Friday 4 July 2008

The Hollies "Butterfly" (1967) ('Core' Reviews #14, Revised Edition 2014)

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The Hollies "Butterfly" (1967)

Track Listing: Dear Eloise/ Away Away Away/ Maker/ Pegasus/ Would You Believe?/ Wishyouawish// Postcard/ Charlie And Fred/ Try It/ Elevated Observations/ Step Inside/ Butterfly (UK and US tracklisting).

"Dear Hollies, here's a letter to make you feel better: I am writing because of the funny sounds I heard today. I heard that Graham Nash left you and ran off to sea after recording this final exquisite LP. You must read in between the lines: a message you will see, The Hollies suit the psychedelia era to a tee, yes something miraculous hap-p-p-p-pened to me."

One of the greatest benefits of making a 600-page website (editor's note - woah that shows you how long ago this was written; we're probably somewhere around the million mark now!) - apart from the odd questions at five in the morning about what Beatles song goes 'doo doo doo'  and whether any of the Monkees ever wore glasses (not as far as I know!) -  is that you get the chance to redress the particularly unfair reputations of a number of your favourite records. Butterfly certainly isn’t a disliked record – heck, the late 1980s CD was even in the running for Record Collector re-issue of the year award – but it is one of the most under-valued albums I possess and when you are a passionate, slightly monkeynuts collector like me it makes you want to scream and scream and scream at the unfairness and turn into a screaming replica of Janis Joplin along the way. Heck, listening to albums like this one even help to get you through the few down sides of this work (failing eyesight from staring at computers all day, deafness from turning up CDs to check unpronounceable-but-key song lyrics - AAA musicians have a tendency to mumble I've noticed - and a mental capacity that now only works at 33 and 1/3 revolutions per hour).

Butterfly has always been one of the Hollies’ worst sellers but one of their best loved records. If that sounds weird then you haven't heard the album yet: an album that  stretches the Hollies sound as far as possible (that familiar harmonic blend carried away on a cloud of illegal substances and Graham Nash on a first songwriting flush) but never to the point of damaging it. Casual fans of the Hollies may well have been put off by the 'psychedelia' tag - still seen largely (and unfairly) as a 'pop' band, this album was the final straw for many (the band are even seen wearing kaftans on the back sleeve!) But more fool them: The Hollies were more than just a pop band and this is more than just a psychedelic album: a pot pourri of mind awakenings and realisations that stretch the Abbey Road engineering system to ridiculous lengths (you can just imagine producer Ron Richards on the phone to poor arranger Johnny Scott: 'Hello, yes the boys are here...they're asking if you can help them re-create the sound of a flying horse, a full orchestra that sounds like a butterfly, a psychedelic rag-and-bone-shop, a Phil Spector-style angst song, a meeting on a cloud between Graham Nash and God and the inner workings of the psychedelically opened mind, please. That lot alright for Thursday?') It goes without saying that The Hollies never had anything like the money and time spent on their albums that their friends The Beatles did (heck they didn't even get the bigger studio at Abbey Road and were usually relegated to no 3!) But while The Beatles were equally good at several styles and were rather hit-and-miss when it came to psychedelia, The Hollies are right on the money across both this album and predecessor 'Evolution'. In fact the low-keyness of this album really suits it (there's already more ideas here per album than a good 99% of my collection) and - whisper it quietly - I'd take this consistent, clever, powerful little album over the more sprawling 'Sgt Peppers' anyday.

There are many reasons why Butterfly is on this list (note: originally Alan's Album Archives was only meant to cover 101 neglected albums; we - err - got a bit carried away and did them all eventually!) The last Hollies album to feature Graham Nash, it takes the old Hollies sound about as far as it will go and yet never strays one iota from the band’s pop roots. Accessible yet weird, this is how The Hollies were always meant to sound - once their Merseybeat years were over - and it's a delight of a record, sunny funny and charming, whilst still insisting on opening the darker corners of the drug-addled mind. Despite the twinges of flower power that soak through the songs, nothing about this album is self-indulgent and there are no drum solos, instrumentals or monologues that make so many 1967 albums hard to stomach in one go. Also, in high contrast to practically every group suddenly embracing psychedelia, there are no epic side-long suites here and none of the songs last much longer than three minutes (many of them barely make it past two).

One of the best quirky English psychedelia albums of the period, its packed with surreal lyrics, sitars, suitable sound effects and hallucinogenic mixes, with a very similar feel to another classic AAA album (also on the original list), Pink Floyd's debut 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn'. Yep, like many another AAA album from 1967, this one is all about childhood (flying horses, postcards from sunny holidays, nature, curiosity about the world). This is an album in the 'Syd Barrett' style though, a world seen through eyes that are experiencing the world afresh (rather than just being 'memories') rather than the Beatles (who re-entered  places from their youth like Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane as adults to look on them afresh) or The Stones (who made up their own fictional creatures like 'Gompers'). The two records are closer than many realize: for Pink Floyd's gnomes and scarecrows and old bikes read flying horses called Pegasus, Postcards and butterflies fluttering by. There are also dark, adult forces in both worlds though: clawed hands from under the bed and behind the wardrobe with rules and regulations and all sorts of new adolescent feelings ('Step Inside' is a very adult song for the times: had The Hollies been seen as a 'deeper' band there's no way a lyric like 'if it gets too late I have a bed that you can use' would have got past the censors, especially the way they sing it). 

'Butterfly' is full of adult subtleties lost on other less responsible psychedelic albums too: 'Dear Eloise' is about tangled love affairs and reading dropping hints you fancy someone who doesn't have a clue (while children pick up on way more subtleties than adults ever guess, including most things concerning love and romance, the idea of 'Unequal Love' - another Nash song from another time - and the idea that love isn't set but random - or at least up to the fates of the Gods - is one that particularly confuses them because it makes no sense of the way life is planned and choreographed so fully in everything they do); 'Would You Believe?' is a tortured love song about never being good enough for a partner you adore; 'Maker' a debate about the existence of God; 'Try It' a psychedelic masterpiece about breaking down restrictions and 'Elevated Observations' one of the 'trippiest' songs I own as a drugged-up Nash returns to the theme of 'Look Through Any Window' but this time high on a mountain top, wishing others would use 'the path of tomorrow', living life to a slower less competitive pace because 'ego is dead!!!!' 'Charlie and Fred' even deals with the ultimate 60s no-no of death (a theme that pre-occupies the 1950s and 70s almost to the point of exhaustion, but which rarely has a place at the dinner table of a generation who are new and different and vibrant and - most importantly - young). The album even ends ominously: the narrator doesn't want to leave his Butterfly paradise because here, Peter Pan style, he'll never 'grow old'.  'Butterfly' is often spoken of as a 'pretty' record and that's perfectly true: the band's knack for writing strong melodies was never better and Johnny Scott's orchestrations are gorgeous: old-school but malleable enough to fit every weird genre the band can throw at the them. Like most other Hollies records you'll be singing a good half the record even after only hearing it once. However what most critics miss is that 'Butterfly' is also a pretty tough record, with a punch and weight other sillier psychedelic albums lack. For me it's not just the single greatest moment in the Hollies canon, it's my favourite psychedelia LP of them all (tied with 'Revolver' and just ahead of 'Piper' and Jefferson Airplane's 'After Bathing At Baxters'). And in case you hadn't guessed from the sheer amount of albums on this site, psychedelia may well be rock music's greatest sub-genre: a golden period of limitless horizons and fresh new ideas (before the whole thing got a bit silly round about here, in October 1967).

Graham Nash is the Hollies very much in charge of this album, whatever the Clarke-Hicks-Nash credits say (like Lennon/McCartney’s arrangement at Northern Songs, all three men were credited with any song that was published, even if only one of them wrote it, one of the bones of contention that caused Nash to leave just a year later). In the days of old, Nash was lucky to get more than one lead vocal during a Hollies LP, but here he at least jointly shares no less than seven. He really was on a roll in this period: all these songs were recorded after 'Evolution', an album released a mere five months ago! (That's fast by 1967 standards! To put it in context the Beatles released 'Sgt Peppers' before 'Evolution' and 'MM Tour' after 'Butterfly' - and that was only an EP initially before the Americans got hold of it). People go on about Nash's future partner Crosby's dalliance with drugs, but the truth was they slowed rather than piqued Crosby's writing instincts. Nash, however, is bursting full of ideas, his mind now opened to endless possibilities he'd never realised before and like many people who'd experienced such things longed to tell the world about them all. This feeling will cool during 1968 and 1969 and CSN fans have looked back at this album in vein trying to work out where the likes of 'Marrakesh Express' and 'Our House' came from. That Nash is calmer, the stabilising influence on a band always on the verge of splitting; here he's the engine room, spitting out ideas left right and centre, determined to move The Hollies into deeper and more colourful waters, half-afraid they might stagnate away the way that the likes of Herman's Hermits and Gerry and the Pacemakers already had (ironically the biggest problem The Hollies had when he left was trying to claw back their old audience from the full-on psychedelia sound of Nash's two 1967 LPs). Nash will have other peaks (1977 was another good year - Nash must have a thing about sevens) but this is the point where he really blossoms as a writer, with the music chosen by the rest of the world finally in tune with his own way of thinking. It's just a shame, so people always seem to put it, that his band weren't thinking on the same wavelength.

Or were they? Two of the most psychedelic songs here - 'Pegasus' and 'Would You Believe?' - are, respectively, the first solo compositions by Tony Hicks and Alan Clarke. Both are great songs in their own right - not the sort of things written by people pulled kicking and screaming into somewhere they don't want to go. Clarke is also meant to have had more than a small hand in co-writing 'Try It' and 'Elevated Observations', perhaps the two most 'out-there' songs on this album (depending on who you read, 'Observations' was said to be Clarke's song with Nash's help, about a book he was reading on astral projection). Forget what they said later and the understandable sour grapes about Nash lumbering the band with a sound they couldn't follow at just the time when psychedelia went out of style in 1969:the other Hollies may be a step behind Nash but they're very much pulling in the same direction here. All those stories Nash told about them staying behind in the pub talking about girls while he stayed at home smoking and explored his inner mind may well be true, but the good thing about being in a 'group' in 1967 (before CSN broke the rule forever) is that being in a 'band' meant solidarity. If Nash wants to write weird songs then, heck, everyone wrote weird songs. If Nash wanted to literally get 'high' and sound like a munchkin on a mountain top, then let's stick a Hollie harmony in there so people know it's 'us' ('Maker' is always said to be one that 'broke' them, a song about God sung to a sitar accompaniment: actually it sounds vintage Hollies to my ears, an update of earlier philosophical songs like 'Too Many People' and 'Crusader'). There's a case to be made, too, that even at this point - the last completed album before Nash splits for a new life, new wife and new band in America at the end of 1968 - 'Butterfly' is the best 'band' record ('In The Hollies Style' being the possible exception). Bernie Calvert's always under-rated bass shines through most brilliantly here, the second-wave Hollie now a cornerstone of the group (just listen to 'wishyouawish, a trio for orchestra, echoey harmony and Bernie's big fast gorgeous bass line). Bobby Elliott, poorly for most of 'Evolution', delights in his new setting: his whallops during the instrumental in 'Charlie and Fred', desperately trying to urge the rag and bone man and his horse on to his next meal, are sublime. Tony Hicks' guitar solos, while smaller in number, are excellent too. Those harmonies meanwhile - which have always been so full of magic, wonder and awe but with a toughness and earthyness - are particular suitable here, adding an emotional weight these songs might not have (and which a lot of the early American covers, great as a lot of them were, didn't have).

Of the 12 songs here only Dear Eloise, Would You Believe? and Step Inside deal with the traditional songwriting template of the ‘love song’ and even these are pretty weird: in a nutshell the first deals with a frustrated romance that the narrator never even expresses, the second a frustrated romance that the narrator expresses but defers against out of guilt and self-doubt and the third finds the narrator doing his best to get rid of his partner’s mother’s chaperone – for some pretty subversive fun by the sound of it. Other subject matters include several songs about escaping society, two songs about meditation and ‘inner thoughts’, the creation of the Earth (!), a flying magical horse and some weird psychedelic landscape involving butterflies. Oh yes and the deeply un-psychedelic fate of a rag and bone man too – the range of material on this album is ridiculous, even for 1967!

Perhaps inevitably for Nash's last LP before fleeing, the other key theme of this album alongside the pendulum swing between childhood/adulthood is escapism. For the likes of 'Butterfly' and it's Lucy-In-The-Sky styled  'lemonade lake' and the 'mad day out in the country' 'Wishyouawish' that theme is fairly obvious. But it crops up in other songs too.  'Postcard' is the ultimate 'wish you were here' song, but because it's about Nash trying to leave a 'safe' place for a more exotic location it's a land full of smugglers and buccaneers (with Nash singing and playing double-tracked on a near enough solo performance, it really does seem like a 'postcard' sent not just to the other Hollies but to their fans as well). 'Away Away Away' darts in the opposite direction, suggesting Nash was still very torn what to do: while related in terms of a love song, it's clearly about a man re-vowing his ties to an old partner ('And so we are staying where we are!') 'Pegasus' is a yearning to fly away on something magical, a 'secret' kept between Tony Hicks and the listeners 'not to tell anyone about our magic horse' (because if other people find out it won't be special and things will be 'spoiled' - is he really talking about his alarmed re-action to Nash's drug taking here, sub-consciously pleading with Graham to keep it all a secret? In context Nash's 'Step Inside' sounds like a subtle pleading for other people to experience what he's just experienced. 'Try It' is also a less than subtle pleading for the same thing). Finally, even 'Maker' is escapism of sorts: Nash has found himself on a higher astral plane where he can actually communicate with 'someone in charge' - or so he think sin his hazy drugged-up stupor. He would gladly 'lie here, spending all my days'  taking in the new sights and sounds that have struck him. At times 'Butterfly' really does sound like the gateway to another universe, The Hollies emerging from their chrysalis to take their place in the brave new world established by other bands. 

In one sense 'Butterfly' was a 'failure': it sold fewer copies than the surprising 'hit' album 'Evolution' (released just five months before, remember!) and for once contained no hit singles (although some countries including America, sensibly, went with 'Dear Eloise'). The band certainly took it that way (particularly following the flop single 'King Midas In reverse' that September, also Nash's work): from here-on in Graham's more progressive ideas were restricted, his 'Butterfly' wings sadly clipped, with songs as 'normal' as 'Marrakesh Express' 'Tomorrow When It Comes' and 'Man With No Expressions' arguably wrongly rejected for release during 1968 (although the band might have been right to object to 'Lady Of The Island' - which with its tale of disrobing during a night of sex was regarded as outre when released by CSN in 1969). In all other senses it's a masterpiece: while other albums have replaced it since (most notably 'Smile') this was the album that was always traditionally my very favourite and still sits very proudly in my all-time top five (as we said in our introduction, I always felt The Hollies were 'my' best kept secret in a way that better known groups never were). In many ways it's the perfect album to have grown up with: there are many messages and adult theories and ideas, but also lots of bright colours, ear-catching sounds and beautiful, hummable melodies. I often find myself agreeing with my seven-year-old self (the age when I first fell in love with this album) and was regularly told off for singing extracts from it during lessons when I should have been doing something more productive (like gluing. Invariably, by accident, the table. Or colouring in things I didn't even recognise. Or painting pictures - the only thing I could ever draw were butterflies, aptly enough, I did have the album cover on my wall for years along with 'Romany'). I still say my seven-year-old self was right and arguably had better taste than his elder self ever grew into. I still have a passion for this album that borders on the obsessive and I'm not alone - an awful lot of other Hollies fans do too. 'Butterfly' is that kind of an album, all the more special because the vast majority of the collecting world then and now haven't yet realised how good it is. More fool them eh? It's our little secret - kept so sadly by the sheer unavailablity of this album for long years (at the time of writing the 'Clarke Hicks Nash' set - which features the album complete but out of sequence (a good idea for most of the set, it matters hearing this carefully sequenced album in order) . But this is your chance everyone – track 'Butterfly down with whatever net you can reach, let Butterfly out of its chrysalis and allow The Hollies to metamorphosise into the pioneering sophisticated good-time band they were always meant to be.

The Songs:

Things kick off with the best known track  [112] Dear Eloise, which like most of this album manages to sound like The Hollies’ pop songs of old and digs a little deeper all at the same time. Nash opens the song by singing a single verse accompanied by a harmonium, telling us out loud what is in the letter he is writing to his old friend Eloise now that her partner has left her (‘a letter’ to ‘make her feel better’, naturally, this being the Hollies). However, it seems that Nash’s narrator wants to be more than just friends as the song suddenly switches tempo, mood, instruments, even vocalist - us Allan Clarke suddenly gives us the character’s real motives for writing the letter.  Secretly in love with Eloise but afraid of saying so outright, he pleads with her to ‘read between the lines’ when she gets his note. What with the final twist of the song – all that unexpressed chaos suddenly reverting back to Nash’s plain and gentlemanly words – the Hollies come up trumps with an original take on an old hackneyed idea. Like much of Butterfly there’s more than a feeling that the band are doing their best to be pioneering and eccentric but couching those themes in music that their audience will readily recognize – like Eloise, however, read between the lines and you will find a song that’s not quite as simple as you think on first hearing. Prime Hollies, in fact.

[113] Away Away Away is the first of two songs featuring Graham Nash singing practically solo about the joys of escaping life for a bit and going to the sea-side. Again, however, looking at Butterfly in the context of Nash’s life history in the years 1967-69 (leaving his wife, band and country for some unexplored unknown in America with Crosby, Stills and Nash) and the sense of escape in the song becomes overwhelming. Interestingly, Nash starts the song by admitting his solidarity (‘I couldn’t leave you if I tried’) before going to paint such a wonderful, vibrant picture of escape that it’s obvious he wants to do just that. The first of half-a-dozen songs to feature orchestral accompaniment arranged by long-time Hollies collaborator Johnny Scott, its all very upbeat and jolly, except for Nash’s world-weary vocal which sounds as if he’s about to break down in tears (the melody line mirrors this arrangement too – Nash sounds as if he is doing his best to lift his head up and enjoy life but the sweet tune always seems to end on a down-falling note, making him look metaphorically down at the floor instead). To cap all of this song’s mixed messages, there is a classic Nash kiss-off line in the last verse (‘Wouldn’t it be so great…and so we are staying where we are’) which tells us that - despite the feelings of escape in the song - the narrator was in the perfect place originally.  

On [114] Maker – the third dominantly Nash song in a row - that deeper, maturer sound can be heard outright, instead of being hidden in the shadows. Like its near-cousin flop single King Midas In Reverse, Maker was pretty much hated all round when it came out in 1967, sounding nothing like the old Hollies formula, and yet with the distance of time its gone to become a fairly popular song with fans (the few that know about it, anyway). Sounding much like a Revolver-era George Harrison song, with a droning chant, sitar accompaniment and an almost atonal dissonant vocal, this is as psychedelic as the Hollies ever got and Nash may well be the only Hollie on this song (the only Western instrument is an acoustic guitar which is probably Nash’s, although it could be Hicks playing that part too). So much for the arrangement, but the pioneering Maker doesn’t stop there. Nash’s lyrics come close to being stand-alone poetry, telling us of the narrator’s hazy (presumably drug-fuelled) trip to meet his ‘maker’, before giving us the double-twist at the end (that this ‘God’ has been to Earth and looks like ‘somebody he knows’ and – a second later – somebody ‘he knows he mustn’t believe in’, whatever his hazy senses are telling him). The song then ends on a second straight anti-reality escape-grabbing verse, making Nash’s own small feelings clear even on such a potentially huge song as who created the universe. 

[115] Pegasus is the sound of guitarist Tony Hicks gamely trying not to get left behind in the songwriting stakes, creating his own slightly surreal take on psychedelia with this song about a flying horse from Greek mythology. Although the song sounds like it might have started as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of Nash’s own flower power leanings, the band turn in an admirably straight and subtle lullaby-ish recording here, redeeming some rather gauche opening verses with the end promise that Pegasus can only be seen by those who believe in him (Hicks has always been traditionally portrayed as the one most at odds with Nash in this period, the most vocal one about sticking to a tried and tested formula, although unlike similar clashes in the Byrds and the Beach Boys which still elicit expletives from both sides the two men say today that the clash was ‘nothing’ and quickly change the subject to talk about something else). Hicks even takes the first of only two leads on a Hollies record (the rare Born A Man from the German-only LP Out On The Road is the other), following on from his singing of a verse on the period single Carrie Anne, showing off a charming voice that makes you wish that the guitarist and harmony singer had done more lead vocals with the band. Hicks’ own chiming guitar lick is the perfect intro for the song, matched by a typically innovative shimmering bass lick from Bernie Calvert, even if Pegasus’ wings are clipped slightly by another rather bombastic arrangement from Johnnie Scott and some rather bored cymbal bashing by an unusually off-key Bobby Elliott. Just like the winged horse that inspired the song, however, Pegasus is immortal.

While Nash was dreaming of escape and Hicks was dreaming of horses, Allan Clarke spends his one and only true solo song on Butterfly developing the slightly claustrophobic aura given to many of his romantic songs on past Hollies albums, notably For Certain Because. On [116] Would You Believe? an absolute cauldron of noise gets stirred up into this track, with no less than two Allan Clarke vocals vying for space with some chiming guitar-work and a suddenly spot-on Johnny Scott horn and string arrangement. The song is one about inadequacy and trying to measure up to the love of your life, although the phrase ‘would you believe’ itself had been rumbling around the Hollies camp for a while, with the band even naming a 1965 LP after this name (confusing Hollie scholars for many years to come). Clarke’s vocals are un-typically all over the place, making the lyrics of this song hard to hear, but that only suits the directionless swamp the narrator has found himself in. The musical evidence shows that Clarkey worked hard to fit his lyrics to the melody too - one minute growling about his lack of self worth, the next the singer is climbing up an octave to ‘reach your height’ only to fall right back down again. A minor triumph, this song was later re-recorded by Clarke for his solo LP Headroom – not coincidentally, that album also makes it onto this list (see review number 59), but this version’s multi-layered brilliance means that in this case at least original is best.

After all that frenzy, [117] Wishyouawish is the albums’ sweet, but slight, sojourn - returning again to the album’s theme of a lazy, unplanned escape. The song, largely written by Nash again, has its vocal sacrificed to Clarke here in a late display of band democracy (in truth the song fits Nash’s key far more snugly than it does Clarke’s) and sounds like it was Nash’s half-hearted attempt to go back to writing a ‘Hollies formula’ song, albeit one about ‘leaving troubles behind’ again. If you happen to own the mono edition of Butterfly, listen out for a rather familiar sounding bird call at the end of the song. Used most famously by the Beatles at the start of Across The Universe (the version heard on the Wildlife Fund compilation No One’s Gonna Change Our World as well as Past Masters Two), you can hear the full minute loop without any musical overdubs as the opening to the Pink Floyd song Cirrus Minor from their 1969 film soundtrack More. (In case you are wondering, the link between these three groups is that they all released albums for EMI – presumably Abbey Road only had one example of bird-song in their tape archive!)  

[118] Postcard is virtually a re-write of Away, Away, Away, sharing that song’s theme of escape to the seaside, although this time the laidback charm of its predecessor has been replaced by a very urgent, rather desperate sounding riff and the ‘wish you were here’ elements of the song make it clear that Nash’s narrator has this time left his partner far behind and is pining for her. A typically catchy Hollies-type song, with time and effort this track could have been another single (the middle eight is particularly strong, its swoops on ‘the sun, the sand, the se-e-e-e-e-ea’ catching much of the old excitement and energy that was always so much a part of the Hollies’ sound), but again Nash is probably on his own for this recording and makes it clear audibly clear that he is no longer interested in writing a ‘Hollies hit’. The fact that Nash for once refuses to title his song after the hookline (‘wish you could be, wish you could be, wish you could be here’) says much about his state of mind and the fact that this song is called ‘postcard’ suggests that this is another of those read-between-the-line messages to his old band, effectively saying ‘wish you could be here with me on this journey – but I’ve now left you far behind’.

Equally, [119] Charlie and Fred does its best to do an impression of a classic Hollies song and all of the aspects are there. For once the band sound as if they are all playing in the same room and having a ball with the dense textures of the song (it is one of the few three-way Clarke-Hicks-Nash songs on the album!), there is a catchy hook and an equally catchy chorus and even a swirly up-tempo walking pace beat that is tailor-made for nestling its way into a record-buyer’s eardrums. Yet this song is also one of the strangest of all Hollies songs. A piece about a rag and bone man and (again like many of the characters on this album) his plans for escape, it’s essentially a psychedelic transmutation of a Steptoe and Son episode, turning the song’s stark black-and-whiteness into stunning colour. The Hollies excel themselves with this arrangement – quick-firing but empathetic lyrics, blaring horns, the greatest full-blown Hollies harmonies on the record, a great drum outburst from Bobby Elliott duetting with the orchestra, a truly scary middle 8 - never has poverty sounded so epic, never has it sounded so…psychedelic.  A lesser band would have turned their gentle protest song into a simple folk ballad, but instead the Hollies fill the track up with as many tooting horns, echoey harmonies and sound effects as they can find, making the song sound less about the poor man’s hopeless poverty than the colourful suppressed and largely wasted individual within that was trying to get out. The gentle humanity of this song is very peace and love however, even if the subject matter is not – rewarded for his kindness (Charlie is saving the little money he does have to give his horse Fred his freedom), Charlie dies suddenly only to be rewarded with a job ‘giving balloons to angels instead’. A forgotten gem.

Talking of psychedelic, [120] Try It is a splendid menagerie of tape loops, electronic sound effects and spaced out lyrics (and its another rather blatant drug song if you study the words closely – ‘travel by the silver line’ indeed). No wonder Nash later got on so well with David Crosby – like the ex-Byrd’s much maligned tape loop epic Mind Gardens this song is an out-and-out classic on its own but one that sticks out on its parent record like a huge sore thumb. But unlike Crosby at his worst, Nash is always musically interesting and still comes up with an interesting bubbly one-note riff (making the song’s sudden change of chord every chorus sound like the epiphany of the lyrics) and there is enough space for some glorious Hollies harmonies on top. Asking his fans to ‘try’ his new out-there sounds, Nash’s does his best to make the ‘astral planes’ sound terribly inviting and the song is sufficiently interesting enough to make you want to bite the hook. Allan Clarke’s sterling vocal shows that, even while scratching his head as to what its all about, he could still do his musical partner proud.

If anything,  [121]Elevated Observations sums up the word ‘psychedelic’ even better, being a subdued, other-worldly song about the sudden insights to life that its narrator gets from sitting on top of a mountain and studying the actions of the people below. A sort of flower-power update of the 1965 Hollies hit Look Through Any Window, the song despairs of the ‘confusion’ of those below when the narrator’s mind is suddenly so clear, asking them to use the ‘path of tomorrow’ instead of being left behind by standing still. A song about the need for progression and peace, two uneasy bedfellows at the best of times, the tension builds for much of the song before finally breaking for Nash’s plaintive middle eight, telling us that he has finally reached the collective state of consciousness and that the self or the ego ‘is dead’. Keeping the song down to Earth is a plaintive Allan Clarke vocal and Bernie Calvert’s over fussy bass-line, a career-best that mimics the petty thoughts of the ‘people’ down below and follows such a magnificent parallel-line harmony to the song proper that it deserves to be a full tune in its own right. The fact that the Hollies’ can pull off what should be such a terribly dated song and still make it sound like a moment of nirvana is a testament to Nash’s strong belief in the subject – rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon of his peers – and the willingness of the other band members to back him up. In short, Elevated Observations takes the Hollies to never-scaled elevated heights. 

[122] Step Inside pulls Butterfly firmly back down to Earth and in many ways seems a bit of a backward step: a classic bright and breezy Merseybeat pop-song that would have made a fine single a few years earlier, its perhaps the pinnacle of that early Hollies’ template, especially the magical harmonies that build up layer by layer. The narrator spends most of the song trying to entice his girlfriend to his house, seemingly for the innocent reasons that he wants to enjoy her company and to have ‘tea and crumpets toasted by the fireside’. But listen out for the throwaway and rather lustful line near the end of the song (don’t go because ‘I have a bed that you can use’), sung with such a knowing sneer by the band that its implications are obvious. It’s clear, then, that like its close cousin The Games We Play (see Evolution, review number 10) this is another of those subversive Hollies songs straining to break out of their refined and gentile surroundings. Still, with its colourful key changes, a magical Eastern-like sudden switch of keys right on the fade-out of the song and an amazing last verse rhyming every word ending in ‘-ation’ while zooming along at 100 mph, Step Inside is as inviting as an open door.

Closing title track [123] Butterfly tries hard to be another Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, pinching that song’s Lewis Carroll-like surreal stream of consciousness lyric, but is far more solemn and hymn-like, with Nash’s vocal positively brimming with emotion. Johnnie Scott’s orchestrations – something that has gone missing for most of this album’s second half - suddenly returns stronger and louder than ever, but it perfectly complements this otherwise small and intimate song, re-casting it to sound big and magnificent. If in truth the lyrics are a little too 1967 to have much impact on modern listeners, the song still sounds like the perfect ending for the album Butterfly, a mammoth song that reaches for the stars without taking its feet off the ground. Also notable is the scary ending that seems to come from nowhere – after ‘waltzing off’ with his loved one, Nash sings of ‘never growing old’ despite a voice modulator that makes him sound about 1000 years old on the final verse. The long held string note, that takes an age to resolve itself back to its main key, is a typical Hammer-Horror trick for creating tension and – like much of Butterfly the album – the end of Butterfly the song takes you completely by surprise. Also notable is the fact that this song - the last to be released with Graham Nash as a full partner until a 1983 reunion album – probably doesn’t feature the other Hollies at all, with not even one traditional rock or pop instrument playing.

Following the release of Butterfly (the album, not the song this time) the band seemed to forget it completely as something of a doomed experiment and got right back to their old hit-making formula and an album of surprisingly average Dylan covers. Such a waste – for the 12 months of 1967 The Hollies suited the summer of love climate better than almost any other band and might well have been the best had they worked at the genre into 1968. This album is full of some of the most glorious melodies with some of the deepest, weirdest why-am-I-here lyrics of all time, with such a wonderful balance between being light and dark that its been the perfect companion for life’s little journeys and has never dropped out of my top five, no matter how many albums I’ve discovered since. Oh and a trivia note for you to end on: like many albums of 1967, the mono version sounds completely different to the stereo version so it is well worth seeking both of them out if you can (handily EMI have already done that for you by combining both mixes on their mono-stereo release of Butterfly, making it the preferred format for hearing this album, while its the stereo version you can hear on the 'Clarke-Hicks-Nash' years).    


'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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