One of the most fascinating groups to emerge out of the British Invasion, The Hollies defied conventions through their constantly changing sound. They could perform pure pop (“Bus Stop”), rock (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”), power ballads (“The Air That I Breathe”), and songs with offbeat instrumentation and chords (“Carrie Anne,” “Stop Stop Stop”). No matter the song, they all bore The Hollies trademark: the intricate three-part harmonies of Graham Nash (later replaced by Terry Sylvester), Tony Hicks, and Allan Clarke. Throughout the 60s and 70s, The Hollies experimented with their music, often scoring numerous hits. But one of their lesser-known tracks remains startling original even today: “King Midas in Reverse.”
Penned by Clark, Hicks, and Nash, “King Midas in Reverse” clearly capitalizes on 1967’s burgeoning psychedelic scene. Indeed, the deep drums resemble those on the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” However, the lyrics conjure more sophisticated images than in a typical pop song. This transformation was intentional, as an increasingly frustrated Nash wanted to break free of the Hollies’ typically upbeat, love song-heavy material. He wanted the group to be taken more seriously, particularly as rock evolved into “Art” with a capital A. Did “Bus Stop” still fit in with The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, and their other risk-taking peers? Therefore The Hollies’ singing and songwriting trio set out to create a new kind of Hollies single, one which strayed from the typical lighthearted love song.
As the title suggests, “King Midas in Reverse” concerns a protagonist who destroys everything he touches. Beginning with just an acoustic guitar, the tune slowly transforms from folk to psychedelic rock, with strings, flutes, and a bass drum punctuating the words. The ominous lyrics suggest a destructive, dangerous character:
I’m not the guy to run with
’cause I’ll throw you off the line
I’ll break you and destroy you
The Clark-Hicks-Nash harmonies shine in the chorus, handling some difficult chord changes with apparent ease. “He’s King Midas with a curse/ He’s King Midas in reverse,” they croon. The lovely bridge at first sounds like their typical, optimistic tone, but it cloaks some depressing sentiments: “He’s not the man to hold your trust/ Everything he touches turns to dust/ In his hands.” The third verse induces uneasiness in the listener, although is buried in the trio’s exquisite harmonies:
I wish someone would find me
And help me gain control
Before I lose my reason
And my soul
“King Midas in Reverse” gradually fades out on the chorus, the psychedelic elements (namely strings and horns) most evident here. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band looms large over the proceedings, yet the unusual lyrics and The Hollies’ vocals lend the track a distinctive air.
Despite such risk-taking, “King Midas in Reverse” proved to be one of The Hollies’ least successful singles. It peaked at number 51 on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached number 18 in England. Stung by the song’s commercially disappointing reception, the group returned to their more familiar sound with lovely yet safer songs like “On A Carousel” and the sing-along friendly “Jennifer Eccles.” Yet The Hollies should be commended for continually crafting their music, not willing to stay in one particular genre. “King Midas in Reverse” still sounds unique, lyrically rich, and flawlessly performed. Listen to this single, as well as their other stellar material, and you too will get hooked on The Hollies.
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