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Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Hollies: In The Hollies Style


1) Nitty Gritty / Something's Got A Hold On Me; 2) Don't You Know; 3) To You My Love; 4) It's In Her Kiss; 5) Time For Love; 6) What Kind Of Boy; 7) Too Much Monkey Business; 8) I Thought Of You Last Night; 9) Please Don't Feel Too Bad; 10) Come On Home; 11) You'll Be Mine; 12) Set Me Free; 13*) Just One Look; 14*) Keep Off That Friend Of Mine; 15*) Here I Go Again; 16*) Baby That's All; 17*) We're Through; 18*) Come On Back; 19*) What Kind Of Love; 20*) When I'm Not There; 21*) Yes I Will; 22*) Nobody.

If you are listening to the expanded CD version of the Hollies' second album, be sure to program it (at least once) so that most of the bonus tracks come first — this will give you an even better perspective on the band's creative growth through 1964. More than ten months separate In The Hollies Style from Stay With The Hollies, which is actually quite a bit of time by Sixties' stan­dards; however, this is perfectly understandable for a band that measured its progress in singles, rather than LP tracks. And even if for their singles they largely kept relying on cover versions, this did not prevent them from maturing as completely autonomous artists, if not necessarily expert songwriters.

The story begins with Doris Troy's ʽJust One Lookʼ, where the band's three-part harmonies finally fall into place: Clarke, Hicks, and Nash together, then the former two supporting Nash on the bridge section. Where Troy's original was a tad slower and her vocals were soulful rather than playful, The Hollies sensed the song's immense pure-pop potential, tightened it up a little, and turned it into their first mini-explosion of infectiously celebratory teen sentiment. Next to the Beatles, nobody in Britain could match the ringing sharpness of that ascending "and I felt so I... I... I-I-I-I'm in love..." (despite the screaming ungrammaticality: actually, the original line went "and I fell so hard, hard, hard in love...", but I guess nobody bothered to provide them with the lyrics sheet for the session. And no, they are not singing "I felt so high", by the way, which wasn't even a running ambiguity back in 1964) — so there was no way the song could not carry them all the way to No. 2 on the UK charts, and even scrape the bottom of the US charts at that.

Next step: ʽHere I Go Againʼ, provided by Mort Shuman and representing The Hollies in the full swing of their powers — you could, in fact, argue that whatever they would do in the future could often match the effect of this song, but could never properly outdo its combination of a loud, tight, youth-power beat with a «waiting-in-ambush» type of vocal hook: I do not mean the "watch me now, cause here I go again!" main chorus — no, the main hook of this song is actually nested in the middle of each verse, first lulling you a bit with gently back-and-forth rocking bits ("I've... been hurt... so much... before... I told myself... yes I did..."), then turning round and hitting you smack dab in the mouth with the shrill, multi-tracked archway of "NO MORE NO MORE WON'T GET HURT ANY MORE". This is the kind of suspenseful vocal Heaven that you won't actually find on any Beatles song — you really need The Hollies for this.

Next step: ʽWe're Throughʼ, the first Hollies single credited to «L. Ransford» — that is, written by the Clarke/Hicks/Nash songwriting team rather than commissioned from an external source. Not easily identifiable as an obvious rip-off, it draws our attention first to its quirky little jazz-pop acoustic riff before passing the baton on to the vocals — some of which seem to be attracted by the little riff itself, following it closely in an almost scat-like manner. Compared to all of the band's previous singles, it is notably darker in atmosphere and could be regarded as sort of an answer to the Beatles' ʽThings We Said Todayʼ, even if the band is too busy frolicking and reveling in all the little vocal and instrumental flourishes to attain a comparable depth of feeling. Still, kudos for making their first original single so stylistically different from its predecessors, and also for that wonderful melismatic slide down from falsetto all way down the scale in the chorus (a pretty good correlation with the general message of "we're through").

And it is at this point, with The Hollies finally and firmly established as a major force on the con­temporary pop stage, that they finally go in to complete their second album — hugely different from the first, if only for the fact that 7 out of its 12 tunes are self-written, and generally matching the quality level of the remaining covers. Oh, and the three-part harmonies, of course. This is not first-rate songwriting, mind you: most of the songs stick too close to each other in terms of atmo­sphere and feel too dependent upon the major ideas of the singles to be as individually memo­rable as I'd like them to be — for instance, something like ʽDon't You Knowʼ feels way too much like a retread of the up-winding «vocal stairs» of ʽJust One Lookʼ, mixed with a Beatlesque beat and bridge. ʽPlease Don't Feel Too Badʼ is wond'rously upbeat in the absence of ʽHere I Go Againʼ, but cannot really hold a handle to the latter.

On the other hand, repeated listens show that even on these LP-only tracks they are already stri­ving for unconventional pop tricks — for instance, ʽYou'll Be Mineʼ has a smooth, but unusual transition between the fast, pop-rocking verse ("it's been too long since I kissed you...") and the slowed-down, soulful balladeering resolution ("...tonight, yes tonight, you'll be mine..."), both of them attuned to the exact same instrumental tempo. And we already have faint hints as to the in­dividual styles — ʽTo You My Loveʼ is essentially a Nash solo performance, sentimental and chivalrous, while at the same time supported by a steady and determined guitar melody and back­beat, a nice combination of introspective vulnerability and power for which only Graham's lead vocals could be suitable: Clarke's persona is 100% extroverted.

With so much songwriting on the line, it's like they hardly need those covers any more (at least, for LPs), but the adrenaline-crazed run through Etta James' ʽSomething's Got A Hold On Meʼ, with Eric Haydock stepping on the bass gas like there was no tomorrow and Clarke putting on his best pair of rock'n'roll shoes (wait for those glottal strains on his ʽI, I, Iʼs!), is still first-rate, and it's fun how they have all three singers swap lead vocals on the verses of ʽToo Much Monkey Businessʼ (it's also the only place on the album where you can hear what Tony Hicks' regular singing voice sounds like on its own — just for information's sake). Still, arguably the best rock and roll performance on the album is their own: compositionally, ʽSet Me Freeʼ is little more than a sped-up version of ʽConfessin' The Bluesʼ, but it's a great showcase for the frantic skills of drummer Bobby Elliott, and Clarke's harmonica blowing ain't too bad, either.

All in all, they got that name just right: In The Hollies Style truly establishes the Hollies' style, and while they would go on to write and record a whole lot of classics, as well as expand that style to incorporate many new influences, it could be argued that never again would they make such an extraordinarily giant quality leap as they did from early to late 1964. Of course, this is both a compliment and a putdown — reminding us of how the band would ultimately be unable to make a proper transition to the next step of musical maturity, and remain lagging behind while the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks would be scaling new heights — but for those of us who are able to taste juicy morsels of spiritual delight in perfectly composed and performed «simplistic» pop, this shouldn't be too much of a problem. Besides, In The Hollies Style merely deserves a big thumbs up as that one LP on which The Hollies found that style — on a purely song-by-song quality basis, they would continue on an upwards trajectory for at least two more years, before the psychedelic revolution got them messed up.

1 comment:

  1. Is We're Through pretty unusual for a pop single of the time with it being dominated by a sort of classical guitar/acoustic sounds? There is also an unreleased Bossa Nova version out there.