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The Hollies

Manchester’s answer to The BEATLES (or, even, England’s answer to The EVERLY BROTHERS), the effervescent, harmony-addled HOLLIES inspired many a pop/rock group themselves, including HERMAN’S HERMITS, the BEE GEES, The BYRDS and the related CROSBY, STILLS & NASH, from which ally GRAHAM NASH was an integral part.
One of the top-flight British Invasion acts that took America by storm, The HOLLIES chalked up many a transatlantic hit, although it was in Britain between 1964-65 that `Just One Look’, `Here I Go Again’, `We’re Through’, `Yes I Will’, chart-topper `I’m Alive’ and `Look Through Any Window’, successively reached the Top 10. At the turn of the 70s, after leaving behind the bubblegum-pop of the memorable `Bus Stop’, `Carrie-Anne’ and `Jennifer Eccles’, the evergreen HOLLIES reached another high with `He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, while the mid-70s unfolded the soft-rock caress of global smash `The Air That I Breathe’.
It was 1962 that Messrs Allan Clarke and Graham Nash abandoned all thoughts of keeping skiffle alive by forming an EVERLY BROTHERS-type duo, Ricky and Dane Young. When The Fourtones team (guitarists Pete Bocking and Derek Quinn, bassist John “Butch” Mepham and drummer Keith Bates) tied in with their plans, the 6-piece rehearsed, until Quinn decided to join Mancunian rivals FREDDIE AND THE DREAMERS. Almost immediately, Clarke and Nash were roped into The Deltas (led by guitarist Vic Steele, bassist Eric Haydock and drummer Don Rathbone) to replace The MINDBENDERS-bound Eric Stewart (later of 10CC), and soon, the name of The HOLLIES would crop up as Xmas ‘62 approached; mainly in order to commemorate their idol BUDDY HOLLY.
With Steele unwilling to take a professional leap forward after the group were discovered at The Cavern in Liverpool, and with chief scout Ron Richards already booked to produce their debut 45 for Parlophone Records (also home to The BEATLES), replacement Tony Hicks was chosen to play on their debut version of The COASTERS’ `(Ain’t That) Just Like Me’. Top 30 in no time at all, it was tracked by another COASTERS hit that bubbled under the Top 10: `Searchin’’; their first of 21 consecutive Top 20 hits spread over several years.
As Bobby Elliott (from SHANE FENTON & The Fentones) took over from Rathbone, the group’s harmonies were finding a heart within their flock. Growing stronger with each release, the Top 10 entry `Stay’ (inked by MAURICE WILLIAMS) marked time before the slightly belated delivery of their debut set, STAY WITH THE HOLLIES (1964) {*6}. Comprising only one Nash-Clarke original, `Little Lover’ (the US version “Here I Go Again” had Hicks & Elliott’s `Keep Off That Friend Of Mine’), the trick was to facsimile the American R&B market by way of:- LITTLE RICHARD (`Lucille’), CHUCK BERRY (`Talking ‘Bout You’ and `Memphis’), RAY CHARLES (`What Kind Of Girl Are You’), ARTHUR ALEXANDER (`You Better Move On’), CONWAY TWITTY (`It’s Only Make Believe’), Berry Gordy, Jr. (`Do You Love Me’), Jimmie Thomas (`Rockin’ Robin’), Roy Lee Johnson (`Mr. Moonlight’), et al.
A further three Top 10 hits rolled off the conveyor-belt, courtesy of DORIS TROY’s `Just One Look’, Mort Shuman & Clive Westlake’s `Here I Go Again’ and Nash’s `We’re Through’ (credited to his pseudonym L. Ransford), but as none were present on sophomore set IN THE HOLLIES STYLE (1964) {*5}. It flopped unceremoniously. Run-of-the-mill cover versions or penned by Clarke, Hicks and er… L. Ransford, the highlights were indeed few and far between; the re-treads of `It’s In Her Kiss’, `What Kind Of Boy’ and CHUCK BERRY’s `Too Much Monkey Business’ won the day.
The formula was repeated when Goffin & Titleman’s `Yes I Will’, Clint Ballard, Jr.’s `I’m Alive’ and Graham Gouldman’s `Look Through Any Window’ (their Stateside breakthrough) had no place on third set, HOLLIES (1965) {*6}, a Top 20 entry, although all but the former song did emerge on the American equivalent, “Hear! Here!” – and as a stand-in for Holland-Dozier-Holland’s `Mickey’s Monkey’; their folk-soul covers were dispersed through `Very Last Day’ (PETER, PAUL & MARY), `You Must Believe In Me’ (CURTIS MAYFIELD, `Down The Line’ (ROY ORBISON), `Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ (LLOYD PRICE) and a few others.
Almost exclusive and from the pen of GEORGE HARRISON, `If I Needed Someone’ stalled at No.20 when usurped as a result of The BEATLES releasing its parent set Rubber Soul that December. The following February, The HOLLIES were back near the the top of the charts with `I Can’t Let Go’, a track (unlike other smash hit `Bus Stop’ from Gouldman) was available on the band’s fourth LP, WOULD YOU BELIEVE? (1966) {*6}. Another to be recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London, the Ransford pieces showed a drift into the current folk-rock field, as did a few covers, `Stewball’ and PAUL SIMON’s `I Am A Rock’, that sat uneasily beside BUDDY HOLLY’s `Take Your Time’, Chip Taylor’s `I Can’t Let Go’ and R&B staples `That’s How Strong My Love Is’ (Roosevelt Jamison), `Sweet Little Sixteen’ (CHUCK BERRY) and `I Take What I Want’ (ISAAC HAYES).
In the space of five months, The HOLLIES were back in the album charts with FOR CERTAIN BECAUSE… (1966) {*6}, a record that provided another transatlantic Top 10 hit, `Stop! Stop! Stop!’ – its US title. It introduced newbie bassist Bernie Calvert (ex-Dolphins). Finally, Nash, Clarke and Hicks (not now as Ransford) had been allowed to prove themselves as songwriters with every track. Pitted against The BEATLES’ Revolver and The ROLLING STONES’ Aftermath, it fell ever so short in comparison, but there was staying power in among the folk-ish AM/Baroque-pop of `Clown’, `It’s You’ and the US-only Top 30 hit, `Pay You Back With Interest’.
During the first phase of their career, The HOLLIES were basically a pop industry beat group that was now jumping on the psychedelic bandwagon in 1967 with the trippy EVOLUTION {*7}. Once again slightly altered for American publication to include attendant hit `Carrie-Anne’ (as the Top 20 set reached the US Top 50), the best tracks that over-lapped were `Then The Heartaches Begin’, `You Need Love’ and `Have You Ever Loved Somebody’.
Stretching out the formula on BUTTERFLY (1967) {*5} – released in the States as “Dear Eloise / King Midas In Reverse” as to basically add both Top 50 single titles – the mythical pretentiousness of the former piece never quite passed the “acid test” that was required in these competitive psychedelic days. 1968 started in fine fettle when the catchy `Jennifer Eccles’. It gave The HOLLIES another major hit, but with no corresponding LP for this or follow-on UK-only chart entry `Listen To Me’ (penned by Hazzard again), the group seemed to be in a creative limbo.
This was proved legitimate when Graham could not refuse an offer to help form harmony-rock supergroup CROSBY, STILLS & NASH. Following his departure, The HOLLIES roped in Terry Sylvester (from The SWINGING BLUE JEANS) and were quickly back on song, at least in the UK, on Top 3 hit `Sorry Suzanne’ (penned by Geoff Stephens & Tony Macaulay). When a certain folk-rock singer had surfaced from the “basement” with a plethora of fresh tracks, it was time for pop groups to exploit the Zimmerman’s “back pages”. 1969’s HOLLIES SING DYLAN {*4} – issued Stateside as “Words And Music By Bob Dylan” – went down like a lead zeppelin, although it reached Top 10 status in Britain. More or less the main reason why NASH bailed, the folk purists must’ve sharpened their pitchforks on hearing the soapy-bubble re-vamps of `All I Really Want To Do’, `Blowin’ In The Wind’, `My Back Pages’ and `The Times They Are A-Changin’’, while `This Wheel’s On Fire’, `I Shall Be Released’, `Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)’, must’ve given The BAND stage fright. Other DYLAN disciples MANFRED MANN, JULIE DRISCOLL et al, were of the same mind; but The HOLLIES were one of the first outsiders to cut `When The Ship Comes In’, `I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, `I Want You’, `Quit Your Low Down Ways’ and `Just Like A Woman’.
Thankfully, peace in the valleys was restored somewhat when the much-loved ballad, `He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ (scribed by Bob Russell & Bobby Scott), duly became a global smash. Otherwise only available on the identically-titled US Top 40 LP version, and not the melodious and redemptious UK equivalent HOLLIES SING HOLLIES (1969) {*5}, the quintet’s light-weight approach was turning off even their most steadfast fanbase. But for `Please Let Me Please’ and Clarke’s `Soldier’s Dilemma’ (the latter substituted in the US alongside `Marigold: Gloria Swansong’), it could’ve done worse.
Annoying omitted from The HOLLIES’ next long-player, CONFESSIONS OF THE MIND (1970) {*5}, UK Top 20 singles `I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top’ and `Gasoline Alley Bred’ were relatively both flops in the States, and only the latter track was available on the overseas title “Moving Finger”. Breaking the songs down to Hicks or Clarke or Clarke/Sylvester (the former pair seemed to have been isolated musically), one could cherry-pick from `Perfect Lady Housewife’, the CSN-like `Little Girl’ and the poignant Clarke-Hicks-Nash time-piece `Survival Of The Fittest’.
1971 saw `Hey Willy’ hit the Top 30 (the SWEET might’ve been impressed), but there was no room at the inn – or album – on DISTANT LIGHT {*5}. Released in America the following April, it finally yielded a major hit when the belatedly-issued `Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)’ – The HOLLIES’ (Clarke with Cook-Greenaway) most revered all-time classic – gate-crashed the US Top 3 (UK Top 40). Distinctive in its CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL swamp-rock sound, the platter was head and shoulders above the set’s other pieces, including `To Do With Love’, `What A Life I’ve Led’ and US-only hit `Long Dark Road’, three of five cuts were authored by Hicks and singer/actor/comic KENNY LYNCH.
A solo-bound ALLAN CLARKE had left just as the previous releases were making the upgrade, his replacement Mikael Rickfors (from Sweden) – who’d joined in August ’71 – was therefore finding it nigh-on impossible to fit in; confusion was certainly in the airwaves when `The Baby’ (penned by Chip Taylor) reached the Top 30 for Polydor Records when the resurgence was not yet underway. The Swede’s sole contribution, `Touch’, to 1972’s ROMANY {*5} was encouraging, but the wintry collages and an array of outsider sources (including Colin Jennings on a handful) had little to do with the covers of JUDEE SILL’s `Jesus Was A Crossmaker’ and DAVID ACKLES’ `Down River’.
When umpteenth album OUT ON THE ROAD (1973) {*4} could only impress German fans (unreleased UK/US), the calculated conclusion was that Clarke had been missed. Failing to impress the buying public, Rickfors was surplus to requirements when the main man returned in a full-time capacity in July 1973. Almost immediately The HOLLIES reinstated themselves by way of a Top 30 hit, `The Day That Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGhee’, and was posse’d the following February by an ALBERT HAMMOND song that narrowly missed the No.1 spot, `The Air That I Breathe’ (#6 Stateside). It’d been some time since the quintessential quintet hit the album charts, but with the eponymous HOLLIES (1974) {*4}, their resurrection was complete; and this time they left no stone or recent 45 unturned. However, although 1975’s ANOTHER NIGHT {*6} produced two minor US hits in `Sandy’ (the property of SPRINGSTEEN) and the title song, the album was a disappointment sales-wise; ditto WRITE ON (1976) {*4} and RUSSIAN ROULETTE (1976) {*4}.
On the back of a hugely fruitful, UK Top 5 world tour concert LP, HOLLIES LIVE HITS (1977) {*6}, recorded a year previously and spanning their long career, A CRAZY STEAL (1978) {*5}, procured only the one song as a single, EMMYLOU HARRIS’ `Boulder To Birmingham’. Produced by the “Project-less” ALAN PARSONS, further 45s `Hello To Romance’ and `Amnesty’ failed to register.
On the back of a “20 Golden Greats” near chart-topper in ’78, FIVE THREE ONE – DOUBLE SEVEN O FOUR (1979) {*4} roped in additional members Gary Brooker and B.J. Wilson (to collaborate/guest on the track `Harlequin’), while other songwriters Tony Hymas and PETE BROWN contributed three tracks (`Maybe It’s Dawn’, `Song Of The Sun’ and `Something To Live For’); solo star MURRAY HEAD was behind `When I’m Yours’ and his own hit `Say It Ain’t So, Jo’.
There was hardly a fuss when The HOLLIES reverted to type on their full-set tribute to “BUDDY HOLLY” (1980) {*4}, but when `Heartbeat’ failed to raise a pulse, the back-tracking “Holliedaze” – the name of their Top 30 medley showcase – looked decidedly over. Never really an album kind of band, even the “20th Anniversary” return of GRAHAM NASH for 1983’s WHAT GOES AROUND… {*4} couldn’t revive the quartet’s fortunes; Sylvester and Calvert had bailed after ‘81’s single flop `Take My Love And Run’.
Clarke, Hicks and Elliott remained the core of the group, adding Alan Coates (guitar, banjo, vocals), Steve Stroud (bass) and Dennis Haines (keyboards) when singles – not albums – were delivered by Columbia Records. Despite several attempts at the charts, it was exposure for nugget `He Ain’t Heavy…’ on a Miller Lite UK TV ad that produced their 23-year wait for a second chart-topper in 1988.
In their pre-millennium twilight years, keyboardist Ian Parker would take his place in the sextet (Ray Stiles for Stroud), while the post-millennium period powered forward as former MOVE singer Carl Wayne filled the berth of Allan Clarke, who once again bailed. Sadly, Wayne was to pass away in 2004, but with Peter Howarth joining Hicks, Elliott, Parker, Stiles and (Coates’ replacement) Steve Lauri, The HOLLIES days looked brighter on soft-rock “comeback” set, STAYING POWER (2006) {*4}. With main writers Mark Read & Graham Stack and Chris Braide respectively, the JOHN FARNHAM-esque set was one for the toe-tappers ‘n’ slippers club; ditto THEN, NOW, ALWAYS (2010) {*4}.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS May2015

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