David Crosby

TrackAlbum
Dangerous NightCroz
HeroThousand Roads
Lady Of The HarborOh Yes I Can
LaughingIf I Could Only Remember My Name
Music Is LoveIf I Could Only Remember My Name
Time I HaveCroz
Too Young To DieThousand Roads
What Are Their NamesIf I Could Only Remember My Name
What'’s BrokenCroz
Yvette In EnglishThousand Roads

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

Contributor: Peter Viney

When David Crosby left, or was ejected, from The Byrds, Roger McGuinn told him, ‘We’ll do better without you,” a statement that must have given Crosby much pleasure as CSNY became one of the biggest bands in the world for a couple of years.

The 3 CD box set Voyage assembles solo Byrds, CSN, CSNY, CN and CPR tracks written by/featuring David Crosby all under his name. Crosby has two distinct styles. most clearly seen on the CSNY American Dream album where Night Time For The Generals is the political rant and Compass the exquisitely melodic. I favour the second.

This list is strict discipline David Crosby. His voice and writing style are so distinctive, and much of his best and most representative work was with The Byrds or Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young/Crosby & Nash or in the 1990s, CPR (Crosby, Pevar, Raymond). Because The Byrds (Toppermost #29) and CSN (Toppermost #90) have their own sections, I’m only looking at material that has just his name on the label. I could easily argue that Everybody’s Been Burned by The Byrds; or Guinnevere, Déjà vu, I Almost Cut My Hair and Delta by CSNY/CSN are quintessential Crosby and should be counted but no, only stuff from the clearly-solo albums

So it starts with If I Could Only Remember My Name in 1971. OK, both Nash and Young guested, so you still get three voices just like CSNY. You also get Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Music Is Love opened the album and was a minor hit, and it has Nash and Young on it too.

The album also has a four minute long version of What Are Their Names which CSN were still doing live in 2013. Nowadays they cut it to an a capella chant, but in 1971 the long instrumental intro has the inter-twining guitars of Messrs Crosby, Young and Garcia. Phil Lesh is on bass. The chorus includes Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Joni Mitchell, David Freiberg as well as Nash and Young (and sounds like Airplane, as it would). A friend at the time said it was one of his favourite Jerry Garcia albums.

Laughing is perfect Crosby, and the bass is marvellous. It had been hanging around for a couple of years and had been declined by CSNY. As was standard at the time, the original credits just listed participants. It was Lesh on bass, Garcia and Crosby on electric guitars, Bill Kreutzmann on drums.

The Wiki entries for If I Could Only Remember My Name credit all the bass parts to Phil Lesh (or Neil Young) but Jack Casady of Airplane is also listed with no specific track on the original sleeve.

It’s an album that’s steadily grown in critical appreciation. I really like Cowboy Movie, but it sounds too much like I Almost Cut My Hair, except with the Grateful Dead accompanying him. Phil Lesh’s rumbling contribution on bass lifts it a level, and Jerry Garcia’s guitar is so good. It might even be better than the Déjà vu song, but that got there first. Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves) is another Airplane-style instrumental with Crosby singing wordlessly.

It was an eighteen year gap before Oh, Yes, I Can in 1989, though of course clearly-Crosby compositions had been on several CN/CSN albums. The Russ Kunkel/Leland Sklar rhythm section underlays it. Producer Craig Doerg adds synth/keyboards. Steve Lukather, David Lindley, Danny Kortchmar, Michael Hedges, Larry Graham all guest on guitar for a track. It starts off with Drive My Car which is too large a nod in the direction of jockstrap ‘n’ feedback stadium rock to me. I like the jaunty Melody much better. I’d take the haunting first half of In The Wide Ruin, but those huge booming phased drums come in predictably after two minutes, as they do in ballads. Then it goes back to gentle for the run out, but as feared, back come the mega drums and the build up in volume. Oh, well. It was 1989. Everyone did it. Drop Down Mama is uncharacteristic: Crosby does bar band R&B.

Lady Of The Harbor wears its overt lyrics on its sleeve … the Lady is the Statue of Liberty, almost at Disneyesque levels, but what a lovely tune. The melody and relaxed playing gets it in.

Thousand Roads arrived in 1993. Part of the fun of doing Toppermost is digging out old albums and reminding yourself of how much you loved them. And I played Thousand Roads solidly for a year.

It starts off with a bang with Hero. It almost sounds like Phil Collins, so much is it early 90s that you think you’re boarding a Virgin Atlantic flight … they played him incessantly over the sound system. That’s because the song was produced, co-written and co-sung by Phil Collins, with Pino Palladino on bass. It’s a first-rate song. Their voices work together perfectly, as they did on Collins’ Another Day In Paradise and That’s Just The Way It Is. The track Hero is a one-off for the album, as the rest relies mainly on Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel, with appearances by Benmont Tench, Bernie Leadon, Dean Parks and Andy Fairweather Low. If you have knee-jerk antipathy to Mr Collins … I don’t and will remind readers that he paid for the operation that saved Crosby’s life … then take the incredible later live version of Hero, live in December 1993, on It’s All Coming Back To Me Now recorded straight to DAT for radio broadcast. I’m not choosing any from this, though it’s a fine live album.

Too Young To Die: I always loved it, positioned in second place on the album. It’s a great Crosby vocal with Jimmy Webb on piano, Bernie Leadon on guitars, and Graham Nash and Jackson Browne on backing vocals. I hesitated because it’s a Jimmy Webb song, not a Crosby song. By then David Crosby’s autobiography Long Time Gone was out and the song feels like it was written for him, though Jimmy Webb did it on Suspending Disbelief the same year.

The album has well-chosen covers of Marc Cohn (Old Soldier), John Hiatt (Through Your Hands), Paul Brady (Helpless Heart), Stephen Bishop (Natalie). I’m going to choose Yvette In English co-written by Crosby with Joni Mitchell, who put her solo version on Turbulent Indigo in 1994. It was a song I played incessantly at the time (in both versions). I’m limiting Thousand Roads to three.

Then it’s all the way to 2014 for Croz. I saw the late 2013 CSN tour, my review here, and Crosby was on top form. The album is very much a collaboration with his son, James Raymond, who played keyboards on the CSN tour, and the band on the CSN tour are on the album. Crosby always has good connections, and Mark Knopfler plays guitar on What’s Broken and Wynton Marsalis is on Holding On To Nothing.

What’s Broken is the opener and shows that Crosby, like Joni Mitchell, has always had an ear for a good bass line, and it’s decorated with elegant Knopfler flourishes on guitar. It was written by James Raymond, not Crosby, so the style must be in the genes. The bass is synth bass by James Raymond, as is the “virtual pedal steel’ but it fooled me. The synth string effect is great too. Good lyric. Strong melody.

Time I Have was performed on the CSN tour, from the then forthcoming album. It’s pretty hard to get ‘cognitive dissonance’ as a phrase in a lyric plus ‘Fear is the antithesis of peace’ as a repeated line but Crosby does and gets away with it. Kevin McCormick’s bass continues the long line from Lesh and Casady in 1971, and Shane Fontayne’s electric guitar interventions remind me of CSNY, or even more so Jefferson Airplane.

Dangerous Night was co-written by David Crosby and James Raymond. The keyboards are central to the song, as are the synth bass and the drum programming: all by James Raymond. It is one of the songs I’ve played most this year, and the outstanding track. Just one thing. The lyric goes:

Can’t seem to see where it doesn’t get worse
It’s like one good thought getting lost in an angry verse

As Robbie Robertson said, Chuck Berry never put the lyrics on the sleeve and half the fun was figuring them out. Until I started doing this piece and actually read the lyrics, I heard it as:

It’s like one good “fuck” getting lost in an angry verse

I thought that was a great line for a writer, wanting to get an emphatic “fuck” in the verse and it not coming through with enough power. I was totally absolutely wrong. Pity, I like it better. But it’s one of his best ever compositions.

When I read his autobiography, I never expected Crosby to survive a year or two, let alone have such a late blossoming of his career.

 

Ten significant Crosby songs not on his solo albums:

Everybody’s Been Burned – Younger Than Yesterday
Lady Friend – The Byrds box set / CBS single
Triad – The Byrds box set/Crown of Creation
Guinnevere – Crosby, Stills & Nash
Wooden Ships – Crosby, Stills & Nash/Volunteers
Almost Cut My Hair – Déjà vu
Déjà vu – Déjà vu
Page 43 – Graham Nash David Crosby
Carry Me – Wind On The Water
Delta – Daylight Again

 

David Crosby official website

Crosby & Nash official website

David Crosby biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #271

4 Comments

  1. Simon Sadler
    May 9, 2014

    Great list. Had a communal internet album club listen to If I Could… last night which went down well. Haven’t heard Croz yet but it’s on my shopping list 🙂

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    May 9, 2014

    I’m listening through the Spotify playlist again as I write. I like to read the appreciation while listening and then re-read the appropriate section as the song starts. From my love of The Byrds onwards, David Crosby has always been a figure in my musical life. This has been a joy to read and to listen to. Thanks Peter.

    • David Lewis
      May 9, 2014

      I’m always reminded of Crosby’s stint as a guest star on the Simpsons (one of the great ones):

      Barney: Hey, David Crosby – you’re my hero!
      Crosby: Hey, man, you like my music?
      Barney: You’re a musician?

      Which is, as this list demonstrates, amply unfair. But still funny.

  3. Rob Millis
    May 14, 2014

    Good stuff old chap. Was going to say “What!!!! No Cowboy Movie?” but you explained why. Tempted to mutter something about The Lee Shore but won’t.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

↓