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Graham Nash: the 10 Records that changed my life

Graham Nash
(Image credit: Andy Grantham)

"I guess music was my religion, even though we had little of either in the house" wrote Graham Nash in his biography Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, talking about growing up in Salford, Greater Manchester. "There wasn't much singing and certainly no records – we couldn't afford 'em!"

Like so many of his generation, it was pirate station Radio Luxembourg that introduced Nash to rock'n'roll at a time when the BBC's coverage of popular music was restricted to the Light Programme. If you wanted light orchestras, dance bands, brass bands and military marches, the likes of The Billy Cotton Band Show and Music While You Work had you covered, but Luxembourg offered a glimpse into a whole new world. 

"When the weather permitted, the signal came in like magic," says Nash. "When I was a teenager, everything they played made an impression on me: The Platters, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Elvis, the whole pantheon of early rock gods."

Today, Nash is rock royalty himself, and he here picks the 10 records that changed his life.

Big Bill Broonzy - Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs

Strange as it may seem, one of the first records I liked is this recording of Bill Broonzy, because of the simplicity of the music. My favourite track is Tell Me What Kind Of Man Jesus Is. I once saw a video of him with just one single light bulb swinging - quite a video.

Gene Vincent - Be-Bop-A-Lula

The first record I got was Be-Bop-A-Lula by Gene Vincent. I swapped it for some toast that I was going to have for lunch at school. Thank you, Freddie Marsden. The reason I joined Capitol Records was because of this record. I told them that I would join if they let me hear the original 2-track recording of it. They let me hear it once… then I joined the company.

Buddy Holly - Buddy Holly

If a guitar player knew three or four chords then he or she could play almost any Buddy Holly song. As you can gather, I enjoy simplicity in all its forms. He was only 22 years old when he was killed in that fateful plane crash in February of 1959. The day he passed, my best friend Allan Clarke and I were in tears and 50 years to the day I was able to play his music in the last hall that Buddy played - The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. I visited the actual site of the crash and cried.

Chuck Berry - After School Session

Chuck Berry was the foremost American lyricist in popular music. He captured the soul of American kids and never let go. Another side of Chuck is this song: Listen to Deep Feeling, an instrumental piece that still turns me on today. The first time I ever met Chuck was at a music festival in Miami, Florida. Joni Mitchell and I were in the next room to him and we shared a bathroom… so strange.

The Everly Brothers - It's Everly Time

My absolute favourite harmonies came from the Everly Brothers, Don and Phil. I first saw them in Manchester in 1960. Allan (Clarke) and I were determined to meet them so we waited outside the Midland Hotel until 1:20am. We had missed the last bus home but did not care. We met them, blubbering to them about how Allan and I would someday love to be making records. The lads were very accommodating to us. I have a cassette of the Evs’ singing So Sad with me adding my harmony live on stage. What a memory for me.

The Beatles - Revolver

As well as the Sgt. Pepper album, I loved Revolver - the energy, the sound - particularly Tomorrow Never Knows. I don’t believe that there will ever be a group as talented as the Beatles. I met them on November 19th, 1959 at a talent contest in Manchester. They weren’t even the Beatles then. They sang a Buddy Holly song (Think It Over) but Allan and I won that night probably because the lads had to leave before the judging. Lucky us.

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

When the Beatles and The Beach Boys reminded everyone that an ‘album’ did not have to be 12 singles and B-sides, that it could be a ‘journey’, they changed musical history. This album, Pet Sounds, is a work of the pure genius of Brian Wilson. Caroline No is a favourite. This album and Sgt. Pepper moved popular music forward by miles.

Simon & Garfunkel - Bookends

One of my favourite songwriters is Paul Simon. He and Arthur Garfunkel took great care of me when the Hollies played in NYC. We had recorded Paul’s song I Am A Rock. He must have liked it because Paul came to our hotel and took me to the CBS studio where they were finishing Bookends. The song Old Friends is an absolute fave of mine. The lyrics, the melody, the emotion… stunning! America… give me a break!

Joni Mitchell - Blue

My relationship with Joni was unbelievable to me. I knew that I was in the presence of ‘genius’ when I first met Joni in Toronto, Canada. She sang me about 15 of the loveliest, passionate songs…. I was in love from that moment. Sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to. It was an incredible growth spurt for me. River… so great!

Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

And lastly, Bob. How fortunate I feel being alive at the same time as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joni, James Taylor, Paul Simon... so many wonderful writers. But no one comes close to Dylan in my humble opinion. Blowing in the Wind, Masters of War, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right… what incredible pieces of poetry. I believe that he was well honoured by the Nobel Prize.