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Tony Hicks, Allan Clarke and Graham Nash revisit Hollies' songwriting

The Hollies' early hits were written by others, but "We're Through" brought the songwriting of Tony Hicks, Allan Clarke and Graham Nash to the forefront.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following interview with Members of The Hollies is an excerpt from the 488-page book "Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volume One" by Ken Sharp.

"Play On!" features:

• Extended interviews with artists who defined the pop genre, including members of The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Hollies, The Dave Clark Five, The Zombies, The Bee Gees, The Turtles, The Small Faces and others.

Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volume 1

• Track-by-track commentary about seminal albums including The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," The Small Faces' "There Are But Four Small Faces" and the eponymous albums of The Nazz and Emmit Rhodes.

• Conversations with producers George Martin (Beatles), Shel Talmy (Who) and John Fry (Big Star), and songwriters Tony Asher (Beach Boys), Graham Gouldman (Hollies) and Garry Bonner (Turtles).

• Bonus! Digital MP3 compilations for "Power Pop Planet" Vols. 1-3, which is valued at $48. Please note: Vols. 1 and 2 are out of print, so this may be your only opportunity to enjoy these collections.

"Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volume 1" is only available for order until Oct. 28, 2014, via The printed book will ship the second week of November.

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By Ken Sharp

Early in The Hollies' career, the group had hits with songs written by others. The team of Tony Hicks, Allan Clarke and Graham Nash became a formidable writing partnership very quickly with the song “We’re Through” being a breakthrough.

ALLAN CLARKE: Well, that was our first A-side. Graham, Tony and I right from the beginning were always writing songs. It’s just that whenever we played our stuff to our producer, Ron Richards, he’d say ‘Well, that’s okay as a B-side but it’s not an A-side.” So we really had to wait until the song “We’re Through,” where Ron thought that would be a very good song to release as a single. And he was right, maybe we did have to wait that length of time to actually get our songwriting recognized. That song was a little bit different from what we’d done before. It was like a bossa nova track. I think it’s one of our songs that’s’ been forgotten. In the ‘60s we had 20 hits in four years and that was pretty amazing. But we didn’t think it was amazing then, we just thought it was normal for what we were doing. And then when Graham left and we brought in Terry Sylvester, we kept having hits. We recorded “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” which became one of he biggest hits we ever had. Playing piano on that was little Reg Dwight who we now know as Elton John. We recognized him as being something special when we did that; we thought this guy’s gonna be big one day (laughs) and we were right.

What accelerated your improvement as writers in such a short period?

GRAHAM NASH:: I think it was in great part to us growing up and us realizing that “Moon, June, f**k me in the back of the car” are all well and good, but there’s more to talk about. I think it was also due very much to the influence of The Beatles. To see their exponential growth as writers from the time I met them in 1959 through the '60s was very very encouraging to us. There was also a very subtle competitiveness to it all with the great bands around at the time.

TONY HICKS: Well, we were having a lot of success in the Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Norway and Finland. In Sweden in particular, we used to do two shows in the evening; we’d do a show in one town and then get in the cars and travel for maybe another two hours to another town. We had a little tape recorder in the car that the three of us were traveling in and we’d be writing songs, playing chords and putting ideas down. In that period, an awful lot of songs were written that way where we were a captured audience, and it just moved on from there.

ALLAN CLARKE: I’m not the kind of guy who says, “Today I’m gonna sit down and write a song.” Things come to me, lines come to me, lyric come to me and tunes come to me. Because I was never that proficient playing guitar or any other instrument I used to write with my voice. Therefore, if I had an idea I would go to Graham and Tony and say, ”Hey look, I’ve got this idea and it needs to be worked out.” Then my song would be finished with their input. That would happen with Graham and that would happen with Tony nine times out of ten. After a while it got to a point where Graham was writing a song completely on his own, Tony was writing something completely on his own and I was told I should get off my ass and start writing songs on my own. Some of the songs I wrote on my own were “High Classed,” “Charlie and Fred” and “Water on the Brain.” We started writing individually at that particular time.

The Hollies 1965

The Hollies in a 1965 Billboard ad for "I'm Alive."

Now working individually on songs, did that carve away the unity between all of you?

ALLAN CLARKE: Personally, I think it did carve away from the unity. That’s when Graham was bringing himself more to the fore by wanting to sing everything on his songs. On the Butterfly album I think that comes through pretty strongly. With songs like “Butterfly” and “Wishyouawish,” Graham did all the vocals on those. I think that was the start of idea of Graham moving on somewhere else.

What ultimately made that writing team so special?

TONY HICKS: I’ve always been a chorus man. Choruses excite me and I know when I hear that if the song’s gonna be a hit. To a large extent if the three of us wrote a song, I’d probably come up with the chorus. When Graham heard that he was always very good to sort of work out a verse or verses, and if Allan by that time hadn’t put much in, he’d knock out a middle eight. I wouldn’t say the process worked like that on every song, but to a large extent it was.

GRAHAM NASH: We were five kids from the north of England that were supposed to do what their dad did or you were supposed to do what your grandfather did. If he went down into the mine or if he worked at the mill, then it was good enough for him and it was good enough for you so get on with it. We had parents that supported our love for music and our passion for what we wanted to do and allowed us to do that. So we couldn’t wait to escape from Manchester. And of course when you course London, the first thing you want to do is go to New York. And that’s what we did.

ALLAN CLARKE: We were pals; we were buddies. And when we wrote songs, we wrote how we felt. I think with most of the Hollies songs that came out that were hits you can tell the difference between the songs that we’d written together and the songs that we wrote on our own. GM

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