"Yes I Will" / The Hollies
I'd completely forgotten about this song -- I didn't even remember that I'd put it on my iTunes. When I think of the Hollies, I think mostly of "Bus Stop" and "Carrie Anne," those fresh-sounding mid-60s hits, and maybe "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," their 1970 single that proved they were still relevant. By then, though, I was starting to mix them up with Bread, who came along with the same kind of soft-edged vocal harmonies (remember "Make It With You"? How about "It Don't Matter to Me" and the truly awful "Baby I'm-A Want You"? Yeah, I know, I wanted to erase those from my mental hard drive too.) Honestly, by the time the Hollies came out with "The Air That I Breathe," it was easy to confuse them with Bread.
But back when backbeat pop was still bright and brisk and clean, before everything got sludged up with pomposity and overblown emotions, there were their 1965 hits "Yes I Will" and the folky "Look Through Any Window." Man, this was good stuff. Was it Graham Nash jumping ship in 1968 that sent the Hollies south? Was it just standard-issue 70s excess? Or was it the desperation of a singles band trying to survive in the new world of album-oriented rock?
The Hollies website tells me that this song was written by Gerry Goffin and Russ Titelman, one of the few songs Goffin wrote with someone besides his then-wife and songwriting partner, my homegirl Carole King (for Tapestry alone I'll always love her). This is not one of Gerry's brightest efforts; the lyrics are, I hate to say it, borderline inane. Take that first verse: "I'll be true to you, yes I will / I'll be true to you, yes I will / I won't look twice / When / The other girls go by / I'll be true to you, yes I will." Okay, okay, we get the point.
Still, though I say I forgot about this song, I certainly didn't forget this song. The minute it shuffled up on my player, I knew every word, every harmony, every glorious mushy chord shift. In a world that was speedily going cynical, the Hollies were still offering earnestness, ardently sustaining those long rhyming notes in the third line of each verse: "My heart is sure / You're / The girl I've waited for." It's breathtakingly simple, and dead sincere.
The bridge gets a little more complex: "I used to be the kind / Who said that every girl's the same, and / Love was just a game for having fun." I perk up here; I know that guy. And schmaltzy as the next lines are -- "But when I looked at you / I knew that I was wrong, and that I / Really could belong / To only one" -- I have to admit I fall for it. Notice how the lines spill over (technical term: enjambment) to link a long complex thought, then resolve in short-line simplicity. (Note the same-game and wrong-belong internal rhyme, too.) I'm guessing the tune suggested this to Goffin, but give him credit for having the chops to do something with it.
We know now that it's totally unrealistic, all this love-at-first-sight and true-love-forever nonsense. This is the bill of goods pop music sold us for years -- how many thousands of disastrous marriages have Top 40 radio to blame? But in 1965, the Hollies could still deliver it without a trace of irony -- that faithful drumbeat, the spangly guitar strums, and above all the gorgeous harmonies. You only have to hear the Monkees' cover to marvel at the perfection the Hollies brought to this (and hey, I like the Monkees). For 2:57 I believe in it all over again.
Yes I Will sample