Monday, August 29, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE HOLLIES - CLARKE, HICKS & NASH YEARS
The Hollies were the odd duck of the British Invasion groups. They lasted longer than anybody but The Rolling Stones, and actually got better with age. They were never comfortable as a Beat group, and were really more of a British Beach Boys, with vocals and arrangements the real strength of the band. The core members were Nash, Allan Clarke and Tony Hicks, sand although they had some success in North America, they were far bigger in England during this time. Oddly, after Nash's departure their real world-wide success happened, with Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress, He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother and The Air That I Breathe all to come later in the 70's. These are The Hollies of Carrie-Anne, Bus Stop and Stop Stop Stop, Top 10 hits but not huge on our shores.
After The Beatles had broken out of Liverpool, EMI sent the scouts out to other provincial cities, assuming there must be more of the same elsewhere. Way before Joy Division and The Happy Mondays, The Hollies put Manchester on the map. The band was writing their own songs, but certainly not at Lennon-McCartney level, so at first they only made it to b-sides and album tracks. In the meantime, their stage show provided the majority of the cuts, often the same one all the other groups were doing, U.S. covers such as Searchin', Poison Ivy and Mr. Moonlight, and Chuck Berry and Little Richard numbers. It takes almost the entire first CD to get to a stand-out cut, their version of Just One Look, where you can start to hear the distinct vocal blend.
Like all the other groups, the writing got better, but The Hollies never seemed to get the big self-penned hit. While The Stones had Satisfaction, The Kinks You Really Got Me, and The Who had My Generation, The Hollies hits came from outside writers. Bus Stop was from a 16-year old kid, Graham Gouldman, who would also pen No Milk Today for Herman's Hermits, For Your Love and Heart Full Of Soul for The Yardbirds and then form 10CC years later. Meantime, the writing trio of Hicks, Nash and Clarke were getting better, as the b-sides and album tracks showed, just not a-side material yet. That's when this set really gets going, when you discover tasty little numbers that stand out in the 7 hours of listening, such as Disc 2's What Kind Of Boy. You could make a really great 15-track mix cd out of these barely-known gems.
As the 60's moved on, the productions got more complicated, and you can hear The Hollies following the more complicated productions of The Beatles. The world was watching the Fabs and George Martin as they revolutionized pop music with I Feel Fine, Rain, and Strawberry Field Forever. The Hollies and their EMI staff producer Ron Richards were definitely second-string at the label, and were given smaller budgets and less time to be creative. But they still tried to experiment, and more often than not came up with something worthwhile. Meanwhile, under Richards' tutelage, the songwriting was getting better.
Stop Stop Stop was the first one of note to come from the trio, and from then on, the confidence was there. On A Carousel took it further, and then Carrie-Anne was a huge hit. But Nash was changing, getting more complicated and mature. King Midas In Reverse was a smart lyric and production, but didn't do as well in sales, and the the rest of the group worried. Nash started to see himself as he odd man out. One of the main differences, he admits, was that he was smoking a lot of dope and the rest weren't. In 1967, he went to California and started harmonizing with Crosby and Stills, and fell in love with that blend. Back in England, his bandmates balked at new material he wanted to record, such as Marrakesh Express and Teach Your Children. The final straw was a proposed album of pop arrangements of Dylan songs. Nash left, and for once, it worked out great for everyone. The Hollies had more and bigger hits, which they wanted, and Nash got creative control, some new friends, and far greater fame than he had ever had.
The highlight of the bonuses included in this set is a half-hour live concert from 1968, recently discovered. The big hits are here, and we find out the band could do it live, too. My interest in the group has certainly increased. The Hollies weren't The Beatles or Stones, they didn't have the true R'n'B chops and grit of The Animals, they couldn't touch The Who or The Kinks. But, they were better than Gerry and The Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and it's a toss-up with the Dave Clark Five. I might not do the seven hours, start-to-finish run on this box again, but I like having it.