The Hollies - Biography
By J Poet
In the early 60s, The Hollies were second only to the Beatles in terms of record sales and popularity, at least in the UK. In England, between 1963 and 1974 they were always on the charts with 22 Top 40 hits and their live performances generated the same kind of fan hysteria that made the Beatles and Stones legends. Their fortunes in the US fluctuated widely due partly to the haphazard releases of their singles and albums in America. “Bus Stop” their ninth British Top 10 hit finally broke them in America in 1966, with 1972’s “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” being their last US success. Their career in England was hot until the early 80s, when they started appearing on the nostalgia circuit, where they remain popular today. They may be the only band from the British Invasion still playing gigs, albeit with none of the original members although Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliot have been with the band since 1963.
Lead vocalist Alan Clarke met Graham Nash in elementary school and first harmonized in their school choir. This was in 1947, before rock’n’roll existed. When skiffle music – a British brand of American influenced folk rock – happened, Clarke and Nash started singing as a duo. They played in their native Manchester and took the train down to London for gigs at coffeehouses. When rock was born Clarke and Nash joined a variety of short lived groups until they found a working combination with Eric Haydock on six string electric bass, Vic Steele on lead guitar and Don Rathbone on drums. The name was chosen at random; when they landed a gig near Christmas time someone suggested The Hollies because of the holly wreaths that were a standard part of Christmas decorations.
Shortly after their first live gigs in 1963 they were signed by to Parlophone by George Martin. The band’s manager replaced guitarist Vic Steel with Tony Hicks, already a well-known rocker. Their first sessions produced a few minor hits, and they replaced their drummer with Bobby Elliot. The Hollies’ fourth single, “Just One Look,” a cover of a song by American singer Doris Troy hit #2, driven by Clarke’s soulful vocal. They were a popular live act, but their singles, which were covers of American R&B tunes, didn’t capture their live energy.
The band’s first albums - Here I Go Again (1964 Parlophone), Stay with the Hollies (1964 Parlophone), The Hollies (1965 Parlophone), Hear! Here! (1964 Parlophone, 1964 Imperial), and Would You Believe? (1964 Parlophone) – don’t capture the bad at its best. The exception is In the Hollies Style (1964) which featured the band’s trademark harmonies and first-rate songwriting, but when it wasn’t a hit, Parlophone insisted on more cover versions.
In 1965 Dick James Music, the major rock publishing house, signed the Clarke-Hicks-Nash songwriting team. James had discovered Lennon and McCartney just before the Beatles got hot, and while they didn’t get a great royalty deal, the signing must have subliminally kicked them into overdrive. In May of 1966, after a few more personnel shifts, The band backed up the Everly Brothers on Two Yanks In England (1966 Warner). On their own they recorded Graham Gouldman’s “Bus Stop” which shot to #5 on both the British and American charts, ushering in their golden era. Their US label rushed out Bus Stop (1966 Imperial) to capitalize on the hit. For Certain Because... (1966 Parlophone) – American title Stop! Stop! Stop! (1966 Imperial) – included “Stop, Stop, Stop,” the band’s first self-penned Top 10 hit.
In 1967 psychedelia was all the rage. The Hollies’ contribution was Butterfly (1967 Parlophone) never released in the US. In concert, the band was a powerhouse, but their recording still didn’t capture their live power. Evolution (1967 Parlophone UK, 1967 Epic US, 1999 Sundazed) balanced pop and psychedelic influences and showcased some of the band’s best compositions including the hit “Carrie-Ann.” Their last psychedelic opus Dear Eloise/King Midas in Reverse (1967 Parlophone UK, 1997 Sundazed) was never released in America at the time. A year later Nash left the band to start Crosby, Stills and Nash, and other band still going strong in the 2ist Century. He was replaced by songwriting guitarist Terry Sylvester.
Epic picked up the Hollies for worldwide distribution. Hollies Sing Dylan (1969 Epic) was a hit in England, although the American rock press savaged it. The title track of the follow up, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969 Epic) broke into the Top 10 in the UK and US and made the album one of their best sellers ever. (When “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was used in a Miller Lite commercial in 1988, it became a #1 hit. )
The band was still a top concert draw, but Confessions of the Mind (1970 Epic) and Moving Finger (1970 Epic) sold poorly. Allan Clarke announce his pending departure in 1970, but stayed on board for Distant Light (1971 Epic.) At the last session for the album, he gave the band a song he’d written with Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway called “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress),” a swampy Creedence Clearwater tune. It was a minor hit in England but hit #21 in the US, pulling the album up the charts with it.
Mikael Rickfors, a Swedish singer, replaced Clarke, for Romany (1972 Epic), but Clarke soon returned and stayed with the band until 2000. The band continued turning out solid albums, but without too much success although The Hollies’ Greatest Hits (1973 Epic) has stayed in print since its release.
The Hollies (1974 Epic) included the Top 10 hit “The Air I Breath,” their last charting single. After Clarke, Hicks, Sylvester, Calvert and Elliot (1977 Epic) and A Crazy Steal (1978 Epic) they took a break. Buddy Holly (1980 Polydor UK) had the Hollies covering Holly, but the album got bad reviews and they broke up again.
Nash returned with Eric Haydock in 1981 and the band made a new album What Goes Around... (1983 Atlantic,) a valiant but ill-fated effort. The band continued on after Nash’s one off return to the fold, appearing on the nostalgia circuit, where they remain popular today. The Hollies: 30th Anniversary Collection (1993 EMI UK) a three CD set of the band’s best over the years, included three tunes from the 1993 line up Prince's “Purple Rain,” Nik Kershaw's “The Woman I Love” and Richard Marx's “Nothing Else But Love.”
The current Holies line up made its first studio album in over 20 years in 2006. Staying Power (2006 EMI) wisely avoids trying to update their sound and delivers 12 new tunes marked by the band’s trademark harmonies and timeless pop sense. They’re planning another album and a major world tour.