Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hollies -- "On a Carousel" (1967)

Riding along on a carousel
Will I catch up to you?

There aren't too many classic carousels left in the United States, but I saw one of them when I stopped to ride the East Bay Bike Path in East Providence, Rhode Island, on my way back home from Cape Cod last month.

Perhaps the greatest of all the American carousel builders was Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish immigrant who created over 50 carousels during his lifetime.  

Carousel builder Charles I. D. Looff
Looff was only 24 when he built his first merry-go-round on Coney Island in 1876.  Ten years later, the owner of Crescent Park -- a large amusement park in East Providence, Rhode Island -- hired Looff to build a carousel.  Looff moved his workshop to Crescent Park, and built a second and more elaborate carousel there in 1895.  

That carousel, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987,  is still operating in its original location.

The Crescent Park carousel was essentially Looff's showroom -- prospective merry-go-round buyers would come to Crescent Park to view the various types of hand-carved horses the Looff workshop produced.  

The Crescent Park carousel featured an organ built in Germany by the famed fairground organ maker, A. Ruth & Sohn:

When he was 58, Looff pulled up stakes and moved to California.  He established a factory in Long Beach, and built a number of merry-go-rounds on the west coast, including the famous Santa Monica Pier carousel (which was subsequently replaced with a different carousel).

The Looff carousel in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, was the inspiration for Disneyland.  The park bench where Walt Disney used to sit and dream about a bigger and better amusement park while watching his daughters ride the carousel is on display at Disneyland: 

Here's a closeup of a plaque on that bench:

The East Bay Bike Path begins just south of I-195 in East Providence and runs 14.5 miles south along Narragansett Bay to Bristol, RI.

Here's a view of downtown Providence from the trail:

Here's the Pomham Rocks Light, which was built in 1871:

The East Bay trail has a peculiar traffic etiquette, which is illustrated by this sign:

Normally, bikers and pedestrians keep to the right on a hiker/biker trail -- bikers pass walkers and slower bikers on the left.  On the East Bay trail, walkers keep to the left at all times.

I don't know why the Hollies (whose name paid tribute to the late Buddy Holly) aren't taken as seriously as other great "British Invasion" bands like the Beatles and the Who.

The Hollies
Perhaps it's because the group is viewed primarily as a singles band.  The Hollies released some very interesting albums, but none were big sellers, and none have the critical cachet of albums like Rubber Soul or Revolver or Let it Bleed

Let's compare the singles released by the Hollies between the summer of 1965 and the summer of 1967 -- their peak period -- to the singles released by the Beatles and Rolling Stones during the same time period.

The Beatles released "Help!," "Yesterday," "We Can Work It Out," "Nowhere Man," "Paperback Writer," "Yellow Submarine," "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever," and "All You Need Is Love" during that two-year time span.  Six of those singles hit #1 in the United States, and the others reached either #2 ("Yellow Submarine") or #3 ("Nowhere Man").

The contemporaneous Rolling Stones singles included "Satisfaction," "Get Off of My Cloud," "As Tears Go By," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Paint It Black," "Mother's Little Helper," "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?, and "Ruby Tuesday" -- all of which made the top ten, and four of which were #1 hits. 

The Hollies released "Look Through Any Window," "I Can't Let Go," "Bus Stop," "Stop Stop Stop," "On a Carousel," "Pay You Back with Interest," "Carrie Anne," and "King Midas in Reverse" during the same time period.  Three of those singles made the top ten, and three others made the top 40, while "I Can't Let Go" reached only #42 and "King Midas in Reverse" -- a song that matches up against anything the Beatles did -- peaked at #51.

The Hollies were one of the most popular singles bands in the U.S. in the mid-1960s, although they were't nearly as popular in America as they were in the UK (where six of those singles cracked the top five).  But their popularity paled in comparison to that of the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Graham Nash
I don't think you can say that those eight Hollies records are inferior in any way to the eight Beatles or Stones records from the same two-year period.  I would argue that the Hollies songs are more interesting as a group -- they are more complex rhythmically and use more varied instrumentation (including a banjo on "Stop Stop Stop" and steel drums on "Carrie Anne").  Of course, they feature the group's trademark three-part vocal harmonies.

The Hollies were never the same after Graham Nash decamped to Los Angeles and joined Stephen Stills and David Crosby to form Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Nash wanted to record more serious material, but when "King Midas in Reverse" failed to do well, the other two singer/songwriters in the Hollies -- Allan Clarke (who was Nash's childhood friend) and Tony Hicks -- wanted to go back to the pop songs that had been so successful for the band.

The last straw for Nash was when the band rejected one of his compositions, "Marrakesh Express," and decided to record an album of Bob Dylan covers.

Allan Clarke
Ironically, the group's biggest hit single in the United States was "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," which featured Clarke singing solo -- it had none of the vocal harmonies the group was known for.  "Long Cool Woman" was inspired by Creedence Clearwater Revival, of all people -- Clarke's vocal sounds a lot like John Fogerty on "Green River."

One of my most vivid musical memories from the summer of 1972 was hearing "Long Cool Woman" and Creedence's "Sweet Hitch-Hiker" playing every night on the jukebox at Nina's Green Parrot in Galena, Kansas -- the beer joint I visited six nights a week that summer.  Unfortunately, one of my other vivid musical memories from that summer is hearing Looking Glass's hit single, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," playing every night on that same jukebox.

Here's "On a Carousel":

Here's a video of the Hollies recording the song at Abbey Road Studios.  The video is a composite of the various band members recording their individual parts.  The final part of the video shows Nash, Clarke, and Hicks recording vocals -- it's quite extraordinary:

Click here to order the song from Amazon:  

No comments:

Post a Comment