Thursday, May 31, 2007

“Bus Stop” / The Hollies


Naturally, I had to love these guys – a band named after me! (or so I imagined at the time). But really, considering how many British Invasion bands petered out in the late 1960s, or survived only on the revival circuit, you must give the Hollies respect.

Sure, they started out like so many other bands, covering Brill Building tunes like “Just One Look” and “Stay” and “Yes I Will,” drenched in gorgeous three-part harmonies. But powered by those early hits, this Manchester band swiftly evolved, bringing in homegrown songwriting talent like Graham Gouldman; his “Look Through Any Window” was a huge step forward, a refreshing bit of social commentary in a market still full of simple love songs. By the summer of 1966, their second Gouldman single, “Bus Stop,” reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic. The Hollies had finally came into their own, and soon their own songwriting would take them even further. They're still in business, 40 years later.

For better or worse, I’ve always linked this song with “Doo Wah Diddy,” those two 45s sitting side-by-side in my little tan record case (I was too young to afford albums). After all, both songs prove that a casual street pick-up can lead to wedding bells, a formula I was happy to believe as an adolescent. But “Bus Stop” has much more literary texture; it’s in another class altogether.

I love the compressed language of that pivotal first scene -- “Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say / Please share my umbrella / Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows / Under my umbrella” – it plays like a scene out of an artsy movie, minimal dialogue but lots of meaningful glances and time-chop editing. Then our scope expands to a leisurely montage: “All that summer we enjoyed it / Wind and rain and shine / That umbrella we employed it / By August, she was mine.” Love doesn’t happen overnight, it has to grow -- much more credible than making out with a girl you just met because she was singing a catchy ditty.

Their budding intimacy develops in the bridge: “Every morning I would see her waiting at the stop / Sometimes she'd shop and she would show me what she'd bought / Other people stared as if we were both quite insane / Someday my name and hers are going to be the same.” Anybody who’s ever walked along a certain street hoping to see someone special knows how this feels. Is he interested in what she’s bought? No way – it’s just an excuse to lean close, maybe touch hands accidentally. And that special glow, how it sets them apart from the other passengers at the stop -- delicious.

In verse two, he’s become a narrator, commenting on the story, like he’s telling their kids How Your Mother And I Met: “That's the way the whole thing started / Silly, but it's true / Thinking of a sweet romance / Beginning in a queue.” (I had never heard the British word “queue” before this song; it totally charmed me.) “Came the sun, the ice was melting,” he remembers next (where did that ice come from?), and the harmonies hang wistfully on the next line: “No more sheltering now.” Declaring your love publicly is always scary, but they’re ready for it now.

Such a happy little love story – EXCEPT it’s in a minor key, a brilliant move to keep sappiness at bay. Notice those unresolved chords shimmering through the harmonies – the music itself expresses all the shyness and uncertainty of new love. I adore the jangly Spanish-style guitar here, its haunting quality inexplicably perfect.

The BBC banned this song – apparently “please share my umbrella” was a drug reference, though I’ve also heard it referred to a condom (“that umbrella we employed it”). Jeez, dirty-minded censors don’t know when to stop, do they? Listening to this song when I was 12 years old did not turn me into either a drug user or a slut. But forever after, it sure made waiting for buses a lot more thrilling.

Bus Stop sample


George said...

Just stumbled across your blog and it is a fantastic discovery for me. I was a teenager in the 60ies and it was the best friggen decade for music ... I cannot see another time when the music will ever be better ... everything was new then and so exciting ... and I never did any of the drugs so the music was allways pure to me.

Thank you so much.

By the way, I just copied your Sergeant Pepper article over at blogcritics and used it as a post on my blog, with due reference to you. Hope you don't mind .. I got carried away.

Holly A Hughes said...

Welcome, George! Thanks for letting me know about the copied article; I'll check out your blog and see what readers there are saying.

Julie said...

My favorite Hollie's song. I, too was beguiled by how the story unfolded as well as the gorgeous harmonies.

Iñakink said...

And I thought it was you who was named after them! What a perfect way to end the British Invasion month. I think this is probably the song that sums up better all the sixties. Nah, stupid thought, but great song anyway!