Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners

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  • With two amazing Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this original pressing has the analog magic in its grooves
  • We love the All Analog Tubey Magical sound of the recording, especially on a copy as rich and full-bodied as this one
  • Arguably the best of the solo CSN albums – a founding member of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List and, with grades like these, a True Demo Disc
  • 4 1/2 stars: “From the soaring “I Used to Be a King” through the gossamer “Simple Man” to the wah-wah-laden “Military Madness,” the record is filled with gorgeous melodies, flawless singing, and lyrical complexities that hold up decades later.”

When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how cinematic the sound is! It’s everything we love about analog and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better.

Others (Sleep Song, Wounded Bird) are quiet and intimate. Their subtlety is highlighted by the big productions surrounding them. This is the rare album in which every aspect of the production, from the arrangements to the final mix, serves to bring out the best qualities in the songs, regardless of scale.

What the Best Sides of Songs For Beginners Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

N versus C, S, and Y

The recording is of course superb throughout, in the best tradition of Crosby Stills and Nash’s classic early albums: transparent, smooth and sweet vocals, with loads of midrange magic; deep punchy bass (wait until you hear Better Days!); lovely extension on the top to capture the shimmer of the cymbals and harmonic trails of the acoustic guitars; with the whole balanced superbly by one of our all-time heroes, Glyn Johns.

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?

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 We’re Listening For on Songs For Beginners

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Choruses Are Key

The richness, sweetness, and freedom from artificiality are most apparent where you most often hear it on a top quality pop recording: in the loudest choruses.

We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly grow to be without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record. On Breakfast in America, the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is the biggest and loudest sound on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson’s near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming “Who I am” about three quarters of the way through.

Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it’s the final chorus that gets bigger and louder than anything else.

A pop song is usually structured to build up more and more power as it works its way through its verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a dynamic recording such as this one, played back at good loud levels on big speakers in a dedicated room, the big climaxes of the bigger productions should be as huge and as powerful as any music you know.

A Must Own Pop Record

Graham Nash’s debut is clearly his Masterpiece.

It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Military Madness
Better Days

This easily qualifies as the best test track for side one. It starts out with a soft, intimate vocal from Nash — the more intimate the sound here, the better. The hot stamper copies have an immediacy and a presence that is breathtaking.

Listen also for the sound of the piano. If the piano sounds full and rich, yet clear and not at all smeared, you are off to a very good start. On the best copies you can follow the chords behind the lead instruments throughout the song. The piano easily gets lost on most copies. On the truly transparent pressings you can always hear what the piano player is doing, how his contribution is aiding the material overall, even when its far in the background. That’s what a Hot Stamper gives you: the chance to appreciate every intrument as it works it way through the song.

Ah, but what really separates the men from the boys is the double-tracked vocal (one Nash clearly singing out of each speaker or course!), starting with “Now that you know it’s nowhere… What’s to stop you coming home?” On the killer copies he gets very loud but never for a moment does his voice cross the line into hardess or shrillness. To borrow a phrase from those days, his voice stays natural, even when he’s pushing hard. That’s the emotional peak of the song. The last thing you want is for the sound to be aggressive and call attention to itself.

Most copies will have you wincing by this point if you are at any sort of serious level on this track. Only one original stamper gets his voice right on side one. (No reissue or import or heavy vinyl version I’ve ever heard is even competitive with the best originals, so don’t waste your money.)

The only early stampers I know of are A, B, C, D, E and F, so you have a one in six chance of guessing it. Three are terrible as a rule and the remaining two others can be quite good if pressed right. But there’s only one King of the Side One Stampers. It certainly can’t guarantee the best sound, but every Triple Plus side one has this letter in the dead wax. It’s the stamper to beat, that’s for sure. Based on playing dozens and dozens of copies over the last few years, the crown appears to be safe. (There are two stampers for side two we like however.)

The bass clarinet solo (I always thought it was a tenor sax!) almost never sounds right unless you have an especially magical copy. It’s usually hard sounding. Leaner copies tend to make it sound thin. Thick and opaque or just plain rolled off copies make it sound dull.

And last but not least, you need well defined deep bass. There’s plenty of it on this album, stuff well under 30 cycles — it really rumbles the room. There’s an organ playing way down deep underneath this track from early on; a startling effect is created when it suddenly comes to a stop. The more startled you are the better. It’s one of the most powerful audio phenomena I’ve ever experienced, further proof that this album is truly an engineering tour de force.

Wounded Bird
I Used to Be a King
Be Yourself

Side Two

Simple Man
Man in the Mirror
There’s Only One
Sleep Song

The next track is our best test for side two, but we’ve found that dropping the needle at the end of the previous song can often be instructive. Such is the case here. Just listen for the breathy quality of Nash’s voice, and the delicate harmonics of the acoustic guitars. You need real transparency and extension at the top to get this one right.

Want to tweak your system? We used this track and the followup for hours one night. You can’t put a foot wrong with sound like this. It will show you the error of your ways — or reward your real successes — in a heartbeat.

Chicago
We Can Change the World

The two last songs here are wedded together, the latter being the chorus of the former. Let me tell you folks: this is ANALOG MAGIC AT ITS BEST. You will never hear a CD sound like this if you live to be a hundred. The midrange is so rich and sweet it makes 99% of all the recordings you’ve ever heard pale in comparison.

The more the individual voices can be heard, free of even the slightest trace of grit or grain, the better the copy. The sound is nothing short of GLORIOUS. This song is Demo Disc material. It rivals Anything on Any superdisc list compiled by Anybody, and that includes me!

The famous female backup singers here are on scores if not hundreds of albums from the era. Some of the very same girls’ voices can clearly be heard on Prezel Logic and Aja, to name just a couple of albums we’ve played to death around here. See if you can pick them out of the throng.

One last thing: listen for the organ at the beginning of the song. It should be really punchy with tons of solid low end; it drives the beat like crazy. It’s so funky I’m surprised nobody’s sampled it yet. Maybe they have. How the hell would I know? I don’t listen to that %#/@.

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

This wonderful album, recorded with help from an all-star crew including David Crosby, Neil Young, Dave Mason, and Rita Coolidge, may not be the best solo record to come out of the CSNY orbit (Neil Young has it beat), but it is the most charming and genial. Like Graham Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” and “Teach Your Children,” it inevitably brings a smile to anyone who hears it.

From the soaring “I Used to Be a King” (almost a distant, mature, altered point-of-view sequel to “King Midas in Reverse”) through the gossamer “Simple Man” to the wah-wah-laden “Military Madness,” the record is filled with gorgeous melodies, flawless singing, and lyrical complexities that hold up decades later.

“Man in the Mirror” is almost Nash’s answer to Young’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” even containing similar tempo changes.