15/3/16 – Graham Nash – Songs For Beginners – 1971

Graham Nash Songs For Beginners Album Cover 1971Crosby Stills Nash achieved worldwide fame after their debut album released in 1969 reached No.6 in the US charts. Their relevance as songwriters, their stunning harmonies, their political stance and their image propelled them to the dizzy heights of fame and fortune. The dream continued with the addition of Stills ex-bandmate from Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young and the release of their second album Deja Vu (1970) reaching No.1. Solo albums followed, Stills had a hit single with Love The One Your With later that year, Neil Young’s After The Goldrush went to No.8 just 3 months after Deja Vu hit the No.1 spot and David Crosby’s debut album reached No.12 in 1971, eventually became recognised as something of a classic, albeit later on.

But what of Graham Nash’s debut, Songs For Beginners released in 1971? Despite Nash’s mega-successful American adventure, the album’s Englishness screamed out of the grooves like a Bakewell tart on a pretzel cart. It carries a political message, romantic analysis and philosophical meanderings but it’s more in keeping with Ian Hunter, Leo Sayer or Gilbert O’ Sullivan than Stephen Stills, David Crosby or Neil Young. It has none of Stills soul, none of Crosby’s stoned jams and none of Young’s vocal eccentricity. It’s not exactly music from an English country garden and backing vocalists, The Blackberries certainly add a flavour that you wouldn’t find in downtown Stockport but it’s more Dandelion & Burdock than Root Beer.

Winsome, melodic and surprisingly rather straightforward songs, less adventurous than you might expect from the man that wrote King Midas In Reverse for The Hollies. It’s a little like a McCartney album worthy on the strength of the singing and the catchy songs but one wonders if he left The Hollies with more experiments in mind how he found himself in the territory of singer/songwriter. This isn’t a criticism more a question I’d like to ask Graham Nash as it seemed he might be heading in a less straightforward direction. There’s up tempo Pop gems like Military Madness (US No. 73) and the small protest hit Chicago (US No.35) sitting nicely amongst confident songwriter efforts like Better Days, that really could have been one of Paul’s. Wounded Bird – O’Sullivan over Sandy Denny’s opening chords from Who Knows Where The Time Goes, I Used To Be A King – James Taylor with a higher voice and something English Folk Rock with Pedal steel instead of hurdy gurdy and a chorus that has Gallagher And Lyle writing for Splinter at a Thunderclap Newman darts meet.

Be Yourself might be off Hunky Dory (the mention of a computer and programming rather ahead of its time). Simple Man could be a later Hollies tune, Man In The Mirror an unreleased Pete Ham song. There’s Only One, struggles under it’s own weight and Sleep Song so light it almost floats out of the room into Don Mclean’s Maine garden. The album ends in an optimistic Blackberries vibrato one minute festival.

It’s as if the album only sounds this way because of location and if he had been in Surrey, Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel would be gone, as would The Blackberries, David Lindley’s fiddle, Rita Coolidge, Phil Lesh, Chris Ethridge, Young and Crosby. I like this album a lot (it reached No.15 in the US Chart) but you can’t make Yorkshire pudding taste like grits and the experiment in Nash’s head might have been the Anglo-American hybrid, (Dave Mason is here) but as magic as his harmonies and chemistry might be with Stills and Crosby, I would have liked to have heard this record recorded down the road from Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson with Joe Boyd, Dave Gilmour and hamper full of cucumber sandwiches.