'Mad Men' Music: The Hollies' 'On A Carousel' - With Graham Nash

Monday, 05 May 2014 06:22 AM Written by 

Spoiler alert. Don't read unless you've seen last night's episode of Mad Men, titled "Monolith."

The entire episode was full of downers.  Don returns to work, only to face humiliation when Pete lands a new account: Burger Chef (read the footnote), which the partners approve, suggesting to Lou Avery, the decidedly uncreative head of Creative, he give it to Peggy and that she "put Don on it."  He does so, giving her a raise on top of it, not really wanting her to succeed any more than he wants Don to (Draper's talents scare the hell out of a mediocrity like Avery). Showing more arrogance than empowerment, she treats her onetime mentor as badly as he sometimes treated her, delivering messages via secretaries (including the terminally airheaded Meredith) but exacting retribution doesn't make her feel any more superior, as she remains in a barely concealed rage.   

Pitching a potential client--the company installing SC&P's new computer (which costs the creative staff their bullpen) to the increasingly despicable, condescending Bert Cooper, Don finds himself dismissed like a messenger boy or a receptionist. In his usual immature way, he doesn't help matters by sneaking a bottle of vodka he nicked from Roger's office into his own and downing a good bit of it, violating his no-drinking-in-the-office contractual stipulation. His rescuer (barely): is recovering alcoholic Freddy Rumsen, who gets him home and gives him a suck-it-up pep talk.  It's as if Don didn't learn a damned thing from what had happened--at least until the end.

Roger has his own issue: the abidication of married daughter Margaret, a spoiled, self-pitying brat and married mother of four year old son Ellery, who decides to chuck it all for an upstate, back to nature hippie commune where she takes the name "Marigold" (yes, people actually did stupid sh*t like this in 1969), basically dismissing her motherly responsibilities, justifying it by yammering how her parents were never really there for her. Roger's LSD experiments and hanging with hippies in NYC haven't loosened his fatherly instincts, and despite his getting physical, "Marigold" irresponsibly refused to return to her son and husband.  These segments reminded me why I never had much use for the hippie mindset despite being part of that generation.  

The Song: But the music's the point of this entry, isn't it?   The proceedings ended with a cheery number from the 60's, a hit prior to 1969, the year the Sterling Cooper & Partners gang currently occupy: the British pop group the Hollies' 1967 Top Twenty single "On A Carousel" when Graham Nash was still very much a member. At that time David Crosby was still (barely) in the Byrds and Stephen Stills and Neil Young were members of Buffalo Springfield.

Nash and Allan Clarke, who sang harmonies together Everly Brothers-style, formed the band in Birmingham in 1962. Buddy Holly was one inspiration for the band name. Other longtime members were guitarist Tony Hicks, bassist Bernie Calvert and drummer Bobby Elliott. And yes, I noted the irony of the song hearkening back to Don's long-ago "carousel" pitch. 

Their sparkling, crystalline harmonies became their calling card, and their first single in the US, a cover of Doris Troy's "Just One Look," only made it to # 98, but did so in the spring of '64, as Beatlemania was changing everything and US labels were seeking any British rock material they could find.

The Hollies had other bigger hits prior to "Carousel," some bigger in the UK than they were in the US.  Over here,  ""Bus Stop" and "Stop! Stop! Stop!" were their first Top Ten singles. In Britain their label was Parlophone, same as the Beatles.

This clip is a gem. In January of 1967, the band was being filmed for a documentary at the very session they recorded "Carousel" at Abbey Road.  Next door, in the now-famous Studio Two, the Beatles were putting finishing touches on "Penny Lane."   What you hear is the actual recording being made.

Note that the digital tech of today didn't exist, and that's largely for the good., It means there's no BS like Autotune, no need to go in and lay down parts over the space of a month or more the way many records are done now. Nope. They did it live then fixed the parts on the spot (or at a subsequent session) with overdubs. I think it makes a difference in the overall feel, one reason some younger acts have gone back to doing live in the studio.

The band changed, of course. Nash left in 1968 to join Crosby and Stills. The band, however, never quit, and continued to enjoy success into the 70's with hits including "Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)," "The Air That I Breathe" and "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." Nash briefly rejoined them in 1983 and has occasionally rejoined them onstage. The Hollies were was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.  Today, with Hicks and Elliott at the helm, the band, now a sextet. continue to tour and perform.  And the classic material from the 60's still holds up today.

Footnote: Burger Chef, founded in 1957, was an Indianapolis-based McDonald's-like chain with cheap burgers ("Chefburger and the Big Mac-like "Big Chef"), fries and shakes  that surged in the 1960's and for a time, was No, 2 to Mickey D's.  General Foods bought it in 1968, and it grew ever bigger.  For younger readers, believe it or not, there was a time when Burger Chef and the regionally based Winky's dominated the Pittsburgh market,  with smaller chains like Hardee's and Sandy's bringing up the rear. Popular as it was in other parts of the country, McDonald's didn't really begin to asset itself big around here until the 1970's, as Burger Chef peaked.  If you're curious, the burgers were char-broiled like today's Whoppers.  How do I know?  In 1962, a  Burger Chef opened three blocks from where I lived on Greensburg's east side, the first fast food joint in the area. 

In the 80's what was left of the company ended up purchased by the owners of Hardee's and many stores were switched. The one in Greensburg was an exception. It became in indie restaurant.  Today it's a Sherwin-Williams store on East Pittsburgh Street.  This site has some early photos of the chain's building designs.



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