The Rolling Stones are bored tax exiles in the south of France. The Beatles nowadays are featured in drab magazines devoted to high finance rather than music. The Kinks, always happiest as cult heroes, have become mega-cult heroes. And the Who could still fill baseball stadiums if they wanted to. The Hollies, alone of the seminal British mid-60's pop bands, soldier on in all but complete anonymity. If you held a gun to his head, the man on the street (assuming you asked the right one) might be able to tell you that Graham Nash left the group about seventy five years ago to form Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young). And except for a litany of the Hollies' hit songs - and there were plenty - that would be about it. Of course, in the volatile world of pop music there's really nothing wrong with that. To paraphrase a more recent UK songwriting export, Robyn Hitchcock, eventually "only the songs remain."
In pop music you have your visionaries, and you have your craftsmen. Some people are destined to write Moby Dick, others to build a comfortable house you can spend the rest of your life in. The visionaries might scale the heights of inspiration, but they can also plough the depths of bombastic self-indulgence. Make no mistake about it, the Hollies have been true pop craftsmen for over thirty years, going unpretentiously about their way with little deviation from their consistently high standards. In short, the Hollies are a class act. They might even be called the blueprint for a perfect pop group. The distinctive patina of their sound - those immediately recognizable harmonies - and a solidly professional attitude towards their role as entertainers has always reasssured the listening public that there would be no smashing of guitars, no lobbing of television sets into hotel swimming pools and no relieving themselves on the walls of suburban gas stations. The Hollies, opting for the steak rather than the sizzle, just got on with their mission in life, to make perfect pop records.
Vocalists Allan Clarke and Graham Nash, both natives of Manchester, England, began playing together as a duo called the Guytones in the early 1960's. In rapid order - as they added guitarist Tony Hicks, Eric Haydock on bass and drummer Bobby Elliott, they became the Fourtones and then the Deltas before finally settling on the Hollies. They chose the name - depending on who's telling the tale - either in homage to Buddy Holly or because it was Christmas and time to deck the halls. The choice is yours. Though their first singles were released in1963, the Hollies were unable to hang ten on that first tidal wave of British Invasion hysteria a year later. Their first stateside hits, with Bernie Calvert on bass replacing Haydock, didn't come until 1966, when "Bus Stop" and "Stop Stop Stop" shot into the US top ten.
The Hollies' recording career is easily divided into three distinct periods. Much like the Beatles, or the Zombies for that matter, they dabbled in R&B early on, and what they lacked in authenticity, they compensated for with sheer boyish enthusiasm. Once they found their true stylistic niche, however, on 1964's "Here I Go Again," that smooth Hollies vocal blend - so prominent in early UK smashes "I'm Alive" and "Look Through Any Window" - was here to stay. Not to say they were immune to backwards vocal tracks and roomsful of sitar and bouzouki players in the halcyon days of experimentation, as the trailblazing singles "Stop Stop Stop" and "King Midas In Reverse" as well as a trio of superb UK albums - For Certain Because, Evolution and Butterfly - will attest.
The band countered the disconcerting departure ofGraham Nash in 1968 - Terry Sylvester replaced him on rhythm guitar and harmony vocals - by fine tuning their act into one capable of the mature commercial style of such late 60's/early 70's smashes as "Sorry Suzanne," "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" and "The Air That I Breathe." After "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" became their biggest US hit ever in 1972, Allan Clarke left the group briefly to pursue a solo career. He was replaced by Swede Mikael Rickfors, who was, himself, soon replaced by a happier and wiser Allan Clarke.
Although best known as performers - they frequently adapted material by Goffin and King, Clint Ballard Jr. and Graham Gouldman - the Hollies were writing their own material right from the beginning. And their early original songs - disguised under the group penname L. Ransford, just as the Stones had used the name Nanker Phelge - were easily the equal of any Brill Building material they covered. Such mournful beat ballads as "Baby, That's All" and "So Lonely" as well as uptempo ravers like "Come On Back" or "You Know He Did" are real highlights of the early Hollies lexicon.
The group's spiritual forebears, the Everly Brothers, once cut an entire album of Hollies originals - Two Yanks In England - making the Everlys the first artists to publicly honor the work of the English tunesmiths. And now you are about to immerse yourself in the most recent musical converts to the Hollies as songwriting prodigies. As it is with all organic tribute albums - we're not talking about those patched together by major labels just to fob their artists off on an unsuspecting public - there are two ways to go about this. You can either construct an album where everyone hugs the coastline, hewing as closely as possible to the style of the guest of honor, or you can let the contributors pretty much do as they damn well please.
With Sing Hollies In Reverse it's just about split down the middle, sometimes right in the middle of a song. And that's the way we like it. We'll let you decide which performance goes in column A and which in column B at your next Tupperware party. Since we've already had a few staff punch-outs over just who sounds like the Hollies and who doesn't, you might be interested in a little help from an old college pal, Cliff's Notes, to follow below. Remember, these are just the opinions of the two losers on the bottom of the page. And as the man said, opinions are like excretory pores. We're certain you have your own. So hop on the gurney and we'll prep you for experience.
Those (more or less) toeing the Hollies' party line would include Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of Seattle's Posies, although Auer's scorched earth guitar adds plenty of 90's firepower. The existence of their track may have been the spark that ignited this album in the first place. Washington, DC's favorite son, Tommy Keene, here fronting Arizona's pungentGin Blossoms, keeps his colors pretty much within the lines. As do vocalistJim Ellison and his brawny Chicago popsters, Material Issue, as well as Freddie Krc, who adds just a dash of Austin jalapeno while fronting the Shakin' Apostles.
The track byPeter Holsapple, Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson, mainstays of the Continental Drifters, uses the women (also known as the Psycho Sisters) to deftly warble the Graham Nash counterpoint line. New York's Losers' Lounge remain faithful (in their way) to the quirkiest Hollies song ever, the theme to the 1966 Peter Sellers film After The Fox. Until the outro when guest chanteuse, Dominique Durand of Ivy, elbows her way through some junk shop wind chimes and begins ranting like Nico in rehab.
Artists (more or less) taking major liberties here include Jon Brion - formerly of the Grays and Jellyfish - whose Beatle-esque selection pokes its head up in the middle of some unhinged Smile-era chemistry lab experimentation. And the Sneetches, whose Daniel Swan, in emulating Scott Walker, sounds more like Julian Cope instead. Which is perfectly okay. Those loveable louts from The Jigsaw Seen, led by Dennis Davison and Jonathan Lea, employ waltz time in a spunky re-enamelling of the Hollies' "Carousel." The contribution by Mitch Easter and that of Scott Miller fronting the Loud Family, just sound like Easter and Miller always do. And who'd expect (or want) anything else? Lisa Marr and Robynn Iwata of Vancouver's cub outperk and outpunk the Muffs at their own game. And check out that ocarina solo, possibly the first since the Troggs did it on"Wild Thing." A mysterioso mini-legend calling himself E spirits cute little Jennifer Eccles away into the seamy world ofTom Waits. Let's just hope for the best. TheFlamingoes resemble a paste-up of fellow UK hotshots Oasis and Blur with a dusting of Suede for good measure. Carla Olson, former Textone and Gene Clark collaborator, wails soulfully on her choice, as Hollie-for-a-season, Mikael Rickfors, adds some background vocal local knowledge.
John Easdale, ex-Dramarama belter, former Blondie drummerClem Burke and boss fretmen Jonathan Lea and Mark Englert escort that "Long Cool Woman" down to the Mercer Arts Center to dish the trash with the New York Dolls. Nashville's born again pop star, Bill Lloyd, once half of country duoFoster and Lloyd, churns out what might be the most appealingly direct work on the album. Trophy for the most devious should go to ex-Dream Syndicate honcho Steve Wynn. With the assistance of former Del-Lord Eric Ambel, he's created a supernatural web of sound straight from Nick's Cave.
Kristian Hoffman, once of New York's Mumps, re-ignites the baroque wizardry that's made him the toast (wry of course) of both coasts. New darlings to LA's growing pop culture, the Wondermints, sporting the vocal prowess of Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko, sound as wholesome as SF pop legends the Rubinoos. Finally, rock archivist Andrew Sandoval - he knows more about the Monkees than their moms - signs in as the man, the band, Andrew. And to paraphrase Archie Bell of the Drells, "He sings as good as he excavates." On that note, daddy-o, hope you dig these timeless tunes of the Hollies, dressed in 90's threads. Brian Wilson once penned that inspired lyric, "Third gear, it's all right." In the hands of the talent assembled here, however, reverse might be just as cool. As long as it's Hollies In Reverse.