198. ‘I’m Alive’, by The Hollies

Finally, after all the recent gospel, jazz and country, we’re back on track. This is more like it. This is what the sixties were meant to sound like…

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I’m Alive, by The Hollies (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 24th June – 1st July / 2 weeks from 8th – 22nd July 1965 (3 weeks total)

This record is like a ‘Best of the Sixties’ compilation distilled down into a two and a half minute song. Let’s take it step by step… The intro is pure Merseybeat – light, chiming guitars – with a generous side order of Doo-Wop. Doo- doodoodoodoodoodoodoo… Then in comes in a husky, Lennon-ish voice: Did you ever see a man with no heart, Baby that was me… It’s all about a man who had never lived before, until his girl came along. It’s an upbeat and positive song. A song that puts you in a good mood. He’s alive!

The build-up to the chorus is very Beatles-y. Think a milder version of their ‘Twist and Shout’. Now I can breathe, I can see, I can touch, I can feel… Each line ascends ahead of the previous one, until the singer punches the chorus out: I never felt like this… I’m alive! I’m alive! I’m alive! End, and repeat.

Then the solo, which is a bit more hard hitting. Think tinny Kinks’ guitars with a bit of Stones swagger thrown in. And by the end, they’ve gone full on Who – with Keith Moon style drum fills and a frenetic rock-out to the end. Sprinkle the tiniest hint of psychedelica in the guitar reverb, and soupçon of Beach Boys in the backing vocals, and there you have it. I mentioned in recent posts that Jackie Trent and Sandie Shaw’s recent #1s were the most ‘sixties-sounding’ pop hits and now, well, I think we have the rock equivalent. We are slap-bang in the middle of the decade, and the sixties have never sounded sixtieser. It’s the perfect mix of old-style rock ‘n’ roll, Merseybeat and the newer, harder-edged rock. It’s a great little record.

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The Hollies were also, like so many of the bands that they sound like, from the north-east of England, and went through the same Cavern Club circuit as all their peers. Founded by Allan Clarke and Graham Nash (later of Crosby, Stills and Nash), they started out as an Everly Brothers style duo before adding a few more members. Their name is – as you may have guessed – a tribute to Buddy Holly. ‘I’m Alive’ was far from being their first hit; nor was it their last. They would go on to have Top 10s well into the seventies, and were the 9th biggest chart-act of the sixties. Not bad, considering that they were up against Elvis, Cliff, The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks and more in that list.

And I have to admit that they are the one big sixties rock group that have passed me by. I know ‘Just One Look’ – another mid-decade pop classic – and ‘Stop Stop Stop’, as well as their later, mellower hits ‘He Ain’t Heavy…’ and ‘The Air That I Breathe’. But I should know more, and will explore their back-catalogue as soon as I’ve finished writing this post. ‘I’m Alive’ was their only UK #1* and that, given their chart longevity, feels like a surprise.

But, before you give delve into their Greatest Hits, give this record one more spin. A song that sounds like the love-child of every prominent sixties rock ‘n’ roll band, a record that faces both forward and back, a record that did a weird mid-summer’s dance with Elvis’s ‘Crying in the Chapel’ (Elvis was #1, then The Hollies, then Elvis, then The Hollies again) at the top of the charts. A classic, that almost slipped through the gaps.

*(My first ever footnote!) Actually, The Hollies will have one further UK chart-topper, with a re-release in precisely twenty-three and a bit years, for Miller-Lite based reasons that we’ll go into when we get there.