The «Marrakesh Express», a 60s pop song on Graham Nash’s Casablanca train trip

In 1966, British singer and song-writer Graham Nash visited Morocco. He took the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh and ended up writing a song about it. His track became a WoodStuck hit in the 70s.

The Marrakesh Express, a song by Graham Nash./Ph. DR
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For American-British singer and songwriter Graham Nash, a train trip from Casablanca to Marrakesh was fascinating enough for the writing of a three-minute pop song. Known as the leading vocalist of the British 60s pop band The Hollies, Nash was one of the many Western artists and celebrities who took Morocco as an essential hippy stopover.

During a trip to the Kingdom, he wrote the «Marrakesh Express» which, according to critics, defined the hippy musical era during the 60s. The song, however, was simply describing what a train journey from Morocco’s economical capital to Marrakesh looked like in 1966.

A train trip

«On holiday from his day job as leader of The Hollies, Nash bought himself a ticket and hopped aboard a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh», recalled Classic Rock platform Louder Sound.

Following the footsteps of several rock bands, such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, and writers, including members of the Beat generation, Graham Nash flew to the North African Kingdom to start an exotic adventure. «I was in first class and there were a lot of older, rich American ladies in there, who all had their hair dyed blue», declared Nash when asked about his sojourn in Morocco.

On an ONCF ride to the red city, the British singer got pretty disappointed by the people he was surrounded by and quickly decided to look for excitement elsewhere.

«I quickly grew bored of that and went back to the third class of the train. That was where it was all happening. There were lots of people cooking strange little meals on small wooden stoves and the place was full of chickens, pigs and goats. It was fabulous; the whole thing was fascinating».

Graham Nash

Indeed, the song captured the exact feeling, Nash had when he joined the train’s laymen section, where he found animals everywhere and a bunch of locals. «It’s literally the song as it is — what happened to me», said the rock star.

Written in 1966 and performed in 1969

While Nash thought that the song he wrote in Morocco would impress his fellow rockers back in England, they rejected it. The Hollies’ members were not really into the «Marrakesh Express» and found it was not «commercial enough».

The way that The Hollies responded to the Morocco song pushed Graham Nash to reconsider his membership in the British pop band. «Yeah, it was obvious that my career with The Hollies was coming to an end», Nash declared once.

And that is exactly what happened later, the British song-writer moved to Los Angeles in the US, looking for other musicians who would appreciate his writing and talent. He finally, allied with American singer song-writers David Crosby and Stephen Stills, founding the Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN) folk rock supergroup.

With the two men, Nash revived his Marrakesh song, recording it in February 1969. The «Marrakesh Express» finally saw light in May of the same year and was part of the band’s debut album.

«Stills’ guitar races along at a clip, echoing the literal rush of Nash’s Casablanca train and imbuing the song with a wondrous sense of buoyant optimism», wrote Louder Sound describing the song. «There’s a smattering of nonsensical wordplay to begin, before Nash begins to sing in his warmest tones, exhorting everyone to climb aboard. You can almost feel the sunset through the windows», added the same source.

Contrary to what the Hollies thought, «Marrakesh Express» made it to the US Billboard Top 30, ranked 17th, and was the only UK Top 20 hit of CSN’s entire career.

«I thought it was a funny song when I wrote it», explained Nash. «It’s not the greatest song in the world, but people still really like it whenever we sing it live. Whenever we need a little light-hearted, uptempo thing, that’s what we reach for», he concluded.

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