The Hollies

The HolliesFrom: Manchester, England

The Hollies were formed in Manchester in 1961 by former schoolmates Allan Clarke and Graham Nash. These two were playing as The Two Teens duo but the addition of Eric Haydock and drummer Don Rathbone led to a change of names to The Fourtones, then The Deltas and by the end of the year, they’d changed names again to The Hollies.

In January 1963, Ron Richards of Parlophone Records saw them playing at Liverpool’s Cavern Club and signed them up immediately. Their first single recorded by line-up (B) was a cover of The Coasters’ (Ain’t That) Just Like Me, which became a minor hit. For the follow-up they turned to another Coasters’ song, Searchin’ and it climbed to No 12. By the time it had reached the charts Don Rathbone had moved into a management capacity to make way for Bobby Elliot, an old pal of Tony Hicks who’d been playing in Shane Fenton and The Fentones on drums. This new line-up’s first single was a revival of Maurice Williams and The Zodiac’s Stay, which produced their first Top 10 hit. After this they worked on their first album, Stay With The Hollies, which certainly sold in large quantities. The hits continued to flow – first a revival of Doris Troy’s Just One Look (which became their first single to enter the US Charts, albeit peaking at only No 98); Here I Go Again and then their first self-penned ‘A’ side, We’re Through. Written by Clarke, Hicks and Nash using the pseudonym L Ransford it made the Top 10, yet despite all their 45 success their next album, In The Hollies Style, failed to chart at all.

By now the band had developed the distinctive three-part harmonies that would be their trademark for several years to come. 1965 was a particularly good year for them. They made the Top 10 with the Goffin/King songYes I Will; topped the US Charts with Clint Ballard Jr’s I’m Alive (undoubtedly one of their finest singles); took Graham Gouldman’s Look Through Any Window into the Top 5, and made the Album Charts Top 10 with a good third album, The Hollies, which featured a wide range of covers like Mickey’s Monkey and Fortune Teller (R&B Lawdy Miss Clawdy (rock’n’roll) and Very Last Day (folk-rock). The band also embarked on their first US tour, playing the New York Broadway Paramount with Little Richard and King Curtis. They enjoyed considerable US success in 1966 and 1967 but suffered undoubtedly from arriving a little later on the scene than The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits.

Their least successful single of the sixties (after their debut) was their version of George Harrison’s If I Needed Someone and this was probably because Harrison slagged the band off, saying they sounded like sessionmen. The single peaked at No 20. To arrest any possible slide in their fortunes, they needed a strong follow-up and they certainly came up trumps with their version of a Chip Taylor’s I Can’t Let Go – this was harmony-pop at its very best and took them to No 2.

In April 1966, Eric Haydock was asked to leave the band after missing several gigs and Bernie Calvert (ex-Dolphins), who could also play keyboards, came in as a replacement. Haydock later formed Haydock’s Rockhouse. Just prior to this the band had recorded the theme tune for a Peter Sellers movie, After The Fox, with Jack Bruce on bass and Burt Bacharach, who did the arranging, on slide piano. The first 45 Calvert played on was Graham Gouldman’s excellent Bus Stop, a song about a bus stop romance, and the result was another Top Ten hit. Their Would You Believe? album also made the Top 20.

Their next single, Stop, Stop, Stop was rather unusual for its distinctive six-string banjo riff. It was also a group-penned composition and it gave them another massive hit.

With the onset of the psychedelic era in 1967, the group continued to come up with new ideas and fresh sounding 45s. First there was On A Carousel, a slice of superb harmony-pop written by the band, which inevitably gave them another Top 10 hit (it also reached No 11 in the US) and then the Calypso-style Carrie-Anne, which had taken Clarke, Hicks and Nash almost two years to write and gave them another massive UK hit.

Work on their sixth album, Evolution, had begun at the start of 1967 but was disrupted when Bobby Elliot was hospitalised for a long spell, after suffering a burst appendix whilst on tour in Germany. The album had to be completed using session drummers Clem Cattini, Dougie Wright and Mitch Mitchell. The album peaked at No 13 in the UK and No 43 in the US. After this, US distribution switched from Imperial to Epic and Imperial released a US-only single, Pay You Back With Interest, which just made the Top 30. Carrie-Anne, their first Epic single fared better though, making it to No 9 in the US.

As 1967 progressed they became even more experimental. Heavily influenced by The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper they started work on a new album, Butterfly. Their next 45, King Midas In Reverse, was a taster of what was to come. Written largely by Graham Nash it featured an orchestra and was released against the advice of their producer Ron Richards who felt that its experimental structure wouldn’t appeal to Hollies’ fans. In fact, it did make the Top 20, but only just, by their standards it was a commercial flop. When it appeared Butterfly was a wholehearted venture into flower-power. It was probably their most interesting album. High points includedDear Eloise, which was released as a single in the US, Lullaby To Tim (which Allan Clarke had written for his son and Nash had added warbled vocals to) and Elevated Observations.

In late 1967, whilst in LA, the band were invited to a Mamas and Papas recording session. It was here that Nash, who was rapidly falling in love with the American lifestyle, met David Crosby – a meeting that was to prove very significant in a year’s time.

Their first recording in 1968 was the beautiful and mildly psychedelic Wings, another Clarke/Nash composition, which wasn’t released as a 45 but was included on the Word Wildlife Fund charity album, No One’s Gonna Change Our World. Their next 45 was Jennifer Eccles, an unashamedly ultra-commercial pop song deliberately written by Clarke and Nash to contrast with the complexity of its predecessor, King Midas In Reverse. Inevitably it was a Top 10 hit over here (and it crept to No 40 in the US). In March they began work on another album but before it was completed Graham Nash had left both the band and his wife to start a new life in the States. This didn’t come as a great surprise because there had clearly been friction in the band between Nash (who’d already been working on a solo album), who wanted the band to become more experimental and Tony Hicks who wanted the group to record the music their fans wanted. Nash’s last single with the band was the rather unadventurous Listen To Me and, just prior to his departure, they’d topped the Album Charts here in the UK for seven weeks with the compilation, The Hollies Greatest Hits.

Nash’s replacement Terry Slyvester (formerly with The Escorts and The Swingin’ Blues Jeans) was recruited in January 1969. His first recording with the group was Sorry Suzanne, very much in their tried and tested formula, and it shot to No 3 in the UK but couldn’t advance beyond No 56 in the US. They then recorded the The Hollies Sing Dylan album, which rose to No 3 in the UK Album Charts. Graham Nash had been very opposed to this project, indeed it seemed to have been a significant factor in him deciding to leave the band. However, Nash’s departure threw the band’s songwriting partnership out of balance, so Tony Hicks set off in search of a new single. The one he eventually chose was a big ballad, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Elton John, who was by now on the verge of a commercial breakthrough, played keyboards on the song, which made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and sold a million copies worldwide. He also played piano on the follow-up single, I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top, which also made the UK Top 10, but stalled at No 82 in the US.

For their next album project, Hollies Sing Hollies, the group recorded an album of their own material. It didn’t sell particularly well but included some significant landmarks for the band. Bernie Calvert’s Reflections Of A Long Time Past was the first instrumental they had recorded and My Life Is Over Without You was Allan Clarke’s response to Graham Nash’s departure. Many of the tracks were orchestrated and the end product represented a significant progression away from their earlier teenage pop sound which continued on their next album, Confessions Of The Mind, which marked the emergence of Tony Hicks as the band’s main songwriter. It peaked at No 30 in the UK whilst the US equivalent, Moving Finger, stuttered to No 183. They also enjoyed further hit singles in this period with Gasoline Alley Bred and Hey Willy.

In April 1971, they began recording the Distant Light album, which included several compositions which Tony Hicks wrote with Kenny Lynch and Allan Clarke’s Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress), which was leaner than their usual harmony-pop sound. The album didn’t chart at all in the UK and by the time it had reached the shops Allan Clarke had departed to record a solo album, basically he just wanted to record something that didn’t sound like the group. His replacement was a Swedish singer, Mikael Rickfors, who’d previously been with Bamboo. They switched to the new Polydor label for their first single with Rickfors’ lead vocals, which was Chip Taylor’s The Baby. It made No 26 in the UK. Meanwhile in the States their Distant Light album had fared much better rising to No 21 and when Long Tall Woman… was belatedly released as a 45 over there it surpassed all expectations climbing to No 2 and going gold. Following re-promotion over here by EMI it also became a minor hit.

In the Spring of 1972, they began work on a new album, Romany. This veered more towards country-rock, with the title track and Won’t We Feel Good among the highlights. Without Allan Clarke’s distinctive vocals, it lacked that usual Hollies sound. With its country-rock leanings it’s no real surprise that it sold better in the States, where it crept to No 84. It didn’t make the UK Album Charts at all.

In November 1972, their fortunes nosedived when Magic Touch Woman became their first single to fail to enter the UK Top 40, although it did reach No 60 in the US, where it had been preceded by a Top 30 US-only 45 from Distant Light, entitled Long Dark Road. They reached their lowest ebb when neither Polydor in the UK or Epic in the US would issue their next album, Out On The Road, which consequently only appeared in Germany. Perhaps its main significance was for the inclusion of a rare Bobby Elliot composition, Transatlantic Westbound Jet.

In an attempt to revive their fortunes it was decided to invite Allan Clarke to rejoin the band. Clarke’s two solo albums had met with little success and finding himself in the wilderness, he accepted the proposition. He reached a new agreement which allowed him to make solo albums alongside the group’s work. So in the Summer of 1973 he rejoined the band and Mikael Rickfors returned to Sweden where he subsequently became a successful solo performer. The search was on for an epic single to re-establish the band, which hadn’t enjoyed a UK Top 20 hit for three years, as a commercial success. Allan Clarke’s The Day That Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGhee, a song very much in the mould of his earlier Long Cool Woman…, got the vote and reached No 24 in the UK. They started work on a new album titled simply Hollies, which included several re-recordings of songs from their earlier Out On The Road album, which hadn’t been issued in the UK. It also included a song from a recent Phil Everly album, The Air That I Breathe, a powerful ballad which was ideally suited to their harmony vocal style. When they decided to issue it as a 45 it shot to No 2 in the UK becoming the epic single they had yearned for. The success of the single helped the album’s sales and it reached No 38 in the UK and No 28 in the US, where The Air That I Breathe climbed to No 6 earning them another gold disk. However, their Chart comeback was to prove short-lived for their subsequent efforts, Son Of A Rotten Gambler(also in the Long Cool Woman mould) and I’m Down flopped. In the US they enjoyed minor hits with an edited version of Bruce Springsteen’s Sandy (No 85) and the title track from their next album, Another Night (No 71). Both missed the UK Charts and neither of their 1976 albums (Write On and Russian Roulette) nor the singles from them charted anywhere at all!

Still this durable band went on and on… well beyond the time span of this volume. They enjoyed further successes in the late seventies – notably the live LP, The Hollies Live Hits, recorded live on stage in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was originally only issued in Europe and Australasia but reached No 4 when it got a British release in 1977. They recorded throughout the eighties, too, and in the Autumn of 1988 He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother topped the UK Charts after it had figured in a UK Miller Lite Beer TV commercial.

Compilation appearances have included: On A Carousel on Made In England, Vol. 2 (CD); King Midas In Reverse and Maker on Psychedelia At Abbey Road (CD); Searchin’ on Twist A La Star Club (LP); Come On Backon Beat At Abbey Road (CD); Searchin’ and Stay on Hits Of The Mersey Era, Vol. 1 (LP); Wings on No One’s Gonna Change Our World (Regal Starline ) 1970; Carrie-Anne on Stardust; and Dear Eloise on Psychedelic Dream.

EMI’s 1988 double album anthology included all their hit singles as well as an album of rare tracks. Certainly many of those singles are well worth a listen – for The Hollies were Britain’s third most popular sixties group with only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones ahead of them. Their consistency speaks volumes for them – between 1963 and 1974 they had only one single which failed to make the UK Charts. Undoubtedly they produced some of the finest harmony-pop singles to come out of the UK in this era.

~ Vernon Joynson/Barry Margolis

Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From singles or unreleased:

  • Tomorrow When It Comes (Originally Unreleased – 1967)

From the 1966 album Bus Stop

  • Bus Stop

From the 1966 album Would You Believe?
Would You Believe

  • I Can’t Let Go

From the 1967 album Evolution

  • Then The Heartaches Begin
  • Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe

From the 1967 album Butterfly

  • Maker
  • Try It
  • Would You Believe

From the 1967 album Dear Eloise/King Midas in Reverse
Dear Eloise:King Midas in Reverse

  • Elevated Observations

From the compilation The Hollies At Abbey Road 1966-1970
At Abbey Road 1966-1970

  • All The World Is Love
  • King Midas In Reverse