Posts Tagged ‘Graham Nash’

‘I Just Want To Hold You . . .’

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

So what was spinning on the basement stereo forty years ago today, as winter quarter resumed at St. Cloud State?

Almost certainly, Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners, released in 1971, was in heavy rotation. The LP log tells me that I’d picked up the album on January 4, 1975, adding one more piece to the collection of music that I’d heard nearly every day at the hostel in Denmark a year earlier.

The album had some flaws, and I think I knew that from the first few times I’d heard it on the tape player in our lounge in Denmark. Nash’s voice, I thought, didn’t feel strong enough to carry a whole album, and I thought the songwriting was erratic. Some of the songs were good, and others felt like filler put together to ensure enough material for an LP.

But I bought the album anyway, being more interested in how the record made me feel than in what my critical judgment might tell me. A quick check of a 1975 calendar tells me that I brought the record home on a Saturday, and I’m sure it was on the stereo in the basement rec room frequently that weekend.

Another quick look, this one at Pro Football Reference, tells me that there was no NFL football that weekend; I had another week to go before I watched my Minnesota Vikings fall 16-6 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. So I’m sure I listened to Nash on both Saturday and Sunday. And I no doubt reaffirmed my judgment that the best track on the record was “Simple Man.”

It is, as the lyric promises, a simple song, one that Nash wrote after he and Joni Mitchell parted ways (as is true of many of the other songs on the album). And, to me, the song’s simplicity is what makes it work. (That simplicity also made it easy to determine the chords so I could add the song to my piano repertoire of the time; I’ll likely renew my acquaintance with it soon.)

Later in 1975, I came across a cover of Nash’s tune that I liked maybe a little bit better than Nash’s original version. The cover came from Paul Williams, and it was on his 1971 album Just An Old Fashioned Love Song.

I haven’t listened to Songs For Beginners – as an album – for years. The same goes for Williams’ album. Tracks from the two records pop up on very rare occasion on the RealPlayer, and I don’t skip over them, but “Simple Man” remains the only track from Nash’s album that would really catch my ear these days. The Williams album pulls a bit more weight, with “Simple Man” being one of maybe four tracks that matter to me. (The most affecting track on Williams’ album, long-time readers with good memories might already surmise, is “Waking Up Alone,” which sends a twinge of not unpleasant melancholy through my heart whenever it shows up.)

There aren’t a lot of other covers out there, from what I can tell. After Williams’ cover, the website Second Hand Songs lists three more, and some digging at Amazon and iTunes brought no more. Middle-of-the-road vocalist Jack Jones included a version of the song on his 1973 album Together. It’s not posted at YouTube or available at either of the two retail sites, from what I can tell. (Jones’ cover of “Simple Man” likely wouldn’t be the most interesting track on that album; the closing track is a cover of Carly Simon’s “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.”)

Current day singer-songwriter Denison Witmer included “Simple Man” on Recovered, his 2003 collection of covers of mostly 1970s tunes, and Will Oldham, under the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy, recorded a Spanish version – “Simple Man (Hombre Sencillo)” – for his contribution to the 2010 release Be Yourself: A Tribute To Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners. I like Oldham’s cover a bit more than I do Witmer’s, but both of them somehow seem a little off-kilter to me.

So I’ll stick with the two 1971 versions, and if forced to choose, I’d probably go with Williams’.

Nine Out Of Ten

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten album chart from May 6, 1972, forty years ago this week:

First Take by Roberta Flack
Harvest by Neil Young
America by America
Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers Band
Fragile by Yes
Paul Simon by Paul Simon
Smokin’ by Humble Pie
Nilsson Schmilsson by Nilsson
Tapestry by Carole King
Graham Nash/David Crosby by Graham Nash & David Crosby

All but one of those albums now sit in my LP stacks (and a couple are replicated on CD). The only one of those albums that I’ve never owned is the Humble Pie effort. During the mid-1990s era of vinyl expansion, I evidently relied on the 1979/1983 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide, which pretty much said that the essential Humble Pie albums were the group’s first two – As Safe As Yesterday Is and Town and Country, both from 1969 – and a live collection. I got the first two, passed on the live collection and gave no thought to Smokin’.

I thus managed to evidently never hear “Hot ’N’ Nasty,” the one single from the album that reached the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at No. 52). This morning, that doesn’t bother me, as from the vantage point of forty years, “Hot ’N’ Nasty” seems to be nothing close to nasty and not particularly hot at all. It’s a decent piece of early Seventies boogie, and hearing it leaves me no more tempted to find the album, which peaked at No. 6, than I was an hour ago.

At least two of the other albums on that Top Ten list from forty years ago, however, would be on any list I put together of essential pop/rock albums, and three others, if they happened not to make that list, would come close. I wrote extensively about one of those essential albums, Tapestry, a year ago, so we’ll let that one go by today. The other essential album on that list, to my ears, is Eat A Peach, which includes the last material recorded by Duane Allman before his death in October 1971 as well as material recorded after that by his surviving band-mates. The album – which peaked at No. 4 – is probably best remembered for the live thirty-three minute “Mountain Jam” that was based on a theme from Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain” and took up two of the four sides of the double-LP package.

(A couple of ABB-related things: This past weekend, I read an excerpt from Gregg Allman’s new memoir, My Cross To Bear, in the current edition of Rolling Stone. The excerpt was revealing – perhaps too revealing at moments – and reflective, and it made me want to read the entire book. And as I researched this piece this morning, I finally learned at Wikipedia why the album was called Eat A Peach: “[T]he album name came from something Duane said in an interview shortly before he was killed. When asked what he was doing to help the revolution, Duane replied, ‘There ain’t no revolution, it’s evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.’”)

The three other albums from that very good Top Ten list that would at least come close to any list I might make of essential albums are those by Neil Young, Paul Simon and the duo of Graham Nash and David Crosby. That last is likely a surprise entrant, but when I sort through the solo and duet records made by the various combinations of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Graham Nash/David Crosby sits near the top of the list just behind Stephen Stills and just ahead of Young’s Harvest and Comes A Time.

So what it is about Graham Nash/David Crosby that I admire? First of all, the musicianship, with Crosby and Nash joined by a cluster of players that included the recently departed Chris Etheridge on bass, Jerry Garcia on guitar and a host of recognizable studio players. Some of my regard for the album, which went to No. 4, is no doubt related to the times; the record, more than many others, reminds me of what life felt like in 1972. And then there are the songs, ranging from Crosby’s searching and inspiring “Where Will I Be/Page 43” to one of Nash’s best: “Southbound Train.”