Some rock and pop music fans would take umbrage at the headline of today’s post. Better than the Beatles? You’re out of your mind! Well, maybe not. To say that someone is “better” than the Beatles is indeed a bold statement (of course the definition of “Best” is itself highly subjective), but based on their recording track record, the number of hits they had, and the high quality of their songs, I would certainly rank The Hollies right up there with the legendary “Fab Four.” Certainly, if I’m honest, I’d have to say that I enjoy listening to the Hollies more than I do the Beatles. The Hollies had so many truly great songs, all bursting with memorable melodies and those magical harmonies, that I think they deserve to be ranked with the very best bands of the 1960s.
While I was in Kuala Lumpur recently I bought a CD of Radio Fun by the Hollies. This album was released in 2012, but contains vintage BBC recordings that the band did from 1964 to 1968, along with a handful of tracks recorded from 1969-1971 after Graham Nash left the band. Radio Fun is an apt title for this collection, 32 songs on a single CD. The tunes radiate with those gorgeous harmonies and the breezy pop goodness that were trademarks of the Hollies. Graham Nash may have been the most famous member of the group, but they wouldn’t have been the same without the distinctive lead vocals of Allan Clarke or the guitar playing and harmony vocals of Tony Hicks. And drummer Bobby Elliott, who wrote the liner notes for this collection, was the silent rock that held the rhythm section together.
You’ve heard many of these songs before, but not these exact versions. These “live in the studio” recordings were taken from shows such as Saturday Club, This Must Be the Place, Top Gear, Delaneys Delight, Saturday Swings, and Top of the Pops, and they show a looser and indeed more “fun” side of the group. Classic Hollies songs such as “Look Through Any Window”, “Jennifer Eccles”, “Bus Stop”, “I Can’t Let Go”, “Here I Go Again” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” retain all of their original charm and magic. Plus, some of the covers the band does are both surprising and — I’ll use that word again — fun. Among the cool cover versions the band performs are “Shake” by Sam Cooke, “Ride Your Pony” (written by Naomi Neville, but a big hit for Lee Dorsey), “Little Bitty Pretty One,” George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone”, Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, and “That’s How Strong My Love Is.”
If you don’t have a collection of Hollies music, this may not be the ideal introduction, but for longtime fans of the group, this CD is a must listen: sheer musical joy. If you are looking for a comprehensive collection of Hollies songs, however, there are many — so many that it gets mighty confusing — CD collections available, some of them repeating the same songs. Some of the collections cover the early EMI years (when Nash was in the band), others offer selections from the early 1970s after Nash left the band, and some of the multi-disc sets offer a fuller overview. All of them are worth hearing.
Among the CD compilations on the market are 20 Golden Hits … Midas Touch: The Very Best Of … Anthology … 30th Anniversary Collection … On a Carousel: The Ultimate Hollies … The Best Of … Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years … Air That I Breathe: Best Of … Essential … Classic Masters … The Long Road Home (a 6-CD boxed set) … and several more titled Hits, Greatest Hits, Super Hits, All Time Greatest Hits, or something similar. Happy hunting!