'Out On The Road' (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/news-views-and-music-issue-62-hollies.html

'Headroom' (Allan Clarke solo) (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-57-allan-clarke-headroom-1973.html

'The Hollies' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/the-hollies-hollies-1974-album-review.html

‘Russian Roulette’ (1976) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-hollies-russian-roulette-1976.html

'5317704' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/news-views-and-music-issue-110-hollies.html

'Radio Fun' (BBC Sessions) (2012) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/news-views-and-music-issue-145-hollies.html

The Best Unreleased Hollies Recordings
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/the-hollies-rarities-ii-best-unreleased.html

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