Whether it was with the Hollies, his solo work or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Graham Nash was always a singular voice that helped to define the counterculture movement. Bob Dylan opined that he was one of the finest singers of his generation, there is no doubting that he could pen a ditty, and the number of breakup songs he has been on the receiving end of is testimony to the fact that he certainly had charm too.
In fact, he was such a consummate musician that it seems he was fated for the spotlight all along. As he writes in his memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life: “I guess music was my religion, even though we had little of either in the house. There wasn’t much singing and certainly no records – we couldn’t afford ’em!” Nevertheless, everything he did hear made an impression on him as the future wafted over from America and the pop culture boom crackled through Radio Luxembourg.
As he told Louder Sound, one of the first anthems that moved him was the same track that helped to stir The Beatles into action. “The first record I got was Be-Bop-A-Lula by Gene Vincent,” Nash recalled. “I swapped it for some toast that I was going to have for lunch at school. Thank you, Freddie Marsden. The reason I joined Capitol Records was because of this record. I told them that I would join if they let me hear the original 2-track recording of it. They let me hear it once… then I joined the company.”
While the doo-wop vibe of the ever-upbeat Gene Vincent might not sound that much like the records that followed from Nash, there is always some of that spirit in his work. Nash’s work is so textured and introspective because he couples his musical passion with all the shades that life throws at you when you ball into it headfirst. As he poetically puts it in his memoir, “Life is not perfect. It never will be.”
Beautifully continuing: “You just have to make the very best of it, and you have to open your heart to what the world can show you; and sometimes it’s terrifying, and sometimes it’s incredibly beautiful, and I’ll take both. Thanks.” This delicate worldview was partly shaped by the first wave of the folk scene that he would later become a central figure within.
One album, in particular, proved stirring for Nash and many would agree that it is one of the finest records of all time: Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends. As it happens, Nash would even have a glimpse behind the curtain. “One of my favourite songwriters is Paul Simon. He and Arthur Garfunkel took great care of me when the Hollies played in NYC. We had recorded Paul’s song I Am A Rock. He must have liked it because Paul came to our hotel and took me to the CBS studio where they were finishing Bookends,” Nash recalled. “The song ‘Old Friends’ is an absolute fave of mine. The lyrics, the melody, the emotion… stunning! ‘America’… give me a break!”
While Nash would later leave The Hollies and produce the CSNY masterpiece, Déjà Vu, that could compete with just about any folk record, there is one artist Nash concedes is out of his league.” How fortunate I feel being alive at the same time as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joni, James Taylor, Paul Simon… so many wonderful writers. But no one comes close to Bob Dylan in my humble opinion,” Nash declared when championing his game-changing 1963 record The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
In truth, all of Nash’s choices are tracible in his own work and that is a credit to his brilliance as a musician himself. While he would no doubt humbly add that he was flattered that his list of favoured masterpieces had been likened to his own output, it is this inherent humility that is part of his charm, and partly why he endures to this day, producing great records like This Path Tonight as recently as 2016.
Graham Nash’s ten favourite albums:
- Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs by Big Bill Broonzy
- ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ by Gene Vincent (Single)
- Buddy Holly by Buddy Holly
- After School Session by Chuck Berry
- It’s Everly Time by The Everly Brothers
- Revolver by The Beatles
- Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
- Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel
- Blue by Joni Mitchell
- The Freewheeling’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan