Friday 4 July 2008

Graham Nash "Songs For Beginners" (1971) ('Core Review #46; Revised Review 2014)

Available to buy in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of CSNY' by clicking here!

On which Nash proves himself to be a ‘beginner’ at relationships but a dab hand as a songwriter…

Track Listing: Military Madness/ Better Days/ Wounded Bird/ I Used To Be A King/ Be Yourself// Simple Man/ Man In The Mirror/ There’s Only One/ Sleep Song/ Chicago/ We Can Change The World (UK and US tracklisting)
"In a downstairs room in Ormskirk, not too far from the Northern sea, I was a-reviewing this album and this album was reviewing me, military madness still killing our country, solitary sadness creeping over me, while you wear the coat of questions till the answer top hat appears to thee..."

There's a lot going on in this album's front cover. Keen photographer Graham Nash is trying to shoot a self-portrait and finds himself shooting a typically mad scene from his current life. He's in a crowded dressing room, with objects piled up all around him and in front of the mirror, but weirdly enough the picture seems to have been taken...outside! (Either that of Graham's dressing room is lined with wallpaper the colour of trees). Graham is now a 'star', a prized bachelor about town and a rockstar God and now a city boy at the heart of the California/San Francisco music scenes. But when he looks back into the camera all he can see is the English 'country boy' everyone thought he'd left behind. It's no coincidence that this troubled-soul searching album should return so frequently to the moment when Nash's life changed in 1968 and the awful pull and tug between staying with the familiar he'd known all his life (England, The Hollies, his first wife Rose) and the new and exciting (California, Crosby and Stills, the second love of his life Joni Mitchell). After all, Graham was almost back in the same boat - while he'd made a new life for himself in America his second band (CSNY if you hadn't guessed) had broken up spectacularly and in 1971 seemed as if they would never ever get back together. He's just split up with Joni after an intense couple of years together and is alone and single for the first time since around 1964 (nobody is quite sure when Nash married Rose Eccles, but it was no later than 1965 and knowing Nash he's have married the minute he turned 21). He must have been asking 'what on earth was all that for?' It's no coincidence either that this album starts with those power lines reminding himself and his audience of where it all began: 'In an upstairs room in Blackpool, by the side of the Northern sea...' And it's certainly no coincidence that this album is wittily titled 'Songs For Beginners' - here comes one of the most famous musicians of his age, forced into making his first every solo album at the comparatively late age of 29, suddenly realising that he barely knows anything about the world and how it works just yet. Finally, it's also no coincidence that the camera is left full on in shot as 'Songs For Beginners' is one of those albums that tries it's hardest to pull the wool out from over our eyes and let us know what being a 'star' is really like. What's more Nash then takes that mirror and shines it on his audience: 'this is you as well as me' the album seems to be saying, 'what are we all going to do about it?' The result is one of the best and certainly most likeable albums in the CSNY canon.

The various members of CSN/Y could do no wrong in the early part of the 1970s, whether together or apart. Coming hard on the heels of best-selling works like David Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, Neil Young’s After The Goldrush and the always-great-with-album-names Stephen Stills, Beginners has been rather forgotten and neglected, released in the midst of these other great albums, but it’s easily the equal of the other releases of this prolific period. Nash is back to his Butterfly best for the most part of this album; swapping the commercial songs and romantic epics he sang on the first two CSN/Y records for something a bit deeper and introspective, more like the songs produced by his comrades than Marrakesh Express and Our House (although the tunes are still as catchy and lovable as ever). Like his companions, Nash is surrounded by a cast of thousands on this album including Crosby on harmonies, Neil Young on – unusually - piano (Neil’s credited as ‘Joe Yankee’ on this album sleeve, for reasons best known to himself), the ubiquitous Jerry Garcia (did he ever go home in 1971, because he seems to appear on just about every American record that came out in the early 1970s?!?), the soulful PP Arnold who seems to crop up on this list with some regularity (The Small Faces back her on a single in 1968 and she becomes part of Pink Floyd's Roger Waters' solo band in the 1990s/00s) and long-time Nash collaborator Terry Reid, a forgotten songwriter who shares similar strengths of melodic melodies and lyrical lyrics. (Terry would have been a huge star himself if he hadn’t been hit by a run of bad luck worse even than The Small Faces', including record companies collapsing while on the verge of releasing his records, to leaving bands just on the brink of becoming worldwide megastars; its nice to see he’s made a bit of a comeback with some well received gigs and albums in the last five years and his The River album is another one recommended to album archive fanatics – although interestingly, while his songs are close cousins of Nash’s warmth and intelligence, his deep soulful and dramatic voice couldn’t be less like Nash’s catchy, gently emotional alto if it tried). Like Crosby and Stills' first solo albums, however this is very much an album of guest stars with Nash in charge throughout - from Beginners’ self-taken portrait on the sleeve to the deeply felt tunes and the clever complex lyrical rhymes within, this album could only have been made by one man. Nash’s later albums have more than their fair share of masterpieces, but this album is still the most consistent of his five solo records, simply brimming with ideas from beginning to end and rarely putting a foot wrong throughout. We CSNY fans were spoilt between 1969-71: here's another very good reason why this quartet were the best band in the universe for one brief shining moment.

It may seem strange that someone who had spent all of their adult life in the music business and was celebrating the release of their 10th album in eight years (that’s eight with the Hollies, one with CSN and 1 with CSNY) chose to call their debut solo effort Songs For Beginners. The album name isn’t about beginnings in a songwriting sense, although its true that as Nash’s first solo album this LP does account for a fresh start to some extent. The ‘beginners’ part of this title seems to come from the ‘re-birth’ theme of the lyrics, with Nash’s characters all coming to some sort of new realisation about the world, looking at it anew and finding it a deeper, scarier or more beautiful place than they had first imagined. Nash continues his recent creative re-awakening started in his CSN days and like Cat Stevens before him writes as if he has suddenly found a new insight into life that makes his pop-star past could never give him. There’s definitely a sense of starting anew in the lyrics on this album and a sort of head-scratching puzzlement about what the 60s were all about. Time and again on this album the world proves to be very different below the surface than it appeared to be at the time: for instance the military macho posing of warfare that seemed such a faraway part of Nash's childhood is now everywhere again and he views the trial of the Chicago Eight in a very different way to most of the Nixon-friendly papers. More than just the outer world, though, this is a highly personal album where Nash is still kicking himself for leaving something that was nearly-perfect for a chance at something perfect that turned out not to be perfect at all, sighing over both the upheavals of 1968 and his recent split with Joni ('I Used To Be A King', for instance, realises that even the miserable existence of The Hollies' 'King Midas - who turns everything to gold but finds it doesn't bring him anything but misery - was a more preferable existence to this one). All of that ends up with the pithy statement: 'Though you're where you want to be, you're not where you belong'. For 'Songs For Beginners' is a very thoughtful album, arguably the most reflective in Nash's back catalogue and gave fans a chance to see that behind the fun of 'Marrakesh Express', the seriousness of 'Teach Your Children' and the warmth of 'Our House'  beat a very tender and emotional heart and a very fragile shell. Nash's most emotional record by some margin (he'll only be this upset again on parts of 'Wild Tales', which may or may not be grieving of a different kind...), 'Songs For Beginners' is a special record and easily Nash's finest solo half hour.

As we've seen, Joni Mitchell is a key figure on this album, even though unusually she doesn't sing on it (she's conspicuous by her absence in fact and will be back in some style on 'Wild Tales'). In many ways the songs here are the downside to Nash's utopian dreams of life with Joni as heard in the song Our House, their cosy comfortable easy way of living descending into chaos as the pair end up rowing about all sorts of things (including which of the creatives got to have time at the all-important piano they shared; a lot of this album seems to have been written for piano, perhaps out of necessity or perhaps out of penance, with Nash trying to sound more like his ex than ever; funnily enough though Nash brings Neil Young - under the typically erroneous pseudonym 'Joe Yankee' - to play those parts for him). By 1971 Nash had taken up with singer Rita Coolidge (who is on this album, as one of the members of the 'We Can Change The World' choir), figuring that Joni is just too much trouble and too full of her own career not his. (Nash's later response on this album can be best heard on 'Simple Man': 'I just wanna hold you, I don't wanna hold you down'). This too will have ructions: Rita wasn't single, she's been Stills' girlfriend for some time yet seemed only too eager to elope with Nash (Stephen blew his top especially over the speed and comments from Graham that 'she didn't really love him', CSNY dissolved less than amicably in the madness reported by  Crosby on his solo track 'Cowboy Movie' and Nash discovered that she wasn't the one for him either). While Rita seems to have been ;largely oblivious of the drama she caused to the CSNY family unit, Joni for her part sounds as miserable as her partner. I came to Joni's work late, long after getting to know everything written by Graham and still don't own everything she did but her 1970/71 period is especially haunting, full of similar ghosts and spectres to the 'Beginners' album. Most remarkable of all is her yuletide 1970 song 'River' (spot on for when these album songs were written too), looking out at everyone else planting Christmas Trees and being merry when all she wants to do is sob (her final verse 'I'm so hard to handle, I'm selfish and I'm sad, now I've gone and lost the best baby that I'm ever going to have' could well have been taken from this similarly melancholy guilt-laden album). Nash is effectively left to begin again.

In fact, Beginners comes about as close to bitter recrimination as the diplomatic Nash ever got to on record, but it’s self-doubt creeping in on this album for pretty much the first time that makes for the most memorable lines: ‘Humble pie is always hard to swallow with your pride’, ‘It’s because I built my life on sand and watched it crumble into dust’, ‘The way that I feel all my hang-ups are down’; all these lyrics are a logical culmination of Nash’s growing self-awareness in the Hollies’ late period and whose personal songwriting was in part interrupted by CSN’s social feelings and universal subject matters. This album is generally less like the social conscience of Teach Your Children and effectively says 'I can't even teach myself'; it's more like the Hollies’ glorious flop single King Midas In Reverse, full of songs where belief turns out to be misguided and accepted facts turn out to be misinterpreted. This songwriting trait had been interrupted first by the late-60s need for ‘safe’ Holies singles like Jennifer Eccles and Listen To Me and later the glorious burst of late-60s sunshine when CSN brought light into Nash’s life as well as record collectors the world over—but its perhaps a more integral part of Nash’s songwriting outlook than both of these styles and one he returns to, off and on, throughout his solo catalogue. Nash's thoughts: make peace with yourself, as best you can, for in the end it's with you you have to live.

There was also no doubt a bit of professional pride at stake. Nash had left the stability of The Hollies for the turbulence of CSNY not just because of their lack of boundaries and a chance to shake the world but because he felt sure their warring natures could be tamed (every CSNY biography will tell you that, despite being the one who shook The Hollies out of their comfort zones with wild ideas, Nash was the stable one in CSNY, the workhorse who kept them all together). Now CSNY have split, this time because of something's he's done. I sincerely doubt there'd have been another CSNY album before 1974 (when there ever so nearly was one and the split wasn't Nash's fault) but there might have been without that sudden division between Stills and Nash. Instead of conquering the world in 1971, using music to bring peace to the world and boot Richard Nixon out of office, CSNY have splintered, leaving the under-dogs they'd always stood up for with four separate voices that had put far less pressure on world politics. Add in the horrors of the Altamont festival that Nash had just seen saw first-hand in December 1969, (despite CSNY’s performance being cut from the film and most traces being cut from band biographies since, the quartet were most definitely there), the lingering darkness during and  after 'Deja Vu', the growing move in 1970s music away from peace-and-love harmonies into something harder and noisier and the continuing drama of Watergate and Vietnam despite CSN’s belief they could change the outcome of both and you can see why Nash might not be sounding his usual perky self on this album. This isn't just picking yourself and carrying on, it's trying to learn how to function as a solo artist for the first time in a landscape where all the rules have changed. Nash is also beginning again.

In anybody else’s hands this collection of self-kicking sentiment and self-failure lyrics would be a sob story, even without Jerry Garcia’s heavy lashings of pedal-steel to make the mood even more mournful. Yet Nash is also at his creative commercial best here, dispelling the doom and gloom cobwebs with some bright sing-a-long melodies that complement rather than compete with each song’s quiet sadness and the presence of the last great CSNY we-can-change-the-world singalong on Chicago is the last time any member of CSN sound quite so sure of themselves and their optimistic ideals again.  The year 1971 may have been the beginning of the end for the huge part CSN/Y had to play on the world’s stage, but one listen to this album and its respective Crosby, Stills and Young solo albums will show you what a great new beginning there could have been for the foursome had things turned out just a little differently. 'Songs For Beginners' is special because it does have it's cake and eats it: Nash as a writer grows like never before, finding new layers in himself and pursuing his need to console his guilty conscience rather than simply comment on world politics or his latest love affair and yet he never sacrifices that winning commercial sound that had made his work so popular with fans.

There's been a growing feeling, especially amongst 'non' fans, that Nash was a lightweight who joined CSN purely to provide a high voice the other's didn't have and the occasional hit single to keep them in the public eye. But at his best Nash is weirder than Crosby, even more melodic than Stills and a lot easier on the ear than Neil, whilst being as deep as original and as moving as all three of them. Like Crosby's 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' and 'Stephen Stills', I'm not sure if I'd ever trade this album for the trio and quartet albums of 1969 and 1970 so you could argue that this is in some ways a backwards step, the four individuals less potent separately than together. But if this is a step backwards then I'll take it any day, being another of those remarkably consistent early 70s CSN/Y albums ('Man In The Mirror' is the only song here that's less than fabulous) and covers so much new ground. What's interesting too is what comes next: even the few people who realised what a melancholic album this was assumed, 'well Nash is just upset over Joni - he'll be back to his normal self any day now!' As it turned out - and for a variety of reasons -  it's not until as late as 1975 that Nash will return to his old bouncy self. 'Songs For Beginners' and the causes behind it had a lasting effect on songwriter as well as audience and is an impressively honest open record that deserves to be even better known that it already is (funnily enough it followed Crosby's record released just before it throughout its whole charts, peaking one place lower in the UK and three in the US, still one of the highest charting of all CSNY records).

The Songs:

[60] Military Madness starts the album as it means to go on – a relatively famous, catchy song that in typical Nash style marries the personal and the universal together in one place. As Nash sings on this track, he really was born ‘in an upstairs room in Blackpool’ while his dad was away fighting in World War Two and, just as he probably did in his childhood, can’t quite get his head round the fact that people are still fighting wars somewhere round the planet every hour of the day no matter how many years have passed by. It’s interesting, bearing in mind the above comments of self-analysis possibly going on in Nash’s head at the time, to hear Nash going back to his upbringing on this song for pretty much the first time and the line about never ‘losing my pride’ despite ‘losing’ his country of birth when leaving for CSN speaks volumes. This song, a long time CSN/Y fan favourite, was surely too personal for Nash to put on a group record but more than deserves its place in their ever-expanding play-list. A dollop of spiky guitar off-sets Nash’s rockabilly piano playing on this recording, playing the song’s seemingly deliberately simplified tune, perhaps to emphasise the need for humanity to find simple solutions to their problems that don’t involve weaponry and terror. PP Arnold pops up on the chorus, her soulful tones turning the song into a gospel-pop hybrid, making this plea for peace something of a spiritual quest as well as a political one.

[61] Better Days is a far less well known song but it shouldn’t be – Young’s delicate piano matched to Graham singing at the bottom of his high register makes for a lovely yearning song, with the underlying tension finally broken by a sudden angry switch to the chorus. The lyrics are interesting too - more than two years after he left England, The Hollies and his first wife, Graham seems to be having second thoughts about the decision now that CSNY are no more, despite recognising the pull his new American lifestyle has for him (‘Though you’re where you want to be, you’re not where you belong’). Nash isn’t known for writing brooding drama in his songs, but on the few occasions he has used this style it’s nearly always been a success (I’m thinking Cathedral and Wind On The Water here in particular). Nash's almost painfully depressed vocal right at the bottom of his range is particularly striking, as is the heavy thudding organ sound throughout that sounds like the mother of all hangovers (and highly fitting given that it's just sinking into Nash that 'now that you know it's nowhere what's to stop you coming home?' and back to England).

[62] Wounded Bird is more of the same, but this time it’s just Graham and an acoustic guitar, singing a wordy song about how man succeeds through being humble (it obviously wasn’t written with CSNY in mind then!) The lyric is a little too self-conscientiously poetic for its own good (’you’ll wear the coat of questions till the answer hat is here’) but is not without its charms, especially the clever half-line rhymes and the fact that Nash sounds like your big sister here, urging the listener back into the ring of life for another thrashing. Though ostensibly sung to someone else (Joni?), I'm sure that Nash is singing about himself in the third person here, trying to urge himself onwards with a pep talk ('Stand your ground,  I think you've got the guts to win!') but this time trying to make himself 'wait' to check his would-be lover feels the same and isn't just infatuated (is he singing for Rita on the line 'You must learn to turn the key before she'll let you in?') Joni though must be the 'wounded bird', lashing out because of her own problems and with Nash getting caught in the way. The result is a clever and moving song, if not quite as deep and detailed as some of the others here. I’m still looking for an answer hat to wear, by the way, I don’t know about you but I can’t get this darned coat of questions off at all!  

[63] I Used To Be A King is by far and away the album’s highlight, with a wonderfully downcast, cyclical riff superbly performed by Nash and Crosby with various members of the Grateful Dead providing the backing. The lyrics are another slice from Nash’s humble pie pile, but this time they sound more honest and sincere. Once again lamenting the fact that he ditched his past for an uncertain present, Nash even adds in a nice lyrical touch of the hat to his last ‘progressive’ Hollies song King Midas In Reverse, saying that actually he did use to be a king who turned everything to gold, but like his earlier song things just turn to dust once more. As the song has so many verses, something that adds greatly to the feeling of never-ending untapped grief coming through in the song, Nash cleverly keeps the piece together by using two slightly different lyrics in the chorus, a trick that allows him to really give way to his emotions in the last verse. Garcia’s pedal steel, already a star on several CSN as well as Grateful Dead Records, is at its best here too, mournful without being over the top.

[64a] Be Yourself rounds the first side out in style, with this song a co-write with 60s folkie Terry Reid. The two writers are quite similar in style (if not in voice) and worked together on lots of songs, most of which were booted out by the Hollies when Nash tried to record them in 1968, leaving this as the only official Nash-Reid song-writing credit on an album. Understandably, unlike most of the album, this sounds like a typically Nash song only more so– a long list of complicated words that somehow still manage to rhyme with each other, married to another it-sounds-like-its-always-existed tune and all held together by a simple life-affirming chorus, celebrating the differences that make each of us the unique specimens we are. Listen out too for Nash's lines about 'a prodigal son coming home' - was he really in the process of moving back to Britain as this line suggests?

Side two gets even better, courtesy of Nash’s delicate piano-ballad [65a] Simple Man. A song written for Joni Mitchell after the two split up, it’s the perfect antidote to Our House’s gloriously wonderful but nevertheless sweet-enough-to-rot-your-teeth saccharine by exploring the relationship much more deeply. ‘I wanted to hold you, but I didn’t want to hold you back’ runs the message of the song, with the added pay off that as an artist probing his life for his work, Graham can only wave goodbye to the partnership after the ‘ending of the song’ written about their time together. Most of the recording is Nash alone at the piano, an instrument he hadn’t properly explored at this point in his history (Our House itself being the obvious exception), but it becomes pretty much the dominant instrument for Graham from now on, possibly after the writer ‘borrowed’ Joni Mitchell’s model, which used to sit in their living room. The idea of Nash writing such a highly personal goodbye to Joni on her own instrument, sad and alone while she was out elsewhere, gives the song a whole new meaning and Nash’s emotional vocal makes it clear how much this song means to him too, being one of his best on record. Stunning, gloriously simple stuff. Graham’s friend Barbara Streisand (on whose piano Nash later wrote Another Sleep Song while on a visit) later covered Simple Song on her Butterfly album, gaining plus points for slowing down the tempo of Nash’s original but losing them again for covering the track with the soppy strings Nash tastefully avoids on his version.

[66a] Man In The Mirror is rather less impressive, so its strange to think that it was the one song from this album CSNY ever did regularly in their tours together (one such ragged recording even found it’s way onto the CSN box-set, just about the only questionable judgement among that set’s 110-odd tracks). The track tries hard to reach back to earlier songs about the gap between the performer and his public image (Clown on the Hollies album For Certain Because is the earliest example and is even name-checked in this later song), but can’t quite get beyond the title theme that the performer is in many ways the ‘reverse’ of the real ‘him’ (mirrors and being in reverse play a large part in Nash’s writing in this period—interestingly the front cover for this LP is in fact a ‘mirror’ image, a photo off Graham’s reflection rather than the ‘real’ him). Like many of Nash’s worst songs, this track leans towards country, a style whose often faux-melancholia and OTT drama only works for a select few and certainly doesn’t work for a singer as subtle as Nash, with Young’s guest spot on this track finding him busy practising for the sound he’s about to cement on the country-rock hybrid Harvest the next year. Garcia too is here again, getting his money’s worth out of that pedal steel guitar on its last appearance of many on this list. Another gloriously life-affirming chorus just about rescues the song from mediocrity, however, with a sudden change of tempo and the presence of a chorus sending the pulses racing, albeit only briefly. One question about this song; I can usually follow Graham’s lyrics quite well, but what on earth does the line ‘In the middle of nowhere I found me a tree and the fruit that we live on reminds me of me’ meant to mean? Despite its interesting central idea, this is a fruitless track, in more ways than one.

[67] There’s Only One is, like Be Yourself, another long list of clever rhymes vaguely jumbled together to tell a story, only this time it’s slower and slightly more sinister-sounding, with enough of a story to reward close attention. This time its Nash back on the ivories for this stately well-arranged song, which adds in another instrument or singer in every verse. The chorus is yet again the most convincing moment of the track, with a true CSN-ish plea for equality and an early glimmer of Nash’s ‘no nukes’ demonstrations and benefits in the 1980s, with the warning that we only have one planet to live on, muck that one up and we’re lost. Nash had obviously been listening closely to the Jefferson Airplane Blows Against the Empire project going on just a couple of albums higher on this list (which Nash partly mixed for them) – from this song’s gentle warnings of Armageddon to the last verse about building up mankind from nothing all over again (‘Do we have the grace to begin our race in another place face to face?’) this song sounds like a close cousin.

[68] Sleep Song, a Hollies reject stretching back to 1968, is a slightly risqué composition for its time about two lovers together the morning after a romantic evening, which just about manages to get away with its not-quite-there acoustic accompaniment and near-sentimentality, courtesy of Nash’s expressive vocal. Rejected outright by the Hollies, who would indeed have offended a large part of their core fan-base had this song about disrobing been released on one of their albums, this song was in the running for both CSN/Y albums, although so simple and sparse is this arrangement that it’s hard to work out what the others would have added to this simple song (bar some Crosby-esque ba-da-daing in the song’s very David-esque instrumental passage, perhaps). A quiet, intimate portrait of the beginning of a romantic encounter, this song is the missing bridge between Nash’s pre and post Hollies work, with a very Hollies-esque ear-catching vocal stretch on the chorus-line (You know I’ll be the-e-e-re’) and a very CSN-era use of personal pronouns in the song, with Nash in first-person as the narrator, not telling a story through another’s eyes as he would have done come 1966 or thereabouts. A Sleep Song’s sequel - Another Sleep Song, available on follow-up album Wild Tales (1974) – is an even better stab at the same idea, being just as cosily intimate but twice as mournful and hypnotically menacing.

After nearly an album’s worth of introspective ballads, there’s nothing left for Graham to do but rock out with another quite well known song, [69] Chicago. A plea to Stills and Young to join him and Crosby in playing a benefit on behalf of the Chicago Eight (and, possibly, a message from the group’s renowned diplomat urging his old band to get back together again in order to ‘change the world’), amazingly the pair of musicians still refused to come even after hearing this song, leaving benefits largely to Crosby-Nash for the rest of the 1970s. Actually it wasn't the counter-cultural figures 'The Chicago Eight' (also known as 'The Chicago Seven' after Bobby Searle was indicted on a separate charge of contempt of court) that included Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin that Nash was trying to protect (though he undoubtedly supported their belief in 'freedom of speech' that so scared Nixon). Instead he was protesting against the treatment of the protestor's protestors, whose outbursts in court were frowned upon too, although he does mention Searle directly, a 'brother' who was 'bound and gagged and chained to a chair' (which really was what the judge ordered in court; the trial resulted in that great and very CSNY quote when one of the men were told off for swearing on court: 'Your idea of justice is the only obscenity in this room!') The trial resulted in good news eventually: while five of the men were convicted, all of these sentences were overthrown in 1972 after finding that judge Hoffman was 'biased' against them all.

 Long admired as Nash’s political riposte to Ohio, Young’s famously barbed CSNY song about Nixon’s betrayal of American standards and free speech, this song is actually less about the individual benefit show Nash wants his friends to appear at than a general song about the 60s revolutionary zeal hitting a brick wall in the 1970-71 period, when politics and music  didn’t seem to mix too well. Chicago ends with the desperate hippie plea ‘we can change the world’, sadly just about the last time that any singer will be able to say this with any conviction, but the fact that we know Nash and his comrades didn’t quite change the world doesn’t detract at all from this simple, charming song. A pounding piano riff and an ominous walking-pace trot merely add to the desperation of the piece but that catchy singalong chorus dilutes the despair of the rest of the song, transforming it back into hope. Typically Nash, he even pulls off the same trick in the lyrics, telling it like it is (‘its dying…’), before adding an optimistic twist at the end (‘…to get better’). Graham even revives the song’s chorus for a Hey Jude-like minute-long singalong at the album’s end (Indexed separately as [70] 'We Can Change The World') just when you think the track is over, something which is guaranteed to have you singing all the way to your CD player’s repeat button. Magic.

When you hear the calibre of the work Nash and his comrades were writing in 1971 it’s hard not to agree with him: put the songs that CSN and Y made independently all together on one album and these songs really could have changed the world, even more than CSNY already had by 1970. Well, maybe, perhaps I don’t want the world to change if it’s so perfect it no longer inspires such classic songs of hope, despair and outrage. CSNY for America’s greatest band of the period? World’s greatest band of any period, more like…

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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