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The Hollies: The Air That I Breathe

The Hollies

British pop group The Hollies have been in the music industry for an amazing 57 years. They shot to stardom in 1963 with their first single and went on to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, after a hugely successful career.

The band formed as a duo initially, after school friends Allan Clarke and Graham Nash decided to launch a skiffle group in the late 1950s. They then changed their musical style into a vocal and guitar duo in the mould of the Everly Brothers and called themselves Ricky and Dane Young.

Eventually, Clarke and Nash joined a Manchester band called The Deltas in 1962, consisting of lead guitarist Vic Steele, bass player Eric Haydock and drummer Don Rathbone. They changed their name to The Hollies for a Christmas gig at Manchester’s Oasis Club.

Various band members have come up with different reasons for the name change. Legend has it that they wanted a name that was fitting for Christmas, although it has also been suggested that they admired Buddy Holly and chose their name as a tribute to the late star, who died in 1959.

Debut record

In January 1963, playing at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club, The Hollies were spotted by Parlophone’s assistant producer, Ron Richards, who invited them for an audition with the record label. He went on to sign the band and was their producer until 1976.

Their first single, a cover version of the 1961 single (Ain’t That) Just Like Me, by the Coasters, reached number 25 in the UK singles chart. Their second single, another cover of a Coasters’ song (Searching) peaked at number 12.

They became known as a covers band and enjoyed more chart success by recording the likes of Doris Troy’s Just One Look in February 1964.

Although they were writing their own material, Richards was initially reluctant for them to release it, as they had a successful formula with cover versions. Finally, in September 1964, they released their first original song, We’re Through, which peaked at number seven in the UK.

Biggest hit

A succession of hit records followed throughout the 1960s and ’70s, including their most famous song, The Air That I Breathe. Released in 1974, it peaked at number two in the UK and number six on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. To establish their reputation as a global success, the single also charted in Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Canada.

The song was a return to recording cover versions, as it had been written as a ballad in 1972 by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood. Hammond released it on his 1972 album, It Never Rains in Southern California. The version by The Hollies, two years later, was by far the most well-known.

It sparked a host of other cover versions, including recordings by Olivia Newton-John in 1975, Julio Iglesias in 1984, Barry Manilow in 1996, K D Lang in 1997 and Simply Red in 1998, to name but a few.


The lyrics were penned by Hazlewood and Hammond in California and were narrated by a man singing to the woman he loved. He was saying he could do without sleep, light, sound, cigarettes and even food, as long as he had her love.

English composer Hammond explained that his short-lived affair with a woman whom he loved inspired the lyrics. He had moved to California to be near her, but after their romance ended, he felt lonely and longed to be back with his family.

It was at this point that he wrote the song, containing the classic lyrics, “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.”

He told Hazlewood how he felt and they came up with the emotional, heartfelt lyrics. The specific words, “The air that I breathe,” were written for a less romantic reason, however. Hammond said the first time he experienced smog was when he moved to Los Angeles.

Every time he woke up, he would look up at the Hollywood Hills and see a yellow cloak of smog, describing it as a “yellow monster”. So the line also related to wanting clean air! Hammond described it as a “love story” and one of “ecology” too.

Recent years

This was the Hollies’ biggest hit single, although they continued performing, touring and recording, enjoying chart success up to 2010, when their album, The Midas Touch, reached number 23 in the UK chart.

There have been various personnel changes over the years and the current line-up comprises Tony Hicks, Ray Stiles, Bobby Elliott, Peter Howarth, Ian Parker and Steve Lauri.

Their most recent tour, A Highway of Hits, began in Southport in March 2018 and ended in Sweden in October 2018. The band has announced a live gig in Amsterdam in March at the AFAS Live arena.

For the air that you breathe

LH-PLC helps to regulate the “air that you breathe” on the London Underground, keeping travellers comfortable on the UK’s busiest rail system with our professional railway air conditioning services.

Engineers at our railway air conditioning refurbishment and servicing centre have more than 30 years’ experience in this specialist sector. Please contact us on 0208 947 0886 for further information.

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