Prior to exiting the Hollies in 1968, Graham Nash offered this light and agile travelogue to his Brit band mates. However, the tune was ultimately rejected as not commercial enough varying too far from their typical pop-flavoured fare -- a common reaction which became one of the primary factors involved in Nash’s defection to Los Angeles. He wisely brought the tune with him into the Crosby, Stills & Nash (CS&N) fold where it ended up on the trio’s 1969 eponymously-titled debut LP.
In keeping with the Eastern theme, the track is prefaced by a few seconds of mystical-sounding gibberish courtesy of David Crosby. The perpetual train-like rhythm is buoyant, thanks to some understated drumming from studio percussionist extraordinaire Jim Gordon and the multi-instrumental Stephen Stills -- who added electric guitar(s), Hammond B3 organ, piano and bass overdubs. Nash’s acoustic guitar is buried beneath the layers of harmonies -- which consist of a double-tracked lead vocal and includes some inventive fretwork from Stills. His reedy sitar-sounding intonation during the opening solo was derived from an unusual method of arrangement. According to the liner notes from the 1993 “Gold Standard” edition of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Stills was going for a dual trumpet sound. He recorded the part twice, separating the two by a third of a tone, giving the effect of a small horn section. The only other sounds are the unmistakable three-part CS&N vocal harmony during the chorus (“Don’t ‘cha know we’re riding on the ..”).
Lyrically, Nash drew upon the sights, sounds and vibes that he had encountered during an actual locomotive trip in 1966 between Casablanca and Marrakesh.
“Marrakesh Express” was the a-side (b/w “Helplessly Hoping”) of the very first CS&N single. The 45 was issued in late June of 1969 and peaked at #28 during the first week of August of the same year. The trio performed a ragged but right rendering, during their early morning set at the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair -- which can be found on the Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music [25th Anniversary] box set. Likewise, both CS&N as well as CSN&Y have included the track sporadically throughout their live performance history.