Graham Nash Top 10 Songs

By Sergio Ariza

Graham Nash may have the lowest profile of the four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; he's not a legend like Neil Young, nor a popular figure like David Crosby, nor was he the architect of their sound, as Stephen Stills was; but Nash is not an undeserved member of one of the first known super groups. He is a guy with an immense talent, a very good songwriter, many of C,S,N&Y's hit singles were his (like Marrakesh Express, Teach Your Children or Just A Song Before I Go), and he was also a truly unique vocalist, able to harmonise like an angel and with a high register; that is undoubtedly incredible. From his beginnings as a member of one of the most successful groups of the British Invasion, the Hollies, to his becoming Prince of Laurel Canyon, we review our 10 favourite songs of his career. 

The Hollies - I Can't Let Go (1966)

The Hollies were one of the most successful bands of the British Invasion, notching up 17 Top Ten singles at home and five in the US. Possibly my favourite is this marvel written by Al Gorgoni and Chip Taylor, the same man who wrote Wild Thing, which had an early version by Evie Sands, but found its final form in the wonderful harmonies of Allan Clarke, Graham Nash and Tony Hicks. Although it is Clarke who takes the lead vocals, it is Nash who stands out the most, and apart from playing the rhythm guitar, in the chorus he hits an incredible note with that "baby pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase" that Paul McCartney himself mistook for a note given by a trumpet.


The Hollies - Bus Stop (1966)

The song with which the band broke into the American market, achieving their first Top Ten in the Billboard charts, was written by Graham Gouldman, the man responsible for the Yardbirds' Heart Full of Soul or Herman's Hermits' No Milk Today and future member of 10cc. The fact is that it is one of the band's best songs and sees them explore that Eastern-influenced sound so in vogue at the time, as with the Yardbirds themselves, the Kinks' See My Friends or the Beatles' Norwegian Wood. Once again, the magnificent harmonies between Clarke, Nash and Hicks stand out, as well as the oriental sounds of the latter's guitars which, in the case of the magnificent live version that we put in our video section, are two Les Pauls, a Custom for Nash and a Burst for Hicks, although it is most likely that in the studio version they used a 12-string, probably a Rickenbacker.


The Hollies - King Midas In Reverse (1967)

It was Graham Nash who encouraged his bandmates to write their own material, and from Stop Stop Stop onwards, the Hollies' hits began to be signed by Clarke, Hicks and Nash rather than outside songwriters. At first they stuck to the formula that had worked before and so came the aforementioned Stop Stop Stop, On a Carousel and Carrie-Anne, but by 1967 Nash had tuned in to the changes coming from San Francisco and wanted the band to update their sound. Clarke and Hicks weren't so sure but Nash won them over with one of the best songs of their career, this King Midas In Reverse, which although a solo composition by Nash (possibly written with his Martin D-28) was credited to all three of them. It was the debut single from Butterfly, the album with which they embarked on the psychedelic route that Sgt. Pepper's had set. Despite being one of the best songs of their career, the single was not as successful as expected and the band returned to their formula with Jennifer Eccles, but Nash was already packing his bags for the USA, where his most memorable adventure would take place.


Crosby, Stills & Nash - Pre-Road Downs (1969)

In July 1968 Nash was seriously thinking about leaving the Hollies. He was in the USA, dreaming about the burgeoning Laurel Canyon scene, when Mama Cass, from The Mamas & The Papas invited him to a party at her house where she had also invited Stephen Stills, who had just seen his band, Buffalo Springfield, fall apart, and David Crosby, who had been kicked out of the Byrds. Stills and Crosby already knew each other and were contemplating the idea of doing something together, so they took out their acoustics and began to play You Don't Have To Love Me, of the former. Nash approached them and asked them to repeat the song. On the third attempt the Englishman joined Stills and Crosby and the whole house was blown away by the result. Because of her pivotal early role Mama Cass was the only guest vocalist on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, specifically on this piece by Nash which is arguably the most rocking track of her career, with a spectacular Stills on guitar, played backwards, which caused Crosby to exclaim on seeing him record it, "this guy must come from fucking Mars!". Nash had composed it thanks to an open tuning he had learned from Stills, which prompted Crosby to say of it "a great song that Nash wrote after he realised he could write rock & roll".


Crosby, Stills & Nash - Marrakesh Express (1969)

Another of Nash's songs on the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album, which served as the album's debut single. Nash had written it while still a member of the Hollies and even submitted it to the group for release, but his bandmates didn't see it as commercial enough. Nash eventually left the band and premiered it live in front of half a million people at Woodstock, with his Martin D-45 on his shoulder. It wasn't the Hollies' best decision, although it was clearly to Nash's benefit as the song benefits from the enormous musicianship of Stephen Stills, who was responsible for the musical arrangement and most of the instruments, including the distinctive riff, plus Hammond B3 organ, piano and bass, not to mention the wonderful three-part harmony on the chorus.     


Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Teach Your Chidren (1970)

A clear candidate for best song on this list, Teach Your Children appeared on the legendary Déjà Vu, in which Crosby, Stills & Nash became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, although in this song Neil Young neither plays nor sings. Who does, and very well too, is
Jerry Garcia, who gives the song its distinctive sound thanks to his wonderful pedal steel, a favour he did in exchange for C,S&N giving some singing and harmony lessons to the members of the Grateful Dead.


Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Our House (1970)

A love song so naive and poppie that it comes close to kitsch but, in the end, it works. Nash was in love and on cloud nine when he wrote it. It is understable if one remembers that he was a member of a very promising band and he was dating the girl of his dreams, one who was also the most incredible songwriter he had ever met, Joni Mitchell. The song was written as the lyrics say, with Nash taking Joni's piano and thinking that life was wonderful. And sometimes it's better to forget about cynicism and enjoy life and the cloud of love, while it lasts.


Graham Nash - Chicago/We Can Change The World (1971)

After the bombshell that was Déjà Vu, the group fell apart for various reasons and each of its members went on to release solo albums. The four resulting albums are very good, from Neil Young's faultless After The Gold Rush to Nash's Songs For Beginners. Never in the rest of his career did the Englishman achieve an album as good as this one, with songs as outstanding as Military Madness, I Used To Be King, Simple Man, the song I talk about below or that diptych called Chicago/We Can Change The World that closed it. It is undoubtedly the highlight of Nash's solo career, a song about the 1968 Democratic Convention riots and the trial of the "Chicago Eight", with references to Bobby Seale, the Black Panther who was gagged and chained during the trial. The line "Won't you please come to Chicago just to sing?" was a direct plea to fellow musicians Stills and Young to join him in singing on behalf of those on trial. The song's excellent gospel backing vocals are provided by Venetta Fields, Sherlie Matthews, Clydie King, Dorothy Morrison and Rita Coolidge.


Graham Nash - Better Days (1971)

Another one of the wonders of Songs For Beginners, a song that opens as a piano ballad and rises in intensity. The song talks about one of the reasons the group broke up, when Rita Coolidge left Stills for Nash. But the best part comes when Nash stops the rhythm of the song and makes a beautiful homage to Brian Wilson's vocal arrangements for the Beach Boys.


Crosby & Nash - Immigration Man (1972)

After the break-up of C,S&N, Nash and Crosby, who were considered the lesser members, got together as a duo to release several albums, the best of which was their first and came in 1972. It included this catchy song in which Nash criticised the borders, taking advantage of an incident he had to enter the USA in which he was detained for not having citizenship. The song is pure West Coast, in the tradition of Buffalo Springfield, showing that Nash had fully assimilated the airs of his adopted home. Although the solo at the end is also by another Brit, namely Dave Mason, the former member of Traffic.