10.29-MARRAKESH EXPRESS (Crosby, Stills, & Nash)

Crosby, Stills & Nash



Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes.
Traveling in the train through clear Moroccan skies.
Ducks and pigs and chickens call;
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue.

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind.
Had to get away to see what we could find.
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they've led--
Listen not to what's been said to you.

     Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express? (2x)
     They're taking me to Marrakesh.
     All on aboard the train! (2x)

          I've been saving all my money just to take you there.
          I smell the garden in your hair.

Take the train from Casablanca going south.
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth.
Colored cottons hang in the air;
Charming cobras in the square.
Striped djellebas we can wear at home.

     Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express? (2x)
     They're taking me to Marrakesh.
     Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express? (2x)
     They're taking me to Marrakesh.
     All on board the train! (2x)
     All on board!

[Coda and fade]

By this time, there was a general realization in the press that the Beatles were in the process of breaking up, though it had not been officially announced. The Beatles had been filming Let It Be, and the press paid attention to the further dissension between members of the group and reported about it widely in the media. As a fan of psychedelic music, I wondered at the time what group or band, if any, would fill the gap. Tommy had set a new standard for pop art; perhaps it would be The Who? It turned out that the Beatles audience split between the dominance of the English Led Zeppelin group (their first album was released in January 1969) and the Americans Crosby, Stills and Nash (with their first release in May 1969). Led Zeppelin, at least for the first years of their prominence, followed on the development of psychedelic music into heavy metal, going forward from two other dissolved group enterprises, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. Crosby, Stills and Nash, during their brief two years of prominence as a band, followed developments laid out by the Byrds, the Hollies and Buffalo Springfield. It is interesting to note that Led Zeppelin continued a group identity, and maintained its membership until 1980 (with the death of John Bonham), while Crosby, Stills and Nash presented themselves individually as a casual team, backed by an impermanent staff of backup musicians. As the psychological fissures in the Beatles became more apparent, some other musicians were taking note of their example and trying to form musical associations that had less group consciousness. Crosby, Stills and Nash were all veterans of groups; they didn’t want to be confined by a group identity again.

The Crosby, Stills and Nash album is not psychedelic, though it carries some strong psychedelic flavor in the songs I’ve included in this collection. The general impression the album gives is that of an enlightened folk rock, part of the singer-songwriter fashion of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. Rather than use psychedelic effects for variety, these singer-songwriters were often informed by a jazz compostitional architecture. However, singer-songwriters were distinct from the traditional folk rock fashion that sought to write enduring timeless classics in groups like The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and for whom psychedelic effects would have been anachronistic.

Marrakesh Express was written by Graham Nash about his Moroccan trip from Casablanca to Marrakesh back in 1966. Given the date and the subject matter, I would confidently venture to guess that this song had been conceived as a psychedelic song. Perhaps it was the kind of song the Hollies wouldn’t have allowed him to do, though it’s not explicit, and the Hollies weren’t exactly shy about drug use (witness Try It). Stephen Stills gives the song its psychedelic edge—discovering a sound not heard on the airwaves before. Lindsay Planer wrote in allmusic that according to the liner notes of the 1993 Gold Standard edition of the album, the reedy sound (akin to the Beatles’ Baby You’re a Rich Man and Cream’s Doing that Scrapyard Thing) was produced by processing notes on an electric guitar through a mixer and then overlaying it with its doubled recording, reduced by a third of a tone, which gave the effect of a small horn section.

Morocco was one of the main sources (along with India) of what would become “world music” of the classic psychedelic era. The Incredible String Band had promulgated the sound of Morocco to the English audience, and Morocco thereafter informed some of the psychedelic music by Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones) and Donovan. The country was also a source for hashish, and well known by European hippies.

Nash’s lyrical writing style would become more evident as the singer-songwriter era progressed. Marrakesh Express is simply a travelogue of specific temporal observations of an exotic place, in the style of journalist or a documentary cinematographer. The poet acknowledges his need for adventure and confesses his fears in the second verse, but most of the A sections are involved in description of what the poet is seeing. It’s on an everyday plane. The song ends with the poet deciding to buy a djellebas that he and his companion can wear around the house. The detailed travel writing seems the precursor of some Joni Mitchell’s songs, especially in the Blue period (1971).