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Best The Hollies Songs: 20 Classics As Essential As The Air We Breathe
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List & Guides

Best The Hollies Songs: 20 Classics As Essential As The Air We Breathe

From jangly pop to psychedelic miracles and moving ballads, the best The Hollies songs rivalled The Beatles’ and pioneered the Manchester sound.

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They were signed to Parlophone, recorded at Abbey Road and were a permanent presence in the 60s charts and beyond, shifting through R&B into raga rock, psychedelia and more earthy material. No, it’s not who you think it is; it’s The Hollies, a major force in British pop, even if these pioneers of the Manchester sound (just listen to All The World Is Love) don’t get all the credit they deserve. This five-piece band, boasting unique harmonies behind the distinctive voice of Allan Clarke, were massive between 1963 and the mid-70s, and had something to say beyond that. But, despite scoring 30 hits in the UK and more than 20 in the US, they remain a mystery to many young rock lovers – even some fans of Crosby, Stills And Nash seem unaware that Graham Nash enjoyed a massive career with The Hollies before he swapped Britain’s North West for the US West Coast. Here, then, are 20 of the best Hollies songs. From jangly pop to psychedelic miracles and moving ballads, The Hollies did it all – and did it right.

Listen to the best The Hollies songs, and check out our 20 best The Hollies songs, below.

20: I’m Alive (1965)

Released in May 1965, I’m Alive found The Hollies at a pop pinnacle, as if it was so easy for them. But the truth is more complex. The group rejected this Clint Ballard song when they first heard it. A change of mind found them at No.1 in the UK for three weeks with this tale of a man learning to open himself to emotions. Alive? You bet.

19: If I Needed Someone (1965)

In the first half of the 60s, there was a perceived rivalry between The Hollies and The Beatles: both were from Britain’s North West and made music which appealed to a broad audience. So it was unusual when The Hollies chose to cover George Harrison’s If I Needed Someone. In a weird twist of marketing, Parlophone issued their version on 3 December 1965, the same release date as Rubber Soul, The Beatles album that contained Harrison’s song. Though The Hollies were in the middle of a string of huge hits, If I Needed Someone, hitting UK No.20, was a comparative flop. The Manchester band put this down to The Beatles saying they disliked The Hollies’ version: back then, The Beatles’ opinion really mattered. However, they’d given George Harrison his first hit as a writer, and Graham Nash eventually became a great ally of The Beatles’ guitarist.

18: I Can’t Let Go (1966)

Jangly guitars? Stand aside, Searchers. Back off, 80s indie bands. You can’t get janglier than the axe rattling through The Hollies’ first single of 1966, in clanging contrast to the record’s chugging bass and rhythm guitar foundations. One of the best Hollies songs of the mid-60s, I Can’t Let Go was originally a soulful slice of baroque US girl pop by Evie Sands, though The Hollies’ upbeat cut was the hit, making No.2 in the UK. This marked Eric Haydock’s last single with the group, his place on bass taken by Bernie Calvert.

17: Elevated Observations (1967)

In 1967 The Hollies were as psychedelic as the next band, as this beautifully open-sounding, airy classic from the gorgeous Butterfly album makes clear. Love that scatty ending where everything speeds up. The circumstances that created this music can never happen again: imagine if a mainstream pop band went so wild today?

16: Look Through Any Window (1965)

Look Through Any Window was the first of two slice-of-life hits written by 10cc’s Graham Gouldman for The Hollies, and earns its place among the best Hollies songs, thanks to its status as the group’s first US Top 40 hit. It’s the epitome of British beat in 1965, with prominent 12-string and sweet yet slightly dissonant harmonies adding a raw touch. Look through any window, you’d have seen this on a turntable.

15: Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress (1972)

With its guitar intro dropping no hint of the boogie to come, was this the inspiration for Status Quo’s Mystery Song? And where are The Hollies’ harmonies behind Allan Clarke’s distinctive voice? One of the best Hollies songs of the 70s, Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress was conceived as a platform for the lead vocalist’s short-lived foray into a solo career. He composed the song with ubiquitous “outside writers” Roger Cooke and Roger Greenaway. It was delivered in the down-low style of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and became the subject of a dispute with that group’s leader, John Fogerty, who won half the credits. How long was the cool woman? The lyrics estimate five feet nine inches – not that long. But certainly cool: this was one of the biggest-selling singles in the US in 1972, lingering in the chart for weeks.

14: Searchin’ (1963)

The Hollies’ second single, issued in 1963, was a beaty, ballsy, committed version of The Coasters’ rock’n’roll hit, delivered with Mancunian attitude and wit. There’s no hint here of some of the subtleties they’d soon prove themselves capable of, but their unique multiple vocal abilities support the mighty Allan Clarke out front.

13: Stay (1963)

December 1963. The Hollies, with two smaller hits behind them, prove they were going to, er, stay around thanks to this remake of Maurice Williams And The Zodiacs’ 1960 doo-wop smash. The song had been a US No.1, but was a far smaller hit in the UK, so many fans of this youthful Manchester band were hearing it for the first time. It was standard procedure for Brit bands to cover material by black artists, as R&B thrilled Britain once The Beatles had come along. The Hollies’ powerful harmonies and highly energised backing may not have been as accomplished as Williams’ version, but they were perfect for the time. The song helped give a prophetic title to the group’s 1964 debut album, Stay With The Hollies.

12: Just One Look (1964)

Following the recipe that made Stay a smash, The Hollies kicked off 1964 with another tight and skilled R&B cover that today ranks among the best Hollies songs: a version of Doris Troy’s Just One Look. Full of edgy, choppy guitar from Tony Hicks, and those unique harmonies, the single made No.2 in the UK (15 years later, Linda Ronstadt turned it into a US Adult Contemporary chart hit in the US.)

11: Stop Stop Stop (1966)

When pundits create lists of pioneering psychedelic songs of the 60s, Stop Stop Stop is often overlooked. Wrong. This swirling, sweaty, intense story of violent obsession, with a stomping Cossack beat and cosmic banjo (courtesy of Tony Hicks) could emanate from every town’s nightlife, told as if the protagonist is psychotic or on illegal medication. Penned by Hicks, Clarke and Nash after a visit to a strip club, the melody resembles their 1964 B-side Come On Back, but takes the listener in a darker direction. Recorded in late summer 1966, it’s packed with pugnacious psych-pop perspicacity.

10: Gasoline Alley Bred (1970)

In the immediate post-psych era, rock looked back to its back-street roots, dropping frills and singing about tattered coats and greasy cafes. Gasoline Alley Bred, illuminated by wonderful guitar work, was bang on trend. It still sounds fabulous, though the sexist opening lines – ordering a woman to get up and take out her curlers – date it. As late as 1970, a single like this could stand alone, never intended for an album. Producer Ron Richards, a far lower-profile figure than George Martin, but a regular presence on Parlophone releases, guided The Hollies through years of studio sessions and conjures a fine downbeat atmosphere here.

9: Magic Woman Touch (1972)

When Allan Clarke quit in 1971 to go solo, he was replaced by Swedish singer Mikael Rickfors, and The Hollies cut two albums with him, Romany and the rare Out On The Road. Rickfors sounded nothing like his predecessor, but the results were pleasing, such as this fair-sized hit from 1972 featuring a wonderful use of electric sitar. Clarke returned in 1973, restoring the trademark vocal sound on many of the best Hollies songs.

8: I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top (1970)

From a 1970 session with Elton John as hired hand on piano, this ballad appeared in the wake of the mighty hit He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, rising to No.7. Written by outside tunesmiths Guy Fletcher and Doug Flett, the lyrics hint at psychedelic confusion, but could just as easily have been featured on a 30s showbiz ditty about the spell love can cast on you.

7: All The World Is Love (1967)

Those snidey nasal vocals, the distant drums, tinny guitars, Beatlish vibe… is this Oasis? Easily sitting among the best Hollies songs, All The World Is Love is certainly a gift from one Manchester band to their successors: this fabulous psych thriller, the B-side of the 1967 hit On A Carousel, sounds like indie rock and a band in thrall to the Fabs. Before you decide The Hollies are imitating All You Need Is Love, note the recording date: 11 January 1967, five months before The Beatles’ hit was taped. Just saying…

6: King Midas In Reverse (1967)

In the pomp of their psychedelic period, The Hollies constructed this ace baroque curiosity, penned chiefly by Graham Nash. Brash and swirling, it presents a man who can do no right, slightly missing the cautionary point of the story of the original King Midas. However, Nash’s song has hidden depths: stardom is not all it is cracked up to be. The song stalled at No.18 in the UK, a disappointment after their No.3 smash Carrie Anne. Nash would soon leave the group to form Crosby, Stills And Nash, who, with Neil Young, performed King Midas In Reverse on tour.

5: Bus Stop (1966)

This sums up a certain 60s mood – one of grimy towns, rainy streets and love overriding the gloom. The band’s second hit of their glorious 1966, Bus Stop was penned by Graham Gouldman, later of 10cc, at the prompting of his dad, Hyme, who started the song to make his son work on it after Graham came up with the idea. Forever cementing its place among the best Hollies songs, Bus Stop was The Hollies’ first US Top 10, and the Eastern feel in the guitar suggests raga rock. Evocative of the times and utterly gorgeous.

4: Carrie Anne (1967)

One of several Hollies singles bearing a girl’s name, Carrie Anne was a rhyming cover-up of a more famous name. The Hollies’ singer, Allan Clarke, had had a discreet fling with one of the great icons of 60s pop, Marianne Faithfull, and Graham Nash penned this song about her. As Marianne was too much of a giveaway, the name was amended, and further details were obscured in the song’s tale of a teenage crush.

3: On A Carousel (1967)

While we’re into the brash, happy pop side of The Hollies, On A Carousel was a big UK and US hit in 1967, authored by Nash, Clarke and Hicks, who, according to Graham Nash, had been desperate to write a “monster A-side” after turning so many songs by other people into blockbusters.

2: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969)

As the hippie dream faded, the time was right for this testament to fellowship with religious inspiration, penned by Bobby Scott & Bobby Russell, songwriters from the jazz era who barely knew each other beyond this collaboration. Russell was dying of cancer when the song was composed. The song found resonance worldwide in 1969, with its wistful harmonica and powerful sense of purpose, pacing itself before building to a glorious climax when it was time to do so. Deservedly a massive hit, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother retains its power to move hearts.

1: The Air That I Breathe (1974)

Topping our list of the best Hollies songs, this romantic ballad with a piquant edge hit No.2 in 1974 and remains a classic. But not an instant one: the song had been around for a couple of years, first appearing on co-writer Albert Hammond’s album It Never Rains In Southern California, and then Phil Everly’s debut solo album, Star Spangled Springer. The latter version inspired The Hollies’ cover, as they acknowledged, but their take was the hit. Eric Clapton once said the opening note of Tony Hicks’ guitar introduction had more soul than anything he’d heard, and Bobby Elliott’s drums may not be the first thing you think of here, but his playing was perfect. Ask a non-fan to name a Hollies record and chances are it will be this one.

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