Tuesday, 22 May 2012
The Hollies "Radio Fun" Review (2012) (News, Views and Music 145)
The Hollies “Radio Fun” (recorded 1964-71, released 2012)
Here I Go Again/Jennifer Eccles/Bus Stop/I’ve Got A Way Of My Own/Wings/Step Inside/Wishyouawish/Shake/Put Yourself In My Place/Ride Your Pony/I Take What I Want/Little Bitty Pretty One/Away Away Away/Charlie and Fred/I Can’t Let Go/Hard Hard Year/If I Needed Someone/That’s How Strong My Love Is/To You My Love/So Lonely/Something’s Got A Hold On Me/Nobody/Set Me Free/She Said Yeah/You Must Believe In Me/Lawdy Miss Clawdy/Too Many People/Look Through Any Window/Too Young To Be Married/I’m Alive/The Games We Play/He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
2011 was a wonderful year to be a Hollies collector. Long overdue entry into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (including a mini-reunion), a marvellous box set of the complete Nash era recordings to enjoy, a two-hour ‘British Invasion’ DVD including copious footage so rare even I hadn’t seen all of it and a two-part documentary on Radio 2 (the second part of which is being repeated this week!) After so many lean years, seeing one of the world’s greatest bands passed over in favour of Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Who re-issues, it gladdened the heart to see The Hollies accepted at the forefront of music again where they always should have been. We’ve been here before of course – most recently in 1988 when a re-issue of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ made #1 (something it hadn’t even done the first time round in 1969!) and the release of the ‘Rarities’ set, the last all-new Hollies release featuring a classic line-up until, amazingly this one. I was worried what the next few years might have in years for The Hollies legacy, but the band and record label EMI have done the sensible thing and put out a whole 32-track CD of BBC sessions out, none of which have ever been released before! (You hear that the Kinks – currently working on their 4th batch of BBC recordings – these are all new!) EMI’s financial problems are a huge calamity to the music world, but thanks to their problems we’ve seen some of the best re-issues ever made now for AAA artists the Beatles, Pink Floyd and of course The Hollies, who seem to be getting the best deal of all. Before we even get on to the main review I just want to say that, like many fans, I’ve been campaigning for this set for some time (in fact we mentioned three years ago on this very site what a good idea it would be!) and – over-riding everything else – how wonderful it is that a Hollies BBC set is finally here.
That said, there’s already a feeling amongst fans that this single CD set could have been so much more , that its been a bit rushed in execution and song listing. Sure the 32 tracks here make for a mightily fine collection of recordings, but there’s probably double that amount of recordings that still exist somewhere (I have about another 20 tracks not released on this set and they’re nearly all fantastic!) Of course EMI might not have been able to buy up all the rights, but if not that seems strange given that these recordings feature a selection from pretty much all the radio programmes The Hollies ever worked on (the only one missing is The Hollies’ guest appearance on ‘The Beatles Invite You To Take A Ticket To Ride’, a programme that EMI already own thanks to buying up the rights for their Beatles set in the mid-90s). Even if 32 tracks was the absolute limit of what EMI could get hold of, it seems mighty odd and rather disrespectful that these tracks are all bundled together haphazardly, with eras clashing together with a mighty load clang (for instance the first tracks leap from 1964 to 1968, back to 1966 then 1965 and forward again to 1968). If you’ve been following this site for any length of time then you’ll know that there’s a ginormous cavern of distance between songs from 1964 and 1968 – its not like songs between 2008 and 2012 where nothing changed – and it would only have taken a miniscule effort to assemble these songs in the proper order (in fact it took me 8 minutes: collectors everywhere programme your CDs in this order – 1, 21, 23, 22, 24, 25, 30, 26, 28, 9, 10, 20, 27, 4, 17, 15, 19, 12, 11, 18, 3, 8, 16, 13, 14, 31, 2, 5,6,7, 32, 29. As you can see, the track numbers jump around randomly, with even songs from the same edition split up by several tracks!) This seems to be the same tack EMI take with Hollies compilations, which often seem like someone has thrown a load of tape reels into the air and picked one out at random. I’d understand if all the ‘hits’ were placed first to hold interest (though goodness knows there’s enough fans of the band’s album tracks around) but no – the ‘hits’ are numbers 1, 2, 3, 15, 17, 28, 30 and 32! Bizarre!
That’s not all. Someone somewhere has the great idea of cutting off all the chat. Those of you who’ve come from the Beatles, Kinks and Who sets (where the interviews are pretty much the best things on the set) will be livid. And its not like the Hollies come off badly – Clarke and Nash especially make for great interviewees and the copies that I’ve got feature them on top form in the 1960s, talking about everything from their beginnings (‘we actually joined Eric [Haydock]’s band and he’s barely said hello to us ever since!) and the music scene of 1968 (‘a s ort of progressive retrogression!’) Some of these are from the same tapes as the music released and I don’t think for a second that either The Hollies or their interviewers (most of whom are old hands like Brian Matthews and Alan Freeman who can already be heard on millions of official BBC recordings) would object to their release. Worse still, the chat has been harpooned out of the songs without subtlety and skill, so that several times across this set the first and last notes of the recordings are missing. The blurb in the booklet says this is unavoidable, but it isn’t – the recordings exist in marvellous sound elsewhere, much better than this in fact and even if they didn’t surely a fade in and out wouldn’t have been too much to ask? While we’re on the subject, surely there’s a way of matching the levels of the recordings so that they all match up – for example ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’ crashes through the speakers at ASBO-inducing noise levels and next track ‘Nobody’ is so quiet I can barely hear it. Like I say, this set is rushed, rushed, rushed.
A final negative point too – why so few recordings (two) from the Terry Sylvester years? The Hollies did record a lot less than they did in the 60s (when TV became the dominant format, not radio) but even so there’s a whole load of recordings that could have been used (including a whole concert by the Mickael Rickfors line-up!) There’s also a cracking live Top Of The Pops version of ‘Curly Billy’ that’s a million light years better than the record – so why use a rather boring and staid version of ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ from the same programme instead? (and why not include both?) Why do so many people think The Hollies died out when Nash left the band in 1968? (sales-wise they actually did better, until 1973 at least). Tony Hicks is particularly badly served, with so many Clarke-Nash songs in the listing and so many of the songs we know the band recorded at the BBC – like ‘Pegasus’ – missing from this set (including a few Hicks actually was co-credited with in the 60s the first time-round, interestingly – more signs of a rushed job or simply a way out of the Nash songwriting dispute that saw him do most of the work and see it split three financial ways?)
And actually, no that isn’t my final negative point because I’ve just thought of another one – why go to all that trouble last year showing off what a rounded and mature bunch of musicians The Hollies were and then ruin this image now by calling this set ‘Radio Fun’ for no apparent reason! The songs here involve love, life, poverty and death (‘Charlie and Fred’), alienation (‘Nobody’), bankruptcy (‘Hard Hard Year’), overpopulation (‘Too Many People’) and teenage pregnancy (‘Too Young To Be Married’), in typical Hollies eclectic style. Of the 32 songs here only ‘Jennifer Eccles’ and ‘Bus Stop’ could possibly count as ‘Radio Fun’! Why not just ‘At The BBC’ (as per The Beatles’ BBC set on EMI). This isn’t a Herman’s Hermits compilation!
So if this set worth all the heartbreak? Thankfully, yes. The Hollies are on cracking form on many of these recordings and, like the Clarke-Hicks-Nash set did when it came out last year, reviewers who don’t really know The Hollies are set to be shocked all over again by what a wonderfully adventurous and eclectic band they could be. If you don’t know The Hollies then you’re in for a treat, with some of their best songs from various singles, B-sides and album tracks collected together and – for the most part – played with a freshness and looseness missing from the records. There’s a few curious among the set-listing too, including a marvellously loose take of ‘Shake’ (by fellow AAA member Otis Redding) and a cover of the Lee Dorsey song ‘Ride Your Pony’ that were never recorded by The Hollies in the studio. Neither will ever make it to your Hollies top 10, but both are fine covers well suited to the Hollies harmony style and deserved a place on ‘Would You Believe?’ and ‘The Hollies’ records of the period respectively. There’s also a few other songs here won’t know unless their as monkeynuts about The Hollies as me – ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ wasn’t released until the 1980s on a budget compilation and sounds tremendous (it’s now on the C-H-N Years set) and ‘She Said Yeah’ wasn’t released until the 21st century (first on the ‘Long Road Home’ set and then on the C-H-N Years again). Both sounds better in their ‘beeb’ incarnations by the way! Best of all, we also get to hear the first version of ‘Wings’ – itself a rare track given away to an animal charity album – with some very different lyrics. Finally, the importance of some of these session dates in Hollies history cannot be underestimated , including a wonderful four songs from Nash’s last album with the band ‘Butterfly’ (our classic review no 14) which hardly ever got airplay at the time and – if the session date of ‘late 1968’ is to be believed – Nash’s last ever recording with the band on ‘Wishyouawish’ (according to the sessionography in the ‘Road’ box set Nash ‘s last studio recording with The Hollies was 4th August 1968 for ‘Listen To Me’).
Even on the songs every Hollies fan knows inside and out there are plenty of surprises with the arrangements. We’ll be looking at these below in detail but for now its sufficient to add the ‘censored’ lyric on ‘Step Inside’ (where ‘if it gets too late I have a bed that you can use’ turns into the much less salacious ‘we’ve got a spare-bed you can use’), ‘Hard Hard Year’ has its blistering guitar solo played much more conservatively, ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ sounds like the soul ballad it really is rather than a rock and pop one and ‘Nobody’ is slower and more haunting, with more emphasis on the guitar and harmonica rather than the jaw-dropping three part vocals. All of these songs are in transition, whether it’s the Hollies working them into their set-lists from their recent records onto the stage or from their illustrious past as unknowns as Manchester into the set-list to begin with. Bobby Elliott is especially lively – for good reason it seems, as he talks in the rather rambling sleeve-notes to the record about how BBC engineer Joe Young enjoyed drumming so much he would waggle his arms in time to the band (hence the sheer amount of extra drum patterns Bobby gets into these recordings, especially at the end!) There’s even a couple of mistakes on this CD, which are fascinating: Nash fluffs the second verse into ‘Nobody’ and Clarke comes in a phrase too early for ‘Charlie and Fred’, showing both how pressurised the band were to get these BBC recordings done and how new both of these songs were to the group back then.
If nothing else the sheer amount of recordings here over and above an already packed recording and live schedule shows what a hard-working band The Hollies were. Nowadays when bands release maybe an album every other year and are barely seen on TV or radio from one project to the next its hard to imagine an era when bands worked as hard as this. As we’ve seen before on this site, the Beach Boys had this worst with a ridiculous four albums, six singles and touring per year to come up with right up to the end of the 60s, but The Hollies had it a close second. The wonder is not why some of these recordings sound a bit tired compared to the records or why the odd mistake creeps in but why there isn’t more of this sort of thing – bands starting now would have a breakdown trying to keep up with such a workload!
However, for collectors the best thing about the set might well be the hint in the sleevenotes that early recordings of the band exist live at the Playhouse Theatre, taped by Bobby Elliott’s mum on a reel-to-reel tape recorder! Bobby mentions that these recordings are of too poor a quality to be used – but a) that hasn’t stopped other bands, notably The Beatles and The Searchers from releasing their early recordings and b) why mention them if Emi aren’t sounding the way for another Hollies set sometime in the future? Most fans will willingly pay to hear ‘poor quality’ recordings if the price is right and interest in the Hollies hasn’t been as high as it is now since the 80s (maybe even the 60s). Interesting...and watch this space to see if this release does happen!
For the set we, have, though, it’s a curious mix of the dispensable (the packaging, missing notes, missing tracks and running order) and the indispensible (most of the music). On the one hand there’s less ‘new’ tracks than on the Beatles BBC set, there’s less differences between the recordings and BBC tracks than on the Who set and thanks to muffing up the running order there’s less sense of progression here than with the Kinks BBC set. But on the other, this is a stunning set featuring one of the very best 60-s bands in their prime and with enough rarities and curious to excite even the fans who have everything. There are many problems with ‘Radio Fun’ but even with those this set is easily up there with all these other fine AAA BBC sets (though perhaps The Beatles one wins by a smidgeon, if only for hearing Lennon do ‘Memphis Tennessee’ and ‘I Just Don’t Understand’) and a very welcome addition to any self-respecting collector’s CD shelf. Let’s hope the Hollies bonanza keep son rolling and that there’s more mouth-watering releases set to come.
Right, before we get down to business it’s probably worth pointing out that if you’re a regular reader of our Hollies reviews then you may have read some of these comments before. If not then and it’s detail you’re after than have a look at the following before reading how these ‘BBC’ versions differ from the records (see News and Views 83 for ‘The Hollies’ News and Views 8 for ‘For Certain Because’, Review 11 for ‘Evolution’, Review 14 for ‘Butterfly’, Review 39 for ‘Confessions Of A Mind’ and News and Views 23 for some choice B-sides...)
We haven’t reviewed ‘Here I Go Again’ yet though, the Hollies’ 5th single from May 1964 and one of their perkiest recordings. It’s an unusual track to start the compilation with because it features one of the worst quality recordings of the BBC set and compared to the record the band are having a sluggish day (Bobby Elliott’s unusually impeccable drumming seems to be on auto-pilot here, perhaps because he’s only just joined the band at this point). That’s unusual because the few clips that do exist of The Hollies playing live nearly all have them nailing this song, with it’s classic three-part harmony, rat-a-tat drumming and excitable lyrics. The song’s been in the Hollies’ set for about four months by this time so it isn’t just that it’s new either. Other than a slightly slower tempo there’s no real differences between this version and the record, which is one of the lesser moments of the set.
‘Jennifer Eccles’ (the band’s 17th single, from March 1968) was seen as a ‘safe’ option for the band, after losing ground and public interest with the vastly superior ‘King Midas In Reverse’ (a song conspicuous by its absence here). That said, few ‘novelty’ songs are as sweet and delightful about this one, which uses the unusual setting of a couple of kids at primary school falling in love (cradle snatchers the pair of them!) and the worry when one of them passes the dreaded 11-plus exam (used in the 60s to determine whether you went to a state or grammar school, destined for further education or employment) and doesn’t know whether his beloved has done the same. Considering the band hated this song so much (the swanee wolf-whistle sound followed them around for years after this record), The Hollies didn’t half perform this song a lot (and still do today). This version from when the song was barely a month old is rougher than usual, perhaps because it was still a brand new song when this was taped and with a much more ‘acoustic’ arrangement’, with the emphasis on Hicks’ guitar rather than the vocals or drums. Vocally the only difference is a bass ‘singing...’ going into the final verse instead of a falsetto one – both Clarke and Nash appear to do this by accident rather than design independently of each other and have to try hard to cut the giggles out of their voice for the final chorus! The single is musically most notable for the thrilling middle eight section (‘one Monday morning found out I’d made the grade...’) – but whether because of the poor sound, lacklustre performance or unusual arrangement here there seems to be no difference between each part of the song. Better is to come.
‘Bus Stop’ also sounds tired and ragged and I own it myself in much better sound quality than it appears here (have a look for it on Youtube). The band’s 12th single from June 1966, it was famously written by a 16-year-old Graham Gouldmann (later of fellow AAA band 10cc) who Nash popped round to see when his manager said he’s heard of another Manchester lad with some good songs. Nash left that day after 10 minutes with this song and ‘Look Through Any Window’ in his pocket – not a bad day’s work although he’d also tried hard to get Graham to give up the ‘No Milk Today’ song he’d already promised to Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits! The Hollies’ breakthrough hit in the States, it’s a fun novelty song about a gent offering his umbrella to a soaked fellow passenger and love blooming so swiftly that neither of them catch the bus. Again, the BBC version is a bit tired and Allan Clarke sounds especially unsure of the vocal line (again perhaps because this would have been a brand new song back then, not one the band have been playing for 50 years). Hick’s copes fine with the tricky guitar part, Bobby Elliott adds a few tom-tom rumbles throughout the song and then-new boy Bernie Calvert is already sure-footed on the bass part, but there’s something missing from the performance of this song, which twinkles brightly on vinyl. The only real difference in the arrangement is the full end, rather than a fade, which finds the band slowing down gradually and coming to an uncertain question mark of a full stop on a typical Hicks glissando, part of the arrangement that the band still use on-stage to this day.
With track 4, ‘I’ve Got A Way Of My Own’, we’re finally moving onto the essential stuff. This B-side (also released on the band’s 4th album ‘Would You Believe?’) is a classic early Hollies composition, one much more in keeping with the angrier political mood of the late 60s than 1965. ‘Why they deny me the right to start living I’ll just never know!’ moans Nash through gritted teeth on this fast-paced track that moves breathlessly from verse to chorus to harmonica break without a pause. Clarkey excels himself on the harmonica, Nash handles his lead vocal with aplomb and Hicks is as excellent as ever on the guitar-work on this tribute to square pegs in round holes everywhere. Fans like me have seen this song, mainly a Nash composition, as early evidence of his desire to break away from the group’s image, but its arguably a bit early for him to be thinking about that – more likely is that Nash has just had his first drug experience around this time (‘everything round me is spinning and turning, but they can’t understand, people around me just never start learning...’) Then again it could be more that the band have been listening to a lot of the ‘deeper’ records around at the tail end of 1965 that are inspired b y drugs (most notably ‘Rubber Soul’) and wanted a bit of the same. It’s still pretty strong lyrically though for the period: ‘‘They’d better watch it or else they’ll start sinking with their heads in the sand’ ‘Come back when you’ve time for the world you might need’ – more like a Dylan lyric, in fact, though less obtuse and musically vintage Hollies with the speed and energy turned up to the maximum. One of The Hollies’ better B-sides, this BBC version is of a song that’s now been played by the band for three months solid and positively glows here, with the band clearly enjoying the chance to let loose and sound as raw and primitive as they did in their early days. The main difference between this and the record is an unexpected second repeat of the ‘find what they’re looking for a-a-a-a-a-a-all’ from the end of the first chorus rather than the ‘find what they’re looking for, they might find what they’re looking for...’ round that ends the song on record. An excellent addition to the Hollies canon.
‘Wings’ is probably the most appealing moment of the set. Much loved by Hollies aficionados, originally this song only came out on the ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change Our World’ charity LP in 1968 (the same one The Beatles gave the first version of ‘Across The Universe’ to) but most likely would have ended up on the aborted follow-up to ‘Butterfly’ has Nash not left the band that Autumn. This version from March 1968 is a puzzle. At first I accepted the official view in the sleeve-notes (and on Youtube) that this was a first draft for the song. But consulting my Hollies sessionography, this BBC version was recorded a full two months after the recording we know and love from ‘World’ and from ‘Rarities’ – which means either that The Hollies reverted to their first draft for this performance or that they’d re-written the opening verse intending to make a second recording for their album ‘proper’. The different lyrics certainly sound like a first draft (the first verse is printed uncut in our key lyrics section above), with the narrator looking through the eyes of birds in the sky and having them wonder why humans fail to walk ‘when they can fly’ (in the final version its humans looking on birds enviously). Even after this opening there’s a few subtle differences: ‘what a face to show, can’t you make it go?’ instead of the more upbeat (and more Holliesy) ‘we can make it go’. Even some of the familiar lines are suing in different ways, with Clarke and Nash noticeably deeper than on the ‘proper’ record. The harmonies are unusually strained in this version, but musically the band are on great form, with Bernie Calvert coping well with the delicate piano part as well as his usual bass lines. There’s no opening flurry of notes from Tony Hicks, though, which rather robs the song of some of its ethereal beauty. This song was notably inspired by fellow AAA members Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young’s song ‘Expecting To Fly’, several months before Nash met either him or Stephen Stills. The two songs have nothing thematically in common except images of flight, but the mood of both is very similar, with a haunting, fragile quality that makes both songs among the standouts in their respective canons. A real boon for Hollies collectors, this, with this version of ‘Wings’ unknown even on bootleg or Youtube and long overdue for a proper release!
Talking of Holliesy, has there ever been more of a Hollies track than ‘Step Inside’, an album track from their psychedelic masterpiece of an album ‘Butterfly’: upbeat lyrics, a classic quick-stepping ‘rhyming’ end that goes on forever, a powerhouse of a production, tonnes of energy, a classy Tony Hicks guitar solo that sounds quite unlike any other solo ever played, a yearnful reflective middle eight and some sneaked-in risqué lyrics about offering a bed for the night. This version from a full six months later is rougher and a lot more confused than the record – quite frankly something you’d expect given the one-shot pressure the band are under compared to the hours of freedom at Abbey Road. The song’s taken at a much faster lick, Hick’s solo is much more muddled and all but drowned out by the rhythm section and – most notably – the risque lyric has been censored, with ‘if it gets too late I have a bed that you can use’ becoming ‘if it’s too late there’s a spare bed you can use’ – Clarke and Nash sound deeply uncomfortable singing this line, unlike the cheeky nudging of the record! One of the band’s better songs of the period, I’ve always been sad that this song didn’t stay in their set lists longer (it got the boot when Nash left, if not before) and I’m overjoyed to hear another version of it, even if it is a lot rougher in execution.
‘Wishyouawish’ is another song from ‘Butterfly’ and an even more unexpected choice, given that the band have had to add a brass section (who seem to have had little rehearsal on what to play) and Hicks plays on a ukulele, leaving the main part of the band’s sound to Bernie Calvert’s bass. It’s also a strange choice because the song is by this time a year or so old and the band have several other superior songs in their setlist by then. As we’ve mentioned, this may well be the last time Nash ever sung with his band – he never gave an official date for leaving but he was working with Crosby and Stills from October 1968 so the given date of ‘late 1968’ seems to suggest either a mistake on behalf of the manufacturers or that this is right up to the last minute (this is also the period Nash went on his last tour with The Hollies – till the 1980s at least – with David Crosby accompanying him on each and every gig throughout the tour to make sure he didn’t change his mind!) There’s no major differences here, although the contrast in mood is huge: what was a breezy singalong about freedom from pressure on record now sounds strained and tired. Had the band just had an argument? Or are they aware that their time together is running short? Not the best song Nash ever wrote (interestingly Clarke still gets a co-credit but not Hicks as per the original album), it’s still a fun piece that would have sounded pretty magical had the mood been a bit happier.
‘Shake’ is the first of the two new songs and its one of the highlights of the set, with the listener heading back in time to mid-1966 when bands could still get away with simple rockers like this in their repertoire. Like Otis Redding’s original, this song is short on subtlety but like many Hollies soul cover versions sounds great when re-cast for rock and roll here. Bobby Elliott is at his best on the basic driving beat of songs like these and both he and Eric Haydock kick up a storm on the rhythm track, while Hicks’ punchy rhythm guitar stabs is an unusual technique for him that he doesn’t use very often. Nash adds some pretty nifty double-tracked harmonies to the song’s middle too, softening the harshness of the sound quite effectively, but its Allan Clarke’s throaty yell that steals the song. No one can outdo Otis Redding but he comes mighty close here, making the most of what are, in truth, some pretty daft lyrics. Arguably a bit out of touch with the times, this song would still have fitted in well on ‘Would You Believe?’, the Hollies album released the same month this was recorded and featuring a similar last gasp of beauty rock and roll verses the band’s growing feel for folk-rock (presumably the band dropped it because they already had an Otis track on the record – one they’d recorded at the BBC three months earlier and will be cropping up on this set shortly...) An excellent addition to The Hollies canon, it’s probably worth your while buying the set for this and ‘Wings’ alone.
‘Put Yourself In My Place’ is an early Hollies original from third album ‘The Hollies’ and wonderfully advanced for its era (the original was recorded as early as November 1964, the time of ‘Beatles For Sale’ and the first Stones LP). Rougher than the album by some margin, the harmonies are still superb even here, 10 months later, with that magnificent near a capella opening left here complete. For me the best part of that record was the instrumental, with Hicks’ tricky guitar pattern suddenly overthrown by a burst of harmonica and Haydock’s bass line suddenly working up its way up about three octaves, creating a burst of typical Hollies tension. The same trick’s too subtle to come off here, where the band are clearly still feeling their way around the song, but considering the one-take no-overdubs nature of what they’re doing it still sounds magnificent here. The closest we’ll probably ever get to hearing vintage Hollies in concert (1968 being the earliest one that exists), this shows off what a great band they were.
‘Ride Your Pony’ is the second new song, a Naomi Neville composition best known for Lee Dorsey’s cover, and like that other ‘horsey’ Hollies song ‘Stewball’ it doesn’t suit the band one bit. The band often did country songs and souped them up to make them sound like rock and roll, but for some reason these songs never worked as well as souped up folk songs (the Stones had the same trouble). Clarkey just sounds wrong trying to sound like an American cowboy, there’s little space for the band’s usual strengths (guitar solos, band harmonies and Bobby Elliott drum fills) and an uncomfortable arrangement that leaves the band hanging in mid-air shouting whatever line they’ve just been singing (ending with the uncomfortable ‘Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!’ of the last verse, which sounds like Tex Tucker from Four Feather Falls with a speech impediment – hey I know only two of you reading this will get that reference but the old cowboy films.TV series is where this song is coming from). It’s probably a blessing this song never made it to an album proper – and a shame that Paul McCartney loved this song he-wrote it for the interminable ‘All You Horseriders’, (the lowest moment of the magnificent McCartney II re-issue, reviewed as News and Views 106).
‘I Take What I Want’ (in its studio form the opening track of album four ‘Would You Believe?’) has always been one of my favourite Hollies covers. An unusually rough and ready rocker, this song is actually an early Isaac Hayes song and another good example of The Hollies tackling soul songs and turning them into Merseybeat rockers (in the same way The Byrds did folk and The Beatles did Motown). Clarkey really gets himself into the mood of the egocentric, un-denied character well on both versions, although this version of the song (recorded about a month after the album version) is a lot more timid and the very rawness of the recording gets in the way rather than enhances the song. The real difference in the arrangement is the curious backing vocals that go ‘ah-hah’ throughout most of the song in a very un-Hollies dissonant and uncomfortable way. There’s also some hard-to-hear handclaps added and an unusual bah-dah-dah ending that sounds as if the song is literally becoming unwound (the original just fades). That said, Clarke’s voice, Hick’s guitarwork and Elliott’s drumming are all spot-on and only a sense of confusion and poor sound stops this being another true Hollies classic. Considering it was recorded more or less on the spot, it’s still pretty good and the band’s arrangement of this preening soul song is a superb example of how adept the Hollies were at making other people’s songs their own.
If ‘Want’ is a slight disappoint then ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ is a revelation and knocks spots off the studio version (not released until one of many compilations entitled ‘The Hollies’ in 1985). A slightly twee song (not many compositions have a whole chorus that goes ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, aaaah aaaah ah-ah-he-ha), The Hollies always managed to make it sound like the most profound thing in the world. The slight discomfort of the recording has been replaced by all-out grunge and grime here, with the band going hell for leather on a much faster take of the song. The recording fizzles out a bit towards the end, tripping over its own feet in an attempt to get the band to end all together, but for 90 seconds this sounds like The Hollies at their loudest, rawest best. Hicks has found a way to make his guitar sound heavy and powerful as well as a copy of the ‘ringing’ style then in vogue thanks to The Byrds, Elliott’s drum fills are deeply inventive (his stuttering playing on the instrumental break is amongst his best work) and Clarkey is at his best on the song, singing with such powerful and control that its easy to forget what a trite set of lyrics he’s actually singing. The next time some idiot reviewer says that the Hollies weren’t as heavy as other 60s bands and couldn’t play anything but pop will be hit over the head with a copy of this recording! (with the jaw-dropping ‘That’s When The Heartaches Begin’ on the other side!)
‘Away Away Away’ is another Butterfly refugee and like most of that album is about freedom and escape (and as such clearly about Nash’s wish fulfilment to escape the hang-ups of his first band). This version is pretty close to the original and recorded in virtually the same time period (details are a bit scratchy when it comes to the band’s psychedelic era sketches but it is the same month of October 1967 for both), with only a few real differences, mainly in the orchestral part (there’s a fade-in on the first note, with some trilling flutes and the y don’t play again properly until the middle, unlike the record). Listen out for some notably rougher harmony vocals and a rather weary double-tracked vocal from Graham, suggesting this recording was a real last-minute affair. A sweet song though.
‘Charlie and Fred’ is one of the band’s all-time classics, again from the ‘Butterfly’ LP, that few fans know but the few that do all love. We called this song a psychedelic interpretation of Steptoe and Son on our ‘first’ review, as this cautionary and very 60s tale of a rag and bone man that’s the very definition of austere monochrome is given an amazingly colourful and psychedelic interpretation. The message of this song is clear: Charlie can save all the money he wants but he’ll never truly escape his lot except in dreams (hence the amazing instrumental section when every orchestral instrument in history comes out the woodwork to burst into our ear-drums) and indeed is dead in the last verse. This version can’t hope to match the record and sounds unusually rushed by Hollies standards (Clarke even comes in a beat too early for the middle eight, with the line ‘He lived all alone in a hovel...’). Bobby’s drums are also nowhere as colourful and passionate as on the record, perhaps his definitive performance (along with ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and ‘Soldier’s Song’). The BBC version is also missing the stupendous sound effects that make the finished product so special. For all that though this is one of the highlights of the set, enabling us to hear how an ‘un-overdubbed’ version of the song might have sounded and – the orchestral middle aside – sounding almost unplugged. Interestingly though it’s not the record but the BBC version that features double-tracked vocals by both Clarke and Nash!
‘I Can’t Let Go’ (both an A-side and an album track on ‘Would You Believe?’) is one of the band’s strongest singles and always sounded great live, what with the throbbing one-note bass (by far Eric Haydock’s best moment with The Hollies and almost his last moment too), the tension-riding switch between section to section and Nash’s high harmony counterpart. This version from January 14th 1966 - recorded in between the two studio sessions for the song on the 13th and 18th January 1966 – sounds a bit anaemic by contrast, with the bass turned down low and little in the way of energy and excitement. The band are clearly still feeling their way into the song, although the arrangement is clearly there already (even Nash’s part, missing from Chip Taylor’s original) and its interesting to hear the original full-ending for the song (retained for all the concert versions thereafter). Still, like most of the alternate recordings of the ‘hits’ on this album, a disappointment.
‘Hard Hard Year’ is another classic song (and yet another from ‘Would You Believe’) that’s one of the best songs ever written about recession, rack and ruin (see people, we have had them before whatever the news wants to tell you!) It’s an early song by the great songwriting team Clarke-Hicks-Nash and one of their best team efforts, with verses by Nash, a chorus/middle eight by Clarke and one of the great guitar solos by Hicks (it made it all the way to #3 in our list of the top AAA solos ever in News and Views 75!) Again, this BBC version is a little on the weak side, although arguably that makes this near-unplugged version (with Nash doing most of the guitar work on an acoustic save the solo) closer to the heart of the song. The harmonies are a little rough, the solo a pale shadow of the record, with Hicks clearly feeling the notes rather than hanging his soul out on the line and the wonderful weary shrug of the percussion reduced to a slight tinkle in the right speaker. For all that, though, this version (recorded three months after the studio one) is another fascinating find, with the Hollies re-thinking their masterpiece slightly in terms of arrangement and having to make do with the ‘one take, few overdubs’ policies of the beeb back in the day (re-organising the instrumental parts to suit). Here the ending where things suddenly turn right seems not like a betrayal of the stark brilliance of what’s gone before (as it does on ‘Would You Believe?’) but a natural resolution to a song that’s closer in style to a Dylan parody than outright sob story.
‘If I Needed Someone’ has an interesting history. It is, of course, a George Harrison song (well, in truth its a Byrds song with a few re-written words) that appeared on the Beatles album ‘Rubber Soul’. The Hollies cover – released as their 10th single - marked the first time ever that a song of George’s made the singles charts, and yet its release caused bad blood between the two bands (who had been pretty close). George gave this song to The Hollies back in the days when Lennon and McCartney only allowed him one song per record, but when the Beatles found their Christmas deadline looming they reached as far back into their songwriting history as they could to get the album done (the original version of ‘Michelle’, for instance, was written by Paul as a teenager as joke song to impress girls whilst ‘What Goes On’ was one of John’s earliest ever songs).Alas no one told The Hollies that and the two versions appeared simultaneously in December 1965. Sensing a fight, the music journalists of the day ‘reported’ that The Beatles called The Hollies version a ‘second-rate cover’, which seems a bit harsh given that the Liverpudlians had given the Mancunians carte blanche to do what they liked with it (The Beatles denied it but then Lennon, especially, denied most things in this period!) For the record, unlike most fans I much prefer The Hollies version, which has real pizzazz and energy, with much better harmonies and Bobby Elliott’s superb drumming putting their recording into quite a different league from Ringo’s shockingly dismal performance on most of ‘Rubber Soul’ (his worst Beatles album by some margin). The Beatles’ version just sounds like a poor Byrds cover (as George admitted to Roger McGuinn it was the music from ‘The Bells Of Rhymney’ crossed with the drum pattern from ‘She Don’t Care About Time’, two legendary Byrds songs of the day). This Hollies BBC version can’t compare to either record though, like so many on this set, although its closer to the Hollies’ studio version than most (perhaps because its only just past a fortnight since they recorded it!) You miss Bobby Elliott’s fantastic drum-rolls, though, and the harmonies are – understandably – a lot more ragged on this ‘live’ version!
‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ (another song from ‘Would You Believe?’) is a fantastic find. The ‘other’ Otis Redding song of the set, it’s another example of how effortlessly The Hollies could take a soul song and make it sound rock and pop by virtue of changing the tempo and taking out Otis’ famous ‘stumbles’ midway through each line. Otis’ version is pretty incredible too (you can find out on his ‘Soul Ballads’ album reviewed as News and Views no 128) but it’s The Hollies version that’s the ‘keeper’. Allan Clarke is born for expressive songs like these and gives possibly an even better performance of the song than on the record. The rest of the band aren’t far behind, with a simplified arrangement that sees less emphasis on the tricky guitar work and the breathless harmonies. This Saturday Club version was taped a mere three weeks and a day after a busy day saw The Hollies record no less than five songs for their fourth album and hearing the strength of the band’s interplay here you can’t help but wish this song had been part of their concert set-lists for longer. There’s no real difference between this and the record except for a slightly muddier arrangement and an improvised ‘shake it again now!’ going into the last verse. Incidentally, The Rolling Stones also recorded this song for their third album ‘Out Of Our Heads’, but like many of the Stones’ early soul covers it’s not a patch on what other bands of the day were doing, with Mick Jagger’s Americanised accent making him sound like he’s ‘playing’ at the song (which sounds deadly earnest in both Otis and Clarke’s hands).
‘To You My Love’ is a, well, lovely song and one of Nash’s earliest songs. Originally recorded for second album ‘In The Hollies Style’ (November 1964), this version comes from surprisingly late in the day (January 1966). It’s a measure of how timeless this song is that the band can get away with only modifying the arrangement slightly to turn from it being a prime example of Merseybeat into the folk-rockish feel of late 1965. Very Buddy Hollyish in feel, this is a simple repetitive song whose short snappy structure make it sounds closer to a tin pan alley song than the typical group song of the day. Nash does well with the vocal, singing it a much lower pitch than before, but its Tony Hicks whose the star of this record, effortlessly moving from choppy rhythm guitar to psychedelic lead work that wouldn’t sound out of place on any of the ‘heavier’ summer of love recordings. The band seem to be playing some sort of intro to the album too, with the guitars ringing when the track cuts in, but alas if this is a new arrangement (and not just a mistake!) it’s been cut off by whoever put this set of recordings together! Like the record, Allan Clarke probably doesn’t appear on this record and it’s unusual to hear the Hollies with just one vocal throughout the song (even if Nash is double-tracked on both versions).
‘So Lonely’ is up next and those of you who’ve read my fawning review of this song for third album ‘The Hollies’ (News and Views 83) will know that I consider this Clarke-Hicks-Nash composition to be one of the pinnacles of all 1960s music. Heartbreakingly sad, effortlessly simple and performed to perfection, this would surely have been a huge hit for the band as an A-side (instead it became B-side to ‘Look Through Any Window’ as well as an album track). In terms of the record, again I have to thank my lucky stars that the Hollies ended up recording for EMI where sonic clarity was everything (unlike, say, muddy Decca or tinny Pye) because this record sounds marvellous with its chiming echoey guitars and another beautiful vocal from Allan Clarke. Without the facilities of Abbey Road, this BBC version was always going to disappoint and alas it does. This version demonstrates just how far ahead of it’s day this song was, with the band clearly confused as to what parts they should be playing and clearly ‘thinking’ about their notes rather than playing as a seamless whole. Interestingly there’s one lyrical difference where Clarkey sings ‘seen you yesterday’ rather than ‘see you every day (and now I realise you’re not mine). Was this a simple mistake, an ‘improvement’ on the original or a sneaky reference to the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ (then of course a brand new song). This version dates from two months after the recording – long enough to forget an arrangement if not a whole song – so it’s no wonder that The Hollies sound a bit muddled.
Not so ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’, which is another of the revelations of the entire set. Originally heard as a medley with ‘Nitty Gritty (which is how this song appears as the opening track of ‘In The Hollies Style’), this Etta James cover has never sounded as sparky or as fun as it does here. Bobby Elliott and Eric Haydock are on top form on this classic rocker which the band clearly enjoy playing. The second earliest recording here, it’s much looser than the already pretty loose studio recording with less vocal reaction from Nash and Hicks going on and dates from about a month later. Alas you can’t hear Eric’s wonderfully full bass playing quite as clearly but if anything the others in the band are playing even better, with the drop down to just the bass drums and vocals in the middle particularly delicious. (Clarke improvises a slightly different set of lyrics here, although these are of the ‘it feels good’ ‘mmm yeah yeah yeah’ variety rather than anything earth-shattering. A shame the band didn’t record ‘Nitty Gritty’ on the day too, another classic Hollies cover that always worked rather well with this song as a medley.
‘Nobody’ is another of my all-time favourite Hollies tracks and an unusual one for them with its melancholy alienating words and bluesy feel making it sounds more like a Ledbelly or a Bo Diddley (or even an early Simon and Garfunkel song). The lyrics might be simple in places (‘I don’t have no nobody, I don’t need nobody, I don’t want nobody to fall in love with me’ and the uncharacteristically juvenile rhyme of ‘lonesome’ and ‘ownsome’), but for it’s day this is masterfully complex story-telling. Without saying the word the listener picks up on the ‘hurt’ vibe instantly and knows that the narrator is dying for someone to love. I’ve heard a lot of great harmonica solos in my life but few give me the chills the way that Clarkey’s playing does on both versions of this song and the tension going into the instrumental section near the end is tense indeed. Never have the Hollies’ classic three-way harmonies sounded as dark and brooding as they do here too. In fact the BBC version is a pretty neat substitute for the original all round, a little rougher around the edges naturally but closer to the record than most of these recordings (Nash makes a rare slip-up coming in a beat too early for the repeat of his middle eight ‘I’m just telling you girl...’). Again, the studio recording was about a month old when The Hollies recorded this and they all clearly remember it well. If EMI still need money after their recent Hollies bonanzas then I fully recommend they release a proper B-sides and EP rarities collection in the near future – some of the best Clarke-Hicks-Nash songs ended up as flip-sides (even though most of them are better than the A sides) and this is one of the best.
‘Set Me Free’ is one of the band’s noisiest songs, originally heard as the closing track of ‘In The Hollies Style’. First time round, of course, this song was credited to ‘L Ransford’ (the name of Nash’s grandfather and adopted by the three songwriting Hollies when they were told erroneously that their names wouldn’t fit on the label of a record!) but is now credited to C-H-N. This version dates from three months after the studio record, but does better than most simply because it had been a part of the band’s setlist for so long (indeed, I’m surprised there aren’t any songs here from first album ‘Stay With The Hollies’, which practically is their setlist from their pre-fame days and the songs they played most – just look at how many times The Beatles did songs from ‘Please Please Me’ for the BBC!; perhaps they did sing them but the recordings have been lost?) A great showcase for Clarke’s vocals and harmonica work, this version is taken at a rattling pace and features the nice addition of Hollies harmonies to the lines ‘don’t want my love’ (Clarke sings solo on the record apart from the chorus). However, the band can’t quite generate the excitement of the record, with Bobby Elliott’s drumming here a poor substitute for his jaw-dropping work on the record. Still, it’s always nice to hear an early-crowd pleaser like this sung live and it’s a shame that The Hollies didn’t record a better version of this song later because they’re pretty close to brilliance here. Listen out for the one lyrical change of ‘Baby why don’t you leave me alone?’ as a substitute for the less grammatical ‘lone’.
‘She Said Yeah’ used to be a song only Stones fans or Larry Williams aficionados knew (the latter, of course, writing the originals of Beatles covers ‘Slow Down’ ‘Bad Boy’ and ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzie’). However since its appearance on the ‘Long Road Home’ box set bin 2003 most Hollies fan snow count their great version as ‘canon’ – so good is their version in fact that it single-handedly beats all the others I’ve heard hands down (including a very revved up Mick Jagger version). Faster than most Hollies covers, without the open spaces for those delicious harmonies, it’s a curious choice to do in the first place but the band cope well thanks to a combination of Clarke’s dynamic vocal, Hick’s grungy guitar and more sterling work by the band’s rhythm section. This BBC version is a tad more timid than the record, especially the very 50s guitar solo which is far more ‘polite’ than the unhinged one from the box set, but still rocks pretty convincingly. Had it been released on record the band’s version would most likely have ended up on third album ‘The Hollies’ – this version, recorded in January 1965, was taped two months after the studio effort.
Another recording, another soul cover. ‘You Must Believe Me’ was a Curtis Mayfield song originally recorded for the ‘Hollies’ album and one that has an interesting vintage. The Hollies recorded a full alternate version of the song on March 1st 1965 that has never been heard to date, before re-making the song several months later on June 30th. This BBC version from February 19th 1965 pre-dates both versions so it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to state that it’s the ‘first’, unheard version you’re hearing here. It’s certainly among the most different of all the BBC tracks, with Clarke singing in a much more Americanised soulful way, with less harmonies throughout and a noticeably slower, more laidback tempo. To be honest, I’m pretty glad they changed it because on record this is a marvellous cover: raw rock and roll with a punchy chorus and some killer call-and-response vocals that build to some real peaks and troughs; this sleepier version just kind of ambles along without drawing attention to itself. Still, like many an AAA BBC set, the joy comes from hearing a completely different version of something we Hollies fans have been taking for granted for nearly 50 years – unless you paid close attention to the sessionography listings who knew the band had attempted to do this song a completely different way?
All the other AAA BBC sets – be it by The Beatles, The Who or The Kinks – are dominated by rock and roll. Simple to play in a hurry and most likely better known by the band who played them often before finding fame, rock and roll is normally king. Biut not so The Hollies – yes they were around years before finding success in early 1963 but they were a band in stasis until the end of that year (Hicks joining on the eve of the band’s record contract and Elliott sometime after). As we’ve seen, most of the songs The Hollies chose for their BBC radio time are either out and out pop, folk-turned-rock or soul-turned-rock. The only non-original rock song in the whole set is ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’, made famous as a Little Richard song (but actually written by Lloyd Price) that always sounded out of place on ‘The Hollies’ (which other than this and a Roy Orbison cover is a strong candidate for the world’s first folk-rock LP). This BBC version from about a month later sounds much more, well, Holliesy: the tempo is looser, closer to blues than rock and roll, while Haydock and Elliott are swinging the song more towards jazz. Indeed, Eric’s bass work is the star of this song, being much clearer than on the record, and writhing around the bass note unpredictably in stark contrast to the rather retro, straightforward guitar work by Tony Hicks. It’s nice hearing the band having ‘fun’ in this period (quite a heavy one for the band as the next track demonstrates), although in truth there isn’t much on this track that hasn’t been done by better by a whole load of other 1960s wannabes.
‘Too Many People’, however, is a significant contribution to songwriting in the 1960s. Another track from ‘The Hollies’ album, its amazingly deep for mid-1965 and speaks about population over-crowding and the way that humans have always managed their numbers in the past due to wars. Part folk protest, part rocker, part ballad, this is among the peaks of the Clarke-Hicks-Nash canon and it’s always nice to hear a new version of such a fabulous song. This BBC version is, again understandably, rougher than the record (which sounds pristine and eerily clear, even for The Hollies), but that just adds to the excitement on a song about how ‘doomed’ we all are as a planet. After all, name me one other song from 1965 that includes the fantastic line ‘there ain’t no fooling death so you’ll just have to sit and wait’ (this is the same period The Who are declaring that they’re never going to get old and The Kinks are still in love ‘till the end of the day’; only Nash’s future partner Crosby and The Byrds are bucking the trend with ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ and even that came out after this song did). The arrangement of this later version (about two months later) features a few key differences: a guitar accompaniment over the opening a capella ‘oohs’, a much louder harmony part for Hicks, whose deeper voice really adds to the tension in the song, a rattled tambourine part in addition to the drums and a notably longer double-tracked harmonica solo in the middle. A fascinating version of a fascinating song, this is what BBC sessions sets were made for – the chance for the world to get acquainted with a great song most people missed the first time round and one that sounds sufficiently different to ‘us’ fans for us to buy. I do miss the sound effects on the fade though!
‘Look Through Any Window’ was the band’s ninth single, released in August 1965 and the ‘other’ Hollies song penned by future 10cc bassist Graham Gouldmann back in his teenage years. One of the better Hollies singles of the day, it features many of their trademarks: a great guitar riff, killer harmonies, plenty of space for drum fills and some catchy but deep lyrics (like many Hollies songs to come - notably on ‘Butterfly’ – this is ‘people gazing’ at its finest, with the people passing by a window a microcosm for a busy, fussy world as a whole). ‘Window’ copes with the BBC treatment better than most of the ‘hit’ songs on this set, and even sounds a bit funkier thanks to more emphasis on the bass and drum sound. Hicks’ voice cracks during his middle eight (a rare lead vocal for the guitarist) and Nash sounds unusually off-key in places, but Allan Clarke nails the lead vocal with his usual aplomb. This ‘Saturday Swings’ radio version actually pre-dates the single’s release by a couple of weeks, although it was actually performed a full month after the band recorded it at EMI.
‘Too Young To Be Married’ is a cracking song and one of the band’s very best, as my review of its parent album ‘Confessions Of The Mind’ (review no 39) will testify. Unusually this performance of the song comes not from the radio but television – as far as I know the footage of this song from ‘Top Of The Pops’ no longer exists so it’s a nice addition to the set (not least because its sound is so much clearer than any of the other tracks here). Then again, why were the band playing this song on TOTP at all? It was never released in the UK as a single (or America for that matter – although it was a #1 hit in New Zealand for some reason!) so why were they plugging it on a singles chart show? The date of March 1971 also seems oddly late in the day (the album came out in November 1970 and the song was recorded as long ago as May that year), making this selection a puzzle all round. By this time of course Graham Nash has moved on to CSN and the excellent Terry Sylvester has taken his place and his clear note-perfect harmony part is the highlight of the recording. Everyone else sounds a little unhinged, especially Bobby’s curiously noisy drumming, while Tony Hicks’ guitar solo on his own song is a pale shadow of the superb Spanish guitar part he plays on the record. Still even in such a raw and ragged state ‘Too Young To Be Married’ sounds like a marvellous song and for once the running order makes perfect sense (this song is basically a less flippant re-write of ‘Window’ which takes pains to paint the misery of the teenage couple with young children rather than just notice them and move on to someone else). In all, it’s a shame that there aren’t more recordings here from this early 70s period, which I personally rate as the time when the band were at their pioneering, unique best as a kind of barbershop protest rock and roll group. If you even vaguely like the song, though, please look out for the ‘proper’ version – preferably by buying the ‘Confessions’ album which is one of The Hollies’ masterpieces.
‘I’m Alive’ is the Hollies’ sole #1 of their ‘original’ releases (OK c lever clogs, ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ made #1 in 1988 but only because of a beer commercial) – being the band’s 8th single - and its no surprise because everything about this record works: The Hollies might not have written it but they are the perfect band to do this song. Full of Hollie contrasts from doom and despair to irrepressible joy, this may well be the Hollies record, with great performances from all the band (especially the echo on Elliott’s excellent drum work, which all but express the narrator’s doubts and joy in sound). This BBC version sounds pretty super too, with the band’s recording just 19 days old at this point, and a clearer mix than usual which really lets us hear the bass, drum and twin guitar parts (this is one of the few times in the BBC setlist where Nash plays rhythm). Clarke’s vocal is stupendous, living the song from low point to high, Hicks replicates his tricky guitar solo effortlessly and the harmonies are the icing on a sumptuous cake. If only all the Hollies’ BBC sessions had sounded more like this they might have had more #1s. I’d still take the single version over this one, I think, but never has ‘I’m Alive’ sounded more, erm, ‘alive’.
We’re heading into the home straight now with ‘The Games We Play’, the second of the surprisingly salacious Hollies songs from the summer of loved which originally appeared on their ‘Evolution’ album that year (see review no 11). The Top Gear session the band are playing in October is clearly meant to promote the ‘Butterfly’ album out that week, so why the band turn to this song from Feb-March that year is a mystery – especially given that, to my knowledge, this song was never played by the band again. Perhaps that explains why this is such a mess, with the band all over the place and playing this song more like early rough and ready Merseybeat than the psychedelic masterclass that’s on the record. Amazingly all the parts of this tricky song are in place, even the brass parts, although there’s an added ‘cowbell’ bit of percussion (making this song sound more Beatlesy than ever before) and a guitar part that carries on throughout instead of appearing simply at key moments in the song. The harmonies still sound great, though, and Clarke for one is having fun with this song which is clearly about sex and hiding the fact from the in-laws (this song even made our list of ‘five songs we’re amazed never got a ban’ in News and Views no 91). Just listen to the broad scouse accent he adopts for the opening line ‘Well aah’ve ‘erd yur muth-er say...’). Unlike ‘Step Inside’ though (another song that made that top five!) there’s no censored lyric this time around.
Finally, ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’ is such an epic song that’s been heard on radio so many times that everyone assumes it must have been the band’s biggest hit. Actually it wasn’t, not the first time round – its showing of #3 actually made it the band’s biggest flop in a couple of records (shockingly the inane ‘Sorry Suzanne’ – the one truly awful Hollies single out of their run of brilliant or near-brilliant 52 A sides - sold more copies first time around!) Great as the record is, with Allan Clarke never better, it’s a song that’s crying out for a studio setting and should never have been attempted live. The band get away with the lack of orchestra by using a ‘tape’ and in addition this TOTP version has the record’s harmonica break (a shame because we’ve already heard across this set what a great player Clarke was live in the studio). That leaves just Clarke’s vocal and Elliott’s rather unsubtle drumming to enjoy – good enough for the TV show I’m sure but not good enough for this album. Where is the brilliant TOTP live version of ‘Curly Billy’ from a couple of years later instead? (it knocks spots off the single version!) You can hear the choir a bit better on the long fade of the song, but even that’s just a quirk of the mix by whichever engineer was playing this record back in the TOTP studios – it’s not really a new ‘performance’ vocals and drums aside. The song incidentally was recorded for the single four months earlier although it’s only just been released as a single the week before this TOTP recording – note the longer time bands get in the late 60s between recording and releasing their magnum opuses as the record label’s get more and more involved with promoting singles. Different enough to be interesting, if you’re buying this set simply because of the well known songs, its still a bit of a shame to end the set on such a money-grabbing money-spinning way.
Still, lets’ not let that overshadow our enjoyment of a set that’s been a long time in the asking (rumour was it would follow ‘Hollies Rarities’ into the shops in the late 80s – what has happened to a second volume of that set by the way?!) and features a lot more surprises (and a much longer running order) than I was expecting. The Hollies sound ragged here more often than they sound magnificent, but the chance to hear two new songs, one old song with a completely different lyric and live versions of dozens of songs that we’ve never heard any other way before now is still a cause for celebration. Sure not all the performances are great and I personally think the decision to put these songs on the album out of sequence and cut off the chat and even some of the opening notes is no less a crime than tampering with history (this set will certainly never replace my bootlegs of the ‘complete’ BBC tapes - also on Youtube - even if there’s a good half of the album here that’s never crept out of the archives before now). But when this set is good its amazing: ‘Wings’ takes flight like never before; ‘Shake’ is vintage Hollies unavailable on record before and versions of songs like ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ and Something’s Got A Hold On Me’ actually achieve the impossible and improve on the album versions. If you love The Hollies as much as I do then you’ll adore this set – and if you don’t know The Hollies then this should be your second purchase (after EMI’s even better ‘Clarke-Hiucks-Nash Years’ set last year). I’ve waited so long for what was effectively my ‘first band’ to come back into fashion again – and I’m oh so pleased that The Hollies’ recent renaissance in the public eye shows no signs of slowing down now.