Friday 4 July 2008

The Hollies "Evolution" (1967) (Revised Review 2015)

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

On which The Hollies evolve at a phenomenal pace…

Track Listing: Then The Heartaches Begin/ Stop Right There/ Water On The Brain/ Lullaby To Tim/ Have You Ever Loved Somebody?/ You Need Love// Rain On The Window/ Heading For A Fall/ Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe/ When Your Light’s Turned On/ Leave Me/ The Games We Play (UK and US tracklisting)



'Evolution' is the 'Sgt Peppers' of The Hollies' world. Released somewhere around a week after The Beatles' game-changing exercise (we haven't given an exact date because, unusually for the paperwork loving EMI, there doesn't seem to be an exact one everybody agrees on), 'Evolution' was even recorded alongside it, The Hollies camped out at studio number three while the fab four were busy in their usual studio two. While 'Sgt Peppers' inevitably overshadowed it 'Evolution' also became the best-selling Hollies album ever up to that time - and remains today the best-selling original Hollies album in the UK (ie discounting compilations). On the surface both seem a bit similar, after years when the band had already gone in different directions (it's hard to think of two more different albums than the big band 'For Certain Because' and 'Revolver', both released in 1966) - there's the weird eye-catching design  on the front cover, a slight sepia tinge in some of the backwards-glancing tracks like 'Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe' and the sense that the world has got weirder and bigger, never to be the same again. However here's the telling difference between the two records, which says everything about what EMI thought about their two biggest cash cows: 'Sgt Peppers' was recorded across a then-record breaking 700 hours of studio time, starting in November 1966 and not ending until April the following year, without any breaks for touring or promoting (they'd played their last concert together in August). In total that album cost a total of £25,000 to make (the equivalent of £4 million as I write in 2015!) By contrast 'Evolution' took The Hollies just six days spread out between January and March 1967, was interrupted by the need for two Italian-only singles (don't ask, long story!) and endless touring. No records survive for how much the budget cost but it was probably somewhere either side of the £1000 mark, depending on how generous EMI were feeling that year. Clearly the two can't compare for density, texture and sheer rule-breaking, but just as you can quite legitimately prefer an artist's quick sketches to the masterpieces he spent months crafting in different shades (an outline is all you need in any art movement - it's the filling it in that adds the colour), so I actually prefer this LP to it's better . For the record I even prefer this album to 'Sgt Peppers' - though there's nothing on this album to tank alongside 'A Day In The Life' yet again the Mancunian  Hollies make far less mistakes than their Scouse cousins and deliver a fascinatingly varied and yet impressively consistent record that doesn't fall into half of the traps the fab four set for themselves (a concept that gives up and goes home after three songs, some weak material, way too many overdubs at times and Ringo).

Musicians had to work oh so hard to keep up the pace in the mid-60s, as we have already seen with the albums discussed so far. Having escaped the first big hurdle of the 1960s – the end of Merseybeat – by a series of terrifically catchy singles and a number of impressive album tracks, the Hollies were plunging headlong into psychedelia by the beginning of 1967. Evolution, the first of two 1967 Hollies albums released just four months apart, is aptly named. You can hear the band’s sound developing at break-neck speed, even from the first tracks recorded at the sessions (intriguingly hidden away at the end of the album’s second side for the most part). The Hollies rarely stay in the same genre from one track to the next and keep their songs to tight three minute pop single boundaries, despite dosing each of these songs with a heavy bout of psychedelia. Even though pretty much all of the band bar Graham Nash have raised doubt about the merits of their ‘flower power’ era recordings, either at the time or in the years since, the sound actually suited the Hollies far more than many of their contemporaries and both this album and Butterfly represent a peak for non-Beatles psychedelia that’s peculiarly English.
Evolution, even more than the upcoming Butterfly, doesn’t jettison the band’s keen ear for melody, harmony and excitement and some of the tracks on this album are among the most commercial they ever made. What’s changed is the instrumentation and occasionally the lyrics – even the mundane subjects of a dripping tap and a sweet shop suddenly become the cues for taking off into an unknown world of experimentation, with the band taking off to heaven knows where. Full of studio sound effects, story-songs and psychedelic guitar parts, Evolution is a particularly rewarding album that seems to sprout new branches and heads out in more directions every time you play it. The production on this album is also, for the first time in the Hollies’ career, faultless – the band’s love of symphonic and brass arrangements is spot on here, with Mannfred Mann’s Mike Vickers’ arrangements not overpowering like they sometimes were on earlier albums like For Certain Because and the range of instruments are nicely spaced out in the studio speakers. If not quite the Hollies finest hour, then (well, 30 mins but you know what I mean), Evolution is probably the band’s 15-year producer Ron Richards’ finest creation, although we suspect Graham Nash probably had more than a small hand in creating the textures of this album too.

Ah yes, Graham Nash. Even this early on his career, four years into a pop niche that had been gradually formed after years of singing at school assemblies with childhood friend Allan Clarke, Nash was becoming increasingly ostracized from the band where - in press reports of the day at least – he was still referred to as ‘the leader’. By 1967 Nash’s dual driving forces – an ear for catchy pop hits laced with harmony and the growing belief that music was a chance to give a powerful message to listeners that should not be wasted – were meeting each other head on and battling it out for supremacy. For now, though, luckily for us, it's a draw. Turned on to the growing Hippie scene in America when the other Hollies were still resolutely British, a relative tee-totaller in a band that spent much of their spare time in pubs, a growing drug user in a band that otherwise wanted nothing to do with them and a born experimenter in a group that for many fans in the 60s had come to be wonderfully consistent, cosy and safe, Nash knew his ideas were landing him in trouble. Yet his quirky choice of subject matters, daring instrumentation and off-the-wall arrangements are all over this album, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but with Nash hitting an all-time fertile writing period he simply ploughed ahead, only gradually taking stock of the storm clouds on the horizon.
The 'Sgt Peppers' comparisons make sense in one other area too: drugs. Whilst the rest of The Hollies for the most part were about the only band not taking soft drugs every five minutes, this is the first album that came after The Hollies' tour of North America where Graham Nash discovered Laurel Canyon, American musicians - and drugs. The Hollies were always a 'party' band and with 'Bus Stop' riding high in the charts in late 1966 had eagerly taken up an invitation to hang out at the house of Mama Cass of the Mamas and Papas. While the rest of the band went back to their hotel, however, Nash stayed - and after Cass offered him drugs was never the same again. Nash's music will change almost overnight, with a sudden influx of songs about the smallness of mankind against nature across the following year ('King Midas' 'Everything Is Sunshine' 'Maker' this albun's 'Rain On My Window') before his 'ego' grows back again in his last troubled year with The Hollies in 1968 and for now the contributions of the others still ties his work down to Earth. Nevertheless the change in direction must have been striking for fans who less than a year before had been hearing Allan Clarke croon along to a big jazz band: sweet shops? Fairytales? Dripping taps?!? (Though 'Water On The Brain' was mainly written by Clarke to be fair). 'Heading For A Fall' even does a good impression of sounding like a 'drug come down' song, with its slow-speed gait and sighing chords. Unlike the sequel 'Butterfly' though (made very soon after this record's release, with sessions starting up in August) this isn't a record particularly 'about' the drug experience just yet (with 'Postcard' the sound of a convert peddling to his non-believer friends and 'Butterfly' itself the soundtrack to an acid trip) but more the 'new eyes' the world is being seen from.

Interestingly, though, the shift in terms of songwriting rather than arranging  isn't quite as grand as some critics make it out to be: at times 'Evolution' is rather a 'down' sort of an album despite all the bright colours, starting with two songs about impending romantic splits, returning to the theme in flashback with the sumptuous story-song 'Rain On My Window' (everybody has had a cold-hot relationship like this one!) and ending with two more agonising songs about an affair ('When Your Light's Turned On', a signal that a girl's husband is out) and the acerbic 'Leave Me'. Only the childhood delight of 'Ye Toffee Shoppe' and the oh so Hollie cheekiness of 'The Games We Play' - which may well be Nash's first admission that he's up to something 'naughty' despite the band's angelic image as soon as mum and dad are out of sight - are actually happy. This is in keeping with the surprising bitterness of much of 'For Certain Because...' although the big difference here is sheer energy: the whiz bang whallop of the performances that don't leave you time to feel sad for too long. If Nash did write a lot of these songs as he claimed to have done years later (although 'Water On The Brain' and 'Lullaby To Tim' are both very much Clarke's babies - as ever until 1969 The Hollies have a 'group credit' for their songs oblivious of who wrote them) then the subject matters seem to point heavily towards the crumbling of his relationship with first wife Rose Eccles. Like the other Hollies she was far from pleased at what happened to Graham during their American adventure - she hated the idea of moving away from all her friends to live there and really didn't approve of his drug use and 'Stop Right There' especially sounds like an early warning song about how he might 'disappear to the light of day' anyway (Graham will in 1969, leaving her at the same time he leaves The Hollies). Many critics have pointed to this song as sign of a division between the guitarist and the rest of his band but I'm not sure I agree with that - not yet anyway, as a closer look at the lyric makes it clear Nash's narrator is more scared of the new experience anyway, reflecting that he'd rather 'see you on the ground you're standing on' than reaching out to the sky where he might fall. Not many fans seem to pick up on 'When The Light's Turned On', though, which hints at the same thing: 'If you thought more about me you'd end all this!' snaps Clarke at Nash during the song, while the sneaky moonlighting where the narrator's not supposed to go sounds very like Nash's early experience with drugs to me.
 Interestingly  though while Nash might begin his domination of the writing here he doesn't dominate vocally at all- he gets as many counter-vocals as he always got, but only two leads across the record; far less, in fact than 'In The Hollies Style' from 1964. For now The Hollies are still very much a 'band' still and turn in some cracking group performances across the LP - even though strictly speaking they're not a 'band' for these sessions....

'Evolution' is the only Hollies album in their fifty-years-plus history on which drummer Bobby Elliott doesn't play a note (making Tony the only Hollie to have played on every single album) - but not from choice. In early 1967 The Hollies were in Germany for the taping of a TV show (possibly 'Beat Beat Beat' in January on which they played 'Bus Stop' and 'Stop! Stop! Stop!') and were relaxing backstage, listening to 'Strawberry Fields Forever' on the radio and making notes when without warning Bobby suddenly blacked out. Rushed to hospital, he was diagnosed with a ruptured appendix and had to stay in Germany for two weeks while The Hollies went back to Abbey Road to make this album (with no more concerts for a month or so, road manager Rod Shields stayed in Germany to be with him - much to Bobby's chagrin as the practical joker brought him all sorts of insensitive gifts he had to hide from the nurses - such as a World War two bomber airfix model!) Bobby's replacement were in February Mitch Mitchell, on loan from the Jimi Hendrix Experience (he sounds a lot better here I have to say, perhaps because he can keep up! Known recordings include 'When Your Light's Turned On' 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody?' 'Lullaby To Tim' and 'The Games We Play') and famous session musician Clem Cattini, soon to record 'Hard To Believe' as a one-man band for The Monkees' 'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd' album (who plays on the rest). Another drummer in the running, about whom not much is known, was Dougie Wright, who may also have played on the last two dates. Bobby's first session with the rest of the band won't be till 'Carrie Anne' in May. Impressively, though, all three drummers sound not just like Bobby but like each other for the most part and few fans would be hard pressed to tell the difference - the rockers like 'Heartaches' and 'Have You Ever?' for example come up with lots of the usual jazzy improvisations and characteristic lunges round the kit.

The biggest change from past Hollie record though is not the words or the music but the sheer 'sound' of the album:  although The Hollies continue their love of big grand orchestras (with Manfredd Mann's Mike Vickers oddly giving the band their most 'adult' and classical score yet) this sound is joined by a Kinks-style harpsichord, all sorts of distorted weirdness on 'Lullaby To Tim', a whole cacophony of percussion sounds on 'Water On The Brain', a bagpipe drone on 'Heading For A Fall' and - in a rare throwback to earlier sounds - a bluesy Hammond organ on 'Leave Me'. Tony Hicks, generally painted as the Hollie most 'disapproving' of where the band was going, has a particularly strong record too: the guitar sounds he gets across this album are superb and despite his doubts about the change in direction are often the most psychedelic thing on the record (the sheer unadulterated piercing squeal of 'That's When The Heartaches Begin' and 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody?' especially). The biggest improvement, meanwhile, comes from bassist Bernie Calvert who was rather thrown in at the deep end on the last LP but by now is right at home, with 'Evolution' arguably his best LP during his thirteen year run as a Hollie (you know what they say - when the drummer's away the bassist will play!) The fat chunky John Entwistle chords are what keeps this album sounding as 'tough' as it does without flying away into the ether (see 'Butterfly') and whole most players merely parrot what the rest of the band is up to Calvert has real 'conversations' across this record - just listen to the dance he plays with Nash on 'Stop Right There' as if blocking his every mood, while 'The The Heartaches Begin' has the single greatest Hollies bass riff past the famous 'I Can't Let Go' (which was of course played by his predecessor Eric Haydock).

To some extent it has now gone down in history that The Hollies' psychedelic period just didn't work, that it was the wrong style for a band whose audience tended to be younger and poppier than others in rock and roll. Judged purely on the sales of the single 'King Midas In Reverse' and album 'Butterfly' and people may have a point - but there's no getting away from the fact that 'Evolution' sold more copies than any Hollies LP before it in their homeland or that the album was greeted with relief by critics and some fans who didn't quite know what to make of the suddenly adult 'For Certain Because...'. By contrast here were The Hollies sounding much like they had before, but in bolder colours - yes the instruments and subject matters had shifted but the energy, the passion and the zest for life is pure Hollies, much more so than it's actually rather grumpy predecessor. Talking of bolder colours, many fans probably bought this one just for the sleeve which is easily The Hollies' best and like the music ahead a leap ahead form the 'profile' shots of the past (it's one of half a dozen or so AAA covers that have followed me across various bedroom walls down the years - along with 'Romany', The Beach Boys' 'Keepin' The Summer Alive' and 'Stephen Stills', classics all). The design was created by 'The Fool' aka Simon and Marijke, illustrators who were common figures in London and will become best known for being commissioned to paint Paul McCartney's grand piano bright colours and for painting the similarly psychedelic mural on the side of The Beatles' Apple headquarters in Savile Row (until some pompous colonel wrote in and complained and it had to be washed off). The pair were invited to a 'playback' session at Abbey Road and come up with the 'idea' then and there - Hollies fans anyway, they were thrilled that one of their favourite bands had finally 'come through; to the psychedelic world they were enjoying in the summer of love and decided to re-create that in the cover, with a photo shot of the band in their most colourful clothes and with hands outstretcehed (as if pulling the listener through too) overlaid with a mural design by William Morris and finished off with psychedelic lettering. The effect is striking and fits in nicely with the title for the album (which, unusually, isn't actually featured anywhere on the sleeve). What's often forgotten too is that the original vinyl copies came with a painted inner sleeve (ie the 'back' of the cardboard) and thus carrying on from the psychedelic design on the rear sleeve like some day-glo coloured variation on 'The Time Tunnel' series logo - even Sgt Pepper's hadn't done that!

Yes, The Beatles may have released 'Revolver' but this record is effectively 'Evolver', a similarly brave, musical and consistent album by a band at the peak of their powers with twinges of the best of 'Sgt Peppers' too. While I still think 'Butterfly' has the edge, 'Evolution' is still a great album with so much going for it: the sheer charge of 'That's Where The Heartaches Begin' through to the pop genius of 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody?' and 'You Need Love' to the cheekiness of 'The Games We Play' to one of the great unsung Hollies classics in 'Rain On My Window' - even in 1967 most other bands were fighting to release anything as good as any one of those songs on a single and yet here The Hollies have written what's only their second ever fully original LP - and in truth the other eight songs are only a smidgeon behind. shop Compared to the flatness of some of the 'Sgt Peppers' songs - the pointlessness of 'With A Little Help From My Friends', the OTT carnival barker-dom of 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite' and the sheer silliness of 'When I'm 64' (which just sounds so wrong on a record about the gloriousness of youth; yes there's a novelty song about a Victorian toffee shop on this record, but that's actually quite fun!) - there's no contest. You can after all evolve a little bit too much; caught halfway between the earnestness and energy of the past and the sheer excitement and discovery that was the hallmark of 1967 'Evolution' got things pretty much spot on. A remarkable album. 

The Music:

Opener Then The Heartaches Begin is noisy psychedelia; a fascinating, nightmarishly obsessive song that recalls the Hollies’ recent single I Can’t Let Go but casts the subject matter in an even more claustrophobic light. The opening of this track, starting with a rattled acoustic guitar riff before adding in one by one a chiming bass, percussion and Tony Hicks’ lead guitar at its loudest, is one of the best 30-second openings to any album on this list, sucking in the listener gradually and building up the tension to screaming point before a word has even been sung. The band even use the same trick a second time when the broken-hearted narrator pauses in the middle to catch his breath, only for a new wave of misery to hit him square on. The lyrics of this song aren’t quite up to the tune, although the subject (and the fuzz guitars) do a good job at re-calling the Stones’ 19th Nervous Breakdown in a slightly more polished and less tongue-in-cheek way. The highlight of the track is Hicks’ glorious guitar solo, played with a fine and very English balance of reserve and desperation, threatening to go out of control throughout but never quite doing so. Allan Clarke is similarly poised between genuine desperation and pop sensibilities on this track, one of the most impressive rockers in the Hollies’ 60s canon.

Stop Right There is quiet psychedelia, with Graham Nash practicing all the things he’s going to say to his wife for real a year down the line when he walks out of his marriage and band to go to America with Crosby and Stills. It’s a surprisingly sinister, brooding song, written – so legend has it – the day after Nash got back from the American tour on which he first met the pair. However, it sounds just as plausible that he was talking about The Hollies here every bit as much as his first wife Rose. A deeply personal track, this song might not even feature the other Hollies barring Calvert’s sensitive walking bass (Nash sings the harmonies multi-tracked, a trick he uses a great deal in the months to come). The song is impressively deep for its time period, obviously dealing with the end of a real, long-term relationship rather than some short-lived teenage romance. The eerie chorus could have come straight off Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds, telling us how the two characters have changed to the point where they now play mind games with each other, tricking each other into seeing the other’s point of view. Nash really did ‘slip away into the light of day’ as he tells us he wants to on this song, but in truth it was a close run thing  and Nash only left the band and his wife after a further 18 months of soul-searching. His sigh on the line ‘but with you I must stay’ makes it clear that he still fears leaving the Hollies, both out of loyalty to the band (particularly his childhood friend Clarke) and out of fear at turning his back on such a lucrative project.

Water On The Brain is virtually all Clarke’s pet project however, with the Hollies’ first real taste of manic drumming setting a template that Bobby Elliott will copy on many Hollies records to follow. The frenetic production, exquisite block harmonies and ear-catching opening hook of moody tom-toms and eerie harmonic changes does its level best to distract us from the fact that the song is not one of Clarke’s greatest songs. Written after a night in a leaky hotel room and quite possibly written originally as a spoof of Nash’s psychedelic interests (his vocal isn’t exactly serious - and the rhyme of ‘leak’ and ‘peek’ and others like it is also by far Clarke’s clumsiest collection of couplets, which suggests the lyric may be deliberately written so), the singer later got into trouble from a charity who supports patients with a real and painful condition called ‘water on the brain’. Upset at causing such a fuss, Clarke quietly erased this track’s existence out of most of the Hollies’ history, but he shouldn’t have done – with its wild tempo, which is very exotic for the 60s Hollies, breathless harmonies, delightful oompah-ing brass riff and tongue in cheek humour, this is an interesting experiment that for the most part comes off rather well. Of course what Clarke should have done is name this track ‘water on the knee’, a less serious condition which wouldn’t have offended anybody (the cure – wear drainpipe trousers! ho ho ho!) 

Lullaby To Tim – another Clarke song, even though Nash is singing it – is not as successful, as Allan’s sensitive song written for his young son is ruined by Graham’s spaced-out production that makes the narrator sound less like a loving father and more like a serial killer singing down a telephone. The vocal electronics have always split Hollies fans and specifically Nash fans over the years; showing Graham to be either a master of inventiveness or a little doo-lally, depending on your mood. A shame, because the song itself has a great tune and some lovely lyrics (if you can hear them) that nicely fit this album’s growing psychedelic seasoning with its tales of childhood, storybook witches and dream worlds. The song sports a promising arrangement that puts the emphasis on Calvert’s bass runs and Vickers’ string arrangement that hovers on the boundaries of sickly sweet throughout. However, the song still comes over as a mis-fire thanks to the messy vocal electronics and Nash would have done far better to send this song back into the arms of its daddy.  Nash, incidentally, didn’t have children of his own until the early 1980s when he was in his 40s, one of the few musicians on this list who waited that long, so maybe it is with some wish-fulfilment that he sang the vocal on this song (biographical facts about the Hollies are harder to find than on most groups on this list, but I think I’m right in saying that Nash was the only member of the Hollies in this period not to have started a family, another reason for their diverging interests in this period?!?)

You Need Love and especially Have You Ever Loved Somebody? are prime Hollies without the experimentation. Featuring corking tunes, cracking harmonies and some universal and soul-searching lyrics to go with the commerciality, both songs are great examples of the band at their best and deserve a higher recognition among fans. (Appearing on one of the hap-hazard 60-plus assortment of cheap Hollies compilation CDs on the market would do for a start – when are they going to release one of those things with the singles on their own and in the right order for once?!?) The first of these tracks has an interesting back history, as it is one of the few Clarke-Hicks-Nash originals to be covered by other artists – twice, in fact. The Everly Brothers’ – 50s rock and roll stars who the Hollies modeled themselves on in their early days – even recorded this song before the Hollies did, including it in a rather less frenetic arrangement on their Hollie-backed album Two Yanks In England of 1966. The Searchers, then at the dying end of their great career, also covered the song as a flop single shortly before this album’s release, suggesting that the Hollies themselves only decided to record it themselves at the last minute (This song has even more of a chequered history for The Searchers than for the Hollies. Drummer Chris Curtis fell in love with the song in 1966, whether from a demo or the Everlys Brothers album is unknown, later saying that he fell in love with the song after the title alone – commenting that the song ‘could go in so many different directions, happy or sad, anything’. After suffering a nervous breakdown and changing his plans to recording the song solo rather than with The Searchers, Curtis was busy working on his arrangement when he heard his old band performing the song on the radio, preventing him from releasing his own version. His comment – ‘it sounds like there’s a rat running around on the snare drum’ – is sadly spot-on as a poor mix blights this song badly and the remaining Searchers don’t even come close to replicating the energy of the Hollies’ reading). Goodness knows why though if that was the case – from Hicks’ growling guitar, to Calvert’s energetic bass runs, to Clarke’s perfect pop vocal lead to the exquisite high-part harmonies, this song is perfect Hollies material, using all of their strengths in turn. Perhaps the fuss lay in the song’s lyric (‘have you ever loved all night?’ might seem like a tame line now but was quite radical in its day) but if so it’s a shame – the classic middle eight, acting as this boisterous song’s conscience as on many a Hollies song quickly knocks any feelings of outrageous behaviour on the head. Clarke also growls his way through the track like a psychedelic Roy Orbison and in all the band create a psychedelic monster, perfectly poised between the safe and the adventurous.

You Need Love is like a slower twin-sister of the last track, with its clever philosophical lyric meeting an equally wonderfully upbeat tune and catchy hooks a plenty. Clarke tells us that we all need love in our lives, telling us of all the wonderful things people in love do for each other, before Nash’s middle eight takes the pessimistic route – ‘what will I do without you if you ever go?’ Vickers’ brass arrangement is another strong plus in the song’s favour, especially seeing as he’s only given a few bars to make his mark, and this second chance in a row to hear the Hollies singing their harmony parts in something just under a shout is breathtaking.

Even better, however, is side two opener Rain On My Window, a sort of story-song that The Hollies didn’t do very often but on this evidence should have done a lot more often. Clarke’s suddenly humbled narrator tells us about an event from his past, when a relationship suddenly sprang up between himself and a casual friend, leading to love that she rebuked the next time they met. Remembering both the fire burning continually in the grate of his house and the rain falling steadily against the window (in contrast to the ever-changing relationship between the two people), the song sports a fittingly slow and thoughtful melody, reserved for the most part but building to a peak of emotion win the middle of the song when the two lovers enjoy their special night together. This clever, clever song is built up of some terrific imagery more often heard in novels than pop songs (you might not have noticed – I hadn’t until now and I’ve been playing this song endlessly for 20 years – but the lyrics don’t even rhyme on this song except for two brief occasions). The band’s muted performance is spot-on, with Clarke especially handling his confused narrative part well, and the use of both the mournful brass and the never-changing staccato riff mimicking the rain falling on the window-pane is textbook stuff. Yet The Hollies aren’t just writing a clever song for the hell of it here, you can really feel the emotion on this track, one of the most impressive pieces in the whole of the Mancunian’s back catalogue.

Heading For A Fall on the other-hand, isn’t so much a song as a few phrases lumped together and used as an excuse to feature some truly off-the-wall instrumentation. Featuring the surely unique mix of harpsichord, bagpipes and bass harmonica, this song somehow works despite itself, see-sawing on a classic Calvert bass lick that mirrors the lyric about the narrator falling head over heels and following his lover’s demands, even though he knows it will all go wrong somewhere down the line. The song also cleverly finds its way back down the complex harmonic passage its built up for itself over the course of the song: the head-bowing middle eight (‘or am I just wasting my time?’) simply falls down a musical flight of stairs, taking us right down to the song’s original key along the way. Impressive, but ultimately this is a clever song that’s rather harder to love than most of Evolution’s songs.

English psychedelia’s special instrument the harpsichord also makes its second - and last - Hollies appearance on Ye Olde Toffe Shoppe and, well, it’s a tad uncomfortable, at least until the band’s harmonies kick in. An awkward song celebrating the summer of 67 generation’s love of all things Victorian, it sounds downright peculiar sung in the first person and Nash sounds far too worldly wise to fulfill the character of cheeky schoolboy. Not the first time, the Hollies have got rid of most of their traditional props on this song and the lack of their usual instrumentation, change of characters and lack of real harmonies is at least one experiment too many. The lyric is also a bit too clichéd to work, especially compared to the last four gems, but at least its list of sweets is written with more care and thought than George Harrison’s up-coming song  Savoy Truffle.

While Your Light’s Turned On and Leave Me also mark something of a downturn in the album’s second side – almost as if, like Help! and Rubber Soul, the band were throwing every leftover they could find in the pot and hiding them away near the end of the LP so fans wouldn’t notice. At least Lights sounds like a Hollies track, with its full blown harmonies and chiming guitar almost but not quite masking the pedestrianess of the writing. The lyrics, with the narrator waiting for his lover’s husband to leave so he can scoop the girl, are suddenly very adult despite the poppy tune and although its starts off like comic book fun, the middle eight covers an emotional territory of guilt and worry rarely used by The Hollies (‘everything you say about me hits right home and that’s why I put up with you this way, hey’) The song’s mix rather blurs the edges too – it starts off as pure pop, takes a downturn into some melancholy echoey guitarwork somewhere about the middle and only half manages to right itself again by the end of the song. Odd.

The bluesy Leave Me is also a downright oddity in Hollies terms, the only time the band try to ape the heavier sounds of groups like the Animals, but bizarrely they waited until the genre went out of fashion by about two years before attempting it. However the quintet do show that they have an impressive feel for the blues. The nagging hook and preachy organ do sound totally out of place on this album, however, although at least we get some Hollies harmonies this time around.  The middle eight – where two Nashes sing ‘its so hard to be….you yeah, tease…’ and ‘hard to please… you yeah,…one, two, three’ in tandem  - is also classic complex Hollies.

The adult themes and knowingness running through Evolution arguably reaches its zenith on album closer Games We Play, a song that manages to tie up both the band’s poppy trends and its adult loose ends at the same time. Its tale of a seemingly respectable boy going out with a seemingly respectable girl starts off innocently enough, with the lines about sipping tea while chaperoned by his mother accompanied by a very catchy pop songy riff. Yet hang on a minute – that chorus line of ‘if only they knew the games we play’, another line of ‘leaving us alone –the temptation’s far too strong’ and the warning of pregnancy in the closing line ‘then everybody knows the games we play’ makes it clear the couple aren’t planning to play ludo all night. Just to add confusion to the waters, this song may also be working here as an allegory for The Hollies not being quite the conservative band that people think and the band’s dryly sarcastic Mancunian accents, treading the line between innocence and adultness, are intriguing. The song gets even more complex when Nash’s conscience-filling middle eight kicks in – asking out loud how long they can get away with fooling both their families, the band then widen the scope to deal with the whole of the liberal 60s generation, often at odds with their generally conservative parents (‘Only time will tell if they are right and we are wrong’).

Well, like most things in life, it’s a draw. The musicians, if not the fans, fell into an excessive black hole somewhere around the mid 1970s and the loss of flower power itself is only a few months away from this album’s release date. Yet the artists of the time also gave us music to die for, albums that have never been surpassed in all the years since, albums – err, like this one in fact. With nods to the past and to the future, Evolution displays a growing sense of maturity and playfulness in style on every track; the kind of psychedelia that will take you out to the farthest stratospheres without straying too far from the straight and narrow and comfortable. Because of this, and its release date barely a fortnight later, Evolution is the long lost twin of Sgt Pepper’s – but, dare I say it, it’s dated rather better.      


'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


  1. This is in my top 10 (possibly top 5) of favourite albums by anyone! Great write-up. Looking forward to your forthcoming Hollies book.

    1. Thankyou kindly Peter! 'Evolution' is truly an incredible LP. I will get working on the physical edition as soon as my last book is re-written! Thankyou for your support! 8>)