Monday, 7 September 2015

Neil Young and The Promise Of The Real "The Monsanto Years" (2015)

Neil Young and The Promise Of The Real

"The Monsanto Years" (2015)

A New Day For Love/Wolf Moon/People Want To Hear About Love/Big Box/A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee/Workin' Man/Rules Of Change/Monsanto Years/If I Don't Know

"It's a bad time to do nothin'!" or "Right side of left - right side of wrong!"

I would hate to get on the wrong side of Neil Young. Though it takes a lot to make him angry, once Neil's passion is roused it seems to be very hard for him to put that fire out. Where most singer-songwriters would turn a problem into a single song and forget about it the minute the studio lights go out, Neil can and does spend whole albums exploring what's on his mind and on his heart. Neil chooses his targets with care too: in the past only Richard Nixon and George Bush have felt the full force of his wrath but here it is again, this time aimed squarely at a company most famous for producing genetically modified crops. As far as I know no musician has ever had a go at a single company before - except the odd record label perhaps - but suddenly it all makes sense as Neil uses Monsanto as both a specific case of corruption and scandal everyone can relate to and as a wider metaphor for what has gone wrong with the world in the past few years (Starbucks gets quite a kicking too). 'Too rich for jail' Neil sighs, before sarcastically cackling 'Corporations have 'feelings', they're just like people - just harder to control!' Even more than 'Living With War, the anti-Iraq and Afghanistan war album from 2005, this sounds like the album it felt like Neil and his colleagues should be making in the wake of 'Ohio', standing up for those who don't have a voice and trying to add his own views to run alongside what gets reported in the media as the 'truth'. The biggest problem with this record is that its not the CSNY album it should be and that Neil's ability to get mad means that he's still mad at his old buddies who could have shaped this record from another promising-but-not-quite-there record into the comeback album of all time: this album seems built for burning Stills-Young guitar duels and angelic mocking harmonies and would have benefitted greatly from having a couple of songs by each of CSN to compare and contrast with. As with so many Neil albums recently, 'Monsanto' would have made a bigger impact still if it hadn't quite so much the same all the way through.

The band Neil has chosen to use is a god and rather apt one though. The Promise Of The Real are a 'new' band with some familiar old names in there, led by Neil's old pal Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Mika and much like the 'Mirrorball' collaboration with Pearl Jam came about when Neil performed at Willie's annual charity event Farm Aid. Neil has been a regular performer since the first one thirty years earlier, a spin-off of 'Live Aid' held to raise money for American farmers struggling to cope with reduced Government grants and competitive prices. The band have been compared, rightly, to Crazy Horse, with a similarly open, simple heavy beat and layers of grungy feedback, but they're a slightly tighter version of the Horse, with a similar mix of beauty within all that noise. You can tell, too, that the whole band are 'together' on this issue and mean every word: it's unusual for Neil to co-credit a backing band these days that isn't the Horse but this is very much a heartfelt album that like many a Neil album of the past decade is better collection of performances than it is a strong set of songs. Going back to how the two halves of this band met, the fact that Neil showed up at all is interesting - while CSN played every possible benefit you could think (war veterans, anti-war protests, political prisoners, cut wages, exaggerated prison sentences, capitalism - the lot) Neil has been much pickier with his demonstrations; as a ranch-owner himself he recognises the struggles of living a life from the land and the irritation when politicians who've never spent a day in the city decide to change the rules on a whim. This album has struck many casual observers as strange - most musicians Neil's age are embracing Starbucks' record label and keeping their mouth shut after all. But keeping quiet has never been Neil's way and while typically it couldn't be less like the last record (2014's the guilty confessional 'Storytone') in many ways it's the pro-farming anti-meddling album we expected in 1970 (when CSNY split) or 1985 (when Neil first worked with Willie). Better late than never I guess...

Then again Monsanto is very much a tale of 21st century greed. The name probably doesn't mean much to non-American listeners (and maybe not even many of them) but is one I've been reading about with interest (and horror) whenever a new angle comes up (pollutants are one of the probably causes of my illness me/cfs so I take a particular interest in stories like these). Though the Missouri company dates back to 1901, when it mainly manufactured saccharine and sweeteners before moving on to plastics, the company made the headlines in 1983 when it created the first ever genetically modified crop. As far as the farmers are concerned Monsanto and their copycats' business model is a threat to their livelihood and way of life, with artificially created crops that are less nutritious and only have a single life-span (therefore killing off the 'crop rotation' cycle that keeps farmland arable and healthy) used because of their cheapness in the short-term, even though the dangers of them in the long-term are plain. Monsanto argue that farming is a business like any other and one they can do cheaper - and they even 'replied' to this album in a newspaper column in July this year saying that the record 'fails to reflect our strong beliefs in what we do every day to help make agriculture more sustainable. We recognise that there is a lot of misinformation about who we are and what we do - and unfortunately several of these myths seem to be captured in the album's lyrics'.

No doubt there are more than a few mistruths out there, spread by spurned employees or journalists out for a bit of sensationalism. It's also true, as some people have pointed out recently, that by throwing all his eggs in one basket and attacking one or two bad companies out of several hundred equally corrupt and greedy GMO manufacturers/monopolised industries Neil loses sight of the bigger picture: that Monsanto and Starbucks are the tip of an iceberg, a fact which isn't mentioned across these nine songs which all attack the same subjects. However, if anything Neil is too kind on the company by being similarly vague with his attacks, the general gist of this album being 'it's bad for the farmers and they shouldn't meddle' without many specifics. However the aspect of the Monsanto corporation that's been interesting me for years - and which Neil may have refrained from mentioning in lieu of a law suit - are the health implications. Though the company stopped using them in 1977 when it was brought to their attention, Monsanto used to be the largest American manufacturer of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls - which sounds like a great name for a punk band) used as a 'coolant' contained within wires in large electrical outlets such as power stations until somebody pointed out that they hadn't been tested in a laboratory yet and lots of people were in regular contact with them (and that the surfaces 'leaked' out the wires more than anyone had realised). Surprise Surprise, tests revealed that PCBs were an 'organic pollutant' and risked causing cancer growths in those who came into regular contact with them and the substance was finally banned in 1979. The Illinois plant was particularly busy manufacturing these and often dubbed waste material in the nearby river, the rather aptly nicknamed 'Dead Creek' ('one of the most polluted communities in the region' according to a Government enquiry). The company was then sued in 2002 for forty years of dumping poisonous waste such as mercury in Alabama (including a creek used as a main source of drinking water) and that PCB waste was dumped (admittedly with permission) in landfill sites across America. Monsanto ended up paying $700 million to sufferers who proved they had become ill as a result of their practices - although as the claims were spread across some 20,000 plaintiffs this didn't result to as large an amount as you might think. Even in Britain, one of Monsanto's subsidiary business got into trouble for dumping similar waste products in a quarry in Welsh valley Groes Faen - an inquiry found that 75 toxic substances were found there (to make things clear Monsanto did pay costs but did not accept responsibility for putting them there). As if that wasn't enough, Monsanto also sell a synthetic hormone that helps produce more quantities of milk in cows - even though the company's critics have complained about the quality of the milk and the wellbeing of the cows. Oh and a 'glysophate-resistant wheat' (which sounds like a prog-rock band) which was meant to be undergoing trial but was discovered being grown at a farm whose crops were intended for being turned into foodstuffs (it was never proved if the crop entered the food chain and to be fair Monsanto did destroy all prototype crops straight away). And Monsanto were also cited indirectly in a massive rise in suicides among farmer in India after consecutive crop failures left them unable to feed their families. And in Argentina where chap sales of GMO soybeans put several local businesses out of action. And a similar tale in Brazil. And more and more and more...

Clearly a company out to introduce something as radical as a new crop, altered by human touch, was always going to be controversial. But the sheer size of complaints stacked against Monsanto is beginning to make George Bush look like a moderate and loved world leader. Though it didn't make much splash in the mainstream news farmers the world over had enough and took part in a worldwide protest involving some 52 countries in May 2013, a feat repeated again the following year (though not, sadly, in 2015). If you've read this far then you might be wondering why the powers that be aren't stopping all of this - but the problem is that the powers-that-be are part of the problem not the solution. Monsanto have a lot of spare money to spend and like spending it on politicians: the 2008 American election saw the business donate some over $186,000 to US politicians and have close ties to British politicians too - the late 1990s saw no less than 22 meetings in 'secret' between politicians and Monsanto representatives while Stanley Greenburg, once Tony Blair's advisor, left politics to become a Monsanto consultant, with his successor David Hill become a consultant to another company Monsanto happened to  have strong ties with. More worrying still, Monsanto don't just lobby the side that's most likely to agree with them - they've successfully been lobbying both sides and sending tonnes of money to every leading party both sides of the pond; politics will only work properly when there is a difference for people to elect. When businesses make sure that politicians vote their way every single time it's no longer a 'debate' or an 'issue that will help decide an election' - it's a decision already taken on our behalves about which we were often never even consulted. Clearly Monsanto have several tentacles in the places that matter, which means that while they do get fined and do get held to account, they're still able to run as a business after scandals that would have shut down smaller firms several times over. Just as 'Living With War' was really about the effects of war rather than war itself, so 'The Monsanto Years' is less about farming and more about betrayal, an attempt to fight back against a company that's become too rich and too powerful and which has clearly put lives in danger - if only by accident.

Neil also kicks Starbucks, who are a far more famous brand although perhaps even their influence hasn't yet spread as far Monsanto's. Their reply to this album, a rather puzzled 'We have not yet taken a position on the use of GMO Crops labelling', is a misnomer: 'Monsanto barely mentions GM crops but is instead about greed and corruption and bribery. To some extent, Starbucks sounds like a company after Neil's own heart: they're big on recycling and actually came 15th on a list of 'greenest companies' in 2008. However, it doesn't seem hard to think of a few reasons why Neil might think that they too have 'bucked' the high streets up. One of the major basics of capitalism is that competition helps keep costs down and allows the public to decide what works and what doesn't (they won't very well shop at a more expensive, less friendly shop with less range where the coffee tastes terrible if they can go across the road - although that still doesn't explain why some shops I know came to power). However that business model doesn't work if you then manage to buy out all your competitors and shutting them down - either directly or by artificial means such as opening multiple shops in one place and making sure they all do badly or opening a shop up without a license and ensuring it gets shut down quickly (sneaky ways around the 'fair trade' laws). Starbucks' mission statement is to get everyone drinking their coffee, which is fair enough; but if there is no other coffee to choose from then that becomes a different and scarier prospect. Add in the fact that Starbucks have decided to branch out into the record industry (with some nicely environmentally packaged but still rather odd compilations of people like John Lennon, who'd be spitting and writing his own protest albums about the chain if he could) and you can see why Neil is a tad concerned. Admittedly other chains and brands do this too, all of the time, but 'Starbucks' is an obvious target because it really is everywhere: even my home town has one and apart from four bakeries, seven charity shops and three bookmakers (seriously?!) and a rather wonderful bookshop there's hardly anything else here. And all this from a chain that none of us had even heard of fifteen or so years ago. Judging by the lyrics on this album, it sounds like it's the same in America.

Though I know it's all rather obvious to all of you reading this while the album is new but it's worth pointing out to people reading this in the future the context with which this album is being made. Our high streets are changing with supernatural speed in what looks like a process that cannot be reversed. The local family owned chains went first and now even the smaller brands famous from up and up down our countries are disappearing. Only the major corporations are hanging on - and each one is desperate to buy as many competitors and other businesses as they can so that they'll be the last ones standing. The Government used to stop this sort of thing in days gone by and during other recessions - but a bit of money and a bit here means they look the other way or delay inquiries looking into things that we should have been told about. It's becoming ever more serious in recent years because of the amount of people who know that they will get a new job and a fat pay cheque once they leave office with these companies, assuming they don't try and fight them too much. Time will tell whether this a human blip before we all come to our senses through albums like this one and demand changed with menaces or whether we're stuck like this and it's only going to get worse. It's worth pointing out though that most people believe that things really are going to get worse and that this is the background at which the album is made: after warning us about ecological concerns, politics and the environment for the past fifty years this is an album that sounds like a last chance which even Neil knows will be hard to turn back.

With so much politics and big business at the heart of this album, we haven't had much time yet to talk about the actual music. Though the record is as loose and raw as almost all of Neil's in the 21st century so far (the gorgeous 'Prairie Wind' being the exception), it's also slightly more together than other Young records of late. Though Neil too often sinks back into his speak-singing voice he uses when passing on a 'message' song that isn't one of his more personal numbers (a la 'Fork In The Road') there are also far more melodies and hummable songs here than normal. As per usual nowadays, the album badly needs some variety, given that all nine songs are angry rants that all sound vaguely similar and just come in at different tempos and are played on a few different instruments. However the 'main' song that gets repeated a lot throughout this album is at least a good one, far more interesting than the one that marks all eight songs on 'Greendale' for instance, with plenty of space for some terrific guitar solo-ing (the solo on 'A New Day For Love' is Neik's best work in the studio for years!) to sound loud and proud or treated to angelic if slightly shaky  harmonies to sound delicate and fragile. Though the lyrics are still a long way away from the brilliant ambiguity and metaphor of old - sometimes saying the same things over and over, sometimes densely ambiguous and sometimes so direct the words come with a bigger sledgehammer than that distinctive guitar crunch - they are at last a good fit for the melodies, basic enough to make the points needed in the shortest time possible but also digging slightly deeper than that. As often happens with modern Young, most of the lyrics relate to people's treatment of the planet and how The Earth can't take much more. There are guilt lyrics about letting things get this bad, rants about what we're going to leave behind for our children, sarcastic asides about both companies' reputations as 'caring' industries and desperate cries for people to wake up and smell the un-genetically modified roses. Best of all, Neil has found his bite again and relishes sinking his fangs as deeply and as painfully as possible into the industries he attacks.

However, unlike the good old days of 'Ohio' (when there was a sense that people could still rally against Nixon and rise up against his treatment of 'us', the people who cared about what his policies did to other people like us) and even the slightly jovial 'what an ultra-maroon' album 'Living With War' (where George Bush was a figure of fun, as serious as the matter was) 'The Monsanto Years' lacks two things integral to making an album like this: humour and hope. Even Neil wonders why he's bothering to speak up against faceless corporations when he knows after fifty painful years of this sort of thing that the 1960s dream isn't working and that businesses make more money and reach more souls than artists could even in their heyday. The one great hope of the 1960s - that once the youth have become old men and are the ones at the top of their business tress, about to retire - is clearly dead now that the generation are in their 60s and 70s and things have got worse, not better. 'People Want To Hear About Love' is one of Neil's sulkiest songs, angry that people keep requesting love songs and close their ears to the politics they don't want to hear in his work (perhaps with memories of people walking out en masse during CSNY's 'Freedom Of Speech' tour in 2007). Even 'A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee', which waddles along with a typically comic Neil Young gait, stops being funny as soon as the whistling stops as Neil admits that this isn't really a rebellion anymore because there's no way 'we' can win ('with fascist politicians and chemical giants walking arm in arm'). The reason why this album so badly needs CSNY is that the main difference between them and Neil is that they still believe that things will get better - not now, perhaps, or even soon, but there's a hope in humanity in even CSN's most recent crop of songs that would have added just the right touch of humanity to this album. The one part that lets 'The Monsanto Years' down badly is that too much of this comes across as rockstar whinging, even the songs that effect everybody, all of us round the world and it's a record that seems to already know that its fighting a losing battle against two corporations and a practice simply too big to stop. Oh and just how many rhymes with 'Monsanto' can there be? Neil should have picked something easier to rhyme like 'Walmart' or 'KFC' as it sounds strange every time he says it (or was Monsanto's unrhymeable name all part of a giant scheme to prevent singer-songwriters taking the mickey out of them in song?!)

It's a shame too that there isn't just a little more to differentiate these songs. So many of these songs have clearly been harvested from the same source and come with the same rough 'n' ready backing tracks filled with big power pop choruses and  guitar solos that arrive just so. Like many of the best albums in Neil's collection this is an album that already sounded like I'd been hearing it for years on first playing - but unlike 'Prairie Wind' or 'Sleeps With Angels' (which felt like they were always there in our-subconscious, waiting for Neil to find them and turn them into songs for us) too much of 'The Monsanto Years' just sounds like generic Young. There's that familiar guitar sound running through everything, that same shruggingly mad vocal delivery and lots of boom-chikka rhythm section that suggest somebody in the band has been listening to too much Johnny Cash. That's a shame because each track has something about it to love: 'A New Day For Love', with its lovely melody and gorgeous pleading harmonies and 'Big Box' with its urgent restlessness and sarcastic tales of passing by a boarded up Route 66 are my favourites, more melodic than many recent Neil pieces while the lyrics are sassier and smarter. Had these two songs appeared in the middle of another Neil Young album no doubt I'd have been requesting a whole album in the same vein - but the rest of the album brings diminishing returns. The more I play this album the more the simplistic 'Workin' Man' is standing out too, despite having one of the most generic Neil Young chord progressions of them all, used several times in the past (it's 'World On A String' meets 'Born In Ontario' meets 'Motor City' stuck in a blender). 'Wolf Moon' is the acoustic country song I was fearing when I heard the 'Willie Nelson' name linked with this album (although it's still prettier than anything on 'Old Way', the album the pair made together back in 1983), 'People Want To Hear About Love' is one long rant without any break or change and 'A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee' isn't anywhere near as clever as it thinks it is (and an odd choice as a lead-off single, though I suppose more people have heard of Starbucks than Monsanto). The final trio is particularly difficult to sit through: 'Rules Of Change' is an uncomfortably sung blues which ironically breaks too many musical rules itself matched only by the painfully slow dragging beat of 'The Monsanto Years' itself, a track which makes even 'Vampire Blues'  and 'Words (Between The Lines Of Age)' look sturdy on their feet. 'If I Don't Know' is even slower and simpler, although this one at least has the good grace to be beautiful and remarkably haunting, a powerful eulogy for the rest of the album even if its music to sleep to, not to rock to.

What transforms 'The Monsanto Years' from another Neil Young album that's often a struggle to sit through into a powerful, memorable artistic statement are the performances - the one major improvement this album has on the last few albums ('Chrome Dreams II' 'Fork In The Road' 'Psychedelic Pill' and 'Storytone'). The Promise Of The Real have understood that oh so tricky factor in becoming a great Neil Young backing band: playing simply and slowly so as not to sink the star turn, but also loudly and with lots of heart. I am still convinced that this band is not who they were billed as but are actually Crazy Horse circa 'Zuma' in 1975 who happen to have been moved forward in time through a genetically modified time machine. The wobbly vocals, the distorted guitar, the thick and sturdy drumming, the nearly-one-note bass playing; heck there's one of the vocalists who sounds like a genetically modified hybrid of Horse guitarists Danny Whitten and Frank Sampedro. Though all of Neil's bands have brought something to the table and shone a light on a slightly different aspect of Neil's many muses, this one is fully in the great Crazy Horse tradition of playing with as much noise and power and energy as possible, with some terrific guitar meshing and that surreal feel common to a few Neil Young records where the slower yet longer the band play the faster and more claustrophobic the sound feels. Having a band there he can trust and rely on (which hasn't always been the case with Crazy Horse, though 'Pill' was a step in the right direction) inspires Neil to his finest too. All too often his most recent albums have been sung more out of duty than passion and the recent covers album 'A Letter Home' was in fact his worst vocal album even with taking the deliberately lo-fi recording into account. Neil just didn't have his heart in any of those songs and sounded as if he couldn't wait to get home to be honest, caught at a very lost and troubled time after the media fallout over the revelation of his affair with actress Daryl Hannah. 'The Monsanto Years' however has fired his engine room up nicely and his singing is glorious throughout, meaning every single word he sings and ratcheting up the tension layer by layer in every song. As many great Neil vocals as there were in the past, 'Bog Box' is at least close to classics like 'Old Man' 'A Man Needs A Maid' and 'Dangerbird'.

Overall, then, 'The Monsanto Years' is another mixed Neil Young record - albeit with more positives and slightly less caveats than normal. Neil chooses the perfect targets for his withering wit and sarcasms and gives a voice to something so many of us have been longing to hear for so long. It's a shame that there isn't just a little bit more leeway and variety across this album, room for songs that explore Monsanto through the eyes of those who have lost loved ones because of it for instance, farmers put out of business by faulty crops or worried about their damaged livestock while denied compensation or workers forced to spend their time with an organisation they know represents the devil there because they're the only businesses left in town and people gotta eat. Oddly what should be one of Neil's most humane records has less humanity than almost all his others, full of wild swinging attacks against corporations and politicians without any real sense of the smaller damage. It's the difference between a person experiencing something firsthand that makes them angry and reading about it in the paper. However that said there's no doubting the commitment in Neil's vocal or his passionate guitar playing and as we've seen before in Neil's career, when his empathy is at his best he can turn even newspaper columns into moving pieces that say all that needs to be said ('Ohio'). 'The Monsanto Years' isn't quite that great album that's been coming for the last six or so and is sure to arrive any year now, honest, one where everything works, every track sounds different and every song sounds like buckets were sweated over it rather than being tossed off before the muse moves on to something else. However, in common with all the albums since 'Chrome Dreams', it's another step forward in the right direction, with some swinging songs that are brave and worthy and doing exactly what someone in Neil's position should be doing: speaking out, whatever it costs him. let's hope that the Monsanto Years are short, but that this album's shelf-life is long.

The Monsanto Years' opening track 'A New Day For Love' opens with the single most unexpected sound on the whole record - a jingle-jangle very Byrdsy 60s Rickenbacker that offers a hope and grace before the opening is swept aside by the usual Neil Young crunch. Depressing as much of the rest of the album is, this is one last great moment of hope as Neil imagines the sun shining down on the Earth as mother nature illuminates what mankind are up to and everyone revolts in one glorious movement. Both the opening and the lyric make this a very 1960s sort of a song, a sequel of sorts to 'Walk Like A Giant', with Neil pretending that he and his colleagues still have the power to change the world through music and his performance is so committed and energetic you half believe it yourself. There are some glorious bursts of guitar work across this song, as Neil peals off from his visions of a brighter future with some of his most soaring sounds. 'It's a bad day to do nothin' screams Neil as he imagines the modern world as a showdown where the greedy world leaders have all come to shoot the inhabitants and nobody is there to shoot them back, even travelling past the graveyards of those who died on their behalf lying unloved and uncared for in the middle of nowhere. Neil realises that, almost uniquely in the modern world, he still has a voice - of sorts - and a following - well ish - and he's damn well going to use them, struggling to sum up all his confused feelings over the modern world and finding it all comes down to a plea: 'protect our precious planet!' Easily the highlight of the album, rooted in the folk protest Neil has always admired but with a terrific guitar attack that's Neil at his best, this song manages to be both realistic and hopeful, mournfully sad and deliriously happy, desperate and confident all at the same time. It really does sound like a new day for love the way Neil sings it here.

'Wolf Moon' gets Neil's traditional lone-acoustic-song-on-an-electric-album out the way early and is perhaps the most traditional song here. Neil sings painfully high above his own wobbly harmonica and lazily strummed guitar on the most personal song on the album, one that sounds as if it belongs on the more confessional 'Storytone' than here. If 'Harvest Moon' was the peak of Neil's songs of cosy intimacy and love with former wife Pegi, then 'Wolf Moon' is the negative effect - the lowest moment of their relationship with that glorious full moon hidden by storm clouds. However even though Neil feels that the light of his life has been blotted out, he still feels grateful just to have gotten through it and to still be alive. Neil thanks the wolf moon for rising and the 'big sky' for the parting clouds on the horizon: it's ben difficult, the song says, but we got through and the musical inspiration is beginning to flow back through his veins, 'seeds of life in glowing fields of wheat' that ;like 'The Fields Of Opportunity' on 'Comes A Time' are ready for harvesting once more. People who don't understand Neil and how his brain works might be wondering what on earth this confession of doubt and hard times is doing on this album - clearly referring to Neil's marital problems of the past few years. However it also makes perfect sense; now that Neil is more honest with himself and us he's feeling at one with nature again and much of this song is set in a field with him looking up at the skies waiting for them to part. In a strange way it's as if Neil's 'lies' to himself  and the absolution he feels with the universe remind him of artificial GM crops: they look like the real from a distance but cause inner pain and suffering. Alas a promising song rather gets away with the weakest performance on the album and even though thematically this song fits, musically it still sounds as if it doesn't really belong with these others at all.

Though not quite as bad some other horrors from recent albums, 'People Want To Hear About Love' is the track works least well for me. I can see what Neil is trying to do: his fans want to hear more about his love life, teasingly dangled before us in last album 'Storytone' and think that Neil has something he wants to get off his chest. They certainly don't want to hear a song about politics or giant companies. 'Don't mention global poverty' he cackles, 'they just want to hear about global love, because it'll make them feel alright'. However that seems a tad disingenuous from a man who must know his fanbase can and have followed him through everything - rockabilly albums lasting twenty minutes, a soap opera about the most boring town outside Eastenders and a whole album of songs about environmental cars. Especially the CSNY half of his fanbase, who've been clamouring for Neil to make this sort of brutish political attack for decades; personally I'd much rather hear Neil aiming barbed attacks at people who deserve it than trying to write bad love songs. People don't want to hear about love - at least judging by the sluggish sales of 'Storytone' - and if Neil really is so dismissive of songs about global peace then why tease us with the brilliance of this album's opening track? Luckily the song almost gets away with things thanks to a typically fine performance by The Promise Of The Real who give Neil plenty of space to soar, with a trio of guitar solos in the middle, and a heartfelt Neil vocal that unlike some others of recent years is clearly being performed live with the rest of the song. However there's no getting round the fact that this is the simplest and most sloganeering song on what is quite a simple and sloganeering sort of album where Neil's sentiment is at its worst.

Just as you're beginning to despair a little, in sweeps 'Big Box', a majestic Young song that's built on the single most 70sy set of chord changes since 'Rust Never Sleeps' although thematically it's 'Crime In The City' a quarter century on. Neil is at his wordy best here, sounding more like Woody Guthrie or Joan Baez as he pours scorn on the modern world with its boarded up shops and its rich business owners, as the people who don't 'get' what's taken place under their noses 'lining up to ask for more'. Businesses can get away with murder by simply paying a fine to a Government who never pass it down to the people while big business 'control the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the TV screen, from the air we breathe to the fuel we burn'. The Western world has become indoctrinated into turning a blind eye, desperate to hang on to the tiny bit of the ladder they have left and suffering through no blame of their own while those who caused the problems in the first place are 'too rich for jail'. Neil wonders sarcastically why they can get away with this. He was brought up to believe that everyone is equal in a democracy and that 'they're just like you and me', with a single vote just like the rest of us and barely hides his disgust as he spits out 'their' arguments to the rest of us: corporations have feelings, corporations have soul, they're just like people - only harder to control!' However the truth of this hard-hitting song is that 'they don't want to fall - which is why they fall on you!' Neil gets angrier and angrier as the song moves on, interrupted only by some ghostly mocking harmonies from the business leaders in the middle, powering his guitar up notch by notch up to the point where the song is sizzling by the end. Alas the song doesn't come to the big finish we're expecting but sort of fizzles out a la 'Ragged Glory'. However full marks for leaving the bit of studio banter at the beginning, which mainly consists of a raucous laugh fully in keeping with the theme of the song. The powers that be are laughing at us for not having the power to fight back. The sort of song CSNY should have been recording years ago and one of the best Neil Young songs in years, pithy witty and based around some glorious chord changes played by a cooking band all coming from the same page. Even at 8:17 it doesn't outstay it's welcome and could have run for much longer.

'A Rock Star  Bucks A Coffee' sounds like the unwanted return of the Shocking Punks, a rockabilly song with a funny gait and lots of demented whistling. Neil clearly likes his coffee, but he's getting fed up at having no choice and that the biggest firm has big ties with GMO crops. 'Monsanto' Neil yells in the chorus, 'let our farmers grow what they want to grow!' Neil's complaint seems to be that Starbucks don't tell their customers where their coffee is sourced from, saying 'mothers want to know what to feed their children'. However it seems odd that Neil should pick so specifically on one chain when it's a whole practise and culture that are doing this - Starbucks is only one of many businesses doing something similar in order to cut corners and make more profits and the 'real' villain, the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance who 'allow' this sort of thing (with the occasional caveat) get only a single line. Alas the comedy backing doesn't fit well with what's another impassioned song that only really takes fire when the band stop trying to be funny and soar on some excellent CSNY-style harmonies.

'Workin' Man' adds a bit of fire back to proceedings with the simplest rocker on the album. At last Neil stops talking about generalisations and starts talking about specifics, of the farmers he befriended - 'back in '96' when he started doing more gigs raising money for farmers - and paints an idyllic picture of himself as a fellow ranch owner 'planting seeds and talking weather'. Then things changed: the supreme court legalised GMO crops, Neil specifying Clarence Thomas of the United States Supreme Court as one who pushed for the decision (the fact that Neil's 'other' target George Bush nominated him for his seat is probably more than just a coincidence too). Suddenly where there used to be friendliness and brotherhood there's suspicion: the farmers finds not friends but men with briefcases talking about taking him to court and offering a threat: 'You're gonna need big money to stand your ground, or we're gonna bury you - now how does that sound?' Against big businesses turning major profits the poor farmers haven't got a chance and either have to adapt and work with the enemy or go out of business. The song all but comes with a finale saying 'and this is your country...ladies and gentlemen' in true David Crosby style as Neil's anger boils and simmers over. Thankfully the lyrics are more interesting than some others on the album, making GMO crops a more human issue than some of the debating on the rest of the album. The music is rather good too, with Neil turning in a nicely suitable country feel thanks to some Bob Dylanesque harmonica set against a hard-hitting rock rhythm that through three guitarists is always doing something interesting behind the words.

Alas the album takes a slight downwards turn at the end of this album. 'Rules Of Change' is perhaps a slogan too far, with some of the most juvenile and over-written lines on the album ('No one owns the sacred land, no man's law can change that') and the single most forgettable melody on the album, played at such a slow tempo that all the earlier energy and optimism has burnt away. However the song still isn't that bad: there's a marvellously 'chugging' sound from Neil's guitar that sounds suitably mean and dark, while the chorus about the drift away from liberalism back to conservatism 'wrong side of right, right side of wrong' is rather clever and a welcome rebuttal from the man who once thought Ronald Reagan had some good ideas. There's a clever idea at the heart of this song too - that just as the GMO crop seeds have spread throughout America, landing randomly and growing as the plant does, so has the feeling that this is acceptable behaviour that isn't going to be challenged by anyone. A little more of the passion felt across the rest of the album might yet have made this a decent song.

Title track 'Monsanto Years' (it's dropped the 'the' from the album title) sounds suspiciously like a song from 'Fork On The Road', a slow chugging blues that has a few good ideas but runs out of things to say early on. The lines are long, some of the longest Neil has written, and reads more like prose or poetry than song lyrics at times ('You never know what the future holds in the shallow soil of Monsanto'). This time Neil slightly switches tack to moan about the use of pesticides harmful to the environment and the blind faith that the public has in the safety of their foods, 'poison-ready, the way the corporation needs'. Contrasted against this reality is the way the food is advertised, Neil imagining a smiling happy family of farmers against a red barn (picking on supermarket 'Safeways' even though they all do something similar) before switching back to the pressurised farmer doing what he's told and fearing for his next pay packet. This verse also brings to mind the clever album cover as drawn by drummer Anthony Logerfo, which pictures Neil as a snarling farmer with a pitchfork, a parody of Grant Wood's famous painting 'American Gothic (compared to the original Neil looks as if he'd about to do something nasty with his pitchfork!) There's also perhaps the cleverest line of the whole album: 'The seeds that were once the gift of God are now delivered by Monsanto' - as with so much of Neil's work the idea of man thinking he can be better than nature brings out his sarkiest, bitterest side. However its the music that prevents this song from really taking off: it's a crawl that at 7:46 seems at least twice as long and for the only time across the album the fact that there are three guitarists all doing their own thing actually hurts the album as we wait for them all to have a solo over and over again.

Thankfully the very final song 'If I Don't Know' is the best of the album's slow songs, the opposite of where the album came in with Neil sighing that all of his 'big ideas' are probably for nothing and that he and his small band of followers alone can't stand against the tide of a current this strong. However instead of giving in, Neil accepts that he can't prevent the Monsanto method happening and looks towards calming the impact. Mankind has to wake up to the real horrors sometime, he figures, even if it's a realisation that will probably come after he'd dead and buried in some Monsanto-sponsored graveyard, so he sets out trying to keep his grandchildren and their generation safe. In three short verses Neil makes a moving statement that even though he knows the world is doomed he'll still keep speaking out on the planet's behalf, matching the songs in his veins for every last drop of oil forced out of the soil. 'If the melodies stay pretty and the songs are not too long, I'll get them back to you' Neil promises his listeners and the Earth, oddly putting his fingers on the two aspects of this song that are probably the weakest links. There's a nice chord progression that's stately and sombre, though, about as far removed from 'A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee' as its possible to get, and there's a lovely moment when he hits each of the three simple one-line choruses, surrounded by pretty harmonies and a chord sequence that slowly descends into chaos before pulling itself out from the murk. Like much of the album, 'If I Don't Know' is a thoughtful and well crafted work played by an expert band of musicians - but a little bit of variety and a touch of speed would have made it even better.

That was 'The Monsanto Years' then, an unusual crop from Neil's imagination which offers much encouragement for the future - both in terms of Neil's muse and the rebellion necessary to sort out the GMO mess - without quite reaching the peaks you hope its going to reach after the opening song. Hearing a whole album on one source, with several similar takes on the same subject, will not be for everybody but I rather like the idea of Neil giving this subject the time and space it needs and all but forcing reviewers to at least comment on the Monsanto issue and what it is instead of just reviewing this as a random set of songs. Neil has done Mother Earth proud once again and the band do him and daddy Willie Nelson proud along the way - even if its tragedy that CSNY couldn't patch up their differences for an album tailor-made for them. I just wish there'd been a few more songs here with a slightly different angle and a few more songs akin to the blissful hopefulness of 'A New Day For Love' and the personal outrage of 'Big Box' and 'Workin' Man' rather than the slightly over-simple repetitive songs that make up the rest of the album. Putting three such similar slowies together at the end without any switch back to rock at the end is also a bad move, making this album seem longer and more boring than it really is. However few of us fans were expecting a perfect Neil Young album - it's been a long time since we had one of those - and 'The Monsanto Years' has more going for it than most Young albums of recent years, with both Neil's heart and his guitar back in their right places at last. You wouldn't want every Neil Young album to sound like this one, but sometimes an artist has to take a stand for what they believe in and this lesser-known cause that affects practically all of us is one that singer-songwriters should have taken a stand on decades ago. Though music - especially music by a septuagenarian with falling record sales - perhaps can't change the world like it used too, that's no reason not to try and this album has done a lot of good by raising issues and even if a few fans stop drinking in Starbucks and eating GMO foodstuffs then this album will have done something. Personally I find Starbucks coffee undrinkable and woefully expensive anyway (I've got all these Neil Young CDs to buy after all - that costs a fortune!) and try to use as little GMO food-sources as I can without starving (it's more difficult than you might think). But now, thanks to Neil, people like me feel less of a lone voice in the wilderness and can long for the day when there are more of us who want to see us farm without doing any harm. Without meaning to crow, could the end be nigh for Monsanto? 

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

'Neil Young' (1968)

'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969)

‘After The Goldrush’ (1970)

'Zuma' (1975)

'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977)

'Comes A Time' (1978)

'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979)

'Hawks and Doves' (1980)

'Broken Arrow' (1997)

‘Prairie Wind’(2005)

'Fork In The Road' (2009)

'Le Noise' (2011)

'A Treasure' (1986/2012)

'Storytone' (2014)

The Best Unreleased Neil Young recordings

The Hollies: Non-Album Songs Part Two: 1971-2014

You can buy 'Reflections Of A Long Time Past - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Hollies' in e-book form by clicking here

Deciding that the harder tones of 'Long Cool Woman' is the way to go, The Hollies try to come up with a close substitute (albeit one that's in-your-face rather than smoky). The riff used on [192] 'Hey Willy' is arguably better, repetitively swirling about the song like an angry gnat, although the lyrics aren't quite there. A tribute (of sorts) to Nash, this song 'borrows' the nickname his CSN bandmates gave him ('William' being Graham's middle name) and remembering the daft days of 1967 when Nash wore outrageous costumes to pr events ('Hey, Sadie, you dress like a lady, the fellars call you crazy - but you really are a pretty one!') You wonder what Nash made of it all or whether he even knows about this song (leaking at #22 it's not exactly one of the better known Hollies singles). The Hollies always do gritty well, though, and like 'Woman' and 'Curly Billy' to come, the production of this track makes up for any holes in the song with just the right mixture of gloss and raw power. Bobby is on top form again, straining at the least for most of the song until Clarke hits the line 'listen to the drumming and listen to the beat' where he outs-does Keith Moon! The middle eight is once again the most thrilling thing here, as the three guitarists in tandem (Clarke is playing too) suddenly zoom from the high note of the phrase down to the bottom, adding a real frisson of energy. A word too for 'sixth Hollie' Pete Wingfield who improvises some superb piano across this track. All in all B-side material rescued to A-side status thanks to another thrilling performance. While decidedly less original than 'Long Cool Woman', this song deserved to be another hit for the band. Find it on: most Hollies best-ofs
So we come to the end of an era: a novelty quirky B-side before things get more serious. [193] 'Row The Boat Together' sounds like a re-write of Neil Diamond's 'The Boat That I Row' with another boat that's 'big enough for two'. Clarke's narrator is 'on the boat, staying afloat' and hoping to 'get to the other side', all set to a busy Bobby drum track and some nice stereo panning from two guitars which do sound like choppy seas. There's something else odd going on in this track though: 'If you don't mind the colour of my skin I'll help you not to fall in' runs the second verse, hinting both that Clarke's narrator is meant to be an African-American and that he was intending something deeper in this song about mankind getting along together which never quite comes off (the race theme is never mentioned again, for instance). Chances are The Hollies have finally given in and treated their B-sides like everyone else did: silly songs to be wrapped up as quickly as possible whether they make sense or not. This isn't one of their best, but a catchy riff still makes it worth a listen. Find it on: The CD Re-issue of 'Confessions Of The Mind'

A late period Hicks/Lynch song, [194] 'Oh Granny!' is likely to have been the last time Clarke sang with The Hollies until rejoining the band in late 1973. This track always sounded deeply out of place as the B-side of the Rickfors-era single 'The Baby', a remnant of a heavier, harsher era The Hollies had now moved away from. Like many of 'Hicks and Lynches' collaborations, this one is about guilt (again what had the pair been up to?!), the narrator staying out of his granny's life because he feels unloved - only to regret the fact after she dies and learns she was 'pining for a baby'. An unusually sad song by Hollies standards, it's odd that they don't do what they always do and add in a 'jolly chorus' or a happier beat to this song: instead most of the weight is carried by Hicks' snarling guitar sideswipes (the very sound of a recalcitrant teenager) and a slow organ track that shuffled downwards to the depths of hell. The Hollies never quite finds a home for themselves on this track, which doesn't finish so much as suddenly cut off into silence, leaving a sad story unusually unresolved. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Romany', for some strange reason

The first time that many fans got to hear the 'new' Hollies sound was the broody and brooding [207a and b] 'The Baby', which sees the band return to writer Chip Taylor for the first time since [81] 'I Can't Let Go'. Like many of the band's most recent songs it's about a family down on their luck: an unwanted babe in arms putting a strain on a 'child bride' couple who barely know each other after a 'passion in the spring'. The Hollies excel themselves with the performance on this one: Rickfors' golden lead simply oozing emotion with a rougher, rawer vocal than normal and Hicks picking out the majestic banjo-like solo on a sitar! (He had a 'sitar' built in the shape of a guitar to play this song properly on stage in the 1990s and 00s!) Interestingly the rhythm section aren't that well catered for here - odd seeing as 'I Can't Let Go' is perhaps the definitive Hollies rhythm song. The result is a dynamic performance of a cracking song, but one that was inevitably going to sell poorly when released as a single: this just isn't top 40 material and as the band rightly complained afterwards how many of their fans were likely to walk into a shop and demand 'that hip new song by The Hollies, called 'The Baby'. Interestingly, however, this is the song that nearly always grabs my attention when heard in the middle of Hollies compilations where it sounds rather good and out-powers most of their other material. The 'Hollies At 50'** compilation went one better by including a 'live' performance of the song from 1972: while sketchier than the record with a few missed harmony cues and a more eccentric solo it proves once again what a strong live draw The Hollies were. Find it on: some Hollies compilations, the Magic CD re-issue of 'Romany' and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)
A surprise addition to the French label Magic's re-issue of the 'Romany' album was an alternate version of [198b] 'Magic Woman Touch'. While listed as an 'acoustic mix' of the album track, it actually sounds like a completely different take to my ears: Rickfors is slower and more hesitant here and the harmonies come in at different times. The chance to hear some undiluted Hollie harmonies at their peak and the band sounding even more like CSN than usual is irresistible, with a great song sounding even better (especially the moment around the 2:30 mark when about half of the electric band suddenly filter in with full power before disappearing again at about 2:50). I'm not sure I'd take it over the original but this is another strong performance of another great song that shows off just what a tight unit The Hollies were in this era. Find it on: the CD re-issues of both 'Romany' and 'Out On The Road'
[208] 'Indian Girl' however, suffers from the other problem. This nice Terry Sylvester song about an Indian Boy falling in love sounds delightful when dressed up to the nines on his eponymous solo album. The Hollies, though, don't really seem to 'get' this song: the harmonies are too rough, the backing a little too heavy and the general feel a bit lacklustre with only the chorus - where the sun comes out - really standing out. In truth The Hollies were probably a bit rushed: Rickfors' vocals were taking longer to record than anticipated and it sounds as if the poor understated 'Indian Girl' was the song that lost out. Find it on: the CD re-issues of both 'Romany' and 'Out On The Road'
Colin Horton Jennings had made a name for himself writing moody slow ballads full of Hollie melancholy on 'Romany'. Though not quite up to the rest of that album, [209] 'Papa Rain' is clearly cut from the same cloth: Rickfors' voice all but purrs on this gentle song about the fact that his loved one's just stood him slowly dawns on the narrator as he waits on the other end of a phone line, his heart 'dying' with every extra bleep of the receiver. The Hollies harmonies on the chorus are exquisite and Hicks adds a fascinating guitar-sitar part (something he used live on versions of 'The Baby' with a specially modified guitar), so much so that you don't really care or notice that all this song is about is an engaged phone line. Find it on: some CD re-issues of 'Romany'
[210] 'Witchy Woman' is probably the least interesting song from the 'Romany' sessions, a cover of Don Henly's sulky Eagles song. Rickfors is in good voice and there's a towering three-way guitar battle between Rickfors, Sylvester and Hicks, but this song never really catches fire and The Hollies aren't at their best on a song all about ambience and slow-building tension rather than energy and finesse. After all, how many interesting ways are there of saying 'my wife - she's just like a witch!'?! Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'Romany' and curious enough a few Halloween style compilations, making this probably the most widely heard Rickfors-era recording after 'The Baby' these days!
Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway had been big friends with Allan Clarke, co-writing 'Long Cool Woman' together. Needing a similar hit the Rickfors-era Hollies went back to the same source and received [211] 'If It Wasn't For The Reason That I Love You' (you wonder what Clarke thought about all this, although he couldn't really stop his old band from covering a song by his friends). It's a lovely song that the 1960s line-up would have done well: the grumpy lyrics are undermined by the sheer bouncy enthusiasm of the music. Basically saying 'you're pushing me to the limit', you know reading between the lines that the narrator is so loved-up he would gladly do more. Rickfors was struggling to convey one emotion in English, though, never mind two and struggles more than normal here with the fast irregular metre of the song (although his David Crosby-like 'mm hmms' are a delight); perhaps Terry should have sung this one instead? The Hollies turn in a great performance though with some terrific three-way guitar battles and another terrific middle eight ('Wish I could find a way...') that leaps out of the record with a sudden burst of adrenalin. The Hollies were probably right to leave this one in the vaults compared to the rest of 'Romany's sheer overall excellence, but it's still plenty good enough to make for one of the better songs on the impressively consistent 'Rarities' set 16 years later. Find it on: 'Rarities' (1988) and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

For my money one of the greatest ever Hollie songs is the unassuming Terry Sylvester composition [223] 'I Had A Dream', the B-side of 'Jesus Was A Crossmaker' (making the single something of a 'Terry' special!) The narrator has just woken up and for a second thought he and an old flame were still together; the fact has shaken him to the core and left him 'trying to find words to pacify my feelings of loneliness for you'. This slow moody ballad is perfect for the Rickfors-era Hollies, with Mikael's hazy second-language vocal perfect for the song and he's never better than here with every syllable spot-on. While the rest of the band play at half-speed, Tony's guitar bubbles away twice as fast, the perfect musical depiction of the many thoughts running through his head. Terry, well schooled in Hollie writing by now, turns in a middle eight so exquisite he actually uses it twice, a sudden push on the accelerator as the narrator remembers how his beloved used to look: 'Golden hair, skylined with silver blue'. The narrator consoles himself enough to get back to sleep, muttering how he's got 'memories', but like all good Hollie characters he'd fooling nobody: this is a relationship that's still tremendously vivid and which will clearly haunt him for a long time to come. Good as the A-side is, this flip should have been the single: a powerful, emotional, cleverly made but overwhelmingly song that's beautifully performed. Shockingly it's about the last time that Rickfors gets to sing on a Hollie song, just at the moment when the rest of the band have finally understood just what they can do with him in the band. The Hollies at their best. Find it on: 'The Long Road Home' (2003) and the CD re-issue of 'Out On The Road'
Alan Clarke finally rejoined the band in late 1973. His first session back at Abbey Road was understandably a key one for The Hollies who were still debating whether to go for a 'new' sound or siomply pick up where they'd left off in 1971. The first song recorded at that session (on August 7th 1973) was 'Curly Billy', a cowboy re-working of 'Long Cool Woman' which duly appeared on 1974 'comeback' album 'The Hollies'. The other song taped that day was [224] 'Mexico Gold', an obscure cover story-song about a commuter getting home (and possibly smuggling something other than love with him through customs, although it's not explicit - it could in fact be his girlfriend's unborn baby the way the lyrics are written). This is the sort of slightly dangerously exciting and unlawful song in vogue in 1973 and would naturally have appeared to future Springsteen discoverer and fan Clarke who does his typically good in-character job. The rest of the band sound less sure after two years of being softer and more emotional, with more space for harmonies and guitar rather than lead vocals and harmonica, but this could easily have been a 'new' and highly lucrative avenue for The Hollies had they chosen to explore it (it's arguably more interesting than the poppier one they settled on while making their next record). In fact this song - not released until 1988 - has become something of a retrospective 'hit', appearing on many Hollies compilations since and chosen by many fans as one of their favourites. Find it on: 'Rarities' (1988), 'The LOng Road Home' (2003) and a few other Hollies compilations besides
A late Hicks/Lynch collaboration - possibly left over from 'Out On The Road' and deemed unsuitable for the Rickfors-era Hollies - [225] 'Tip Of The Iceberg' is a no-frills rock and roller born for Allan Clarke to roar written by Tony and Kenny Lynch specially for him (as Rickfors would not have had a chance to sing a song like this). The song basically says that love goes deeper than surface signs - that looks count for nothing if 'she don't come home when you're all alone - you've got the wrong girl, man, be wise!'. An outside contender for 'The Hollies' reunion album, it's no classic but still more interesting than a lot of that album ended up becoming with a shuffle beat and funky guitar riff. The song just lacks a certain something, with a sadly pedestrian middle eight this time around ('Well she can have the cutest eyes...') that prevents it from being as good as other songs of the era. Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998)
A Hollies song so obscure that even the official 30th anniversary merchandise A-Z listing doesn't include it, [226] 'Burn Fire Burn' is another of the very earliest recordings when Clarke rejoined the band and The Hollies played around a bit with style. This is not unlike what The Hollies would have sounded like had Clarke been around for the 'Out On The Road' album, with the same 'mellow firepower'. The song is only the third (and to date last) written by Bobby and the only one written by him alone, left unissued at the time. It's a rasther dull song that uses the same boring metaphor of a fire for love and an unusual 'home, baby I'm home' chorus. The melody sounds a little bit too much like 'I'm A Gonna Love You Too' though - except for the chorus, which just sounds unfinished. Some nice Hollie harmonies in the middle though. Find it on: The CD Re-Issue of 'The Hollies' (1974) - alothough be warned, it doesn't appear on all editions

At last, after a few dodgy entries, The Hollies' excellent B-side catalogue is back on track. [235] 'No More Riders' is an atmosphereic Terry Sylvester song that sounds like Guns and Roses would if only they could sing properly and is most notable for some piercing Tony Hicks guitar, the closest The Hollies ever came to heavy metal. The lyrics are pure prog rock though: we're on an 'empty trail' surrounded by death and the narrator seems to be crying out for company only to find that no one else walks this path. This may have been a bit how The Hollies were feeling after the Rickfors years left them in the wilderness, but if this piece was autobiographical then it's solved in the greatest way possible by being used as the B-side of a best-selling #2 UK chart peaking single 'The Air That I Breathe'. Find it on: 'The Hollies' (1974) (CD Re-Issue) and 'As Bs and EPs' (2004)
Released with great fanfare as the follow-up to 'The Air That I Breathe' and with The Hollies returning a tried and tested source of material (Chip Taylor, who'd written #1 hit 'I'm Alive') [236] 'Son Of A Rotten Gambler' is on paper the perfect choice for The Hollies. It's a song that matches both the orchestral weight of 'He Ain't Heavy' and the band's 1970s passion for protest and class songs and gives lots of space for what makes The Hollies special: emotion, harmonies and guitar. However there's something ever so slightly 'off' about this song - it starts on a flat guitar note for instance, cobbles together a whole load of different sections that don't really go together, the melody is unmemorable and the lyrics are confusing. I think this is a song about a man doing well despite his low-down roots as 'the son of a mill-run rotten gambler' who never had any money spare - but the song starts as a religious spiritual where 'love is his vision' and seems to end up with the narrator throwing all that good away to his own gambling addiction (or is that just a flashback?) The song's attempts to do He Ain't Heavy style universal suffrage are clearly what drew The Hollies to this song ('Will you stand your life by his and help the boy become a man?'), but they're just not in the same league - there's no sense of redemption or hope on this song, just a rotten lyric about a rotten gambler and his rotten family that leaves us feeling rotten. You'd have thought any Hollies song would have made the charts just a few short months after 'The Air That I Breathe' but without any real hook to latch on to, this track sank like a stone. Even as an album track it would have been a bit of a let-down, not that it got the chance - realising their mistake The Hollies all but excised this track from history, removing it from most compilations (even ones that are ,meant to be 'complete' runs of singles) and dropping it from their next album 'Another Night', making it the last exclusive-to-single track until 'Soldier's Song' in 1980. Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998) and 'As Bs and EPs' (2004)
A jolly, silly song with a return of Hicks' country lilt guitar 'n' banjo, [237] 'Layin' To The Music' is 'Gambler's unremarkable B-side, this time written by Allan and Terry. The main song is pretty basic, a tale of wanting to dance with a so-so melody written in 4/4 in a simple key, but the middle eight is pretty memorable, with a nice rise-and-fall melody and some excellent Hollies harmonies. The lyric is a little disjointed though: like 'dandelion Wine' this song seems to take place at a party where 'I'm drinking from yer shoe' (what is it with Hollies and footwear?) and ends up with what seems like a hallucination of 'horse riders in the sky'. How did we get from having 'itchy feet, wanna dance to the beat' to here?! Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998) and 'As Bs and EPs' (2004)
The B-side to I'm Down' was a Terry Sylvester song from the 'Another Night' sessions [238] 'Hello Lady, Goodbye'. A catchy, poppy song about a loved one who flees away in the night without a word, it fits nicely with that album's deeper vibe and sense of love and loss and high production gloss (it's basically 'Lucy' but re-written to be about divorce not death). The narrator is in denial, 'going out tonight to get high' and waking up in the last verse to find a 'new' lady by his side, but as all good Hollies fans know he's just saying that and even that happy last verse finds the narrator woken up by a 'mockingbird', suggesting he isn't telling the truth. This is a happy sounding song, though, with a lot packed into it and some typically excellent harmonies. Find it on: the Magic label's CD re-issue of 'Another Night'
Remember Colin Horton-Jennings, the writer who'd dominated the credits for 'Romany' in 1972? He's back again for one last song - his last with Clarke back in the band - on the subtle reggae calypso number [239] 'Come Down To The Shore'. Rickfors would have been perfect for this song, oozing the sort of warmth the track needs (oblivious of his Swedish background!), alas Clarke isn't quite the right man for the job although his harmonica puffing is still pretty good. Perhaps an experiment too far for The Hollies, this song's tale of leaving the city life to hire an island and pleading with his lover to come down too never really registers, a poor copy of their own 'My Island'. Sensibly left off the 'Another Night' LP (it was recorded two days after 'Sandy') this was nevertheless a welcome find that had never been leaked or bootlegged like some of the other Hollies rarities of the time and is worth haring just for the typically stunning three-piece vocals. Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998) and the Magic CD re-issue of 'Another Night' 

The closest The Hollies ever came to writing a 'torch-waver', the uplifting [250] 'Samuel' is Abba's 'Fernando' by another name - a Spanish song about the narrator imploring his friend Samuel to make his peace with a brother who once wronged him, complete with a flamenco guitar flourish. Some of the lyrics are a little cloying and this Clarke original sounds much more like the sort of 'poppy' things Allan was doing on his solo records than the period Hollies tracks, presumably left in the vaults because it didn't really sit right with the 'Another Night' recordings. However there's a lot of space for Hicks to coax some fascinating sounds out of his guitar (which sounds like a sitar once again) and there's a classic Eurovision style singalong Hollie chorus as the band club together to 'light a candle Samuel' and even throw in a couple of memorable key changes towards the end of the song, making the song get higher and higher and more and more urgent. Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998)

[263] 'Here In My Dreams' is a beautiful ballad that would have enhanced 'Write On' no end. Finally released as part of 'Hollies Rarities' in 1988, it presumably got left off the album when the band came up with enough material of their own, but it's a shame: this is one of the better Hollies covers of the 1970s, building up from nothing to a real power ballad in the second half. The track was presumably written for The Hollies, with old friend Colin Horton-Jennings and new friend Pete Arenson (who will be the band's keyboardist for a spell in the 1980s) clubbing together for a song that really fits The Hollies' strengths. Clarke is always good at love-struck narrators and his sense of awe and emotion on love at first sight in the opening verse is a delight. The shimmering ethereal quality of the song (with Arneson doing double duty on piano and organ) is right up The Hollies' street too, before being dismissed by a typical Hollies singalong chorus, albeit one that always sounded slightly unfinished to me ('Because in me, to believe...I have touched, I have seen!' - it doesn't even rhyme!) Still, generally speaking this is more than up to the materiual of the period (it's better than almost anything on 'Write On' - 'Love Is The Thing' being the exception) and another of those songs first released on 'Rarities' where you went 'why the hell didn't this song come out at the time?' Find it on: ''Rarities' (1988) and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

 [285] 'Lovin' You Ain't Easy' was perhaps a ballad too far for the'5317704' album and dropped from the record in favour of other material. It's curiously un-Hollies like: Clarke sings solo along to a piano (which sounds as if it's played by Pete Wingfield) for the first half of the song and it only really gets going when Terry joins for the second verse, with the rest of the band joining in for the third and final one. The melody sounds suspiciously like 'The Long Way' from Clarke's 'I've Got Time' LP, while the lyrics seems confused - it's a list of faults without the expected '...but I love you anyway' chorus the song appears to be building up to, instead telling us how good the couple are 'as a team' then things go wrong. There isn't even a guitar solo to lift the song. Bah! Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998)

[286] 'Sanctuary' was also dropped from '5317704' when that album appeared to be over-run by ballads. In this case, though, they absolutely dropped the wrong song: Clarke's regular co-author Gary Benson's solo song about 'being forced down a road where I can't go' is one of his best and certainly one of his 'real'ist. The song uses the old Hollies trick of taking a mournful verse where everything sounds hopeless and lifting it with a hopeful chorus that shows off everything that's great about The Hollies full of hope, determination and love (it's the same trick as 'I'm Alive' in fact, but the stakes are even higher this time around). We haven't heard the 'real' Clarke for a while, after several albums where the Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks writing team have been clamping down on their individual personalities for some form of band sound.  [229] 'Don't Let Me Down' was the last to be exact, but suddenly Clarke seems to have had a creative spurt which stretches through 531's lone band original ('Satelite 3') into his two 'comeback' solo albums released through 1978-79. Allan will in fact re-record this song for the last of these, 'The Only Ones', after The Hollies passed on it, where it sounds like even more of a nervous breakdown set to words, slower and angrier with a chorus that isn't so much power pop as brief prelude to more pain. The Hollies' outtake is better, if only because their thrilling harmonies on the chorus make such a worthy counterpart to Clarke's lost and lonely verses, providing the typical Hollies uplift that makes it all better. Hicks also provides another towering guitar solo which flies up the heavens with such an eager force that it almost knocks the rest of the song flying. The result, in either version, is one of the strongest Hollie originals of the second half of the 1970s, a singalong ballad everyone can relate to that's one of the last of their 'great' songs offering hope and realism in equal measure. A sanctuary indeed: how this got left off the 'calculator' album is a mystery (by that album's standards it's almost a rocker, which makes the 'official' explanation that there were 'too many ballads' one of them had to go look a bit silly). Find it on: 'Rarities' (1988) and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

In November 1979, following the release of '5317704', The Hollies decided to work with head Womble Mike Batt, whose working practices divided a band who'd clearly been in trouble for a few years now. Working only on his own songs, Batt drilled The Hollies into working on their instinctive vocals over and over to the point where they no longer sounded 'natural' - although on the plus side all three songs are amongst the best The Hollies recorded in the era and stretch their sound in a way that the band hadn't been for a few years now, disco aside. [297] 'Soldier's Song' was chosen as the single and is easily the best of the trio, a moody atmospheric anti-war song set in the dim and distant past (but the lyrics are ambiguous enough to be English Civil War, American Revolution, even French Revolution and anywhere in between, although the amount of farm-houses suggest the former). Clarke excels in the role of a seventeen year old lad packed off to war without really thinking about the consequences. War makes him grow up, where he 'ages ten years that day and died a thousand deaths', losing his childishness along with his virginity in the house of a comforting stranger - only to find the next day that his 'drunken young compatriots' have burnt her house down with her inside. The girl dies in his arms and the soldier is never the same again. It's all very fitting for a band who protested against the Vietnam War earlier in their career and a much more 'adult' take than 'Soldier's Dilemma' and 'Promised Land', great as both songs are. A stunning orchestral arrangement makes the best use of an orchestra on a Hollies song so far, which starts off pompous and then becomes more 'earthy', with a swell of such emotion even Clarke's voice struggles to match it. Hicks turns in another stunning guitar solo too while a Bobby Elliott drum roll sets the scene on things. Only Terry and Bernie, on their penultimate Hollies recording sessions, get little to do. A word of warning though: sadly the definitive arrangement of this song, resurrected by the live Hollies in the 1990s with Clarke still in the band and the keyboards doing a good job at re-creating the orchestral part, was never recorded (except on bootleg - the closest you can hear is the 1983 Nash reunion on 'Archive Alive' but even that's far from the best). After ten years of mulling things over The Hollies really perfect this song: they slow it down, make proper contrasts between the intimacy of the romantic chorus and the sheer hell of the choruses and instead of playing cameo parts the guitar and drums stab right to the heart of the song, backing Clarke at his best as he all but yells the resolving verse. By contrast the released single version of 'Soldier's Song' comes off as a mere demo, played far too fast and just that bit too sterile. As with the other Batt recordings, his involvement is something of a mixed blessing, providing strong material but no idea of what to do with it. In case you were wondering, like me, what the B-side was by the way it was a straight re-issue of 'Russian Roulette' track 'Draggin' My Heels'.  Find the studio version on: some Hollies compilations and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

[298] 'If The Lights Go Out' was most famously re-recorded by the Nash era Hollies for inclusion on 'What Goes Around...'. However the ever-so-slightly different version was first recorded in 1981 and released as a flop single. The differences are minimal: there's no Nash, obviously, with Terry much harder to hear, there's a curious reverb/echo repeat of 'and if the...' and the guitar-keyboard solo duel is much more defined. Neither version is exactly great but the 1983 version is perhaps the slightly stronger of the two. Find this version on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998) and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

[297] 'Can't Lie No More' is the third and long-'missing' part of the Hollies' trilogy of songs with Mike Batt, recorded at the same November 1979 sessions as the other two songs but left unreleased until for over twenty years. You can kind of see why - its' not as memorable as the other two and is much more 'normal' for pop material in the 1980s (it's very much like Clarke's 'The Only Ones' album actually, though not quite as good). A slow burn and a killer pop chorus ought to make this more of a Hollies song, but the slow drawn out opening is just a little too slow and the switch to full-on harmony mode a little too obvious by their standards. Clarke isn't really suited to the song either - he's having to build up to telling his lifelong partner he needs to leave, but the lyrics don't give him the range of guilt or tenderness the song deserves and we're back in 'Sorry Suzanne' territory again with Clarke spending three whole minutes apologising (although this track is better I'm pleased to say!) Find it on: 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

Back in the early 1980s DJs in clubs hit on a new idea: linking up a series of songs so that listeners could get the 'thrill' of a song they remembered without gettijng bored. Everybody was releasing 'compilation' singles linked by a heavy then-modern drumbeat - even The Beatles thanks to the soundalike 'Stars Of 45' (an ironic name given that most of their singles were released as 12" 'supersized' records!)  [300] 'Holliedaze' did better than most and caught both band and label on the hop. Overseen, briefly, by Tony and Bobby it features a remixed edit of the singles 'Just One Look' 'Here I Go Again' 'I'm Alive' 'I Can't Let Go' 'Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress' 'Bus Stop' and 'Carrie Anne' - basically all the big hits that come with a distinctive beat and a 'walking pace' rhythm. The single was popular enough to make #28 in the UK charts, the best The Hollies had managed in seven years, although the result is not different enough to excite longterm collectors or enough like the old favourites to please newbie purists existing in a kind of mid 1980s hollow hell. Clever title, though and a welcome opportunity for the original band to reunite for Top Of The Pops to promote the single (yes even Eric and Graham although Don Rathbone didn't get a call...) Find it on: only found on the original single I'm afraid

[301] 'Holliepops' was the B-side of the above release and features exactly the same idea, this time using that relentless disco beat over old recordings of 'Stay' 'Yes I Will' 'Look Through Any Window' 'On A Carousel' 'Jennifer Eccles' 'Listen To Me' and 'He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother' (which just sounds wrong with drumming!) Oh and this time the title is awful! Find it on: only found on the original single I'm afraid

The second song due to be re-recorded by the Nash-reunion Hollies, [302a] 'Take My Love and Run' is another song with a slightly paranoid air about it. A song about a pair of lovers going their separate ways, it pairs some rather incomprehensible lyrics with a genuinely catchy chorus and a less catchy 'waoh waoh a woaha' hook that sounds like the spirit of Peter Howarth 20 years early. This earlier version of the song differs from the album mainly because of an extended finale which repeats the chorus another couple of extra times and has a short extra section where the chorus is sung by Clarke to a minor key for a change while the rest of the Hollies sing a moody 'aaah!' behind him. The album version also has a bit more oompah about it somehow, with less time spent doodling on synthesisers and more time on the harmonies. Find this version on 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998) and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

Believe it or not, [303] 'Driver' is The Hollies' first instrumental in twelve years and very different from the last time when Bernie went all classical and lush. Basically a Tony Hicks guitar riff in search of a home, it's a chirpy multi-tracked piece that has a great guitar sound (double tracked and echoey as if there's a whole orchestra of them) but lacks a decent song to go with the sound. It's unclear why the band didn't just add vocals to this piece - it doesn't really cry out to be left alone as an instrumental and in fact gets downright dull during the lengthy verse sections. Find it on: You'll be lucky! This song first appeared as the B-side to 'Take My Love and Run' and is one of the few Hollie recordings to never be added to CD!

The only recording made with short lived harmony singer John Miles in the band, [322] 'Carrie' should have been the start of a whole new Hollies sound. The most commercial thing the band had made in years, Miles' own 'Carrie' sounds like an up-date to what happened to the narrator of 'Carrie Anne' going through difficulties at an older age. 'Waited so long, no one to care, why did you keep me waiting?' goes the verse considering a split before a happy-go-lucky chorus puts all the drama behind it, held in check by a classic Hollies trick of repeating the urgent, aggressive guitar part every time the song gets too happy, the perfect summary of the narrator's confused state of mind. The result isn't a Hollies masterpiece by any means (the lyrics switch between contentment and anger so quickly you get dizzy), but it's more than good enough to release as a single, with Coates nicely filling in the 'harmony hole' that the Hollies have been lacking since 1983. Amazingly EMI rejected a song that, if not a guaranteed hit, was going to do as well as any Hollies single released in 1987 and the world had to wait another year when it became both the first track on the 'Rarities' set and a nicely strong B-side to the #1 re-issue of 'He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother', a nice trailer for what The Hollies had been up to in the intervening 19 years which deserved to have got more members of the public interested in the next few Hollie singles. Find it on: 'Rarities' (1988)

The B-side from the only single selected from the 'What Goes Around' LP, [311] 'Musical Pictures' has many things in common with its parent LP. The track is a slushy ballad written by the band's keyboard whizz Paul Bliss (like half of that album) and lacks a strong hook or anything to differentiate it from anything else clogging up the charts by 1983. The track even starts with the same opening four note phrase as 'Someone Else's Eyes' ('Don't say goodbye...'), which might be why it was dropped from the LP. It's also unbelievably 'wet' : the narrator longs to know that he's 'connecting' with someone and 'getting through' and can only do so by writing a song; perhaps Paul had spent too long studying one of his Hollie keyboard predecessors Elton John as this song is far more in his style (specifically 'Your Song'). However, while no masterpiece as a song the recording has two things going for it which most of the album didn't. The first is that with just a piano and drum part and a very quiet orchestral part and guitar way in the background this could just conceivably be by The Hollies of old (well, it could until the bonkers keyboard solo at least, which sounds like a cat blowing through a tin whistle whilst being made to take a bath). Also the lack of 'novelties' in the song put the emphasis firmly on the vocals at long last, with this by far the best place to 'study' the 1983 reunion Hollies sound without distractions - they sound very good too, with Hicks accommodating a slight shift downwards to better blend with Graham compared to Terry. Find it on: the CD re-issue of 'What Goes Around...'

 [312] 'Let Her Go Down' is one of The Hollies' most obscure releases, the B-side of 'Stop! In The Name Of Love' but released only in New Zealand and thus with Nash on vocals for the last time. It's another of The Hollies' moody 1980s pop songs that don't really stick in the memory, that bit too slow as The Hollies sing about not letting life events drag you under. Even the slightly more memorable chorus is rather average though with crashing synth chords and some rather over-cooked Bobby Elliott drumming. Find it on: 'The Long Road Home' (2003) and the CD re-issue of 'What Goes Around...'

A sweet little song,  [313] 'You Gave Me Strength' is another of those 1980s recordings that always gets forgotten. While far from the best ballads The Hollies ever had to offer, at least this one sounds more fitting to their style, with Clarke using the same 'whisper-to-shout' direction as classics like I'm Alive', some lovely harmonies and excellent guitar twirls. The melody is rather good too, more memorable than most similar material despite being played on a forgettable synth that sounds like a digital watch. Only the lyrics really let this one down, recalling 'Sanctuary' without being anywhere near as heartfelt or profound. Unusually, this song was kept in the vaults for two years before seeing the light of day even though its arguably a cut above the other singles released in between; had this song stayed put just a little longer and been released on 'Rarities' it may yet have had the status of a 'lost classic' as opposed to just being 'lost'. Released as the B-side of 'This Is It', the song is another of the small handful of Hollies recordings still missing on CD. 

For my ears the most deserving Hollies flop single of the 1980s was the slow-burning torch ballad [314] 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken'. A collaboration between Clarke, Mick Leeson and Peter Vale, this is both very Hollies and at the same time a departure for them: a slow passionate piano ballad not unlike 'Bottom From The Top' that's full of twinkly contemporary sounding synthesisers, it sounds impressively powerful compared to everything else around at the time. The Hollies should have been the perfect band for the 1980s, a decade that praised pop higher than most other genres and deep pop with 'hidden' messages at that. While The Hollies don't often manage to get the combination of 'their' sound and that of the world around them too right, this is one of the great exceptions. The band use their old trick of 'worried' verses and a glorious 'All You Need Is Love' style singalong chorus that helps put everything right. There's even a storming middle eight just like the old days that covers one of the greatest key changes in this book ('Or love will leave you cold!!!!') The Hollies harmonies are excellent, doing that bit more than they need to ('Too many hearts get brohhhh-o-o-o-oken'), Bobby has fun seeing how loud he can play without ruining the song, new boy Ian Parker**  plays some of the most atmospheric keyboard parts of any Hollie recording and Clarke soars with good material to sing at last. Everyone clearly believes in this song in a way they don't always for the other 1980s/90s singles and B-sides; why this wasn't a hit is down to how out of fashion the band sadly were in 1985 and how mean EMI were with their publicity money. Had this song come out 20 years earlier, right at the heart of the Hollies' run of success, I have a sneaking suspicion it would have been many people's favourite. Find it on: 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

If the A-side was going for 'Air That I Breathe' style slow-burning passion, B-side [315] 'You're All Woman!' returns yet again to the trick of 'Long Cool Woman'. A chirpy sultry song about a woman whose 'hotter than hell, but cooler than ice!', it's the most contemporary song The Hollies had done in years. Ian Parker's** multiple keyboards weave together a lattice of backing tracks that use staccato rhythms for most of the verse (and leave Clarke singing one syllable at a time 'Breath-less! With Ex-pec-ta-tion!') before uniting into a sea of Hollies harmonies in the chorus. In truth this song runs out of ideas once we hit the chorus - we simply go round the houses again - but the opening minute is one of the most striking The Hollies ever made and is like the good old days of Hollies B-sides which always went somewhere new and daring. Good luck finding this one, which is one of the rarer Hollies recordings out there, originally released as the B-side to both 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken' and 'This Is It'

[316] 'Laughter Turns To Tears' is another better-than-average stab at a pop single by the 1980s Hollies. The song sounds remarkably what The Stone Roses will become even though they don't exist in this time period yet - well, not on record anyway (perhaps as a fellow Mancunian band The Hollies saw them at a local gig or perhaps it was just a sound in the air in the city). There's a sort of breathless pace to this song even though the slightly hazy dreamy backing makes it all sound as if its playing slowly. This Bill Bremner/Will Birch is on a very Hollies theme though: the closeness between good times and bad and the fact that the 'inner' you might not always be what the world perceives it as (though it doesn't mention clowns or make-up, it sounds at one with other tracks such as 'Mr Heartbreaker' and 'Harlequin'). Like a lot of 1980s Hollies recordings, though, this track is missing something - the chorus doesn't announce it's arrival, it just sort of appears, while the chugging backing doesn't break a sweat throughout. Nice Hicks sitar-guitar hybrid work in the background though. Find it on: originally a bonus track on the 12" version of 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken', this song also appeared on 'The Long Road Home' (2004)

Technically speaking [317] 'Hard To Forget' shouldn't be in this part of the book: though intended as the band's lone single of 1986 the release got cancelled at the last minute and this slightly better than average 1980s song has suprisingly never appeared on any retrospective or compilation. However I'm including it here because the single was cancelled so late on in the day that The Hollies actual did more publicity for it than usual, plugging away on a whole load of British, German and New Zealand TV stations, so that many fans consider it part of the 'canon' (there's a particularly fun TV-AM interview where Clarke and Hicks have great fun punning and winding up presenter Anne Diamond). Interestingly they add in that clip that the song was 'only finished a couple of days ago' and 'the record compay haven't heard it yet'. What did EMI object to? This is prime 80s Hollies with whopping big banks of synthesisers, a catchy 'wah-oh' chorus and more hooks than a pair of psychedelic curtains - but with a touch of real emotion hidden behind the lyrics (read between the lines, as Dear Eloise would put it). The narrator tries so hard to get on with his life and embrace pastures new - but it's all to no avail as he's stuck inside the same place that used to be so happy and with only his missing love on his mind. The song sports a particularly strong middle eight ('I can wait around forever holding out for you...this is now way to live!' ending in an a capella 'freezeframe' on the word 'forget' that's stunning, the best use of Hollie harmonies in years. Al in all a much overlooked song that probably wouldn't have done any better in the charts than the last few singles but deserved to sell well to the loyal Hollies fanbase. Find it on: Nothing!

With their last single rejected, The Hollies retreated to an old technique of using a young writer who was currently 'in'. Maldwyn Pope is best known for his songs about rural Welsh village life even though his two songs for The Hollies are very much catered for the 'international' pop market. [318] 'This Is It' is kind of OK, with dated synths and clattered drums and without much of a tune, but it does at least have space for a nice cascading Hollies 'round' of harmonies and a vaguely interesting lyric so it's automatic ahead of some other Hollies singles of the decade. It's another song about a break-up - but while the narrator is upset at seeing his loved one go he's more angry with himself for not seeing it coming, asking 'how was I the last to know?' Hicks plays a grungier, gruffer guitar part than he has in a while - perhaps in contrast to the rather twee keyboard backing. Find it on: 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

[319] 'Reunion Of The Heart' - another Pope song - was released hot on the heels of 'This Is It', just two months later in March 1987 - the shortest gap between new Hollies releases since 1976! Alas though, far from being like the good ol' days, this is another single that has the band once again unsure of their 'Hollies style' and desperate to sound like everyone else in the hope of getting a hit. If you remember this era, all echoey synthesisers, booming drums that sounds like cannons and twee sentiment that sounds like its rolled out of the Stick-Aitken-Waterman production line, then you'll know where this drippy ballad is coming from. Both Clarke and Hicks cope well, the former doing his best to sound sincere and the latter adding a blistering guitar solo, much more like a Hendrix rumble than his usual sparse clear tones, but the song is too darn slow and simply doesn't go anywhere. 'Hear you calling my name for a reunion!' cries the narrator, perhaps returning to the scene of 1973's classic B-side 'I had A Dream', but this song doesn't have anything else to tell us bar the info-dump in the first verse that 'you picked me up when I was living down in Egypt'. And what does 'reunion of the heart' even mean anyway? Is it a heart that's only 'whole' when the couple are together? A patch up of a broken heart? Or a heart transplant? Sadly the song isn't interesting enough to care about that much and failed to chart in every single country it was released in - even Germany. A re-issue of 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken' was the B-side, by the way. Find it on: 'Long Road Home' (2004)
Sadly not the Ben E King classic covered by John Lennon - or the Rod Taylor song from Allan Clarke's fourth solo album 'I've Got Time' - [320] 'Stand By Me' is a noisy and far too 1980s (even at the time) pop song written specially for the band by five (it really took a quintet people to write this?!) German pop songwriters. Released only in Germany, even there the track didn't sell too well, perhaps because it lacks so many of The Hollies' usual sounds and smacks a little too much of desperation. Hicks throws in another good solo and Clarke, though singing uncomfortably high, at least sounds like he means it but Bobby's drums sound suspiciously like they're electronic to me and the synthesiser touches are intrusive. As for the lyrics, you kinda know what they are going to be even before you hear them: 'Stand by me and give me all your kisses, stand by me and give me all your loving...' The Hollies' previously unassailable pop crown is beginning to look awfully unstable all of a sudden... Find it on: 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

Clarke's last solo writing credit for the band is the rather odd ballad [321] 'For What It's Worth, I'm Sorry'. Released as the B-side to 'Stand By Me' (and then only in Germany), it's another of the more obscure Hollies song in this book, an apology from someone who knows they've done wrong but isn't quite sure why. Given The Hollies' habit of writing about their circumstances in song, it could be a teary apology for not releasing material before, with the half-sigh of 'Write On' apparent in the weary chorus line 'maybe it was meant to be this way'.  The track uses the old tried and tested formula of a downbeat verse and upbeat chorus but the join between the two is less subtle than usual and while Clarke does a good job at conveying emotion that isn't really there the rest of the band sound less sure. Of all the Hollies' 1980s recordings, this is the one that falls most into the trappings of the era - pretty packaging like synthesisers, keyboard-strings and electric drums covering up a lyric that by their standards is merely average. The next year's recordings will all be better and feature more of the 'Hollies' sound. Thank goodness. Find it on: Nowhere unless you're lucky enough to live in Germany, where it can be purchased as part of 'Up Front: The Coconut Collection', a compilation of the band's 1980s non-album singles (2008)

Nils Lofgren is a fellow member of the AAA. Long regarded as one of the world's greatest supporting musicians (to Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Ringo among others), Nils' solo work is even more impressive (while slightly inconsistent). [323] 'Shine Silently' is the closest he ever came to a 'hit' record - the song didn't chart either side of the Atlantic but it's appeared belatedly in a few film and TV soundtracks and is heard relatively frequently on the radio: and so it should be, a charming and very Nils-song offering support and singing about the healing properties of love, it's a great song and a natural choice for The Hollies. Lofgren's version is rather muted, fitting for a song about a light that's hidden under a bushel - the very fact that a song this catchy can be sung with so little drama is part of its charm. Needing a hit, The Hollies sensibly decide to dress it up, though, turning it into a powerhouse singalong with a neat guitar riff and drenching everything in uplifting Hollies harmonies. The result is one of their more charming recordings of the period, inhibited only by a rather booming drum sound that doesn't fit either the song or Bobby's abilities. Fans of this track might also like to look out for the original vinyl 12" single which, like many releases of it's day, came with an 'extended mix' which pushes the song from a workable four minutes to a whopping six and a half. It's actually rather good as extended 12" singles go, with several repeats of the chorus and a bit of extra keyboard work. By the way, the co-writer credit 'Richard Wagner' is not a reference to the German composer but to Lofgren's occasional writing partner.

[324] 'Your Eyes' is the B-side of 'Shine Silently and features many of the same strengths and weaknesses: a catchy chorus that goes on a bit too long and a nicely powerful group performance but using very 1980s instruments . However where it loses out on 'Silently' is that it doesn't seem as if there's any 'real' emotion in the song which is all rather bland, even Hick's guitar solo unusually. That's a shame because this German-written song is actually very Hollies: it's 'I'm Alive; in reverse in effect, the narrator feeling drained every time he looks into his lover's eyes and realises 'my love is fading away in your eyes'. A full three repeats of the already lengthy chorus at the very end of the song also rather torpedoes your patience long before you get to the finale. However unlike some 1980s Hollies songs this one is at least rescuable and is another one of these period recordings that deserves to be much better known than it is ('Your Eyes' is still missing on CD, for instance, which is shocking when you remember how many hundreds of compilations repeat the same old track listings over and over). Find it on: Nowhere except the B-side of the 'Shine Silently' single I'm afraid - and then only in Germany!

After covering semi-famous songs by everyone else, The Hollies went back to one of their old classics in search of a hit. In the end the 'Coconut' version of [187b] 'Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress' - recorded in Germany's Coconut Studios - went unheard of by anyone except the Germans again anyway and wasn't one of their bigger success stories even there. Perhaps that's because what worked so well over three minutes and sounded so fresh in 1971 is pulled out of all shape to fit six minutes here and no longer sounds quite as distinctive and original with so many period trappings poured over it. Clarke still has his voice intact in this period and near-enough matches the original: however removing the distinctive guitar riff to the keyboards for the most part (with Hicks and Clarke's twin guitars adding flashes of colour rather than carrying the song) is a major mistake: the effect is like blaring a spotlight onto the mysterious Long Cool Woman who fits the shadows of the original must better. Find it on: The Coconut Collection', assuming you're German and have a record shop with a strong stock of obscure 1980s compilation albums

Though 'I'm Down' had flopped badly as a single, it had impressed many people and been taken up as a sort-of 'anthem' by a few orphanages across England who had so few other songs on the theme of adoption to go on anyway. The Hollies were thus a natural band to ask when ITV wanted a theme song to go with their documentary series about the amount of children in foster care who didn't have a family. Clarke and his old songwriting partner Gary Benson then dusted off their rusty pens and wrote their first song together since 1980 - and the first Hollies original with their name on it since '5317704'. [325] 'Find Me A Family' has mixed results - it's all too obviously written to fit the bill rather than from the heart as per 'I'm Down', with the 1980s 'sparkly' synth sounding childish, a curiously atonal chorus ('Find me a famileeeeeee!') and some clunky lyrics that sound like a charity single ('It's just a breath away') set against some genuinely inspired lyrics and a lovely rise-and-fall tune. Generally speaking the first half of the song - the part used on the opening credits on the series - is the best, Clarke putting himself in the position of an orphaned child scared of a world that's changed so fast' and trying to hold on to something normal - only when the song gets all new age and full of 'new beginnings' does the song end up sounding less sincere. However their heart was in the right place and 'Find Me A Family', while rejected by some of the band as a 'downer', is actually just right for The Hollies in 1989, mixing their past two styles of grinning enthusiasm and heartfelt sympathy. It deserved to do better, repeating 'I'm Down's fate of missing the charts entirely despite receiving some nice notices by reviewers who'd forgotten all about The Hollies. Much of the series can be seen on Youtube at the time of writing by the way - and rather good it is too. Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998) and 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

One last collaboration between Clarke and Hicks almost fools us into thinking this is like old times. Whilst very much a fun B-side rather than a 'proper' career path, [326] 'No Rules' sounds the way The Hollies should have sounded for the past 20-odd songs on this list: Clarke's wordy vocals come over a nicely grungy Tony Hicks guitar part (a full year before the grunge explosion) and a Bobby Elliott drum pattern that turns from quiet to energetic in the twinkle of an eye. 'No Rules' isn't really about fighting against the system: it's a song that really should be called 'no responsibilities' - the narrator doesn't want to be tied down and isn't interested in solving the problems of others because 'I've got plenty of my own'. Inconsequential but fun. Find it on: 'At Abbey Road Volume Three' (1998)
Yikes The Hollies have dropped the ball by the point of [327] 'Baby Come Back', a hideous pop song that sounds like the sort of thing Herman's Hermits would do on a reunion album if they still had an audience who wanted them to get back together. The drums are artificial, the keyboard riff sounds like a doorbell and even those Hollie harmonies sound lumpy and wooden, whilst Clarke sounds demented trying to pretend he's a teenager again. Only six years ago the band were still doing work of the importance of 'Soldier's Song' and as recently as a year earlier were still making superior adult pop songs like 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken'. How did they get quite so desperate quite so fast? Sensing that The Hollies' time had passed EMI elected to release this single only in Germany where the band's fanbase was still strong - which spared them a few blushes at home at least. However better is yet to come, right round the corner - few hearing this song and watching it sink like a stone would have guessed that The Hollies would have a number one hit before another year had passed. Find it on: Nowhere I'm afraid, unless you live in German and own the original single

Back in 1989 the British news was full of the Hillsborough disaster in which several Liverpool Football Club fans died when a stand collapsed at the Nottingham Football Club of that name (96 people died with over 700 injured). At the time many were accused of bringing the drama on themselves for misbehaving; 30 years on inquests and appeals have seen 'the truth' blown open: the police were at fault and delayed medical intervention to cover their own backs. The fall-out has been extreme, especially around Merseyside where to this day buying a copy of 'The Sun' newspaper will cause a tirade about how badly fans were treated by the media coverage of the day (which makes a change from us local's tirades about how awful a rag it is). Many Liverpool bands took part in various charity fundraisers/spin-off singles to show support, but the ripples went much further. Overcoming the usual Liverpool vs Manchester feuding, Tony Hicks penned his own tribute to the fallen victims. [328] 'Hillsborough' duly appeared as one of the band's rarer B-sides only in Germany where it must have confused the hell out of fans there, a fact which speaks volumes - had The Hollies wanted to they'd have almost certainly had a top ten hit with a song that mentioned 'Hillsborough' by name; instead they tucked this track away as a B-side only the faithful would ever get to hear. In truth, it's not one of Tony's best: while musically sound, he misses the touch of a collaborator on the lyrics (from Allan and Terry and Graham to Kenny Lynch, Tony's always worked best in a pairing) and in truth could have been about any unfortunate disaster: 'Why must we take this guilt and shame?  Who really cares who takes the blame? Underneath we're all the same' Hicks sings, one of the few people of the time brave enough to stand up to the media coverage of the day and back the football fans wrongly labelled as 'hooligans' by a media heavily leaned on by the police (who were really at fault). The opening is rather icky though: he sees the love of his life and before he can say anything the land he's on begins to crumble, making 'the first time I saw you' 'the last time I saw you'. The lines about 'little angels' being 'greeted by friends down the line' is also a bit Derek Acorah: whose to say that everyone of the hundreds of men women and children who died all had someone close who'd passed over first? Still, Hicks' heart is in the right place and compared to most of the godawful covers of 'Ferry Cross The Mersey' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' this song at least shows a bit of care and heart, rather than an attempt to cash-in on a tragedy and get in the papers (though, obviously, not The Sun who'd caused most of the Hillsborough furore in the first place). Find it on: only ever released as the B-side of 'Baby Come Back', sadly this song has been harder to track down than 'the truth' of what happened in Hillsborough that day and has yet to appear on CD.

With 'Shine Silently' so popular (if still a slow seller), The Hollies turned to another song by a name then on the fringes of success which maybe hadn't been milked dry of all emotion. Prince's [329a and b] 'Purple Rain' is an odd recording in his hands, recorded when he was still Prince and not a squiggle: despite being the title track of his 'breakthrough' LP, Prince tends to treat the song as a slow-burning ballad about a friendship coming to an end after an unwanted night of love. Prince's version barely moves off the riff, without all his usual OTT drama and power. The Hollies put all that back in, transforming 'Purple Rain' from a slow blues about a relationship that's never likely to happen into a typical Hollies single that takes a sad song and makes everything better. The Hollies crackle with electricity throughout this song, from Clarke's slow-burning vocal (which gets lighter and happier each verse) to one of Hicks' most blistering guitar solos which gives the song the release it craves. Even the sound effects are spot-on, a sudden burst of thunder at the end that really adds to the song. The band also sensibly decided to record this song live on their 1990 tour (when the Parker-Stiles-Coates line-up was at its best) rather than in the studio, giving it that extra frisson of energy and raw power. 'The Long Road Home' box set revealed the 'original' plan: a studio take that ever so nearly but not quite captures the same atmosphere, with slightly more piano and a slightly faster tempo. This version is mighty fine too, but the released live single version has an extra bit of magic added from somewhere. The result was never going to trouble the charts - without a 'proper' record deal The Hollies released it as a cassette-only single available solely at concerts - but it deservedly became the most talked about Hollies song of the 1990s, an example of everything they could still do so well. Find the ;original' version on a few Hollies compilations staying with 'The 309th Anniversary Collection' and the 'earlier' outtake on 'The Long Road Home' (2003)

As if to consolidate that The Hollies were back on track, the band came up with two original songs for the doubly generous B-side (this single was sold as a cassette remember and 'Purple Rain' is a blooming long song so it took two songs to go with it). Tony's singalong [330] 'Naomi' - written with son Paul who will go on to be big news at Abbey Road and work on almost every modern Beatles project starting with 'Anthology' - is particularly strong with a catchy calyspo beat that sounds like a 'happy' version of 'We're Through' if you can imagine such a thing, with the narrator desperate to get back with his 'Nai-ee-oh-ah-mi'. Brief Hollie Dave Carey (he'll only last the year) really makes his mark with a great synth riff that bounces into what's quite a dark and dramatic song as if a conga line have just walked into shot during a news bulletin - and yet this once the incongruity works quite nicely. This is a song about the unexpected you see, about the narrator's 'I'm Alive' style shock that love really does exist and isn't just a fairytale - and his equal shock when he's dumped without warning. Though this song arguably features more 80s gubbins than the entries before it, there are still enough oh so Hollie moments within to make it work, such as the harmonies lingering on the word 'awaaaaaaaay' and hovering in mid air for one last glorious burst of that Hollies optimism that tomorrow is a new day and everything will work itself out. They should have saved this one for the 'next' single - it's plenty good enough. I still don't understand why a crowd of people suddenly start shrieking and taking a giant in-take of breath mid-way through the song though: has Naomi just had a wardrobe malfunction or something? Find it on: Grrrr nothing, unless you saw The Hollies in concert and bought the 'Purple Rain' cassette single as a souvenir!

The other B-side was [331] 'Two Shadows', Clarke's last original song ever recorded by The Hollies. It sounds much like his 'Reasons To Believe' album of the same year, full of dark and brooding thoughts, a heavy riff and another very modern feel to it. In this re-write of 'When Your Light's Turned On' from the other perspective (with the ;'aloofness' of 'Long Cool Woman' thrown in for good measure), Clarke's called round on-spec to see his lover but is shocked by the sight of another shadow on the blinds. He tries to keep cool but loses it in the chorus, spitting out the chorus 'Hey babe if you've nothing to hide, how come you got two shadows on your blinds?' (Interesting how window blinds are such a common Hollies theme, although it's usually Terry's object of choice). Like 'Naomi' this song manages to be at once very modern and very Hollies (despite some awfully clumsy artificial drumming nowhere near Bobby's standard) and you can hear a lot more of the Hollies' early R and B influences than on any song for years: it's only a shade away from the sheer bluesy misery of 'Nobody' this one. Whilst not quite up to the other two songs this is another of The Hollies' best tracks in years and again it's criminal that such a good song went unrecognised. Find it on: Grrrr nothing, unless you saw The Hollies in concert and bought the 'Purple Rain' cassette single as a souvenir!

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Oh dearie me oh dear. I can't tell you how thrilled my eleven year old self was that The Hollies were back with a new single - their first in three years - and more to the point EMI actually believed in the track this time around, giving the usual spiel about what a big hit it was going to be and how it sounded like Vintage Hollies. Released in a blitz of publicity about reaching their 30th anniversary, [332] 'The Woman I Love' came out - and most fans promptly wished it hadn't. Had the 1964 look Hollies recorded this sappy gormless Nik Kershaw song that would have been bad enough - but recording a song this simple and stupid in such a blaze of publicity when the band were in their fifties was just asking for trouble. The song doesn't make any sense: most of the song tries to say 'I love you' but can only say so in the third person, describing her good qualities. Dumb, admittedly, but almost cute. But then we have a middle eight where the narrator turns on her, telling her to 'walk out that door, what's to lose baby? What the hell?!' which was about what I said when I first heard it - this bit comes from nowhere and it's odd to hear The Hollies using their first swear word on such an inconsequential song (they use the word 'damn' later on too). After that we're straight back in the gormless and unfinished sounding nursery rhyme chorus with no explanations given ('The woman I love is standing next to me...' desperately needs a 'der der der' to match up the symmetry of the rhythm). It's one of those songs that, like Macarena and The Birdie Song,. is built round an infectious rhythm and sounds as if it comes with its own dance steps/actions (The 'woman' I 'love' has 'eyes' of 'blue' a 'face' like 'heaven'...) although thankfully The Hollies never actually performed any (the thought of it in my head is bad enough now - and in yours too now. Sorry about that).With a synthesiser riff that sounded horribly dated at the time never mind now, a distinct lack of Hollies harmonies and only the briefest of guitar solos, this was completely the wrong song for EMI to get behind and duly limped into only the bottom end of the charts (#41 in the UK), better than The Hollies had managed in a decade but still awfully disappointing given all the money and attention spend on it. If only EMI had backed the better singles of the period instead (take your pick from 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken' 'Shine Silently' and 'Purple Rain') then I'm convinced there'd be at least another three hundred pages to go in this book, full of tales of how The Hollies revitalised their career and unlocked another side to their commercial potential. However this song couldn't have been a hit in anyone's hands and its failure had major repercussions - EMI never got behind The Hollies in quite the same way again, the track all but killed off The Hollies' career as a stuo band for the next twenty years and it's failure and suitability made Clarke think about leaving the band, although he'll still be around in the Hollies live band for another six years yet. What an awful shame. The Hollies compilations I love have eyes of blue, covers of songs that speak so true and don't have any inclusion of this track at all! However if you really want to hear it try 'The Air That I Breathe - The Best Of The Hollies' (1993) and 'The LOng Road Home' (2003).

The last new recording under the Hollies name with Allan Clarke in the band is a cover of a smoky Richard Marx ballad well suited to his strengths. [333] 'Nothing Else But Love' was recorded at the end of sessions for 'The Woman I Love' but sadly only came out at the time in Germany (on our old friend 'The 30th Anniversary Collection') and is one of the rarer Hollies songs in the rest of the world. That's a shame because it's a far more deserving song and performance than 'Love', with a haunting keyboard refrain and a sudden surging key change in the middle straight out of a Eurovision entry. Given that this is the 'near' goodbye, it's a very poignant choice: Clarke' narrator sings about destiny 'bringing me to you' but how he's too far down a road that he can't turn back, despite knowing that he's 'so close to paradise'.  Marx's original version is melodramatic and bold, but fantastic interpretations as The Hollies always were, the band calm the song down and make the song not so much about urgency as a slow-burning passion that can never be extinguished. Along with 'Silently' and 'Rain' it remains the definite performance by this line-up of the band, with Tony's background effects meeting Bobby's heavy drumming head-on, while Ian Parker's keyboards and Alan Coates' harmonies add colour. The result is a small triumph that shows how much life there still was in the band and a fitting coda to the Clarke era, excelling on another classic Hollie cover ballad about the wonders of love (which is more or less where we came).Shockingly this final excellent song with Clarke in the band is only available in Germany on the '30th Anniversary Collectioon' set (1993)

Sigh. The last Hollies recording made with Allan Clarke is not just a re-recording but one where the band are drowned out by an all-star cast of soap actors who shockingly are even more wooden singing than they are at acting. [160b] 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' is an all-new re-recording made for the various artists record 'The Coronation Street' album and, well, it won't surprise you to learn a) that it blew all the competition from such non-stars as Cliff Richard  and Michael Ball away b) the massed chorus of Coronation Street stars are awful (they can't even act so why are they expected to sing?) and c) that I'm so ashamed the Hollies made me buy the flipping thing that I currently house it in a Hollies box having shredded the original cover - just in case anyone I know sees it. Presumably someone hit on the bright idea to unite two institutions because they both come from Manchester and are both long-lived (they both started around the same time, though The Hollies are a year or solo older in terms of 'releases' - it goes without saying they've aged rather better too). But it's a misguided idea: The Hollies have always done so well because they're 'real', even when they're acting; 'Coronation Street' has always done so well because it's so obviously fake, with such appalling acting the powers that be seem to deliberately cast the worst actors they can find - and get rid of stars a few years in when they've finally had enough experience to act and realise how truly lousy the scripts are. The Hollies should never have been asked: this is a project very much beneath their talents and the backing chorus isn't just poor, it's abysmal. That said, much of this re-arrangement of 'He Ain't Heavy' works quite well in terms of The Hollies' role in the record (if clearly not up to the original). There's some nice strummed acoustic guitar opening, the new string arrangement doesn't drive the song so much as float over it like a cloud, Tony Hicks fits in a brief guitar solo at the end, Bobby Elliott gets to sound like every other bored 1990s drummer playing repetitive parts over and over throughout the whole song (but better parts, obviously, than most lesser 1990s bands) and the push into the middle eight isn't so much a moment of tension as blessed relief that the Coronation Streeters have shut up. Had Clarke recorded this earlier, when his voice was under less strain and had the entire cast of Coronation Street characters fallen down a disused mineshaft or been hit by a plane the week before this could still just about have been rather good. As it is Clarke's penultimate role in The Hollies and his last as lead singer ends not with a bang but with a whimper. Who'd have guessed that even a couple of years earlier when EMI were throwing their weight behind 'The Woman I Love'? The road has many a winding turn indeed. Find it on: Various Artists set 'The Coronation Album' (1995)

Thankfully the very last recording to feature both Clarke and the unexpected return of Graham Nash is much better. [334] 'Peggy Sue Got Married', where The Hollies effectively 'become' their namesake Buddy Holly's backing band. The idea was Graham's, the producers of the rather odd film 'Peggy Sue Got Married' having excitedly bought the rights to Buddy's unreleased demo recording of the song and possessing the forefront to look for a leading American artists with Buddy connections turned to Graham. Whilst Nash could have done the track solo or even at a pinch with CSN (who were doing some odd things in the mid-1990s), he felt duty bound to pass it over to The Hollies (although he toyed with the idea of a super-group first featuring members of other Holly inspired musicians like Paul McCartney and The Stones). Despite the fact that The Hollies had already covered the song on the 'Buddy Holly' album, they were keen to take part and one last reunion took place at Abbey Road Studios (the first time any of the band had been back in five years). Alas by then the film idea had been dropped, but keen to see the idea through to completion Nash wangled some strings for a Buddy Holly tribute album in the works and got a deal to include the song on that instead. The result is a bit mixed to be honest: like the Beatles Anthology recordings a year later (were  the fab four nicking ideas from The Hollies again?!) all the clever computer technology and IQs set to solve IQ'd technology in the world can't make Buddy and the Hollies sound as if they belong in the same room; at best it sounds like Buddy's singing to them down a telephone line - at worse down a tunnel. However there is a frisson of excitement at hearing what the two halves might have sounded like together and a great deal of joy at having Allan Graham and Tony singing together with that distinctive blend one last time (although they don't get all that much to do to be honest). The star of the show though is Hicks' blistering guitar solo, which gives up trying to be warm and cosy like everyone else in the band and cuts to the jugular on what's actually a heartbreaking song: the love of Buddy's narrator's life, his muse who inspired him to write, has just got married to some other feller she barely knows and he didn't even get to hear about it! An almost song that isn't quite the perfect send off for Clarke and Nash but is at least a lot better than the curious reggae arrangement from the 1980 version and easily the best thing on the various artists tribute record (the only other listenable recording is a drunk sounding Mark Knopfler performing 'Learning The Game'). Find it on: 'Not Fade Away - Remembering Buddy Holly' (1996)

At the time of its release, [335] 'How Do I Survive?' was meant to be the start of a whole new legacy for the post-Allan Clarke era Hollies. With fans still not sure quite what to make of Carl Wayne, the compilers of the 'Long Road Home' box set requested a song to include at the end of the set as a sort of 'this is what the Hollies sound like now' coda. Perhaps sensibly, the band looked back to a past writer they'd used with a proven track record - Paul Bliss, who last worked for the band on the 'What Goes Around' reunion album of 1983 and must have mended his bridges with the band somewhere along the way after defecting to America to work with Nash. Alas the good work of all this preparation was to be undone by Carl's sad and unexpected death the following year, meaning that this is the only professional recording that Wayne ever made during his four year stint as a Hollie. Sadly we don't know if this style would have been a one-off or the template for everything to come but you have to say, judged in isolation, it doesn't bode very well. Like 'The Woman I Love' The Hollies have tried to buy themselves out of a sticky hole with a much-publicised and overly poppy song, but The Hollies were never good at this sort of a pop song but one that had a kernel of emotion within the catchy tune they could make come alive - emptyheaded and cheeky, this is more like something Herman's Hermits or Dave Clark Five would have done than the earlier Hollies greats. It sadly doesn't sound much like a combination of The Hollies and Wayne's band The Move, which could have been something special (indeed was, according to some reviewers who caught this line-up of the band live) and instead just sounds like drab pop of any era. That said, there is emotion in this song - the band just aren't 'allowed' to use it thanks to the curious contrast between the 'putting on a brave face now you're gone' lyrics and the full teeth smiles of the melody, which with its twinkling piano riff and wide eyed stare is in danger of sounding like Chris De Burgh. Apart from Carl and Ian Parker on keyboards The Hollies don't get much to do - had there been more of this era Hollies to judge this might not have been such a bad thing (Hicks and new harmony singer Steve Lauri sound pretty good together and backing Wayne the few times all three are in unison), but alas if this is all we have to go on then the old caveat of1972 applies: however good, this really ain't The Hollies, with the added problem this time around that what it is isn't actually that good anyway. Find it on: 'The Long Road Home' (2003) plus the odd (and we mean odd) Hollies compilations from the 21st century. 

[ ] 'I Would Fly' is, to be generous, a far better song than anything from the two Howarth-era albums. It's a breathy ballad that's no 'Air That I Breathe' but does at least sound a little like The Hollies, with a stately piano opening, some nice use of strings and very Hollies lyrics about wishing for a better tomorrow. Howarth sounds much better here - he doesn't go over the top once or try to sound like Clarke. Admittedly the lyrics are about as predictable as you can get and much fun can be had imagining Orville the duck replying as the song goes on...('I wish we could fly...' 'Where Peter? Right up the sky? But you can't!') Overall though the second best Hollies recording of the 21st century (just behind 'Dolphin Days'). Why aren't the albums as good as this, then? Find it on: the occasional modern Hollies best-of 

Hmm, well this is unexpected. { ] 'Skylarks' is a welcome return to the tour de force days of 'Soldier's Song', with an opening that sounds more like Marillion (all wheezing accordions and thundering synths) that's interesting enough that a rather wet lyric and Howarth vocal can't interrupt. The theme of wondering what happened to romance is a very Hollies one (see 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken') and the band generally cope well on a song that's generally more ambitious than their usual popfare, especially Ian Parker (this track is easily his finest hour during his long term as a Hollie). The song doesn't really resolve itself (which puts it slightly below 'I Would Fly' in my estimation) but you have to say that the new-look Hollies are doing far better with singles than LPs and have arguably released the two best Hollies singles in fifteen years. Let's hope this means that there';s another Hollie renaissance on the way and we'll be discussing their next batch of recordings long before 'The Hollies At Sixty' comes out!   Find it on: 'The Hollies At 50' (2014)


'Stay With The Hollies' (1964)

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

'For Certain, Because' (1966)

'Evolution' (1967)

'Butterfly' (1967)

‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ (1969)

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

'Romany' (1972)

'Out On The Road' (1973)

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

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

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

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

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