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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 CooperElton JohnSweetSladeJohnny 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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THE EVERLASTING FIRST : The Sex Pistols

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

Noise. Glorious, angry, cathartic noise. Loud. Pissed off. Incredible.

It took me decades to really appreciate the music of The Sex Pistols. When I heard my first Pistols record in 1977, I thought it was intriguing, fascinating, but not really music. Now? Now, I regard The Sex Pistols as one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll bands.

But I liked the noise immediately.

British punk rock in the ’70s wasn’t built with me in mind; suburban American teens were not really the target audience of these snotty, safety-pinned Nihilists screaming Anarcheeeee in the yoooooooooooooo-kay! Nonetheless, my own individual level of post-adolescent alienation ultimately made me receptive to the promise of no future, no future, no future for you.

Before the music, there were words in the newspaper. For some reason, my memory associates my earliest awareness of The Sex Pistols with the cold confines of the Media Center at my high school in North Syracuse, NY. It was my senior year, 1976 to ’77. I spent some time in the Media Center, theoretically studying, really just reading histories of comic books and attempting to flirt (to no avail) with the girl at the periodicals check-out counter. There were press reports of this strange punk thing going on in England, sensational, garbled accounts of obscenity, rebellion, a jarring rock ‘n’ roll cacophony, a band literally puking on its audience. The last bit wasn’t true; the rest of it turned out to be Gospel.

Whatever. I wasn’t interested.

I was 16 or 17. My pop music tastes ran to British Invasion and ’60s oldies, The Beatles always first and foremost, plus ’70s acts like SweetBadfinger, and The Raspberries. I’d missed a chance to see Alice Cooper (with the lovely Suzi Quatro, my # 1 rock ‘n’ roll crush) in 1975, and would see my first concert–KISS–in December of ’76. I wasn’t opposed to flash, to excitement. But the yellow-journalism tales of The Sex Pistols made punk seem…dumb.

My opinion of punk would revise with the revelation of Phonograph Record Magazine, a tabloid rock rag I discovered in early ’77. PRM‘s tantalizing descriptions of all these punk and peripheral acts I’d never heard–The RamonesThe DamnedThe ClashBlondieThe Vibrators, and of course the Pistols–intrigued me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to hear…something.

I finally heard The Sex Pistols in the summer of ’77, when Utica’s WOUR-FM played their new import single, “God Save The Queen.” The DJ introduced the track with mentions of the clamor and controversy surrounding the group, and then played the record so listeners could judge for themselves.

“God Save The Queen” was unlike any record I’d ever heard. Even though I didn’t initially think it was music, it was undeniably exciting, enticing. Different. That was good enough for me. I didn’t hear The Sex Pistols again for months thereafter, but “God Save The Queen” did not leave my mind at any time.

Summer ended. College at Brockport began for this 17-year-old freshman. I heard more punk rock, courtesy of the campus radio station. I had my classes, and I betcha I may have studied occasionally. Otherwise? Music. Keggers. Attempts at writing. Flirting. Reciprocal flirting, leading to more than flirting. A few really dumbass actions that I still cringe to recall. Arguments with my roommate. A growing certainty that I would never truly fit in anywhere, a certainty which proved to be accurate.

There were two record stores in town, The Vinyl Jungle and The Record Grove. The Vinyl Jungle was gone in short order, leaving only The Record Grove, whose wonderful manager Bill Yerger had import and independent 45s for sale at the counter. My first punk rock purchases occurred at that counter when I bought the 45s of “God Save The Queen” and The Ramones’ “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.”

My roommate let me play “God Save The Queen” once on his stereo, so props to him for that. It was just as powerful the second time through, and it retained its power for oh, a zillion subsequent spins over the years. B-side “Did You No Wrong” wasn’t quite as distinctive–what could be?–but I dug it, and I like even more all these decades later.

My girlfriend was a little older than me, about 20 or 21, and she didn’t care for any of that noisy trash I loved so much. Her abrupt replacement was just 17, if you know what I mean, and she didn’t like my music any more than her predecessor did, but she bought me The Sex Pistols’ debut LP as a Christmas gift.

I think I’d already heard the “Pretty Vacant” single before I got my copy of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. I loved “Pretty Vacant” and “God Save The Queen,” and I loved a great album track called “No Feelings.” I liked “Anarchy In The UK” and “Holidays In The Sun.” I appreciated the foul-mouthed shock value of “Bodies,” and I approved of the album as a whole without ever embracing it as fully as I claimed at the time. I glowered at the barely-literate poison-pen review the album received in the campus newspaper, a frothing-at-the-mouth diatribe that sputtered such pithy witticisms as “Simply put, this album sucks!” Oh, you and your clever words….!

That was the basic beginning of my life as a Sex Pistols fan. Back home over Christmas break, my friend Jay came over to watch The Sex Pistols’ planned American television debut on Saturday Night Live, only to discover that our lads were still in England, and their SNL slot would be manned instead by some guy named Elvis Costello. The Pistols eventually made it to America, and the group broke up, acrimoniously and ignominiously, on these shores. When there’s no future, how can there be sin?

The sheer audacity of the Pistols phenomenon stayed with me. So much was made of their image, their DIY sloppiness, their presumed inability to play, that I didn’t realize until long, long after the fact just how solid this much-maligned band really was. Sure, Sid Vicious couldn’t play bass to save his short life, and Johnny Rotten‘s abrasive lead vocals were willfully more caterwaul than melody. But underneath all that? Guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and original bassist Glen Matlock were tight, together. They could play, and they played a basic, invigorating, exciting rock ‘n’ roll sound that doesn’t get the credit it richly deserves. These are terrific records. I wish they’d made more!

But Never Mind The Bollocks was The Sex Pistols’ only real album. There was the double-LP collection The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, assembled posthumously and at least as much sod as odd, and there was a terrific bootleg called Spunk, which preserved the Pistols’ pre-album demos. For a while, I preferred Spunk to Bollocks, but I’ve since settled firmly on the side of the official recordings.

Nowadays, my go-to Sex Pistols audio document is Kiss This, an import CD that contains all of Never Mind The Bollocks, the non-LP B-sides (“I Wanna Be Me,” “Did You No Wrong,””Satellite,” “No Fun”), and a selection of tracks from The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, including the Pistols’ cover of The Monkees‘ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and Sid Vicious’ silly deconstruction of “My Way.” If itonly added Sid’s surprisingly amiable version of Eddie Cochran‘s “Something Else” from The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll SwindleKiss This would be THE perfect Pistols set, but it’s close enough.

And, of course, I still have my original LP of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, a Christmas gift from a girl who would remain my girlfriend for about two more weeks after she gave it to me. No future. No feelings for anybody else, except for myself, my beautiful self. We are the flowers in the dustbin. The poison in your human machine. We’re so pretty, oh so pretty. Noise. Glorious. Angry. Cathartic. Music
Mine. My music. The transcendence of its noise endures. We mean it, man.

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