Long Cool Woman in a Green River Part I
Updated: 6 hours ago
I recently watched a documentary about The Hollies. While I’m not their biggest fan, I bought their records in the 80s when I was living in the 60s. I liked “Bus Stop,” thought “The Air That I Breathe” was incredible when I was about eight, and knew that “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was a masterpiece the moment I heard it.
That said, “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” perseveres as the song I continue to rediscover year after year. The staccato guitar intro is the epitome of the FM radio sound. It’s dramatic and suspenseful, and the old DJs probably had fun talking over it. It also creates tension because you know the rhythm section is about to add the groove that makes it all work.
Bernie Calvert’s fat bass track, slightly behind the beat, gives the song the push that creates the movement. Allan Clarke’s iconic guitar and vocal part provide the signature sound, but the bass provides the soul.
Clarke wrote the song with songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. They had gotten together at Cook’s place to write, but it wasn’t happening, so they went out for lunch and drinks. After a few glasses of wine and brandy, they returned to Cook’s and picked up where they left off.
Cook describes it in an interview with The Tennessean.
“We’d just gone out and had a skinful ourselves, you know? We came back to the office and thought it was fun to write a song about, what did they call it when they banned drinking?”
They wrote the lyrics as an ode to old James Cagney movies (see The Public Enemy or G Men) from the 30s and wanted to capture that lore in a rock song.
“So, we wrote a song about prohibition and all the bad people surrounding it. The FBI raiding and this [woman] singing at the bar. [The narrator] doesn't want her to get in trouble. So he kind of saves her.”
Clarke initially desired to fashion a rockabilly sound in the vein of Elvis’s “Mystery Train.” Fast-forward to the recording at AIR Studios. The Hollies producer, Ron Richards, could not make the session, so Clarke and the rest, with an unnamed assistant engineer, began to record anyway.
Although Tony Hicks was the lead guitarist, Clarke played the opening and signature guitar throughout that became one of the most recognizable rhythm guitar parts in rock history. To get the Elvis sound, the engineer added a tape delay slap echo to his voice, a la The King.
What they ended up with was more of a swamp rock sound, a la Credence Clearwater Revival.
“It was unexpected for the Hollies in England,” Cook adds. “They had hits with big ballads and so on. And here comes Allan, and he's doing his version of... what's the name... "Born on the Bayou."
As it turns out, the “Born on the Bayou” composer noticed a slightly different similarity and decided to call him out for it.
End of Part I