This is one of the records that convinced me that I should enthusiastically and actively pursue high quality home audio – that I should devote the time, energy and money into improving my system so that I could play records like Songs for Beginners louder and get them to sound clearer.
I had such inexpressibly deep feelings while listening to the album that I knew I had to do everything in my power to make it sound as good as possible. And the song that really did it for me on the album was Better Days.
I was originally thinking of calling this commentary “Why I Became an Audiophile”, but I quickly realized that being an audiophile — a lover of sound — doesn’t necessarily involve buying lots of expensive audio equipment or searching out recordings with higher fidelity.
No, being an audiophile simply means you love good sound. Where you find it — at clubs, at home, in the concert hall or the car — makes no difference whatsoever.
Songs for Beginners couldn’t make me an audiophile; I already was one. It did, however, make me a more dedicated audio enthusiast. It’s precisely the kind of record that rewards the 40 plus years I’ve put into this hobby, trying to get it and hundreds, now thousands, of other wonderful records to sound their best.
When I first acquired Audio Research tube gear (ARC SP3-A & D-75A) in the mid-’70s I thought I had arrived. The sound was glorious compared to the Crown transistor amp and preamp they had replaced. Little did I know that I had a very long journey ahead of me (which would, truth be told, not include ARC gear for long).
We’re still trying to make the system sound better, and Songs for Beginners is a test of sorts. If, in our recent shootout, the album hadn’t sounded better than it had last time around, one thing would likely be true: I would know that I had done something to the stereo that I shouldn’t have. (Mostly true but not always true: sometimes you just don’t have the good fortune to find an amazing pressing in the random batch of records you shoot out. It’s rare but it happens.)
But Songs for Beginners does sound better than it used to, much better, and it gets better with each passing year, a reality that our Revolutions in Audio commentary discusses at length.
N versus C, S, and Y
In fact, the sound of this album is so good in so many ways, it prompted me to ask the question: Are any of the other albums by Nash’s bandmates as well recorded? Albums by CSN and/or Y, not a chance. They’re well-recorded, don’t get me wrong, but this one is in another league altogether.
Surveying the complete output of all the members would be time consuming, so I’ll cut to the chase. The short answer is three: David Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, the clear winner of this comparison, followed by two of Neil Young’s: After the Gold Rush and Zuma. Each of them has its own “sound” which is detailed on the site in their respective Hot Stamper listings.
Add Graham Nash’s debut to the list and you have a quartet of recordings that put to shame practically anything from the era. Which is really saying something; the late ’60s to mid-’70s is when all the best modern pop recordings were made, in my audiophile opinion (IMAO).
What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit each of the artists on the list to a maximum of one entry per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will no doubt be broken from time to time.
For a record to come to my Desert Island Disc, said record: 1) must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio enthusiast been played enthusiastically, fanatically even, causing me to feel what Leonard Bernstein called “the joy of music”; 2) my sixty year old self must currently respect the album, and; 3) I must think I will want to listen to the music fairly often and well into the future (not knowing how long I may be stranded there).
How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles will be added as time permits.