You know that old line about how some kids today don’t realize that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings? I was going to begin this review by noting that some kids probably also don’t know Graham Nash was in a band before Crosby, Stills & Nash until it dawned on me that most kids today probably never heard of Nash or CSN, much less Nash’s earlier band the Hollies. The years do go by and just in case I’d forgotten that, the mailman recently delivered the Hollies’ 50 at Fifty. Yup, it’s been two whole decades since I bought the group’s 30th Anniversary Collection and a full half-century since the band formed. I guess I’m not a teenager anymore.
In case you’re one of those who’s too young to remember, the Hollies entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 on the basis of a large and terrific string of exuberant British Invasion pop hits from 1966 and 1967: “Look Through Any Window,” “Bus Stop,” “Stop Stop Stop,” “On a Carousel,” “Pay You Back with Interest” and “Carrie Ann” (the last of these reportedly an ode to Marianne Faithfull). They’re all on this chronologically arranged three-CD set, which also includes their three less noteworthy but highly successful hits from the early 70s: “Hey Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)” and “The Air That I Breathe.” Here, too, are such other early high points as “I’m Alive,” “Just One Look” and “Sorry Suzanne.”
Despite personnel changes over the years—including, of course, the loss of Graham Nash—the gorgeous three-part harmonies have remained intact and the group has managed to continue producing the occasional gem. The Hollies are probably one of the last groups you’d expect to cover Bruce Springsteen effectively, but their masterful vocalizing on “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” brings something new to the song. They also do a fine job with “Boulder to Birmingham,” a number you may know from Emmylou Harris’s recording.
There are some weak moments here, however. “King Midas in Reverse,” for example, is an only moderately successful 1967 attempt at keeping up with changing musical times, while “Jennifer Eccles” is almost fluffy enough to fit on a Partridge Family album. There’s also an overwrought latter-day live reading of “On a Carousel”; a new number, “Skylarks,” from the group’s latest lineup, which drowns under a surfeit of strings and clichéd lyrics; and “Soldier’s Song,” which is about as sappy as Bobby Goldsboro’s “Summer (The First Time)” and the Four Seasons’ “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” two tunes it echoes. Overall, though, there’s more good than bad here, even among the recent material.
Incidentally, nearly all of the vintage tracks appear in remastered versions from 1995, 1997, and 2003. Everything sounds great but, to my ears, not particularly greater than the recordings on 1993’s 30th Anniversary Collection. Then again, I may be missing some of the sonic subtleties, as my ears are even older than the oldest of the Hollies’ music.