Billy Nicholls — “Life Is Short”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — April 25, 2022

428) Billy Nicholls — “Life Is Short”

It has been too long since I’ve featured a cut from one of, if not the, greatest
“lost” albums of the ’60’s — Billy Nicholls’ Would You Believe (see #2, 64, 144). As David Wells says, “lost classic is a much abused term amongst pop historians, but it’s difficult to know how else to describe Would You Believe.” (Record Collector: 100 Greatest Psychedelic Records: High Times and Strange Tales from Rock’s Most Mind-Blowing Era) Euphorik6 is spot on in observing that the “album is a distillation of a time – whatever made swinging London swing is captured in these tracks”,, as is Rising Storm in observing that “the album is still the epitome of sixties Britsike, a bunch of fine acid-pop songs rendered with glorious harmonies and superb lysergic arrangements that wouldn’t have disgraced George Martin.” As Graham Reid notes, “[t]he album . . . reminds again of how much British psychedelic music was driven by different traditions (brass bands, pastoral classical music, music hall singalongs, strings . . .) than electric guitars which were so prominent in America at the time.” (

Rising Storm explains that:

When [Andrew Loog] Oldham fell out with the Stones in 1967 he redirected all his resources into making the youthful Nicholls a star of the psychedelic pop scene. The results were the single “Would You Believe”, which hit the racks in January 1968, and the like-titled album that followed in short order. The single has been described as “the most over-produced record of the sixties”, and with reason; a modest psych-pop love song, it’s swathed in overblown orchestration including baroque strings, harpsichord, banjo (!), tuba (!!), and demented answer-back vocals from Steve Marriott. A trifle late for the high tide of UK psych, it failed to trouble the charts. Unfazed, Oldham and Nicholls pressed on with the album, Nicholls providing a steady stream of similarly well-crafted ditties and a bevy of top-rated London sessionmen providing the backings . . . . The album was ready for pressing just as the revelation of Oldham’s reckless financial overstretch brought about Immediate’s overnight demise, and only about a hundred copies ever made it to wax . . . .

In words that I could have written myself, John Katsmc5 notes that “[i]t’s an absolute tragedy that this never got released, as it would DEFINITELY be hailed now as a solid gold true 60’s classic right up there with Pet Sounds, Blonde On Blonde . . . .”

It all come back to Pet Sounds. Oldham himself explains:

Pet Sounds changed my life for the better. It enhanced the drugs I was taking and made life eloquent and bearable during those times I set down in London and realised I was barely on speaking terms with those who lived in my home and understood them even less when they spoke – that’s when Brian Wilson spoke for me. My internal weather had been made better for the costs of two sides of vinyl.


David Wells explains that:

[Oldham] was desperate to create a British corollary to the American harmony pop sound of the Beach Boys and the Mamas & Papas, and his nurturing of many Immediate acts only makes sense when considered from this perspective. But many of the label’s early signings . . . were merely pale imitations of the American model, copycat acts rather than originators who were further hamstrung by a lack of songwriting talent. And then along comes Billy Nicholls — a superb singer, gifted songwriter and as green as the Mendip hills. Oldham . . . quickly latched onto the manipulative possibilities. [H]e could turn his back on cutting unconvincing facsimiles of Brian Wilson tunes in order to mastermind his own three-minute pocket symphonies. Fired up by this grand conceit, Oldham commandeered the Nicholls sessions, recreating the American harmony pop sound in a resolutely English setting courtesy of a string of virtuosos production techniques, multi-layered harmonies and plenty of Wilsonesque baroque instrumentation. . . . [The album] can be see both as a magnificent achievement and an outrageous folly — how . . . Oldham thought he could recoup the budget that he’d bestown on the album is anyone’s guess.

liner notes to the CD “re”-issue of Would You Believe

Nicholls himself observed that “Andrew had a great belief in the songs I was writing . . . and fortunately we had Andrew’s money to spend fortunes on the orchestration.” (liner notes to the CD reissue)

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