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The Hollies

Reviewed on this page:
Stay With - In The Hollies Style - Hollies (1965) - Would You Believe? - Evolution - Confessions Of The Mind - Hollies (1974) - Live Hits

Once upon a time, Britain's number two rock band was a group from Manchester with an almost childish name - the Hollies - that paid unintentional but oddly appropriate tribute to the departed master of pop-flavored 50s rock 'n' roll. Even before the Beatles' 1964 conquest of America, the two groups were competing on the U.K. singles charts. They continued to do so with ever-increasing intensity clear through to 1967, the year that rhythm guitarist and harmony singer Graham Nash suddenly quit the Hollies, moved to California, and hooked up with David Crosby and Stephen Stills to form rock music's first true supergroup.

The Hollies remained a commercial force in Britain for years after Nash's departure - they'd already racked up 13 British Top 10 hits with him, but managed three more in 1969 and 1970. The post-Nash LPs are interesting historical artifacts, full of quirky, limp-wristed attempts at keeping up with trends in pop music. But from a critic's point of view, only the Nash era material is truly important, and not just because of the band's long mid-60s string of carefully constructed hit singles. The real drama lies in the LPs, which chart the widening rift in the band. Alan Clarke and Tony Hicks' exciting, Beatles-influenced rock was counter-weighted by their crass pop confections, and contrasted starkly with Nash's growing independence, sincere artistic ambition, and admirable openness to the era's heady musical experimentation. The original tunes on those records are all credited to Clarke-Hicks-Nash (at first under the pseudonym "Ransford"), but Nash's typically low-key balladry soon starts to stand out like a sore thumb.

Frustratingly, Nash's material is often buried by Clarke and Hicks' over-calculated pop pablum, and the group's weak rhythm section and underuse of Hicks' lead guitar mastery sapped the energy out of their LP tracks whenever they got away from their original, high-powered Merseybeat rock 'n' roll. That said, the Hollies' roaring tenor harmonies are a constant source of interest, and Clarke's vocals were so commanding that you can see why they let Nash take only a handful of the lead parts. Unless you're a fan of post-Nash Hollies radio hits such as "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," "Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)," or "The Air That I Breathe," you'll probably want to avoid everything they did after 1967 - and their earlier albums also are full of painful moments. But I'd strongly recommended at least trying to get a greatest hits package that focuses on their mid-60s heyday.

Just as with the Beatles and Stones, the Hollies' original British LPs were retitled and heavily reworked for U.S. release, often becoming completely unrecognizable. Because most of those U.S. versions have never been released on CD and I have none of them, I've listed the standard British discography only.

One of the more informative Hollies fan sites is Rob Haywood's Hollies site, which among other things has an excellent discography. There's also a good U.S. site called Home For The Hollie Days. (JA)


Allan Clarke (lead vocals, harmonica), Bobby Elliott (drums), Eric Haydock (bass), Tony Hicks (lead guitar, vocals), Graham Nash (rhythm guitar, vocals). Haydock left, replaced by Bernie Calvert (bass, some keyboards), 1966. Nash quit, replaced by Terry Sylvester, 1968. Clarke quit, replaced by Mikael Rickfors (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), late 1971; Clarke returned, late 1973. Group disbanded, 1981.

Stay With (1963)
Their quickly recorded debut LP is uncannily close to Please Please Me: elementary but endlessly rehearsed instrumental backing, primitive production, Hicks' brief and basic guitar solos, incidental harmonica parts ("Candy Man"), clever harmonies, and Clarke's ear-shattering, from-the-gut lead vocals. But at this point Clarke and Nash were far behind Lennon and McCartney in the songwriting department, contributing just one original tune ("Little Lover," a pretty sharp Beatles-style rock song that makes everything else here sound outdated). So the disc is totally dominated by covers from the Beatles' repertoire: Chuck Berry ("I'm Talking Bout You"; "Memphis"); Little Richard ("Lucille"); twist music (the Contours' enthusiastic "Do You Love Me," written by Berry Gordy); rockabilly (Conway Twitty's Everly Brothers-like 12/8 ballad "It's Only Make Believe"; "Candy Man," a hit for Roy Orbison); R & B (Ray Charles' soaring 3/4 testimonial "What Kind Of Girl Are You"); and assorted rock 'n' roll standards ("Rockin' Robin") - they even manage to breathe some life into "Mr. Moonlight," an embarassment for the Fab Four a year later. The group's first two singles are omitted ("(Ain't That) Just Like Me"; "Searchin'"), so there's only one A-side (Maurice Williams' screechy "Stay," later a hit for both the Four Seasons and Jackson Browne). If none of this sounds too inviting, at least there aren't any treacly show tunes, and the vocals are so outrageously over-the-top that the record demands your attention. Produced by Ron Richards. (JA)

In The Hollies Style (1964)
By now the group was a major commercial factor in England - they had three Top 10 hits in 1964 ("Just One Look"; "Here I Go Again"; "We're Through"), none of which are on this album. And just like the Beatles, their songwriting was rapidly improving: here the Ransford = Clarke-Hicks-Nash team wrote seven of thirteen songs. But the disc is uneven, and Richards' production is still very basic - there's some occasional percussion like cowbells and handclaps, but otherwise it's guitar-bass-drums-harmonica all the way. The major high points are their dreamy, mid-tempo "Time For Love," complete with metronomic, Motown-style rhythm guitar; "You'll Be Mine," with an elaborately descending melody that shows off Clarke's range; and Nash's first recorded solo vocal on "To You My Love," which sounds like one of Paul McCartney's contemporary, Mediterranean-flavored ballads. The rest of the originals are routine two-minute Beatles imitations ("Don't You Know," where they even cop Ringo's drumming style; "Come On Home"; "Set Me Free"), often nicely done and both melodically and harmonically sophisticated ("Please Don't Feel Too Bad"), but hardly memorable. The covers mostly work too, including the sweet, Everly Brothers-ish "I Thought Of You Last Night"; the tension-building R & B tune "What Kind Of Boy"; and the supercharged medley of "Nitty Gritty" and Etta James' 1962 hit "Something's Got A Hold On Me." But the primitive Merseybeat arrangement of Betty Everett's contemporary pop song "It's In Her [= His] Kiss" makes it sound instantly dated, and the energy level is slipping: although their cover of Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" is as frantic as they get, it's not even as exciting as the Yardbirds' contemporary live version. (JA)

Hollies (1965)
Still chronically short on material and so successful with 45s that LPs hardly mattered, the group knocked off seven covers to complement just five orginals - once again, none of their contemporary singles was included ("Yes I Will"; "I'm Alive," their only British #1 hit until a re-issue of "He Ain't Heavy" topped the charts in 1988; "Look Through Any Window," their first Top 40 hit in the U.S.; and George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone," which sold relatively poorly). It's a shame, because by now the "Ransford" songwriting team truly could out-Beatle the Beatles, or at least the Beatles circa late 1964 ("I've Been Wrong," with Nash soaring on the choruses; the energetic "Put Yourself In My Place"; "When I Come Home To You"). Best of all are the down-tempo ballad "So Lonely," with a glowing, reverby 12-string part, and their remarkable, strongly John Lennon-inspired message tune "Too Many People." But the covers are creaky, ranging from childish twist music ("Mickey's Monkey") to sappy Everlys-style balladry ("That's My Desire") to weak roots rock ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy") and rockabilly (Roy Orbison's "Down The Line," about as lame as the Beatles doing Carl Perkins). They can't even best the Stones' take on the annoying gimmick tune "Fortune Teller." Still, their Merseybeat arrangement of "You Must Believe Me" is fun, and the blaringly harmonized gospel-folk tune "Very Last Day" nicely recalls contemporary Simon & Garfunkel. There's no real musical progression here, but it's a major find for Beatlemaniacs. (JA)

Would You Believe? (1966)
By now the group had fallen far behind the Beatles, stuffing their latest album with shockingly primitive covers. At least there are four good "Ransford" compositions: "Hard, Hard Year," which sounds like one of Lennon's contemporary down-tempo semi-acoustic ballads; the poppy "Oriental Sadness," with Nash singing the fine chorus; Nash's 3/4 acoustic solo spotlight "Fifi The Flea," an important marker in his artistic development; and the exciting "I've Got A Way Of My Own," complete with wailing harmonica and Dylan-meets-the-Fab-Four influences. They also have enough good taste to cover Stax-Volt (the danceable "Take What I Want"). But they stoop to disintering Chuck Berry ("Sweet Little Sixteen") and Buddy Holly ("Take Your Time"), and they put an anachronistic rock 'n' roll stamp on newer material (6/8 "That's How Strong My Love Is," already a hit for the In Crowd in 1965; Hank Ballad's sappy "Don't You Even Care? (What's Gonna Happen To Me)"). The biggest embarassment, though, is a gratuitous, fairly literal take on Simon & Garfunkel's "I Am A Rock" (Lonnie Donegan's old skiffle hit "Stewball" also sounds here like an early-period S & G folk song). The record does have some real saving graces: "I've Got A Way Of My Own" and their brilliantly arranged, 12-string fortified, memorable hit single "I Can't Let Go" (by Taylor and Gorgoni) - it sports one of their most thrilling harmony lines. Still, though, this seems like a joke compared to Rubber Soul or Revolver. Although someone had finally figured out that including a hit single was a good idea, the record omits the contemporary "Bus Stop" (by Graham Gouldman), one of their best recordings ever and their first U.S. single to hit the Top 10. (JA)

For Certain Because (1966)
The group still seems out of touch here, with Clarke often draggging them into rock-free pop with off-the-shelf orchestration. But Nash's contributions are far more interesting, and they finally start to experiment a bit with complex production values. Hicks' "Stop Stop Stop," the only single here and big hit, is a bizarre gimmick tune with a goofy 2/4 country beat and a reverb-heavy banjo lead, vaguely like the Rolling Stones' contemporary joke tunes. "Pay You Back With Interest" was released in the U.S. only as a single. Bassist Calvert's first album (he joined the group for "Bus Stop"). At about the same time the group released an unsuccessful single (Bacharach & David's "After The Fox") that came from a movie soundtrack. (JA)

Evolution (1967)
The group's most important artistic contribution: everything is credited to Hicks-Clarke-Nash, and although they're still working with a two-minute pop song format, the kitschy, frequently orchestrated arrangements are clever, Nash has an agreeably prominent role, and almost every track features a daring bit of experimental instrumentation. It's not like the Hollies had suddenly turned into the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but Hicks slathers blaring, psychedelic riffs onto the entertaining "Then The Heartaches Begin" and "Have You Ever Loved Somebody"; the perky "Ye Olde Toffee Shop" is driven by harpsichord; the gentle "Games We Play" has a bizarre, watery vocal effect; etc. Only the pedestrian "Games We Play" is relatively straightforward. The ecstatic "You Need Love" is the high point, with a rapturous melody. But most of the rest shines: Nash's mid-60s McCartney-like ballad "Stop Right There"; the shuffling, goofy "Rain On The Window"; the lurching, Pet Sounds-influenced "Heading For A Fall." I'd rate this higher if there weren't so many other fantastic records in this period. The U.S. version, reviewed here, omits three tracks and adds in the uplifting, unforgettable, collaboratively written hit "Carrie-Anne," with its traded lead vocals and bizarre steel drum solo. The CD includes five excellent Hicks-Clarke-Nash single sides, two important (the playful sing-along "Jennifer Eccles," with an incongruous Hicks pedal steel part, and "Open Up Your Eyes," one of their most exciting up-tempo songs); there's also the run-of-the-mill "When Your Lights Turned On," the soothing "Signs That Will Never Change," and the wacky, Dylan-influenced "Water On The Brain," complete with tuba solo. They released three major singles this year ("On A Carousel"; "Carrie-Anne"; thee experimental "King Midas In Reverse," mostly by Nash), and none of them were on the U.K. album or the next one. The first two were massive hits, but "King Midas" sold relatively poorly and they temporarily fell off the charts in the U.S. (JA)

Butterfly (1967)
Nash's last album with the group before quitting. After this, the group was in disarray but did get out two solid singles in 1968 ("Jennifer Eccles" and "Listen To Me"). Parlophone bought time by releasing a greatest hits package that consisted of 14 A-sides from 1964 through 1968, excluding only "If I Needed Someone," "After The Fox," and "Listen To Me" (which came out after the album). (JA)

The Hollies Sing Dylan (1969)
Terry Sylvester's first album, and the group's first album after a gap of nearly a year and a half. It's literally just what the title says it is, focusing on Dylan's more romantic tunes ("Just Like A Woman"; "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight") with just a few of his more thought-provoking tracks like "This Wheel's On Fire" and the protest song "My Back Pages." Their contemporary hit "Sorry Suzanne" isn't included. (JA)

Hollies Sing Hollies (1969)
All of the tunes are original, mostly by combinations of Clarke, Hicks, and Sylvester, with Clarke sometimes writing alone - plus there's one instrumental by bassist Bernie Calvert. 1969's "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (not on the album) was one of their biggest hits ever, putting them back on the U.S. Top 40 chart and becoming their first gold single. (JA)

Confessions Of The Mind (1970)
A mediocre but mostly satisfying effort, this LP marks a definite retreat from their acid rock phase. It's mostly split between Hicks and Clarke-Sylvester compositions, with one really solid leftover Clarke-Hicks-Nash number in the band's classic mid-60s style ("Survival Of The Fittest"). They are still willing to experiment: Hicks messes with light guitar effects and takes a loose, snappy guitar hero solo (his rocker "Frightened Lady"), and several songs have ambitious orchestral arrangements - his title track, a slightly incoherent mini-pop-symphony; the elegant 3/4 acoustic ballad "Marigold Gloria Swansong," with a floridly orchestrated second half; and the unintentionally hysterical, hyperactive lounge lizard number "Man Without A Heart." The mid-tempo rockers aren't really that wimpy (the taught, surprising Stax-Volt influenced "Perfect Lady Housewife"), although they often sound stuck in 1965 ("Lady Please"). And some stuff really flies ("Fittest"; Hicks' country-western flavored tear-jerker "Little Girl"). But the group's decreasing relevancy is clear - the one really catchy tune is Hicks' painfully tacky, ultra-sappy, and cleverly arranged melodrama "Too Young To Be Married," and there's plenty of cornball soft rock like "Isn't It Nice." The disc was retitled Moving Finger and shorn for U.S. release of the amusing "I Wanna Shout" and Clarke's bizarre, pseudo-Indian acoustic number "Separated." The Sundazed CD includes two solid 1970 B-sides ("Dandelion Wine"; "Mad Professor Blyth") and two modestly-selling A-sides: "I Can't Tell The Bottom From The Top" and the chipper, sharply-performed donated tune "Gasoline Alley Bred," which was swapped on to the U.S. album. (JA)

Distant Light (1971)
Again entirely original, but now Clarke, Hicks and Sylvester are mostly not collaborating and Hicks has a writing partner named Lynch. The source of Clarke's "Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)," which became a modest hit when it was finally released late the next year; it was their first U.S. hit since "He Ain't Heavy." "Long Dark Road," also on this album, was then released in the U.S. as a cash-in attempt. Their only stand-alone single this year was "Hey Willy." (JA)

Romany (1972)
At this point the group left Parlophone for Polydor and Clarke suddenly quit to pursue a solo career. His short-lived Swedish replacement Mikael Rickfors wasn't much of a writer - he's credited with just one tune ("Touch") - and there's just one Hicks-Lynch song ("Blue In The Morning"), so instead there's a bunch of filler written by several outside songwriting teams. "Magic Woman Touch" is on the album and had the dubious honor of becoming their first single other than "After The Fox" not to hit the British Top 50 charts. Earlier the same year Parlophone released "Long Cool Woman" to counter the Hollies' weak-selling debut Polydor/Rickfors single ("The Baby"). (JA)

Hollies (1974)
Not the same as their 1965 album, but a new disc. It sports their rollicking 1973 single "The Day That Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGhee" (Clarke's incredibly crass rewrite of "Long Cool Woman"), plus their sickly-sweet surprise hit "The Air That I Breathe," which ended up being their last commercial hurrah. Their second gold single in the U.S., it was their last newly recorded entry into the British Top 50, and they waited nine more years for another U.S. hit. "Air That I Breathe" is a slo-mo pop travesty, with grating strings and uncredited female harmonies that make it sound like the blueprint for Abba's mid-70s hit singles. And they didn't even write it (it's by Albert Hammond and Hazlewood, whoever that is). But everything else apart from that and the quirky Hicks-Sylvester tune "Transatlantic Westbound Jet" (like Deep Purple meets the Monkees) was written by some combination of Clarke and Sylvester, or by Hicks and his collaborators. It's mostly cheerful, crisply produced retro rock that makes the most of Clarke and Hicks' gutsy lead vocals and Hicks' interesting array of guitar sounds. The more up-tempo (but still mid-tempo) numbers suggest the group's mid-60s sound ("Out On The Road"; the pleasant "Rubber Lucy," with some sharp lead guitar), sometimes their cutesy harmonies are innocent fun ("It's A Shame, It's A Game"), and several other tracks like the loping country song "Falling Calling" are harmless enough. But the cheese factor is pretty high here. There's a silly 50s sock hop slow dance ("Love Makes The World Go Round"), a sappy but moderately enjoyable orchestrated Clarke ballad ("Don't Let Me Down," worthy of Neil Diamond), and even worse, Sylvester's slimy "Pick Up The Pieces Again." When they're not saccharine, they're often functional but dull ("Down On The Run"). But if you can stomach the record, it's a reasonable diversion. Co-produced by the band and Ron Richards. The follow-up flop single "Son Of A Gambler" isn't on a contemporary album. (JA)

Another Night (1975)
Includes their singles "I'm Down" and "4th July Asbury Park (Sandy)" - a cover of Bruce Springsteen's tune. However, the rest of the record is all originals credited jointly to Clarke, Sylvester, and often Hicks. (JA)

Write On (1976)
This time everything is Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks apart from one tune. The contemporary single "Boulder To Birmingham," written by Danoff and Harris, isn't here; but the slightly later "Star" is. (JA)

Live Hits (rec. 1976)
The group's only easily available live album in the U.S. is a perfunctory, super-professional set recorded at a single show in New Zealand in early 1976. They bookend a bunch of uninspiring mid-70s singles like "I'm Down" with a predictable selection of hits, bunching their guilty-pleasure early 70s material ("The Air That I Breathe"; "He Ain't Heavy") toward the end. They'd gone completely polyester by now, and their largely self-written contemporary material is so sappy they sound like Barry Manilow ("My Island"; the would-be Vegas theme song "Another Night"; Springsteen's bathetic "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"). They also mar most of the arrangements with add-on player Pete Wingfield's low-budget synth lines, which range from incongruous ("I Can't Let Go") to downright ridiculous ("Stars"). Hicks' burbling wah wah also seems out of place on the older tunes ("Just One Look"). But the harmonies are as crystalline as ever ("I'm Down"; "Too Young To Be Married"), and they do recreate the 60s tunes well enough to provide some entertainment value ("Bus Stop"; "Stop Stop Stop"; "Carrie-Anne"). Not to mention some interesting song intros: who would have guessed that Clarke, not Hicks, played the reverby lead guitar on "Long Cool Woman"? (JA)

Russian Roulette (1976)
Entirely by Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks. The two included singles are "Daddy Don't Mind" and "Wiggle That Wotsit" (one of their funniest song titles if nothing else). (JA)

A Crazy Steal (1978)
Mostly Clarke-Sylvester-Hicks again, although "Amnesty" is by someone named Doumas. The contemporary singles "Hello To Romance" and "Amnesty" are here, and it also collects 1976's "Boulder To Birmingham." (JA)

5317704 (1979)
That's not a typo; the album's name really is just a string of numbers - which spells "Hollies" upside down and backwards. Although there's one Clarke original ("Satellite Three"), by now they'd gone five years without a hit, so they gave up on songwriting and went with covers (Procol Harum's "Harlequin") and tunes provided to them by the team of Hymas and Brown. The single is "Something To Live For." (JA)

Buddy Holly (1980)
In another act of artistic desperation, they now cut a set of 16 covers of Buddy Holly tunes, releasing "Heartbeat" as a single (early 1980s single "Soldier's Song" isn't on the album and sold better than most of their late-period stuff). Ironically, the group hadn't intended to take its name from Holly in the first place. After this the group released a last-gasp 1981 single ("Take My Love And Run") and then temporarily broke up. (JA)

What Goes Around (1983)
The group had regained some notice in late 1981 when a disco medley of their old hits called "Holliedaze" became a hit itself, which spurred Nash to hook up with them for a reunion album and tour. But none of the band leaders had any new song material, so the single is a cover of "Stop! In The Name Of Love" (a Top 40 hit in the U.S. but a flop in Britain), and the album is padded out with tunes written by Paul Bliss. I'm not sure who's on bass because Calvert's not present and only Clarke, Hicks, Nash, and Elliott are on the cover. Their last original album; afterwards Nash returned to CSNY while Clarke, Hicks and Elliott added some new no-name players and continued to tour and release occasional singles, scoring a modest hit in 1993 with "The Woman I Love" (which appeared on a box set). Clarke eventually retired, but Hicks continues to lead a band under the Hollies' name. (JA)

Archive Alive! (rec. 1983, rel. 1997)
A live record apperently recorded at a single show during their reunion tour with Nash. The extra players are Bliss (keyboards), Pete Anderson (piano), Alan Coates (guitar), and Steve Stroud (bass). Mostly a list of predictable hits, but they do a couple of CSN numbers (the contemporary "Wasted On The Way"; "Teach Your Children"). The only "new" song is the cover of "Stop In The Name Of Love," although they also do "Soldier's Song." (JA)

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