Friday, July 27, 2007

Wouldn't it be so nice to drag your feet in the edge of the sea?

You'll recall my mentioning that last week I was asked by a dear old friend to do some posting on the subjects of the Hollies, the Turtles and the Zombies. Okay, then. Hollies today, the latter two for another time(s).

The Hollies, for a lot of people, qualify as one of the great British Invasion groups of the 1960s, and not just of the mere quick hits and miss ilk that had woven the likes of Peter & Gordon or Petula Clark (Hey, I dig Petula too, but name me THREE songs by her). The fact that the Hollies had four certifiable hits that have made their way into lasting consciousness ("Bus Stop," "Carrie Anne," "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" and "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" puts them a notch above the 3-minutes-of-fame bands of the Invasion. The fact that the latter two of those hits came after Graham Nash's departure makes their story even a little more intriguing.

But the fact of the matter is that anyway you cut the Hollies cloth -- Nash involvement or not -- their music never quite equalled the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Small Faces (who as we know, never even got a chance in America), or even the Zombies and Animals. They had plenty of pop sensibilities, and while "Bus Stop" and "Carrie Anne" hold up just about as well as anything released in the 1960s, pretty much everything else in their catalogue feels like the generic version of the style du jour.

When Nash left in 1968 to join David Crosby and Stephen Stills (and sometimes Neil Young), he effectively took what little magic there was in the Hollies with him. I know people who LOVE "He Ain't Heavy..." of course, and "Long Cool Woman" got just as much popularity out of that riff that both "Get it On (Bang a Gong)" and "Cigarettes & Alcohol" also would, but Nash added that harmonic element that their two later megahits lacked and that made the good pre-1968 stuff really good.

I can explain it better. I'll just use Nash's last stand with the band, 1967's Butterfly.

The Hollies
Parlophone, 1967

01. Dear Eloise
02. Away Away Away
03. Maker
04. Pegasus
05. Would You Believe
06. Wishyouawish
07. Postcard
08. Charlie and Fred
09. Try It
10. Elevated Observations?
11. Step Inside
12. Butterfly

Butterfly's best moments (the three linked tracks among them) are truly little slices of magic. The worst moments ("Pegasus" leading the charge) are downright awful. The problem is that from best to worst (and everything in between), it feels like Mom brought home a bag of Fruit Circles instead of the Toucan Sam-featuring box of Froot Loops, dammit. And any kid knows that Fruit Circles suck. Froot Loops rule.

It can't have been easy to have been on the Beatles label (much less in 1967), but whereas the other predominant British groups did their best to forge their own path outside the Beatles' large shadow, the Hollies were just happy to stay in the wake. The Rolling Stones were blues-based and individual enough to separate themselves (Pepper-aping Their Satanic Majesties Request aside), the Kinks reverted back into strict Englishness and tales of tea times, village greens and searching classified sections, and Steve Marriott's voice alone was enough to separate the Small Faces from anyone, no matter what musical style they chose to peruse. The Hollies were just happy to be the bastard sons of the Beatles and Beach Boys.

To a limit, it worked. While "Bus Stop," "Carrie Anne" and even this album's "Dear Eloise" worked up the shy-boy-in-waiting angle that Brian Wilson had made himself the patron saint of in 1966, they also have enough snap, zest and Englishness to differentiate themselves from anything out there. But when the Hollies made their forays into psychedelia -- "Pegasus" was a song that even Syd Barrett at his most stoned wouldn't have dared, and singing about "lemonade lakes" in the title track just feels a tad too "I really like 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.'"

Hell, even the sitar-led "Maker" isn't a BAD song, it just feels like "Well... I suppose we need to put sitar on one of these songs to stay hip, don't we?"

I understand the impossibility of the shadow the Beatles cast, and perhaps it's hypocritical of me to call out the Hollies for being wakeriders now and go home this evening and listen to Badfinger records, but... c'est la vie. It's not a total knock on the Hollies - as I said, I like them (so long as Graham Nash is around), and "Dear Eloise" and "Away Away Away" is as good a one-two punch as you were going to find on any record released in 1967. It's just that it quickly manifests itself thereafter as a 1967 time capsule. Great records are supposed to transcend space and time. That's why people can look past the 1980s production on Smiths records and "She's a Rainbow" is really the only thing anyone gives a rip about off Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Were there worse albums released in 1967? Undoubtedly. But there were also better ones just a shelf or two up.



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