Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Psychedelic Relics, Part 2
Pretty much every band around in the mid-1960s got around to cutting a “psychedelic” album or two, that is, if the band lasted long enough. The Byrds got freaky with “Eight Miles High” and the Beatles blew everybody’s mind with Revolver, and everyone followed suit.
Today we are going to take a look at some latter-period work from British Invasion bands that followed in the footsteps of the Fab Four. If they lasted long enough to reach 1967-1970, pretty much everyone of that era had to cut their own druggy tunes for better or worse.
The Hollies came along in 1963 with crisp, bright harmonies and hooky songs that made it to the top of the pop charts. “Stop, Stop, Stop,” “Bus Stop,” “On A Carousel,” “Carrie Anne” and many others were pleasant, melodic and sounded great on AM radio. The Hollies were led by vocalists Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash, who were also the main songwriters.
Perhaps a little jaded by their pop success, the Hollies got psychedelic with Evolution, their album from 1967. The harmonies were still firmly in place, Clarke-Hicks-Nash were still the songwriters, but the instrumentation now included some fuzz guitar and trippy drumming. “Have You Ever Loved Somebody” is a perfect example – it had just enough psychedelic energy and pop smarts to still be a chart hit (it was covered by the Everly Brothers and the Searchers, who had the hit version).
Following the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper blueprint, the Hollies had their own sitar-spiced tune, “Heading For A Fall,” and some baroque Anglophilia, “Ye Olde Toffee Shop,” complete with fey harpsichord. But what makes Evolution listenable, and even memorable, are the vocal arrangements. “You Need Love” and “When Your Light Turned On” shows that the Hollies were a formidable band on a level with the Kinks, the Who, the Stones, etc.
But the seeds of discord had already been sown: by the next year, 1968, Graham Nash grew impatient with the endless string of pop singles and would leave Merrie Olde England and the Hollies behind. He turned up in Laurel Canyon, and you know the rest. Clarke and Hicks would soldier on with replacement singer Terry Sylvester, and the Hollies would go into the 1970s with huge hits like “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” and “The Air That I Breathe.”
Compared to the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits were almost mindlessly dedicated to pop success: their hits “I’m Into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry The Eighth, I Am” established the group in many listeners’ minds as harmless, cute little teen idols. But when members Peter Noone (the goofy lead singer), Keith Hopwood, Karl Green and Daryl Leckenby started writing their own material, it often wound up as deep album cuts and B-sides.
So by the time 1967 rolled around, Herman’s Hermits also dipped their toes in the multi-colored stream of pop culture with Blaze, a tentatively experimental album that mixed originals by the group members with songs by the likes of Donovan, Ray Davies and the Hollies’ honorary songwriter Graham Gouldman. Kicking off with Donovan’s “Museum,” with keyboards and sitars in place, the album was intended to show that the Hermits had grown up. Trouble was, the originals by the band mirrored the group’s past hits maybe a little too closely or were a little too generic: Gouldman’s “Upstairs, Downstairs” could have been a hit for anyone, “One Little Packet of Cigarettes” was pleasant and had nothing that tied it to Herman’s Hermits.
Noone himself wrote the psychedelic “Last Bus Home,” which is one of the album’s best songs, and “I Call Out Her Name” (written by Hopwood-Leckerby) was quasi-country rock. Blaze may have been a bit much for both Herman’s Hermits fans and their record label. The album didn’t sell, and the label MGM started to promote other artists who were more palatable to the counterculture audience. Herman’s Hermits cut a handful of singles and called it a day – Blaze would be their last album, an underappreciated gem from the era.
Finally, we get to the Yardbirds at the end of their run. Of course, the ‘ Birds had Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck as alumni, but by 1967 this group’s commercial fortunes were also on the slide. The Yardbirds at this time consisted of original members Keith Relf (singer), Chris Dreja (bass) and Jim McCarty (drums) with Beck’s replacement on guitar, Jimmy Page. Page actually played bass while Beck was in the band (Dreja was a rhythm guitarist and singer as well) but after Beck’s firing in 1966 Page got the lead guitar job.
So: Little Games, issued in 1967, had veteran hit-making producer Mickie Most at the helm, and the group came up with strong material. “Smile On Me,” co-written by the entire band, was a bluesy shouter, and “Glimpses” had some nice vocal work swirling amidst the predictable sitar flavorings. Page’s guitar work is front and center on “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor” and the title track was the album’s first single that was kind of all over the place, with rock guitar, strings, horns and a pleasant sing-along melody. It stiffed, of course. Little Games not only was a flop commercially, it was also a bit of a critical disaster.
By the next year, Relf and McCarty wanted out and Dreja would soon follow. Page, inspired by the bluesy hard rock of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, had an idea that the Yardbirds could follow down that path, so he recruited some new members: John Bonham on drums, bass player John Paul Jones and screamer Robert Plant. The New Yardbirds booked some dates in Europe but Dreja, now a photographer, obtained a “cease and desist” order over use of the Yardbirds name which he apparently partially owned. So as Keith Moon predicted this lineup would go over like a “lead zeppelin,” the new Yardbirds changed their name and you know the rest.