Monday 23 June 2014

"Big Brother and the Holding Company" (1967) (Album Review)

You can read more in 'Little Girl Blue - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Janis Joplin' available to buy now in e-book form by clicking here

"Big Brother And The Holding Company" (1967)

Bye Bye Baby/Easy Rider/Intruder/Light Is Faster Than Sound/Call On Me//Women Is Losers/Blindman/Down On Me/Caterpillar/All Is Loneliness

You've never seen a crowd this big. What could be scarier than a crowd this big? A crowd whose never heard of you (you've never had a record out, after all - some of the guys here have been recording for decades) and are patiently waiting for Country Joe and the Fish to come on next, that's who. What's worse, there's all those guys whose music you've been singing along to for the past five years all backstage and adore, busy chatting away to each other, taking a break while an 'unknown' band walk on stage. You have to do something special to make this foreign crowd your crowd and to make sure they all know your name by the end of it. Most bands would crumble, or stumble, or run away. But this is Big Brother and the Holding Company, a band with a short but already turbulent history that's all been leading them to this point in time. After way too many false-starts for one review they finally know where they're going and have a captive audience all ready to help them get there. Ladies and gents, we give you four gentlemen and one great, great broad - Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company...

Bassist Peter Albin and guitarist Sam Andrew had formed the group in 1965, slowly adding members throughout the next year or so (second guitarist James Gurley next, then drummer David Getz), gradually growing by word of mouth to the point where they became the 'House Band' at the Avalon Ballroom (the same venue where the band will be taped during a riotous night in 1968 for an album released way in the future, half a lifetime away, in 1998). The music had already clicked with Avalon patrons: the band had a growing word-of-mouth reputation as the loudest, earthiest rock and roll group in America at the time and on the basis of the tapes that have survived, I'm not going to argue. Local papers in need of a newspaper quote on rock bands were already calling Big Brother up - probably only when the Grateful Dead weren't in, but even so Big Brother had done well in their first year, building a reputation that someone simply had to give them a record contract at one time or another. Only one thing was missing: a 'proper' full-time lead singer (Sam Andrew with his gutsy, gutteral drawl had been doing most of the vocal work up till that point). Their 'manager' (read 'entrepreneur' who'd noticed how well the band had been doing at the Ballroom) Chet Helms had heard from a contact with the 'hip' but already fading group '13th Floor Elevators' about a Texas chick who'd escaped her strict Texan upbringing to run away to San Francisco and decided no harm would come of pairing her up with the band and seeing if any 'magic' happened.

Janis Joplin hadn't been having an easy time of it. Ridiculed by her peers for 'singing like a boy'  and - shock horror - daring to do stuff like 'walk around college campus barefoot' which good old fashioned girls didn't do, she inevitably ended up running away from her old stuffy life into the arms of the San Francisco night scene. What most fans don't realise, though, was that to all intents and purposes this first time away from home 'failed': still trying to be a folk singer in bands who thought her too powerful, Janis ended up broke and with an amphetamine tablet. Despite knowing how much she hated her home, Janis' friends did a very brave and courageous thing: they got in contact with Mr and Mrs Joplin, held a party to raise the bus fare and sent her home. Janis got the inevitable ticking off and vowed to give up all her dreams - enrolling on a nice course at a nice university and behaving like another society beauty of the day (yes of course Janis was beautiful - just look at those eyes for goodness sake!)  Bravely, Janis fought it out for a few months, perhaps a year - long enough to stop her parents being quite so concerned anyway. But Janis had continued to play the guitar at Lamar University (near to her Port Arthur home in Beaumont) and, encouraged by the reception of her fellow students decided to have one last chance at fulfilling her dreams.

At first, neither band nor singer thought they'd found the perfect match - this was a union out of necessity, not out of love. Janis already had a powerful voice but she'd been using it mostly on folksongs up until that time (check out the toughest version of 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles' you'll ever hear on Janis' posthumous 'Typewriter Tapes' and the 'Janis' box set of 1993). Big Brother, unused to having a 'proper' vocalist onstage who wasn't half-concentrating on playing the guitar at the same time didn't know what to do (Sam Andrew admits apologetically today that they probably played too 'loudly' - although by forcing Janis to 'sing up' they may actually have helped her develop her distinctive style). Strange as it seems to think of it now, but Janis was still a 'conventional' musician suddenly thrust in the middle of what must have seemed to her like a 'madhouse' (That's the impression you get from reading her letters home anyway, emotionally compiled by her sister Laura into the very moving 'Love, Janis' part autobiography/part letter fest, long after her death) and it took her a good year to 'connect' with the band and become one of them. In truth she was only half there when Big Brother and the Holding Company won their recording contract to make this album - one that came just when they needed it in financial terms, in December 1966, when the band had virtually no money (the Ballroom didn't pay enough for five mouths to feed). Unfortunately for posterity, that contract came just a fraction too early, when the band were still getting used to one another and working out what they had to offer that other bands simply didn't possess.

Having been sat on for some eight months (at a time when music was changing almost by the hour this seems a suicidal move), that debut album 'Big Brother and the Holding Company' couldn't have been released at a better time: the group had been the talking point of everyone who'd been at the Monterey Pop Festival that June and at the time there was no other product to buy: not even a single. Add in the fact that August 1967 was the perfect month for something 'new' and 'big' to happen (in AAA terms this album feats neatly in between The Beatles' June release 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band' and Pink Floyd's legendary September debut 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn') and you have what looks on paper like a guaranteed gold record. So why is this album easily the hardest of Janis' sadly short discography of four 'proper' albums to find, even today? And why have so very few of these album tracks been recycled on the many Janis Joplin compilations released to date (even the three-hour 3 CD 1993 box set 'Janis' contains only four of them - and not the four I'd have chosen! - despite having only four 'proper' albums to choose from)?

Well, the problem is, this first 'proper' album by either Janis Joplin or Big Brother and the Holding Company is probably not what you're expecting now - and certainly the fans who'd been raving about nothing else for two whole months since Monterey expected then. At Monterey Janis had owned the stage, singing with a confidence and skill that allowed her to destroy most of the famous names at the event and already meant she'd sang on what many considered the 'definitive' versions of blues songs written decades before she was born. By comparison this record is timid, seemingly afraid of allowing any glimpses of the 'new' sound of San Franciscan acid rock out of its cage and into the wide world and desperate to conform with what the world already knew (not a word one will ever associate with Janis Joplin again!). In other words, this sounds like a record from 1965, at most early 1966, when the new and the bold and dangerous were still being glimpsed at instead of placed upfront and proud - another 'Jefferson Airplane Takes Off' rather than a 'Surrealistic Pillow' (to be fair this album and companion on-album single 'Coo Coo/The Last Time' - was recorded in three rushed days not in the summer of love but in the cold December of 1966; although that said it's worth pointing out that the very same week across the pond The Beatles were busy on 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane'). As a result, however good many of the songs are, this debut ultimately winds up being a minor (though by no means terrible) release from a band everyone were expecting to be the next best thing and that fact has left a slightly puzzled and confused air to reign over this record ever since.

To be fair, even the band were surprised at how the album turned out. It's tempting to blame this record on producer Bob Shad and the engineers (who guitarist Sam Andrew, in his informative sleeve-notes, remembered had no clue how to record rock groups after years working with jazz musicians and who kept ordering the band to 'turn their amplifiers' down). They, surely, must have known that to treat Big Brother the way of every band was going to rob them of their 'natural' gifts that had already kept audiences enthralled by December 1966. Yet  Shad had signed the band while out looking for exactly their sort of music in San Francisco (he was clearly enthusiastic about the band, too, rather than simply after a money-spinner: he actually bothered to go back a second time when their first manager Chet Helms turned him down without asking his clients). The band too - while novices - weren't entering into the kind of uncertain, unknown world that had awaited the Airplane while making their debut earlier in the year (and while not the strongest seller either, it did better than either band or record label had hoped).

What seems to have happened is a bit of a misunderstanding, mixed with nerves. Big Brother's biggest selling point - apart from the sheer power of Janis' vocals - was their wonderful ramshackle nature, that exhilarating feeling that one of their songs could go belly up any moment because the band were living on the edge and never daring to take it safe. With so much resting on a first record they deliberately toned that element of their sound down and even went to the unheard of lengths of rehearsing over and over before the recording dates. The band also threw out any of their material with a hint of controversy away in favour of their simpler, more obvious 'pop' songs - even returning to an abandoned 'children's record' concept that Peter and Sam had talked about years before the group had come together (sadly 'Caterpillar' is the only song to have survived from it!) Frustratingly, the band already had 'Ball and Chain' and a killer arrangement of 'The Hall Of The Mountain King' in their setlist, as the 1966 live compilation 'The Lost Tapes' (released in 2008) demonstrates: this album would have been so much better with just a hint of that power and magic and undoubtedly that was what Bob Shad was after when he signed the band, but as it is Janis sounds muted and Big Brother simply sound like any other competent American band of the era, rather than one of its best.
Had Janis recorded this album later in her career, she's had have undoubtedly done it better. While a good 90% of music fans simply consider her a powerful shrieker (albeit often a good one), what I think makes Janis' work special is the nuances in her vocals - it's when she chooses to shriek at full power that counts and her control of dynamics (especially on next album 'Cheap Thrills') is one of the best in the business. This album contains songs that, by and large, call less for her normal power and more for her control and should by rights be marvellous - but the Janis Joplin of 1966 is a very different creature to the one the world saw post-Monterey. Shyer than most people expected, almost painfully aware of what others thought of her (despite a determination not to be restricted by others), she's still trying out her persona here and for now it sounds like a coat she's wearing, no different to the folk singing she did in her early days (Janis would have been a great folk singer too in time). If you ever wanted to hear what a nervous Janis Joplin sounded like, simply play this record (especially the three songs recorded the first day, December 12th 1966: 'Caterpillar' Easy Rider' and 'All Is Loneliness') - Big Brother leave a lot of space to fill, even more than on 'Cheap Thrills', but hard as she often tries Janis isn't up to filling it yet because she isn't living' the songs. That said, you can already hear Janis starting to realise that she's actually good at this and that the evidence has transferred itself to tape - despite what grimaces the engineers might have giving the band - and her vocals are much more confident by the last session on December 14th. Had the band had time to go back in and re-record this album the following week it may have been very different.

Now that the dust has settled, though, with the album 47 years old at the time of writing, it's easy to appreciate how 'different' 'Big Brother and the Holding Company' is, even for an artists who never recorded the same sort of album twice. Looked at through the eyes of a new band nobody outside San Francisco had heard about yet (rather than one that had been talked about endlessly for two months - what a shame Columbia didn't release this album earlier in the year, say Spring 1967, a climate it would have suited better) there's much to enjoy. No other band had quite the mixture of styles that Big Brother did: instead of one lead guitar Big Brother had two and when both Sam Andrew and James Gurley mesh (as on 'Intruder' and 'Light Is Faster Than Sound') they already sound like no other band of their era (when lead and rhythm guitar was the norm). Peter Albin may have scared the engineers by pushing every recording into the red, but even diluted he gets a fatter sound than anyone except perhaps the Airplane's Jack Casady had managed at the time. Perhaps worried about playing anything too intricate and as nervous as the rest of the band, Dave Getz keeps his drumming simpler (in comparison to 'Cheap Thrills' anyway) which gives this album a tougher, garage rock sound even when the two guitarists are heading off somewhere else entirely. Janis, meanwhile, has learnt to mix folk with the blues, approaching these songs quite differently to how most other singers would approach them even back then: making what's largely in compositional terms a straightforward 'op' album into something tougher, even if her vocals are still at half-power for now. That said, not everything here is pop by any means and, impressively still for a debut at the time, the band write seven of the ten songs, none of them anything like each other. Albin's two compositions alone range from the raucous range of psychedelia to pure childhood novelty: at the time only Country Joe and the Fish had found a similar link between glorious exploration and childhood silliness, 'Down On Me' is heavy rock before there properly was such a term and 'Call On Me' is Motown (had you not known what either Janis or Diana Ross sounded like back in 1967 or what the colour of their skin was - which you probably didn't if you lived outside America - would you have guessed which one had which voice?) Ultimately, though, Sam Andrew is right in his sleeve-notes when he records that the band sound 'sweet and innocent' on this LP, even though they weren't on stage even back then.

There's no getting away from it, though: interesting as this record may be, both in the face of what both Janis and Big Brother go on to do and in terms of how few other records like this one there were around in August 1967, there's very little that's memorable. The guitarists have been told to turn their guitars down just that little bit too much, the mix separates the band just a little too much and somehow nothing quite catches fire. Well, almost nothing: this studio version of traditional song 'Down On Me' doesn't compare to the gloriously ragged stop-start epics the song will become, but it's clearly the right way to go. Janis sounds comfortable here in a way that she doesn't singing 'I'm a caterpillar crawling for your love' or the sheer music hall of 'Bye Bye Baby' and is 'living' a song that clearly means a lot to her (the true writing credit is 'traditional', nobody quite knowing who the author of this 1920s blues song is, but Janis 'borrowed' the tune and re-wrote most of the words anyway). Although I'd take the Monterey performance of the song anyday (it's the only song from this album the band performed that night, despite the fact that it's the album they were in effect 'plugging', speaks volumes about what the band thought about the record afterwards) it's by far the best thing on the record, light years ahead of the rest. 'Light Is Faster Than Sound' is the second best, Peter Albin's song trying to teach the audience at home lyrically about psychedelia even though the music has clearly been watered down for the listeners at home to the point where it almost sounds conventional; still, listeners who hadn't already been 'turned on' before this album would no doubt have felt a shiver of something new and exciting over the horizon. Janis' 'Woman Is Losers' is quite a daring song for the age too, a feminist anthem with a funky beat that even gets a risque sex reference in there somewhere ('men always seem to wind up on top!', sung with a knowing wink), even if the band haven't quite got the swing they need to perfect it just yet. Frankly the rest of the album is nowhere close: the songs are either mis-cast ('Bye Bye Baby'), silly ('Caterpillar'), foot-draggingly slow ('Call On Me') or simply don't quite hit the groove (the rest). Note too that not one song breaks the three minute barrier, at a time when the Dead had already released the ten minute 'Viola Lee Blues' on their debut record. Perhaps the main problem is that this record isn't 'exciting', despite what both the typically pompous sleeve-notes on the back cover (even if they got this album's unexpected eclecticism' spot on) and any concerts of the time would have promised and nor does it put 'hard, earthy, emotional music' at the 'forefront' of  the music business as promised either - instead the only real emotion heard here is nerves.

Ah well, you can easily understand why - three hurried days recording for a band who've never been inside a studio before and are miles away from home in a scary looking Los Angeles is not the best way to make your first record. Nor is getting some unsympathetic engineers without experience of rock and roll in to work and tut-tut whenever they can (at least the Airplane has Jerry Garcia when making their second record). Given the circumstances, it's amazing that as much of what will become 'the' Big Brother sound made it onto tape at all. Perhaps the best thing you can say about this record is that Big Brother learnt from it  - and learnt fast. Second album 'Cheap Thrills' sounds like it was made by a different band entirely, one who know exactly where they're going and have so much to say that they don't care what it takes to say it: fiery solos, lengthy playing times, old blue songs, live-studio hybrids: whatever it takes to get 'that' sound on record intact. 'Big Brother and the Holding Company' may not be a great record in its own right, but it's an often fascinating one for hearing where that sound came from - and all the other directions the band might have gone in. Would we still have been talking about this record without Monterey and all the stories that came after it? probably not - but equally, without this album and the lessons learnt from it we might never have had that legendary Monterey set. Buy this one if you're a curious fan who wants to know where their favourite singer started (give or take some folk recordings published after Janis' death anyway) - but I would heartily recommend the many 'Big Brother' live recordings that came out posthumously in the 1990s and 2000s over this record, which is best treated as a 'sampler' record for the delights to come. If you were there at the time, of course, and bought this album in the wake of that Monterey performance then, well, it's up to you whether it's worth getting out of the loft or buying on CD: by trying to sound like what's come before instead of what's to be, it hasn't aged as well as any of Janis' - or Big Brother's - records from the rest of the decade. As a document of the band 'before' they were famous (even if most people bought it 'after') 'Big Brother and the Holding Company' is a fascinating document of how the band must have sounded when no one outside the Avalon Ballroom knew their name (if you compensate by turning the bass up anyway!) Please note, by the way, that we won't be reviewing contemporary single 'Coo Coo'/The Last Time' as part of this review - technically speaking it never has been part of the album even if pretty much all of the CD -reissues of this album have included it. Fear not, though: sometime in the future, when we've covered all the actual AAA albums, we're planning a run-down of all the 'non-album AAA songs' including these two - and if you desperately want to know what we think then you only have to ask in the 'comments' box below!

 'Bye Bye Baby' must be the most untypical 'debut' song ever: imagine having never heard of Janis Joplin and being asked to judge her style based on this one song: part music-hall, part pop, with arguably the only narrator in the Joplin canon whose a 'winner' rather than 'loser' in life. The sound of Big Brother in the background is highly untypical too - they're playing as straight as they can (well, by their standards anyway), with a central 'cute' guitar riff that so isn't them and the power down to minimum. So why did they record such an oddball song? Chances are Janis was doing an old friend a favour. Composer Powell St John had been a friend of Janis' since long before she'd worked with Big Brother: a 'campus radical' he was quite a name back in Janis' home town of Austin Texas and was probably one of the few 'kindred spirits' Joplin met there she identified with (they were together, briefly, in the trio 'Waller Creek Boys' - the joke being that one of them was a 'girl' - before Powell left to write songs for the '13th Floor Elevators'). Could it be that this song - which cackling bids an old way of life goodbye - was her way of saying 'goodbye' not to a person but to her detested home town, with its marriage-with-kids go-to-college-and-hold-down-a-good-job motto? Sam Andrew records in his sleeve-notes for the CD re-issue of the album that this song was 'difficult to record' because it 'seemed so unlike us'. Usually we'd be thrilled that an AAA band is trying something different to their normal sound and placed later on any later Joplin LP this song might have been up to the grade - but why give the coveted opening spot of a debut album to such an uncharacteristic song? (just compare it to what some of our other bands did: in comparison 'I Saw Her Standing There' is prime early Beatles - and has there ever been a more Oasisy-moment than 'Rock and Roll Star'?) The song isn't bad, just mis-cast (sadly the 13th Floor Eleevators never did do this one, but it's right up their street) and putting it in pride of place at the start of the album seems perverse somehow. The CD re-issue of this album includes an alternate take of the song that's much better, if only for having Janis sing solo all the way through instead of being partly double-tracked!

'Easy Rider' is slightly better. Guitarist James Gurley has come up with the kind of thing most record companies would jump at: a novelty song that manages to combine current 'hip' references with a silly, daft tune that clearly isn't going to subvert minds (there's even the same sort of 'stomping beat' the early Monkees will make their own). Of course nowadays when anybody mentions 'Easy Rider' they think of that film and those motorbikes, but 'Easy Rider' has none of the god time bonhomie of film or soundtrack. Instead it's a puzzle of a song that seems to consist of in-jokes: again the kind of thing  that's fun with established bands but not as the second song on a debut album. The 'easy rider' of the title might be a motorbike rider for all we know - but we never find out why he's asked 'not to deny my name' by the narrator, what his relationship is to the girl in the second verse who 'knows how to shake that thing' is (typically for this schizophrenic album, the band will be offering the rather closer idea of gender roles in the community with 'Women Is Losers' just four songs later) and - most confusingly - why his horse 'lives in a tree, watching Huckleberry Hound on his TV' (perhaps he just gets a better reception up there? Personally if I had to compare Big Brother to a band it would be the anarchic gang mentality of 'Top Cat', not the comparatively law-abiding 'Clementine' singing canine sheriff, but then that's horses for you - no accounting for taste). As you can probably tell, this is a very odd song, even for 1967 and the band sound distinctly uncomfortable, especially on the backing vocals (in actual fact this is a strong candidate for Janis' first professional recording  - but she doesn't get much to do and sounds like she'd much rather be anywhere else, to be honest). Gurley copes well with his own oddball lyrics (especially his sudden piercing shriek on the fade-out), but he's not a natural enough singer to pull it off successfully - again the later Big Brother would have pulled this off no problem but they don't have the confidence yet. The one part where Big Brother do sound quite at home is during the instrumental break, led by Peter Albin's bass suddenly growing in power and spirit with every run through the song's riff which isn't all that far removed from the terrific thrilling 'duel' in the middle of the next album's opener 'Combination Of The Two'. Sadly, though the song got in the way - 'oh no!'

'Intruder' is Janis' first published song and while not her best by a long way it gets closer to what's to come than most songs on this album. With a typical fiery uptempo blues riff beneath her, Janis soars for the first time on a very Rolling Stones-like song that tries to put down a lover for not being good enough. Janis doesn't quite have Mick Jagger's likeable leer yet and if any double-tracking should be banned for any singer it's her (getting all that passion once is hard - twice in sync is impossible!), but she's clearly worked hard on developing this blues persona and it's beginning to pay off. This song 'feels' like a truthful song too, even though it's not all that much more developed than the others: instead of a simple verse-chorus structure, Janis simply cuts into her thoughts with the piercing chorus 'what are you trying to prove?' every time she feels like it, giving the song an added tension and drive it wouldn't have if the chorus simply arrived on time after every verse, like a train. In which case, who is the person who tried to 'walk in my life' and yet never got close, Janis putting him down with the line 'I never even knew your name'? Is it the mysterious man (who we think is named 'Peter') who became engaged to her during her brief spell back home as a student in Port Arthur who was apparently so smitten with her singing he drove all the way to her house to ask her parents for their daughter's hand in marriage? (Definitely not the way to courting Janis Joplin!) Like 'Bye Bye Baby', Janis seems to be having fun laughing at her old way of life now that she's older and more confident in herself and the near-closing lines in this song are ominous: 'I look like I'm suffering, but now I'm doing fine' - Janis might be eating less and taking drugs more, giving her body a pallid, aged look that worried her family on their rare visits to see her (given what sister Laura Joplin writes in her book anyway), but mentally she's a lot stronger than she ever was at home: she has a new 'family', she has a vocation, she knows what to do now and how to make life work. Ultimately Janis is too nice a writer to fully give her passionate partner the kiss off, telling him that they've simply gone down two very different paths:  'I'll take care of mine, you take care of yours' is how the song ends, Janis knowing too well already that the pain of love is painful enough without being mean, whatever roar she sings the song's opening lines with. Again, it's unusual to hear one of Janis' characters being the 'kiss-ee' rather than the 'kiss-off', with 'Intruder' both closer and further away from her trademark sound than anything else on this album. The power is there - but not the way it's used yet. An interesting song.

'Light Is Faster Than Sound' is one of the album's success stories. A cyclical Peter Albin that's the closest thing to psychedelia Janis ever recorded, it's a shame this song didn't last longer in Big Brother's set-list because it sounds like it would have been a powerhouse live. Here, played for a bunch of disapproving strangers, it doesn't quite take off: the scatterbrained Sam Andrew guitar solo is still pretty revolutionary for the day but doesn't have the same angry snarl as the 'Cheap Thrills' songs and the band are tentative at going all out, as if aware that they have to get this song down compact rather than lengthy. Peter's lead vocal is terrific though, everything that was frightening to the parental generation in 1967: it's gruff, it's angry, it's sung in small bursts of staccato emotion and you can't tell what the words are! Albin, a keen photographer, may have been inspired to write this song about the very parental-approving subject of science (light is genuinely faster than sound, you see, unless the Spice Girls come on the radio when you can't turn the thing off quickly enough!) Then again, he may simply have been writing about drugs: listen out for the way the song comes across not in linear time but relating to its own laws of physics: it seems to end, fades back in again, repeats, then goes off somewhere completely new, alternating beauty and terror along the way. In short, this is a drug trip - albeit one taken in a public place, with lots of disapproving eyes watching you so you can't quite go all the way. Janis, sadly, doesn't get much to do except mouth 'so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-und' in the background, but of all the performances on the album this is one of only two where Big Brother sound like a proper bona fide 'band' (sample story: at least one take of this song had to be discarded because the band started laughing at the faces Albin was pulling during the noisy 'bridge' section: the engineers were doubtless  disgusted, but at least the band only had two other songs to record that day, the last of the sessions).

'Call On Me' is Sam Andrew's first published song and again, like much of the album, it sounds like it belongs on an entirely different album. A drippy 1950s-style ballad that's as conventional as they come, it would have sounded fine in another band's hands (Otis Redding would have cut a nice version of this song, actually) but Big Brother don't quite know how to handle it and spend most of the song audibly concentrating on keeping the power down. Sample lyric: I need you darling like fish need the sea - don't take your sweet love away from me'. Yawn. The original intention - and the first arrangement of the song live - had been for Sam and Janis to alternate lines, which would at least have spruced things up a bit. As it is Janis tries hard to keep on the straight and narrow on a song that's simply too 'soft' and slow for her. Not one of her better performances, you get the sense that this narrator hasn't even noticed the guy trying to chat her up and certainly isn't likely to call him up (she's probably 'lost' his number down the back of the sofa by the end of the song). To be fair I can understand why this song is here: both producer and engineers were no doubting harassing the band for something 'normal' other people might want to cover and like a lot of early songs by later brilliant writers 'Call On Me' sounds like a talented writer struggling to write down to a level he knows other people will understand. Even, so, this song is a strong candidate for the worst song on a Janis Joplin record. Thankfully, better is yet to come. The CD includes an alternate take of the same song that's even rougher and more tentative than the first, although at least you get to hear Janis singing solo instead of being swamped by Sam's gruffer voice.

'Women Is Losers' is much better, Big Brother having latched on to the fact that what they probably do best is updating old blues songs for a contemporary up-tempo sound. Janis sounds like Janis for the first real time in her career and punctuates her own song with some very soul-style whoops and yells. Big Brother, too, have worked out that playing in tandem gives them a 'bigger' attack - getting both guitarists, bass and drums to hammer home the same riff while Janis shrieks overhead is a template they're going to be using often in the rest of their short time together. Sam's short, shrieking guitar solo, too, is a sign of things to come, getting dangerously deranged just right at the very end before 'catching' the song and returning back to base (a very clever and very typical trick!) I'm impressed, too, that the powers that be let Big Brother record such a risque song: understandably Janis wasn't allowed to use her preferred title 'Whores Are Funky' but there aren't many other punches she doesn't pull back in an age when feminism was at-best a work in progress: 'They wear a nice shiny armour - until there's a dragon to slay' and 'if they don't desert you, they'll just leave you'. Janis slips in a few, err, winks to her audience too, as she complains about a man always 'being on top' and that a woman ought to have more control because she can get them 'begging to pay' for their services (Janis learnt the song, whose melody is taken from an old blues song in her Port Arthur days but added the lyrics over time - you doubt she got the lines about prostitution from her days back home, somehow!) Again, it's a shame that this song didn't last longer in Big Brother's set-lists: it has a real stomp and menace to it even without Janis soaring over the top of it and Sam Andrew's sleeve-notes add that the band had built up 'three different arrangements' for the song, suggesting they spent a lot of time on it. Another album highlight which, unlike most of the album, points to the future not the past.

'Blindman' is a group composition that has a cracking haunting Byrds-like tune (and jangly Roger McGuinn style guitar) and some lyrics that try hard but don't quite deliver. To the best of my knowledge 'Blindman' is the only 'protest song Big Brother ever wrote and you can kind of tell why: the single line 'Blindman stood on the way and cried 'show me the way to go home!' is repeated (with a few variations) throughout the rest of the song and its' not exactly poetry is it? Still, Big Brother put in another strong performance here and  already have their future impressive use of dynamics down pat: this song sounds all the stronger for the verses trailing off into a gentle guitar flurry and sudden silence before being whacked awake again by a particularly on-form Dave Getz. Apparently this was another 'traditional' song, a spiritual even, that the band re-dressed and offered a new home to - arguably more people know it from Big Brother nowadays than the original! It's the sort of thing that might have appeared on the first Jefferson Airplane album: it's very much folk played by an electric band with a growing awareness of psychedelia, rather than the 'heavy' blues-rock the band will be known for later.

'Down On Me' is the other masterpiece here. The one song from the album that did last in the band's setlist (they'd already given up playing everything else by the time it came out!) it's another fumbling performance of a style that Big Brother will soon be doing in their sleep. A stop-start Janis Joplin song full of righteous indignation at people sitting in ivory towers looking down at everyone around them, it's clearly the most 'right' song here, even if the band arguably need another take of the song to truly master. In truth, it's another 'old' song that got re-written, a gospel song from the 1920s that Janis put slightly different words to and updated on behalf of the 'hippie' generation. The Big Brother equivalent of the Airplane's '3/5ths of a Mile in Ten Seconds' ('Do away with people laughing at my hair!'), what's impressive about this song is that despite Janis' power at heart this is still a love song - she urges us to 'believe in your brother, have faith in man' and when you see a hand held out towards you to 'give it some love - one day it might be you!' There's a second theme creeping in that will soon become Janis' central dialogue with her audience too: 'Love in this world - so hard to find' she sighs, lashing out at the 'I've got mine' mentality she sees all around her, when what she really wants is for everyone to be in love with the partners they need and deserve. That's not what the audience takes away from the song, though: it's the angry, snarling defensive response to the idea that the whole world is 'down on me' simply for being different. An impressive song for any band, the fact that Big Brother managed to get this one down on tape despite the uncomfortable circumstances is one of their greatest success stories and even if the performance is a bit tentative and rough compared to what's to come (there are no 'Big Brother' answering vocals as per most live recordings of it, for example) Janis' charisma still comes over strong.

'Caterpillar' is the joker on the album, a silly song that knows it's being silly. The sort of thing that would have made for a fun B-side sounds rather out-of-place here, even if the band attack it with more vigour than almost anything else on the album. Writer Peter Albin, who very much seems to be the lead Big Brother composer on this album, came out of an early 'meeting' with Sam Andrew when the pair proposed going globe-trotting as a sort of children's troupe singing novelty songs with a guitar. On this evidence they'd have done quite well, having a good feel for the genre (the narrator's metaphors for his love include a caterpillar, butterfly, pterodactyl, abominable snowman and a chimpanzee, the song getting stranger with each verse!) Albin's best lead vocal on the album suggests that the humour of this song is where his heart lies and the rest of the band really get 'into' this song too: Janis is the perfect back-up vocalist, passionately roaring through the song but not in such a way it distracts from the lead, the guitars turn in a  real Beach Boys-style surfer stomp and Getz excels on the song's twisty turns and sudden stops. It's a shame actually the band didn't more songs like 'Caterpillar' - although at the same time this song is so far removed from what fans must have been expecting from this album post-Monterey you can almost hear the confusion etched into the record's grooves at this point.

The album the ends with its most downbeat moment. Loneliness - and ways to fight it - is a key theme for the later Janis Joplin, but here Louis Thomas Hardin's 'round' of a song is sung by the whole band, to which they all sound detached and rather resigned. The composer of this song is what you might call a 'colourful figure' - his Wikipedia page has a picture of him dressed up as Norse God Odin, in a cloak and Viking helmet- who would have been better known to the band as 'Moondog', a blind musician who lived on the streets of New York (out of choice) for 20 odd years (my sources tell me he was a regular busker on the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue Manhattan).  A trained classical composer who specialised in 'street' poems (ie songs that used sound effects of passing cars, sirens, etc), 'Loneliness' is one of his few straightforward compositions. To my ears, it's the sort of song that was composed late at night when New York was still and empty, rather than his usual style when the city was 'buzzing' and 'full', with a night of sheer nothingness ahead. The central line of 'loneliness is for me' gets taken up by the band one by one, as if echoing off the empty streets and pavements while Sam turns in an angry, repetitive guitar lick that burbles underneath for most for the song, imitating the passive, uncaring crowds. The result is unsettling and more than a little eerie, especially the fade-out where the instruments suddenly fade-away without warning, leaving the vocals to continue on for a split-second before they too disappear abruptly, leaving the listener dangling. The result is a simple song that conjures up a lot of images, but again it's a shame that Big Brother didn't maintain this song in their set-lists or re-record it because a version of this song with their later power and confidence would sound better yet. This recording still sounds tentative and unsure somehow, perhaps because it was one of three songs they recorded on their first ever day inside a recording studio.

'Big Brother and The Holding Company', then, isn't a bad debut. Given how early on in the band's lifespan it came and how nerve-inducing the circumstances of making it were it's amazing as much of the 'Big Brother' sound made it to tape as it did. By their standards the band are on nervy auto-pilot, afraid to go all out and record something deemed 'unsuitable', but at the same time little nuggets of their future power and glory shine through: the words of 'Women Is Losers', the heavy stomp of 'Down On Me', the surreal quality of 'All Is Loneliness', the style of 'Light Is Faster Than Sound', the best of Janis' powerful vocals. The only way you could really be disappointed with this LP is if you came to it after seeing or hearing Big Brother at their legendary best; unfortunately, that's how everyone except a few small Avalon Ballroom attendees came across the band after that powerhouse Monterey performance when Big Brother had re-written not only their own future but how the San Francisco music scene was seen. By then Big Brother and especially Janis were stars: here they're a group only a few people believe in and even the band members aren't truly certain yet where they're going, with Janis very much just 'one of' the stars of the band, taking lead vocal on only four of the ten songs here (the 'featuring Janis Joplin' legend stamped on the front cover must surely have come about only after Monterey when the singer, more than the band, became a household name). Had this album come out months earlier, with 'Cheap Thrills' hot on its heels rather than a year ahead (the band already had half the album's songs in their setlist by Monterey and period performances), 'Big Brother' would surely have been better loved: an interesting portrait of a band who are clearly going places and yet in sonic terms have barely left their front door. 


'Big Brother And The Holding Company' (1967)

'Cheap Thrills' (1968)

'I Got Dem Ol' Kozmik Blues Again Mama!' (1969)

'Pearl' (1970)
Non-Album Songs 1963-1970
Surviving TV Clips 1967-1970
Live/Compilation/Outtakes Sets 1965-1970

Essay: Little Pearl Blue – Who Was The Real Janis?

The Hollies Rarities II: The Best Unreleased Recordings (News, Views and Music Issue 250, Top Thirty-Three-And-A-Third)

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

Dear all, we're back with the fourth in our series of 'things that we know exist but haven't been released yet even though they should because they're blooming good' - or 'Hollies: Rarities II' in honour of the excellent compilation EMI put out in 1988 (in the wake of the 'He Ain't Heavy' re-issue getting to #1). We've decided to go with The Hollies this week because their sessions are probably the best organised of any AAA band outside the Beatles - Abbey Road loved their paperwork and apart from a short spell in 1976 at AIR and a slightly longer spell for the Graham Nash reunion album in 1983, the Hollies recorded at Abbey Road their whole career long. There's plenty to get through, compiled by us in rough chronological order, so here we go!....

CD One:

1) Searchin' (Pop Go The Beatles BBC 1963)

The Hollies' first radio appearance in August 1963 inevitably got overshadowed by the fact that The Beatles had just got their own series. To be honest, though, The Hollies are the stars of the show, outpacing a rather fatigued sounding fab four with their usual energy and excitement i their early period (before they in turn get fatigued around 1965). Searchin' was their second single and sounds a little looser in this form, with a more basic guitar 'waddle' holding the song together. Like the many other BBC selections listed here, for some reason it was passed over when EMI compiled the Hollies' BBC set 'Radio Fun' in 2012.

2) Stay (BBC 1964)

Ditto their third single, which was taken at a slightly slower lick and actually sounds closer here to the Maurice William and the Zodiacs original, especially Allan Clarke's unexpected falsetto! Bobby Elliott had only been in the band a matter of weeks when this show was recorded and by his standards he's tentative and cautious, instead of exploding the drums the way he does on the studio version. Again, why was this comparatively different recording passed over for the later tracks on the 'Radio Fun' collection that sound near identical to the records?

3) Nitty Gritty-Something's Got A Hold On Me (BBC 1964)

'Radio Fun' did include an inferior version of 'Something's Got A Hold On Me', but this slightly earlier recording (heard, like the version on the band's second record, in a medley with 'Nitty Gritty) is much more fun. The band aren't quite as on the ball as they are on the finished recording, but it's great to hear The Hollies this raw and sloppy and they reach a real head of steam by the medley's end. In our fictional compilation we've also kept intact the opening chat, where Bobby Elliott announces the song as 'One of our more classical numbers...Nitty Gritty!'

4) Keep Off That Friend Of Mine (BBC 1965)

Bobby wrote the lion's share of this B-side, which gets a real Chuck Berry type swing here as The Hollies try to busk through one of their more complex numbers of the period live. It's fascinating to hear Tony trying to play a double-tracked guitar part with one guitar and both him and Graham spreading themselves around the song to make up for the fact that they aren't double-tracked either...

5) You Know He Did (BBC 1965)

One of my favourite Hollies songs, this B-side really benefits from the rougher, tougher sound of what was effectively a live recording. Without the echo Clarke sounds even more menacing in his lead vocal as he plays the part of a narrator fooling himself that he's alright now he's alone, really he is. The arrangement differs slightly too: Bobby opens the song with a drum pattern before Tony's guitar, Clarke's harmonica kicks in at a different time and the solo is quite different, Tony firing off a very Keith Richardsy solo while Clarke tries to stick to the tune. Again, this version of 'Nobody' is classic and ever so nearly beats the finished version - so why isn't it on the band's official BBC collection?

6) You Don't Know Like I Know (Live 1966)

Alas the Hollies never did record their version of this Helen Shapiro song in the studio but they did perform it several times on their 1966 live tour. Thankfully the band were taped performing it in Sweden otherwise this energetic rendition might have been lost forever. The song really suits Clarke and Nash's shared vocals and their criss-crossing vocal-lines over each other are thrilling. The rest of the band don't sound quite so happy but, heck, it is live!

7) That's How Strong My Love Is (BBC Session 1966)

We're back to BBC sessions for the next three tracks - the 'overseas' series 'Top Of The Pops' to be exact, which despite the title is not linked to the TV show - all taken from the band's fourth album 'Would You Believe?' An Otis Redding classic, The Hollies were always a natural fit for this lovely song of devotion and Clarke puts on a particularly good show here. This version is taken at a noticeably quicker lick than the album version (Nerves?) and even though the band have clearly pre-recorded their backing vocals this time this recording is still far rougher than the finished product.

8) I Take What I Want (BBC Session 1966)

This one's better still, with the Hollies' most punk-like song taken at a roaring lick. This version differs from the album in that Tony's guitar isn't double-tracked but Allan's vocal is, which makes for a rather schizophrenic affair. The backing vocals are quite different too (instead of a sinple 'ahhhh' Tony and Graham sing 'aaaaah, uhhhhh--huhhh!') Bobby's drum solo in the middle is less frenetic than the studio recording but still remarkably impressive. The chat before the song is really revealing too - Brian Matthews tries to coerce bassist Eric Haydock into speaking but he doesn't get a chance with the others all talking over him. Graham adds that he was in the group for several months 'before Eric even said hello to us!'

9) I've Been Wrong (BBC Session 1966)

The Hollies' only group composition at this broadcast sounds even more poppy than the finished version and is carried off by Tony's strident guitarwork. The vocals aren't quite as neat in this version and the guitar solo is way off, but it's fantastic to hear The Hollies play as a real live album. Unlike most of their contemporaries they never did release a 'live' album in the sixties - and the polished 'Hollies Live Hits' from 1977 is no substitute for hearing the band as raw as this.

10) What's Wrong With The Way I Live? (Live 1966)

Not a radio version this time, but a live recording that someone taped during the Hollies' 1966 tour. This song - the opener of their fifth album 'For Certain Because' - is perfect for live concerts, having a stomping backbeat, a clap-along rhythm and a rare early appearance of Tony Hicks' banjo. This song about people putting down the youth of the day was way ahead of its time (a full year before the word 'hippie' was coined) and often gets overlooked by Hollies fans - this live version especially is a powerful statement for the day.

11) Non Prego Per Me (San Remo Song Contest 1967)

This is the Italian song we all know and love from 'Hollies Rarities' which the band entered into the San Remo Song Contest. Like many a Hollies' fan I've always wanted to know why the Hollies didn't win because the finished version (which was intended for release as a single if the band did well) is a great recording, with a great drama and tension-making build-up in the middle; who cares if you can't understand the words - this is clearly a song about love going wrong simply from the tone of Allan's deeper-than-normal voice. However, I kind of do know since audio of the Hollies' actual performance turned up on Youtube: by their standards they sound under-rehearsed and get increasingly frantic at trying to gee-up the audience by the end. Even so, it's an important moment in time and definitely deserves a release.

12) Pegasus (BBC Session 1967)

Back to the BBC sessions once again for Tony's delightful song about a horse with wings. With more effects over the opening than the version on 'Butterfly' and a far more timid vocal from Tony, this version sounds even more childlike than the finished version, but no worse for that. Interestingly, all the other 'Butterfly' era recordings made it to the 'Radio Fun' set, despite being less polished than this one (which even has the same Johnny Scott arrangement, notably rougher than the album version). There's a full ending instead of a fade-out, too.

13) Try It (Rare Mix 1967)

This one was released - but only in America, where it apparently came out by accident. 'Try It' must have been a hard song for engineers to tackle in 1967, full of curious bleeps and alien sounds. They seem to have had an 'extra' go at it with their first version passed over for 'proper' release. It contains far louder 'sound effects' than the finished version and even starts off again once the song has come to a full-stop instead of fading away as per the album version. Apparently this mix has come out on an American CD re-issue of 'Butterfly', but we can't get it in Europe except as a pricey import so I'm still counting this one as a 'rarity'. 

14) Survival Of The Fittest (Earlier Version 1967)

Alas I've never heard this one, but we know for definite it exists so here it is. 'Survival Of the Fittest' would have been part of the 1968 album the band made with Graham Nash which they never finished, although apparently they got quite far with the song. The Terry Sylvester line-up of the Hollies later released it on 'Confessions Of The Mind' where it was one of the real highlights, a classy superior pop song with words that recall the band's many 'clown' songs, with a business woman who apparently has everything hiding behind her fake smile.

15) Marrakesh Express (1968)

Equally we know that at least a backing track exists for the Hollies' attempt at what will become one of Graham Nash's key CSN songs. Allegedly the Hollies never quite 'got' this song, which was inspired by a Nash family holiday in Morocco and Graham has since recalled that this version 'sucked'. No matter, it's an important historical document - and other songs claimed to be not much cop over the years (ie 'Man With No Expressions') turned out to be genius, so there.

16) Dang Me (Unreleased/Live 1968)

Thrown by Graham's departure for CSN, the Hollies had several false starts at working out what to do next. The most interesting of these (certainly more interesting than the album of Bob Dylan covers) was a planned 'Hollies Sing Country' album. 'Louisiana Man' turned up on 'Hollies Rarities' in 1988 but we know the band recorded 'Dang Me' too. The version I do know dates from a year earlier than that, with Nash still enthusiastically on tow and a live recording from Croatia thankfully exists. Like many a Hollies' novelty song, I'm never quite sure if it's one of the best things they recorded or one of the worst, although the band seem to be having a great time on the live version, adding some nonsense backing vocals to the arrangement.

17) Help Me Brother (Live 1969)

Ditto 'Help Me Brother', which was performed by the Terry Sylvester line-up at the band's BBC2 'In Concert' show in 1969 (often repeated on BBC4 so keep an eye out for it, Hollie fans) and - I think - written and first sung by Tom Paxton (perhaps someone can write in and tell me if I'm wrong?!) Sadly the Hollies don't seem to have recorded it for an album, although they're clearly considering it for their 'country' album given the time they've taken to draw up this arrangement. For years we wondered if the session and concert lists giving this title in 1969 had simply misquoted 'He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother' (out the same year) but no: this is a whole new song I can't find referred to anywhere else and may well be a 'lost' Hollies original in the country style they were hoping to use on a full album? Tony even gets his own verses to sing and promptly fluffs them up, although newboy Terry sadly doesn't get his chance to shine just yet. Bobby's having a whale of the time on the drums though, power-housing his way through this simple song at double-quick speed.

CD Two:

18) Louisiana Man (Live With Bobby Gentry 1969)

The third song considered for a 'Hollies Sing Country' album, this one did of course find a home on Rarities. Few fans seem to know about a random TV appearance from the period that's survived though and features that song's writer Bobbie Gentry singing in tandem with Allan, Graham and Tony. The three end up getting in a bit of a mess working out when to sit down, stand up or let Bobbie sing, but this only adds to the fun!

19) Reflections Of A Long Time Past (Alternate Version 1969)

An alternate take of Bernie Calvert's lovely piano-led instrumental, first included on the 1969 album 'Hollies Sing Hollies'. Slower and with a counter-melody played by the strings which was cut from the final version. It's a shame Bernie didn't get the chance to write more songs like this one, because while the song never quite fitted on the album it's a lovely piece of music!

20) No More Snow On Heather Moor (Unreleased 1970)

This is Bernie's other 'song', another long slow loping instrumental that sounds like 'Long Time Past' with a few of the notes missing. This may have been an earlier version of 'Long Time Past' or a second song taped at the same sessions - it certainly has a similar feel, sounding not unlike a piece from a 1960s film soundtrack (it's a lot better than the music from Hollies-affiliated film 'After The Fox' for instance!)

21) Bobby's Prologue (Unreleased 1970)

For years when fans saw this piece listed amongst the early sessions for 'Confessions Of The Mind' we assumed it was a drum solo! Wecouldn't have been more wrong - in fact the Hollies' drummer is indulging his love of poetry, with extracts from his favourite writer Walter Scott. Probably best left in the can, to be honest, but at least it's preferable to the 'fake' poetry readings on Wings' 'Back To The Egg' nine years later!

22) Dear Oak Tree (Live 1971)

A sweet ballad, never committed to record but sung by the Hollies during their 1971 and rescued here from the soundtrack of an Australian music TV show given the wonderful name 'Don't Get Sunburnt!'. Given a comment Allan makes during the show about 'writing' this would suggest that 'Oak Tree' is a long lost Clarke classic that would have made a nice addition to the 'Distant Light' album.
23) Let It Be (Live 1970)
This Beatles cover comes from the same show and features a quite stunning re-arrangement of Paul McCartney's ballad for guitar and three-part harmony. The Hollies have always done themselves proud with hymn-like ballads and 'Let It Be' is a good fit for the band sound, even if the song is a tad slow. Sadly 1971 is also pretty much the last year The Hollies added any songs to their touring shows that didn't make it to official release, but they gave us a good run of unrecorded gems from about 1966 so we can't complain too much.

24) Coward By Name (Rare Allan Clarke B-Side 1972)

This rare B-side was released by Clarke solo on the back of his glorious but sadly flop single 'Who?' Like much of his second and best solo album 'Headroom' it's quite a political beast by Hollie standards and includes more of that album's digs at Christianity and pointless warfare (the cowards are not the soldiers who run away but the generals that don't fight). Not the best song Clarke ever wrote, but it deserves better than to have been tucked away on the back of a single that nobody bought and it would have been nice to see it added to either edition of the 'three-albums-on-CD' set alongside the 'Born To Run' single.

25) The Day That Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGee (TOTP 1974)

Top Of The Pops was going through one of its periodic debates over live performances v miming in 1974. The Hollies had the best of both worlds, pre-recording a backing track of guitars and basic harmonies while having Clarke sing a second lead vocal live over the top and having Bobby Elliott rattle his drums over the tape. The result is a subtly different, even more exciting take of the band's cowboy 'reunion' single, with a power and energy even the pretty-exciting-already record doesn't possess, with the drummer on especially top form. It's the equivalent of seeing a cowboy film at the cinema in 3D rather than on a beaten up TV!

26) Maureen (Unreleased 1976)

The basis for what became the B-side 'Corrine', this is an early version of the song based around the name of Tony's sister and Bobby's wife (the same person, by the way!) A fun pop song which sounds even better treated as straight-ahead Merseybeat pop as opposed to the slight reggae feel the finished version received. Would have made a nice addition to the 'Write On' album.

27) Harlequin (German TV show 1978)

I'm afraid I've forgotten which TV show this was from and can't find any reference to it anywhere on the internet, but I do know it was in Germany - the country that took to the Hollies the most. Clarke was going through his second sabbatical, taking time off to promote his fifth solo album 'I Wasn't Born Yesterday', leaving a four-piece Hollies to play in his absence. And they really do play rather than mime (well, they play over a backing tape anyway), taking this tale of an unhappy clown who comes good in the end at a slightly slower pace and giving it a more elegiac air. Terry, who takes the lead vocal as per the album, is on particularly fine form and it's a shame he didn't get more chances to sing like this on the band's many TV appearances.

28) Hard To Forget (Cancelled Single 1986)

For my money this was the Hollies' second-best single of a very troubled decade (right behind 'Too Many Hearts Get Broken'), a very synth-heavy and yet very Hollies pop song about a narrator whose both addicted and frustrated by the love of his life. There's a great version of the Hollies plugging this song on the old 'Pebble Mill At One' series, where Clarke cracks a joke about the sentiments in the song name by turning to Hicks and asking 'What is this song called again?' Alas EMI thought differently and the song was pulled at the last minute and eventually replaced by the dreary 'This Is It'. Frankly, there's no competition.

29) Hillsborough (Rare B-Side 1989)

Not unreleased, but another Hollies track still awaiting its first CD release, a rare vocal and solo writing credit for Tony Hicks. One of many songs released to commemorate the fallen 69 Liverpool FC fans who died at Hillsborough, it takes on extra poignancy given the revelations in recent years that the police were at blame not the fans and readily covered up evidence to disprove the facts ('Why must it take such hurt and pain, who are the ones who guilt and shame? Who really cares who takes the blame?')  It's odd to hear Tony's Mancunian accent singing about a Liverpudlian tragedy, but the song is undeniably heartfelt and deserved better than to remain forgotten as the B-side of 'Baby Come Back', a German-only single (its much better than the A-side too). Tony and Bobby were also part of an all-star cast that re-recorded 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' in 2012 to raise money for the 'Justice for Hillsborough' campaign.

30) Whiter Shade Of Pale (Live 1990)

The Hollies began to add a few cover songs into their set lists in the late 1980s and early 1990s that they never did record on record, just like the 1960s heyday. One of the things they did on their 1990 tour was get the audiences to nominate their 'favourite' song from the 1960s and got a few interesting choices: The Beatles' 'Misery (co-written by an un-credited Clarke and Nash!), Great Balls Of Fire and all sorts of interesting one-offs. Their heartfelt cover of Procul Harum's 'Whiter Shade Of pale' was one of their better ideas, with Clarke, Hicks and newcomer Alan Coates singing almost a capella over Tony's simple strummed guitarlines until Ian Parker's keyboard part suddenly explodes into life before the last verse. A great arrangement and the Hollies could easily have made this another 'in-concert favourite' the way they did with 'Purple Rain'.

31) King Midas In Reverse (Live 1990)

The Hollies have often played 'King Midas In Reverse' on-stage, even though with Nash gone they had no reason to keep this comparative flop single in the act. The best arrangement of it by far, though, was this simple acoustic version played on the same tour and with a simple flute part substituted for the orchestral parts. Interestingly, this used to be the only Hollies song Nash ever sang onstage with CSN (until 2012 and 'Bus Stop' anyway) where he also sang this song acoustically, but without the flute.

32) Nothing Else But Love (Rare Song 1993)

A third and final song that's rare rather than unreleased. Yet again Germany got it when the rest of the world didn't, where it was hidden away at the end of a 3 CD set celebrating the Hollies' '30th anniversary' in 1993. A Richard Marx cover that's born for the Hollies' full ballad treatment, it was taped a few days before Clarke's final single with the band, the horrid 'Woman I Love' and would have made for a much more fitting finale on his CV. It goes without saying that while the Marx original is rather treacly and cliched, The Hollies excel at finding the real emotion at the heart of the song, slowing it down a jot and taking away the worst excesses of the 1980s backing. The song deserved a much wider release but sadly was passed over for the 'Long Road Home' box-set despite the fact that the other dozen or so rarities from that set finally received a new home there.

33) Bus Stop (Clarke & Nash Live 2012)

We end by coming full circle, with Allan Clarke a surprise guest at the Manchester leg of Crosby and Nash's  European tour in 2012. Yes this isn't the best version of 'Bus Stop' ever played: Clarke's voice has faded a little and Clarke and Crosby are still uncomfortable around each other, but it's great to see that the friendship of the two Hollies founders (who met at five years old)is in a happier place than it used to be and we hope that there's another reunion between them sometime soon.

Bonus Track:

Noel's xmas presents 1994

We end with the next in our series of hidden 'bonus' tracks - snippets of speech from across a band's archives. For The Hollies we've chosen the most-talked-about moment of Noel Edmunds' short-lived 1990s series 'Christmas Presents', where people who'd done a particular service to their local community had a 'surprise' sprung on them by a nominee. Hollies fan Brian Stubbles is bemused when he comes across a film crew in his house after getting in from work and seems thrilled enough when he spots a new 'jukebox' in his living room. He adds that The Hollies are his favourite group and - hang on - wait, that couldn't be? Yes it is, The1994-era Hollies are lined up in his garden singing 'He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother' especially for him. Now that's what I call a Christmas present!

That's all from us and our Hollies compilation for another week! Tune in for next week's top thirty-three-and-a-third at the usual time when it'll be Pink Floyd's turn in the spotlight!


'Stay With The Hollies' (1964)

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

'For Certain, Because' (1966)

'Evolution' (1967)

'Butterfly' (1967)

‘Hollies Sing Hollies’ (1969)

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

'Romany' (1972)

'Out On The Road' (1973)

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

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

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

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

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