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Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Hollies: For Certain Because...


1) What's Wrong With The Way I Live; 2) Pay You Back With Interest; 3) Tell Me To My Face; 4) Clown; 5) Suspicious Look In Your Eyes; 6) It's You; 7) High Classed; 8) Peculiar Situation; 9) What Went Wrong; 10) Cru­sader; 11) Don't Even Think About Changing; 12) Stop! Stop! Stop!; 13*) On A Carousel; 14*) All The World Is Love.

Late 1966 was a great time for talented pop artists — in some ways, this was the last stop where you could still be a moderately ambitious pop band, investing all you've got into three-minute long upbeat ditties with catchy choruses, before ʽStrawberry Fields Foreverʼ and its ilk put an end to that; at the same time, even that three-minute format already allowed for all sorts of expansion and experimentation, with Revolver being the most obvious example of that. Not surprisingly, it was in late 1966 that The Hollies reached their absolute creative peak — the time was simply per­fect for all their talents to shine through without much danger of failing in areas to which those talents were far less suited. As psychedelic artists, Clarke, Hicks and Nash would spend the next year struggling; as daring and dashing pop artists, 1966 was their year ("took a long time to come", some of the Zombies might add).

All twelve songs on For Certain Because..., their second LP from 1966, are originals, all of them credited directly to Clarke/Hicks/Nash (by then, they had dropped the silly collec­tive pseudonym of «Ransford»). Only one of them was separately released as a single (ʽStop! Stop! Stop!ʼ, again placed at the end of the album), and by the scarceness of bonus tracks on the expanded CD release you can see that they were all but ready to make the transition to the LP era, fairly content now on issuing just one non-LP single per half-year — in this case, it is ʽOn A Carouselʼ, separated from the LP by about two months' time. More importantly, all of the songs on the LP show signs of careful writing: no glaring toss-offs, in fact, almost any of these tunes (Clarke's, at least) could have single potential.

Although everybody shares the same credits, the difference between the principal songwriters, reflected in who sings lead vocals on what, has become very much pronounced now — and it is becoming clear that while Clarke specifically writes «Hollies-tailored» stuff, suitable for both his powerhouse vocals and the group's collective harmonies, Nash is going off on a more solo-oriented tangent, with compositions that are softer, more low-key, more pensive. ʽTell Me To My Faceʼ has a bit of a French pop flair, with a fast, but slightly melancholic lead guitar flourish and a depressed rather than angry vocal part. ʽClownʼ furthers Graham's infatuation with circus ima­gery (remember ʽFifi The Fleaʼ), a grim ballad whose jangly guitars have been shoved so deep in the mix that their subterranean chiming takes on an ominous flavor. And ʽCrusaderʼ, an even slower example of pseudo-medieval folk-pop (with Clarke and Nash sharing lead vocals this time around), is the darkest of 'em all, though still melancholic rather than suicidal. None of these three tunes could be called atmospheric masterpieces — because this is still a very light and safe type of darkness, nothing like The Doors — but each of them selects a point to make and then makes it, and besides, they act as efficient mood-breakers in between all the upbeat stuff.

The upbeat stuff is, of course, what this record is going to be remembered by in the first place. Once again, the LP starts out with an adrenaline-pumping killer opener — ʽWhat's Wrong With The Way I Liveʼ is a self-asserting anthem to personal freedom, this type, of a general rather than sexual nature, and there can be nothing wrong, really, with a song that hooks you up from its very first seconds: with the title delivered so boldly and aggressively, who could really dare to tell Allan Clarke what is wrong with the way he lives? Even Tony Hicks' banjo playing on the song sounds cocky and defiant in this context.

From then on, the hooks never let go — ʽPay You Back With Interestʼ (in addition to the vocal hook, note the quirky tempo changes, the odd echo on the opening piano lines, the strange solo that seemingly consists of chiming bells); ʽSuspicious Look In Your Eyesʼ (probably the most Byrds-influenced song here, but with Roger McGuinn's tenderness exchanged for Allan Clarke's sarcasm); ʽIt's Youʼ (this is probably what ʽLove Me Doʼ would have sounded like had the Beatles decided to write it in 1966 rather than 1962 — a far more creative use for the harmonica here, nested among far more powerful vocal harmonies and more of that cocky banjo); ʽPeculiar Situationʼ (whose soulful verses, not very interesting on their own, take a sharp turn and smash you in the head with one of the album's most stunning vocal choruses); ʽWhat Went Wrongʼ — another great build-up to the chorus, this time aided by a clever brass arrangement (note some melodic parallels here with The Easybeats' ʽFriday On My Mindʼ — incidental, since both songs were released at about the same time). The cabaret throwback ʽHigh Classedʼ, which should probably have been performed by the band in drag, teasing drunk audiences with striptease ele­ments, is at least amusing; and ʽDon't Even Think About Changingʼ (the only song here on which Eric Haydock still plays bass; on everything else, we hear new member Bernie Calvert) does a strange thing by ripping off ʽEverybody Needs Somebody To Loveʼ for its main melody, but still ends up as an original pop song, though probably not a highlight.

All of this eventually leads to ʽStop! Stop! Stop!ʼ, Hicks' defining moment of conquering the banjo (which he plays a little raga-style here, as if it were a sitar) and Clarke's defining moment of story-telling — I don't think he ever went higher or deeper than this heart-pumping tale of a poor loser going bananas for a nightclub dancer. In contrast to their anthemic series of hit singles, this one is definitely weirder, with both comical and disturbing overtones, but this did not prevent the song from becoming yet another smash success for them, because, you know, who doesn't like a good song about trying to make love to a hot dancer right in the middle of her routine? Especially when that quivering banjo part sends you whirling like a spinning top — and this, by the way, is The Hollies' finest substitute for a «psychedelic» effect. Two months later, ʽOn A Carouselʼ would reconfirm that when these guys really wanted to blow your mind, they were much better at it with symbolic innocent metaphors than when they actually tried to show you how high they got on those mushrooms — ʽOn A Carouselʼ, with its revolving verses and loudly ascending vocal harmonies, has a far more «consciousness-liberating» effect than most of the superficially psychedelic tunes off their 1967 records.

None of this is supposed to mean that I rate For Certain Because... at the same «A-level» as the grand masterpieces of 1966 (Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Dylan, Beach Boys, etc.) — with The Hol­lies unable to make the transition into the big leagues (or, rather, the «deep leagues») in 1965, there was little chance they'd be able to make it in the even more demanding 1966. But as far as life on the «B-level» goes, nobody in 1966 made a better pure pop album than For Certain Because..., and considering that it makes good use of many of the stylistic and technological breakthroughs associated with 1966 for the sake of that pure pop, nobody could deny that as late as late 1966, The Hollies were still creatively growing. In fact, Graham Nash grew his first strands of facial hair before any of The Beatles dared to do it, so how could anybody give the record anything less than a thumbs up?


  1. Yeah, this is a very strong record and I truly believe it would be a staple of the 60s would it be out in 1964. It's on the same level as 'A Hard Day's Night' but a bit shallow by 1996's standards.

    Still a wonder that all these songs are originals. Even though song-wise I like 'Butterfly' better, 'For Certain Because' is their most adequate record since I don't think the psychedelic pop genre really suited The Hollies.

  2. As usual, great and informative, even though I don't hold the Hollies in as high regard as you do.

  3. Great review of an excellent album.

    I know it's the vocal harmonies that these guys are most esteemed for, but both Hicks and Elliott are grievously underrated players.

  4. The Hollies are great, but unfortunately fall short of legendary status for intangible reasons. They are more consistent, but less inspiring than some of their B-level peers, Lovin' Spoonful, Mama's and the Papa's, Animals, imo.