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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the three THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

RESCUED FROM THE BUDGET BIN! The Very Best Of The Hollies

Record stores used to have cut-out bins, overflowing with deleted albums that the labels had given up as lost causes. The cut-out LP covers had been deliberately damaged: a corner chopped off, a puncture, some sort of premeditated defacing to mark them as clearance items, as soon-to-be discarded product that had been written off, as Grade B, as "other." The cut-out bin was a record buyer's last chance to grab a record on the cheap before it slipped into the out-of-print zone. In addition to the cut-outs, there were also budget albums, produced and priced for discount sales.

Cut-outs. Budget albums. I may have purchased a few of these over the years.



THE HOLLIES: The Very Best Of The Hollies (United Artists, 1975)

When I was actively and devotedly listening to AM radio in the early to mid '70s, I had a number of fave raves at any given time. Alice Cooper. Elton John. Sweet. Slade. Johnny Nash. Various former Beatles. My all-time faves from this era were the incredible hit singles by The Raspberries and Badfinger, all providing a working model of what I would later come to know as power pop. And throw one other single into that mix: "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" by The Hollies.



I understand that this is not an extra-popular choice, even among some Hollies fans. The track doesn't contain The Hollies' characteristic, heavenly harmonies, it doesn't soar like The Hollies' most unforgettable tracks from the '60s, and it's little more than a blatant attempt to copy the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival, albeit with Allan Clarke's distinctive lead vocals. But I like it. I've always liked it, and I prefer it to anything that The Hollies did after that. (And yes, I mean that as a specific shot against their 1974 MOR hit ballad "The Air That I Breathe," which has never done much for me at all.)

But more importantly, "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" was my gateway to the magic of The Hollies. I don't think I remembered any of their '60s catalog at the time--maybe "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"--though that knowledge would come in due time. By the mid '70s, I was becoming obsessed with '60s rock 'n' roll, particularly the British Invasion. That interest flowed naturally into a desire to know more about The Hollies. Oldies radio--principally oldies shows on Syracuse AM hit stations WOLF and WNDR, but also on Utica's FM rock station WOUR--hooked me on "Bus Stop," "On A Carousel," and especially "Stop, Stop, Stop," and maybe "Carrie Anne," too. And once hooked, well, I needed more.







 

When available funds permitted, I started buying records (sort of) regularly around 1976-77, in my junior and senior years in high school. I never had a lot of cash to spare, and some of what I did have I needed for comic books and Playboy. But there were a lot of discount options available in the '70s; both Economy Bookstore in Syracuse (and at Shoppingtown in DeWitt) and World Of Books in North Syracuse carried tons of used and/or stripped books and magazines, and the flea market offered table after table of dusty old comics, books, magazines, LPs and 45s. Even a little bit of cash could go a long way in feeding the collector's hunger.

I loved going to record stores, going through the bins, looking at covers, trying to find stuff I could afford (and wishing I could afford more). I think my cousin Mark explained the concept of cut-out bins, but I was already diving into them independently anyway. I don't remember the chronology of my cut-out bin purchases, but I sure remember a number of the individual records I scored.

And one of them was The Very Best Of The Hollies, a collection of some of the group's '60s sides, which I exhumed from the cut-out bin at Gerber Music in Penn Cann Mall. I was puzzled at the time that a supposed Best Of The Hollies included neither "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" nor "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"--and nor, for that matter, "Carrie Anne"--but it seemed a good value, and a quick exchange of cash made it mine.

I only recognized a handful of songs on that LP. The rest was undiscovered. I was a pop music Magellan! A rock 'n' roll Vasco da Gama! A power pop James T. Kirk, boldly going where no one had gone before, except for the mass o' people who got there before me! Set the stereo on stun, and beam me up!



Side One opened and closed with tunes I already knew, "Bus Stop" and "Stop, Stop, Stop." In between those two tracks, The Very Best Of The Hollies served up my first-ever spins of "Here I Go Again," "I'm Alive," and the incredible "Look Through Any Window." Whoa! This was already money well-spent! Side Two commenced with another pure pop trifecta--"Pay You Back With Interest," "Just One Look," and a future Greatest Record Ever Made, "I Can't Let Go"--before hitting the familiar, welcome groove of "On A Carousel." The album closed with an anticlimactic cover of Little Richard's "Lucille" in a spot where, I tell ya, "Carrie Anne" shoulda gone instead. But no matter! This was pop music. This was The Hollies! And I was now a fan.



I eventually acquired my own copy of "Carrie Anne" on the soundtrack album to Stardust. I picked up the "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress" 45 somewhere in there, too, and that reissue single included the sublime "Long Dark Road" as its flip. I learned about "King Midas In Reverse" and "Dear Eloise" and "Post Card" and "Yes I Will," belatedly finding out the latter song was a Hollies record before it became "I'll Be True To You" by The Monkees. Much, much later, I fell hard for The Searchers' "Have You Ever Loved Somebody" and The Everly Brothers' "So Lonely," not realizing that both were Hollies compositions. (In fact, when The Flashcubes covered "Have You Ever Loved Somebody" live and identified it as a Hollies song, I went up to bassist Gary Frenay to correct his obvious mistake. Gary rolled his eyes and patiently set me straight. Stupid fanboy....) And later still, my then-young daughter Meghan used to bop around the house, singin' along to the delightful bounce of The Hollies and "On A Carousel."



I no longer own my copy of The Very Best Of The Hollies. Space considerations and long-forgotten scrambles for rent money have restrained my natural pack-rat tendencies, so duplicate items tend to get the ol' heave-ho. I have CD reissues of many of The Hollies' individual albums, plus the wonderful, multi-disc Hollies collection Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years. On This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl in 2010, we featured a long promotion called The Hundred Hollies Initiative, a successful effort to play at least one hundred different Hollies tracks over the course of the year; since the price for failure in this venture would have required us to play Bob Seger's execrable "Old Time Rock And Roll" as penance, we made damned sure that we played one hundred and one different Hollies songs. Can't be too safe with such dire potential consequences! Our friend Rich Firestone credits The Hundred Hollies Initiative for turning him into a bigger fan of The Hollies, so that was my chance to pay this back with interest.

For me, this all started with "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress," and a few songs heard on oldies radio. But it manifested in earnest with a cut-out bin purchase of The Very Best Of The Hollies, a record which was ultimately more important to me than I could ever appreciate at the time. I'm alive. I can't let go. Riding along on a carousel. Watch me now, 'cause here I go again.






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