When The Hollies began recording in 1963, they relied heavily upon the R&B/early rock & roll covers that provided the staple diet for most British bands at the time, including The Beatles.
They quickly developed a more distinctive style of three-part harmonies (heavily influenced by The Everly Brothers), ringing guitars and hook-happy material, penned by outside writers – especially Graham Gouldman, who would later find fame in 10cc – and the band themselves.
The best early Hollies records evoke an infectious, melodic cheer similar to that of early Beatles, although The Hollies were neither in the class (which is not an insult – nobody was) nor demonstrated a similar capacity for artistic growth.
They tried easing into more sophisticated folk/rock and mildly psychedelic sounds as the decade wore on, especially on their albums, which contain quite a few overlooked highlights.
Harold ‘Allan’ Clarke and Graham Nash had been friends since childhood in Manchester and had performed together musically as The Two Teens and ‘Ricky and Dane’. They formed the nucleus of The Hollies in the early 60s with bassist Eric Haydock while they were playing in a local group called The Deltas.
In February 1963, EMI signed The Hollies after seeing them at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool. At the same time, they landed a part in the Frankie Vaughan musical film It’s All Over Town. A month later, the boys packed in their day-jobs and turned fully professional.
Guitarist Vic Steele left before their first EMI recording session to be replaced by 17-year-old Tony Hicks. Drummer Don Rathbone also only lasted for a couple of singles before being replaced by Bobby Elliott, who had played with Hicks in his pre-Hollies group, The Dolphins.
The lineup changes were most fortuitous as Hicks contributed a lot to the group with his guitar work and songwriting, and Elliott was one of the very finest drummers in all of British pop/rock.
Although their first singles were R&B covers, The Hollies were no match for The Rolling Stones in this department and were much more at home with poppier material that complemented their glittering harmonies.
They achieved an awesome string of hits in the UK in the 60s, making the Top 20 almost twenty times. Some of their best mid-60s singles like Here I Go Again, We’re Through and the British number one, I’m Alive, passed virtually unnoticed in the USA, where they didn’t make the Top 40 until early 1966 when Look Through Any Window did the trick.
In 1966, bassist Eric Haydock left the group under cloudy circumstances – he was sacked in absentia for ‘musical differences’ – and was replaced by Bernie Calvert.
The Hollies didn’t really break in America until Bus Stop (1966), their first US Top Ten record. On A Carousel, Carrie Ann and Stop, Stop, Stop were also big hits. Carrie Ann was, Graham Nash revealed later, an attempt by The Hollies to write a love song to Marianne Faithfull – but they lost their nerve and changed the name.
Their albums showed a more serious and ambitious side, particularly on the part of Graham Nash who itched to make an impression as a more serious artist, notably on the King Midas In Reverse single of 1967.
Despite being a sumptuous release, its modest commercial success didn’t augur well for his influence over the band’s direction, and the group went back to the tried and tested tradition with the playground chant, Jennifer Eccles.
By 1968 Nash felt constrained by the band’s commercial orientation and by the end of the year he was gone, leaving for the US to help found Crosby, Stills & Nash.
His departure really marked the end of the group’s peak era. In 1969 the band tried to have their cake and eat it too by doing a whole album of Dylan songs given The Hollies treatment. The LP was received poorly by some critics, although it was a decent seller in Britain. Nash was replaced by Terry Silvester – formerly of The Swinging Blue Jeans – and the hit streak continued for a while.
The sublime He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother was one of their biggest international singles. But the group was really reaching the end of their long run at the top.
A modest slide in the 70s was arrested by Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress (which sounded a lot like Creedence Clearwater Revival) making it to number two in the US in 1972.
Their timing was not great – by the time it became a hit, Clarke – who sang lead vocal on the single – had left the group and been replaced by Swedish vocalist Mikael Rikfors. Clarke rejoined in 1973 and the group had one last international monster, The Air That I Breathe.
The Hollies recorded several other albums in the 1970s and 1980s and toured often. Graham Nash even rejoined them for a 1983 album. Their post mid-70s output though is really only for fanatics.