Most people remember The Hollies as a very successful singles band from the British Invasion (and for being the first band of Graham Nash), but as is often the case with so-called "singles artists," The Hollies had some original albums that are well worth getting to know as well. For Certain Because… certainly falls into that category, as its 12 songs are uncommonly strong, with only a lone weak link ("Crusader"). Though known as a simple pop band, The Hollies' clever songwriting smarts are readily apparent throughout, as they add more than enough twists to their formula to keep things sounding fresh and interesting. For example, the stellar first ("What's Wrong With The Way I Live") and last ("Stop Stop Stop," a considerable hit) songs are both boosted by creative banjo playing, mysterious Spanish guitar lines lift the wonderfully moody, melodic, and exotic "Tell Me To My Face," and a carnival-esque intro and outro provides a playful contrast to the somber psychedelia of the rest of "Clown." A carnival-esque atmosphere also enhances "High Classed" (about a rich girl slumming it, 30 years before "Common People"!), the show tune-ish "What Went Wrong" has brisk beats, powerful horns, and another memorable chorus, while jaunty harmonica hooks help make "It's You" and "Don't Even Think About Changing" enjoyable pop rockers. Elsewhere, chiming guitars and the band's brilliantly high-pitched harmonies are the main attraction of superb songs such as "Pay You Back With Interest" (probably my favorite song here), "Suspicious Look In Your Eyes," and "Peculiar Situation," while quotable lyrics like "what's wrong with the way I live, the way I use my time, people should live their lives, leaving me to mine" and "ain't this a peculiar situation, we're lovers but we don't make love" not only hold up, but they belie the band's "slight" or "lightweight" reputation. Really, any complaints that I have about this excellent album are exceedingly minor, such as the fact that some of the songs sound a little similar, the album doesn't do anything that The Beatles weren't doing better at around the same time (but really you could say that about almost every other band), and it ends all too abruptly after only 32 minutes. Still, it wouldn't be wrong to call this album a "lost gem," and it's probably The Hollies album that I’d recommend starting with along with one of their essential "greatest hits" packages.
Evolution (Parlophone '67, Epic '67, Sundazed '98) Rating: A-
If you go by reputation, 1967 is the year where The Hollies, with this album and the subsequent Butterfly, went all out psychedelic like so many others did during that most psychedelic of years. And while it is true that the band embraced psychedelic accoutrements, that’s not entirely accurate, as these are still basically pop songs at heart. And though Evolution isn’t as consistent or as good as For Certain Because…, in part because some of the psychedelia seems forced and unnecessary, it’s still a very enjoyable album overall, with quite a few stellar songs. Unfortunately, the band released different versions of the album in the U.K. and U.S., a problem that was largely rectified by the 1998 Sundazed reissue, which includes the U.S. version of the album plus two of the three tracks that were exclusive to the U.K. version of the album (“Water On The Brain,” “When Your Light’s Turned On”) plus three additional songs ("Jennifer Eccles," "Signs That Will Never Change," "Open Up Your Eyes"). This bastardized version of the album is the one I’m reviewing, because as far as I’m concerned it’s the best version, simple as that, plus it's the version of the album that I own. The album starts off with the excellent Four Seasons sendup “Carrie Ann,” a sizeable U.K. and U.S. hit (on the whole the band had far more success in their U.K. homeland) that’s as singable a song as you’ll ever hear (the band’s high-pitched harmonies again provide the primary highlight). Additional highlights for me include the comparatively rocking “Then The Heartaches Begin” and “Have You Ever Loved Somebody,” which are notable for the fuzzy psychedelic guitar riffs provided by the absurdly underrated Tony Hicks, “You Need Love,” with its predictably excellent Allan Clarke lead vocals and mournful horns, the catchy “Games We Play,” which also has well-placed horns and exemplifies what a top-notch drummer Bobby Elliott was, “When Your Light’s Turned On,” which is all about its jangly guitars and high harmonies (Clarke and Hicks contribute, but to me Nash was always the key to the band’s fantastic high harmonies, much like he would later be in CSN), “Jennifer Eccles,” another major U.K. hit (less so in the U.S. but then again this supremely singable song is very British sounding) that provides sunny la la la pop (this one is a tad too sugary for some people), and “Signs That Will Never Change,” which is a melancholic winner (like a few songs here, this one is enhanced by the appearance of a harpsichord, one of my favorite instruments). True, some of these songs weren’t on the official original version of the album you may own, so you might want to deduct points where you see fit if this is the case, but again I can only review the albums I have, and like I said before, why not review the best version of the album, anyway? Even this version of the album isn’t without its problems; for example, the lyrics are a bit cheesy on the otherwise memorably sad “Rain On The Window,” I’m not a fan of either "Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe" or “Water On The Brain,” and the effects laden vocals totally ruin the truly dreadful “Lullaby To Tim.” I’ve seen others criticize the violin solo on “Stop Right There” for being out of place, but I really like both the solo and this gentle, Elizabethan-flavored ballad on the whole, and other songs such as “Heading For A Fall” and “Open Up Your Eyes” are solidly enjoyable as well. So, on the whole this album is seriously flawed and is something of a period piece, but the plentiful hits here still easily eclipse the misses, even if a few of the misses are pretty bad.
Dear Eloise/King Midas In Reverse (Epic '67, Sundazed '98) Rating: A-
Released as Butterfly in the U.K. and (with a different track listing) Dear Eloise/King Midas In Reverse in the U.S., once again I’d suggest going for the Sundazed reissue of Dear Eloise/King Midas In Reverse, which includes the entirety of Butterfly and appends three excellent songs: "King Midas in Reverse" "Leave Me" (previously on the U.K. version of Evolution), and "Do The Best You Can." This album, the band’s last with Graham Nash (who goes out on a high note as he’s more prominent here than ever before; witness his high-pitched harmonies which elevate “Elevated Observations,” for example), is the album’s most experimental, produced (props to Ron Richards who always did a good job for the band), and yes, psychedelic, but again I’d argue that most of these are still basically pop songs, albeit more musically sophisticated than most prior efforts. Again, as with Evolution not every song here really works (Hicks’ “Pegasus” in particular is a bit cringe worthy but also kinda cute), and maybe some of them are sorta slight or cheesy, but the album is rarely less than pleasant and it has its fair share of excellent highlights (again, especially on the reissue). For example, “Dear Eloise” delivers pretty, catchy psych-pop with touching lyrics, “Would You Believe?” (that it wasn’t on their album of the same name?) is a heavily orchestrated epic with soaring harmonies that can’t help but uplift, “Charlie and Fred” is another stellar pop song with great harmonies and hooky horns, and “Step Inside” likewise has similar virtues though I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Hicks’ jangly guitar parts and the impressive rock thrust provided by the rhythm section. There are plenty of other good songs on the original Butterfly album, like the light and airy “Away Away Away,” the more atmospheric and exotic “Maker,” the moodier “Post Card,” and the pretty (alternately lush and spare) title track ballad, and then there’s the bonus tracks on the reissue, led by the perfectly fitting “King Midas In Reverse,” a brilliant psych-pop masterpiece that should’ve been a much bigger hit. I really like the atypical “Leave Me” as well, as like “King Midas” it features great drumming from Elliott, plus it’s a bit moodier and angrier than usual, plus it actually has a cool keyboard solo! “Do The Best You Can” is also perfectly fitting for inclusion because it was the last Hollies single with Nash, and this upbeat charmer, with its prominent banjo and harmonica, is almost the polar opposite of “Leave Me” and is all the more effective for it. Anyway, like Evolution this album is far from perfect and is definitely dated to the period during which it was recorded (i.e. trippy lyrics about a flying horse and lemonade lakes), but despite its imperfections I still really enjoy the vast majority of it.
On a Carousel 1963-1974: The Ultimate Hollies (Sundazed '06) Rating: A
As previously mentioned, there are many worthwhile Hollies compilations out there, and my pick is On a Carousel 1963-1974: The Ultimate Hollies since it features a generous 25 tracks, has excellent sound quality, and includes all of their major U.K. and U.S. hits in a chronological sequencing that makes perfect sense. And again, though The Hollies made some very good albums, they’re best known for their singles, many of which didn’t originally appear on albums or appeared on inessential albums, making having a Hollies hits collection almost mandatory in order to have a full appreciation of the band. One listen to this album and I feel pretty confident that you’ll come away feeling that The Hollies were one of the best British Invasion bands, and that they should’ve been much bigger (in the U.S. I mean, though much of the blame there is probably due to their record company; their discography is a bit of a mess much like the early Stones). On the whole, The Hollies delivered more optimistic, upbeat feel good music than many of their U.K. contemporaries, with Tony Hicks’ jangly guitar parts providing the anchor for many truly excellent pop melodies. Of course, their rhythm section of bassist Eric Haydock (’63-’66)/Bernie Calvert (’66-‘74) and especially Bobby Elliott was also very good albeit comparatively unheralded, but their biggest strength was in their vocals, as Allan Clarke was an excellent lead singer and the band’s soaring three-part harmonies (with Nash providing the highest notes) were as good as anyone's. Perhaps the band’s sugary sweet sound is best experienced in smaller dosages, and again their songs generally lacked the gravitas of say The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but it’s pointless to even try to deny the quality of classic Graham Gouldman-written singles such as “Look Through Any Window” (jangle pop perfection) and “Bus Stop” (this brilliantly moody and melodic story song is justifiably their most famous song). I could name many other highlights (“Listen To Me” is certainly one), including several songs I mentioned previously (“Stop, Stop, Stop,” “Pay You Back With Interest,” “King Midas In Reverse” “Carrie Ann,” “Jennifer Eccles,” “Dear Eloise” – The Hollies had a thing for naming songs after ladies, apparently), plus this compilation includes post-Nash songs such as the dramatic ballad “He ‘Aint Heavy, He’s My Brother,” the atypical CCR knockoff with the unintelligible lyrics “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress,” and another dramatic, soaring ballad “The Air That I Breathe.” Terry Sylvester was a fine replacement, but I feel that The Hollies were never quite as good after Nash left in 1967, as he was the best harmony singer in the business as well as their most interesting and experimental songwriter. Still, the band soldiered on (while Nash found fame and fortune in CSN) and those were some of their biggest and best hits, so it’s great to have them here along with their many other excellent songs with Nash. On the whole, this is simply a superlative greatest hits album. There are a few songs towards the beginning that I tend to skip over (a less than necessary version of Maurice Williams’ “Stay” for example), but On a Carousel 1963-1974: The Ultimate Hollies provides ample evidence that The Hollies were a great band who were very worthy of their 2010 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
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