Friday, September 27, 2013

Crosby, Stills & Nash -- "You Don't Have to Cry" (1969)

In the mornin', when you rise
Do you think of me
And how you left me cryin'?

The previous 2 or 3 lines featured "King Midas in Reverse," a great Graham Nash song that the Hollies released in September 1967.  Click here if you missed it.

The day after I wrote that post, I learned that Nash was coming to Washington in a few days to talk about his brand-new autobiography, Wild Tales, at the Library of Congress.  

I went to hear Nash speak and to buy a copy of the book, which described "King Midas in Reverse" as "an introspective song about how my life was in turmoil" at the time.  

My marriage with Rose was starting to come apart . . . . I was outgrowing the band I loved and had spent my youth with. . . . So the song was about a king who thinks everything he touches turns to gold, when it's really turning to shit.

In 1967, Nash was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the musical direction of the Hollies, who in only three years had released a dozen singles that had made it into the UK top ten.  ("Bus Stop," "Stop Stop Stop," and "Carrie Anne" were top ten hits in the U.S., while "On a Carousel" made it to #11.) 

Nash autographs his book
at the Library of Congress
That summer, Nash and his wife Rose vacationed in Morocco.  A train ride from Casablanca to Marrakesh inspired him to write "Marrakesh Express."  He thought it would be the song that enabled the Hollies to come of age as a rock band, but the rest of the group didn't want to record it.

We went around and around with it before they agreed to give it a try.  There was a session at Abbey Road that went absolutely nowhere.  The Hollies cut an awful track that I hope no one ever hears . . .

By contrast, Nash, his childhood friend Allan Clarke, and the rest of the Hollies had high hopes for "King Midas in Reverse."

The Hollies made a great record of "King Midas in Reverse."  They liked the song, liked what it had to say, and it made us stretch in the studio. . . . When I heard [the finished track], I was ecstatic, and so were the rest of the guys.  It was innovative a huge leap forward.  I thought it signaled a real transformation.  Once we put it out, the doors would be wide open, and the Hollies could do anything.

The Hollies in 1967
The new single "was greeted with a chorus of stunning reviews," Nash writes.  

But it wasn't the hit that we'd all expected.  It was a commercial failure.  In retrospect, I think "King Midas' was just too weird . . . It was more of a Graham Nash record with the Hollies on it, and that sound was still a few years off.

The song made it only to #18 on the UK singles chart -- which doesn't sound bad until you realize that 12 of their previous 13 singles had done better.  And it flopped in the U.S., where it peaked at #51.

The record's failure marked the beginning of the end for Nash and the Hollies.

The worst backlash from the record was what it did to my relationship with the Hollies.  Afterward, they no longer trusted my judgment.  I suggested any number of songs as a follow-up, but they backed away from all of them.  

The band went to North America to tour in January 1968, but Nash's heart wasn't in it.  He felt like he was just sleepwalking through life -- not only was his relationship with the Hollies on the rocks, but so was his marriage.  

Nash met Joni Mitchell on March 15, 1968, at a party thrown by the Hollies' record company after they had performed in Ottawa, Canada.

Nash and Mitchell
Mitchell invited Nash back to her hotel room and played fifteen of her songs for him.  (Many of those songs were released on her first album, Song to a Seagull, which was released later that month.)  

"I was awestruck," Nash writes in Wild Tales, "not only as a man but as a musician."

I thought I knew what songwriting was all about, but after listening to Joni's masterpieces . . . I realized how little I knew. . . . My heart opened up and I fell deeply in love with this woman on the spot.

We spent the night together.  I'll never forget it for the rest of my life.  It was magical on so many different levels.

Nash and the Hollies returned to England at the conclusion of the tour.  The band decided to do an album of Bob Dylan covers.  They did a version of "Blowin' in the Wind" that Nash describes as having a "slick, saccharine, Las Vegasy" -- it was "just awful."  

Nash recording the audiobook
version of Wild Tales
The unhappy musician moved out of his home at about the same time that he gave thumbs down to the Dylan (which the Hollies eventually completed after he had left the band).  His marriage was over -- his wife had met someone on a trip to Spain, and Nash was in love with Joni Mitchell.  

In August, Nash flew to Los Angeles to visit Mitchell.  When he arrived at Mitchell's modest Laurel Canyon house, she was having dinner with David Crosby (formerly of the Byrds) and Stephen Stills (formerly of Buffalo Springfield).  Nash and Crosby were good friends, and he and Stills were acquainted.

Joni Mitchell inside her
Laurel Canyon home
Shortly after Nash arrived, Crosby and Stills started singing "You Don't Have to Cry," a song that Stills had just written.  "Their harmonies were gorgeous [and] airtight," according to Nash, and he asked them to sing the song a second time.  The two were bemused when Nash asked them to sing the song one more time, but acceded to his request.

On that third run-through, Nash joined in.  

I had my breath down, the phrasing, the tuning.  I put my harmony above Stephen, and off we sailed.  What a sound!  We were so locked in, tight as a drum.  Flawless three-part harmony.  It sounded so soft and beautiful, so incredible that a minute or so into the song we collapsed in laughter.

The bands the three men had once been part of -- the Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, and the Hollies -- were famous for their two-part vocal harmonies, but the three-part singing they did that night was something new.

It shocked David and Stephen.  I'm not sure they'd ever thought about the song in three parts.  But I'd heard it right away.

Nash, Stills, and Crosby
After an idyllic weekend with Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash flew back to England.  By the time the plane had landed, he had a plan -- he was moving to Los Angeles to be with Joni Mitchell, and he was going to say good-bye to the Hollies and forge a musical partnership with Crosby and Stills.

I had heard the future in the power of those voices.  And I knew my life would never be the same.

"You Don't Have to Cry" is the fourth track on side one of Crosby, Stills & Nash, which was released the day before my 17th birthday -- May 29, 1969.  

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

No comments:

Post a Comment