Don't Believe the Critic: Nash's Songs for Beginners

I am a movie critic by trade, and until recently, I got paid to tell you people which movies merely stink and which ones you shouldn’t screen near an open flame. Well, I’m putting the burden of lousy movies back on you. It’s very simple: if you stop going to bad movies, they’ll stop making bad movies. If the movie used to be a TV show, just don’t go. After Roman numeral II, give it a rest. If it’s a remake of a classic, rent the classic. Tell them you want stories about people, not a hundred million dollars of stunts and explosives. People, it’s up to you. If the movie stinks, just don’t go.

Jon Lovitz’ sage wisdom as Jay Sherman is usually not to be trifled with (see: “you talk too much, talking cat”). But after listening to both Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners and the tribute album Be Yourself: A Tribute to Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners”, I can tell you this, Jay: sometimes the classic sucks, too.

I’m sure, as Pitchfork says, that this is Nash’s most “personal effort,” but it’s also stuck in permanent EZ-classic rock listening hell, complete with smooth sax. To be fair, the songs do fair well on some of the tribute’s re-imaginings, including an almost lovely (but far too dutiful) cover by his daughter, Nile Nash, of “Wounded Bird.” Which is odd, because if my dad named me Nile, I’d sure as hell record godawful versions of his songs in spite (which she figured out nicely for her version of “We Can Change the World”). I don’t know who Papercuts (“Military Madness”) or Brendan Benson (“Better Days”) are, but I’d pay a pretty penny to never find out.  Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s bizarre Spanish version of “Simple Man”* and the Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold’s cascading “Be Yourself” are keepers, if only by contrast. Nash’s original version of “Better Days” has him putting on  a passable  solo John Lennon face.  Stick to the movies, Jay.

Graham Nash, “Better Days”

Robin Peckinold, “Be Yourself”

*Bon Iver’s unrelated live cover of “Simple Man” is also noteworthy.

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3 Responses to Don't Believe the Critic: Nash's Songs for Beginners

  1. Matt K says:

    Normally I’d offer a knee-jerk defense of a Rock and Roll Legend wronged by sniveling Pitchforkians, but Graham Nash does kind of suck. I’ll stick up, a little, for “Marrakesh Express”, but most of his other stuff for CSN/Y (“Teach Your Children Well”, “My House”) sounds like its falsely fast-forwarded from the late ’80s-limpdicked-middle-aged-hippie edition of the band…

    Speaking of, their 1988 release “American Dreams” is one of the most unintentionally hilarious albums ever made. If you ever have a taste for appallingly earnest Nash ballads about the environment (“Clear Blue Skies”), or tuneless David Crosby rants about Reaganite militarism (“Nighttime for Generals”), you really need to pick that sucker up.

    • Matt K says:

      Er, I meant “Teach Your Children” and “Our House.” Regardless, they’re painful.

      In fairness, though, Ishould add that Nash’s best work was with The Hollies. Their early singles, plus “Butterfly” in 1967, are all essential Britpop documents. If you haven’t heard “Would You Believe”, you’re missing out on one of the great neglected pop epics of the mid-60s.

      • David G says:

        Ha. Evidence you’re a kind person, Matt:

        1. You defend the undefendable Graham Nash (sort of).
        2. You read my blog.
        3. You comment on my blog.
        4. You insist that it’s important to keep Israel as our ally.

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