- Plural of holly
The Hollies are an English beat band formed in the early 1960s. They are commonly associated with Manchester, as several original Hollies came from the city and its outlying communities.
The Manchester quintet, heavily influenced by the Everly Brothers, is known for rich three-part harmonies rivalling those of The Beach Boys, ringing guitars, infectious melodies, jazz oriented backbeats and a squeaky-clean image. They have been called the British Everly Brothers. The Hollies are one of the most commercially successful pop/rock acts of the British Invasion, usually ranked in third place after The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. While groups like the Beatles would sometimes toy with non-pop experiments, the Hollies kept their material catchy and appealing no matter what style they pursued. As the 1960s wore on, they tried easing into more sophisticated folk-rock and mildly psychedelic sounds, which caused a rift in the band ultimately leading to the departure of Graham Nash. Evolution (1967) has been hailed as their most successful "psychedelic" album, with the following Butterfly (1967) failing to gain as much popularity, as well as enhancing differences in the directions of the band members.
Their mass recognition is generally limited (especially in the United States) to a selection of perhaps a dozen hit songs, from 1964's "Just One Look" to 1974's "The Air That I Breathe". In reality, their recorded history started in 1963 and encompasses more than 350 songs, spread over dozens of albums, EPs and singles, across 33 years (Eder,1996).
FormationThe Hollies' history began by chance with five-year-old Allan Clarke's arrival at the Ordsall Primary School in Salford (Manchester's twin city), England in 1947. He met five-year-old Graham Nash, when Nash was the only student to volunteer to let Clarke sit next to him in class. Soon, they found a common interest in music. They began singing together in choir and as they matured, their voices complemented each other magnificently. The impetus for Clarke and Nash to begin music careers together was the emergence of skiffle music in England (Eder, 2004).
According to Clarke (Eder, 2004), "We all wanted to be rock 'n' roll stars, and skiffle was one way to start, because it was all based on the easiest chords to play, A, D, G, and C, and we loved the songs. Graham and I played clubs in Manchester, doing an Everly Brothers-type thing. The Everly Brothers were our real inspiration, because of the two-part harmonies."
This laid the foundation for The Hollies. By 1962 Clarke (born Harold Allan Clarke, 5 April 1942, in Salford, Lancashire) and Nash (born Graham William Nash, 2 February 1942, in Blackpool, Lancashire) had already been singing together locally at coffee houses for a number of years as a semi-professional duo under a number of names such as the Guytones, the Two Teens, The Levins and a brother act called Ricky and Dane. As they were playing a show with the Fourtones, they met Eric Haydock (born 3 February 1943, in Stockport, Cheshire) and Don Rathbone (born Donald Rathbone, October 1942, in Wilmslow, Cheshire) and were invited to join the Deltas (Rock, 2000).
The four decided to abandon the Deltas and form a new group in December 1962. According to those close to the band, they chose the name from some Christmas holly decorating Graham Nash's house; not, as long time rumour has it, in homage to Buddy Holly (Rock, 2000). The stories are sufficiently vague that not even the band members remember exactly; however, what they do agree upon is that the name was simply a stop-gap, and it's stuck for 34 years and counting (Eder, 1996). The original lineup consisted of lead singer Allan Clarke, guitarists Graham Nash and Vic Steele, bassist Eric Haydock and drummer Don Rathbone. Vic Steele, who, reportedly, didn't want to turn professional, left by May 1963 and was replaced by local guitar hero Tony Hicks (born Anthony Christopher Hicks, 16 December 1943, Nelson, Lancashire). In the summer of 1963, before the group started having hits, Rathbone was having trouble adjusting to studio drumming and became their road manager instead. He was replaced by Bobby Elliott (born Robert Hartley Elliott, 8 December 1941, at 13 Chiltern Avenue, Bolton, Lancashire) from Shane Fenton And The Fentones; however, Elliott and Hicks had played together previously in another Manchester band called Rick Shaw and the Dolphins. In 1966 Bernie Calvert (born Bernard Bamford Calvert, 16 September 1942, in Brierfield, Lancashire) took Haydock's; and in '68, when Nash left to form Crosby, Stills & Nash, later to become Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, he was replaced by Terry Sylvester (ex-Escorts and Swinging Blue Jeans) (Artist, 2004).
The band's first show as The Hollies took place at the Oasis Club in Manchester in December 1962 with great success. Not long after, The Hollies took The Beatles' slot at the Cavern Club. The Beatles had graduated from the club and had been signed to EMI's Parlophone label by producer George Martin. The amount of musical activity in Liverpool and Manchester caused record producers who had previously never ventured very far from London to start looking to the north. One of them was Ron Richards, a staff producer at EMI, who went up to the Cavern in January 1963. What he found was a tiny club that lived up to its reputation and that The Hollies could do more than just wail (Eder, 1996). After Steele's departure and Hicks' arrival, The Hollies incorporated many obscure American R&B classics in their repertoire, as did many beat groups of the early 1960s; however, they were also writing new songs as well as commissioning songs from professional songwriters. The originals wound up as "B" sides, often credited to the pseudonymous "Chester Mann" (a creative adaptation of "Man-chester") or “L. Ransford" (after Graham Nash's grandfather's surname) (Artist, 2004). They scored their first major British hit at the end of 1963 with a cover of Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs' "Stay", which hit #8 in the UK charts. They quickly followed with Doris Troy's "Just One Look". The group's fifth single, "We're Through", was their first original A-side, written by Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash under their new collective pseudonym of "L. Ransford". Recorded on 25 August 1964, "We're Through" was released the following month. On 26 September 1964, it entered the British charts at No. 27 and peaked at #7 during a relatively short chart stay - something which, in the wake of "Just One Look"'s much greater success, discouraged the record company from pursuing any more original A-sides from the band at that time. As an original A-side, however, it was a milestone for the band, and hinted at better things to come for them.
During the summer of 1965, the Clarke-Hicks-Nash songwriting team, still working as "L. Ransford", achieved what at the time seemed like a major breakthrough. The three were signed to a publishing contract by Dick James Music and given their own publishing imprint, Gralto Music (for Graham, Allan, and Tony). When Graham left, it became Alto Music. By this point the Hollies had established themselves as one of Britain's pre-eminent singles bands and enjoyed enormous chart success in several countries (Biography, 2002). August 1965 saw them enjoy their first UK#1 with "I'm Alive". However, they experienced their first misfire in January 1966 when their recording of George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone" just scraped the UK Top 20 and brought with it some bad press, with Harrison denouncing the cover version as "soulless". Both the Hollies and John Lennon took swipes at each other, venting frustration at the comparative failure of a Beatles song (Rock, 2000).
The end of 1965 saw the Hollies crack the US top 40 for the first time with the Graham Gouldman penned "Look Through Any Window" which peaked at #32 in January 1966.
Bassist Eric Haydock and drummer Bobby Elliot were considered one of the tightest rhythm sections in British Pop/Rock of the period; however, in April 1966, bassist Haydock was fired after his constant complaining about their ever increasing tour schedule and the way the management was paying the group(The payment dispute was something that became a legitimate issue and was eventually corrected...long after Haydock had gone). Jack Bruce (later with Cream ) handled bass on After the Fox , the title track to a 1966 Peter Sellers film and Klaus Voorman , a German bassist and close friend of the Beatles , came in for one gig before the group decided to recruit a permanent replacement for Haydock, Bernie Calvert, whose playing would be given a lesser profile on the band's recordings. The Hollies' long-time producer Ron Richards (sometimes referred to as the "Sixth Hollie") confirms this in his contribution to the notes of Epic Records' 20 Song Anthology (Biography, 2002). According to Richards, "Calvert was not a good bass player, and [I] deliberately buried his sound in the mix of their songs once he joined the group."
Right after Calvert's arrival in May 1966, the Hollies recorded the song that was to become their long-awaited American breakthrough single, "Bus Stop". Written by Graham Gouldman, "Bus Stop" rose to #5 in America and made it to the same spot in Britain.
By this time, the band had blossomed as songwriters and recording artists. The next album, For Certain Because, was their most elaborate yet, its songs - all originals - filled with unusual instrumentation, including marimbas, kettle drums and other exotic sounds. A track from the album, "Pay You Back With Interest", was issued as a single by Imperial in America after the band signed with Epic, while another, "Tell Me To My Face", was a top 40 hit for American singer Keith and was later covered very successfully in the 1970s by Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg. Other songs, such as "Clown", were more personal compositions by Graham Nash, who was starting to develop a distinctly individual approach to songwriting (Eder,1996).
This was also a golden era for The Hollies as a performing unit. In concert, they worked on the same bill with acts such as the Spencer Davis Group and Small Faces, and their music onstage had achieved a level of sophistication equivalent to the kind of songwriting they were crafting. The success of "Stop! Stop! Stop!", achieving the #2 spot in England and #7 in America, was all the more remarkable as an original A-side. Their follow-up, "On A Carousel", was written during the group's tour of America, and recorded on 11 January 1967. Released the following month, it reached a by-now routine #4 in England, and #11 in America. "Carrie Anne" had been started by Hicks in 1965, while the band was on tour in Norway, and was inspired by the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man", with Hicks writing to the phrase "Hey Mister Man." Two years later, it was finally completed and recorded on 3 May 1967, in only two takes. Released later the same month, it reached #3 in the United Kingdom and #9 in America (Eder,1996).
In February & March of 1967, Elliot had an attack of appendicitus and was forced to enter hospital. Dougie Wright subbed for him on tour and in the studio, and Clem Cattini of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates also filled in on some of the group's recording sessions at that time. Elliot tried to play a few gigs in March before he was sufficiently recuperated, but was unable to continue after two shows. Another drummer, Tony Newman , was brought in for some concerts while others were canceled outright. By the middle of the spring, Elliot was well enough to return.
1967 also saw the band release not one, but two psychedelic-influenced albums, the hard rock-flavoured Evolution and the gentler, more hippy-oriented Butterfly. After The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper in June 1967, The Hollies delved deeper still into the flower power sound with a new song, "King Midas In Reverse", largely composed and arranged by Nash, who yearned to make an impact as a more serious artist. The song had an ambitious string, brass and flute arrangement; however, its relatively modest commercial success did not bode well for his influence over the band's direction, and their next singles were in the more romantic tradition. "Jennifer Eccles" (named after Clarke's wife "Jennifer" and Nash's first wife's maiden name "Eccles") was written by Nash and Clarke to imitate, or mock, "pop songs" and to their surprise became a huge success, much to Nash's frustration.
By 1968, Nash, who had taken to hanging around more in the U.S. with his new friends David Crosby and Stephen Stills , began to feel constrained by the band's commercial orientation and decided to leave because of creative differences over the plan to record an album of Bob Dylan songs, which he saw as a retrograde step for the band. Nash quickly joined forces with Stills and Crosby to form one of the first "supergroups", Crosby, Stills and Nash. Nash's departure from The Hollies(after playing a final show with the group at the London Palladium on December 8th, 1968) arguably, marked the beginning of the group's decline, although the new line-up generated hits that had more airplay than before. In addition, Nash took material with him that he wrote while with the Hollies, such as "Marrakesh Express" which became a big hit for CSN, of which the Hollies were in the process of recording, and "Man with No Expression" or "Horses Through a Rainstorm" which was released by both groups in the 1990s.
Terry Sylvester, formerly of Liverpool bands The Escorts and The Swinging Blue Jeans, was recruited in January 1969 as a replacement for Nash. Sylvester, only 22 when he joined the Hollies had a similar high-pitch voice as Nash, thus complimenting the Hollies' famous harmonic sound. This lineup had an immediate hit in 1969 with "Sorry, Suzanne", which reached #3 in the UK. The hit streak continued for a while longer with the epic ballad "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", written by Americans Bob Russell and Bobby Scott and featuring then session performer Elton John on piano. "He Ain't Heavy" would become a surprise UK#1 on its re-release in 1988 thanks to its use in a beer commercial (Artist, 2004). However, from the turn of the decade their popularity was starting to wane with only a handful of hits to lie ahead.
The 1970sClarke, devastated by the departure of his friend of more than 20 years, had been locked into the group identity for nearly all of his adult life and now felt the urge to step out on his own. The group was beginning work on a new album, which Clarke would do with them, after which he would begin work on his own career and his own recordings independent of the band. Ironically, the new album was to benefit from Clarke's plans for a solo career but the group's ability to take advantage of its unexpected success was to be sorely tested. While recording the album, titled Distant Light, Clarke turned up with a song that was to be added to the record: "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress", co-authored by Clarke, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. (The musical style of the recording was very similar to Creedence Clearwater Revival and it was frequently, and mistakenly, attributed to them by listeners.) (Eder, 1996) Recorded on a day when producer Ron Richards was absent, the song gave Clarke a rare chance to show off his guitar skills (also coming up with the famous guitar rift at the onset of the song). The problem was that Clarke had not intended it to be released on a Hollies album, but as a record of his own. However, a couple of members of the group did play on it and he was forced to include it on Distant Light. This, in turn, led to an open breach between Clarke and the rest of the group once they learned that he intended to do a solo recording. Clarke was issued an ultimatum - he could either remain with The Hollies or pursue a solo career, but not both.
In a 1973 interview with Melody Maker, Clarke states (Eder, 1996) They thought that when I became successful, I'd leave them anyway. So they just shortened the agony by forcing me to do one thing or the other. It was silly, really, because I wouldn't have left the group.
"Long Cool Woman" was a minor UK hit but soared to #2 in the US Hot 100 in 1972. Suddenly, this became the group's new signature tune, saturating the airwaves in the United States. However, Clarke was already gone - replaced, rather oddly, by Swedish star Mikael Rickfors. The new line-up yielded the minor hits "Magic Woman Touch" and "The Baby"; however, Rickfors could sing in English but not speak it fluently, which created problems that were never fully resolved (Biography, 2002).
To Clarke's chagrin, the Hollies were offered their first major US tour on account of the success of Long Cool Woman, a song which Clarke considered his own. The new Hollies line-up toured the US and for the first time, received a major push in that country, appearing on the major music TV shows of the day. However, without the main singer, the band had to re-invent their style somewhat, switching instruments and lead vocals on various songs. While a very interesting period for the band, the overall cohesive nature of The Hollies sound was somewhat damaged and the tour was not a big success with audiences, partially due to their new lead singer having no charisma onstage.
Clarke returned in the fall of 1973 and they returned to the UK Top 30 with another "swamp rocker" written by Clarke, "The Day That Curly Billy Shot Down Crazy Sam McGee". In 1974, another hit ensued, the worldwide smash "The Air That I Breathe", and returned the group to their orchestral style in grand fashion; however, it was their last major UK hit for over a decade. The song was written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood and originally recorded by one the group's early idols, Phil Everly. The Everly connection had been cemented some years earlier when The Hollies backed the American duo on their 1966 Two Yanks in England album. "The Air That I Breathe" was the last Hollies hit to be produced by Ron Richards as the group took their own reins (Artist, 2004).
Subsequent singles like "Son of a Rotten Gambler", "I'm Down", and "Boulder to Birmingham", failed to chart. Curiously, mostly thanks to Clarke, they did pick up on Bruce Springsteen's work as a songwriter earlier than a lot of other acts, recording a beautiful rendition of "Sandy". Disco heavily influenced many of their late 70s releases, captured in their Russian Roulette album in an almost comical song entitled "Wiggle that Wosit" (of which the band today have no comment on) and Another Night, with the self-titled song becoming a minor hit; however, the Hollies never entirely abandoned their harmony vocal sound. Over the next five years, the Hollies pursued the supper-club and cabaret circuit as their chart appearances began to dwindle. Although their albums were well produced, they sold poorly.
In 1975, the group decided to add a keyboardist to their stage lineup(prior to this, Calvert would sometimes shift over to play organ or piano as needed as the band members would switch around on their instruments). Pete Wingfield became the group's first regular keyboardist.
Unlike some other British Invasion bands, the Hollies were also accomplished in concert, as indicated by their 1977 Live Hits album recorded in Christchurch, New Zealand the previous year. The album included effective performances of lesser-known songs such as Hicks' working-class portrayal "Too Young to Be Married", which reached #1 in several overseas territories though never released as such in the UK or US (Biography, 2002). Ironically, their American label, Epic Records ended up passing on the Live Hits that would have reached out to old and new audiences. It received enthusiastic reviews in numerous American magazines and newspapers as a Canadian import. Apparently, Epic made a decision that The Hollies would never sell large numbers of LPs regardless of how big their hits were and subsequently minimized their marketing efforts, essentially running out the clock on their contract ((Unterberger & Eder, 2005).
Frustrated by the above situation and increasingly dissatisfied with the group's management, Clarke once again left the band in August 1977 as work was winding down on their latest album, A Crazy Steal, which was released the following year. In 1978, the remaining members of the group approached Gary Brooker (formerly of Procol Harum ) to replace Clarke. Brooker sang on "Harlequin", a composition he'd written with his collaborator Keith Reid , but politely turned down their request to join full time, having just completed ten years with Procol Harum. The band ended up performing the song on German TV with Sylvester on lead vocal in August 1978. Sylvester also ended up lead singing on the final released version of the song on their next album, Five Three One-Double Seven O Four. Clarke returned to the group in August 1978, after they returned from Germany.
The '80s and beyond
In 1981 Calvert and Sylvester left after disagreements, and the group, temporarily reduced to a trio, began to work on material with guest singers John Miles and Labi Siffre. Two of these songs, "Carrie" and "Driver" were released. But another(the one with Siffre), "I Don't Understand You", remained in the vaults. Yet another song, "Take My Love & Run", the group appeared on TV to promote along with the song's author, Brian Chatton , who was now playing keyboards for the group. That same year, EMI suggested they put together a Stars On 45-type segued single. The ensuing "Holliedaze" was a hit and returned them to the UK Top 30 (Rock, 2000). Graham Nash and Eric Haydock briefly rejoined to promote the record on Top of the Pops that September. The Hollies received a small boost in press interest in America when Graham Nash decided to reunite with the them to record a new album in 1982. Chatton also played on this album along with keyboardist Paul Bliss , who'd played with the group before briefly in 1978, and contributed material as well. Alan Jones, who'd been playing bass for the group temporarily, also appeared, as did Steve Stroud. The group toured in 1982 with a lineup of Clarke, Hicks, Elliot, Steve Stroud(bass), Peter Arnesen(keyboards) and newcomer Alan Coates (vocals, guitars, who'd joined the previous year as a permanent replacement for Sylvester).
The new album, What Goes Around appeared in the spring of 1983 and contained an update of the Supremes classic "Stop! In The Name Of Love", which reached No. 29. That year, the group toured Australia with Jamie Moses standing in for Coates and Paul Bliss playing keyboards alongside Arnesen. By the summer of '83, Coates was back and Graham Nash joined the group for a U.S. tour. However, this proved a false start, the album received reviews, but they were often negative, and the tour had to be hastily re-booked into smaller halls (Unterberger & Eder, 2005). Nash worked with the group on some further tracks but left again by early 1984 when his schedule with CS&N got busier.
"He Ain't Heavy" was reissued in the UK in 1988 and reached No. 1 after its use in a Miller lite beer commercial, thus establishing a new record for the length of time between chart-topping singles for one artist of 23 years (Biography, 2002). Although The Hollies continue to tour and record today, with only two original members, Hicks and Elliot, there really is no public demand for new recordings. Denis Haines joined on keyboards 1983-1990. He was then succeeded by Dave Carey until Ian Parker joined the group in September 1991. Ray Stiles (formerly of Mud ) took over on bass in 1986.
In 1993, they were given an Ivor Novello award in honor of their contribution to British music. The group was also the subject of a tribute album, Sing Hollies In Reverse, in 1995. It featured alternative-rock figures like the Posies and Material Issue. In the same year they also reunited with Graham Nash once again to record a new version of "Peggy Sue Got Married" for a Buddy Holly tribute album. The track featured new harmonies and instrumentation over the original Buddy Holly lead vocal. Nash apparently remains on friendly terms with his former bandmates to this day.
In 1999, Clarke's wife survived a bout with cancer and in early 2000, he made the decision to retire to spend more time with her, leaving Hicks and Elliott as the last two remaining "original" members of the group, if you don't count Steele and Rathbone, who were pre-hits. A case can be made that no original members now exist.
In 2003, EMI Records recognized the Hollies' musical significance with a six-CD box set, The Long Road Home: 1963-2003, covering every era and major line-up in the group's history (Unterberger & Eder, 2005). This set includes previously unreleased singles and songs from an ill-fated album to follow Butterfly including "Relax".
After Clarke's retirement, he was replaced by Carl Wayne, former lead singer of The Move. Wayne only recorded one song with them, "How Do I Survive", before his untimely death from cancer in 2004, and was replaced by Peter Howarth, who had worked for many years with Cliff Richard and had starred in a national tour of The Roy Orbison Story.
After more than twenty four years with the group, Coates decided to leave in October 2004 when his own group's schedule began to conflict. Steve Lauri was then chosen as Coates' replacement.
The Hollies have recently completed a new studio album, their first since 1983, Staying Power, trailed by the singles "Hope" and "So Damn Beautiful", was released in 2006. (Biography, 2002, and a new album is currently being recorded and planned to be released in the spring of 2009.
The Hollies 1973 cover of Judee Sill's "Jesus Was A Cross Maker" (ironically, a song that Graham Nash produced) was featured in Cameron Crowe's 2005 movie Elizabethtown.
In 2007, The Hollies were voted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame, however have long been shut-out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
US Success (or lack thereof)Over the years, much has been written about the fact that The Hollies had substantially less chart success in the U.S. than they did in the UK, and most other countries.
Part of the problem lies is that at the start, they were covering songs that had been big hits in the US. Only obscure US songs that were covered by the British groups had much success. Second, Imperial did not push the group at the beginning and songs like "Here I Go Again", "We're Through", "I'm Alive" and "Yes I Will" were largely ignored. However, starting with "Look Through Any Window" and going straight through "Carrie-Anne", The Hollies became quite a successful group in the US. By that time, they had left Imperial for Epic and although Epic did manage success with the more major singles ("Jennifer Eccles", "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", "The Air That I Breathe"), Epic simply issued too many singles and didn't promote them very well. They did have the fluke monster hit "Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)", but it came at a time when The Hollies temporarily lost Allan Clarke as their lead singer and subsequent singles were not getting airplay.
It might be suggested that The Hollies didn't have the same image that they had elsewhere. In most other countries, The Hollies were looked upon as one of the major groups in the UK and there lots of excitement for each single. In the US, however, their image was much less and each time, they had to compete for airplay. In addition, record companies in the 1960s had the policy of excluding singles from albums, with bands either known as single-oriented or album-oriented, the Hollies as the former. As such, fans of the Hollies hits would simply buy the singles, rather than the album and as such their full range and original compositions were largely ignored.
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