Graded on a Curve:
The Hollies,
The Hollies’ Greatest Hits

When it comes to scrumptious English pop confections, it’s hard to top the fluff produced by The Hollies on the Epic and Imperial labels during the mid-sixties. While their contemporaries were producing big psychedelic statements, these Manchurian lads were whipping up irresistible little ditties that were pure froth–”Carrie Anne” is one of the most innocent and loving slice of pure popcraft ever recorded.

And 1973’s The Hollies’ Greatest Hits offers a wonderful–if inherently limited–overview of the Hollies’ not-so-grand ambitions. These proud lightweights adhered like superglue to the format of the 3-minute pop song–“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” is a serious outlier at 4 minutes, 19 seconds–but they knew how to make those 3 minutes count. A whole hell of lot happens in “Dear Eloise,” and the deliriously dizzy-making “On a Carousel” contains gorgeous multitudes. When it comes to great songwriting teams, the names of Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, and Graham Nash should never be forgotten.

It goes without saying that this compilation will not appeal to existentialists, hard rockers, or people who recoil at the word “cute.” That said, the LP doesn’t play up the cute as much as it might have. I can certainly understand why such post-Nash compositions as 1969’s heavy-on-the-soul “He Ain’t Heavy,” 1972’s lovely but lugubrious “Long Dark Road,” and that same year’s surprisingly hard rocking “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” are included herein, but they don’t feel much at home; a comp that focused solely on the Nash-era Hollies would sound more of a piece, and would provide more pure pop pleasure to people looking for frothy pop thrills.

I also wish this greatest hits didn’t jump back and forth in time in a craven effort to put the more recognizable hits up front; side two starts with a song from 1969 followed by three songs from 1967, then fast forwards to two songs from 1972. But hey, that’s show business, and I can only presume that the folks who put the comp together–and omitted some great U.K.-only hits in the process–knew best.

Aside from those caveats, this is the one to own if you only want to own one; it’s got the U.S. hits I remember from my childhood on it, and when it comes to the poignant evocation of time past “Carrie Anne” (which Nash wrote for Marianne Faithful, but was too bashful to make it known) summons up more memories than any song this side of the Association’s “Windy.” As for “Bus Stop” and “On a Carousel,” they’re as permanently etched on my brain as the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which I heard approximately 14 times a day at the Littlestown Swimming Pool during the summer of 1967.

I have my favorites; undoubtedly you have yours. In addition the ones above, mine include the amusing “Stop Stop Stop” (love Tony Hicks’ banjo work!), which does for sexual anxiety what Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” did for cannabis anxiety–the boys want the dancing to stop because they can’t breathe, and the approach of that girl with the ruby glistening from her navel is definitely making things worse.

The unison vocals and solid songwriting (no fluff here) of “Look Through Any Windows” bring The Beatles to mind, and what’s surprising about that is how seldom these boys bring The Beatles to mind. With its trippy vocal effects and lysergic overlay “Dear Eloise” is as close as the Hollies come to psychedelia, but at heart it’s just a letter to a broken-hearted girl the boys hope will accept them as second best.

The divinely rococo “King Midas in Reverse” (which comes on like a Rolling Stones number) also flirts with the dayglo but works on the basis of a lovely chorus, some great drumming, and a big brass and woodwinds overlay that actually works. This very ornate production number is one of my favorite pop tunes this side of “Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You,” and that’s high praise indeed.

I’ll admit the post-Nash songs don’t much sway me, but that’s a question of taste. “He Ain’t Heavy” is huge and heartfelt but not my cup of shlock; I got my bellyful of “Long Cool Woman” a long, long time ago, and here’s the thing about the songs I really love–I can NEVER hear them too much. “Long Dark Road,” on the other hand, is a keeper, if only on the basis of the glorious vocals and the organ and harmonica that accompany them. That said, the dizzyingly light touch is gone, presumably forever; nothing gold can stay, said Robert Frost, and ain’t that the sad truth.

Listening to The Hollies’ Greatest Hits is like taking a trip in a time machine; space and time collapse like a telescope, inducing a glorious case of pop vertigo. Like The Monkees, The Archies, The Association, and a select few other bands, The Hollies bring it all back home, reminding me that I was young once, and loved my own Carrie-Anne and my GI Joe too.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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