Monday, September 4, 2017

Hollie-Day Special: The L. Ransford Songbook

You have, I hope, not come to expect more than one post a year here at "Musenick."

I've had this post in mind for awhile now. Hope it's of interest to you. This is a precursor to a bigger and more ambitious surprise I have in store for you around Christmas-time... watch this space.

L. Ransford is the pseudonym chosen by The Hollies, one of the premier British beat groups of the 1963-66 period, for their original songs. Since three or more group members collaborated on the songs, it was thought clunky and confusing to have all those names 'neath the song titles on their Parlophone 45s.

Graham Nash came up with the name, based on that of his grandfather, L. Ransford Nash. The group put their own names on some 1963 compositions, which I've included for completeness' sake, and used the one-off "Chester Mann" for the '64 B-side "Baby, That's All" (track 8 on this set).

Like most of the beat groups that sprang up from Britain's working-class boroughs, the Hollies were not professional song-writers, but they learned on the job--and fast. As Graham Nash recalled about the group's early songwriting efforts:
Like all their peers in this emergent musical trend, Allan Clarke. Graham Nash and Tony Hicks, te group's principal writers, tried to create songs similar to those they liked from American and European pop, rock and R&B. Cover versions of the later overcrowd the Hollies' early discography. Few of those performances are memorable or worth much attention over 50 years later.

The group was stuck to a formula of cover versions for their 45s, and enjoyed hits with tepid-to-middling revivals of "Searchin'" and "Ain't That Just Like Me" (from The Coasters), "Stay" (Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs) and "Just One Look" (Doris Troy). Their first LP, titled Stay with the Hollies to cash in on their 1963 hit single, is all cover versions, save for one group original (the pounding "Little Lover") and "Baby Don't Cry," a UK song from Kennedy Street denizens Perry Ford (later of the Ivy League) and Tony Hiller.

B-sides of their early singles were fair game, and producer Ron Richards was a sympathetic ear to their efforts. Hearing many of these early songs, one longs for the boys to have one more go at the lyrics--their awkward use of the filler word "just" is prevalent, and trite rhyme schemes remind the listeners of the efforts of Gerry Marsden (of rival beat group Gerry & the Pacemakers).

Nonetheless, the songs have energy, are often pleasantly melodic and are keenly built around the Clarke-Nash-Hicks harmony force. Of the earliest songs here, "Now's the Time," B-side to "Stay,"  a pounds as hard as beat could get in 1963. Screaming-hoarse twin harmonies, slashing guitar chords and wailing drums dominate a performance that's almost over before it begins. Its “runaway” hook grabs the listener—the master touch of an outstanding beat disc.

"L. Ransford" clearly had an ear to the efforts of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, their mega-successful label-mates. Through 1964, the Ransford songs often echo the feel and melodic stylings of the Beatles--especially Lennon's efforts. Songs like "Come On Back," "Don't You Know" and "Please Don't Feel Too Bad," from their originals-heavy 2nd LP In the Hollies' Style, are extremely Beatley.

The first sign of things to come is "Time for Love," from that second LP. Its sinuous melody, with its sinister tinge and striking middle eight, doesn't sound like anything the Beatles could have cooked up.

The group finally placed a Ransford as a single A side with 1964's "We're Through," a commercial minor-keyed song in the vein of "You're No Good," which was a major hit for Liverpool's Swinging Blue Jeans a few months earlier.

A signature melodic style begins to show up with the flowing, harmony-based "Baby, That's All," a 1964 B-side. From this point on, the Hollies' originals tend to work more distinct musical paths, and in the process, they stop sounding so much like the other groups. By 1965, via songs such as "I've Been Wrong," "Too Many People" and "Put Yourself in My Place," "L. Ransford" have found their collective voice. 

As with the Beatles' contemporary songs, it's fascinating to trace the maturity and development of British beat music through the L. Ransford catalog. By its end. the group has shed all its apparent influences and emerged as a major creative force. Alas, this original version of the group was soon to break up.

These tracks are sourced from the terrific EMI box set, The Hollies--Clarke, Nash & Hicks Years (2011), which includes several originally-unissued tracks. All the "Ransfords" have been included here, and a couple of them are corkers. "Listen Here to Me," recorded in New York City in April, 1965, is a powerful, brooding song and performance--imagine a mash-up of their cover of Peter, Paul & Mary's "Very Last Day" and their first A-side as Ransford, "We're Through." Though this is clearly not a finished recording, it's quite impressive and would have made a dynamite LP track. "Bring Back Your Love to Me" suggests the early Easybeats (that Australian group who emerged as world-class pop with their global hit "Friday on My Mind"); "She Gives Me Everything I Want" looks ahead to the group's 1966/7 songs and could have been a hit single. "You in My Arms" anticipates the songs on their LP masterpiece For Certain Because with its strong Middle-Eastern tinge.

The final track here is an L. Ransford song the Hollies gave to another group, The Mirage. "Go Away" is instantly recognizable as a '65/'66 Hollies original--from its ringing guitar giff to its shifting minor-key chord patterns and plaintive melody.

Hope you enjoy this 37-song set. As said, check back here later in 2017 for something big along these general lines!



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