Crosby, Stills & Nash

TrackAlbum
Carry OnDéjà vu
DeltaDaylight Again
Got It MadeAmerican Dream
HelplessDéjà vu
Marrakesh ExpressCrosby, Stills & Nash
Queen Of Them AllLooking Forward
Southern CrossDaylight Again
Suite: Judy Blue EyesCrosby, Stills & Nash / single edit
Teach Your ChildrenDéjà vu
Wasted On The WayDaylight Again

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Contributor: Peter Viney

There’s a massed acoustic guitar strum that only The Everly Brothers and CSN can do to perfection.

Ground rules: Crosby, Stills & Nash, but only when all three are present, plus CSNY with Neil Young as “an occasional member” according to Wiki. So no Crosby & Nash. No Stills & Young.

The 1991 Atlantic 4 CD box set, CSN (same title as the 1977 album) confuses by including CSNY tracks, C&N tracks, individual solo tracks by C, S and N (but not Y), and tracks from Stills’ band, Manassas. There’s even an S&N track, a cover of Dear Mr Fantasy. The set includes a Pete Frame family tree tracing their combinations over a fold out 12” x 36” chart, and picture of thirty-three album covers by solo and combined line ups. There are a lot of possibles. I’m also aware of how often in thinking about this I find myself leaning towards Stephen Stills voice and compositions, and I’m trying to balance it.

The first album, Crosby Stills & Nash excited me, but not as much as it did my friends at the time. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes was Stephen Stills four part song to Judy Collins. I’m choosing the 4m 30s single edit, not the whole thing which is three minutes longer. Marrakesh Express was by Graham Nash, the most played CSN song on golden oldies radio too. Its rejection by The Hollies drove Graham towards quitting. I smile every time I hear it on the radio.

Déjà vu is an album of Rumours, Hotel California status. A mega-selling great album. It’s derivative. The brown embossed card original sleeve has more than a nod to The Band’s second album

Some of it has dated poorly: Graham Nash’s Our House, so charming in 1970, comes across as twee, and David Crosby’s I Almost Cut My Hair with its proud ‘let my freak flag fly high’ now sounds whiningly defensive. Helpless is one of Neil Young’s greatest compositions. Wooden Ships was better by Jefferson Airplane, and Woodstock was improved by Matthews Southern Comfort let alone Joni Mitchell who wrote it. Except that CSN were there on the day and the others weren’t. The box set revealed details about Déjà vu … for example, Carry On, the great opener, doesn’t feature Young at all.

Ohio was a single composed by Neil Young which was rush-released and knocked their own Teach Your Children off the chart. I chose Nash’s Teach Your Children, though Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel guest contribution is a lot of its appeal. Ohio was a politically significant song, they’re extremely proud of it with justification but when you hear it next to Stills and Young with Buffalo Springfield on For What It’s Worth (which CSNY did on Allies in 1983 and on Déjà Vu Live in 2006) it’s not as good a song. Find The Cost Of Freedom was the B-side, another good Stills song. It had been commissioned for the final scene in Easy Rider then rejected by Dennis Hopper.

Four Way Street was the live album. It was the first cassette I ever bought for a car too, but I don’t think any version on there compared to the originals. As no Four Way Street live version replaces an original on the box set, it seems they must agree with me.

Nearly every track is a solo composition. After Déjà vu, they went their own ways and produced brilliant albums each: Stephen Stills, If I Could Only Remember My Name by Crosby, Songs For Beginners by Nash and Harvest by Young. And that is the underlying issue with the group. It was most apparent in 1974 at Wembley, where the solo spots far outweighed the group spots, and to my surprise, Graham Nash, stole the show with his set. The others, history tells us, were below par, justifying their nickname: Crosby, Pills & Hash.

The three got together for CSN in 1977. Graham Nash’s Just A Song Before I Go was a near miss from the list. Shadow Captain was archetypal Crosby. Cathedral is one of two major songs written about Winchester Cathedral, and the better of the two. It’s Nash, but I would have guessed Crosby for the slow bit, Nash for the fast bit.

Daylight Again from the CSN reunion in 1982 is up there with Déjà vu as an album and includes one of their two best songs of all, Southern Cross by Stephen Stills. (The other equal first choice was Helpless). Add Wasted On The Way by Nash, and one of Crosby’s greatest songs, Delta. They followed with Allies in 1983, with eight live tracks and two studio. War Games was another Stills song written for a movie that got rejected. Live covers included Blackbird (The Beatles) and For Free (Joni Mitchell).

What about the next thirty years? With so many artists like this, early work had such impact and stands so tall in the memory, that later work is overshadowed. How much this is that it was “of its time”, how much nostalgia and how much is accurate assessment of song quality?

American Dream was the 1988 CSNY reunion, and after such a long gap it was one of those albums by much-loved artists you keep playing, willing it to get through to you, with only partial success. Craig Doerge co-wrote several tracks. American Dream is Neil Young with slight vocal additions, the title track, and the first track. It would have worked fine without the added decoration from the others. Got It Made is by Stills and Young, with the trademark harmonies, and sounds eerily like Fleetwood Mac. Even the guitar sounds like Lindsey Buckingham (it’s Neil Young). But it is an earworm. Like a lot of Fleetwood Mac. This Old House is Neil Young in Old Ways mode. Night Time For The Generals (Crosby) and Soldiers Of Peace (Nash) are too obvious and too didactic.

Live It Up, yet another CSN reunion in 1990. They wrote about half of it and unsubtle lyrics spoil it.

After The Storm followed in 1994, reinforcing my theory that they put the catchiest song first, with Stills’ Only Waiting For You in the position. It’s an enjoyable enough listen, but you can immediately tell which of the three wrote each song, and you feel they could churn out another dozen albums very like it. The best track is a Beatles cover, In My Life, which was also on the Stills Alone album.

Then Neil got pulled in again for Looking Forward in 1999. Faith In Me is so Caribbean it sounds like an advert for pineapples or Barbados tourism. Stand Up And Be Counted is David Crosby, and sounds like a cross between Almost Cut My Hair and Jefferson Airplane. Seen Enough by Stills starts out like Subterranean Homesick Blues done slowly. Slowpoke, like most later CSNY contributions by Neil Young, sounds like a good Neil Young solo venture, with a touch of backing vocals on the chorus. I’d consider it, but to me it’s Y, not CSNY. Queen Of Them All is an exception: a Neil Young song but with everyone singing all the way through, so it sounds CSNY, not Y for a change. It’s going in as the representative of a large number of other well-made but not well-known later tracks.

Déjà Vu Live was CSNY in 2008, with CSN 2012 coming in … well, 2012. You’d take the DVD rather than the album as a document of the tour. Nothing is pushing the 1969-1982 stuff on the list for me. An oddity, available in your local charity shop for a small donation, is the Collectors Edition 2005 CD given away free as a covermount disc with The Daily Mail to promote their 2005 tour and Stills’ Man Alive album. Good live versions of their hits.

This TopperPost was delayed until seeing the first gig of their 2013 UK tour, Bournemouth 5th October 2013. My full review is here

Did it change my list? Well, both Our House and Almost Cut My Hair redeemed themselves. Helplessly Hoping (not in the list) was a major highlight of the evening as was Teach Your Children, but that was already in. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes also reinforced its claim.

 

Crosby, Stills & Nash official website

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young official website

Toppermost #271 David Crosby

Crosby, Stills & Nash biography (iTunes)

This quiet editorial voice shouting for Steve Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young solo TopperPosts (with a bit of C&N and S&Y thrown in if you want) must not be ignored.

TopperPost #90

2 Comments

  1. Rob Millis
    Oct 8, 2013

    Vive la difference! Peter and I agree on so much but not CSN(Y) necessarily it would appear.

    For a start, Wooden Ships BETTER by JA? That’s a big statement. Some of us live and die by the three-Leslie Hammond tone that Stills got, and for me the original is funkier, less of a folkie “strum” feel. The CSN arrangement with Stills sticking to Hammond and Jorma Kaukonen drafted in to to play electric guitar would be my “fantasy football” Wooden Ships.

    Agree with Our House and Almost Cut My Hair but have (ducks under the table and prepares for dog’s abuse from many directions) never seen the fuss about the nasal whine and four chord strum-along that is Helpless.

    Neil Young and CSN have always been a funny one for me: I love mature cheddar with fresh crusty bread and a pickled onion; I love a nice beefburger with just some raw red onion and a sauce. I’m not mad about cheese in a burger. For me, Neil Young is the cheddar (with Crazy Horse as the bread and onion) and CSN are the burger without cheese.

    I’ll shout for 49 Bye-Byes and Everybody I Love You and leave it at that. I’ve had five pints of Sambrook’s Junction tonight, and fear the cheese/burger analogy is only the start of what might be if I continue.

    But there; I’m excitable as I just scored two last minute tickets to the RAH for tomorrow night…to see none other than Crosby, Stills and Nash.

  2. Peter Viney
    Oct 8, 2013

    Enjoy the RAH … just avoid sitting in line with the subwoofers (see my review of Bournemouth). On Wooden Ships, there are just two words. Grace. And Slick. The backing then becomes irrelevant. Let us know what you think of the radical live remake of Triad … same two words. Grace and Slick. I reckon you’ll like Almost Cut My Hair reworked and also Our House live.

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