Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young): Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

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

1990
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

1988
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

1999
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

1994
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’.


Crosby, Stills and Nash Daylight Again

#4 Daylight Again

1982
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’.


Crosby Stills and Nash CSN

#3 CSN

1977
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.


Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969 Debut

#2 Crosby, Stills & Nash

1969
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’.


Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Deja Vu

#1 Déjà Vu

1970
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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47 Comments

  1. Well it’s a difficult errand.

    As a long fan of NY etc I would say that Neil’s best album is Crazy Horses’ “Rust never sleeps”.

    And CNYs best song by far is “Southern Cross”.

    So they were great together but better apart in some ways – it is better that is was an affair and not a marriage.

    • I really like Rust Never Sleeps – I would take it over almost all of the CSN stuff. Did you know that the track Thrasher is basically an unflattering portrait of CSN?

      • Yes I think I did know that about the thresher. It’s about your friends changing (for the worse) and also the perils of economic progress (I think?). He didn’t mind scrapping with other musicians through music. Notably Harvest’s “Alabama” is a retort to Lynrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” which is in turn a response to CSNY’s “Southern Man”

        • I think Alabama predates Sweet Home Alabama. People use to theorise that Walk On was about Lynyrd Skynyrd too, but that might have been debunked.

  2. Believe or not, even though I generally like CSN and, as you know, really dig Neil Young, I’ve never listened to any other albums than “Deja Vu”, “Crosby Stills & Nash” and “4 Way Street”.

    Out of these three, my favorite is “Deja Vu.” And, dare I say it as a ranking-challenged individual, this is followed by “4 Way Street” and “Crosby Stills & Nash”! 🙂

    Based on your descriptions, it doesn’t sound like I missed out big time for not having listened to CSN’s later records. Though I still should probably check them out one of these days.

    And how about that cover of “Live It Up”? Jeez, this atrocity could get an award for being among the worst covers ever!

    • That third album, CSN from 1977, is worth hearing. It’s kind of an interesting portrait of them as more mature men, and the sound palette has updated for the era, but there are some very good songs.

      Live It Up is definitely a contender for the worst album cover I’ve uploaded onto my website.

  3. After the first two albums I really don’t remember too much of any of the other ones or even which ones I’ve heard, except for a couple songs like Just a Song Before I Go and Dark Star. But I think I like the first album better.

    • I think the most contentious part of my list is the ordering of the first two albums. I don’t think anyone minds whether American Dream is better than Looking Forward. You probably know Southern Cross and Wasted on the Way from their fourth?

      • Oh yeah. I do remember Southern Cross and I remember the title Wasted on the way, but I forgot how the song goes. Once I had an album by Stills-Young Band. I think that’s what they were called. I remember a couple songs from that one. And also an album by Crosby and Nash, but I forget the name of it. How come you didn’t include albums like that ?

        • There are four Crosby and Nash records – I like the one I’ve heard fine. I would imagine that the 1970s ones would slot in between After the Storm and Daylight Again in the countdown.

  4. Your top three are the only ones I’ve heard, although I love Stephen’s song “Got it Made.” The debut is my favorite, although Neil’s two songs really lift up Deja Vu.

  5. I agree with your choices completely. I’m embarassed to say I never heard of Looking Forward.
    I would love to know what they would have done if they would have stayed together during their prime.
    They complimented each other really well. I saw them once and while I was standing up…I could feel their voices go through me… The last song that I really liked by them was Southern Cross…. I was one of the suckers who bought American Dream.

    • I’m sure they could have made some more great albums, although I think adding Young was a mistake as he was always too restless to stick around. Apparently Steve Winwood was their first choice when they wanted to add another member.

      • Winwood would have been interesting. Young and Clapton were two wandering souls…not to be in anything that wasn’t their own creation long.
        I know Nash didn’t want Young at first…they couldn’t resist his songs.

        • However it turned out, they would never have been as famous (infamous?) if it was windwood or some other vanilla talent as opposed to Neil Young,

          Also. his great SK friend Joni Mitchell wrote the Woodstock song. None if this happens if things had gone differently.

          • I think David Crosby and Graham Nash were both well acquainted with Joni Mitchell already, so they might have got the song anyway.

            Winwood as a vanilla talent is a little harsh – he’s not as enigmatic as Young, but then who is.

        • Winwood would have been great as a musician and doesn’t seem like a volatile personality. No idea what he would sounded like in the vocal blend though.

  6. Well, almost everyone thinks more or less the same. The first two records are essential and the rest is more for fans. Very good group. But after 50 years I consider them not as seminal as The Byrds. The latter arrived before, they used to sing better and their music was more innovative and cool.

      • I can´t refute it. But consistency is important for eternal legacy. Also innovation. And The Byrds with a little bit of Dylan and a little bit of Beatles invented something new. I am not saying that CSN were only derivative, but in some way they were Byrds´followers. And (this is personal of course) they used to sing better. Their vocal harmonies were only surpassed by The Beach Boys.

  7. It’s interesting that despite my love for this group, the only two albums I know really well are the first two. We’ve discussed this before and while they’re both really strong, my heart is with the debut. As to the yacht rock cover, my guess is you probably know that Crosby is a long-time sailor and that is his boat. As to the Sausage Party cover, WTF? Looks like they were channeling their inner Zappa for weirdness. (See – Weasels Ripped My Flesh).

    After those first couple of albums, I know songs here and there but have no idea what album they might be from. And given that even Graham Nash now hates Crosby, this band – even though all are still miraculously with us – is history.

    • It’s amazing we still have all four with us. I think we’ve talked before about how Crosby has changed from bad boy to moral bastion, and has alienated his band mates. He’s made some pretty acclaimed music lately though – Stills and Nash probably need him more than he needs them now.

  8. Neil is a solo spirit. He only really liked Stephen Stills, and they did amazing music together after – “Long may you run” – about your first car and/or your last girlfriend. Take a listen.

  9. Well they are an important band, none of them managed to keep the intensity going apart from Neil, and Crosby has had a resurgence in the last couple of years, his last couple of albums have been playable, the others are hit and miss

    • Yeah, I’ve heard good things about Crosby’s recent stuff. He has a pretty unique musical vision – kind of dreamy and jazzy.

  10. Oh, likely you are right that sweet home Alabama was after “Harvest” but now I have to check! Thanks again for the post.

  11. I agree with your #1 and #2 choices, and those are the only two of their albums I’m really familiar with. I of course know the hits from ‘Daylight Again’, and always liked the song “Got it Made” from ‘American Dream’.

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