While still in his teens, Billy Nicholls recorded one of the more sought-after rarities of British psychedelic pop, "Would You Believe." Nicholls was one of the most Beach Boys-influenced British singer/songwriters, and "Would You Believe" often recalled the Pet Sounds/SMiLE period in its melodic construction and ornate production. The album understandably betrayed greater traces of late-'60s British psychedelia than the Beach Boys' efforts did, and it would be foolish to put Nicholls on the same level as Brian Wilson, as "Would You Believe" ultimately displayed more promise than pure genius. Nonetheless, that promise was considerable, and it is a shame that the album was essentially unreleased after it was finished in 1968 (although a few dozen promotional copies went out). This short-circuited Nicholls' career, and although he did some recording in later years, he's mostly known by mainstream rock fans (if at all) for his peripheral role in some group and individual member projects by the Who.
Nicholls was only 16 in 1966 when he worked up the nerve to ask George Harrison for help in getting his songs heard and recorded. After some demos for Beatles publisher Dick James, Nicholls came to the attention of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham, then starting his progressive but short-lived Immediate label. Nicholls was hired as a staff songwriter for Immediate, and wrote songs for fellow Immediate act Del Shannon; the Nicholls compositions "Led Along, " "Cut and Come Again, " and "Friendly with You, " none of which were on Nicholls' own album, were all recorded by Shannon in February 1967. Nicholls soon became a recording artist for the label as well, putting out the "Would You Believe"/"Daytime Girl" single in January 1968. This was a collision of Los Angeles sunshine pop and Swinging London, as was the album of material that Nicholls cut. Nicholls' vocals were spruced up with plenty of vocal harmonies and orchestral-depth layers of guitars and keyboards, with contributions from members of the Small Faces, future Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley, and top session musicians like Nicky Hopkins, John Paul Jones, and Big Jim Sullivan.
Although the prodigy's record was planned for an April 1968 release, it was -- for still-foggy reasons -- withheld, with the exception of some copies sent to radio stations and reviewers. Immediate was always in tenuous financial shape (despite big hits by the Small Faces), and Nicholls was not the only artist to suffer from the non-release or poor promotion of material cut for the label. However, perhaps no other Immediate musician was shafted as badly, as Nicholls' career never seemed to get off the ground after the album's cancellation, although he did some uncredited backing vocals for the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. Nicholls did finally release a solo album, Love Songs, in 1974, and was part of White Horse, which did an album in 1977; another Nicholls solo album, Under One Banner, came out in 1990.
However, Nicholls is most recognized for some work with the Who. He co-wrote, played, and sang on "Forever's No Time at All" on Pete Townshend's debut solo album, Who Came First. He wrote singles for Roger Daltrey and Leo Sayer and did some backing vocals on the Who's Who Are You album, as well as the Tommy film soundtrack. In the post- Keith Moon years he did some work as the Who's musical director. The Would You Believe album, which sold for astronomical prices on the collectors' market due to its rarity, was finally reissued on CD in 1999. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi