Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Teach Your Children. This is an inspirational folk-rock song and one of my personal favorites. We will start with the original version by Crosby, Stills and Nash, and then discuss covers of that song by Hanson and Richie Havens.
Crosby, Stills and Nash and Teach Your Children:
We had previously mentioned the group Crosby, Stills & Nash in our blog post on the Ian & Sylvia song Someday Soon.
The group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was formed by members from three different singing groups. In fact, this band is unique in that every member of this group has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Crosby, Stills and Nash were inducted in 1997 for their work in this band.
Below is a 1994 photo of, from L, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Graham Nash.
David Crosby had been tossed out of the Byrds in 1967, and in 1968 Stephen Stills’ band Buffalo Springfield had disintegrated. Then in 1968, Graham Nash dropped out of his band, The Hollies.
All three musicians had been burned by their experiences with their earlier bands, and were reluctant to begin a new collaboration. On the other hand, their jam sessions together produced some exciting music, and so they decided to form a group.
They deliberately gave the band all of their surnames,
as identification to ensure independence and a guarantee that the band could not continue without one of them, unlike both the Byrds and the Hollies.
The band then signed with Atlantic Records, in part because Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun had produced Buffalo Springfield.
Their first album was released in May, 1969 and was really a revelation. In particular, Stephen Stills’ song Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was a stunningly beautiful and complex depiction of Stills’ disintegrating relationship with his then-girlfriend Judy Collins. The album sold like hotcakes.
Stephen Stills was a superb, creative guitarist, David Crosby was arguably the best folk-rock harmony singer on the planet, and Graham Nash was an extremely talented singer. In addition, all three proved to be first-rate songwriters.
CSN, together with Neil Young, headlined at Woodstock in August 1969. In my opinion, their appearance at that festival was sub-par, however their fame was considerably strengthened by their exposure at Woodstock.
Teach Your Children is a Graham Nash song that appeared on the 1970 Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album Déjà vu. An interesting note is that Nash wrote the song while still a member of The Hollies. The fact that the group voted against recording that song was one of the reasons that Nash decided to leave the group.
Apparently the direct inspiration for the song came when Nash saw Diane Arbus’ famous photograph “Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park.”
That famous, disturbing photograph is shown at left. Nash is an accomplished photographer and has a renowned collection of photographs, and seeing this photo highlighted his concerns about the messages that children were absorbing from the media’s focus on war and conflict.
In addition, apparently Nash’s relationship with his father was a rather tense one. So he wrote a song in which he first directed his attention to the issues parents face when attempting to provide their children with a set of uplifting moral values. Conversely, he urged children to transmit their idealism and activism to their parents.
The first half of the song is directed to parents, regarding advice for bringing up children (remember, this is during the 60s). Parents are urged to “teach your children well,” and “feed them on your dreams.”
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
At the same time, since your children will undoubtedly choose their own path and quite possibly break your heart in the process, parents are given the following advice:
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.
The second half of the song provides the mirror image: advice for children in coping with their parents.
And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
The song ends by giving children exactly the same advice that was earlier provided to their parents.
In general, I have a deep emotional attachment to the music I grew up with; even so, this tune touches a special chord with me. The song has become an anthem for my generation, and I hope that it continues to inspire families to work on communication. Teach Your Children brings me to tears nearly every time I listen to it.
Here is the audio of Teach Your Children from the 1970 CSNY album Déjà vu.
The wonderful pedal steel guitar work on this song was provided by Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. It is said that Jerry volunteered his services for this song, in return for CSN helping to tutor the Dead on harmony singing for their upcoming album Workingman’s Dead.
If this is true, it represents an outstanding “win-win” situation. Jerry’s guitar work here is uplifting, a beautiful counterpart to the melody of this song. And the Workingman’s Dead album marked a major shift (and, to my taste, a significant step forward) in the Grateful Dead’s musical focus.
Apparently for their Déjà vu album, CSNY recorded the vocal tracks separately. Each member came in to the recording studio and produced his individual vocal contribution. I must admit, it seems strange that an album that features such beautiful group harmonies was recorded in individual sessions, but one can’t argue with the outcome.
Now here are Crosby, Stills and Nash performing Teach Your Children at Live Aid 1985, in Philadelphia.
This is highly enjoyable – the gigantic stadium audience really gets into this tune, sings along to the chorus, and applauds like crazy at the end of the song.
Teach Your Children is frequently the final song at CSN concerts. As you see from the video, it remains a terrifically popular tune, and apparently it touches the hearts of many people in addition to me.
Following the release of their first album, CSNY became super-stars. And predictably, many of the tensions and conflicts returned that each of them had previously experienced in his earlier band. Over the years, the members of CSN have broken up, re-formed, mounted solo careers, and gone out on tour individually or in various combinations.
I attributed the song Teach Your Children to Crosby, Stills and Nash, even though it is a cut from a ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’ album. My understanding is that Neil Young does not appear on this particular song. [Neil, if I’m wrong, my apologies. Eat a peach.]
In any event, Neil Young has gone his own way for some time now. At random intervals he re-appears with his other CSNY mates for an individual show or charity appearance, but such events are fairly rare nowadays.
Crosby, Stills and Nash have each carved out a significant individual career, and together they have been a major influence on folk-rock music. What terrific songs they have produced, enough to fill up a most satisfying segment of my iPod. Well done, guys!
Hanson and Teach Your Children:
Hanson are an American pop-rock trio made up of three brothers, who originally hail from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Each of the three members sings, and plays piano and guitar. In addition, from L in the photo below: Taylor Hanson plays keyboards and drums, Zac plays drums, and Isaac plays bass.
In the early 90s, the brothers began as a capella singers, performing in the Tulsa area. Early in their career they recorded two independent albums. In 1996, they were ‘discovered’ at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas and eventually signed with Mercury Records.
In 1997 they released their first Mercury album Middle of Nowhere. This album contained the single record MMMBop. That song exploded like a bombshell, shooting up to #1 on the pop charts in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Germany and Mexico.
MMMBop was a throwback – it sounded like an updated doo-wop record, or an early Jackson 5 production. The comparison to the Jackson 5 was apt, as at the time of its release the youngest Hanson brother, Zac, was just twelve. MMMBop made Hanson overnight sensations, and they immediately attracted a devoted following of screaming teeny-boppers. In recognition of their fame, the governor of Oklahoma denoted May 6 “Hanson Day” in their honor.
Hanson also came in for much criticism, partly because of their status as teen idols, and partly because MMMBop was perceived by some as being saccharine and insubstantial. Personally, I loved MMMBop. The record was energetic and bouncy, I really enjoy that genre of pop music, and both the Hanson brothers’ vocals and the production values were quite impressive.
Since that first big record, Hanson have never quite re-captured the commercial magic of MMMBop. However, they have demonstrated that they are not just one-hit wonders.
Here is a live video of Hanson singing Teach Your Children, from a performance in 2003.
I find this quite impressive. It is extremely simple, basically the three brothers singing with acoustic guitar accompaniment. Also it is a respectful performance of an inspirational song.
Hanson’s career suffered when their label, Mercury Records, was merged with Island Def Jam Records. Unfortunately, the Hanson brothers had major creative differences with the new company’s management.
As a result, Hanson was forced to pay the expenses for their own tour for their second album. In 2003, they left Island Def Jam and now produce records through their own company, 3CG Records. This is a tough way to negotiate the music business, and although Hanson’s sales are impressive for a private label, they don’t get the same support and distribution that they would from a major record company.
However, Hanson’s initial success has kept them going. Their career has been the subject of a couple of movie documentaries, and they continue to produce records and go on tours. We wish them continued success.
Richie Havens and Teach Your Children:
Richie Havens was a prominent folk-singer, songwriter and political activist. He was the oldest of nine children born in Brooklyn to a Native American father and a mother of West Indian descent.
Havens’ paternal grandparents had a fascinating history. They were both members of the Blackfoot tribe, and they toured the U.S. as members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. However, they quit the touring company once they reached New York City, and the family eventually settled in Brooklyn.
Richie became a member of the Greenwich Village beatnik scene. Initially, he participated in poetry readings, but he then gravitated to folk music. Havens attracted a following there and was signed by super-manager Albert Grossman, who also managed artists such as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Below is a photo of Richie Havens as most of the world was introduced to him: as the first performer at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969.
In the late 1960s, Richie Havens was not widely known outside the East Coast folk music scene. However, that all changed radically after his performance at Woodstock in 1969. Havens was originally scheduled to perform a short set; however, the crowds were so enormous that all roads leading into the festival became blocked.
The net result was that subsequent performers were caught in massive traffic jams, and had to be transported to the festival by helicopter. The organizers asked Richie to prolong his set until the next musicians could arrive.
Not only did Richie Havens perform for three hours at Woodstock, but his live performance was one of the highlights of the Woodstock movie. After Havens completely exhausted his repertoire of songs, he improvised a song on the spot, using the traditional spiritual Motherless Child as a template. That tune became Freedom, one of Havens’ signature songs. His electrifying performance at Woodstock made Havens into an international celebrity, and he enjoyed a long and notable career thereafter.
Richie Havens developed a unique style, which led him to be very creative in his music. Self-taught on the guitar, Havens developed an “open-tuning” playing style. By re-tuning the strings on his guitar, he was able to produce a number of chords simply by strumming the guitar and sliding his thumb up and down the neck of his instrument.
As a result of his idiosyncratic technique, Havens’ music was almost never a direct copy of another tune. He brought a thoughtful and intriguing character to virtually every one of his songs.
You can see this in his cover of Teach Your Children. This is from an October 1971 performance. Be sure to note his guitar technique during this song.
Isn’t this terrific? Richie Havens takes a great song from Graham Nash, and converts it to a radically different but equally impressive folk-jazz tune. Accompanied by acoustic guitar, bass and conga drum, Havens produces a slow-paced but deeply moving song about communication between generations.
Richie Havens was also a political activist. He was passionate about environmental issues, and he founded an oceanographic children’s museum located on City Island in the Bronx. Richie performed at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, and he was a headliner at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1999.
In April 2013, Richie Havens died of a heart attack at his home in New Jersey. He was 72 years old. He will be remembered as a cerebral and vibrant singer-songwriter.