David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash were all members of famous 1960s bands before linking up as a trio. Crosby was a member of The Byrds, fired when his countercultural songs like ‘Triad’ were rejected by the group. Nash was frustrated in The Hollies, who chose to record an album of Dylan covers rather than record hippie-flavoured Nash songs like ‘Marrakesh Express’. Stills was a member of the volatile folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield, fronting their best-known song ‘For What It’s Worth’. The trio first sang together at a dinner party – accounts vary whether it was at Cass Elliott or Joni Mitchell’s home.
Excited by their vocal blend, they officially formed as a trio in 1969. They were immediately successful – their debut album reached #6 on the charts. They played their second ever gig at Woodstock, and added Neil Young for the highly anticipated Déjà Vu. But after a strong start, their career faltered – personal relationships became strained due to drugs, egos, and women.
The members have subsequently recorded new albums periodically, although it’s frustrating that they broke up in their prime. Half of these eight records are from 1988 or later – the group’s hits had dried up, and it’s telling that none of the songs from these albums stayed in their live set. I’ve only covered their studio albums that feature all three members, as a list that included solo and duo projects would be exhausting. But it’s worth seeking out solo projects like Stills’ Manassas and Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name; both would rank high on this list if they were eligible. It’s also noteworthy that two of the collective’s best-loved tracks – the single ‘Ohio’/’Find the Cost of Freedom’ – aren’t featured on a studio record.
Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young) Albums Ranked
#8 Live It Up
The dire cover art, with its inexplicable lunar sausage sizzle, is a red flag that Live It Up is substandard. It started out as a Crosby & Nash album, and with Crosby working on his solo album Oh Yes I Can, it’s dominated by Nash. Live It Up doesn’t feel like a CSN album – the lead single ‘If Anybody Had a Heart’ was penned by outside writers. Stills’ ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough’ adds some grit, but Live It Up is slick 1990 studio product with little personality.
#7 American Dream
Neil Young promised to make another album with Crosby, Stills & Nash if Crosby could get clean. A stint in Texas state prison helped Crosby recover, and the quartet released their first studio album since Déjà Vu. American Dream is a substantial drop in quality from that 1970 masterpiece – it’s overlong and overproduced. Young’s presence doesn’t help, with the hokey ‘This Old House’ and the bizarre title track. Despite its issues, there are some solid songs – Stills’ ‘Got It Made’ and Crosby’s ‘Compass’ are both worthy.
#6 Looking Forward
Looking Forward is something of a tragic title for a record that looks almost certain to be the collective’s last record together. The trio quit Atlantic Records and self-financed a new studio record – a fascinated Neil Young signed up. It’s fortunate that he did; his gentle songs like ‘Out of Control’ and the title track are the record’s best tracks. Otherwise Looking Forward feels like a hodgepodge of solo tracks from a disjointed collective. There are worthwhile tracks like Crosby’s ‘Dream For Him’ and Stills’ hard-rocking ‘No Tears Left’, but some dross like Crosby’s ‘Stand and Be Counted’, and its all-time awkward couplet:
I want to stand alone in front of the world and that oncoming tank
Like that Chinese boy that we all have to thank
He showed us in a picture that I have mounted
Exactly what it means to stand and be counted
#5 After The Storm
After the Storm was planned to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the trio’s debut. It’s clearly no match for their iconic self-titled album, but it’s a return to respectability after a couple of poor records. The trio played themselves back into form, playing hundreds of shows in the early 1990s. Unlike their disappointing preceding records, it’s almost entirely self-penned – the exception is a cover of The Beatles’ In My Life. The musical trends of the 1990s benefit the group – it’s a stripped-back and dignified record. None of the material ranks alongside their best, but there’s still enjoyment to be found like Stills’ opener ‘Only Waiting For You’ and Crosby’s dreamy ‘Camera’.
#4 Daylight Again
It’s impressive that hippie icons Crosby, Stills & Nash were still relevant enough to have hits in the early 1980s – Stills’ nautical tale ‘Southern Cross’ reached #18 on the Billboard Charts, while Nash’s breezy ‘Wasted on the Way’ cracked the top ten. It’s largely a collaboration between Stills and Nash. Crosby was struggling with addictions, and was only added to the album late in the process; Art Garfunkel and Timothy B Schmitt fill in on harmony vocals. Daylight Again is impressive, better than you’d expect from the trio in the 1980s. It’s a little ballad-heavy, but it’s worth seeking out Stills’ ‘Turn Your Back On Love’ and Crosby’s ‘Delta’.
Back together in the studio after a 1974 mega-tour, CSN showcases a more mature version of the trio. It’s not quite the “yacht rock” that the cover implies but the trio are accompanied by slick L.A. pros like Craig Doerge and Russ Kunkel. Graham Nash delivers the hit ‘Just A Song Before I Go’ and the ambitious ‘Cathedral’. Stills delivers some musings on his troubled marriage with the Latin rhythms of ‘Dark Star’ and the gritty rocker ‘Run From Tears’. Crosby excels on opener ‘Shadow Captain’, with Doerge’s jazzy piano. The trio were no longer the cultural zeitgeist in 1977, but they’re excellent on CSN anyway.
#2 Crosby, Stills & Nash
In the late 1960s, the musical climate changed from blues and psychedelic rock to roots-inspired music, like The Band’s Music from the Big Pink and Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. Crosby, Stills & Nash fitted into this perfectly – already part of other high-profile 1960s bands, they were instantly successful. The band’s best song is the first track on their first album – ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ is a multi-part tribute to Stills’ girlfriend Judy Collins, which he wrote when they were about to break up. Crosby delivers the spacy ‘Guinevere’ and the angry ‘Long Time Gone’, while Nash covers the sweet pop hits with ‘Marrakesh Express’ and ‘Pre-Road Downs’.
#1 Déjà Vu
Neil Young joined his old Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills, expanding Crosby, Stills & Nash to a foursome – the rhythm section of Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves are also named on the cover. Young was added to fill the band’s sound out live, but he also contributes as a songwriter.
After their largely acoustic debut, Déjà Vu captures a wider range of moods – Nash’s upbeat ‘Our House’ and ‘Teach Your Children’ were the pop hits, while Crosby’s delivered the electric rant ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ and the jazzy title track. Stills’ ‘Carry On’ is a terrific mini-epic with its Latin rhythm breakdown, while he also fronts a charging cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’. Young shines on the mournful ‘Helpless’, recorded in the early hours of the morning so that his bandmates would play at the slow pace he wanted.
What’s your favourite Crosby, Stills & Nash album?
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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