In the utterly go-go, trans-media flurry that was mid-’60s pop(ular culture), every television star worth their Nielsens was expected to not only chase spies and rope steers, but compete with those rock ‘n’ rollers of the moment upon the Top 40 to boot.
Conversely, the real rock stars of the day were fully expected to make their own stabs upon the silver screen as well — all the better an opportunity to cross-promote their latest singles, albums, custom lunchboxes and/or coast-to-coast public appearance tours.
Meanwhile, over on the circa-1965 AM radio dial, it’s not often recalled that a young band of upstarts from Manchester, England, was actually outselling The Beatles all over the North American charts, and they just happened to not only record for a label that conveniently owned its own movie studio, but was also fronted by a picture-perfect poster boy who (a) reminded their producer of a young John F. Kennedy and (b) already possessed previous acting experience on British television.
The band was Herman’s Hermits, the label/studio MGM, the mop-topped JFK in question the one and only Peter Blair Denis Bernard (“Herman”) Noone — and the movies? Why, none other than those full-color, action-and-music-packed, guitar-beating romp ‘n’ rolling gems Hold On! and Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.
The original motion picture soundtracks for both these films have just been recently re-released courtesy of the good folk over at ABKCO Records. And they honestly do contain more than their fair share of fab, fanciful, and fully-Hermanly numbers, which, thanks in no small part to producer Mickie Most, not only hold on but hold up quite well against such period rock scores as The Beatles’ Help! and even The Monkees‘ magnificent Head.
The Hold On! soundtrack especially, featuring four great P.F. Sloan/Steve Barri compositions, is shoulders above most of the 4/4 fluff then filling teen exploitation fare. In fact three of its numbers, “A Must to Avoid,” “Leaning on the Lamp Post” and the “Hold On!” title number itself duly joined the slew of other multiple-million-selling Hermits records then dominating the airwaves.
The Hold On! score also features, it should be noted, the debut appearance of Sloan and Barri’s “Where Were You When I Needed You” (which was soon to launch the career of The Grass Roots), plus a cinematically ultra-cute cut by co-star Shelley Fabares called “Make Me Happy” (Fabares, by the way, was then married to record biz mogul Lou Adler, who, not at all coincidentally in the incestuous world of ‘60s pop, also managed and published the aforementioned Sloan and Barri). You should also make it a point to witness Fabares’ big fantasy number with Noone/Herman, “The George and Dragon,” which for three minutes launches Hold On! into flights of surrealism only hinted at during Magical Mystery Tour.
Two years later, those Monkees had swiftly replaced Herman and Co. upon teenage American bedroom walls and television screens, and the band was banished back to their homeland to eek out a few more hits — and one more movie under the auspices of their new manager (and major MGM stockholder) Allen Klein — before the bubbly inevitably burst. That movie, 1968’s Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, may not have been set in outer space like some of Hold On! but was, quite refreshingly, much more down-to-earth. Literally — as it concerned the plight of the Hermits and their missing racing greyhound known as, yes, Mrs. Brown. Nevertheless, the music (arranged by a just-pre Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones) is as bouncy and colorful as the Hermits’ post-mod wardrobe — we’re treated to a revival of the band’s U.S. swansong “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over The World),” for example — and, as for the film itself, I’d just have to agree with Bruce Eder, writing in Hollywood Rock, when he calls it “much more fun than Jean-Luc Godard‘s Sympathy for the Devil,” another 1968 Klein production, by the way.
So! Two vintage ’60s original motion picture soundtracks, 20 songs in less than 50 minutes (plus a surprise “Mrs. Brown’s Daughter” session excerpt), great singing and playing by Noone, Karl Green, Keith Hopwood, Barry Whitwam and the late, extremely great Derek “Lek” Leckenby, and all newly available on disc and for download via ABKCO.
PS: Both the Hold On! and Mrs. Brown films themselves are back on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, so you can once and for all find out precisely why NASA wanted to name its latest Gemini space capsule “Herman’s Hermits,” and how Stanley Holloway got Herman a job as a fruit peddler in a London grocery stall. Trust me: They just don’t make movies — or compose film scores — like these anymore at all!
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.