Friday, 10 September 2010
♫ Hello and welcome to another new ‘News, Views and Music’, filled to the pixels with the latest, well, news views and music. There isn’t really much to add about what’s happening to our site since the last time we posted – we’re still getting to grips with Twitter and YouTube and next week should be when we hear about the future of our site. Just think – if you’re reading this at the current date (or thereabouts), you’ll be able to tell your great-grandkids that you were among the first to visit Alan’s Album Archives (and they’ll probably sigh and say ‘why is it boring old 2D format?, fancy having not invented holograms yet!’) In the meantime, it’s yet another trawl through the back pages of rock and roll, featuring some very wild tales indeed...
♫ Beatles News: Yoko Ono has confirmed that the eight ‘core’ Lennon solo albums will indeed be re-mastered and re-released for Lennon’s 70th birthday on October 9th this year (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Sometime In New York City, Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Double Fantasy and the posthumous Milk and Honey, though sadly not outtakes set ‘Menlove Avenue’ which needs it the most). However, there’s still no news about what bonus tracks are being attached to each album – although the unofficial report is that ‘Double Fantasy’ for one will be completely transformed by the un-released material – or whether ‘NY City’ will be the old 2CD or the newer single CD version. Oh and Yoko’s just reached the twitter milestone of one million followers – and sadly that last one wasn’t me (I was 999, 990!) Yoko has also been on one of her regular trips to Liverpool and reportedly gazed in awe at Lennon’s bedroom in Mendips, which the National Trust bought up with her money and support. Yoko, of course, never saw the house her time with Lennon (the couple never got round to it before moving to America and by the time the pair met Aunt Mimi had moved to Wales where her nephew had bought her a bungalow).
Oh and in a bit of extra news, BBC6 are repeating their very listenable Badfinger documentary ‘Without You’ this Monday. While I’m at a loss to explain why such a fine and consistent group should be reduced to talking about one of their slowest and dreariest ballads (I’d take ‘Name Of The Game’ ‘Day After Day’ and ‘Baby Blue’ over ‘Without You’ any day), the story of the band is quite something for those who don’t know it, including discovery by the Beatles’ road manager Mal Evans and working with Paul; McCartney and George Harrison to horrendous royalty disputes and eventually the suicide of two members. Let’s hope the new Apple re-issues of the first four Badfinger releases in October does much to restore their reputation for making a series of great ballads, not just the one.
♫ Belle and Sebastian News: Our biggest congratulations to Rachael Neiman who scored an amazing 18 points during the first round of the latest Mastermind competition, with ‘Belle and Sebastian’ her chosen subject. I only got two questions right – they seemed blooming hard to me (we did a bit better on CSN a couple of series back before you think we’re totally hopeless!) I believe the show is still available from BBC i-player for a week, so I won’t spoil the ending for anybody who wants to see if she won the whole caboodle.
♫ Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young News: A bit of belated new from March for you here. You may remember that in one of our very earliest newsletters we found – almost by accident - that CSN were working with Johnny Cash’s producer Rick Rubin on an album of cover songs and that it should have been out long ago – so long ago that I was beginning to think I’d dreamt or imagine the whole thing (chronic fatigue can do that to you – I was convinced last week I’d found a rare abandoned Pink Floyd album in a charity shop in my sleep and it’s taken many discographies since then to prove me otherwise!)
Well, as you may have read last week, we’re only just getting the hang of twitter but one Beatles post that caught my eye had a link for a CSN story from March this year, about how the band were still going ahead with their ‘covers’ album and had already recorded or arranged covers of, among others, AAA songs The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’, The Rolling Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’ (a regular part of their set-lists now) and the Grateful Dead’s ‘Uncle John’s Band’ (the album is, apparently, ‘one-third done’ and that was in March). Nash adds that the recording sessions are dragging on longer than any other CSN project (even longer than ‘Deja Vu’?!?) thanks to CSN’s heavy touring schedule which will see them out on the road somewhere around the world until October. It’s very unusual for CSN to work with any producer (not many have the stamina or the ego to stand up to these four!) and in the past they have either produced themselves or used some figure close to the group – the same background, in fact, as Johnny Cash before Rubin resurrected his career with the atmospheric and well received ‘America’ series the last few years before his death. So let’s hope CSN get the same honour and return to the spotlight with their new album. Nash claims that “It’s hard to tell CSN what to do in the studio after almost 40, 50 years, but it’s an interesting experience. We’re certainly opening to listening to him. He has good ideas, of course.” Nash adds: “We all want it to be right – Rick, too – so we’re taking our time to make sure it is.”
In other news, could be that we’re about to have the holy grail of CSNY collectors sometime next year? Apparently, 2011 will see the first legal release of recordings from CSNY’s legendary 1974 tour. The first (of many) CSNY reunions, this tour broke up in acrimony and bad blood when a tie-in album broke down partway through the recording – but those who there have always reckoned that these concerts are among the best the quartet ever did (something I concur with having seen the unfairly dismissed Wembley set that year, which broke the crowd attendance record held by the Beatles in Shea Stadium in 1965). Nash is the member of the band whose most objected to releasing tapes from this period, claiming the vocals are often way out of tune and can’t be heard against the loud guitar parts, but now even he says: “It’s very obvious when you play the tracks that we’re listening to each other, not stepping on each other’s toes, not over-blowing. It’s really, really good.” More news if and when we hear it.
♫ Janis Joplin News: Just when I was despairing of any programme celebrating the life of Janis in the 40th anniversary year of her death – look out for our tribute we’ve got vaguely sketched out somewhere around October 4th – comes the programme ‘Queens Of Heartache’, to be broadcast on Wednesday, September 8th on BBC 2. Janis isn’t the only figure of course though in our eyes she’s easily the most important, sharing screen time with the likes of powerful, charismatic but deeply unhappy singers like Judy Garland and Edith Piaf. We’ll let you know what the programme is like next issue...
♫ ANNIVERSARIES (September 6th-12th): Birthday greetings to the following AAA luminaries and visionaries: Roger Waters (bassist and so much more with Pink Floyd 1967-85) who turns 66 on September 6th, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan (singer and keyboardist with the Grateful Dead 1965-72) who would have been 64 on September 8th and Otis Redding who would have been 69 on September 9th. Anniversaries of events include: the sad untimely death of record producer Tom Wilson, who gave Simon and Garfunkel their big break by overdubbing electric instruments on their flop single ‘The Sound Of Silence’ (September 6th 1978); the sad untimely death of the drummer we all thought was indestructible – The Who’s Keith Moon (September 7th 1978); the advert calling for ‘four insane boys’ for a new TV series about musicians, The Monkees, appears in Los Angeles’ Daily Variety magazine. Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones have already been cast, but Micky Dolenz auditions after seeing the advert and AAA member Stephen Stills applies, recommending his friend Peter Tork when he is rejected (September 8th 1965); The Moody Blues play to an almost-record 300, 000 fans in Paris, a city not traditionally all that excited about rock and roll (even The Beatles were booed on their first tour, September 8th 1968); John Lennon releases his biggest selling solo LP ‘Imagine’ (September 9th 1971); the first ever edition of 1970s programme ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ takes place, the source of much AAA archive material (September 9th 1972); The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, are making their famous TV appearance on a special edition of Ready Steady Go!, including a mimed version of Sonny and Cher’s hit ‘I Got You Babe’ (September 10th 1965); Barely a year after that first advert The Monkees release their first single ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ – a big hit two days before the TV series come along to plug it (September 10th 1966); A magical mystery tour coach leaves for location filming of a Beatles TV project (see if you can guess which one! September 11th 1967); The Beatles release the most recorded song in the world, ‘Yesterday’, as a single – but only in America where it becomes one of the band’s biggest sellers (September 12th 1965);The Monkees’ TV series debuts on American television (UK viewers get it six weeks or so later; September 12th 1966) and finally, after three girls, Paul and Linda have a son, James Lewis McCartney, born on September 12th 1977.
We’ve spoken about melodies. We’ve spoken about lyrics. We’ve spoken about context. We’ve spoken about new inventions and ideas. But one thing our words can never get across to you is the solo – the rush of adrenalin, channelling all the happiness/sadness/ anger/frustration of the rest of the song in one wild orgasmic 30 seconds of release. We’ve had to extend our top five this week because it just seemed silly cutting so many great solos and instrumental passages out from our list, seeing as all these top 10 are probably equal and are so different to each other it’s often hard to compare them anyway (it was almost a ‘top 13’ this week too, as The Moody Blues’ ‘Gypsy’, CSN’s ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and Nils Lofgren’s ‘Moon Tears’ all came close to the cut). Most of the below examples are played on guitar – the default setting for most rock and roll bands – but there are some notable exceptions played on a mellotron and a sitar! (and goodness only knows what mesh of instruments is going on in ‘Change Is Now’!) So what does make a good solo? Is it raw passion, virtuosity or simply being perfectly placed as part of the perfect song? Well, critics and fans have wondered for years but, do you know what, with our top 10 we reckon it’s a bit of all three...
10) The Beatles “The End” (released on ‘Abbey Road’, 1969): How fitting that the (almost) last sound you hear from the fab four is one long series of solos, each one demonstrating the differences and similarities between each Beatle. Now, The Beatles were never that known for their soloing on records previously – only George usually gets a look in or sometimes John as per ‘Get Back’, but Ringo starts things off with his only drum solo in the Beats’ catalogue. More thoughtful and melodic than most dash-and-thrash drum solos around, Ringo goes for a wander around his kit before stepping up the rhythm at the end. The Beatles’ solos then come in in the order John, George and Paul, all three fascinatingly different – John’s is the muscly, rhythmic attack (highly suitable for a rhythm guitarist), George’s is the soaring feedback-drenched one (very like his close friend Eric Clapton’s style) and Paul is the unusual against-the-beat-and-the-melody counterpart that goes the opposite way to the rest of the music (very like his bass-playing, in fact). All three styles are great – it’s staggering to think that three guitarists this good were all in the same band - and let’s remember, all three men were lead guitarists at some stage during the Quarrymen years (Lennon when it was still very much ‘his’ band; McCartney until he froze during a guitar solo at one of his early gigs with the band; Harrison thereafter). All three will also mine their own guitar techniques throughout their solo years (you can hear bits of ‘Cold Turkey’, ‘My Sweet Lord’ and much of the first back-to-basics ‘McCartney’ album in the solos played here), although sadly the closest we’ve come to a Ringo drum solo since is the truly weird ‘Drumming Is My Madness’ from the ‘Stop and Smell The Roses’ album, which sounds like Keith Moon on a bad day.
9) 10cc “Blackmail” (released on ‘The Original Soundtrack’, 1975): In anybody else’s hands except 10cc this would be a joke song. The jealous estranged lover takes lewd pictures of his missus after he rigs up a camera on her toilet and he sells the resulting, undignified images to Playboy magazine – inadvertently making her a movie star! The band are on the edge of tongue-in-cheek throughout the first half of the song, but the whole parody feel is blown away by Eric Stewart’s outrageous double-tracked guitar solo. Drenched in so much feedback it’s positively radioactive, his solo is so wild and out of control it perfectly encapsulates the unthinking rage and anger in the heart of the song’s narrator and screams its way through chord change after chord change, rattling off one drop-dead amazing riff after another as the blackmailer tries to find his way out of the straightjacket he’s in. The solo is loud enough to hurt your eardrums, even if your sound system is turned way down low, but emotional and in context reasonable enough to make a joke song novelty song sound unhinged and sympathetic all at the same time. This song runs to near six minutes and nearly half of that is the guitar solo – and yet, so exciting and raw is it, those three minutes still aren’t enough!
8) The Byrds “Change Is Now” (released on ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’, 1968): This song about fluidity pulls off a typical schizophrenic Byrds trick by tying together pioneering psychedelic and ‘roots’ country styles into one song and even without the solo would be one of the band’ best. But with the solo it’s something else entirely, with the awe-struck shimmering harmonies giving way to a Roger McGuinn solo that steps out of nowhere to begin an exhilarating flight upwards through the song’s scale, while surrounded by a backwards-playing guitar part and Chris Hillman’s insistent bass playing, driving the whole thing forward bit by bit. Most solos are excuses to fill up another 30 seconds because the authors have run out of ideas, but not this solo, which in its ever-moving and ever-restless way is every bit as integral to the song as the words. As the lyrics say, ‘things that seem to be solid are not’, with the mesh of weird noises the perfect expression of how things can change in the blink of an eye. Quite staggering.
7) The Rolling Stones “We Love You” (released as a single, 1967): According to most Stones biographers, Brian Jones’ best period with the band happened offstage, as it were, back when the Stones were still playing blues clubs when this charismatic, multi-talented pioneer used to pull off blues solos on a variety of instruments that left his colleagues and rivals’ jaws dropping. Frustratingly, we don’t get to hear much of that on record as Brian’s control of the band slipped gradually over time and even before their record contract, but this psychedelic single’s mellotron solo is testament to Brian’s expertise on a good day. The song is all about the Stones’ drug trials of the day and is half thankyou to fans and half put down of the establishments that tried to lock them up, but it’s worth remembering that Brian was still facing possible imprisonment at this point, even if Mick and Keef had got off scot free. Brian’s closing solo – on an instrument so new it hadn’t even been on sale a year – is staggering, running this way and that, picking up on the song’s paranoid mood and rhythmic stabbing, switching from the gentle morse code part the mellotron has been playing throughout the song to a free-for-all improvisation that finally releases all the pent up anger and fear lurking at the heart of the song. Part cry for help and part danger signal, Brian’s exceptional bit of skill on the ‘brass’ settings of the keyboard instrument is the perfect coda to this edgy song, even with Mick Jagger adding some off-putting grunting sounds behind him. The way the song ends – with the backing track lurching to a stop, causing Brian’s part to stutter and then end on a long-held sighing note (which the listener is dying to be resolved back to the major key) is one of the most moving passages in rock.
6) The Kinks “You Really Got Me” (released on ‘The Kinks’, 1964): Solos before 1964 tended to come under two categories – the simple, washboard-based skiffle sound of two chords that everyone could try at home and the virtuoso-but-clean licks of The Shadows and their many followers. When The Kinks came to record their third and – had it not been a hit – their last single for record label Pye, Dave Davies destroys tradition by playing the most raucous, out-there solo heard from anyone up to that time. As all fans know, Dave got his peculiar, distorted sound by slashing the speakers of his amplifier with a razor blade and then turning the sound level up as high as possible. The wild, exciting passage is the perfect fit for elder brother Ray’s exciting song about undistinguished passion and lust and is the release this claustrophobic record has been crying out for since the opening note. The most amazing thing of all, though, is how Dave manages to pick up the song’s rhythmic riff straight after his wild solo and journey into the unknown. Certain heavy metal bands have based their whole style on the sound Dave Davies single-handedly invented here as a teenager. As Ray said in his ‘X-Ray’ autobiography show, ‘The way Dave played was very...individual, fast just like the way he spoke’.
5) Pink Floyd “Echoes” (released on ‘Meddle’, 1972): The song is a 22-minute epic of mega proportions even for the Floyd, taking in quiet sonar pings and existential lyrics from Roger Waters about people being strangers to each other. There’s even the sound of crows fighting in the middle, weirdest section, perhaps because they’ve been reading what poet Ted Hughes was writing about them in his dreadful poetry. However, it’s the thrilling section immediately after this that’s on our list, as Dave Gilmour’s guitar goes from see-sawing its way through a riff that plunges from the top to bottom of his fretboard, weaving his way over and over the same old ground and growing in intensity until, several minutes later, he finally gives us some sort of release with a shimmering cascade of noise and melody. One of the most moving things you’ll ever hear, if you stick with this long song all the way through, is that truly mind-blowing release of sound when all of the tension of the past five minutes finally gives way to a sound so sweet, so poetic and so right to the song it sounds like the sun has gone into supernova. There are lots of amazing Gilmour solos out there, but this one displays all his musical talents: torturous claustrophobic rhythm and free-wheeling fluid beauty.
4) The Who “My Generation” (the ‘Live At Leeds’ version, released 1970): The original version of ‘My Generation’ is pretty special, what with John Entwistle’s ridiculously complex bass solo and Pete Townshend’s twirling windmill rhythmic chords. But this famous live version from Leeds University shows all features of Pete’s skills. As the song reaches its conclusion, Pete free-wheels his way round any riff that seems to have come into his head, swinging the song this way and that from raw rock and roll to a melodicism not heard this side of CSNY. Snatches of riffs from ‘Tommy’ come and go as Pete gets louder, rawer and more and more emotional in putting his solos across. At one stage he even starts duetting with himself, playing off the sound bouncing off the back of the hall, doubling the sound and intensity at a stroke. How the band ever know how to come back in again behind him is beyond me – Pete was so far away in the stratosphere by the 14th minute of this recording he sounds like he’ll never get back down to earth. Considering the fact that this performance comes some 2 hours and 15 minutes into the band’s set list and you have to ask if Pete – notoriously shy about his ability on the guitar – is actually really human, so impossible is most of what he improvises on the spot at this concert. No wonder the band – or fans – sound like they don’t want to go home. How on earth do the band calm down enough to play final encore ‘Magic Bus’ after this?!
3) The Hollies “Hard Hard Year” (released on ‘The Hollies’, 1965): Like many a song on The Hollies’ third album, ‘Hard Hard Year’ finds the band looking for their own voice, going for deeper and more serious material of their own to master. This track must be one of the bleakest any rock and roll band had recorded up to 1965 – a sighing, head hanging melody with lyrics about bad weather and ill health leading to bills piling high and only misery to look forward to in the years to come. The song is monochromatic and bleak throughout – so the release that comes when Tony Hicks unleashes his guitar solo, dripping with feedback and distortion, channelling all the anger and bitterness of the lyrics, is tremendous. I read an essay once where a musician (I forget which one, not one of the AAA mob), claimed that the guitar was so popular because if you play it in a certain way it sounds like crying. This track is the best example of that I’ve ever heard – cascading ripples of emotion that suggest the guitar is plugged straight into the narrator’s nerve endings. Hicks received many compliments about his sound on this solo so it’s a shame that The Hollies never come anywhere doing anything like this again (although Hicks’ own ‘Too Young To Be Married’ pulls off a similar trick in 1970, with an acoustic guitar this time filling in for the sadness of the pressured lovers in the song).
2) Pentangle “Once I Had A Sweetheart” (released on ‘Basket Of Light’, 1970): You think you’ve got this record sussed early on – it’s a yearning, traditional folk song sung by a mournful Jacqui McShee over a bed of sawing bass cellos and twinkling guitars. Then in comes John Renbourn’s sitar solo, seemingly out of nowhere, building the song up to such an ecstasy of emotion it’s hard not to cry yourself. Let me underline that again – this is a sitar. It should not work in a 16th century song about lost love and yet so universal is the emotion in the song and so clever the arrangement that before we’re quite aware of what’s happening the sound has wrapped itself around us and won’t let go, as it circles ever higher in despair and frustration at the circumstances in the song. Renbourn’s playing is never better on any instrument, finding its way further and further up the scale, playing cat and mouse with Bert Jansch’s guitar, when all the time you think it can’t get any higher, before swallowing the song up at the end in a sea of noise and echo. If heartbreak could be transferred directly into music it would sound like this, running away with its emotion before collapsing in a sea of self-pity. Fantastic stuff, the highlight of Pentangle’s career I’d say.
1) Neil Young and Crazy Horse “Cinammon Girl” (Released on ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, 1969): For my money the best solo of all is played by a band who’d been together barely a matter of weeks when they recorded this, their first track, and is played – for almost all of it – on one note! On paper that sounds monkeynuts to say the least, but just wait till you hear the thing – Neil’s happiest song to date about the narrator’s excitement over a girl he’s just met is chomping at the bit to get her attention throughout. Neil’s bouncy, rhythmic song then turns sideways in the middle as he writes off to home asking for more money so he can go out dancing with the girl of his dreams, the excitement spilling over into shouts of ‘yeah yeah yeah’ and one of the most exquisitely recorded guitar sounds of all time. Neil’s chiming guitar work stabs away at the same note, persuading it to budge and join in him in the song’s wondrous melody until finally it does, uniting in a positively beautiful sound of harmony. We’ve often said on this website how simplicity is often the key to a good and powerful song and nobody believed in that maxim more than Neil Young, with the solo in this song his best example yet of making the most out of a simple idea. Just to show what Neil can do on the guitar if he sets his mind to it, the song then ends on a cascade of chorded complex riffs, some of the most complicated of all the AAA works, but it can’t compete with his solo in the middle of this song, which is perfectly cast, perfectly played and, well, just perfect.
Well, that’s it for another week. Make sure you tune in next time for some more news about our site’s future, news stories from the present and – of course – lots of music from the very wonderful past. See you then!
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.