Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – Teach Your Children

This song was climbing in the charts in the top twenty when it was pulled. It was pulled because of the Kent State shootings and Neil Young wrote Ohio and CSN&Y wanted it released as soon as possible. Teach Your Children probably would have peaked in the top ten if not pulled.

The song peaked at #16 in the Billboard 100, #8 in Canada, and #19 in New Zealand in 1970.

Graham wrote this song while he was still playing with the Hollies but he never recorded it with them. He played it to Stephen Stills and Stills suggested a country arrangement which turned it into a hit.

Jerry Garcia performs the pedal steel guitar part of this track. He had been playing steel guitar for only a short period of time. Crosby told Nash he should ask Jerry to play steel guitar on the song. Garcia played on this song and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young worked with the Grateful Dead on harmonies for their acoustic albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.

I would say it worked out well for both bands. Jerry told Graham Nash who wrote the song that he made a mistake but Graham wanted that take.

It was on the album  Déjà Vu which peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, Canada and #5 in the UK.

Graham Nash: I’d heard Jerry had just started playing pedal-steel guitar and asked if he would add a pedal track to my song. After the first take, I said, “Thanks, Jerry, you’re done.” “No, no,” he protested, “I fucked up that part when we go right into the chorus. Can I do another?”“Absolutely, do it,” I told him, “but I’m never going to use it. The first one was exactly what I wanted.”

And, of course, his pedal steel was one of the defining elements in that recording.

From Songfacts

Graham Nash wrote this song. The lyrics deal with the often difficult relationship he had with his father, who spent time in prison.

 Graham Nash (from the liner notes of their 1991 boxed set): “The idea is that you write something so personal that every single person on the planet can relate to it. Once it’s there on vinyl it unfolds, outwards, so that it applies to almost any situation. ‘Teach’ started out as a slightly funky English folk song but Stephen (Stills) put a country beat to it and turned it into a hit record.”

Deja Vu was the first album the band recorded with Neil Young, but Young did not play on this.

According to the 2019 book Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nash wrote the song while under the influence of hash. He taught it to the rest of the band in one day in the studio.

In Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood, Graham Nash is quoted as saying, “When I wrote ‘Teach Your Children’ and ‘Our House,’ we didn’t know what we were doing. ‘This sounds pretty fun, we can sing this, let’s do it!’ And then all of a sudden people are singing it back to me forty years later.”

An updated version with a new arrangement was used in a 1985 TV commercial for the Apple II computer. Bill Siddons, then manager for CSNY, told BAM magazine: “The whole idea of the spot was to show how to prepare your kids for the modern world, which is part of what ‘Teach Your Children’ is about.”

Shortly after writing this, Nash visited an art gallery and saw two photographs that crystallized the meaning of the song: Diane Arbus’ “Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park” and Arnold Newman’s portrait of German industrialist Alfried Krupp. The singer told the news website Truthdig: “I put the ‘Hand Grenade’ photograph next to a picture of Krupp, who was the German arms magnate whose company was probably responsible for millions of deaths. It was an eerie photograph, a portrait, and the lighting is weird and his eyes are dark – a great image. And looking at them together I began to realize that what I’d just written [‘Teach Your Children’] was actually true, that if we don’t start teaching our children a better way of dealing with each other we’re f–ked and humanity itself is in great danger.”

At the end of The Office episode “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” (2006), Michael and Dwight perform this for the staff and their kids.

Teach Your Children

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 picks, the one you’ll know by.
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.

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.

Teach your parents well,
Their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.

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.