[Review] Graham Nash: Songs For Beginners (1971)

Nash’s first is a very, very, very fine outing that suggests CSN mixed with The Beatles on a more modest scale.

Kronomyth 1.0: All things must Nash.

If “Our House” was the best Beatles song the band never wrote, then Songs For Beginners is the best Beatles solo album that none of the Fab Four ever released. That’s not to suggest that Graham Nash was consciously copying The Beatles or Bob Dylan, at least not anymore than anyone else, but his first album combines British pop, ballads and a social conscience in the best possible ways. Though the last member of Crosby, Stills and Nash to release a solo album, Nash made it the best of his career. Honestly, the first three solo albums from Crosby, Stills and Nash were better salve to the wounded hearts of their fans than what John, Paul, George and Ringo had to offer.

When I tell you that Songs For Beginners is my favorite solo album from Crosby, Stills or Nash (Neil Young’s Harvest is better in my opinion), it’s with the caveat that I’m a anglophile at heart. Beatles fans should immediately warm up to “Military Madness” and “Be Yourself;” Bobby Keys’ sax solo on “There’s Only One” will also feel like a bit of home. CSN fans will instantly recall “Chicago,” introduced a month earlier on the live 4 Way Street, and appreciate the acoustic “Wounded Bird.” Over the course of the album, Nash emerges as a remarkably complete songwriter. There are a few lyrical missteps (“You’ll wear the coat of questions till the answer hat arrives” from “Wounded Bird” always makes me laugh), but the balance decidedly falls on the side of wisdom and love.

Where Stills’ first record was sometimes overshadowed by his guests, and Crosby seemed to prefer working in the shadow of his own inscrutable muse, the supporting musicians on Songs For Beginners are the spice to Nash’s humble pie. Dave Mason, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and David Lindley provide a distinctive flavor to Nash’s simple songs without overpowering them (although Mason comes dangerously close). I had secretly hoped that Nash’s first record would sound like the home that “Our House” built. Songs For Beginners doesn’t disappoint. It proves that music can change the world and make it a better place, even if only for half an hour.

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Original LP Version

A1. Military Madness (2:50)
A2. Better Days (3:47)
A3. Wounded Bird (2:09)
A4. I Used To Be A King (4:45)
A5. Be Yourself (Graham Nash/Terry Reid) (3:03)
B1. Simple Man (2:05)
B2. Man In The Mirror (2:47)
B3. There’s Only One (3:55)
B4. Sleep Song (2:57)
B5. Chicago (2:55)
B6. We Can Change The World (1:00)

All songs written by Graham Nash unless noted.

Original 8-track version
A1. Military Madness
A2. Be Yourself
A3. Wounded Bird
B1. I Used To Be A King
B2. Better Days
C1. Simple Man
C2. Man in the Mirror
C3. Sleep Song
D1. There’s Only One
D2. Chicago
D3. We Can Change the World

The Players

Graham Nash (lead vocal, acoustic guitar, piano, organ, paper & comb, tambourine, background vocals), Johnny Barbata (drums, tambourine) with Pat Arnold (background vocals on A1), Joel Bernstein (piano on A1), Rita Coolidge (background vocals, piano, electric piano), Larry Cox (whiskers on A2/B3/B5/B6), David Crosby (electric guitar on A4), Chris Ethridge (bass on B2/B3/B5/B6), Vanetta Fields (background vocals on B3/B5/B6), Jerry Garcia (piano & steel guitar on A4, steel guitar on B2), Bobby Keys (saxophone solo on B3), Clydie King (background vocals on B3/B5/B6), Phil Lesh (bass on A4), David Lindley (fiddle on B1), David Mason (electric guitar on A1), Shirley Matthews (background vocals on B3/B5/B6), Dorothy Morrison (background vocals on B3/B5/B6), Seemon Posthuma (bass clarinet solo on A2), Dorian Rudnytsky (celli on B1/B4), Calvin Samuels (bass on A1/A2/A5), Dallas Taylor (drums on A2), Joe Yankee (piano on A2/B2). Produced by Graham Nash; engineered by Bill Halverson, Larry Cox & Ross Gary; re-mix engineered by Glynn Johns.

The Pictures

Art direction design by Gary Burden. Cover photography by Graham Nash. Inside sleeve photography by Joel Bernstein.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on May 28, 1971 in the US, Australia and Canada (Atlantic, SD 7204), the UK (Atlantic, 2401 011), Germany (Atlantic, 50.006) and Japan (Atlantic, P-8111A) and in 1972 in Argentina (Atlantic, 2400 168) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #15 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record) and #13 on the UK charts. German elpee features gatefold cover. Also released on 8-track in 1971 in the US (Ampex, M 87204) with different track order.

  1. Re-packaged with David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name in 1973 on 2-for-1 2LP as 2 Originals of David Crosby Graham Nash in Germany (Atlantic, ATL 60 064).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in South Korea (Oscar/Taedo, EU 1006) with monochrome cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Taiwan (First, FL-2066) and in China/Taiwan (CSJ, CSJ-1123).
  4. Re-issued on cassette in Australia (Atlantic, 61139-4).
  5. Re-issued on cassette in Italy (Atlantic, W 440237).
  6. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in the UK (Atlantic, K-40237).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1988 in the US (Atlantic, 7204-2/CS 7204) and Germany (Atlantic, 81416-2).
  8. Re-released on 200g vinyl elpee on November 6, 2001 in the US (Classic Records, SD 7204).
  9. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Atlantic, 79770).
  10. Re-released on expanded compact disc+DVD in 2008 in Europe (Rhino, 79949) with new stereo and advanced resolution mixes.
  11. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee on October 20, 2009 in the US (Atlantic).
  12. Re-issued on compact disc on November 25, 2015 in Japan (Warner, WPCR-15259).

1 thought on “[Review] Graham Nash: Songs For Beginners (1971)

  1. Great short review of an album that is surely too unknown nowadays.

    It is unbelievable what four incredibly great musicians have come together on CSN(Y). For me they belong to the greatest songwriters and musicians ever.

    And I can recommend everyone to discover (for me their early) solo works all. A great enrichment.

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