Thursday, 18 August 2011
Dear readers, as the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed we’ve been posting our review online quicker and quicker the past few weeks and actually had one in hand for late week – which is just as well seeing as a bad cold, a fever, two unexpected trips into Liverpool (not for the riots I hasten to add!) and continuing aches and pains from chronic fatigue have meant we’ve had to cut this week’s edition down a bit in size and we weren’t able to write the last issue as planned at all! Never mind, we’re back where we started now, ready to forge ahead with yet more news, views and music, starting with an excellent album too long forgotten (even by Hollies standards, which is saying something) and a top five that I calculate will be talked about for weeks to come. Or laughed at, depending on your way of thinking.
I can’t go any further, however, without commenting on the horrors of the riots we had in the UK last week. Now, that’s horrors as a double-edged sword – yes indeed I’m worried that relatively peaceful neighbourhoods can so quickly turn into ghettos and war-zones and that innocent people have lost homes and businesses, but I’m also worried about the fact that the causes of this whole situation haven’t yet been told in the media and that the damnation from the world’s press running riot in response will actually do more harm in the long term. The whole shenanigan started, without question, because of the police’s actions – whether or not the murder of Mark Duggan was a necessary evil or simply the police taking the easy way out, the police could have avoided it all had they come clean with his family and friends from the beginning about what had happened, whoever came out of it looking better or worse. We have to have trust in our police forces in order to live under society’s rules – if the police can’t be bothered to follow the law then I’m not surprised that so many other people, already fed up of being harassed in their daily life, shot back. The mocking behaviour of the police during the candlelight vigil for Duggan was vile, every bit as vile as the scenes of the fire-bombed houses and crushed streets but so far they seem to have been let off scot free by the nation’s press. After all, let’s not forget that most of the looting and rioting that has taken place has been caused by people who feel let down and ostracised from the system, that after decades of abuse and violence from the police and cold, harsh indifference from politicians it’s no surprise that youngsters without job prospects, who’ll be forced to work long past pension age with no chance of stepping up the income ladder are going to fight back with similar violence against the police and indifference to the warnings of politicians.
It shouldn’t be like this – no one innocent should be at the risk of losing their house or business because of the dis-illusioned fringes of society, but then neither should there be fringes of society at all – the Government should be helping us all, not just the people it picks and chooses to support. The juxtaposition of new stories about poor Cameron having to cut short slightly his third expensive holiday this year (yes, I am counting!) against people risking life and limb and a prison sentence because they have no bright future to look forward to thanks to bankers and politicians wasting chances speaks volumes – the media have got their priorities all wrong. The story here isn’t the fact that people are fighting back – it’s why they feel the need to do so, why they feel their futures are so empty and hideous to contemplate that prison and fines can’t make a bad situation any worse. In short, the Government has failed – something we’ve made out so many times here in the past – and David Cameron is playing a dangerous game by dividing the country further instead of trying to understand the messages he is being given. I’d never agree with the rioters and looters enough to join them – but they have my sympathy far more than a pig headed oaf in office who asks others to sacrifice money for a mistake that was none of their making and has done nothing to help himself and a police force who seem to think they have the right to be above the law instead of keeping it.
We’ve strayed badly off subject in this introduction again, as I seem to have done so many times in the past year, but that’s because as fellow music lovers (and lovers of the best, most compassionate and eye-opening music there is) you too I hope have an open mind enough to recognise the harm that is being done. I’m always shattered when people talk about the UK as being a civilised and fair society – we are those things only on the surface if you don’t look too hard and are every bit as undemocratic and chaotic as the countries our media sneers over every week like Libya, Syria and Iraq; we should always judge our ‘civilised’ nations by how the worst-off inhabitants are treated, not how the millionaires live and the protection, support and encouragement we give to our worst off is atrocious, with worse to follow with yet more unnecessary and needlessly provocative cuts. In the words of our album review’s opening track (another creation of recessions gone by that were handled so much better than this one) ‘The image and the empire may be falling apart, the money has gotten scarce, no man’s words hold the country together, the truth is getting fierce’. Shame on you Cameron, truly shame on you for the hurt and divisions you cause for no good reason, get out now and save us the trouble of forcing you out.
Normal service will now be resumed...
♫ Monkees News: Well, normal service will almost be resumed. You see, there’s been yet another riot that hasn’t really been talked about in the press – namely that the three Monkees currently touring have broken up, citing ‘business differences’. It’s been well documented that Davy Jones has been the least eager of the three to tour – he gave some damning comments about the others in a radio documentary last Christmas – and it was a surprise at all that he had decided to tour again with Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz, especially given that their last three-way tour in 2002 was a commercial and critical disaster. However, this latest tour had proved to be a big success during its early days, with critics finally understanding the band’s multimedia format and applauding the little-heard song set from the Monkees film ‘Head’ made up of songs which had never been performed live before. The suddenness of the news has come as a real shock to Monkees fans, with slightly under half of the European dates still to be filled – is this really the last time the Monkees share a stage together? More news if and when we hear it!
♫ Rolling Stones: Even more surprising is the news that Mick Jagger has just kick-started his flagging solo career by fronting a supergroup, given the delightfully silly name of ‘Superheavy’. Far from being a heavy metal or pure rock band, it features Mick fronting such pop stalwarts as Eurythmic Dave Stewart and singer-songwriter Joss Stone and features Mick wearing the sort of outlandish clothes he used to wear in the early 70s which the other Stones don’t let him wear anymore! It’s not known whether this will be a temporary or permanent band, although there is talk of an album tentatively scheduled for September 19th - presumably the band have already made some recordings as the date isn’t that far away. This rather puts paid to Keith Richards’ hints at a Stones reunion in 2012 (their 50th anniversary year) but does explain why Mick has been allowing Keith to dominate Stones matters over the past 12 months if he had a whole new project up and nearly ready to roll(I’m still recovering from the fact that Keef got a prime-time show on boxing day last year, with ‘Jagger’s Jukebox’ relegated to the early hours of December 27th – something Mick would never have stood for before!) More news if and when...
ANNIVERSARIES: Birthday greetings to AAA musicians born between August 15th and 21st: Carl Wayne (vocalist with The Hollies from 1999 to his death in 2003) who would have been 67 on August 18th. Anniversaries of events include: The Beatles play their record-breaking show at New York’s Shea Stadium, with 56,000 screaming fans –an attendance record that won’t be beaten until CSNY in 1974 (August 15th 1965); the first day of Woodstock, an anniversary we covered in detail a year ago in these very pages (August 15th 1969); George Harrison publishes the closest we’ve yet had to a Beatle autobiography, the frustratingly short and originally expensive ‘I Me Mine’ (August 15th 1980); Paul Simon plays to his biggest crowd for his ‘Concert In Central Park’ (August 15th 1991); The Beatles’ still mysterious sacking of their most popular member Pete Best and replacing him with...Ringo (think about that for a minute) who plays his first gig with the band two days later (August 16th 1962); The Beatles’ first performance in Hamburg at the Indra Club (August 17th 1960); The second of two records featuring Jagger, Richards, Lennon and McCartney from the summer of love is released – the Stones’ best single (as far as my tastes are concerned) ‘We Love You’ (August 18th 1967 – the other record is the Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’); Mick Jagger accidentally hurts his hand in a pistol fight staged for the seemingly cursed movie ‘Ned Kelly’ (August 18th 1969); The Moody Blues begin their highest grossing UK tour, some nine years after their original split (August 18th 1981); The Beatles begin their first American tour, playing to much bigger crowds than they are used to in England (August 19th 1964); American radio station KNOW ban all Beatles tracks from the air after hearing that the ‘Sgt Peppers’ LP may contain drugs references – thankfully most of the other stations simply ban that LP (August 19th 1967); The Rolling Stones release one of their most famous songs ‘Satisfaction’ (August 20th 1965); Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham creates Immediate Records with The Small Faces, lured from Decca, one of their first signings (August 20th 1965) and finally, The Rolling Stones and 10cc co-headline a prestigious gig at London’s Knebworth (August 21st 1976).
Whoever came up with the Hollies’ calculator-advertising campaign deserves a medal. I mean how few other phrases can you actually spell on a calculator (don’t bother to count, we’ve done that for you: the answer is seven; B, E, H, I, L, O and S or numbers 9, 3, 4, 1, 7, 0 and 5 depending which way you up you have your machine – by an interesting co-incidence these letters happen to spell ‘bolshie’, which is a good description of all the calculators I’ve ever known!) And it’s blooming difficult trying to come up with any other words using those letters that make sense. As you’ll see in this week’s top five: words associated with AAA groups that can be typed in on a calculator! (This must count as one of the weirdest we’ve ever done...)Word of caution: please do not try this at home if you only own a calculator on your PC – turning it upside down is not advisable! (All our essays might fall out of the internet if you do that and I’m not writing them all again!)
1) ‘345’ aka ‘SHE’: a song by The Monkees as featured on their 1967 album ‘More Of The Monkees’
2) ‘5317’ aka ‘LIES’: a song by Stephen Stills’ Manassas as featured on their 1973 album ‘Down The Road’
3) ‘35007’ aka ‘LOOSE’: an album title by Crazy Horse 1974:
4) ‘53177197714’ aka ‘HILLBILLIES’, as in ‘Muswell Hillbillies’, an album and track title by The Kinks 1970
5) ‘53045’ aks ‘SHOES’, as in ‘New Holes In Old....’, a song by Nils Lofgren from the 1984 album ‘Flip!’ (well, we were getting desprerate!!)
That’s all for another issue! I will have to get my computer fixed next week so apologies if there’s another delay – hopefully there won’t be but, either way, see you soon for some more newsing, viewsing and listening to musicing!
You can buy 'Reflections Of A Long Time Past - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Hollies' in e-book form by clicking here!
The Hollies “5317704” (1979)
Say It Ain’t So, Jo/Maybe It’s Dawn/Song Of The Sun/Harlequin/When I’m Yours//Something To Live For/Stormy Waters/Boys In The Band/Satellite Three/It’s In Everyone Of Us
When most people look for political albums to go with the political news and political opening passages of their opening paragraphs, they look for Green Day, Billy Bragg or possibly, if they have taste, Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd concept albums. Me, I go for obscure late-period Hollies albums. After all, few other albums carry the same feelings we have right now as well as 5317704: the alienation of ‘Satellite 3’, the statesmen in denial of ‘Say It Ain’t So, Jo’, the bitterness of ‘Stormy Waters’, the betrayal of trust in ‘When I’m Yours’, the melancholy of ‘Harlequin’ and the last gasp desperate hope of ‘Something To Live For’, ‘It’s In Everyone Of Us’ and ‘Boys In The Band’. People don’t think of The Hollies as a political band despite their finest songs being among the best social commentary around (‘Gasoline Alley Bred’, ‘Too Young To Be Married’, ‘Soldier’s Dilemma’ and ‘You Know The Score’), damning without being vague or hypocritical; empathetic without being mawkish, a hard thing to pull off as Michael Jackson learnt to his cost with the indefensible ‘Earth Song’. In fact, most people just don’t think of The Hollies full stop when they think of great classic bands and that’s a crying shame – where else are music fans going to get the same uplift, same energy, same passion and same thoughtfulness in the years after the Beatles split? But then, I feel I’m preaching to the converted here – this album, the last of the band’s lengthy contract that saw them at EMI/Polydor for 16 years between 1963 and 1979, sold so poorly and is regarded so badly today that you have to be a committed fan to even know about it, never mind read lengthy reviews of it. Say it ain’t so- please say there are some of you reading this out of curiosity after buying any of the 200 Hollies best-ofs out there and finding out how good they are, perhaps someone whose just bought the ‘Clartke-hIcks-Nash Years’ set and wants to know how the story ends or even someone who came across the ‘four Hollies originals’ boxed set cheap. Because I live for recommending albums like this one that have fallen down the cracks in collections – and for saluting those of you who already know that The Hollies are one of the greatest bands that ever lived, even if they’re never mentioned or given any space in today’s view of the 1960s and 70s. After all, I’ve never seen a review of this album anywhere, except for superb Hollies fanzine ‘Carousel’ and they’re understandably slightly biased.
As you may have noticed, this album’s title is a bunch of numbers. Now, if you only own a copy of this album without the sleeve or are simply reading this review out of curiosity then let me explain. As the album cover demonstrates, if you type the numbers ‘5317704’ into a calculator and upside down then it spells the word ‘Hollies’. This is marketing genius and whoever spotted the fact, whether band or record label, needs an award because goodness knows there aren’t many words you can spell properly on a calculator (we struggled to get to five – see below) and it would have been a major plus had it been discovered during the band’s early days – just picture it, banners everywhere using that logo, teenyboppers waving calculators; sponsors from senior mathematicians everywhere. And yes I have tried it, many a time, on many a calculator, during some boring maths lesson (when everyone else I knew was typing in ‘5318008’ or ‘Boobies’ to amuse themselves) and it never fails to tickle me. It’s just as clever and memorable as Dave Davies naming his first album after its bar code or CSN filling their sleeve for ‘After The Storm’, an album about togetherness, with their intertwined CSN logo. But there’s a problem. ‘5317704’ is possibly The Hollies’ most humanistic album (well, since ‘Confessions Of The Mind’ in 1970 anyway). It’s actually quite a jump from their recent pop song/disco bandwagon selves, a million miles away from the younger Hollies sound with pieces all about middle aged regrets and missed opportunities in love and in life. As a result, 5317704 badly needs a humanistic cover to suit it (like the Hipgnosis covers of a boy in winter/summer twin covers for ‘Romany’ and ‘Distant Light’, a part of his environment and yet looking out at the same time). Instead the name and cover for ‘5317704’ makes it look like an accounting manual – if only they’d given this title to, say, ‘A Crazy Steal’ or ‘Russian Roulette’ it would have been fine. But 5317704 is a much more poetic, socially aware album than the other albums The Hollies had been making in the 1970s and might have sold better with a different cover.
There have been a few criticisms of this album over the years, some of them justified. One view is that there are too many ballads on this album, without a single rocker in the traditional sense among them – not necessarily a bad thing, as anyone whose ever heard this band do ‘The Air That I Breathe’ or ‘Soldier’s Song’ will testify, but it is true that a lot of this album does sound a bit the same, with no real contrast in dynamics. This album works best really as a mood piece, one full of reflection and seriousness rather than the energy and dynamism of old and that annoys as many listeners as it thrills. The other view, with which I agree, is the lack of interest from the band. Both this album and predecessor ‘A Crazy Steal’ have few group originals – this album has only one Allan Clarke co-credit and nothing for Tony Hicks or Terry Sylvester – perhaps because the band’s contract was coming to an end and with slowing sales it looked unlikely that the band would get another one, not the best inspiration for writing your greatest songs (in the end the Hollies do one last album of Buddy Holly covers and then sign to WEA for a one-album deal when Graham Nash joins in 1983 and after that return to EMI, though only as a singles band – they won’t release another album till as late as 2006 and trust me, it’s horrid and not like The Hollies at all). Worse, there’s very little that the band themselves get to do – there are no real Tony Hicks guitar solos for instance (the stand out on many a Hollies disc), Bernie Calvert’s bass is buried in the mix for the most part to the point where it might as well not have been there at all and nearly all tracks have some guest or string arrangement tarnishing our view of our favourite band.
Perhaps not co-incidentally, the band was in a bit of disarray in this period – Allan Clarke had left the bad a second time at the end of 1978 to re-launch his solo career with the disastrous ‘I Wasn’t Born Yesterday’ and under-rated ‘The Only Ones’ on Aura Records (since licensed to the label ‘I Can See For Miles’), leaving The Hollies to continue a short European tour and some TV appointments as a four-piece with Terry doing most of the leads. This must have caused chaos among the band and managers – Clarkey’s absence in 1972-73 all but killed off the band before his restoration and ‘The Air That I Breathe’ put things right again in 1974 and it seemed to have been an awfully last-minute decision with so many appearances fully booked. Clarkey will rejoin the band mere months down the road, with The Hollies recording just one backing track without him (‘Harlequin’ – Clarkey overdubbed his backing vocals at a later session) after an aborted attempt to get Procul Harum’s Gary Brooker in as a replacement, but the band can’t have known how short-lived this second fling with fame would be in late 1978. The problems that caused Clarkey to quit – annoyance at the way the band were being handled behind the scenes and the lack of any real commercial clout from EMI after 1974 – were also still there when he came back and in retrospect it’s amazing the lead singer didn’t quite again for a third time when the band’s contract finally ran out in 1980.
But there was one important difference. Producer Ron Richards had been missing from the band’s story ever since he left the ‘Romany’ sessions under new vocalist Mickael Rickfors in 1972. It’s not known who called who but, for one last time, the band’s original and best producer is back in charge, with the band back at Abbey Road Studios like days of old, aqfter a brief fling on ‘Russian Roulette’ with Basing Street Studios, soothing the ruffled feathers of the past turbulent year. If there is a Beatles-Hollies parable to be had then this is their ‘Abbey Road’, a return to old familiar surroundings for one last hurrah, the last real throw of the dice under an old team reunited and an attempt to go out on a high – even though the band are actually in something of a writing doldrums. As a result, many of Ron’s usual trademarks are back: harmonies more or less throughout, exotic string arrangements and a glossy production that makes the whole album sound mature and thoughtful, in stark contrast to the other recent Hollies epics such as the disco ‘Russian Roulette’.
It’s perhaps no surprise that, with Ron back on board, the Hollies ship gradually rights itself and most of the band remember the main bulk of sessions for this album fondly, in heavy contrast to the last two albums and the next one. However, Ron’s return was always going to be temporary and by 1980 he’s gone, with the band left with only an album of covers and singles to release and a misguided recording session with Wombles creator Mike Batt that more or less breaks up the band, despite the greatness of single release ‘Soldier’s Song’ (the last magnificent Hollies song to date). Already fragile after Clarkey’s temporary split and lack of a proper recording deal, Sylvester and Calvert decide the band are travelling in the ‘wrong direction’, with talk of replacing the band as musicians in favour of session musicians on the recordings. A famous clip of the band performing ‘Harlequin’ on German television from 1978 exists and it speaks volumes about the band being in disarray, with the four barely looking at each other and Terry doing all the work (Perhaps we’re lucky that the rhythm guitarist wasn’t singing his other song from this album, ‘The Boys In The Band All Live In Harmony’!) In the end, we’re lucky we got the slice of calm that is 5317704 at all – but then, using the ‘Abbey Road’ analogy again, this is a generally happy album about things going right again after a bad time which nevertheless doesn’t shy away from its troubles and tribulations in the lyrics. For the record, like many Hollies albums, I’d take this one over the Beatles equivalent any day; there’s no godawful long medley of disjointed bits taking up valuable time here and no ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ or ‘Octopuses’ Garden’ to drag the quality level down, just quality song-writing delivered by quality performers for one last great hurrah that, for the majority of the time, comes off pretty well.
Imminent split and lack of interest or not, there are several wonderful things about this album. For a kick off the band’s famous harmonies are as fabulous as ever and are featured on nearly every verse and chorus of nearly every track, in stark contrast to the band’s recent experiments of using harmonies only at key points in recordings (as on ‘Russian Roulette’ and ‘A Crazy Steal’). The band were also famous for their keen ears for cover material and, while I question whether any writers were ever as good for the band as they were themselves in any era, 5317704 has a particularly strong bunch of outside material songs. Chief among them are the two by Murray Head, a singer and actor whose had a ridiculously varied career over the years including a supporting role in the Hayley Mills film ‘The Family Way’, for which Paul McCartney wrote the orchestral score (his brother Anthony has been a mainstay of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Grange Hill, though he’s most famous to us for causing plenty of internet rumours in Doctor Who, with ‘Head’ playing an evil ‘Head’ ‘master’ – as it happens he didn’t regenerate into the Master as speculated but we were pretty excited when we saw the part listed in the credits knowing how the BBC had added puns about the master in previous years) and scored his own hit with this album’s standout song ‘Say It Ain’t So, Jo’ in 1975, although alas things have gone quiet since the early 80s. The other key writing team on this album is Richard Hymas and Steve Brown, who have fallen even further out of grace nowadays but in the 70s were a real up-and-coming pair of collaborators. The Hollies did well to find them all.
There’s also one factor that will make this album a God-send if you can track down the hard-to-find 2004 CD re-issue. The Hollies are famous for recording outtakes that are often better than the real thing and 5317704 has an even better crop than most Hollies albums. Firstly, ‘Lovin’ You Ain’t So Easy’ (also available on ‘The Hollies At Abbey Road Volume 3) is a slow-burning piano ballad that fines Clarkey in excellent voice, left off the album because it was already ‘too full with ballads’ but surely this song is better than a couple of the ballads left intact, especially heard rough and raw without as many of this album’s sometimes cloying overdubs. ‘Sanctuary’ (also available on ‘Hollies Rarities’) is an out and out Hollies classic, building from muted verse to drop-dead gorgeous vocal harmonies in the blink of an eye, although the definitive version is Allan Clarke’s solo version for his ‘The Only Ones’ album released a few months before. Holies fans have been wondering ever since the release of ‘Rarities’ in 1988 how this one go away and it would have added another group writing credit to the album to boot. As a 10-track album 5317704 always seemed a bit scant, despite a fairly lengthy running time of 44 minutes – as a 12 track album it sounds much better and more rounded!
As for the tracks that did make the album, there’s a running theme of overcoming trials and obstacles and becoming a better person for them, apt for an album recorded by a band in disarray. This is quite a middle-aged album by Hollies standards, with songs about warring partners and regrets about past actions that can often be taken on both romantic and social fronts. Nearly every chorus or middle one comes down to one them too: that of unity. ‘We are one’ goes ‘Song Of The Sun’, ‘life’s a poem, we can make it rhyme’ goes ‘Boys In the Band’ and the closing ‘It’s In Everyone Of Us’ – recently revived by the band in concert in a capella form – is all about finding the strength to overcome disaster. The other theme of this album is travel and ‘missing the last bus’ – afraid of isolation, the narrator of ‘Something TO Live For’ is in a town ‘where the trains don’t ever stop’, the narrator of stormy waters is caught on the waves and can’t find the harbour back home; the medley of ‘Maybe IT’s Dawn’ and ‘Song Of The Sun’ have the narrator travelling in a different direction to his girl and finding that he isn’t the only person ‘to have missed the train back to your life’. Things have passed the characters in these songs by, taking them unawares, and there are plenty of references to missed chances and regrets. This album might be a million miles away from the first three energetic, raucous, powerful Hollies albums but it’s a logical journey to make over a course of 16 years and it’s a huge shame that the band were effectively cut short at this point in their discography – who knows what they might have gone on to do next?
The opening tracks on Hollies albums in the 1960s were nearly all strong: the one-two punch of ‘Nitty Gritty/Something’s Got A Hold On Me’, the Armageddon drama ‘Very Last Day’, the classic teenage angst song ‘What’s Wrong With The Way I Live’ etc. For whatever reason, though, the band have largely given up this practice in their second decade, with songs like ‘Wiggle That Wotsit’ ‘Life I’ve Led’ and ‘Falling Calling’ amongst the nadir of their lengthy catalogue, falling short of all other songs and putting the listener up. Thank goodness sense has been restored on 5317704 with ‘Say It Ain’t So, Jo’, one of the best Hollies covers of all and one of the highlights of their 1970s career. This Murray Head song, still heard (very) occasionally on radio sung by its author, was always a powerful song, mixing a doomed romance with social unrest in the wider world. But The Hollies excel themselves with the arrangement, stretching the dynamics between the three sections of the song, turning the pleading chorus into a powerhouse of a production and adding a piano-guitar introduction that really catches the ear and gives the song space to build. For once on the album we get to hear Clarkey in isolation on the opening two verses and he does the song proud, with a vulnerability and strength in his voice perfect for the lover looking to patch things up with his partner any way he can, even though he knows his actions are probably doomed to failure.
I’m impressed, too, with the way Head manages to squeeze his social commentary in between that chorus – there’s a lovely poetic verse about a fading politician who still smiles in press reports but with less conviction and a background of recession and a fading empire. It seems on the surface as if there is no link between the doomed lovers and the world outside their door but there is: the key line for this song is ‘the truth is getting fierce’, with a theme of idealism and naivety replaced by cynicism and despair. No wonder the pair of lovers can’t get it together, the songs says, when the world at large can’t get things right and everyone is miserable. The difference between this song and the one truly horrible Hollies single ‘Sorry Suzanne’ is that this time we know there’s no going back, that the two lovers will never be like they were when they first met because the world isn’t how it was; in their earlier 1969 song of apologia you just know that the narrator knows there’s no way his girl will pass him by whatever damage he’s done. The middle eight, too, is strong: falling uncomfortably on a minor chord the song reflects miserably about how ‘we’re gonna get burned’, both the lovers and the world around them, with Clarke singing in rare falsetto over and over, unable to let his biggest fear go until he suddenly, desperately resorts to pleading again in the chorus. By stretching this passage out long past the expected point – and adding in a flurry of sound from the orchestra in counterpoint which makes the singer sounds as if he’s standing still – Head and the Hollies in tandem make the chasm between the two characters sound impassable. The result is a truly powerful recording, with the whole band excelling at what they do best: raw emotion performed with depth, with special praise for Clarkey’s lead and the excellent string accompaniment. The album highlight.
Things quieten down for ‘Maybe It’s Dawn’, the first of this album’s three songs by Hymas and Brown. Unlike the pair’s other tracks for this album, this is a muted, understated ballad that plays it safe for the most part, although it does have a lovely riff at the heart of its chorus. The rhythmic sway of the melody makes the song sound like a boat cast adrift on the waves, which is apt for a song about two lovers travelling in separate directions. Like most of the songs on this album, it’s a piece about things not quite turning out the way you planned them and the lyrics to this song are quite strong, although sadly the melody rather passes you by. The song uses a simple weather metaphor which makes quite an impact, too, with the narrator watching the rain fall and dreaming of the ‘dawn’ when the sun will shine in his life again, wondering if in his heart there’ still a piece of sunshine left, that he’s remembered what it’s life to love. Overall, it’s so so, strong without knocking your socks off or being ultra-memorable and the arrangement is a tad boring for The Hollies, although the terrific Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks harmonies throughout the song are as brilliant as ever. The only real surprise of this song is the sudden ending – after being quiet for much of its opening three minutes the song suddenly swells up in realisation that despite their differences the narrator still loves his partner and the ‘dawn’ he feels is because he is near to her. This passage of the song is all but yelled, in contrast to the quietness for much of the song, complete with a throbbing horn section and clattering drums from Bobby Elliott. It makes for an unexpected segue into...
‘Song Of The Sun’ is the second Hymas/Brown song that sounds like the perkier twin brother of the last track. The basic premise is that, rather than searching for the ‘dawn’, we’re all really heading into the sun in form of suicide, with our emotions inevitably going to cause us hurt although we can’t stop ourselves. Musically, though, this song is in stark contrast to the last piece, being a swampy middle-paced song driven by Hollies regular sideman Pete Wingfield’s chirpy synth work and Bobby Elliott’s disco beat that sounds more like something by Creedence Clearwater Revival than The Hollies, although bits Tony Hicks deep and bluesy guitar solo that surprises the most, sounding quite unlike anything on any other Hollies record. Lyrically, there’s yet more references to travel, with the idea that love is the3 destination for us all but that we can’t make the journey in one fell swoop – we have to take our chances, ‘putting on the wheels’ when love is easy and free and slowing down or changing direction when things don’t work out. That’s a fair metaphor and again this song features stronger words than melody, but there are some truly oddball lines here too, such as the one about ‘running down the road every time it snows’. The result is a mixed one – its pleasing to hear The Hollies try new ground and the song is worth persevering with, especially with lost more opportunities for harmonies, although ultimately there’s just one alien artefact in the song too many for fans to take a shine to it.
‘Harlequin’ is the other album highlight for me, with Terry Sylvester taking one of his rare leads on a Gray Brooker song (a version exists with Brooker singing the lead, back when he was toying with the idea of replacing Clarkey as the band’s lead vocalist – in fact that’s his singing you can hear on the fade-out on the ‘we knew you’d do it’ lines and came a s surprise to him years later when he thought the band had wiped his work completely!) Whilst the song is Brooker’s rather than The Hollies’, I do wonder if it was written specially for them as it uses a lot of imagery from the past (Brooker didn’t record his own version till long after this recording came out). There’s long been a theme of ‘clowns’ in The Hollies work, from Graham Nash’s 1966 song ‘Clown’ to Sylvester’s own ‘Mr Heartbreaker’ in 1973, performers who delight the world with their hilarious antics but are crying on the inside, unable to function as proper human beings. In fact, both Nash and Sylvester made it clear that they were singing about themselves, pop performers expected to grin on stage despite traumas in their personal lives and I wonder whether ‘Harlequin’ was written to order, picking up where the last pieces ended. ‘Harlequin’ also features another regular Hollies theme about lost celebrity which has infused everything from ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ to ‘Write On’. Harlequin used to be well known and loved by everybody but, suddenly, no one wants to know and he’s ‘crying to be heard’. A second verse finds him on the run, from what and why we never find out, outsmarting the people who want to use him as a scapegoat for something. Thanks to a clever piece of arranging, which finds this quiet song bursting into life whenever the clown’s name is called, we really feel sympathy for the clown and root for him to escape his captors, with the whole story told in clever AABBCCD rhyming scheme each verse sounding like a medieval sonnet. There’s even a mournful solo that pops up out of nowhere, played on a flute which is an unusual sound for The Hollies and sounds like some stately funeral march before a final verse finds the clown restored to full health and success, with Harlequin surrounded by yes men. You sense that he’s too wise to be fooled, however, and after his abrupt fall from grace will know how to cope better with fame next time around. Together with a lovely rounded melody, that perfectly runs from verse to chorus and back again and a strong performance from Sylvester (who should have been given more opportunities like these to sing), the result is another of the best songs of The Hollies’ late 1970s discography and a quiet triumph for all involved. Perhaps it was hearing quality material like this that made Allan Clarke want to rejoin the group?
‘When I’m Yours’ is the second, more traditional Murray Head song and whilst too long and uninvolving, it does have a hypnotic effect similar to ‘Say It Ain’t So, Jo’. Even more personal than the last song, this is a song about falling in love only to find your loved one has a sting in their tail and isn’t as in love with you as you are with them. The narrator, desperate not to abandon his desire, comes to a compromise – he’ll do whatever she wants and won’t demand anything of her, except the fact that she really does want him around and she won’t just use him. That sounds like a simple premise for a song, but it’s turned into an epic six minute song here thanks to a long extended coda that repeats the sentiments a full six times before quietly fading, with the sentiments still unresolved, with the lovers still trying to make it work. Whilst Clarke tries as hard as ever with the vocal, it doesn’t suit his style as well as other tracks on the album and its two of his fellow Hollies who take the credits; Hicks for his stirring, quicksilver runs in one of this album’s few guitar solos and the always under-rated Bernie Calvert whose busy, constructive bass runs are exactly what this song needs, acting as an urgent counterpoint to this song’s dreamy malaise. There’s a really strong mood built up in this song, especially with another sensitive string arrangement attached, but in truth this song is at least two minutes too long and would have been better suited to some anonymous singer-songwriter than one of the world’s greatest harmony bands.
‘Something To Live For’ is the last Hymas/Brown song and was also this album’s one shot at a single; in fact it was the only 12” single in the Hollies discography made up of new material – it bombed, which is more of a reflection on this song’s lack of commerciality than any reflection on its merits. For a kick off, the song starts really quiet and slow, with Clarke’s vocal unusually stretched and hard to hear in the mix until the third verse when the harmonies kick in. The whole point of the song is that you can start from nothing and build something great if you try hard enough, with the song taking its time to reach a crescendo a full 2:30 into the song with the promise of ‘something to live for’ if you keep searching long enough. However, the song makes it clear the search isn’t going to be simple – after singing this positive chorus there’s an unusual chord change and a great little orchestral interlude that sounds oppressive and scary before the song suddenly double-tracks and goes back to the verse-chorus structure. Again this is a song about missed opportunities, with the narrator isolating himself into a position where there are few chances for making life better and where ‘the trains don’t ever stop’, in one of the album’s better lyrics. Change does come to all of us, but to many it comes as ‘strangeness’, unexpected obstacles that far from offering us escape merely holds us back even more. There’s also a clever dig at politics, with the idea that the world is there for all of us to change – but that, whenever of us gets the power to change it, we get sucked into the system and can’t see it through to the end (Hymas and Brown are clearly not students of Lenin, who came as close as anyone to un-corruptible authority!) Musically, this is another unusual song that The Hollies still do proud, especially Bernie again whose bubbling plodding bass is the perfect musical metaphor for the lyrics. Overall, this is an impressive track that doesn’t have the immediacy of ‘Harlequin’ or ‘Jo’ but does reward repeated listening, with a clever structure that mimics the harshness of life without diluting the hope of the chorus.
Not so ‘Stormy Waters’, which is the only bad song here. Not that it’s eye-wateringly intrinsically bad or anything – there’s no mention of wotsits or singers going wa-o-wa-oooh at the start of a song as you get on lesser Hollies albums like ‘Russian Roulette’ and ‘Staying Power’ – but this is quite a boring, ordinary song that merely re-iterates the album’s themes about bad weather and travel in a much more banal way than before. It is nice to hear Clarke’s harmonica playing again – he’s one of the most under-rated puffers in the business alongside Eric Burdon, Mick Jagger and John Lennon and doesn’t get nearly enough chance to show off his skills – and the band’s harmonies are excellent throughout, with Sylvester adding an extra special sparkle in his part. But musically this song chugs along at a slow pace throughout and the chorus is repeated, seemingly in slow motion, far too many times for comfort. The only section that does catch the ear is the reflective middle eight, with the narrator watching yet another year without success or happiness ‘roll away’ and another attempt to convince himself he’s doing the right thing, staying away from the harbours of ‘home’. There’s a country vibe to this song, too, which should be avoided by everyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing (ie The Stones, The Byrds and Neil Young were always at their worst doing country and trying to mould it into their style, whereas it can actually sound quite good in the hands of the Mike Nesmiths, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillmans and Richie Furays of this world).
Moving on, ‘Boys In The Band’ is Sylvester’s second song on the album and has come in for much stick from fans over the years. To be honest, I’m surprised at the criticism because while it’s far from the best on this record it’s not that bad either as a song or as a performance. A simple song about wanting world leaders to get it together in harmony just like the ‘boys in the band’ who sing in harmony, this may well be a last-ditch attempt by Sylvester to get The Hollies back on track and remind them of that harmony (despite being cut later, in the middle of the sessions, there’s no Clarke on this song at all). It may well be that with Clarke out of the band Terry was pushing for a greater role, as he did in the Rickfors years and if so it’s a shame that Clarke’s return seemed to rob him of his thunder (this is Sylvester’s last lead vocal on a Hollies record). If so, then this song surely is ironic – it’s just as well that world leaders aren’t as divisive as the bands on this list or the civil war would still be with us, never mind the cold war! Sylvester does wonders really with a song that, along with some excellent lines, strays too far into ‘Eurovision’ territory with la-la-la-las and ‘ha-ha-ha-has’. There’s a good chorus, though, with yet another of this song’s desperate-sounding choruses, pleading life’s a poem and ‘we can make it rhyme’. There’s another rattlingly good Tony Hicks solo too I’d forgotten all about which makes me wonder whether I should amend the line above about lack of solos, which is about the most rock and roll passage of the entire album. Yes this song is naive, yes it sounds like it should be a charity single and yes the odd line is a bit clunky – but there’s a charm and a panache about this performance and a real sense of a band in disarray pulling together, fighting impending doom with a recording that brings out the best in the Hollies energetic and optimistic spirit.
However, there’s a case to be made that Allan Clarke was right to leave The Hollies. Much of his ‘Wasn’t Born Yesterday’ album and some of follow-up ‘The Only Ones’ – largely written, like this track, with the under-rated Gary Benson – is a pale shadow of what Clarke had been writing with The Hollies, but at times there are glimpses of a whole new writing style and songs which are amongst the best in Clarke’s catalogue. Among these I put ‘Sanctuary’ ‘The Survivor’ ‘Imagination’s Child’ ‘Legendary Heroes’ and this track – classics all. A song about being cut adrift without quite knowing how to get home, this track may have been saved for The Hollies both because it fits the theme of this album so well (updating ‘Stormy Waters’ and the journey into harbour with a space-age atmosphere) and because it may have been inspired by Clarke finding himself ‘adrift’ once again, with a solo career going nowhere and a band he’s just spurned. ‘Satellite Three’ is the third truly important addition to The Hollies’ catalogue on this album and again its, well, light years away from their past. A churning riff on a bank of cold synthesisers sounds more like The Human League than The Hollies, while the synthesiser bloops are the closest the band came to psychedelia after Nash’s departure from the band. The result is a clever song about isolation that really does sound as if it’s being beamed in from another galaxy, with the now unwanted satellite doomed to be lost in space a strong metaphor for yet another narrator lost and lonely without love in his life. In sharp contrast to ‘Something To Live For’ and the next track there’s no chance for a happy resolution either – ‘though I’ve endless fuel to burn, no way to turn!’ moans the narrator, completely lost without love in his life to steer him through. This sets up one of the best instrumental sections of any Hollies album, with a fiery Tony Hicks solo drenched in echo and buried in the mix behind piano and strings, the sound of a person trying to break through to the warmth of his emotions without quite remembering how to do it. Together with yet more cracking Hollies harmonies and a sterling lead from Clarke, whose clearly more involved with this song than the other ones on this album, this song is another career highlight, trailing off uncomfortably on a pained cry of ‘don’t let me die’, left unresolved when the satellite unexpectedly stops broadcasting. Magical.
Closer ‘It’s In Everyone Of Us’ is better known from copious other versions – I know it best as a song by John Denver and the Muppets, although it took Cliff Richard to ruin the song with a truly schmaltzy arrangement to get a hit with it. In fact, it sounds blooming odd not hearing it at Christmas, given how many people have recorded it on festive albums although it wasn’t originally written to be a yuletide song at all. It goes without saying that I prefer the Hollies version to either the Muppets or Richard versions and yet, even then, this song sounds wrong for The Hollies somehow – it’s too saccharine, especially with the only faulty and overbearing string arrangement on the record. I am growing to like it with age though – after hating it for 20 odd years, I’m beginning to grow neutral to it and may well end up loving it in a few decades, which is one of those weird quirks you notice when you’ve spending too much time on a hobby for too many years. Still, even though Clarke does his best and even though the sentiments are fitting to this record, giving 5317704 a last minute dose of optimism to see the listener through their twilight years, this is one of the weakest songs on the album, guaranteed to split Hollies fans then and now. Still, it is Christmas, forgive and for- oops no it isn’t, OK then, skip this track instead.
Three out and out classics would be pretty good for other bands still going in 1979. It’s three more than on the Rolling Stones’ ‘Emotional Rescue’ for instance, one more than on Wings’ ‘Back To The Egg’ and level pegging with The Moody Blues’ ‘Octave’, although The Kinks’ ‘Low Budget’ may just have the edge. After all, the early post-punk, new wave era was a funny one for AAA bands – with the threat of annihilation from the sex pistols’ ‘year zero’ over many bands didn’t know whether to fight punks at their own game or act older and more dignified. After trying to sound younger on ‘Russian Roulette’, with mixed success, the Hollies try their hand at sounding older and more mature here and for the most part it works, with only one real mis-step and far more success stories than failures. Still, there remains a nagging feeling that this was really the end of the line for The Hollies, with only one member of the band doing any real writing (fifteen mainly self-composed albums in sixteen years along with two fully covers and two nearly all covers albums was beginning to take its toll) and a horribly wide five year gap since the last successful Hollies single (‘The Air That I Breathe’ in 1974). By and large this album is far better than it should have any right to be, with classy songs from Head, Brooker and yes Clarke that point the way to what could have been a bright future at the same time as the lesser moments here suggested the band’s reputation might have fallen further had they continued on at this point. But I’ve always been pleased with 5317704 and I calculate you will be too – if only so you can get out your pocket calculator and prove to your friends that, yes, you really can write the name ‘Hollies’ into it.