Search This Blog

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Hollies: Hollies

THE HOLLIES: HOLLIES (1965)

1) Very Last Day; 2) You Must Believe Me; 3) Put Yourself In My Place; 4) Down The Line; 5) That's My Desire; 6) Too Many People; 7) Lawdy Miss Clawdy; 8) When I Come Home To You; 9) Fortune Teller; 10) So Lonely; 11) I've Been Wrong; 12) Mickey's Monkey; 13*) I'm Alive; 14*) You Know He Did; 15*) Look Through Any Window; 16*) Honey And Wine; 17*) If I Needed Someone; 18*) You In My Arms; 19*) I Can't Get Nowhere With You; 20*) She Gives Me Everything I Want.

As usual, this album was preceded by two major singles for the band. First came ʽI'm Aliveʼ, written by Clint Ballard Jr. and becoming the Hollies' first true anthemic song — the entire verse-to-chorus journey is nothing but one big build-up, as Clarke goes higher and higher and higher: lyrics-wise, this is just another simple confession of the electrifying powers of l-o-v-e, but if you abstract yourself from most of the words and just concentrate on the chorus hook, this becomes one of those key statements of youth empowerment that were all over the place in 1965. How cool must it have been to go around, singing "I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive!" at the top of one's lungs? No wonder it became their first No. 1 in the UK.

Although not as loud and vibrant, ʽLook Through Any Windowʼ, the first of two major contri­butions that Graham Gouldman made for the band, might be an even better song. The 12-string guitar riff reveals a clear influence of The Byrds' folk rock vibe, and the tune overall ranks well up there with the majority of the songs on Rubber Soul (which would not be released until a few months later, by the way) — plus, it is rather unusual in being The Hollies' first non-love song on a 45", giving us instead a rather nonchalant-meditative contemplation of the world outside your window, again, some time before The Beatles would make that genre their own. With an odd three-part melody where it is hard to tell what exactly is the verse and what is the chorus, and an odd mood that fluctuates between giddy admiration and subtle nihilism (you sort of get the feeling that the question "where do they go?" remains unanswered because nobody really has any idea), it is a quirky little gem... about nothing in particular. Come to think of it, it would work really well in tandem with ʽNowhere Manʼ, I think.

It is not surprising that the full-length album that followed on the heels of these beauties would not be up to par — there is not a single tune on it that comes even close to the grandness of ʽI'm Aliveʼ or the melancholy subtlety of ʽWindowʼ (although, of course, the US correlate, re-titled Hear! Here!, did not overlook the chance of including both these songs at the thoughtful expense of rubbish like ʽMickey's Monkeyʼ). Nevertheless, in album terms, Hollies is also a solid step up from the quality of the band's earlier production. Its original compositions are more self-assured, its covers are more varied and cover deeper ground, and I can only count two songs that I never really want to hear again: the abovementioned ʽMickey's Monkeyʼ, a juvenile romp that never was too great even when done by The Miracles, and ʽThat's My Desireʼ, a dusty pre-war standard that might work with Ella Fitzgerald behind the wheel, but Allan Clarke and the boys just sound too corny and out of their element when trying something like that.

On the other hand, they are completely in their element when they take a catchy, but limp acoustic gospel-pop number by Peter, Paul, and Mary, and push it to its apocalyptic limits — ʽVery Last Dayʼ is their first truly stunning album opener to that point. The original had every­thing except for the most important component — FIRE! — and this is exactly what Allan brings to the kitchen when firing off lines like "get ready brothers for that day!" Again, like with ʽI'm Aliveʼ, in the context of the times this rings less like an authentic invocation of Judgement Day and more like The Hollies' own take on the ʽTimes They Are A-Changinʼ vibe — for all their humble aspirations at inoffensive hitmaking, even these guys could not remain uninfected by the common trend of growing themselves a social consciousness. And they even write one of those songs themselves: ʽToo Many Peopleʼ is a dark, minor-key composition whose lyrics deal with the issue of overpopulation (a fairly unusual topic for 1965, might I add; it is also amusing that on the mangled US version, this song ended up being the last one, involuntarily giving the album a fairly grim conclusion).

The band still covers plenty of rock'n'roll and R&B standards, though. The rockers are always saved by Clarke's vocals and little else (ʽLawdy Miss Clawdyʼ; Roy Orbison's ʽDown The Lineʼ, where the best bit is always the frenzied screaming that Allan lets off before the next so-so guitar break), but the R&B numbers are first-rate through their group harmony arrangements, especially The Impressions' ʽYou Must Believe Meʼ. In between these, the ubiquitous «L. Ransford» is able to sneak in a bunch of nice originals, although I would say that where Graham Gouldman was able to predict Rubber Soul, the slowpokish Mr. Ransford is still competing with the melodic quality of Beatles For Sale: ʽPut Yourself In My Placeʼ is probably the best of these (even if its chorus seems underwritten to me — just two lines?), but I am also quite partial to ʽI've Been Wrongʼ... and you can actually tell by how many times Nash appears as the lead vocalist on parts of these songs that he must have been the most active writer on the team already at that time.

The 1965 season still ended on a slightly misguided note for the band, though, as their choice for a follow-up single was George Harrison's ʽIf I Needed Someoneʼ — they recorded it from an early Beatles demo, never knowing if it would be officially released, and ultimately ended up re­leasing it on the same day with Rubber Soul. Needless to say, they could not stand the competi­tion — particularly on the level of musicianship and production, although even vocal-wise, this is not one of their best performances, and it lacks the personal angle that George gave it; to make matters worse, they got entangled in some nasty sparring after Harrison derided their results, which did them no good. This is not to say that The Hollies could never compete with The Beatles in anything: as I stated before, songs like ʽLook Through Any Windowʼ proudly stand competition with just about anything the Fab Four were doing in their young and innocent days. But ʽIf I Needed Someoneʼ, which they merely took up as another exercise in jangly folk-rock, was really quite a personal song for Quiet George, and one of the least Hollie-adaptable numbers on the entire Rubber Soul — heck, they could have themselves a top-notch ʽDrive My Carʼ or ʽI'm Looking Through Youʼ instead.

Nevertheless, on the whole 1965 was an exceptionally good year for The Hollies — three great singles (including ʽYes I Willʼ), some progress in their own songwriting skills, and a mature pop-rock album that showed they could at least evolve, if not completely keep up with contemporary giants. And they hadn't even reached their peak yet: I would say that by the end of 1965, it was by no means a certainty that The Hollies would never become giants in their own rights. In any case, this here marks the beginning of their brief, but bright golden age, so clearly, the album deserves a major thumbs up, especially when framed with its glorious singles.

2 comments:

  1. Agree with you 100%. I heard Bus Stop before Any Window so I always thought it came later in their singles discography, 66 or 67. It has a bit of that proto-flower pop of the Revolver/Aftermath/5D vibe. This also gets my vote for best jacket design. (although FCB has the best group shot) Something about that Mod minimalist black on white with those futuristic block letters is just classic and yet ahead of its time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Though most of my favourite Hollies songs come from the 1974 album of the same title (things like that should be a crime), "The Very Last Day" is an outlier - it's an incredible powerful song, and I love it.

    ReplyDelete