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Life at 33 1/3   By Carl Meyer


Update January 30, 2016

King Midas in Reverse

The Hollies entered the summer of love firing on all cylinders, and then Graham Nash picked the wrong single, and it all came crashing down.

(Highest position on the New Musical Express’ TOP 30 singles and TOP 10 albums in brackets.)

“On A Carousel” / “All The World Is Love” (Parlophone, R 5562), Released: February 1967 (5)

An infectious slice of fairground magic: The protagonist rides the carousel, chasing his dream girl, constantly changing horses, but not quite catching up to her until we reach the final verse and testosterone order is restored in a whoosh of harmonic voices, the colour of rainbows.

The melody rotates like a carousel around the recurring guitar theme (with a slight banjo sound), first verse sung by Nash, second by Clarke, and as they approach the chorus the group’s trade mark turbo kicks in, full force, the three-part harmonies splash out of your speakers like liquid stardust.

It’s a simple story, and in lesser hands it would have turned into a tacky piece of candy floss, but the performance is so strong and the arrangement so clever that the song becomes a wonderful statement of pop art.  1967 had started.  The Hollies were up for the challenge.

B-side “All The World Is Love” is built on a quirky rhythmic structure, moving beneath distant chiming guitars, although a bit monotonous, its oriental seasoning (traces of “Revolver”) and love-message makes it an early example of English psychedelic whimsy.  The Hollies anticipate the ‘summer of love’.

“Non Prego Per Me” / “Devi Avere Fiducia In Me” (Parlophon, QMSP 16402) Released: 1967 (-)

Italian only release, recorded during the “Evolution”-sessions in January 1967.  The Hollies sang this number (written by legendary Italian song-smiths Mogol & Lucio Battisti) at the San Remo Festival later that same month, but failed to reach the finale.  The only comment relevant here is why? 

A-side a Kurt Weill like march with a standard beat group chorus.  B-side (credited to Speechia/Martinia) a happy-go-lucky ditty, typical Italian pop for its time, and maybe relevant to Herman’s Hermits.  Allan Clarke carries both songs more or less alone.  He does not sound comfortable.

“Carrie Anne” / “Signs That Will Never Change” (Parlophone, R 5602) Released: May 1967 (3)

The follow-up to the massive hit “On A Carousel”, and just as catchy.  Carrie-Anne Moss was named after it.  Released as the world was entering “the summer of love”, and on top of the radio DJs’ playlists along with “Sgt. Pepper”, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and “All You Need Is Love”.

A spectacular production that incorporates Latin American percussion (including a marimba solo) and razor sharp three part harmonies, the melody is so simple you know its refrain by heart even before The Hollies have come half way through its first appearance.  The three composers sing one verse each.  Clarke handling the first followed by Hicks, leaving the final philosophical lines to Nash who at this time was trying to push The Hollies in a more socially conscious and psychedelic direction, in step with the cooler names of the day, like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield.  He had even started to dress the part.

“Carrie Anne” wasn’t quite there, though, as its lyrical message was rather lightweight, but the performance made the whole thing sound right.  Bright and summery, catchy pop in kaftans.

B-side is an appealing folksy mid-tempo ballad that takes us from winter to spring.  Traces of Simon & Garfunkel in “Bookends” mood.

“Kill Me Quick” / “We’re Alive” (Parlophon, QMSP 16410) Released: 1967 (-)

Another Italian job, recorded for the soundtrack of the movie “Fai In Fretta Ad Uccidermi....Ho freddo !”  At least these two songs are their own and sung in English. 

A-side is a tight, up-tempo raver with nice harmony singing and a wailing harmonica.  B-side’s got Hicks’ quivering guitar as a bait, the song itself strolls merrily along, but in 1967 it sounded dated by the group’s current standards.  Only released in Italy.

Evolution (LP) (Parlophone, PCS 7022) Released: June 1967 (8)

Wonderful psychedelic sleeve, released at the same time as “Sgt. Pepper”, but although an impressive step into the new sounds of the day, not in the same league.  All 12 tracks written by Clarke/Hicks/Nash, and none of them released as singles.  A close cousin to “For Certain Because” with bright tunes that sparkle with three part harmonies and reverberating guitars, but wrapped in feathers, velvet and cellophane. 

Nash no doubt is responsible for the more whimsical lyrics, well meant, but sometimes crossing into the silly, like “Ye Olde Toffee Shop”.  But overall a collection of very strong tunes, performed by an inspired combo in its prime.

“King Midas In Reverse” / “Everything Is Sunshine” (Parlophone, R 5637) Released: September 1967 (18)

And this is where it all went wrong.  Mainly written by Graham Nash who defiantly insisted that it should be their next single.  Maybe he thought it would blow people’s minds.  It is hard to see how.  It’s just a song about a loser who can’t seem to do anything right, now he warns his girlfriend, leave, save yourself, I’m bad karma.

The last verse dives a few inches below the surface and suggests that perhaps the song concerns itself with more fundamental questions than one was led to believe, it turns out that the protagonist is even afraid of losing his soul.  There’s nothing in the preceding verses that leads up to this piece of terrifying gloom, but credit to Nash for going there.  It’s an unexpected turn of events for a Hollies single.

The story is set to a melody (mainly written by Clarke according to an interview he gave New Musical Express in October 1967) that begs for an intimate acoustic arrangement, quite similar to what one would later expect from Crosby, Stills & Nash.  The Hollies’ solution starts out promising: the guitar intro is delicious, and the verses stabilize themselves on a simple, but captivating chord progression.  The chorus however, is surprisingly tame.  They definitely should have put more work into it.

They treated this little campfire song as if it was an epic.  Inviting Johnny Scott and his orchestra in, and Scott’s overblown and busy arrangement deprives the tune of all intimacy.  The song’s potential is drowned in strings, horns, choir, the works.  “A Day In The Life” it is not.  “King Midas In Reverse” only reached #18, The Hollies’ worst showing in the Top 30 since the disastrous “If I Needed Someone”.

There’s a fragile and beautiful tune hidden in there, if properly arranged it would have fit perfectly on their “Butterfly”-album.  Why didn’t they release “Dear Elolise” instead?

B-side, “Everything Is Sunshine” is a lightweight ditty with some nice guitar picking and traces of psychedelia sprinkled on it.  Nash takes the lead vocals, telling us that everything is sunshine when his girlfriend lets him hold her hand.

Butterfly (LP) (Parlophone, PCS 7039) Released: November 1967. (-)

The “King Midas”-fiasco unfortunately had terrible consequences for The Hollies, or at least for Graham Nash’s plans for the group.  The others reluctantly accepted the single’s release.  They also tagged along when they created “Butterfly”, The Hollies’ masterpiece.  But as The Hollies’ standing had plummeted after “Midas”, they were now presented with the ultimate blow. “Butterfly” bombed too, it didn’t even show up in the lower regions of the Top 15.  Nash’s time as the leader of the band was over.

What a pity, as “Butterfly” is a gem, a contender for inclusion on anybody’s Top 100 albums of all time.  Nash dominates the contents, but it’s still a group effort proven by Tony Hicks’ exceptional “Pegasus” and Allan Clarke’s majestic wall-of-sound epic “Would You Believe”.  There’s whimsy (Wishyouawish), naked beauty dipped in dope (Butterfly), oriental left-turns (Elevated Observation) and high spirited, delicious pieces of bright and colourful pop (Dear Eloise, Postcard & Away Away Away).  12 tracks and not one dud.  Why people didn’t buy this album in truck loads I still don’t understand.

“Jennifer Eccles” / “Open Up Your Eyes” (Parlophone, R 5680) Released: March 1968 (6)

1968 was the year when the Tony Hicks/Allan Clarke-faction overturned Nash and took control of The Hollies.  It was back to the showband outfits and the cabaret circuit, and then they set out on a project that Nash hated fervently: A full album of Bob Dylan-covers in lush arrangements.

But before they came that far a new single had to be recorded.  No more experiments and mind-expanding lyrics, this one had to be super commercial.  So Nash found himself in the humiliating situation of having to sit down with Allan Clarke to write a good old fashioned, easy on the ear pop tune with no other ambitions than to sell.  The result was “Jennifer Eccles”, hummable, elegant and immaculately performed, wearing a smile on its face, winking and whistling at the girls, even leaving a trail of jolly la-la’s in its wake.  All honour to Nash, who wholeheartedly set out to make this an effortless winner.  “Jennifer Eccles” captures the sound of spring.

“Open Up Your Eyes” is a merry chugga-chugga showcase for their three part harmonies, Clarke, Hicks and Nash sing one verse each, and you are served a banjo solo to go.

Hollies’ Greatest (LP) (Parlophone, PCS 7057) Released: August 1968 (1)

Collects 14 of their 17 single A-sides (so far), most of them appearing on an album for the first time (although by mistake an alternate take of “Yes I Will” was included).  Rounds off with “Jennifer Eccles”.  Became The Hollies’ biggest selling album and their first to hit #1.

“Listen To Me” / “Do The Best You Can” (Parlophone, R 5733), Released: September 1968 (7)

Graham Nash gave The Hollies his final blessing before he left for the US and Crosby, Stills & Nash.  “Listen To Me” is his farewell.  A Tony Hazzard composition, performed and arranged as if it was their own.  Supreme craftsmanship, impossible to dislike.

Nash’s harmonic voice owns the song and his duet with Clarke in the second verse is classic, as magical as when Lennon and McCartney sailed through “If I Fell.”

The chorus is loud, soaring skywards, voices shimmering like stardust and quicksilver.  The verses pass like the coaches of a local train, skipping merrily along, one after the other, Bobby Elliott acting as brakeman in a playful mood.  A nearly forgotten gem in The Hollies-catalogue, check it out.

“Do The Best You Can” puts the banjo up front, there’s a lot going on, wailing harmonica, criss-crossing harmony vocals, stop-start rhythm, but the chorus isn’t strong enough to carry this box of tricks to a fitting conclusion.

This then concludes our voyage through the classic Clarke/Hicks/Nash-years, 1963-1968.  An impressive stack of records, some of which were as important for the 60’s as the more familiar songs by The Kinks, Small Faces, The Who, and yes, even The Stones and The Beatles.  The Hollies were family.  They are still out there playing live.  God bless ‘em.

Update January 23, 2016

The Hollies part 2: The Titans arrive

The Hollies entered the Premier League in May 1965.  By December 1966 they were of Champions League-quality.  Here’s how it happened:

(Highest position on the New Musical Express’ TOP 30 singles, the New Musical Express’ TOP 10 albums and Record Retailer’s TOP 20 EP’s shown in brackets.)

“I’m Alive” / “You Know He Did” (Parlophone, R 5287) Released. May 1965 (1)

And thus The Hollies got themselves promoted to Premier League.  Transformed from a neat Merseybeat-combo to Titans.  The high-flying intro shivering of reverb is a joyful intoxication in itself, but this recording has so much more to offer.  Clarke enters in calm voice, but then he soars upwards and hits the chorus, climbing step by step up its ladder to the crowning finish: the triple repeats of the song’s title as The Hollies’ vocal harmonies wash over you with the force of a hurricane galvanised by a crescendo of guitars and drums.

Now I can breathe, I can see, I can touch, I can feel

I can taste all the sugar sweetness in your kiss

You give me all the things I‘ve ever missed

I‘ve never felt like this

I‘m alive! I‘m alive! I‘m alive!

They serve you the magnificent chorus three times during the song’s 2 minutes and 21 seconds, and the performance is so brilliant and the tune so masterfully constructed that it doesn’t need more than two tiny verses to achieve perfection.  As a bonus we get an instrumental break that delivers one of the great guitar solos of the mid 60’s, a slashing blow of reverberating notes ricocheting like bullets from a gun.  Stunning!

It is a joyous song, quivering with excitement about – yes, you guessed it – being alive.  The group’s enthusiasm is understandable.  This is what they were looking for in “Yes I Will”, and “I’m Alive” is the challenge that does their mighty vocal harmonies justice.  “I’m Alive” hit #1 in England, and I wouldn’t have minded if it still was up there.  Written by Clint Ballard Jr.

“You Know He Did” is a Ransford rewrite of “Louie Louie”, hammering staccato guitar-riff and a rattling tambourine, breaking loose for a moment in the hovering middle eight, and then right back on the beat, led by a whaling harmonica. So so.

“Look Through Any Window” / “So Lonely” (Parlophone, R 5322) Released: August 1965 (4)

Not quite in the same league as its predecessor, but still an excellent pop single.  Powered by a jangling guitar riff that injects the song with a touch of folk rock, but not the smooth American version.  The Hollies are attacking the tune, harmony vocals sharp and hard as steel, they never allow the tune to turn soft.  Only downer is the break of style in the bridge, sounds like it was stitched on.

The lyrics?  Some sort of observation of ordinary people in their everyday lives, they are all on their way to one thing or another.  Where?  Graham Gouldman and Charles Silverman, who wrote the song, don’t provide us with any answers.

“So Lonely” is a moody piece of pop, lots of jangling guitars, and a recurring dark, little guitar theme that provide the tune with its dynamics.  Not bad at all.  Another Ransford original.

The Hollies (LP) (Parlo­phone, PMC 1261) Released: September 1965 (8)

Slightly better than the preceding album, but they still leave a lot to be desired.  Five originals credited to Ransford-moniker, of which two already were available as B-sides.  Seven cover versions, six of them never better than OK, though the group broadens its approach to musical styles incorporating both folk and soul, and not just sluggish takes on r&b.  The folk style suits them best, and their version of Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Very Last Day” is a gas.  It storms triumphantly along, tight instrumental work and gorgeous steely vocal harmonies.  So strong it was released as a single in Scandinavia.  Probably should have been chosen in the UK too instead of the disastrous “If I Needed Someone”.

I’m Alive (EP) (Parlophone, GEP 8942) Released: September 1965. (5)

“I’m Alive” / “You Know He Did” / “Honey And Wine” / “Mickey’s Monkey”

Both sides of a recent single, an inferior album cut and a new tune, specially included for this EP.  Motown-tune “Mickey’s Monkey” (lifted from LP “The Hollies”) is annoying no matter who performs it, and The Hollies aren’t even among the not so bad ones.  Goffin/King’s “Honey And Wine” on the other hand is a minor gem, quivering guitars and moody atmosphere, sterling harmony-singing lifting the performance mid way.  The song itself sounds like the more attractive nephew of r&b standard “Got Love If You Want It”.

“If I Needed Someone” / “I’ve Got A Way Of My Own” (Parlophone, R 5392) Released: December 1965 (24)

George Harrison’s subtle homage to The Byrds from “Rubber Soul”.  The Hollies’ version was recorded in a hurry and hit the shops simultaneously with The Beatles-album.

The Beatles’ original is a musical delicacy with a sleepy chorus and chiming jingle jangle guitars hovering over a wily counter-current rhythm that creates a fascinating illusion: As if the verses, pushed forward, line by line, conduct an upward surge against the current. 

The Hollies did not discover the composition’s wonderful subtleties.  Their version is just noisy, all treble, no bottom, the chorus delivered hard and flat.  The dynamics of the Beatles’ version is lost in a staccato, angular delivery completely void of charm.

George Harrison didn’t like this version, can’t blame him.  Neither did the record buyers.  The single bombed.  A catastrophical ending on what had been the group’s best year ever.

B-side is a group original credited to Ransford.  A harmonica-driven dirge with high flying harmonies, rattling guitars, the verses sung by Graham Nash for a change.  Not exceptional, but so much better resolved than the A-side.

“I Can’t Let Go” / “Running Through The Night” (Parlophone, R 5409) Released: February 1966 (1)

And The Hollies strike back.  They needed something extraordinary after their first grand failure, and came up with a tune originally recorded by blue-eyed soul singer Evie Sands in 1965, written by session musician Al Gorgoni and songwriter Chip Taylor (later of “Wild Thing”-fame).  It seemed tailor-made for The Hollies.

Their recording is a volcanic eruption.  Kick-started by Tony Hicks’ impatient, reverberating, stabbing one note guitar intro, when Clarke finally enters, the bottled up tension is almost unbearable, the song has to explode.  And off we go, guitars chiming from the high heavens as the group soars into the ultimate high flying 60’s pop refrain, their three part harmonies sharp as razor blades.

The first minute is absolutely sensational.  There’s no stopping them after that, they cruise home on waves of enthusiasm, and the whole thing fades out at 2 minutes and 26 seconds.  No fat on this recording.  The record buyers took it all the way to #1.  What a relief it must have been after their hopeless dabble with the Beatles’ songbook.

B-side is a fun track, a country hinged hillbilly stomp, Manchester style.  Nash takes the lead, and there’s some nice guitar picking driving the song home.  Credited to Ransford.

I Can’t Let Go (EP) (Parlophone, GEP 8951) Released: June 1966 (9)

“I Can’t Let Go” / “Look Through Any Window” / “I’ve Got A Way Of My Own” / “So Lonely”

Two hits and two B-sides.  The Hollies’ last EP.  The format was fading fast.  If you had money on your hands, you’d rather scrimp and save for an album.

“Bus Stop” / “Don’t Run And Hide” (Parlophone, R 5469) Released: June 1966 (3)

A perfectly crafted pop song, written by Graham Gouldman who was also partly responsible for “Look Through Any Window”.  More laidback than their previous hits, it’s a happy, unpretentious ditty, airy with a taste of carefree summer days.  The group’s trademark vocal harmonies are perfectly utilized and the recurring plucking guitar theme holds the different parts nicely together.  A touch of folk rock.

What the song is all about?  Boy meets girl at the bus stop, it’s raining, he’s got an umbrella, bus arrives, bus leaves, they stay at the stop, and soon they’ll be married.  Ah, those innocent days of youth!

B-side is another Ransford original.  Has some nice turns even if the chorus is a bit pedestrian.  Sounds like a “For Certain Because” outtake, which isn’t bad.

Would You Believe (LP) (Parlophone, PMC 7008) Released: July 1966 (8)

The first Hollies album with some merit.  They still insist on doing a couple of r&b and rock’n’roll-covers, very outdated in 1966, but their take on folk rock in Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” and the traditional “Stewball” (made famous by Peter, Paul & Mary) is awesome.  The four Ransford-originals are top notch too, specially “Oriental Sadness”, “Fifi The Flea” and “Hard Hard Year’.

“After The Fox” (with Peter Sellers) / “The Fox-Trot” (United Artists, UP 1152) Released: September 1966 (-)

Not an official Hollies single, but the theme song from Peter Sellers’ comedy of the same name.  Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David on a not so inspired day.  Hollies meet Peter Sellers in call-response duel.  The group sing the questions, Sellers answers them with a distorted voice.  The melody is light as a summer breeze, but hard to remember.  The Hollies do not perform on the B-side.

“Stop Stop Stop” / “It’s You” (Parlophone, R 5508) Released: October 1966 (2)

A song about obsession.  Risky stuff in 1966.  The confessional lyrics take us to a nightclub where the main character is transfixed with a young belly dancer.  He is obviously a regular because of her, but what was once a fascination is now pushing him to the brink of insanity.  The lyrics are sung with an urge that leaves no space for breathing, you already know this is a one way ticket to disaster.

Blood is rushing, temperature is rising

Sweating from my brow

Like a snake, her body fascinates me

I can’t look away now

The song is simple, rooted in a rasping, enervating banjo theme on endless repeat beneath Clarke’s feverish self exposure.  The chorus arrives with the song’s title called out over violent dashes of cymbals, breaking the monotony and cranking up expectations for the next part of the story: The guy can’t take it anymore, climbs the stage, grabs the terrified lady, overturns tables in the ensuing scuffle with security.  A man astray, high on testosterone, kicked out, head first, and left in the gutter.

A very unusual topic for a pop song in 1966.  As was the use of the banjo.  One can argue that the melody is monotonous, quite horizontal and on eternal repetition, just like the banjo theme.  But this was a conscious trick, it strengthens the claustrophobic and feverish mood of the story, you literally feel the sweat trickling down the singer’s back as his brain melts.

Clarke, Hicks and Nash wrote it, finally using their own names, leaving the Ransford moniker behind for good.  By the way, I think the song actually is about a stripper, but that might have been too much for the authorities in 1966, so they chickened out with a belly dancer.

B-side is another Clarke/Hicks/Nash-original.  A high flying beat combo winner led by wailing harmonica and some nice harmony singing.

For Certain Because (LP) (Parlophone, PMC 7011) Released: December 1966 (-)

And finally The Hollies delivered a quality album, all songs originals, adventurous arrangements, folk rock, bossa nova, oriental, jazz, with the use of brass and keyboards.  The Hollies were expanding fast and impressively without compromising their strong sense of memorable and classy pop songs driven by those glittering harmony voices and Hicks’ chiming guitars.  This album is among 1966’s finest.  How it failed to enter NME’s album chart is a mystery to me.

Update January 16, 2016

The Hollies – how it all began

Between April 1963 and May 1965, The Hollies released 7 singles, 5 EPs and 2 albums, and transformed themselves from a rickety novelty act with clumsy rhythm & blues-aspirations to a fully fledged and extremely powerful hit machine that would spearhead British pop music through the mid and late 60’s and even give The Beatles a run for their money.

Allan Clarke has retired and Graham Nash is doing his own stuff, as he’s been doing ever since he left The Hollies in 1968 for America and Crosby, Stills & Nash.  But original members Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliot are still out there keeping The Hollies alive, doing the concert rounds, making people happy.

This then, is how it all began.

“(Ain’t That) Just Like Me” / “Hey What’s Wrong With Me” (Parlophone, R 5030) - Released: May 1963

You gotta start somewhere.  The Hollies do it with a misjudged loan from The Coasters.  The song’s novelty definitely had expired by 1963, and rhythm & blues for kids never caught on big anyway.  The silly lyrics borrow stanzas from children’s songs like “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.  The band seem so embarrassed with the words that they shoot out of the verses and dive into the propeller fast choruses with visible relief. 

Guitars rattle, drums are pure 1963 and the guitar solo frantically tries to copy Chuck Berry.  Who could have predicted that this band would end up as one of the biggest hit-makers in British pop music history?  Anyway, this was how the pride of Manchester started out (Oasis eat your heart out!)

B-side “Hey What’s Wrong With Me” is Buddy Holly meets the fast walking bass of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There”, with their vocal harmonies of “Twist And Shout” thrown in for good measure.

Searchin” / “Whole World Over” (Parlophone, R 5052) - Released: August 1963

In the early 60’s every British band had “Searchin ‘’ on their playlist.  The Beatles performed it frequently in Hamburg.  The raw rhythm & blues classic was written by legendary team Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller for the humorous, but extremely talented The Coasters.  Their version reached #3 in the US in 1957.

The Hollies’ version is adequate, but not very original.  They play it tough enough, the rhythm a bit square wheeled, the call-response criss-crossing between lead vocal and backing singers quite exciting.  But it still sounds very much like a cover and the attempt to copy the humour which is an important element in The Coasters’ original version, seems oppressively forced.

A lonely harmonica, Buddy Holly’s soft sobbing melancholia and the Everly Brothers’ vocal harmonies grace the workmanlike B-side, written by Allan Clarke and Graham Nash.

Stay” / “Now’s The Time” (Parlophone, R 5077) - Released: November 1963

England was slowly recovering from the Liverpool onslaught when 1963 drew to a close.  The wild, but orthodox rhythm & blues of The Rolling Stones and the jungle drumming of Dave Clark Five had put London back on the map.  And even Manchester got to play with the big boys thanks to The Hollies establishing themselves in the hit parade with three releases, all of them medium sized hits, not a bad start even if none of them could be called classics.

One of the main reasons for the success was their three part harmonies, fully developed, extremely tight and powerful with a steely quality, voices sharp as a razorblades.  When they cut through the speaker(s) there was no mercy.  The Hollies sounded like a heavily armed mixture of Beatles and Everly Brothers.  Their rickety instrumental work left something to be desired, but they got away with it.  With voices like that there was no stopping them.

“Stay” was a good choice for the important third single.  People still remembered Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs’ original, a #1 in the US in 1960, and a Top 20 hit in England the following year.  The Hollies chose to rearrange it completely, sacrificing playful doo-wop soul for speed.  It rattles along at a frantic pace, Graham Nash’ falsetto desperately trying not to be thrown off.  I’ll give them credit for the enthusiasm.

Trivia: There’s an exquisite version of “Stay” on the Jackson Browne-album “Running On Empty” (1977).

B-side “Now’s The Time” is a slice of archetypical Merseybeat and moves along merrily with some nice harmony singing, but the tune itself is faceless.  Written by Clarke and Nash.

Stay With The Hollies (LP) (Parlophone PMC 1220) - Released: January 1964

13 awful rhythm & blues covers, and one uneventful Clarke/Nash-original.

“Just One Look” / “Keep Off That Friend Of Mine” (Parlophone, R 5104) - Released: February 1964

A huge US hit for Doris Troy during the summer of 1963.  The Hollies turn it into a winter ditty, fresh as peppermint.  The rickety playing is Merseybeat at its most typical.  But the harmony singing is outstanding.  It elevates the recording and makes it shine.  Captivating.

“Keep Off That Friend Of Mine” is beat group fodder, easy on the ear, nice vocal interplay between Clarke and Nash and an above average B-side.  Written by Tony Hicks & Bobby Elliot, the latter no doubt is responsible for the rather tricky rhythm patterns.

“Here I Go Again” / “Baby That’s All” (Parlophone, R 5137) - Released: May 1964

A Merseybeat ballad with an overwhelming power-chorus.  Sung partly as a Clarke/Nash duet partly as a three part harmony heaven.  The vocal arrangement, the pushy drumming during the choruses, and that quirky closing chord – The Hollies had never copied The Beatles this blatantly before, and they would never do it again.  A delightful record.  Written by Mort Shuman and Clive Westlake.

The B-side is another showcase for the group’s wonderful harmony singing delivered on a bed of chiming guitars Searchers style.  Written by Chester Mann.

The Hollies (EP) (Parlo­phone, GEP 8909) “Rockin’ Robin” / “What Kind Of Love” / “Whatcha Gonna Do ‘bout It” / “When I’m Not There” - Released: June 1964

Tracks 1 and 3 are both inferior cover versions and lifted from the Hollies’ first album “Stay With The Hollies”.  Tracks 2 and 4, both written by Clarke/Nash/Hicks, are unique for this EP.

“What Kind Of Love” could have been an A-side in its own right and definitely should have been the EP’s lead off track.  A fantastic and fully realised pop tune with loads of harmonic voices, Clarke’s steely lead and Graham’s tingeling falsetto, a strong melody that twists and turns, full of surprises.  As good as anything they would do in 1966 and 1967.

“I’m Not There” isn’t bad either.  Highly commercial, but maybe a little bit dated.  It’s got 1963 fingerprints all over it, both the guitar work and the drumming.  But the vocals are pure gold.

Just One Look (EP) (Parlophone, GEP 8911) “Just One Look” / “Keep Off That Friend Of Mine” / “I’m Talkin’ About You” / “Lucille” - Released: July 1964

Both sides of their “Just One Look”-single and then two tracks from “Stay With The Hollies”, proving that The Hollies were hopeless when they tried their luck with rhythm & blues and classic rock’n’roll material.

We’re Through” / “Come On Back” (Parlophone, R 5178) - Released: September 1964

The Hollies’ first self written A-side, though Clarke/Hicks/Nash hide behind the alias ‘Ransford’.  The melody isn’t that strong, but is saved by a clever arrangement.  Kind of a bossa nova spiced with a reoccurring theme finger picked on acoustic guitar.  Allan Clarke pulls the load in the soft-spoken verses while we get the full three part harmony treatment in the choruses, hitting the higher register like a welding flame. “We’re Through” is a mix of past, present and future.  The band are not quite leaving their Merseybeat origins behind, but the song signals a bolder approach to arrangements – and proves that they are more than capable of writing their own hit hits.  A memorable tune, reminiscent of the later Unit 4+2.

The B-side is another Ransford offering.  A rollicking humdinger in the early Beatles’ neighbourhood, including frantic bass and blaring harmonica.  The middle eight is a clever detour that saves the tune from sounding too dated.

Here I Go Again (EP) (Parlo­phone GEP 8915) “Here I Go Again” / “Baby That’s All” / “You Better Move On” / “Memphis” - Released: October 1964

Both sides of their “Here I Go Again”-single plus two tracks from “Stay With The Hollies” that yet again prove that The Hollies should have stayed out of Rolling Stones-territory.  No way they could handle rhythm & blues with any conviction.

In The Hollies Style (LP) (Parlophone, PMC 1235) - Released: November 1964

Five poorly executed rhythm & blues-covers, plus 7 tracks credited to their alias Ransford.  Clearly an improvement on their first album.

We’re Through (EP) (Parlo­phone, GEP 8927) “We’re Through” / “Come On Back” / “What Kind Of Boy” / “You’ll Be Mine” - Released: December 1964

The band’s fourth EP-release in a year.  The Hollies used the format to re-sell their most recent single just as its lifespan had come to an end on the Top 30, and plug their most recent album by adding a couple of tracks from it.  “What Kind Of Boy” is an adequate cover of Big Dee Irwin song, with a dragging beat and a strong Clarke vocal.  “You’ll Be Mine” sounds like The Merseybeats, lightweight fodder from the Ransford-moniker

“Yes I Will” / “Nobody” (Parlophone, R 5232) - Released: January 1965

Big sound, chugga chugga rhythm that keep the verses running like an engine straight into the multi-voiced choruses.  Every piece is in its place here as The Hollies finally bid 1963 farewell and capture their future sound, breezy and shiny full of reverb and steel.  Unfortunately the song itself isn’t anywhere as good as the sound they create; it offers no surprises as it chugs along, quite monotonous, overstaying its welcome long before it checks out at 2 minutes and 57 seconds.  A different take with an even richer sound thanks to a wall of acoustic guitars was erroneously included on their 1968 compilation “Greatest Hits”.

Trivia: The Monkees did a horrible version of this tune (renaming it “I’ll Be True To You”) in 1966, with Davy Jones as vocalist.

“Nobody” is a successful piece of r&b from the Hollies.  Wailing harmonica and a jangling guitar over a drum track that swings with traces of Ringo’s work on “She’s A Woman”.  Graham Nash takes the lead in the sunny middle eight.  Not bad, and credited to themselves under moniker Ransford.

In The Hollies Style (EP) (Parlophone, GEP 8934) “Too Much Monkey Business” / “To You My Love” / “Come On Home” / “What Kind Of Boy” - Released: April 1965

With this EP The Hollies conclude their first phase.  Bigger things were to come, kick-starting with their first #1, “I’m Alive” just a couple of weeks later.  All songs on the EP lifted from the album of the same name, and someone forgot that “What Kind Of Boy” was included on the “We’re Through”-EP as well.  As “I’m Alive” spun through the airwaves, this collection sounded as dated as the sleeve looks.  No wonder it bombed – and became an instant collector’s item.

The shortcut to obtaining all the tracks mentioned is called “The Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years: The Complete Hollies April 1963 – October 1968”, a nifty 6 CD box.

Update January 1, 2016

The Who’s real golden years – Part 2

The Who, The Track Singles 1967-1973 (Track/Universal)

Released: October 2015

“The Track Singles 1967-1973”-box is part 3 in a lovely series of the original British Who 45’s, re-issued in replicas of their original sleeves (for the Track-singles part plain white factory sleeves – with two exceptions). 

In last week’s column we got half way through the box.   This week we focus on the second part: 1970-1973.  During this period they released three of rock’s greatest albums of all time: “Live At Leeds”, “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia”.  And even if Pete Townshend lost his enthusiasm for the single format back in 1967 when “I Can See For Miles” bombed (see last weeks’ column), he still managed to work up enough passion to record and release a string of fabulous 45’s too.  All on Track Records.  All of them included in this box. (Number after release date denotes highest placing on New Musical Express’ UK TOP 30, except from numbers in brackets which are from Record Retailer.)

“The Seeker” / “Here For More” (March 1970) #17

Searching for the meaning of life John Lennon would renounce all gurus including Dylan and the Beatles in the song “God” on his “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”-album at the end of 1970.  Pete Townshend beat him to it with “The Seeker”, released nine months earlier:

I asked Bobby Dylan

I asked The Beatles

I asked Timothy Leary

But he couldn’t help me either

But while John Lennon slipped into some sort of self-oriented coma, replacing the gurus with himself and Yoko, Townshend bristled with frustrations, he was already beyond Lennon:

I won’t get to get what I’m after

Till the day I die

Thus anticipating the frustrated anger and sorrow that would pour out of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” a year later.  “The Seeker” is a forgotten jewel in The Who canon.  Presumably because it was released in no man’s land between two studio albums and not included on any of them.  It has a violent, pulsating drive, lots of guitars, a swaying chorus and a strong melody for an unusually restrained Daltrey to cruise along.

“Here For More” is a piece of philosophical advice: We are not born into this life to waste our time on nothing.  Fair enough.  But it would have helped saying it with a better lyric and a stronger tune.  A rare Daltrey composition, sounds like a demo and has a country & western feel to it.  Daltrey found it hard to write songs.  And it shows.

A-side on compilation album “Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy” (1971).  B-side on compilation “Rarities Volume II” (1983).

“Summertime Blues” / “Heaven And Hell” (July 1970) (#38)

Lifted from the fantastic “Live At Leeds”-album.  Three glorious minutes of hard kicking, monster-heavy fun, The Who turning the Eddie Cochran chestnut into a classic of their own.  Nothing refined about this performance.  Townsend’s aggressive, ragged guitar is all over the place, the pumping rhythm section of Entwistle/Moon re-starts the song with explosive vengeance after each chorus.

On the B-side John Entwistle delivers a full-blooded rocker, highly regarded by the band and always a live favourite.  The lyrics are concerned what happens after death - we either end up in Paradise or in Hell, and Entwistle doesn’t find any comfort in destiny either way:

Why can’t we have eternal life, And never die,

Never die?

This is a studio recording from April 1970.

A-side from “Live At Leeds” (1970).  B-side on compilation “Rarities Volume II” (1983).

“See Me, Feel Me” / “Overture” (October 1970)

One of the definite highlights of the rock opera “Tommy”, also performed with grandeur at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969.  It was only a matter of time before it would appear as a single.  But in October 1970?  That was a year too late, the song had lost its momentum by then.  It’s a great tune, though.  The disciples’ renouncement of Tommy in the opera’s grand finale still gives me goose bumps. (NB! This is the original studio version, not the Woodstock recording.)

B-side is the overture from the same album.  A powerful journey through the opera’s key themes.  Incredibly well produced.  Marvellous on expensive stereo equipment.  Both sides from “Tommy”.

“Tommy” EP: “Overture” / “Christmas” / “I’m Free” / “See Me, Feel Me” (November 1970)

One year too late they started milking “Tommy” for all its worth.  Two of the four tracks on this EP had already been released as a single four weeks earlier – with no success.  So the record company tried a different angle: It’s soon Christmas, “Tommy” includes a song called just that, let’s go for it.  So they recycled the two single-tracks, added “Christmas” and “I’m Free” (a nice, little pop tune) and released the thing in a picture sleeve.  Didn’t work either.  The EP bombed just as the single had done.

As for “Christmas”, it’s very catchy, but, come on, it’s not a Christmas song at all.

All tracks from “Tommy”.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” / “Don’t Know Myself” (June 1971) #9

What a marvellous single!  The Who’s best produced piece of music by far at the time.  Heavy and well rounded bottom.  Entwistle’s bass cables pack a tremendous punch, and combined with Moon’s massive pounding and Townshend’s power chords, parts of the performance turn into a stampede.  However, the structure of the song is incredibly disciplined, nailed in one of rock’s finest monster riffs and a click track keeping Moon at bay (to the drummer’s annoyance).

Daltrey immerses himself in the the sharp and extremely well written lyrics, there’s lots of reasons to shout out in anger and frustration here, and Daltrey delivers the words with burning rage!  His blood-chilling scream near the end is terrifying.  The sound of a band about to implode!

This is “The Seeker” times ten.  Townshend skepticism regarding politicians, leaders, activists and fashion prophets brilliantly summarized in the punchline: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

It turned out that the single-version was a brutal edit.  The definitive eight minute plus version appeared two months later on “Who’s Next”.

The B-side, “Don’t Know Myself”, is a paler approach to the same subject.  Recorded back in 1970, a “Lifehouse” reject (“Lifehouse” was an ambitious rock opera-project that Townshend abandoned, rescuing some of the songs for the non-concept album “Who’s Next”).  “Don’t Know Myself” almost ended up on an EP (that also was abandoned).  A nice enough B-side with a hint of country & western thrown in for good measure.

A-side (single edit) included on compilation album “Who’s Greatest Hits” (1983).  B-side on compilation “Rarities Volume II” (1983).

“Let’s See Action” / “When I Was A Boy” (October 1971) #17

No way The Who could top the monumental “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, so they lowered their ambitions for the sequel. “Let’s See Action” is an acceptable solution.  It skips merrily along, highly commercial (like an older brother of “Squeeze Box”).  It’s easy to imagine this song performed unplugged by a gang of buskers.  The Who give it the full electrical treatment.  A tight blues rig loosened up by feisty piano playing, partly honky tonk, partly boogie Jerry Lee style.  Townshend works energetically around the rhythm, alternating between metallic, slashing chords and razor sharp solo runs.

Catchy, unpretentious and fun.  Daltrey unleashes stacks of powerful outbursts, handing the mike to Townshend for a couple of choir boy lines every time the song slows down for its middle eight.

The lyrics are clever and articulate, with a suprising sign off stanza:

I don’t know where I’m going,

I don’t know what I need,

But I’ll get to where I’m gonna end up,

And that’s alright by me.

George Harrison came to the same conclusion in “Any Road”, one of the last songs he wrote before he died in 2001.  Pete Townshend already had the wisdom of an old man in 1971.

John Entwistle dropped his guard for a change on the B-side, “When I Was A Boy”.  No quirky or bizarre lyrical turns here.  It’s about growing old, all disillusionment and nostalgia.  A surprise, even if it’s not among his better songs.

Both sides included on compilation “Rarities Volume II” (1983).

“Join Together” / “Baby Don’t You Do It” (June 1972) #9

Townshend fascination with synth programming didn’t suit Keith Moon well.  The pre-recorded synth-patterns locked the rhythm structure of the songs and restricted the drummer.  The wildman was forced to behave.  On “Join Together” he takes the backseat and remains hesistant the whole song through.

They are still The Who though, meaty, beaty, big and bouncy.  The flickering synth sounding like an electric jew’s harp, grabs your attention.  As does the sudden attacks of harmonica that pierce through the mayhem.  The band builds a staccato rhythmic drive around these elements, punctuated by Townshend’s agressive chords.  Daltrey recites the lyric more than he sings it, except for the chorus where the whole band take part turning it into a singa-long battle cry.

The synth programming provides the tune with a hypnotic quality, but because the song runs out of steam way too early, the synths gradually gets on your nerves.  Definitely one of The Who’s weaker singles.

The B-side is a 1971 live recording of the Marvin Gaye classic “Baby Don’t You Do It”.  A violent and thunderous version that drags on a bit.  Their 1965 version of the same song (found on the 1998 CD remaster of “Odds & Sods”) is more entertaining.

Both sides included on compilation “Rarities Volume II” (1983).

“Relay” / “Waspman” (December 1972) #19

Third Who single in a row that was not lifted from an album, and yet another leftover from Pete Townshend’s abandoned “Lifehouse” project.

“Relay” picks up from its predecessor.  There’s a lot going on and melody is forsaken for rhythmic drive.  It’s a heavy shuffle, almost chugga-chugga with an extremely active Townshend galvanising the funk-groove, his guitar stone skipping across the waves of percussion leaving short bursts of soloing in its wake.  All resting on a bed of acoustic guitars.  And pushed onwards by Keith Moon’s stop-start drumming, delivered with fierce punches.

Not much of a melody for Roger Daltrey to work with, but he is giving his guttural, burning all.  Time is running out, civilization as we know it about to end:

Relay, things are brewing,

Relay, something’s doing,

Relay, there’s a revolution,

Relay, relay, hand me down a solution, yeah.

The B-side is one of Keith Moon’s rare “compositions”.  Just a simple riff churned out on repeat while Moon personalize the Waspman yelling “Ssssssting!” every now and then like a John Belushi on uppers.

Both sides included on compilation “Rarities Volume II» (1983).

“5:15” / “Water” (October 1973) #17

Lifted from “Quadrophenia”, and one of the precious few tracks from that ambitious and unified piece of music that actually works as a stand alone too.  It captures the protagonist, teenage mod Jimmy, and his extra-sensual experiences on the train from London to Brighton, sandwiched between two elderly gentlemen in bowler hats – representing every thing Jimmy is not, and will never be.  A very memorable riff, big production, lots of power and a cleverly developed arangement that makes the music ebb and flow.  Should have been a bigger hit.

“Water” is another reject from “Lifehouse”, recorded back in 1970, and considered for single-release in 1971.  Luckily that did not happen as it’s a rather overlong and charmless rocker.  OK for a B-side, I’ll give it that much.

A-side from “Quadrophenia” (1973).  B-side included on “Rarities Volume II” (1983).

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

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The Hollies part 2: The Titans arrive

The Hollies – how it all began

The Who’s real golden years – Part 2