Monday 6 June 2016

The Hollies "Would You Believe?" (1966)

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The Hollies "Would You Believe?" (1966)

I Take What I Want/Hard Hard Year/That's How Strong My Love Is/Sweet Little Sixteen/Oriental Sadness/I Am A Rock//Take Your Time/Don't You Even Care (What's Gonna Happen To Me?)/Fifi The Flea/Stewball/I've Got A Way Of My Own/I Can't Let Go!

The year was 1966, the musical scene was splintering in a million different ways and The Hollies still couldn't decide who they wanted to be: the pretty pop merchants of recent hits 'Look Through Any Window' or I'm Alive'. The nitty gritty rock and rollers left over from the album tracks of 1964. The pioneers of folk-rock as heard across the third album released in 1965. Or, most interestingly of all, a newly formed writing team still tentatively striding out with their most unusual and unique songwriting yet. Would you believe this album is all those things (well, yes actually, you probably would, given that this is a review after all!) and back in 1966 must have really left fans scratching their heads as The Hollies go from acting like it's 1956 (with covers of Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Sixteen' which everyone else had done years ago and country curio 'Stewball', which everyone thought about doing and sensibly decided not to) and forging ahead into 1976 ('Hard Hard Year' and to a lesser extent 'Don't You Even Care' and 'Fifi The Flea' are forward thrusts into the great unknown). Never mind what fans make of it now: how do you re-act to an album that in different turns manages to be the band's most rocky album (the heaviest half of this album was lifted for the American-only album 'Beat Group!', which in 1966 two years after bands had moved on from the name sounded even odder!), folky album, soulful album and, well, bonkers album?

You appreciate it, in bits, that's what. 'Would You Believe?' isn't the best Hollies album or even the best Hollies album of the period, rather overshadowed by the first stirrings of songwriting greatness on 'The Hollies' and the fun-with-horns mature (and rather grumpy) sequel 'For Certain Beacuse'. However, like every other album the band will make with Nash in the band it's a very good, bordering-on-great record with several excellent moments and a couple of disasters. The reason the album isn't better remembered isn't that well remembered - even for a Hollies album - isn't that it's bad, or poorly made or thought out, just that it suffers from the usual 1960s Hollies problem of a lack of cohesion and focus where the total isn't always the sum of its parts (though you could of course argue that it's also one of the more eclectic 1960s albums where every part goes somewhere different). There's a reason for this, though. The Beatles are taking so long to make albums at Abbey Road these days that few of the other EMI acts who survived the great 'Merseybeat cull' of 1965 can get access to a tape machine or a microphone, never mind studio no 2. The Hollies were more popular and established than most and were encouraged to stay at the studios rather than being palmed off elsewhere, but even so they ended up making this record across six different months (between September 1965 and March 1966), which was the longest it took The Hollies to make any of their 1960s records. What's more, the six months they happened to pick ended up being six of the most changeable, versatile months in musical history so every time The Hollies met up at Abbey Road again to record the goalposts had changed. One minute folk rock was in with The Byrds, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel all big in the charts (hence covers of 'Stewball' 'I Am A Rock' and new original 'Hard Hard Year', albeit all three recorded with typical Hollies enthusiasm and hope), the next it's a rock and roll revival going on of sorts (hence 'Take My Time' and 'Sweet Little Sixteen'), next the rock gets heavier and riff-driven and more emotional ('I Take What I Want' and period single 'I Can't Let Go!'), then up comes soul with Otis Redding a bit UK hit in 1965 ('Don't You Even Care?' and 'That's How Strong My Love Is') and the next The Hollies have worked out how to combine the lot ('I've Got A Way Of My Own', which is a folk protest song in the rock and roll style). Had The Hollies had a sneak peek at 'Revolver' (which began the week after 'Would You Believe?' finished), goodness only knows what The Hollies might have done.

There is a theme of sorts, though, that just about gets away with uniting this varied and variable album if you go searching for it far enough: possession. The Clint Ballard Jnr song 'I Can't Let Go' was recorded early on in the sessions and - as The Hollies' second biggest hit after 'I'm Alive' - seems to have set much of the tone: that track is so desperate and so determined to hold on to a lover despite all signs to the contrary that even the fattest bass sound on record (by 1965 anyway) isn't enough to hold Clarke 'n' Nash's squirming narrator in place. It's mirrored elsewhere as Allan Clarke tackles Isaac Hayes' 'I Take What I Want' at full volume and as misogynistically as The Hollies ever got as the band refuse to say no; 'That's How Strong My Love Is', an Otis Redding cover that tries the same theme backwards, trying to persuade a lover that they're besotted enough to do anything which surely no one else can match; 'Oriental Sadness' is about lies and mistrust, both partners playing games ('How could she think that I would sacrifice all I had got for her?'); 'I Am A Rock' is about not wanting to be possessed - or even noticed - by anyone, with the only true experience of freedom coming when you're far away from people; by contrast Buddy Holly's 'Take Your Time' seems desperate to ignore all thoughts of possession - they want their loved one to be as in love they are, however long it takes; 'Don't You Even Care' (the Hollies' second and final Clint Ballard Jnr song) is a blustering abrasive song about how the 'Fifi The Flea' is a doomed love affair between two very different types of people (a clown and a flea!) and who dies of a broken heart because their love is so one-sided, with her heart very much in his 'possession'; even the cute 'Stewball' has a sort of horsey take on possession and jealousy ('...And I wish he was mine!') in between the happy memories; and finally 'I've Got A Way Of My Own' is an early Nash song celebrating freedom and unconformity, The Hollies escaping the 'possessive' nature of the  pop world.

Of course, The Hollies probably never realised they were setting the album up that way - in fact I hadn't noticed it myself until not long ago despite having played this album for thirty years (not every day you understand, or I'd be even more far gone than I am now, but probably quite a few times across those years). But there may be a few reasons that this pushing-pulling theme crops up so often and not just because it worked out well in a hit single. The three songwriting Hollies are at different stages of their love lives. Graham Nash's marriage to first wife Rose is already struggling ('Fifi The Flea' is our first direct sign of an unhappy love affair that's semi-autobiographical, not that I'm making out that either of them is an insect or anything, though note that Graham portrays himself as a 'clown' again on the next record). Allan Clarke's just got married to longtime love Jennifer. Bobby Elliott is dating Tony Hick's sister Maureen, which adds a whole new 'Mamas and Papas' relationship vibe to the band. Ideas of  possession and obsession would have been big on the trio's minds as one signs up to wedding vows, one  works their way up to them and another tries to escape them.
There's another possible explanation for the 'jealousy' motif. Despite this record featuring the most unified Hollies performances yet (especially the rhythm section), this is bass player Eric Haydock's last record as a Hollie, for reasons which remain murky. Eric, never one for talking, has kept admirably silent considering his leaving/sacking has become one of the biggest controversies in the Hollies story (there aren't all that many after all; The Hollies weren't that kind of a band). Eric fell poorly in April 1966, with what was either 'a cold' (the band) or 'nervous exhaustion' (Eric's doctor, so it's said) and asked for some time off, backed up (says Eric) by medical certificates. This was deeply unfortunate timing: The Hollies were supposed to be busy on their first real American tour (which wasn't going too well given that they hadn't had any hits there yet - 'Bus Stop' is waiting in the wings though) and hadn't done much touring at home for a while either. Eric's illness continued into May when The Hollies returned to Abbey Road to make three new recordings: 'After The Fox' for the Peter Sellers film of the same name (with Jack Bruce on bass a year before Cream), 'Don't Run and Hide' (with John Paul Jones filling in on bass, three years before Led Zeppelin) and 'Bus Stop' when The Hollies realise that Eric probably isn't coming back (he's still handing in doctor's certificates by this stage) and give Tony and Bobby's old 'Dolphins' bandmate Bernie Calvert a call (in the middle of his factory shift in Runcorn as it happens). Was Eric stalling with a fake illness, responding to petty grudges by scuppering the Hollies' greatest chance yet at international success? Probably not, though the other Hollies may have seen it that way ('Everyone knows the bass player does the least work in a band!' declared Nash rather haughtily afterwards, which was news to John Entwistle and probably Jack Bruce and John Paul Jones as well).

Eric had always felt like the odd one out in the band, even though technically speaking The Hollies was 'his' band (with other members falling by the way side as first Clarke-Nash, then Hicks, then Elliott joined): he was the one member of the happiest, giggliest 1960s band who didn't smile and 'the quiet' member of one of the 1960s most chattiest groups who hardly ever spoke and made George Harrison look like a chatterbox ('During the playback even Eric smiled!' is a knowing joke on the 'In Hollies Style' sleevenote). To the other Hollies Eric seemed expendable on a personal level (few fans who followed the publicity rather than the music would even notice he was missing, while the band barely noticed him around socially anyway) so when he started being 'unreliable' as well they felt their hand was forced in a way that it wouldn't have been had Clarke Hicks or Nash been the one having a memltdown. But I for one have always felt sorry for Eric: there were no 'last chances', no tearful visits to the doctor's surgery asking when Eric might make it back into work and no attempt to work out why quiet Eric may have been feeling the strain in a band already famous for its creative tension and talkative superstars. Eric needed a rest, not the sack and it's a sign of how badly overworked 1960s bands were in Britain that the solution for losing a founding member was to get another one in quick rather than slow down the pace or take a month off. Eric's loss went more or less un-noticed, which is a tragedy: at his peak - which is on this album as it happens (especially 'I Can't Let Go') - Haydock is the perfect mid-1960s bass player: he's rugged, aggressive, rhythmic and powerful, one of the few bassists out there who wouldn't get swamped by the sheer power of Bobby's drumkit pounding and yet who still understands melody enough to provide the singing Hollies with just what they need to strut their stuff. Much as I love the equally under-rated work of replacement Bernie Calvert (whose a much more fluid, melodic player than Eric), The Hollies lose quite a bit of their toughness and drive when Eric leaves the band - and back in 1963 that was the single most exciting thing about The Hollies. It's an unnecessarily messy end of an era, made worse in decades to come by Eric's decision to tour as 'The Hollies' without the others' approval (instigating a court case that will become pioneering in rock and roll circles as so many ex-band members tried the same; actually Eric had a better claim than most, being the sole founding member of the band that became known as The Hollies, and the court came to a decision that he could carry on billing himself as 'Eric Haydock of The Hollies' as long as his name was in larger print than the band's own; Eric ended up in court again in 1999 after breaking this 'rule').

Perhaps one reason The Hollies were so keen to get a replacement is that they'd already booked a big epoch making event for June 1966, working with childhood heroes The Everly Brothers on their album 'Two Yanks In England' (which effectively became Bernie's first Hollies olliesHalbum). Recorded in a rush and released just a month later, it's the companion album to 'Would You Believe?' in oh so many ways (the same sense of confusion and mismash styles while leaning towards folk-rock) and even features two of the same songs ('Fifi The Flea' and 'Hard Hard Year'). The project came about because The Everly Brothers were in town, wanted a big name current group to back them was their sales were starting to slip and figured The Beatles would leap at the chance to work them during their short stay in London! Brian Epstein is said to have picked up the phone from their manager, laughed at the idea of the fab four breaking off intense 'Revolver' sessions at the last moment and told them to ring The Hollies instead. If The Hollies ever knew they were second choice, they probably didn't care: of all the bands in the 1960s they were the one who most owed their signature sound to the Kentucky brothers and both Clarke and Nash, who queues in Manchester rain for hours once to get their autographs, have since recalled these album sessions as the highlights of their career. However there was another reason for making the album: the chance to prove themselves as a songwriting force. The Everly Brothers were quite happy to leave material up to their 'backing band' as long as Phil got his latest song on there somewhere so Clarke-Hicks-Nash offered theirs, getting eight songs on the album. As well as the two songs recently released on 'Believe' they provided their recent B-side 'Don't Run Hide' and two older songs 'I've Been Wrong' and 'So Lonely'. Of most interest to Hollie fanatics though are the three 'new' songs which the band wouldn't record for one or two years yet, all of which could easily have been on this album: future B-side charmer 'Everything Is Sunshine', 'Evolution' album highlight 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody?' and 'Like Everytime Before', a track The Hollies won't record till 1968 and won't release (at least, outside Germany) till exactly twenty years after that (on 'Rarities').

Taking those three songs alongside the four originals from 'Believe' makes for an interesting debate about the health of the band's songwriting talent. When 'Believe' was released, as the last Hollies album to feature covers till they get the Dylan bug in 1969, it was slated for being too behind the times when original songs were the currency of the day. That's clearly wrong: taken as a whole all seven songs add to perhaps the best songwriting period of The Hollies' career. All seven are notably stormy songs, far stormier than the sweet Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly ditties trotted out elsewhere on this album, with love no longer a lightweight teenage crush but a matter of life or death. Though The Everly Brothers' version of 'Have You Ever...?' lacks the band's own future electric guitar crunch (had they not written that bit yet or did The Everlys consider it too 'modern'?) it's an angry, snarling song that goes from zero to sixty in a nanosecond. 'Don't Run and Hide' urges a lover/friend/family member/pet tortoise to come out of their shell with the angriest in-tune harmonies on record. 'Everytime' is a list of complaints, like 'We're Through' but nastier, turned sweet again only by the revelation that the narrator can't help falling in love all over again. 'Hard Hard Year' is an utterly devastating song of poverty and denial, with perhaps Nash's fears of his own mortality and his family's reliance on his finances after his dad died young and suddenly at the end of the previous year leading up to a song of tragedy and pathos, despite the its-all-fine-now last verse. 'Oriental Sadness' might have a cute 'Chinese' thing going, but the words about mistrust, betrayal and misery are universal. 'I've Got A Way Of My Own' is outspoken and angry, bitter and fuming. 'Fifi The Flea' is weird, admittedly, but totally heartbreaking too. Only 'Sunshine' isn't, well, dark and stormy and even that's pretty darn far ahead of itself in a psychedelic way for mid-1966. This isn't Mooning and Juning here - this is music representing real life and even The Beatles have only just learnt how to do that on album by this point (and 'Rubber Soul' is a more half-and-half record like this one than many fans admit). People always say that The Hollies were a great covers band who couldn't write: they're plainly wrong and particularly in this period when Clarke-Hicks-Nash are three of the deepest and darkest writers in pop. It's just a shame that only some of these tracks appeared on 'Believe', not all eight: with two-thirds of an album of originals up to that standard (alongside this album's more inventive covers like 'I Can't Let Go' and 'I Take What I Want') every single 1950s act would have been pestering The Hollies for songs and probably more than a few contemporary ones too.

One quick extra to this paragraph: which 'Would You Believe?' came first, the album or the song? For those who haven't skipped ahead yet, Allan Clarke wrote a passionate ballad of that same title which appeared on the 1967 Hollies album 'Butterfly'. Is this another song written in this period but left unrecorded? (A shame if so - The Everlys' harmonies would have really suited it!) Or did Clarkey like the album title so much he wrote a song around it? I have to say, I fancy the former idea: 'Would You Believe?' is a weird title for an album (though not for a song) and only makes sense if it was named after one of the tracks originally included on the track listing. Even the album cover is a little bit weird and like the album itself a little, umm, 'sketchy': Eric's last appearance in a Hollies anything comes on the only illustrated Hollies cover to include a drawing of the band (clockwise from bottom left a pensive looking Clarke, a faraway looking Haydock, a toothy-grinned Nash, a smiley Hicks and finally a rather ill looking Elliott; these drawings look as if they were based on 'real' posed photos to me though sadly I've never seen them and they probably got lost long ago!)

Overall, then, Would you believe that this album is both better than we've long been told it is and yet still less than the sum of it's parts? Sometimes it feels like it's The Hollies' best, at least of the pre-1967 era Hollies: 'I Can't Let Go' is one of their greatest most timeless singles, an inventive cheery take on Paul Simon's 'I Am A Rock' and an authentic one on Otis Redding's 'That's How Strong My Love Is' proves how great The Hollies could be as a covers act and 'Hard Hard Year'  'Oriental Sadness' and 'I've Got A Way Of My own' all prove once again how under-rated the Hollies songwriting team always was. What this album doesn't have is the sheer energy and exuberance of the first two albums, the career highlights of 'The Hollies' in 1965 (did the band ever improve on 'So Lonely'?!) and the sophistication and cohesion of what's to come. But that's ok: would you believe that, even at less than full throttle with so many great songs left unused and with a band line-up in disarray, this still manages to be a more than decent mid-60s album? Of course you do, this is The Hollies - and even on their most inconsistent album of the decade they manage to be one of the most consistent groups of the 1960s, full (bus) stop.

By 1966 The Hollies had largely left their early aggression and power behind, but 'I Take What I Want' is a great final blistering example for why The Hollies were rhythmically more like the tougher sound of The Who and The Rolling Stones than they're usually given credit for (albeit with Beatlesy harmonies). The song was a comparatively modern one for The Hollies to cover, having been a hit only a year earlier for Sam and Dave. Like many a Hollies 'soul' cover, the band have tightened things up, sped up the tempo and pulled out far more character from the song's jingly riff (which sounds almost laidback on the original) and emphasised the heavy beat with multiple handclaps. In many ways though it's an odd choice for a band that even their biggest critics said was overtly 'nice' - by contrast this misogynistic lyric is far more like a Stones cover. Though we've had similarly 'ugly' Hollies narrators in the past, they've usually been defensive or wronged and seeking vengeance ('Put Yourself In My Place' springs to mind) - this one is wilfully arrogant and doesn't consider the object of his affections for a second. Clarke's narrator has been watching his prey silently but declares that 'now I'm ready to get you - and I'm gonna get my girl!', while a middle eight has Clarke telling the audience just how he's going to do it ('Gonna pick you uip, carry you away yes I am...I'm a big bad man!' To some extent the Sam and Dave original is, like many soul songs, posing: the narrator seriously doesn't believe he's the best thing that's ever happened to his hapless girl, it's just all good fun. The Hollies' version is different though, dropping the tongue-in-cheek style for a direct and heartfelt performance. In fact they put in one of their tightest band performances here, with a double-tracked Clarke lead that's sincere and gutsy, a pulsating Tony Hicks guitar part that attacks the song like a wasp, some great harmonies (with Tony louder than usual) and the closest thing yet to a Bobby Elliott drum solo (the other instruments drop out, but Clarkey still sings along). Despite being so far out the band's usual comfort zone, a fierce performance and a gritty guitar riff make this cover a true winner.

Better yet is 'Hard Hard Year', a song that's clearly modelled on the 'folk-rock' half of The Beatles' 'Help!' crossed with the first pair of Simon and Garfunkel albums, but which takes it's sad feeling of melancholy and dread to a new level. Notwithstanding the fact that 1966 is The Hollies' 'grumpiest' year (especially with next album 'For Certain Because' on the horizon) this song seems badly out of place in the band's catalogue, but makes more sense when you realise that Nash now was, at a mere twenty-four, the only breadwinner for his family (his dad having died suddenly at the age of 46). A lot of Nash's songs start getting deeper from this period as he tries to move The Hollies away from their pop sound - though credited to the Clarke-Hicks-Nash pseudonym 'L Ransford' as usual, this one sounds like an early Nash stepping stone and it's mixture of sadness and paranoia may well be rooted in his recent loss. The recent flop status of Beatles cover 'If I Needed Someone' in the singles market was also something of a reminder that pop was a fickle business to rely on making money from (though hitting straight back with 'Bus Stop' would have been a welcome tonic). Some fans think that 'Year' gets a bit OTT with its tale of bad weather, poor harvest, poverty, hardship and illness, but it's no sillier than 'I Am A Rock' or 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' (it's most obvious cousins, especially that off-beat tambourine part from Bobby). This early example of the inherent Hollies melancholy (which ends up becoming their de facto sound in years to come, despite their early start as cheeky exuberant rock and rollers) is one of the best in fact, Clarke's narrator all too believable as he pleads to be allowed to 'get back on my feet and prove to myself I'm a man!' The realness of the song is emphasised no end by one of the greatest guitar solos of all time (seriously, we put it at #3 in our run down of the best solos in a 'top ten' column back in 2010, beaten only by Pentangle's sitar break on 'Once I Had A Sweetheart' and Crazy Horse's one note solo in 'Cinnamon Girl'!) Tony plays with real fire and passion and far more wild abandon than usual, with a guttural howl of desperation so unusual for the more carefully controlled Hollies, while the sound of the solo is beautifully recorded (through a Vox amp, so Tony thinks) surprisingly clear for the mid-1960s. All this together with a lovely folk sing-song melody is enough to melt the hardest of hearts, but this being The Hollies even after such misery and death they give the song an upbeat twist in the final verse. Suddenly the snow's gone. Spring's arrived (the guitar solo wasn't that long was it?!), bills are all paid and the narrator's learnt a valuable life lesson about putting things away for a rainy day. A lovely, much under-rated song that somehow manages to be warm and cosy and icy and chilling, this is one of the real breakthrough songs for The Hollies' songwriting team.

'That's How Strong My Love Is' doesn't quite match the same level, though it's earnest enough and probably comes out a nose ahead of the more laidback Stones cover of this lovely Otis Redding song on 'Out Of Our Heads' in 1965 (though neither cover can match Otis'!) Technically speaking, the song was written by Roosevelt Jamison for obscure singer O V Wright, but Otis' was the first version people really heard. Jagger tried to copy Otis as closely as he could, but as with 'I Take What I Want' The Hollies go in quite a different direction, keeping the song's soulful swing but beefing it up with a rock tempo and another gritty Clarke lead. If you didn't know this song, you'd never guess that it started life as a 'soul' track. Musically the song is a good match for The Hollies once again, using that by now familiar 'climactic' progression they've been using since 'I'm Alive' with another song that grows from a simple quiet whisper to a loud yell, but lyrically The Hollies never really did any other songs that announced undying love in such certain terms and the band sound ever so slightly uncomfortable on it (in contrast to The Stones, who could lie their way through anything!) For once Hick's guitar isn't quite as on target and Nash's stabbing rhythm and Eric's booming bass all seem to be playing different songs while, shock horror, the backing vocals sound a little flat (well, by Hollies standards - for most other bands this would be a career highlight!) More claustrophobic than most nice clean Hollies arrangements, you can tell that the band are straining under the weight by the end and the final slowed down notes feel as if they're being played with some relief at having got to the end with a fiery doubled-up drum part from Bobby for good measure. Still, even if this is a little messy and the band don't fit the song, both are good enough for this to be a worthy if flawed experiment.

By contrast 'Sweet Little Sixteen' comes across as something like light relief, Chuck Berry's oft-covered 1958 song about coming of age treated with reverence like a rock and roll museum piece rather than the usual invention The Hollies display. Which is not to say that their version is bad - far from it in fact. Most cover versions slow the song down for some reason but The Hollies' version comes with a turbo engine and at about twice the speed. By Hollies standards the backing track is gloriously messy too, with Bobby sticking in extra drum thwacks every so often and Hicks and Nash playing the intertwined guitar solo so fast you can barely hear what's going on and the pair appear to all intents and purposes to be vamping by the end (very un-Hollies!) Clarke's double-tracked lead adds an unashamedly Mancunian drawl to the tales of American life and doesn't quite fit but I'll forgive everything for the 'yeeeeeeah' that adds excitement and energy that weren't even in Chuck's original. Whether all this suits a song that's more playful than heavy (though of all the cover versions around The Hollies' is the most fun and 'free') and whether The Hollies should have been covering songs as obvious as this as late as 1966 is, of course, another matter, but this is a fun cover with its heart in the right place, even if by 1966 the band's own years of being 'sweet sixteen' must have been fading memories. 

Next is 'Oriental Sadness', an unusual Hollies original with a title that sounds more like a description of the Chinese-style riff and minor chord sighing going on in the music than anything that happens in the lyrics (it may have started life as a descriptive 'working title' before Clarke-Hicks-Nash found they struggled to write a song round it!) A cross between 'Three Little Girls From School' and 'I Can't Let Go', the cute Hicks guitar riff dances round the song, just out of reach. This isn't a merry dance, though, with the narrator plunging off a cliff in the middle eight when all the 'colouring' drops out and just leaves the cold hard steel of the band's usual instruments. Yet another Hollies song about love going wrong (few bands ever wrote as many, at least this early on in their careers), this one features an early metaphor of a 'flower fading' (see 'Marigold Swansong') for a relationship that isn't living up to potential, sacrificed by distrust and betrayal. Only the betrayal is a mistake: this song is really 'She Loves You' in reverse and with more poetic words as the narrator is betrayed by 'someone who told her lies' and means his girl doesn't trust him anymore. He can't get near and tell her what really happened, bouncing between concern for her happiness on one side and disgust at how easily she's been conned on another. Clarke and Nash alternate the verse-with-a-chorus-tacked-on-the-end and the repeated middle eight, which makes for an interesting story-telling device: Clarke sings in the third-person, Nash in the first, and yet both of them play the wronged narrator. Many fans feel a bit lost with the oriental flavour (with Bobby playing a gong as well as some classic drums), but this is another more than solid original with universal appeal. As always in this period, the band's performance is top notch too: both Clarke and Nash nail their parts, Hicks and Elliott combine to add the exotic oriental flavour and beneath it all sits Eric Haydock with the thankless task of keeping this whole song upright and moving. One of The Hollies' most overlooked songs.

Released in January 1966, just two months before being re-recorded here, the original of Simon and Garfunkel's 'I Am A Rock' always sounded out place in a happier, optimistic year (though it was written and first released by Simon solo as far back as 1964). It also missed the 'folk explosion' by a matter of months, with the pop world having moved on to heavier sounds. Despite all that, it's too clever and too moving a song not to have done well in the charts in any period and duly became a fair hit as the much-delayed follow-up to 'The Sound Of Silence' (even though the duo won't become household names till long after). The Hollies, always a band for nurturing talents (they stuck up for The Kinks, co-wrote with The Beatles and helped The Small Faces on their way after all), must have been thrilled to hear a song they really identified with but which was open enough for them to 'Holliesify' it by adding all the cornerstones of 1966: pounding rock beats, thrilling harmonies and placing a much greater emphasis on the song's originally subtle acoustic guitar riff by having Tony play it at full power on an electric. The result is striking and like all the best covers out there sounds like a very different song. However the controversial bit is what The Hollies do to the ending, something which has been getting criticism from the S and G fans ever since: though the Hollies are often melancholy, they often find a way to be happy eventually (this album's 'Hard Hard Year' being a prime example of this). So it is that, after around two and a half minutes of isolation, alienation and grief, the band pass on Paul Simon's original downbeat and understated ending and instead use it as a false ending to kick back into the chorus, now sung with gusto and full-power harmonies that could take down a wall. It's not exactly fitting with the song's mood (the narrator wants to disappear forever, not lure the spotlight to him!) but if you're a Hollies fan first and foremost then smiling after crying is such a Hollies thing to do you can't help but laugh. You can add to that the chirpy tambourine-and-sleigh bells accompaniment across the song (which makes it sound like the least festive and sociable Christmas carol ever) and the massed harmonies, which really shouldn't fit a song about being alone (which is why the S and G version is one of the duo's few recordings not up to the 'Paul Simon Songbook' recording). As a result, this cover seems to have come in for some retrospective stick from more general music fans who think The Hollies have mis-read the song. Not true: Clarke's gloomy narrator is deeply committed and the Hollies' faster tempo manages to toughen the song up without losing that very real feel of sorrow. If anything The Hollies' version is even more straight: that verse about 'Don't talk of love - well I've heard the word before' is heartbreaking when Clarke sings it, whereas Simon and Garfunkel are still slightly tongue-in-cheek at that point. Whisper it quietly, but I actually prefer this version, which makes me something of a rock (and an island) in musical reviewing circles.

So far every track on this album has been noisy to some extent (even if it's just the solo), so the muted strains of Buddy Holly cover 'Take Your Time' seem an odd place to begin side two. Like 'Sweet Little Sixteen', had The Hollies recorded this back when they first started and everyone was doing this sort of material, it would have been passable bordering on pretty darn good. By 1966 standards it just feels sloppy: everyone's covered Buddy Holly songs to death by then and The Hollies don't even go for an obscure song but one of the more obvious, without any of the inventiveness of most other Hollies cover songs. Admittedly this version now has some harmonies which the original didn't (and they're far less cringe-inducing than what The Crickets later overdubbed after Buddy's death) and the song is now played on electric instruments, not acoustic ones. But it also sounds exactly like the original with harmonies and electric instruments and nothing extra. Only Eric's ridiculously busy bass-work (no wonder he was suffering from exhaustion!) adds any real excitement to the track. The Hollies clearly liked the song, though, returning to it in a slower and far more inventive (if woefully 1980s sounding) form on their 'Buddy Holly' album of covers in 1980, although no one is quite sure why. This just doesn't sound like Hollies material somehow, despite this band of all bands having such a close relationship with one of the 1950's brightest leading lights.

The Hollies weren't one of those 1960s bands who liked repeating formulas - most of their singles are different to each other (with the obvious exception of close cousins Carrie Anne and Jennifer Eccles) and apart obviously from the band's own songs they didn't tend to return to a hit source either. 'Don't You Even Care (What Happens To Me?)' is an unusual exception, a second attempt to not only record a songs that slowly grows just like the band's #1 hit 'I'm Alive' did but which was written by the same writer, Clint Ballard Jnr. Both songs have been tightened up, given an urgent rocky sense of paranoia that makes it very different to laidback soul and the full power ending of both versions is deliriously exciting. The Hollies could have recorded a whole album of Ballard Jnr songs ('You're No Good' was another that would have sounded good by The Hollies, a hit for The Swinging Blue Genes in 1965, a year before they added future Hollie Terry Sylvester to their line-up) and I'd have been happy: Ballard's songs of despair (but always with hope for reconciliation) are a good mix with the Hollie blend of happy sadness. However, there's no getting round the fact that 'Don't You Even Care' isn't another 'I'm Alive'. The song is curiously constructed, reaching peaks of indignation and upset as the narrator gets more and more carried away with his grievances even though you can tell that he's trying to make things up with his cruel and vicious girl. There's a slightly more scattershot melody that sums up the narrator's confusion only too well but it lacks the universal appeal of 'I'm Alive', a song that felt as if it was guided by fate as all the pieces of the song slotted together so well; this one often sounds as if all the pieces have been thrown together. The Hollies sound, by their own standards, ever so slightly bored too and while Clarke tries hard to growl in a Ballard manner once again it doesn't quite come off. Except the middle eight anyway, which is another of those oh so Hollies moments no other band would do: as Clarke plunged deeper and deeper into despair and loneliness ('How will I fill my days? What will I do each night?') cycling through the lines one by one, Hicks and Nash keep rising higher and higher, fighting that upward struggle of depression until all three suddenly explode in unison on the line 'Somehow it don't seem right!' A nice idea, with several good things going for it and it's hard not to care for this poor little song, which feels so real and heartfelt throughout. But lightning sadly doesn't strike twice and the Hollies were right to keep chopping and changing their style instead of trying to re-capture past successes like this.

If The Hollies have so far been playing things safe on side two, then that's all about to change with 'Fifi The Flea', a song best described as...experimental. In fact, how to describe it at all? On paper it's a love song about a flea and a clown who meet at a circus but the clown's too wrapped up in himself to realise her love for him and she dies in the arms of a 'manager friend' - and even in the 1960s there weren't many plotlines around like that one. Many reviewers and fans have been tempted to dismiss this song as a novelty track that didn't quite work (a 'Ringo' song if you will), but the choice of a clown and a flea might not be as random as people have long assumed. This is clearly Nash's song and the only one on the albums he sings alone and for Nash the 'clown' is a big image he'll come back to later often: the idea of a performer whose the life and soul of the party on the outside and hurting badly on the inside, unable to reconcile the two (funnily enough his 'replacement' Terry Sylvester will do the same on a couple of future Hollies tracks). Here he's so wrapped up in his work and making other people happy that he neglects his 'flea', which depending how you look on it is either an early rude comment about first wife Rose or more likely a reflection of his feeling that their love affair was going to be short and colourful and wasn't destined to last very long (fleas don't live that long anyway, so their relationship was always going to end quickly). Nash could of course be writing 'psychedelically' (ie surreally) but the line about the 'manager friend' is a giveaway detail you wouldn't get in that sort of a song (since when do clowns have managers? *insert topical joke about Donald Trump that will confuse the goodness out of future readers here*) Like many of Nash's brooding when-will-I-make-the-break? songs to come (such as 'Stop Right There' and 'Tell Me To My Face') this song sounds like Nash thinking things over in his mind and imagining more what she wants to say to him, not what he wants to say to her: 'Pay me attention, I'm dying, while you broke my heart with your lying!' (by most accounts Rose Eccles was a devoted first wife - the pair just married too young and she couldn't keep the pace with Graham during his psychedelic rule-breaking phase and they gradually 'uncoupled' as modern celebs would put it). That might be guilt that sees the clown atoning by first placing a flower o her grave and then jumping in beside his dead love. Nash seems rather dismissive of the song now, but at the time he considered it a breakthrough, giving it over to The Everly Brothers to sing (unsure what to make of it, they turned it into a cod-operatic joke, but Nash's purring vocal in this version shows how heartfelt the sentiments were). It's certainly a song ahead of it's time, with a Dylanesque wordplay mixed with slight twinges of psychedelia and surrealism, complete with a moving 'humming' part that catches the ear and the clever alliteration of 'Fifi The Flea' and 'he'd lost his Fifi forever' (which beats future colleague Stephen Stills' similarly alliteric song 'Helplessly Hoping' by three years). What it doesn't have is sophistication: some of the lyrics are a little on the clumsy side ('crying' 'dying' and 'lying' are all, err, 'rhyming') while the band could have done more with the backing than a simple 12 bar acoustic groove. This is, though, whatever you think of the song, a milestone in Nash's development as a songwriter - this is the first ever solo Hollies performance and it speaks volumes that it's Nash who takes that sudden leap.

The album's weakest track is surely folk standard 'Stewball', a nostalgia wallow fest full of wholesome fun that's music's equivalent of The Little House On The Prairie or The Waltons and is dedicated to a horse the narrator had in childhood who was perfect. However this icky syprupy song isn't what it seems at all: it's a song about gambling and alcohol! Well sort of. You see, the plucky Stewball overcomes odds to win a race despite being very much the under-horse, as it were and celebrates by drinking wine, not water. Suddenly I see where 'Stewball' got his name. That's a pretty odd name for a racehorse, it has to be said, but then 'Stewball' is a pretty odd song, despite being such a folk stable it was inevitable one of the AAA bands would end up covering it sometime. Maybe I'm just not the horse-loving type, but this song and especially this version of it has left me something of an old nag myself. The Hollies usually add excitement and originality to their cover songs, but this version is so slow it takes away even the slight excitement of the original's mid-paced trot and the singing is so Peter Paul and Mary you can't quite believe it's Allan Graham and Tony. They even sing flat for goodness sake, while Tony's plinky plonk guitar smacks too much of bad school assemblies to suit a record released in the all-knowing year of 1966. The result may only last some three odd minutes but it feels like it lasts an eternity, with a poor song treated to a poor performance and a tempo that drags, with every possible meaning of that word. A 'mare' in fact and one of the weakest recordings The Hollies ever made. Close cousin 'Pegasus' (see 'Butterfly') is a much prettier horse song if you like those sorts of things - old Pegasus is far more believable too despite being a flying horse!

So far The Hollies have either been well in front or well behind the musical tide. Suddenly on 'I've Got A Way Of My Own' they're bang on the money. A snarling, blistering update on the R and B songs of yesteryear, this is The Hollies going back to their semi-regular role as generational town criers (and as such is almost solely a Nash song once again). Released about six months before the album (as the B side to 'If I Needed Someone'), it's a sign of how sophisticated Hollies arrangements were becoming while their songwriting was becoming more direct while using several old and future Hollies tricks. Like 'Look Through Any Window' and 'Elevated Observations' The Hollies are observing mankind from a distance and en mass and don't like what they see. For the massed public everything is 'spinning and turning', a chaotic dance of re-action and spontaneity, cursed to always repeat the same mistakes, while Nash's narrator tries to live with order and through learning from what he's got wrong. Nash figures that before too long the world's population will start 'sinking' and calling on the likes of him (who the public now despise) to 'lend a hand'. As for The Hollies, they've found a different way to live life, where people have 'time for the world' and 'find what they're looking for'. It's a hippier take on 'Satisfaction' if you will, as seen through the eyes of someone whose seen what the future can be as well as how bad the present actually is. Though there's no mention of peace or - unusually for The Hollies - love and there are no Eastern instruments, lyrically this track is candidate for one of the earliest British hippie songs, right up there with The Beatles' 'The Word', The Kinks' 'See My Friends' and (especially) The Searchers' 'He's Got No Love', all songs from the second half of 1965 that throw light on what's coming next. However what comes across most from this song isn't the hippie hopefulness but the pure raw anger, with both Clarke and Nash scathing and sarcastic as they put down everyone not a part of their 'club'. This could easily have backfired (The only real link between all the many varied stages of Holliedom is that they remain a band that, first and foremost, want to be liked), but somehow the cause is so just, the theme so personalised, the playing so exuberant and the music so R and B and earthy that the band just about get away with this. The result is one of the best Hollies rockers, with enough twists and turns and sudden injections of drum-rolls and sudden vicious sweeping backing vocals to keep the song exciting all the way from the first to the last. It should really have been the A-side (though their Beatles cover on the other side is also a most under-rated track).

'Would You Believe?' then ends with that single's sequel, recorded during the early album sessions and released as a single in February 1966, four months before the album. 'I Can't Let Go' is one of the most perfectly made and timeless singles, even by Hollies standards. Taking the 'acceleration' part of their most successful single 'I'm Alive', the band keep the pace and excitement but add in tension and worry as Clarke's narrator imagines a future break-up and does everything in his power to stop it happening. And what power: everything comes together on this song, with all five Hollies shining. Eric's bass is superb throughout, loud and nagging as it sinks it's talons into it's prey. Tony's jangly guitar solo is one of his best, full of such pathos, regret and hurt. Bobby's drumming keeps the song on a knife-edge throughout. Clarke soars like a knife through butter, the picture of desperation. And then there's that high-pitched Nash harmony (which Paul McCartney, famously, admitted he thought must be a trumpet when he first heard the song because he couldn't believe anyone could sing so high and with such power). Using this five-pronged attack the message of obsession comes over loud and clear as the narrator grabs with his pincers and utterly refuses to admit defeat. While Clint Ballard Jnr's original is also something special, with a typical soul intensity, The Hollies' concoction is a whole other beast, raw desperate and willing to do anything to anything to get a relationship back on an even keel. Even people who usually considered Hollies singles a bit 'wet' (wrongly, usually) had to concede that this single was terrific, beating noisier groups like The Rolling Stones and The Who at their own game. If the rest of the rock world wasn't jealous, they should have been. Sadly though it's a last hurrah in the wild and aggressive sound that's served the band so well for so long: with slower more melodic psychedelic songs on the horizon and Eric soon to be replaced with Bernie, The Hollies never again got the chance to rock out with quite so much energy and fervour. For once, it might have been better if The Hollies had returned to this style at least instead of delivering a run of lighter, prettier material: this template is just too good to let go.

So is the album, despite a few lower points along the way. On the one hand it's easy to see why 'Would You Believe?' gets overlooked so often by music fans: it's not as forward-thrusting as 'Revolver', doesn't have the emotion of 'Pet Sounds' and lacks the all-originals cohesion of 'Aftermath'. It's the last time The Hollies will still approach their albums the way they made their singles, with twelve very different recordings that only have a vague thread running through them - and at times it shows in the inconsistency (there's no way a song like 'Stewball' would make it onto one of those three!) And yet, when this album gets things right it often does so brilliantly and with a panache other albums can't compete with: 'I Take What I Want' 'Hard Hard Year' 'I've Got A Way Of My Own' and 'I Can't Let Go' between them aren't just highs on this record but across the whole Hollies catalogue. The band were really nailing their performances in this period - it's just a shame that the total of this album ends up being less than the individual parts and they really needed an extra couple of classic songs and a couple less twee and obvious cover tracks to match their contemporaries. Long forgotten, much overshadowed, would you believe I'm in love with this album? ('Stewball' and 'Take Your Time' aside...) - and I can't help myself. 


'Stay With The Hollies' (1964)

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

'For Certain, Because' (1966)

'Evolution' (1967)

'Butterfly' (1967)

‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ (1969)

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

'Romany' (1972)

'Out On The Road' (1973)

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

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

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

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

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

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