Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Hollies - Evolution

Somewhat like The Kinks, without the American ban, The Hollies (named after Buddy Holly and the Crickets) never translated well to the U.S. market, with the exception, of course, of a handful of hits, among them "Carrie Anne," "Bus Stop" and ultimately, without Graham Nash, "He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother." Indeed, one of 1967's overlooked classics* (something easy to do in '67) had only one hit (and that only on the American release – "Carrie Anne" was left off the British version). True we overlook The Zombies' Oracle and Oddessey (sic) and PF Sorrow by the Pretty Things, but for the Hollies' Evolution, it's nearly as if the LP doesn't exist.

The album cover artwork for Evolution was created by The Fool (of Beatles fame), with a cover photo by Karl Ferris, who is credited with creating the first truly psychedelic photograph for an album cover.  Ferris commented on the making of the album that "They wanted to break from their 'Pop Beat' sound into something more psychedelic. So I listened to the music that they were recording at Abbey Road Studios, and got an image of them pushing through a membrane into 'the Psychedelic world', and so in summer of 1966 I took a studio shot of them pushing out their hands and the lead [guitar player Tony Hicks] pointing through clear plastic. Over this I superimposed a shot of William Morris Art Nouveau wallpaper with an illustration and 'Love' lettering drawn by my girl friend Anke. This combination created the image of the Hollies 'pushing through to a new wave of music style and consciousness'. I worked with The Fool (lead by Simon Posthuma) on this, and they did the lettering, the back cover design and the group's costumes." The album cover, on it's own, is iconic (though I would suspect that the Beatles' Rubber Soul portrait by Robert Freeman supersedes Evolution as the first psychedelic photograph on an LP (correct me; I want to know).

The album was recorded at Abbey Road in just six days spread over three months in early 1967, at the same time the Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Evolution charted at number 13 on the UK album chart, peaking at number 3 in Norway, but only reached No. 43 in the U.S.  It was The Hollies' debut album for their new U.S. label, Epic Records; however, like many American issues of British albums, the album was remixed using heavy echo and reverb. Additionally, three songs were left off the album (with only "Carrie Anne" added).  Therefore the British album is of a higher quality and far more accessible.  
In his review of the U.S. version of Evolution for ALLMUSIC, Lindsay Planer writes, "For many Hollies enthusiasts, Evolution (1967) is considered the band's most accessible blend of pop and psychedelia. The quintet were headed into musical territories beyond simply 'moon-June-bloom' and boy-meets-girl lyrics coupled with the tightly constructed vocal harmonies that had become their calling card." Planer continues that Allan Clarke (lead vocals), Graham Nash (rhythm guitar and vocals), Tony Hicks (lead guitar and vocals), Bernie Calvert (bass) and Bobby Elliott (drums) "were also taking different approaches in their writing and arranging, as heard on the trippy 'Headed for a Fall.'"

Graham Nash was, along with Allan Clarke, one of the two original Hollies members and friends since 1962.  After the Hollies, who were colloquially known as the "Manchester Beatles," began writing their own material, circa 1964, Nash and Clarke collaborated with guitarist Tony Hicks to create songs with unsurpassed harmonies.  Nash added what could be called a "hippy sensibility" to the music and was the only one of them to experiment with psychedelics; while his mates in The Hollies were "pub boys" who enjoyed a pint, just not a toke. It was shortly afterwards that Nash first visited what would be his new enclave, Laurel Canyon.

On the heels of Sgt. Pepper, Evolution would have stood tall in another era, but in June 1967, it didn't even have the Monkees' Headquarters punch. The highlights of the LP are some of the finest tunes of the era and easily withstand comparison to the best of the Beatles. On these songs the guitars are distorted, the harmonies tight and the Hollies sound cool and tough. But these gems are accompanied by some of the greasiest shit one can imagine. *The Hollies horrid production choices accompany the silliest twee melodies ever recorded (making the album in its entirety and AM5), but flush out the excrement and one has sixteen minutes of the crème de la crème of sixties music (an AM10), with stand out tracks like "Have You Ever Loved Somebody," "When Your Lights Turned On," and "Leave Me." Toss in "Carrie Anne" and you've found yourself a real gem, a perfect album side.