For our LCM classic this week we travel back to Woodstock for the first live performance of a song first released in 1969. "Marrakesh Express" was written and composed by Graham Nash during his final years as a member of the English rock band, The Hollies, of which he was a member from its formation in 1962 till 1968. The band rejected the song as not commercial enough, but it found a home with Nash's new band Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Nash recalled his inspiration for the song occurring during a Moroccan vacation he took in 1966. On the trip, Nash traveled by train from Casablanca to Marrakesh. (Whether this was an express train, he did not specify.) He began the journey in First Class, surrounded by people he found to be uninteresting, as he described it, they were all "ladies with blue hair." Upon this observation, he decided the compartment was "completely f*cking boring," so left his seat to explore the other train carriages. He was fascinated by what he saw.
The song mentions "ducks and pigs and chickens," and that, according to Nash, is actually what was there. He recalls the ride by commenting: "It's literally the song as it is, what happened to me."
The instrumentation of the song seeks to embody Nash's lyrics through an Eastern vibe and a "buoyant" flow to resemble a train ride. Stephen Stills was responsible for much of the creative musicianship, adding a vital inclusion of a riff played on two overdubbed electric guitars in a way reminiscent of the sitar. He also added Hammond B3 organ, piano and bass. The song was rounded out by Nash's acoustic guitar, drums by Jim Gordon, and the group's trademark three-part vocal harmony.
The first public appearance of "Marrakesh Express" was at the Woodstock Music Festival. Between 3 am and 4 am on August 18, 1969, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young came together as a band for the second time in public and performed a set that included what Graham Nash called "a medley of our hit," referring to this song, the first single from their debut album. (Neil Young did not play during the acoustic part of their set which included "Marrakesh Express.)