With oldies radio having reduced Herman’s Hermits catalog to only a couple of their hit singles, many listeners may be unaware of the group’s immense mid-60s popularity. The Hermits were the top-selling British group in 1965, besting even the Beatles, spurred manic responses from female fans, and starred in two feature-length films. ABKCO’s two-fer pulls together the soundtracks from both 1966’s Hold On! And 1968’s Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter. To be fair to the Fab Four, neither of the Hermits’ films holds a creative candle to A Hard Day’s Night (or even Help, really), and while the soundtracks haven’t the brilliance of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, they do combine charming hit singles, interesting explorations of folk-rock, good album tracks, and yes, some filler.
Hold On spun off two hit singles, the music-hall styled “Leaning on the Lamp Post” and the folk-rock “A Must to Avoid.” The latter is one of four titles penned by ace Los Angeles writers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. The Hermits’ original version of Sloan & Barri’s “Where Were You When I Needed You” hasn’t the venom of the Grass Roots’ subsequent hit, but Peter Noone’s double tracked vocal is a nice touch, and the band cuts an interesting groove that marries British Invasion beat music and West Coast folk-rock. The title track quickly reveals Sloan’s fascination with Dylan, and the tambourine, hand-claps and waltz-time of “All the Things I Do for You Baby” suggest the Sunset Strip sound of the Leaves and Byrds.
The remainder of Hold On includes the novelty “The George and Dragon” and a generous helping of tunes written by soundtrack specialists Fred Karger, Ben Weisman and Sid Wayne. Wayne and Weisman wrote several of the more passable songs for Elvis Presley’s films, and here they work up the foot-stomping “Got a Feeling,” Zombies-styled “Wild Love,” and, for film co-star Shelley Fabares, the mid-tempo ballad “Make Me Happy.” Mickey Most’s productions, heard here in true stereo, hold up well, sounding punchier and more nuanced than one might have heard through an AM radio in 1966. The entire album clocks in at just over twenty-two minutes, and so it pairs nicely with the Hermits’ second soundtrack.
The Hermits scored their second feature film two years later, but by this time the music scene had moved on from cute mod style to hippie couture, and the band’s commercial fortunes had waned. The soundtrack’s single, “The Most Beautiful Thing in My Life,” managed a measly #131 in the U.S. and didn’t chart at all in the UK. Still, the album contained several interesting songs from ace pop songwriter (and then soon-to-be 10cc founder) Graham Gouldman, including the Hollies-influenced “It’s Nice to be Out in the Morning.” Filling out the track list were the band’s 1965 title hit (reproduced here in mono) and their last top-five, 1967’s “There’s a Kind of Hush.”
ABKCO’s reissue (with fantastic digital transfers by Peter Mew, Teri Landi and Steve Rosenthal) adds a bonus rehearsal session of “Mrs. Brown” in which Peter Noone tries out an a cappella introduction and pins down the tempo. Noone was among the most charming front-men of the British Invasion, and his good nature and hard-work shines through on both the hits and album tracks. Much like the recent Herman’s Hermits documentary, these soundtracks show off an endearing band that cannily picked their material from top-flight writers. The two-fer CD is also available as individual album downloads [1 2], but both soundtracks are recommended, and the two-fer is the way to go. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]