Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Graham Nash
If you spend the majority of your musical minutes languishing in the garage rock ‘n ’roll that dominated the sixties and seventies, then chances are the name of Graham Nash is a familiar one. If, however, you need an introduction to the serial supergroup maker, then we’ve got just the thing as we’re bringing you six songs that define one of rock music’s ultimate journeymen.
With the genre of rock music struggling to hold the attention of the masses as it once did, we are doing our bit to help educate our readers on some of the genre’s greatest ever artists and, perhaps most importantly, their foundational moments in the world of music. While some of these acts are rightly known as icons, we’re a little concerned that they will remain just that—icons. For us, the real pleasure of such stars is the art they created, so we are handing out a crash course in some of music’s finest, this time we’re bringing you the six definitive songs of Graham Nash.
A two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Graham Nash is a name which often flies under the radar. A pivotal figure in rock and roll, Nash’s journey began at the very start of the rock explosion as he helped launch The Hollies into the pop music stratosphere. They became one of the most potent British invasion acts around and were topping the charts when Nash was still a comparative nipper.
The Hollies, unable to match their counterparts in The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, effectively disbanded and, as the decade turned towards the debauched seventies, Nash was drifting from the group. Instead of floating away into obscurity, he saddled up with some other rock renegades — Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills and The Byrds’ David Crosby to become a significant trio. Later, that trio would become a quartet, then a trio, then a quartet, then a duo and, well, you get our point.
Graham Nash is one of rock’s most trustworthy and competent songwriters and, below, we’re bringing you six songs that define Graham Nash.
Six definitive songs of Graham Nash:
‘Look Through Any Window’ – The Hollies (1965)
It’s hard to look back at Graham Nash’s career and not be drawn into the romanticism of his first band The Hollies. The group was a pop vocal harmony band and, like many of their contemporaries, spent most of their first years on the road and in the studio, recording other people’s songs. But this breakthrough single, ‘Look Through Any Window’, helps show the kind of man Nash truly was.
One might expect the singer to be an ego-driven rock star; after all, he has the career for it. But the truth is, even at the very start, he was always happy to lend his talent for the greater good. He doesn’t take the lead on this song, but his harmonies are as tight as a drum.
‘On A Carousel’ – The Hollies (1967)
The first song on our list may have showcased Nash’s ability to be an integral part of a band, but this single saw Nash finally take the leading notes of the record — the shimmering introduction. He co-wrote the 1967 hit ‘On A Carousel’ and took the lead vocal. It’s a classic piece of pop-rock gold that we’ve all come to love and enjoy.
It’s a song that is atypical of the band’s output. Focused towards creating chart-toppers rather than expressive songs, Nash became disillusioned with their output. As The Beatles and the Stones looked to experiment, The Hollies were still playing to the teeny-bopper crowd. Now, for Nash, that had become too much. By the end of 1968, he would leave the group.
‘Teach Your Children’ – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (1970)
Having joined up with David Crosby of The Byrds and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, Nash soon found an extra bandmate in Neil Young. The quartet was a compelling outfit and their second record Deja Vu is arguably one of the best supergroup albums of all time. From that album came ‘Teach Your Children’, a song which Nash had originally written while with The Hollies.
Certainly, a song too progressive for the pop crowd, Nash’s vision for the track even had room to welcome The Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia to lay down some searing steel guitar. The song has become a timeless reminder of Nash’s expert songwriting skill.
‘Chicago’ – Graham Nash (1971)
Graham Nash didn’t spend much of his early years out on his own, but one song shows why he should have reconsidered it. ‘Chicago’, a song taken from his debut solo record Songs for Beginners, is a protest anthem that looks back to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, held in the titular city. Protests surrounding the Vietnam war broke out into ugly clashes and saw eight men charged with inciting a riot.
The song’s opening line, “So your brother’s bound and gagged, and they’ve chained him to a chair”, refers to Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, the only African-American defendant, who was gagged and chained during the trial after repeated outbursts. He also pleads with his bandmates to meet him in Chicago to put on a fundraiser for the Chicago Eight, as they were known. It’s one of Nash’s most exuberant and expressive songs.
‘Just a Song Before I Go’ – Crosby, Stills and Nash (1977)
The quartet of CSNY was never going to be around for long; there was just too much ego involved. But, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash did reunite the group seven years after their previous record without Neil Young. But while the band’s makeup had changed, their sound hadn’t and ‘Just a Song Before I Go’ is a classic CSN track if we’ve ever heard one.
The gentle and lilting ballad became the first single from the band’s LP of that year, CSN. The track would reach number seven on the Billboard chart and become the group’s highest-charting hit. The truth is, Nash actually wrote the song as a bet: “Graham was a home in Hawaii, about to go off on tour,” said David Crosby. “The guy who was going to take him to the airport said, ‘We’ve got 15 minutes, I’ll bet you can’t write a song in that amount of time.’ Well, you don’t smart off to Nash like that, he’ll do it. This is the result.”
‘Wasted on the Way’ – Crosby, Stills and Nash (1982)
Five years later and the group were back together. One thing that you can never take away from Crosby, Stills & Nash is their undeniable chemistry. Their fourth album, Daylight Again, was once again punctuated by the lead single written by Nash, ‘Wasted on the Way’, a song written about the fading idealism of hippie culture.
The eighties were a brutal place for those artists who had flourished in the sixties. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, you name them, were all struggling to find their place in the new technologically-gifted decade. Rather than try to keep up with the Joneses, CSN doubled-down on their soft-rock balladry. The track proved to be their biggest hit and charted at number two for five weeks.