Friday 10 September 2010

Graham Nash "Wild Tales" (1974) (Revised Review 2014)

Available to buy in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young' by clicking here!

Wild Tales/Hey You (Looking At The Moon)/Prison Song/You’ll Never Be The Same/And So It Goes//Grave Concern/Oh! Camil (The Winter Soldier)/I Miss You/On The Line/Another Sleep Song
Graham Nash “Wild Tales” (1974)

Graham Nash is one of those figures who always seems to remain endlessly, honestly, upbeat. The band's just split up? Don't worry, there'll be another reunion along in a minute. Problems at home? Things will work themselves out. Nixon's in the whitehouse again? We'll get him next time. The perennial positive yin to Crosby's occasional sighing disappointments, Young's frequent despair  and Stills' extreme mood swings, Graham is the member whose always driven CSN/Y on, willing them out of their slumps and more often than not picking up the phone to make the call when they've ended in another blaze of erupting temperament. The most stable member of a band that at times seems more like a lunatic asylum, Nash has always been the group member with the reputation for being the most reliable and the man who can get the band out of a creative slump with a catchy hit single or three. That's led a few fans to wonder if Nash has as such fire in his belly as the others, dismissing his material as a collection of empty catchy pop songs and a few love songs, without the political nous or danger levels of his peers. There has rarely been a greater falsehood in the history of our site. When riled, as he is for most of second album 'Wild Tales', Nash is as great a volcano as any of his colleagues, maybe greater. CS and Y between them have enough verbal dexterity and power to virtually take the white house part piece by piece when they choose to and when merely a fourth of that combination Nash's songs can tend towards the sentimental and soppy. But left to his own devices Nash can do anger and ranting as well as anybody and it's that element that's the most memorable factor on 'Wild Tales', his normal we-can-change-the-world-positiveness replaced by songs that are the most lonely and fearful of his catalogue. Even his outer appearance had changed, the sunny smiling chatterbox of 1970 always ready to lend a positive word for a new group (something Graham had been doing since his earliest Hollies days, using his influence to help people) or lend an erudite voice to millions of young hippies suddenly giving way to a long-bearded, wizened figure old before his time who skulked in the shadows and did the minimum publicity possible. In short, Graham had turned into Neil Young, dressing all in black and greeting the world with an icy cold stare (just watch the Old Grey Whistle Test appearances by Nash in 1974, on a rare return to England, and compare them to the go-lucky figure of the 1970 footage). What on earth happened?
Goodness knows Nash had enough reason to feel upset. Of all the four, he was the most reluctant to make solo records, believing that even if Neil couldn't join in the three of them should be combining their efforts to make a bigger splash and making the most of their complementary writing styles and hypnotic vocal blends. The last CSNY split in 1971 had been a bad one and the band had only just got together again for the first time in October 1973 - after most of the songs for this record had been recorded. Watergate wasn't helping - Nash may have been a 'foreigner' (he didn't become an American Citizen officially till his marriage in 1978, instead maintaining his 'dual nationality' in this period), but he'd watched the twists and turns of Nixon's political shenanigans with as much interest as anyone across 1973 and at the time this album was written it seemed as if CSNY's old foe Nixon was getting away scott free (events change more or less when this album comes out in January 1974 and ends up with his impeachment in August that year: however it wasn't the foregone conclusion historians now assume). The America - and for that matter Britain - that CSNY had left behind in 1971 hadn't changed for the better one iota and had in fact got worse; while CSNY's critics had always maintained that a single band couldn't change the world the quartet had believed it, Nash as much as anyone, and the failure hit him hard.

There may be another factor too, one that hasn't been satisfactorily answered to this day and may date from a different era of CSNY completely, depending who you believe. What we do know is that at sometime between 1973 and 1975 Graham's girlfriend Amy Gossage- the person who'd helped him out of a similarly dark period after his split with Joni Mitchell - was murdered in a drugs scandal that involved her own brother Eben. The official line given at the time was that Eben was a drugs addict with no money - both their parents had died young - and as his inheritance dried up he looked for increasingly desperate ways to get the fixed he needed. Amy's millionaire boyfriend was an obvious place to turn - but Nash, once as heavily into drugs as Crosby, was becoming gradually more sickened by the scene around him (CSNY roadie Bruce Berry had also overdosed in 1973, as mentioned in the title track of Neil Young's 'Tonight's The Night' written that year, allegedly selling one of Crosby's more collectible guitars for the drug hit that killed him). He was hardly going to help out his girlfriend's 20-year-old brother with the harder drugs he was getting into - that's not the kind of thing long lasting relationships are based on - but his threats got worse and worse and one day he lost it and stabbed his sister mercilessly in the family San Franciscan home. Nash, understandably felt guilty and more than a little bitter, spending most of his adult life promoting peace only to have the ugly scene of the hippie scene turn ugly on him.

Another story has it that Eben was 'framed' by something or someone a lot more sinister. To this day his surviving family claim that the pair were close and he would have found it impossible to kill his sister. The 'clues' the police found also seemed to be suspiciously 'visible' according to those who went to the trial: her bloodstained clothe and a bloodstained hammer left out on his own front porch: evidence of a murderer not thinking straight, it was claimed, although surely even someone at their wits end can open a front door and throw incriminating evidence inside? Of all the subsidiary stories we cover at the AAA as a result of these reviews, this one is a minefield with everyone from drug barons  to the FBI to blooming Eric Burdon and Frank Zappa (allegedly Laurel Canyon's drug ringmasters - unlikely in the last case given Zappa's well known hatred of drugs - or is this where it started?!) thought to be involved by somebody. The affair was kept as a very private one, so private that even the biggest CSN scholars aren’t quite sure what happened and not that many people knew about Nash’s new muse at the time anyway, so questions at the time were few and far between. Nash has also been understandably reluctant to talk about the whole thing, especially since marrying his wife Susan in the late 1970s and for the most part has let his music speak for him.

As far as I know Nash has spoken about this key event only once (on public I mean obviously - I doubt there's anything he hasn't told to, say, Crosby), when speaking to biographer Dave Zimmer and then it was mainly to talk about 'Wild Tales' striking cover. You know something is wrong from the minute you look at this album’s sleeve. Nash’s first solo album ‘Songs For Beginners’ was a fresh start in more ways than just the title, with Nash proudly looking to camera with a big smile on his face, whatever the mixed emotions of the music inside - it's one of those warm connecting smiles that looks like an old friend telling you that everything is going to be alright, honest. The monochrome cover of Wild Tales finds Nash slumped in a chair, looking old and weary before his time and with a sad vacant stare that suggest nothing is going to be alright ever ever again. Always ones to give their fans 'clues' whatever the circumstances, Nash holds open a book that has a bare leafless tree printed on it (fans have speculated since that this is the tree of life – many of the songs on this album are reminding us how badly we treat its citizens and accelerate their deaths with our unthinking ways - although it may be a riposte to Crosby's solo 1971 'Tree With No Leaves' song, which Nash both named and guested on). Even more hard-hitting is the other book propped spine-out on Graham’s table: ‘Goodbye, Baby and Amen’. The whole cover is like one of those Art Garfunkel ones from the 70s, with the singer seemingly surprised in his house and taken unawares by the most unglamorous shot possible, full of 'Where's Wally' style clues for fans to tease out which they never get an answer to. Many CSN/Y album covers play with colours to suit their mood – we get the pastelly colours for their pastoral first album, the black-and-white retro American Civil War shot for ‘Deja Vu’ and the gleaming colour of their happy reunion ‘CSN’ (the one with the boat). This album is almost all in shadow, dark and foreboding - admittedly all of my photographs turn out this way by accident, however careful I think I'm being, but surely no co-incidence for keen photographer Nash. On this album, the only colour we get is on the back sleeve, a painting by Nash’s former partner Joni Mitchell – and that’s a jumbled up, surreal painting of a pensive Nash, with a cloud drawn where his heart should be and who sits with his hands over his knees as if about to find comfort in a very different sort of 'rocking'. Nash is clearly a troubled man in a dark place and the murder of his girlfriend seems to be exactly the sort of once-in-a-lifetime horrendous experience to set off such a chain of events. But here's the thing: according to police reports (and newspapers) Amy was murdered in 1975, the very year Nash's career blossoms once more with the sunny Crosby-Nash album 'Wind On The Water'. Would he really get such a key thing as the concept behind an album cover wrong? Was he misquoted? Is it a premonition? Was there a delay between the murder taking place and it being talked about in the media (were the police afraid of a backlash against those involved? Or, conversely, were they the ones who delayed reporting it themselves?) Once again, we don't know - but I'm convinced that Nash's relationship with Amy is at least one of the contributory factors in this record.

Anyway, whatever the cause of it, 'Wild Tales' is a surprisingly bleak album. Nash is too much of a naturally 'happy' writer to make this record the sort of bleak confessional the likes of John Lennon were writing in the early 70s – there’s just too many sweet singalongs and catchy riffs here for that and all Nash albums tend to have something dark on them, if only to contrast with the light of his other songs. What ‘Wild Tales’ is, though, is an often deeply uncomfortable record, with sketches of how life should be juxtaposed against what the harsh cold reality is. Nash has rarely opened his heart as much as he does o the stark, simple piano ballad 'I Miss You' or admitted to an all-enveloping depression as strongly as on 'Another Sleep Song', two of the most hauntingly beautiful songs in his canon. Even throwaway songs like 'You'll Never Be The Same' 'On The Line' and 'Hey You (Looking At The Moon)' seem to come with added attack, Nash telling first his partner and then himself that this part of his life will change his view of the life forever, kicking himself for letting someone in his life go.

However 'Wild Tales' isn't merely personal and the world at large comes in for a good kicking - more so than on most of Nash's solo records, which do tend towards the personal (with the political material held over for CN/CSN/CSNY reunions). Nash lashes out on 'Prison Song', one of his more acerbic compositions, turning from a travesty of justice in the then-present day (John Sinclair's ten year sentence in Texas for marijuana possession - a sentence longer than some murderers get, which may be apt for this album - while a similar 'misdemeanour in Ann Arbour' finds the defendants getting off scott free, with justice clearly not being served) to his own sad past, his father William serving a short prison sentence for refusing to grass up a friend for selling him dodgy goods; Nash painfully has his un-named character waving goodbye to his kids whilst knowing that his prison sentence would weaken and kill him. Nash is on similarly ranty mood on 'Oh Camil! (The Winter Soldier)',  a song that confused many fans when it came out back in the days when sympathetic songs about soldiers weren't exactly common. However Scott Camil was that rare thing, a Vietnam Veteran who when he came home didn't shut up and take up a normal life but kept campaigning to open people's eyes to what that war was really like, speaking out against the Government who sent him there (you can tell that Nash is in awe of his new friend). Title track 'Wild Tales' is allegedly all true and based on events that happened to a friend who had an even worse year than Graham in 1973, who was left by his wife, had his house flooded and lost his job in the course of a single day. Finally, 'Grave Concern' plus 'And So It Goes' are also two of the most political songs Nash ever wrote, taking contrastingly serious and frivolous looks at how mid-1970s politics has robbed the country: of trust, of faith and of hope. CSNY particularly loved the former which they played live often across 1974, re-enacting Nixon's lies as heard in tape recorded interviews included on this track (quite an inventive idea for its day).

Like ‘Songs For Beginners’, the other strong point of this record is that this isn't a 'true' solo record in the way that Stills and Young interpreted the word – this is instead a free-for-all recording session open to lots of famous AAA names including Crosby’s piercing harmonies on the three more political tracks, Neil Young – guesting under the pseudonym ‘Joe Yankee’  -  on ‘And So It Goes’, Nash’s ex-Joni Mitchell contributing some sublime vocals to the haunting final track and various members of other bands pop up across the record including Jefferson Airplane’s drummer Johnny Barbata, Traffic's Dave Mason and Neil's right hand man pedal steel player Ben Keith. While Nash's solo performances are spine-tinglingly right, having these extra musicians on hand really enhances most of these tracks and Nash is clearly surrounding himself with close friends here that he knows well (Stills being conspicuous by his absence!) Like 'Beginners' the mood is loose, but loving, with everyone just about together enough to enhance rather than detract from the mood, which is left nicely jagged in a few places - again in stark contrast to the way Graham's work is often thought of by the world at large.

So in the final reckoning is 'Wild Tales' the Nash meisterwork every fan should own? Erm, kinda. This is undoubtedly an impressive record and features many truly moving and powerful moments from the I-wanted-to-say-so-much-more starkness of 'I Miss You' to the righteous indignation of 'Prison Song' to what may well be my favourite of Nash's entire CSN canon on the spooky 'Another Sleep Song' hauntingly beautiful and note-perfect as a performance, even with even the 'false start' left in somehow making sense. Nash also does well to at least try to break new ground on the rock epic 'And So It Goes' , the more comedic 'Grave Concern' complete with Nixon whispers (hailed as a wonderful idea when Neil did it on 'Let's Impeach The President' 33 years later!) and the funky title track. However 'Wild Tales' doesn't quite have the same consistency, gravitas or downright ground-breaking brilliance of 'Songs For Beginners'. It's a record I tend to choose things from to play rather put on end to end, as taken as a whole it's somehow less satisfying than it's parts. The trouble is partly down to the indifferent arrangements of some of the songs and also the three country-style songs ('Moon' 'You'll Never Be The Same' and 'On The Line') that are clearly here purely to lighten the mood and sound unconvincing, as if Graham is putting on the 'smile' that Hollies track 'Clown' promised us he'd never wear. There are simply too many ideas here that don't make it - and others that don't belong on this album at all. For all that, though, 'Wild Tales' is still an excellent record that somehow manages to combine Nash's personal grief with that for an entire generation, tricked into submission and unable to fight back with the venom that CSNY once did. 'Wild Tales' is above all else impressively different, revealing Nash to be a writer much deeper and darker than many of his fans and critics ever give him credit for and it's at this album's icy blackest that 'Wild Tales' makes the most sense. Wild tales indeed.

The first track is in fact ‘Wild Tales’, a song that would be an amusing long list of problems a la The Kinks’ ‘State Of Confusion’ had not Nash revealed later that all the stories told in the song are true. Elliott Roberts, a management figure better known for his work with Neil Young, had a friend who genuinely did suffer all of these mishaps: his house had a flood, his wife ran off with the milkman, he had a motorcycle crash and he lost his job all in the space of a few days (he even spent his last bit of money paying a detective to find out who his wife had run off with). Nash seemingly senses a fellow troubled soul in this song and seems pleased to be writing an angry song on behalf of someone else for once on this album, but this song is curiously detached compared to the rest of the album and unlike most of Graham’s other work. For a start, the song isn’t the no-holds barred rocker with which Nash usually starts his albums but a gradually coalescing jazz fusion, kicked off by a catchy rumbly bass riff that seems to kick in from nowhere and adding in each instruments bit by bit as the song gets gradually more and more out of control. David Lindley’s slide guitar, well known from many Crosby-Nash albums, is the only really common element with Nash’s work here (and this is his first appearance with Graham, so this all must have sounded really odd in January 1974!) Only the chorus cry of ‘it is all alright, take it as it comes’ reveals that it’s really a Nash song and shares something in common with his other songs about overcoming difficult circumstances, but in the context of this song Graham’s usual optimism seems misplaced, almost as if he is laughing at the poor figure in the song, who clearly isn’t going to be able to return to normal any time soon. The riff is a catchy one and quite often goes round my head even when I haven’t played this record in ages and the middle, more universal lines about ‘factories being renewed’ with workers sacked to make way for computers are an especially strong attack from Graham, but there’s something unusually unfocussed and slight about this song, which might have benefitted from an even rawer arrangement (Nash substitutes this studio take for a live recording on the CSN box set, suggesting perhaps that he too likes the song but not the recording).

Hey You (Looking At The Moon) is one of the three country songs that usually get short shrift from reviewers of this album. But it’s actually the only one of these three with anything really going for it. The song is slow to the point of dullness but it’s so unlike any other Nash song in its unusual and sometimes nasty sniping at those looking for their life to change instead of changing it themselves that it is at least different to Nash’s usual feel. Neil Young’s long-standing sideman Ben Keith is far more at home on this song than Nash and his pedal-steel playing is the highlight of this track, offering it a mournful sound without which it would just be one long moan. Nash is so rarely angry at the ‘general public’, as opposed to corrupt bankers/politicians/soldiers etc, that he sounds really unsure here about his attacks on this slow, bare song and his vocals are mixed right down as if to submerge them. The lyrics are the usual Nash mix of anger and clever, witty half-rhymes (‘shaking at the gate, cannot bear the weight of all you borrow’), but in places try a little too hard to impress, especially on the rather empty chorus/middle eight which thankfully we only hear once. The best verse is the second, which is clearly about the Berlin Wall and Nash fed up of the people wailing behind it waiting for a ‘resurrection’ instead of getting on with the jobs themselves (he’s the first to get a shovel when the Wall falls in 1988 and Nash’s song ‘Chippin’ Away’ became the unofficial song of the event). But overall, this is an odd little uncomfortable song, with Nash for once offering no answers or suggestions for the ordinary men to rally round and fight back against the ‘big men’ who control their lives and the song ends on an even more uncomfortable note, with Nash’s squealing harmonic cut off in its prime. Nice to hear Nash trying something different on this track, but by attacking the persecuted rather than the persecutors it is, like the moon, merely a reflection of the target Nash really wants to aim at.

‘Prison Song’ isn’t much of a song in the traditional sense – it features one of Graham’s dullest and simplest melodies and the lyrics aren’t amongst his most inspired – but the subject is one very close to his heart and I’d go so far as to say that his emotional vocal on this track is one of the best he ever made. As discussed above, it’s really a song not about a ‘friend’ but about Nash’s father William, who was imprisoned for a year for buying a dodgy camera off a friend and refusing to say where he bought it (loyalty clearly runs deep in the Nash household). The event broke his father’s heart - a man who like his son believed in hard work, honesty and loyalty and had never been in trouble before –and the sadness and bitterness Nash still feels about the incident a decade on inspires a truly magnificent vocal, on the verge of tears without going out of its way to tug on our heart strings, just telling the vent like it is. Interestingly, Nash ends the song with the friend of a friend speaking up at the end and taking the wrap for his misdeeds, something Nash clearly wished would happen in his childhood – it would have saved him doing all those odd jobs to keep the family afloat for one thing. The subject of prison welfare was a big subject in the mid-70s. Crosby and Nash had played a ‘prisoner’s welfare rights’ benefit concert in March 1972, plus several more shortly after this album, and Graham had delivered a passioned plea from the stage at that first event, bypassing the whole ‘criminals are wrong and shouldn’t receive any rights’ argument of the day. Not many fans in the audience would have known it, but given what we know about Nash’s dad his plea from the stage is moving indeed: ‘The prisoners don’t want luxury in there – they just want to live like decent human beings’...[On the subject of education in prison]...A man shouldn’t spend four years inside and come out exactly the same as when he went in, maybe even less of a human being. Come on, man, this is the world!’

One of the great triumphs of CSN/Y in the early 70s is that they went other places where bands refused to go. I can’t think of a single other musician who ever adopted prisoner’s rights as his cause – barring Johnny Cash, who himself took the whole scheme personally despite spending barely a night inside during his long and troubled career. The best line of all, though, might be Nash’s devastating middle eight about the laxity and holes in the justice system, with a teenager in Texas given a 10-year sentence for possessing marijuana while someone else in the state of Ann Arbor could get away scott free on a first offence. The prison system is never challenged in song usually, not unless the musician is imagining him or herself being locked away, but you can just hear the years of hurt coming through Nash by the song’s end. It’s just a shame that this song, which clearly is one of the most important in Nash’s canon, suffers from that simple and rather irritating melody, which seems to be written as a throwback to childhood and how simple and clearcut the justice system seemed to be before Nash knew someone in trouble. Not all the lyrics are up to the best in this song, either, which is not surprising given how difficult this subject must have been for Graham. Having said that, however, there’s no getting away from how moving Nash’s vocal on this song is, which more than makes up for any flaw in the song’s construction. If only CSNY had finished their recording of this song – first tried out during the aborted ‘Human Highway’ sessions and re-recorded here, with CSN mass harmonies and the support of Nash’s brothers this could have sounded fabulous (as it is, only Crosby guests on this track and his cruel but gorgeous harmonies are one of the highlights of the song, especially his bark on the line ‘there’s not as rich man there who wouldn’t pay his way...’).

“You’ll Never Be The Same” is the second country pop hybrid on the album and it doesn’t seem to have much purpose on the album except to lighten the mood after “Prison Song”. Alas, it doesn’t even do that job too well, as the vocals are so low you can hardly hear them and there is again a rather un-satisfyingly unfinished feel to this rather basic song. It’s as if Nash is desperate to fill out this rather curiously short album in order to get his songs released as soon as possible (something that used to happen a lot with The Hollies, filling in songs iin the back of taxis and in dressing rooms) and he’s looked back at his past successes, starting with ‘Teach Your Children’, with which this song shares a similar melody and countrified arrangement. Alas, though, this is where the similarity between the two songs end, because ‘Children’ had a strong message about passing on knowledge to the next generation – this song has none. There isn’t even any intriguing guest appearances to savour this time around. Like some of the songs on ‘Beginners’ there’s also a sudden strange duality between the narrator’s humility and ego, veering in a few short lines from ‘there’s no one I can blame about my foolish pride’ to ‘you’ll never be the same without me by your side’.

‘And So It Goes’ tries hard to be one of the two spics on this album and, while it can’t compete with closing track ‘Another Sleep Song’ it has its fair share of good points. The opening instrumental passage sounds far more mournful and ‘heavy’ than any previous Nash song – although there’s a few more to come on the following Crosby-Nash albums – and even the words are a bit more throwaway than the tune, it’s clear that Nash is writing about his recent problems. Just as we think we know where this song is going, though, it suddenly switches – the chorus kicks in with the delightful CSN catchphrase ‘music gets you high’ and the whole track subtly shifts from minor to major key, with all the doom and weight of the past few minutes shown to be all a fuss about nothing; a storm cloud that will never break. The song then ducks back into the opening sound but this time with more characteristically Nash lyrics about putting things to rights. I’m tempted to add too that Nash is singing about CSNY here – and if that isn’t ‘music to get you high’ then nothing is – with Nash seemingly saying in this song that all it takes to put things right is to make a stand and try to put problems right (‘can it be as easy as it seems?’ he sings at one point’). The line ‘ we are hobos, we are holy’ is also quite an accurate portrayal of CSNY’s image as ‘Royal hippies’, at one with the people even as they sit in their mansions and travel by lear jets. Comparing the current music scene to the ‘dove that dropped the berry’ (off Noah’s ark, discovering land and new opportunities for mankind) is another intriguing line, mimicking CSN’s classic ‘Wooden Ships’. Like many songs on ‘Wild Tales’, though, Nash is too busy living his songs to give us any real sense of resolution or finality here and the song simply fades away, frustratingly early compared to what this track could have given us. An interesting experiment, though, with a stop-start rythm that’s either very clever or very annoying depending on how fully you get into this song about putting things right. That’s Neil Young on piano by the way, under his usual pseudonym ‘Joe Yankee’, although his playing doesn’t add much to the song which is once again dominated by Lindley’s slide guitar.

‘Grave Concern’ is a lot of fun in the CSNY concerts of 1974 when the band mischievously turned into a talking heads play about Nixon’s downfall and resignation from office. Ironically, the removal of Nixon pretty much spells the end of CSNY’s influence as a true ‘people’s band’, as without the big ‘enemy’ to fight and with too many public-provoking splits amongst themselves, the quartet never quite regain their standing with the world at large (at least, that will be the case until George Bush gets in power and inspires the ‘Freedom Of Speech Tour’). This studio recording can’t match the later live versions’ impish spirit and sheer delight at watching a corrupt and crumbling regime ‘all fall down’, but this is still a clever and bouncy song which is exactly what this album needs at the start of the second side. Nash starts by mixing his metaphors, telling us about the ‘grave concern rolling down the hill’ and at first the ‘all fall down’ chorus refers to the casualties and innocents who got in Nixon’s way. But later, as the song switches – via a cleverly constructed double-tracked Lindley guitar solo which seems to play a tug-of-war match before our ears – its the old regime falling down in favour of a new one. Alas Nash is using sound effects of Nixon on this record instead of roping in his old CSNY comrades to do their best Nixon impersonations and these are all frustratingly low-mixed so that you can’t hear what’s going on. Neil Young clearly got the idea of ‘Let’s Impeach The President’ from this song, though, with the two possessing a similar rhythm and reliance on the president showing himself to be a contradictory idiot by juxtaposing various speeches.

‘Oh! Camil, The Winter Soldier’ is one of those occasional Nash anti-milllitary songs, despairing at the cruel way lives are thrown away – this time not just on the battlefield but when the soldiers come back home. For such an anti-war band CSNY have done lots in the past for veterans and troops, especially those who have spoken out against the Government who sent them there in the first place. This song was written for Vietnam Veteran Scott Camil and is a half-fond, half-sneering attack of what soldiers are made to do in the name of war. Nash starts off by asking the soldier how he felt about deciding between his heart and his God and country, before moving on to ask him to tell the war how it was when he got back home – not the glitz and the glamour but the harsh realities of what he did. Nash is clearly sympathetic to the veteran, but turns on him in the second verse with one of his best lines, asking what he did when he returned home and saw his mother – ‘Did you show her your medals? Did you show her your guns? Did you show her the hatred you wore? Did you show her the people you killed for country and war?’ The irony is that, when Camil tries to speak about his experiences and speak out against the war, the Government do their best to stop him, turning him from a hero into a traitor and invoking Nash’s sympathy again. Nash’s acoustic-and-harmonica playing clearly puts this song in early 60s protest mould and that may be deliberate – Dylan’s first few songs were often about the Vietnam War which, back in 1962-63 when it was comparatively new and those involved though they’d be home in time for Christmas (‘I’ve heard that line before a few times...’), who back in 1963 would have guessed that they’d still be fighting an unwinnable war in 1974? Nash sadly didn’t keep this song in his set list for long but revived it for a CSN Veteran Benefit show in Boston in 1988 when it surprisingly became the most talked about of the night, dividing audience who appreciated this song’s sympathy and those who hated it for what they saw as down-playing the Veterans’ heroism on the battlefield. Whatever your feeling, though, ‘Camil’ is a moving song and a far more complex one than most anti-war efforts, showing how hard it is to stand up for what you believe in and how few rewards there are when you do so.

‘I Miss You’ is always missed out when reviewers come to talk about this album for some reason. It’s not as well developed as ‘Another Sleep Song’, as moving as ‘Prison Song’ or as fun as ‘Grave Concern’ – the tracks that usually take the plaudits on this album – but in its own way this short and simple song is as good as any of them. Nash sings to his own piano backing on a song that’s intriguingly Joni Mitchell-ish – I saw intriguingly because its clearly about missing a loved one after a break-up and as such this song might well exist alongside Mitchell’s songs like ‘Willie’ and the exquisite ‘River’ which are clearly her side of the story about her split from Nash. Rarely has Graham ever recorded a song this bare and its suits his unusually love-key vocal well, with the pianist seemingly playing with the chords as he starts, reluctant to let his thoughts through but seemingly transfixed about the sad scenario on his mind. None of the lyrics are going to win any awards (‘dinging at your mother’s on whipped cream and wine, made me feel good all the time’ might be one of the strangest couplets of his career), but their sheer honesty when set against the simple playing is a very moving experience. The tune is particularly clever, repeating itself several times over in a pure cycle, as if the narrator is truly locked into a prison of his own making. Many of the best CSN songs are where the arrangement keeps it simple – Almost Cut My Hair, Word Game and Ohio among them – and this sadly forgotten, understated song is better than most. Look out too for a terrific performance of this song and ‘Another Sleep Song’ Nash gives during a rare appearance back in Britain to promote the album on the Old Grey Whistle Test – even starker, more fragile and every bit as moving as the version heard here.

So that’s three good songs on the trot – surely Graham’s not going to keep it up? Well, sadly, no – ‘On The Line’ is the return of the unwanted country song, albeit at least this one is happier than the others and has some snappy half-rhymes a la ‘Songs For Beginners’. The trick of sounding clever and honest at the same time is a hard one to pull off though – Nash just about gets away with it on that 1971 album’s ‘Be Yourself’, but here the subject is that old standard, ‘heartbreak’ and we’ve just hear this stuff too many times. The song is in part about the ravages of success and Nash clearly has it in for somebody in the last verse, telling us ‘I’ve watched you go far, playing guitar, being a star...’ before ending the song with the cutting words ‘Is the money you make worth the price that you pay?’ Strangely, no other commentator seems to have placed this song in the large saucepan marked ‘The CSN soap opera’, although this song is every bit as cagey-yet-revealing as ‘Cowboy Movie (Crosby’s telling of the CSNY story as a Western), ‘Change Partners’ (Stills’ witty song about wondering who on earth he’s going to be recording with next) and ‘The Old Homestead’ (Young’s curious song where three birds ask him ‘why do you ride that Crazy Horse?’) Typically, Nash’s addition to this catalogue is very much the upbeat, pop cousin of these other, obscurer songs and by the end of the song the whole thing seems to be treated as a joke, with a very clichéd guitar line to end the song on. None of the CSNY families were getting along that well in the wake of their first split in 1970 and this song seems to share something of the anger of Nash’s anti-Stills song ‘Frozen Smiles’ from the album ‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’. If Nash is still sniping at Stills, then he’s noticeably cooled by now, with the urgent music undeniably happy and go-lucky despite the cutting lyrics. Another odd song on rather an oddball album.

There’s no such reservations about ‘Another Sleep Song’, however, which is one of the classiest and most moving things any member of CSNY ever wrote. The track is similar in feel to Paul McCartney’s ‘Every Night’ (featured in our newsletter a couple of issues back), being a nervous breakdown in song and is both very revealing and very moving in its depiction of Graham’s state of mind following the trials and tribulations in 1973. The song starts off like an outtake, with Nash coaching the other band members as to what tempo he wants for his song – this startling take, which is dreamlike and surreal and perfectly cast in every detail, was clearly though too amazing to worry about such little things as Nash speaking over the intro and, indeed, it adds to the slightly unfocussed feel of the song. All the elements of a classic song are here – the lonely, isolated bass riff of Tim Drummond, on loan from various Young albums; David Lindley’s best ever slide playing; Nash’s own mournful organ work and best of all the massed harmonies at the end of the track with Crosby and Nash joined by a soaring Joni Mitchell who is at her all time best on a song probably written at least in part about her. Nash famously wrote this song during a visit to Barbara Streisand’s house where, despite only calling on the singer as a social call, Graham nevertheless found himself pouring all his problems out to her and ended the visit by writing on Streisand’s piano while the singer ate a TV dinner.

Odd circumstances, yes, but ‘Another Sleep Song’ is a gorgeous song that’s clearly made up of thoughts have been milling round it’s creators head for some time before he actually sat down to wrote it. The title names it as the sequel to Graham’s ‘Sleep Song’, a track from ‘Songs For Beginners’, which is interesting because its effectively the ‘goodbye’ song to Graham’s middle years which started when Nash wrote that very song in 1968 and had it rejected by the Hollies, when he finally found his own distinctive voice away from Clarke and Hicks. This is Nash, remembering the brilliance of that first real love song and being in quite a different place when he sings this song to us, adding that after all his ups and downs ‘all I need is someone to awaken me’. The lines about ‘much of me has gone to sleep and I’m afraid to wake up’ also sums up perfectly what we know of Graham in this point in time when he talked about the problems behind this album to practically no one. Listen out too for perhaps the cleverest pun in Nash’s works: the narrator asking us to shake him if he is ‘lying to you now’ – lying both in a telling fibs and in a going-back-to-sleep sense. The narrator of this song is clearly feeling sorry for himself, asking about love ‘how much do I get to keep – and how much should I give up? , although for once the detachment in Graham’s vocal here merely enhances this song, with Graham sounding lost and isolated but strangely comfortable in his dreamlike state. Graham turns the song back to the universal, telling all his listeners that ‘there is no time to waste another day’ and that we should grab our opportunities with both hands in case we never get them again – and end up feeling as low and isolated as the narrator does here. The song also doubles as the perfect analogy for Brian Wilson’s ‘housebound’ years (‘Who can hurt you in your bed?’) and the Chronic Fatigue Society, who should hand this song out free to us members. A classy, clever, complex and above all moving song that is probably my favourite song that Graham ever wrote. And there are quite a few of those on this website, as anybody whose read all the Hollies and various CSN reviews can tell you.

Moving in the extreme, ‘Another Sleep Song’ is the piece for which ‘Wild Tales’ is best known and its one of the most remarkable things to come from the pen of one of our most remarkable writers. But it’s presence at the end of the album does show up how lacking the rest of the album is by comparison. There are only two bad songs here – and perhaps a couple more that don’t come off as well as they should – but when this album is at its best its very good indeed. While Nash’s other albums have impressive consistency: ‘Songs For Beginners’ and ‘Earth and Sky’ in particular, none of Nash’s other albums contain highs quite as high as ‘Another Sleep Song’ and ‘I Miss You’, or hit home quite as hard as ‘Prison Song’ and ‘The Winter Soldier’. As that curiously bleak cover is trying to tell us, there’s a reason this album Nash is too distracted to make this album the 100% success it might have been – he just never chose to talk about it in 36 years’ worth of interviews! No wonder Graham is unusually incensed still over how badly record label Atlantic treated this album, effectively burying it in America before it had a chance to grow (although it did rather better in Britain). Whilst not everything is top-notch ‘Wild Tales’ does contain two or three of the most important songs in Nash’s canon when it comes to understanding the man and his work and desperately need those songs if they want to understand this complex and brilliant man better. For all of Nash’s vital and brave work writing and campaigning on behalf of the common man and various key issues integral to our way of life in our future, it may well be that his biggest achievement of all are the unusually autobiographical songs included on this album. ‘Wild Tales’ is ironically named, as all the wild tales on this album really did take place – and it is probably the most autobiographical album Graham Nash has ever made. Just do yourself a favour, cut out the country songs and you’ll be happy. 

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


  1. Amy and Eben Gossage lived in San Francisco,not Laurel Canyon.Eben was a heroin addict,Amy smoked pot on rare occasion.

  2. Amy was killed February 3 1975. Wild Tales was released in 1974. Not related.

    1. This has come up before but Graham Nash himself claims that the album was so dark because of Amy's death - see Dave Zimmer's CSN book 'The Biography'. He's also said that the 'goodbye baby and amen' quote was for her, although he won't talk about much else. My take is that the Feb 1975 date was the announcement to the press of the murder, not the date of the murder itself.

    2. Amy and Eben's mother Mary Gossage died in 1974 (or was it 73?), while Eben was in prison for check fraud. Amy found herself alone and an orphan. Maybe that's what Graham was getting on about. The February 3 1975 date is solid and real, trust me (despite this being an anonymous posting).
      Interestingly, Graham doesn't mention Amy in his autobiography. Maybe out of deference to his current wife.Or maybe to avoid the pain. I have read him say that helping get Eben out of prison in 1974 was easily his greatest regret in life.

    3. OK that bit makes sense - and yes I noticed too that Graham doesn't mention her at all in his book despite all his talk about 'no holds barred'. I never could tie down a decent date for the murder either, as people seem split between 1974 and 1975 but I too have heard the Feb 75 date so I'll go with you there. I fully agree with you on your point too, no wonder he never really talks about it. But if so then I'm still confused about two things. Why is that album such a sad record? I get that Graham would be sad for Amy but it seems to dig deeper than that - I've never seen him as 'haunted' as he is on the Old Grey Whistle Test footage for instance. Also why the 'Goodbye Baby and Amen' message - its not really something you'd put on an album for your mother in law is it? Premonition perhaps? Anyway thanks for the debate, lots to think about there. Wild tales from the East indeed.