52 GIRLS"Carrie Anne" / The Hollies
I won't inflict "Holly Holy" on you, but I will sneak in my own name here. Let's time travel to 1967, the dwindling years of the British Invasion. Though my favorite Hollies song remains "Bus Stop" -- for reasons I explain here -- "Carrie Anne" runs a close second. If "Bus Stop" always seems like a rainy day song, then "Carrie Anne" is its sunshiny counterpoint
You recognize it from the very first beat, the three-part vocal harmonies blooming out from the speakers, fully-fledged. After all, if harmonies are your trademark, why not deliver them right away, on the downbeat? Most other bands would have done this snazzy intro with guitar riffs, but they're proclaiming the trademark Hollies sound from the get-go.
Years later, Graham Nash admitted that he wrote this song (with fellow Hollies Tony Hicks and Allan Clarke) for Swinging London's top It Girl, Marianne Faithfull. In 1967, though, she was famously Mick Jagger's main squeeze, and shy Nash never gave her the song, changing the name to protect the innocent.
He fictionalized some of the details, too. The singer has evidently known Carrie Anne since they were kids: "When we were at school our games were simple / I played the janitor you played a monitor." (Marianne Faithfull went to a girl's convent school, so this part can't be true.) In 1967 my favorite movie was To Sir, With Love, which gave me an exotic notion of an English secondary modern; I had no idea what a monitor was, but I loved the way Allan Clarke pronounced it.
But it quickly becomes a tale of innocence lost: "Then you played with older boys and prefects / What's the attraction in what they're doing?" I can just see her, tousled blonde hair, the short plaid skirt of her uniform revealing an extra length of thigh. Slipping a kittenish look across the classroom at her former playmate while the head boy slings a proprietary arm around her shoulder. And our hero, still a kid (girls do mature faster), is clueless and confused by her budding sexuality.
When this song came out, in the spring of my seventh grade year, I wasn't a Carrie Anne myself -- I was the brainy girl in glasses, watching the cool kids start to pair up. I sympathized more with the singer of this song -- holding my breath, waiting to see how his hopeless crush turned out.
The harmonies swoop back in for the chorus, pleading: "Hey, Carrie Anne, what's your game now / Can anybody play?" I love those Graham Nash high harmonies; they practically demanded that we girls sing along. But that octave jump down to "game" adds a dark note of warning. It's a very different thing to play games as an adult, messing around with people's minds and hearts.
Verse two sketches grown-up Carrie Anne, admiringly at first -- "special," "independent," a glorious Sixties free spirit. That part is so Marianne Faithfull. But he's grown up too, and he can see the cracks in her façade: "You lost your charm as you were aging / Where is your magic disappearing?" Heresy! Maybe this is why Nash had second thoughts about giving this song to Marianne Faithfull -- if I were her, I wouldn't particularly care for this bit.
I'm a little baffled by the middle eight, which repeats over and over, "You're so like a woman to me." LIKE a woman? Well, if she isn't a woman, then what is she? But listening to those overlapping harmonies, logic seems irrelevant -- it's the tapestry of vocals that matters, building to a moan of desire. And then it's overtaken by that memorable musical break, with Caribbean steel drums -- the first pop record ever to use steel pan drums (fun facts to know and tell). As Allan Clarke recalls it, just as they were recording this, Tony and Graham happened to hear a busker playing steel pans down on the street and they brought him into the studio. A random choice, but a perfect fit for the springy syncopation of this song, halfway between samba and reggae.
He brings the song full circle in verse three, picking up the school imagery: "People live and learn but you're still learning / You use my mind and I'll be your teacher." It's time for a new chapter in both their lives, and now that her It Girl status is fading, maybe at last he has a chance. And isn't that what she needs -- someone who can see her as she really is and still believe in her? "When the lesson's over you'll be with me / Then I'll hear the other people saying, / Hey Carrie Anne....." Happy endings all around.
In point of fact, Marianne Faithfull would stay with Mick Jagger for another three years -- but then, who knows what would have happened if Graham Nash had given her this song? After all, if Patti Boyd could leave George Harrison for Eric Clapton on the strength of "Layla". . . .