Released in the spring of 1971, Graham Nash’s emotionally charged solo debut followed in the wake of a temporary split with his bandmates, David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and a permanent break with his love, Joni Mitchell.
The album was a decisive hit, peaking at #15 on Billboard and spawning the Top 40 hit “Chicago.”
Rhino has remasteredthis legendary musician’s first album for a landmark CD/DVD reissue that features 5.1 Surround Sound and High Resolution mixes of the original, along with a 2008 interview with Nash, photos and lyrics. Songs for Beginners is available now from Rhino Records at a suggested list price of $24.98. Click here for more details!
With no plans to record an album, Nash says his debut was an unexpected gift. After writing several poignant songs about his break up with Mitchell (“Better Days,” “Simple Man” and “I Used To Be King”) and Still’s rocky relationship with Judy Collins (“Wounded Bird”), Nash was inspired to keep writing.
“I realized I could craft something special that you could listen to and could help you in your own life,” he says. “At the time I wrote those songs, they were very hopeful. There was bleakness, but I tried to put an opening of light at the end.”
The story behind “Simple Man” is a classic. Nash wrote the song about the dissolution of his affair with Mitchell in June 1970 just a few hours before he was to take to the stage with Crosby, Stills and Young for the group’s opening-night show at the Fillmore East in New York. That evening, Nash debuted the song alone at the piano with Mitchell sitting in front of him in the audience.
Despite the gentle tone, Songs for Beginners is book-ended by two protest songs, the opening memoir “Military Madness” and “Chicago,” a piano-driven march on behalf of the Chicago 7, then on trial for conspiracy and inciting to riot during the violent protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Recorded in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Nash made Songs for Beginners with a combination of kindred souls from both cities, including Crosby, CSNY touring drummer Johnny Barbata, original Flying Burrito Brothers bassist Chris Ethridge, singer Rita Coolidge, fiddler David Lindley, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh, and Neil Young, who is credited on the album as “Joe Yankee.”
Songs for Beginners is written and performed in a conversational tone of voice, often just above a whisper. It is tender in its honesty, warm and calm in its pace and determination. “Yes, it was quiet,” Nash admits. “But I wanted it to be straight from my heart to whoever listened to it. What I’m saying has survived pretty well.”