Ahead of the 2020 election, Graham Nash has revived a song he originally wrote as a plea to oust Richard Nixon from office: the succinctly titled and still-relevant, “Vote.”
Nash tells Rolling Stone that the song came about in the Seventies in response to Nixon’s presidency and Watergate, but it was never completed or recorded. About a year ago, he rediscovered the song and showed it to his regular collaborator, Shane Fontayne; the two began working out a fresh version on their tour bus this March as they drove between the first few dates of a trek that was ultimately upended by Covid-19.
Eager to not let the song slip away again, Nash asked Fontayne to record an acoustic track based on the demos they’d worked out on the bus. The song was then sent to brothers Todd and Toby Caldwell, who added organ, piano, saxophone, and drums from their respective homes in Brooklyn and Lubbock, Texas. When Nash got the track back, he recorded his vocals in a small space he’d set up in his apartment bathroom dubbed “the Studio Toilette,” he joked.
Nash was compelled to finish the song ahead of the 2020 elections because of the thin margins that gave Donald Trump the presidency in 2016. “In 2016, 48% of the American people who could vote, didn’t,” he says. “Now, maybe they thought Hillary had it sewn up. Maybe it was snowing that day. Maybe the kids were driving them crazy and they couldn’t get to the voting booth. But 48% of the people didn’t vote and look what happened. We must use the most powerful voice that we have, which is our vote.”
Considering the initial song is several decades old, Nash tinkered a bit with the lyrics to make it more contemporary. He briefly wrote a verse about the Citizens United decision but decided an invective against shady campaign finance wouldn’t be as compelling as one that tackled the desperation and destruction brought on by the pandemic.
“I wanted to make sure that people understood that there were many people hitting rock bottom,” Nash says. “And because this new Covid relief bill hasn’t been signed yet, there are people that are going to be made homeless, who will starve and won’t have enough money for rent and meds. It’s crazy.”
To emphasize the message in the song, Nash tapped regular collaborator Andy Thomas to make a video for “Vote” (Thomas previously helmed clips for Nash and David Crosby’s “Don’t Dig Here,” as well as Nash solo songs “Immigration Man,” “Clear Blue Skies,” and “Almost Gone”). The visual collage is frank and unsparing about the current climate and the importance of voting, but Nash says the goal wasn’t to hit people over the head but to covey voting as a “thoughtful and all-empowering thing.”
Reflecting on the nearly 50 years that have passed since Nash first wrote “Vote,” the musician said it was chilling to consider the rise of voter suppression tactics. “I realized that basically all the weapons that the United States people have, have been taken away,” he says. “I mean, in Texas — one [ballot drop-off] box for an entire county! It’s totally insane. And what they’ve done to the Post Office. They are trying to steal this election by voter suppression.”
With just under two weeks left until Election Day, Nash says he’s relying on hope to carry him through. “I think what’s keeping me awake is my hope that American people will utilize the vote and bring Biden and Kamala into power,” he says.