To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Hollies' first commercially released record, Capitol Records put together The Long Road Home, a six-CD box set due December 2nd.
The Hollies got their start in Manchester, England, and earned their chops covering R&B and rock & roll standards, like so many other beat groups of the era. Two things helped them rise above the pack: the songwriting team of singer Allan Clarke and guitarists Graham Nash and Tony Hicks, and their unmistakable ascending harmonies.
"Graham's always had a very unique voice," Hicks says. "It's incredibly high but not falsetto. When I joined the Hollies, there was no suggestion that I could be singing at all, but it just worked out that the structure of the single was there'd be a verse where Allan would sing on his own, there'd be a second verse where Graham would join in and then probably we'd hit the chorus -- the real meat of the song -- and I ended up joining in, so you got a natural build all the way up."
With more than 100 tracks to choose from for the set, compiler Tim Chacksfield made the extraordinary decision to virtually ignore the band's singles. Only the Beatles had more hits in their native country than did the Hollies in the 1960s. On top of that, of course, the Hollies were able to continue that string of hits past 1970.
The Long Road Home, however, shows that there was more to the Hollies than their endless string of hits, which included "Bus Stop," "Stop Stop Stop," "He Ain"t Heavy, He's My Brother," "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" and "The Air That I Breathe."
"There's a lot of compilation albums out there with the singles," Clarke says. "The box set actually shows more of our LP work, a lot of EP work, a lot of the film work that we did and a lot of the live shows. It's got the hit songs on there in different forms, like in the live show from New Zealand."
Nash, however, says he "would have preferred to have some singles on it. They were so much a part of identifying our sound."
"I asked the band and many collectors and fans around the world for input," Chacksfield explains. "I tried to strike a balance between the collectors, who wanted lots more rarities, and the general Hollies fan who wanted to go further than the hits. I have done many box sets -- striking the right balance on this set was the most difficult job I have ever done."
The rarest tracks on the set are three unreleased recordings made under the aegis of record mogul Morris Levy in New York in 1965 and had to be copied from an acetate owned by Elliott. "I think he quite took a liking to these five cheeky northerners," recalls Elliott of Levy. "In those days there weren't cassette players. The guys had written some songs and wanted to get them down, so we didn't forget 'em. There was one, 'So Lonely,' I remember Clarkie saying, 'Oh that'd be great for the Righteous Brothers.' You can tell it's a bit tongue-in-cheek."
Nash, for one, is pleased by the inclusion of the airy "Wings," released on the same charity wildlife album that first featured the Beatles' "Across the Universe." And perhaps the strangest of the rarities is 'After the Fox,' a 1966 comedy single on which the band backed actor Peter Sellers on a Bacharach and David film title tune. Clarke recalls Sellers making a dramatic entrance by sliding down a banister into the studio and proceeding to karate chop a piano. Adds Hicks, "It was quite an interesting recording. If I remember correctly we had Jack Bruce on bass for that. Burt Bacharach played harpsichord. We didn't want to turn that down, and we thoroughly enjoyed doing it."
A disappointment for many Hollies fans will be the absence of the long-rumored Hollies version of "Marrakesh Express," a Nash song that originated with the band but which became a hit for his next group, Crosby, Stills and Nash, after Nash quit the Hollies over musical disagreements in late 1968. "There's not enough of it there to warrant [inclusion]," says Elliott. "It's a bare rhythm track that stops towards the end -- things weren't going too well. Graham was always singing it and I loved it, but [producer] Ron Richards didn't seem to like it."
Nash adds, "At that time I was leaving and everything was a little tense to say the least. The Hollies just didn't want to record the song with the spirit that showed up later on the Crosby, Stills and Nash version."
With Allan Clarke having retired in 1999, the Hollies are now fronted by ex-Move singer Carl Wayne. But unfortunately, there will probably never be another Hollies studio album. "I don't think there's much motivation for that at the moment," Elliott says.
For Nash, their legacy stands up as it is. "The Hollies were a great live band and could really sing," he says. "If anything, people have never really understood how good a rock & roll band the Hollies were."