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Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Hollies: Would You Believe


1) I Take What I Want; 2) Hard, Hard Year; 3) That's How Strong My Love Is; 4) Sweet Little Sixteen; 5) Oriental Sadness; 6) I Am A Rock; 7) Take Your Time; 8) Don't You Even Care; 9) Fifi The Flea; 10) Stewball; 11) I've Got A Way Of My Own; 12) I Can't Let Go; 13*) Running Through The Night; 14*) Bus Stop; 15*) Don't Run And Hide; 16*) A Taste Of Honey; 17*) After The Fox; 18*) Non Prego Per Me; 19*) Devi Aver Fiducia In Me; 20*) Kill Me Quick; 21*) We're Alive; 22*) Schoolgirl.

It cannot be said that The Hollies marched into 1966 without giving much of a damn about what was going around. As «lightweight» a band as they were, they did keep their ear down to the ground, and in between the advent of Rubber Soul and the mass popularity of Simon & Garfun­kel it was clear that acoustically based folk-rock with a strong «singer-songwriter component» was the word of day, or, at least, one of those words. The differences between Hollies and Would You Believe? (another one of those strange albums where the supposed title track would only turn up on a later record, like The Doors' Waiting For The Sun) are subtle and nuanced, but they do exist and are easily located — yes, The Hollies did evolve, because back in 1966, nobody could stay alive and not evolve, unless they were Elvis or something.

In terms of consistency, Would You Believe? does suffer from the same issues as Hollies, con­taining some definitively «progressive» tracks alongside stuff that would have made sense in 1964, but certainly not in 1966 — for instance, who the heck wanted to hear yet another version of ʽSweet Little Sixteenʼ, taken at face value, in the year of Revolver and Blonde On Blonde? Not that Allan Clarke couldn't do the song justice, but, I mean, come on now! and the same pretty much goes for Buddy Holly's ʽTake Your Timeʼ, although here at least I can understand the moti­vation: after The Beatles had shown, with their treatment of ʽWords Of Loveʼ, how Buddy Holly masterpieces could be brought up to modern recording standards without losing an ounce of their original spirit, it was only natural that The Hollies, located in the same Abbey Road Studios, should eventually follow their example. They do not do that much of a great job with ʽTake Your Timeʼ, though, because the thick, colorful electric guitars are a little wobbly, a far cry from the needle-thin precision of Harrison's lead guitar on ʽWords Of Loveʼ.

These choices, much like ʽMickey's Monkeyʼ last time around, are all the more strange consi­dering that the band members continue to grow as songwriters. Acoustic folk-pop balladry rarely gets better than ʽHard, Hard Yearʼ, a slow, but defiant shuffle with strong harmonies, lyrics that may have actually related to the band members themselves ("so I've gotta get back on my feet, and prove to myself I'm a man!"), and, on top of it all, a quasi-psychedelic screechy guitar solo from Hicks that sounds more like Jefferson Airplane than classic Hollies. ʽOriental Sadnessʼ only toys with true «oriental» chord sequences briefly in the intro and outro sections, but this adds a touch of intrigue to this otherwise normal, but very catchy pop tune. ʽI've Got A Way Of My Ownʼ is an uplifting pop waltz and another great showcase for the band's tripartite harmonies. Only ʽFifi The Fleaʼ is a misstep — more of a Graham Nash solo tune than a true Hollies song, it is a corny simplistic acoustic ballad that may have been inspired by watching one too many art cinema flicks (like Fellini's La Strada) and, instead of raising pity for its circus protagonists, chokes on its own lyrical clichés and musical ineptitude. (Alas, it would be far from the last cringeworthy song that Graham would write in his career — he has this nasty habit of overstep­ping his natural boundaries and putting on unnecessary seriousness).

And yet the best songs here are still covers, want it or not. Sam & Dave's ʽI Take What I Wantʼ is honestly done by these guys better than the original — Allan Clarke, apparently, had decided that he would give it his all to sound like a ferocious predator this time, and that he does: his "and baby, I want you!" is one of those mating calls that deserves either an immediate surrender or an immediate punch in the balls, but remaining completely immune to it is simply not an option. It is one of their most openly rocking numbers, ever, and for the second time in a row, opens the album with a mega-ballsy kick. The situation with Simon & Garfunkel's ʽI Am A Rockʼ is more delicate, since the song was all about Paul Simon, and it is somehow less easy to think of Allan Clarke as somebody who "builds walls, a fortress deep and might" (nor does he give a particular­ly strong impression of somebody who has his books and his poetry to protect him). Nevertheless, he does know a thing or two about bitter sarcasm, irony, and haughtiness, so the band's interpre­tation is worth respect, not to mention its perfection from a purely technical angle (harmonies, etc.) — plus, anything to popularize S&G in Britain is always welcome.

The best comes last, though: ʽI Can't Let Goʼ, a great song originally recorded by little-known singer Evie Sands — The Hollies faithfully follow her version, but tighten everything up to their strongest level, making a far more complex, winding vocal arrangement that summarizes every­thing you need to know about crazy, head-spinning passion, resolving in a high sustained note from Nash that, according to apocryphal information, either Harrison or McCartney, depending on the particular version of the story, originally mistook for a trumpet blast. Whoever thought the band could never top the anthemic power of ʽI'm Aliveʼ would be mistaken — ʽI Can't Let Goʼ is just as strong an anthem, but it's also MAD. And the ringing guitar riff, resonating all over the place like a fire alarm, adds even more fuel to the fire.

Just a few months later, ʽI Can't Let Goʼ was followed by ʽBus Stopʼ, now conveniently added as a bonus track to the CD release of the album — probably one of the band's most iconic songs, something like their equivalent of ʽWaterloo Sunsetʼ in the subtle Britishness of its romantic message. What makes the song so eerily special is its A minor tonality, setting up an atmosphere of melancholy and sadness even as the lyrics allegedly narrate a happy love story — yet the «rainy» atmosphere of the song and the subtle trick of always using the past tense in the lyrics (" August, she was mine") make it seem as if the singer is reminiscing about past happiness by the side of his lover's / wife's grave or something. No idea if that was Graham Gouldman's original intention when he wrote the tune, but that definitely is the way it came out — and, you know, the best love songs are always tragic ones, so no wonder that even the American audiences were captivated, turning it into The Hollies' first big chart success across the ocean.

Other than ʽBus Stopʼ, the bonus tracks are not all that appealing — some forgettable B-sides and rarities, mostly, including two predictably awful performances in Italian — but lovers of Sixties' oddities will probably appreciate ʽAfter The Foxʼ, the title track to a Peter Sellers movie that was actually performed as a duet between The Hollies and Sellers (and written, along with all the other music to the movie, by Bacharach/David). It is arguably one of the goofiest things the band ever did — and they would probably spend a lot of time scratching their heads and wondering hy on Earth would they ever consent to doing something like that. Still, a bit of mindless goofiness never hurt anybody in the long run, and it certainly does not bring down the album's rating (at least it is still tons more fun than ʽFifi The Fleaʼ) — another firm thumbs up for these guys.


  1. I'm not entirely with you on the Hollies - I want to love them more than I do. However, great review as always. I walk away with a perspective on the music that I didn't have before.

  2. I think the self-written album tracks here are just as good as anything that their contemporaries were doing at the time... and better than what a lot of bands were doing in 66.

  3. Can't agree with you on 'Can't Let Go', to me Evie Sands version is a lot more soulful and touching. Also for 1966 it seems too outdated to have so many covers on the record. Songs here are neat but The Hollies didn't click with me truly until I heard their albums full of originals. Singing other people's tunes seem a bit of a cheating to me.