David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash all started their careers in other notable 1960s bands. Crosby left The Byrds after disagreements over counter-cultural songs like ‘Triad’ and ‘Mind Gardens’, Stills’ Buffalo Springfield broke up after tensions with band-mate Neil Young, while Nash left The Hollies after their decision to record a Dylan covers album.
The trio’s alliance was always fragile, especially when Neil Young was added to the group – after 1969’s self-titled debut and 1970’s Déjà Vu, they split over Stills’ and Nash’s mutual pursuit of Rita Coolidge. The trio didn’t reunite in the studio until 1977’s CSN. While CSN and its 1982 follow-up Daylight Again are both respectable, mature efforts, the trio didn’t stay together long enough in their prime to reach their potential.
The group are known for their harmonies – Crosby was the harmony specialist in the Byrds, while Nash’s tenor voice was an important part of the Hollies’ blend. They’re also primarily associated with an acoustic sound – their debut, in particular, is low key and acoustic, and along with The Band and Bob Dylan they were significant in popularising a more roots-based sound in the late 1960s.
Stephen Stills is arguably one of the most overlooked talents of his era – as a musician, producer, and writer, he anchored a series of strong albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Crosby’s spacey, jazzy songs are unique, even though he was often weighed down by addictions. Nash’s high harmonies are an important part of the conglomerate’s sound, even though his songs are more lightweight than Stills’ and Crosby’s.
Crosby, Stills & Nash continued in various permutations, although they haven’t enjoyed much attention for new releases since Daylight Again. They’ve released four more albums as a trio (or quartet); 1988’s American Dream, 1991’s Live It Up, 1994’s After the Storm, and 1999’s Looking Forward. They’ve enjoyed more acclaim for archival releases like the CSNY 1974 live album. I’ve covered plus some of the individual members’ most noteworthy solo efforts and collaborations in the 1970s. Of the extra-curricular efforts, Stills’ 1972 album Manassas is particularly worthwhile.
Crosby, Stills & Nash Album Reviews
Crosby, Stills and Nash | Déjà Vu | Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills | If I Could Only Remember My Name…. – David Crosby | Songs For Beginners – Graham Nash | Stephen Stills 2 – Stephen Stills | Manassas – Manassas | Wind on the Water – Crosby & Nash | CSN | Daylight Again | American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young | Live It Up | After The Storm | Looking Forward – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash
Along with contemporary albums from The Band, Bob Dylan, and David Crosby’s former band, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash helped steer popular music from electric blues and psychedelia to acoustic songs with roots in country and folk traditions. But while it’s acoustic and personal, their debut is also an intricate studio creation. Aside from some rhythm guitar from his partners and Dallas Taylor’s drums, Stephen Stills plays virtually all of the instruments, with subtle innovations like the backwards guitar of ‘Pre-Road Downs’ and the stereo harmony organs of ‘Marrakesh Express’.
The album’s focal point is the opening ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, a multi-part tribute from Stills to Judy Collins. Crosby contributes the jazzy and wandering ‘Guinevere’ and the aggressive ‘Long Time Gone’, and collaborates with Stills on the excellent anti-war anthem ‘Wooden Ships’. Graham Nash displays his pop sensibilities in ‘Marrakesh Express’ and ‘Pre Road Downs’.
The hippie lyrics are sometimes dated, but Crosby, Stills and Nash is a fine piece of studio craft with strong song-writing.
Déjà Vu- Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
With their appearance at Woodstock, Crosby, Stills and Nash were figureheads for the counterculture and Déjà Vu sold two million copies in pre-release sales. Stephen Stills invited Neil Young, his former band-mate in Buffalo Springfield, to join the band to help beef up the group’s live sound. Accordingly, Déjà Vu, recorded with a rhythm section and Young, is a more full sounding record – there are Stills’ studio constructions like the opener ‘Carry On’, but other tracks like Young’s ‘Helpless’ and David Crosby’s ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ have a live band feel.
There’s a wider range of moods captured from the acoustic despair of Stills’ ‘4+20’ and the resignation of Neil Young’s country ballad ‘Helpless’, to the upbeat rock cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’ and catchy singalong pop of Graham Nash’s ‘Our House’. Opener ‘Carry On’ is a terrific mini-epic from Stills, breaking down into a fantastic a capella section mid song before launching into a jam dominated by Stills’ wah guitar. Crosby’s title track is a typically spacey and pretty effort, while ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ is paranoid and electric. While Déjà Vu lacks the consistent tone of Crosby, Stills and Nash, it’s more varied and exciting.
The group splintered after Déjà Vu; while they’d create other worthy albums together and apart, they were never as culturally relevant again.
Shortly after this album, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young also recorded the ‘Ohio’/’Find The Cost Of Freedom’ single in response to the Kent State Massacre – both tracks are among their finest.
Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills
After leading Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Stephen Stills finally made his own solo record in 1970. Stills explores blues jams, Latin rhythms, gospel, overblown pop epics, and other forms of music that had informed his previous record-making but which he’d never acknowledged so explicitly. One particularly important historical aspect of this album is that it marked the last recorded appearance of Jimi Hendrix, who guests on ‘Old Times, Good Times’, before his premature death.
Even if it’s more personal and less universal than his records with Crosby and Nash, Stills is on top of his game. ‘To A Flame’ is a gorgeous acoustic piano and string piece, while ‘Sit Yourself Down’ is a concise pop winner, with a gospel chorus, a flavour shared by ‘Church (Part of Someone)’. The most well-known song is ‘Love The One You’re With’ – while it’s fine musically, the free love subject matter certainly dates it, and it’s probably hurt his reputation in the long run.
Stephen Stills is an accomplished debut, but followup Stephen Stills 2 is regarded as less compelling, a disappointment after an excellent string of work.
If I Could Only Remember My Name…. – David Crosby
If I Could Only Remember My Name is the most fondly remembered record from the first wave of Crosby, Stills, and Nash solo albums, and was even a surprising inclusion on the Vatican’s official list of “The Top Ten Pop Albums Of All Time”, where it placed second behind The Beatles’ Revolver. As you’d expect from Crosby, it’s not particularly concerned with hooks – it’s loping and spacey. While Crosby’s distinctive rhythm guitar is prominent, his open arrangements give his guests plenty of room to breathe, and there are significant cameos from Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, and other West Coast musicians.
There are beautiful moments, like when Joni Mitchell’s voice joins Crosby’s on ‘Laughing’, or the stacked Crosby vocals in the closing ‘I’d Swear There Was Somebody There’. The loping, electric ‘Cowboy Movie’ is a thinly veiled account of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s initial breakup over Nash and Stills’ mutual interest in Rita Coolidge – in the song Coolidge is referred to as The Raven, while Crosby is Fat Albert.
It took Crosby eighteen years to make a second solo album, which only makes If I Could Only Remember My Name even more unique.
Songs For Beginners – Graham Nash
Graham Nash is often perceived as the lightweight of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, so it’s surprising how accomplished his 1971 solo debut is; full of solidly written, personal songs that are less cutesy and annoying than you might expect. Several songs are obviously written in the fallout of his relationship with Joni Mitchell; ‘I Used To Be A King’ references Mitchell’s ‘I Had A King’ and The Hollies’ ‘King Midas In Reverse’.
The song that would have fitted Crosby, Stills & Nash best is ‘Chicago’, a political rallying cry which works musically with a dramatic arrangement and gospel flavour. ‘Sleep Song’ is a charming lullaby, with a gorgeous melody, and Nash only accompanied by a cello. The most ambitious track is ‘There’s Only One’, with a big gospel arrangement, sax solo, and choir. But the key track is arguably the emotional resonance of ‘I Used To Be A King’.
Songs For Beginners is an understated record, which can make it come across as underwhelming, but Nash’s songwriting is strong throughout and it stands proudly alongside Crosby and Stills’ first solo releases.
Stephen Stills 2 – Stephen Stills
Stephen Stills was on a hot streak at the turn of the 1970s – he’d helmed two massively successful records with Crosby and Nash, and tasted solo success with his debut. His career momentum abruptly halted with his second solo record – not a bad record, but largely a pale shadow of his solo debut. It covers much of the same ground – blues, rock, gospel, and a solo acoustic track – but with less success. With some weak material and reruns like ‘Bluebird Revisited’, a reworking of a song from Buffalo Springfield, it appears that Stills may have been running short on material. In fact, Stephen Stills 2 was originally planned as a double album and strong tracks like ‘So Begins The Task’ and ‘The Treasure’ were already written but held back for Manassas.
There’s one great track here though; the opening ‘Change Partners’ is a country shuffle with Stills as a Southern gentleman. There’s competent blues with Stills’ agreeably gritty voice – ‘Nothing To Do Today’ and ‘Fishes and Scorpions’, the latter with Eric Clapton guesting on guitar. Stills imitates Dylan on the solo acoustic ‘Word Game’, before the record ends limply with the 1950s throwback ‘Marianne’ and the recycling of ‘Bluebird Revisited’.
After a sequence of impressive work, Stephen Stills 2 is disappointing, but Stills would bounce back with his next project.
Manassas – Manassas
Stills linked up with former Byrds’ bass player Chris Hillman forming Manassas. They recruited the remnants of Hillman’s Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as members of Stills’ touring band, forming a large ensemble. Manassas is primarily Stills’ project – he wrote most of the material and sings most of the lead vocals, but the accomplished band elevates his material, as this sprawling double album covers country, Latin rhythms, folk, and bluesy rock.
‘Rock and Roll Crazies/Cuban Bluegrass’ showcases the new band’s skills, as it shifts between the styles outlined in its title, while ‘The Treasure (Take One)’ is an eight-minute blues jam elevated by the full ensemble sound. There are plenty of top-grade acoustic songs like ‘So Begins The Task’ and ‘Johnny’s Garden’, while Rolling Stone Bill Wyman writes and plays on ‘The Love Gangster’.
Manassas is an excellent double album – even though it’s highly regarded by Stills’ fan base, it’s been overlooked by many classic rock fans.
There’s a bunch of 1960s and 1970s albums from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash camp that I haven’t heard:
Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills: Super Session (1968)
Crosby and Nash: Graham Nash David Crosby (1972)
Manassas: Down the Road (1973)
Graham Nash: Wild Tales (1974)
Stephen Stills: Stills (1975)
Crosby and Nash: Whistling Down the Wire (1976)
Stephen Stills: Illegal Stills (1976)
Stephen Stills and Neil Young: Long May You Run (1976)
Stephen Stills: Thoroughfare Gap (1978)
Wind on the Water – Crosby and Nash
Crosby and Nash collaborated on three records in the mid-1970s– Wind on the Water is their second album together. While the duo feels incomplete without Stills’ guitar and gritty material, there’s enough mature songwriting and diversity to fuel the record; the uplifting opener ‘Carry Me’ is gospel-tinged, ‘Cowboy of Dreams’ is straight country, while ‘Critical Mass’ is an a capella hymn.
The two key songs book-end Wind on the Water – opener ‘Carry Me’ is surprisingly direct and structured for Crosby, but it’s emotionally gripping with the final verse about his mother’s death, and the chorus harmonies are beautiful. The duo collaborated on ‘To the Last Whale…’, and the opening mass is beautiful before the ecological cetacean ballad. Nash tries to provide some balance with the rocking ‘Take The Money And Run’, but without Stills the duo are like less than the sum of their parts.
It’s worth hearing the best songs here, but Wind on the Water feels too much like product to be fully worthwhile.
CSN – Crosby, Stills & Nash
After a failed attempt at a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young reunion album in 1976, which eventually became The Stills-Young Band’s Long May You Run, the original trio released their second album in 1977. Unlike their earlier social concerns, their lyrics are largely focused on relationships, and with its smooth sound, it’s comparable to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, released the same year.
There are some strong examples of mature pop; the opener ‘Shadow Captain’ is one of David Crosby’s finest moments, with evocative lyrics like “blacked out like a city/awaiting bombers in the night” and studio pianist Craig Doerge’s jazzy piano work, while his ‘In My Dreams’ is also beautiful. Nash cranks out the single, the tuneful ‘Just A Song Before I Go’, while ‘Cathedral’ is arguably his most ambitious composition ever, his tale of an acid trip in a cathedral. Stills contributes ‘Run From Tears’, ‘I Give You Give Blind’ and the groove of ‘Dark Star’, enlivening CSN with some necessary muscle and variety.
CSN is surprisingly accomplished; it’s not as effortlessly vital as their first two albums, but at its best, it showcases mature songs that reflect the trio growing up.
Daylight Again – Crosby, Stills & Nash
Even though it was released under the trio’s name, Daylight Again is essentially a collaboration between Stills and Nash. David Crosby was largely incapacitated by drug problems by this time, only contributing one song, and he’s even absent vocally as other vocalists like Art Garfunkel and Timothy B Schmitt are used to fill his place. For a 1982 album, Daylight Again is organic sounding, with plenty of acoustic guitars – the backing for ‘Might As Well Have A Good Time’ is pared down to some simple keyboards, while the title track is only Stills’ guitar and banjo.
The central track is Stills’ ‘Southern Cross’, with its simple acoustic riff, nautical metaphors, and huge stacked harmony vocals, while Nash also scored a hit single with the breezy ‘Wasted On The Way’. Crosby’s sole contribution, ‘Delta’ is a typically pretty and meandering composition, while opener ‘Turn Your Back On Love’ is urgent and vital.
The first half is stronger than the second, but overall, Daylight Again is better and has aged more gracefully, than you’d expect from a 1982 Crosby, Stills & Nash album.
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
American Dream is the full quartet’s first album since 1970’s landmark Deja Vu; it’s not unfair to suggest that it’s a major step down in quality. Young promised Crosby in 1983 that he’d rejoin the collective if Crosby could recover from his drug addictions. After a 1986 prison sentence, Crosby recovered and the quartet reformed. After successful revivals of Crosby, Stills & Nash in the late 1970s and early 1980s produced hits like ‘Just A Song Before I Go’ and ‘Southern Cross’, American Dream is irrelevant in comparison. Crosby was later scathing of American Dream, saying that “even though we did not have enough good songs, we ended up putting fourteen of them on the album! I think that was stupid”.
American Dream has a lowly reputation, and it’s deserved on the basis of horrendous tracks like Young’s country throwaway ‘This Old House’ and Crosby’s dated arena rocker ‘Nighttime for Generals’. Young’s strange alchemy shakes up the group, but not in a good way – opener ‘American Dream’ is particularly oddball. But there are the bones of a decent album here – cut some tracks and strip off the 1980s production. In particular, Stills has some strong moments like the rocker ‘Drivin’ Thunder’ and ‘Got It Made’. Nash’s songs are often buried in an adult-contemporary morass but ‘Clear Blue Skies’ is pretty, while Crosby delivers ‘Compass’, a jazzy reflection on his recent travails.
American Dream is clearly less impressive than the collective’s previous work, marking a shift into irrelevancy.
Live It Up
The quartet opted not to tour American Dream – instead Stills and Young headed out on tours with their own bands, while Crosby & Nash worked on a duo album. The record company insisted that they add Stills to boost the record’s commercial appeal, while Crosby released his own solo album, Oh Yes I Can!, in 1989. This explains why Live It Up is a trio album dominated by Nash – he sings half of the lead vocals, including a bunch of songs from outside writers like Joe Vitale, JD Souther, and Danny Kortchmar. As well as the studio guys you’d expect – Vitale, Leland Sklar, and Craig Doerge – there are also guest appearances from Peter Frampton, Roger McGuinn, and Bruce Hornsby.
With a tight ten-song tracklist, Live It Up avoids the bloat of American Dream. But it’s extremely light on worthwhile material. Stills’ ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough’ is hardly a remarkable song, but with a tasteful arrangement and gritty vocals it’s the most enjoyable track here. ‘Arrows’ is a typically ruminative and jazzy piece from Crosby, but it’s buried under a dated adult contemporary gloss. The Souther/Kortchmar song ‘If Anybody Had a Heart’ has a big catchy chorus, but it feels contrived. Even the usually reliable Stills flops with ‘Tomboy’. I don’t usually take album art into consideration, but the hotdogs on the moon artwork only adds to the half-baked nature of the record.
Live It Up is a career low, with too many tracks lacking Stills’ grit and Crosby’s spaciness.
After The Storm
The 1980s were tough on a lot of 1960s acts; Crosby, Stills & Nash’s previous two records were a case in point. Musically 1990 is a continuation of the 1980s before Nirvana’s Nevermind from 1991 helped to swing the pendulum back to a rawer sound. The more stripped-down sounds of the 1990s help the trio immensely – it takes mere seconds for opener ‘Only Waiting for You’ to impress with its organic sound and driving arrangement. Aside from a cover of The Beatles’ ‘In My Life’ the songs are all written by the trio with no outside help.
Despite the improvements in arrangements and productions, none of these songs have stayed in the trio’s live set. But there are respectable efforts – Crosby dips into Latin rhythms on ‘Camera’, co-written with Stills. Nash benefits from the stripped-down arrangements on the title track and ‘Unequal Love’, while the rockers like ‘Street to Lean On’ and ‘Bad Boyz’ also sound better.
After the Storm is a welcome bounce back after a pair of dated efforts, but it’s still only a shadow of past triumphs.
The trio left Atlantic Records, their home since their debut, and began to self-finance a new record. An intrigued Young signed up, making Looking Forward the third album by the full quartet. It’s more rough-hewn than their previous work, with less pristine harmonies and arrangements than usual. Looking Forward is decidedly a mixed bag, while it’s disjointed like a compilation of solo tracks.
Young’s the most impressive here, his calm soft-rock songs enjoyable particularly on the title track and the spooky ‘Out of Control’. Nash is predictably tuneful and slight, while Stills goes through his usual bag of tricks from the Latin opener ‘Faith In Me’ to the rocker ‘No Tears Left’. Crosby’s ‘Dream for Him’ is pretty, but ‘Stand and Be Counted’ is a career nadir – “I want to stand alone in front of the world and that oncoming tank/like that Chinese boy we all have to thank/he showed us in a picture I have mounted/exactly what it means to stand and be counted.” A couple of the songs are notably derivative – the liner notes admit that Stills’ ‘Seen Enough’ is taken from Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, while Young’s ‘Slowpoke’ is close to a recycle of the ‘Heart of Gold’ riff.
Given the optimistic title, it’s a little tragic that Looking Forward is Crosby, Stills and Nash’s final studio album together. It’s certainly an inconsistent record, perhaps fitting for a career that never reached full potential.
Ten Favourite Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) Songs
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Find The Cost of Freedom
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