Rant ‘N’ Roll: The Hollies

There’s a great moment in the first-ever documentary on The Hollies, Look Through Any Window 1963-1975 (Eagle Rock Entertainment/Reelin’ In The Years Productions) where Graham Nash “discovered the ‘60s,” according to the liner notes of Ben Fong-Torres. Nash had been getting tired of the three-minute pop gems that The Hollies had excelled at since 1963. Their pristine three-part harmony, inspired by the two-part harmony of The Everly Brothers, their string of international hit singles, their charisma and their fame started to become a strait jacket for Nash who desperately wanted to flower with the times. So he goes to America, and meets up with The Mamas & The Papas in Los Angeles at an industry event where Cass Elliot says, “Come with me, there’s someone I want you to meet.” They split in her car and she takes him to the Hollywood Hills to meet David Crosby. “My life changed that day,” Nash says in the two-hour DVD.

The music and contractual obligations of The Hollies must have seemed like prison to Nash who dutifully flew back to London to honor his commitments. You can see him here in one of his last performances with his old mates. If he’s not exactly phoning in his performance, he sure ain’t in the forefront. Hell, he wasn’t even the lead singer or the lead guitarist for The Hollies. His mind must have been on the magic that ensued when he first harmonized with Crosby, and then with Stills. “I asked them to play me that song again,” he says. “Then again. And again. After the third time, I had my harmony part down and when the three of us sang—oh my god!”

So he tells his mates he’s leaving. He leaves his band, his country, what used to be his music, and within 48 hours of leaving The Hollies, he’s in the recording studio with Crosby and Stills. Of course, somewhere along the way he manages to fall in love with Joni Mitchell (listen again to “Our House”) but he doesn’t mention her in the documentary.

Crosby, Stills & Nash, of course, become hugely successful. At the time, he must have considered what he did with The Hollies as pure bubble-gum music. He even admits in the documentary to thinking, “Screw them.” But while he’s onstage at Woodstock in 1969 with Crosby and Stills, The Hollies have a number one single with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (with Elton John on piano). The Hollies would go on without Graham to have two more huge number ones, “Long Cool Woman” and “The Air That I Breathe,” the latter first recorded by, yup, Phil Everly.

I’ll obviously never know how it feels to leave your band, join a new one and watch your old band hit number one. Can’t feel good. I was 16 when I discovered The Hollies in ‘67. The song was “Bus Stop” and me and all my friends loved it. Bought the single, took it home, played it over and over, oohing and aahing at the amazing harmonies. A few months later, we freaked at “Stop Stop Stop” too. Graham tells a great story about this song. Music mogul/gangster Morris Levy (1927-1990) takes The Hollies to a strip club in New York City and their eyes bug out. Hey, these are sheltered kids from Manchester, England! “Stop Stop Stop” is the song that came out of that experience. There’d be only two more songs that my friends and I would buy at The Belmont Record Shop on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, NJ: “On A Carousel” and “Carrie-Anne.” Nash says in the film that the latter tune was written out of his lust for Marianne Faithfull. God, she must have been some beauty, between Jagger, Richards, Nash and who knows how many other ‘60s rock stars all lusting after her!

So before Nash realizes it’s a hopeless cause with The Hollies, he tries to put his stamp on their sound. “Dear Eloise” is beautiful and points towards the direction he’d take with CSN. But it doesn’t sell. Two other singles, in a blatant effort to get back to their used-to-be, are just plain awful. It had run its course. Nash had to grow. These other boys in the band had already reached their pinnacle.

Look Through Any Window features 22 complete performances. It’s a great time capsule, fascinating in how it shows each member change through the years. I loved it.