The 10 Best Crosby, Stills & Nash Deep Cuts [Deep Cuts Week]
November 7, 2011 1 Comment
Deep Cuts Week Returns!
Try to contain your enthusiasm.
All week, ROTI will be rocking your soul with infrequently-played tracks from some of the most acclaimed and influential musical artists in recent memory. This is the second edition of a successful series we ran a year ago; the index of all Deep Cuts entries can be found at the end of this post.
Allow me, Alpine, to get personal for a minute. When I think about my love of great music and how it developed over the years, one scene that jumps into my mind is driving with my pops in the family station wagon, at a young and impressionable age, when “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” from the debut album by Crosby, Stills and Nash came on the stereo. My dad cranked up the volume and we cruised down the placid roads of our suburban town listening to some of the greatest harmonies ever put on wax. I nearly lost my mind when Stephen Stills led the band into the final part of the song, the random rumination about Cuba, and later spent many hours with headphones clapped around my ears and the record playing on the family stereo, trying to puzzle out what the words were. (Still haven’t figured ’em out.)
That’s why I’m beginning the second round of Deep Cuts articles with a feature on CSN. I received invaluable help in this effort from one of my wisest homies in harmony, and one of the most knowledgeable music fans on Earf, DJ Walls of Sound.
Probably the greatest and most essential supergroup ever created, CSN formed at a party at Mama Cass’ house in July 1968, at a time when all three of its members were adrift from the groups that had made them famous.
Troublemaker David Crosby was legendary for his harmonies as part of the original lineup of The Byrds, but was basically an a-hole who feuded with equally dickish frontman Roger McGuinn and eventually found himself band-less. Englishman Graham Nash had played a key role in the breakthrough success of The Hollies, yet he found his songwriting leading him in a different direction, a path that his fellow Hollies didn’t understand; they kept rejecting his compositions, and he eventually bailed and headed to California. Stephen Stills had achieved success through his collaborations with Neil Young; their band, Buffalo Springfield, had a smash hit with Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” but after the elusive Young split from the band and insanely talented bassist Bruce Palmer was deported to Canada on drug charges, Stills was casting about for some new tune partners.
Stills and Crosby joined forces and had worked up a couple of numbers, including “You Don’t Have to Cry.” They were jamming on that song at Mama Cass’ pad, when Graham Nash walked up and laid down an insanely good high harmony over the top. Everyone knew right away that an incredibly awesome new sound had been born. Mere months later, they performed a set at Woodstock that launched their name into the top tier of harmonic rock groups. The sound that magically came together in July 1968 became one of the most influential musical styles of the 20th century.
The three geniuses feuded often throughout the years, both with and without their fourth wheel Neil Young. Throughout the intervening decades they’ve often re-formed in different configurations based on who was pissed at whom, or who was in jail (Crosby) or who randomly flounced off to Canada (Young). But their monument will always be the amazing songs and flawless, brilliant harmonies that they crafted together.
Greatest Hits and Essential Tracks: As with all editions of Deep Cuts, we begin by listing the songs we do NOT consider to be sleepers. If you aren’t familiar with CSN, you need to start with these songs. Both CSN and Neil Young have pretty comprehensive Greatest Hits albums that include most of the essentials. They are:
From CSN Greatest Hits — “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Long Time Gone,” “Just a Song Before I Go,” “Southern Cross,” “Marrakesh Express,” “Helplessly Hoping,” “Shadow Captain,” “Our House,” “Guinnevere,” “See The Changes,” “Teach Your Children,” “Wooden Ships,” “Delta,” “49 Bye-Byes,” “Wasted On The Way,” “Carry On/Questions,” “In My Dreams,” “Cathedral,” “Daylight Again.” From Neil Young’s Greatest Hits — “Ohio,” “Helpless.” Also — “Deja Vu”.
(I should also note here that while I am including Deep Cuts from the individual artists that were released after CSN was formed, this does not include Neil Young deep cuts, because his massive catalogue really deserves its own post at some point.)
#10. “Find the Cost of Freedom”
At the time of the Kent State shootings, CSNY was topping the charts with the hippie anthem “Teach Your Children.” Neil Young saw the cover of LIFE magazine with its famous photo of the dead student lying in the street, and went apeshit, quickly penning the legendary j’accuse aimed at Nixon, “Ohio.” The track made “Teach Your Children” sound like a vestige of a forgotten age and knocked it off the top of the charts, and meanwhile, pretty much kicked off the hard rock era.
On the back of that single was this contemplative song about the war dead written by Stills. It follows the time-tested formula — a tasty Stills melody, suddenly and explosively augmented by harmonies that seem to pervade and overwhelm the senses. The second go-round of the chorus is hair-raising — I just wish I had a better-quality clip to offer you. The lyric is rather trite, but that hardly matters with harmonies this dank.
#9. “Down By The River”
Neil Young’s participation in CSN was less notable for his role in the group’s famous harmonies than for his participation in a four-way mindmeld that catapulted him to the most creative and brilliant phase of his career, much of which he executed alone or with his band Crazy Horse. This awesomely rare Youtube clip shows one of the great songs of Young’s solo career in the hands of CSNY, performed on the David Sternberg show in 1969.
It hardly needs to be said that having Graham Nash and David Crosby on harmony vocals makes the choruses true face-melters. But what I find really compelling about this is the guitar collab between Young and Stills. The latter’s ethereal style is a perfect complement to the former’s jagged edges. This potent blend made the Stills/Young combo so effective in leading Buffalo Springfield and again with CSNY. The courtly approach of Stills softens Young’s brutality, while Young forces Stills to step up his game and shred a little more.
#8. “It Doesn’t Matter”
I will be the first to admit that this track from Stills’ side project, Manassas, is a bit of a borderline call, but I’m slotting it in here to enable me to unleash the following rant.
If you don’t know the name Chris Hillman, you either need to introduce yourself to some great music or brush up on the personnel of some of the finest records of all time. Hillman — the guy with the white-fro seen in the video above — was a founding member of the Byrds, playing the bass guitar. After Crosby was elbowed out, Hillman advocated for the inclusion of Gram Parsons in the lineup; the two of them quickly pushed the band towards a more overt evocation of country rock that became the amazing album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” They then split McGuinn’s outfit and started their own group, the Flying Burrito Brothers, recording the unfathomably awesome “Gilded Palace of Sin” record. After Parsons’ death by drug overdose, Hillman engaged in a number of other quality projects — one of which was a two-record collaboration with Stills, under the name Manassas.
There’s a lot to love about this 70s TV recording of Manassas at work. Stills seems to be in some kind of drug haze, wielding a gorgeous White Falcon, while Hillman lays down his typically great harmony vocals in his typically understated manner. The superb Al Perkins contributes some tasty slide guitar and adds great vocals as well. Dallas Taylor, CSN’s main drummer, bops away with sessionman Joe Lala at his side. And on the bass, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuel!
#7. “Urge for Going”
This is a true deep cut — an unreleased Crosby & Nash cover of a Joni Mitchell song that didn’t see the light of day until CSN dropped their four-disc box set in the 90s.
Each man takes a verse — Nash’s bright, poppy vocal contrasts perfectly with Crosby’s soulful, warm tones. They come together time and again to blend those amazing harmonies that made them a must-add to any 70s singer-songwriter jam (they guested on dozens of classic hits, including tracks from Neil Young’s “Harvest” and James Taylor’s “Mexico.”).
The backing musicians are also tight on this one, I especially like the bassline that accompanies the mighty melodies. Overall, this is an exceptional cover and a quintessential document of what made Crosby and Nash such an amazing harmony team.
#6. “Immigration Man”
This track was nominated by DJ Walls on two accounts: “(1) It’s catchy and kind of a good song (2) The lyrics are hilarious.” I second him on both fronts!
This Crosby/Nash track was a minor hit in its time, but these days, it’s box-set rather than greatest-hits material. It’s a shame because this is a great track! Obviously, the fellas are dropping a tasty harmony over Nash’s tale of cross-border woe. Johny Barbata and Greg Reeves provide the perfect rhythm section for a smooth 70s harmonic groove. A surprising cameo features Traffic’s Dave Mason shredding on electric guitar!
I can’t totally vouch for the embedded video “editorial” itself, but it did give way to something awesome. The comment thread of this Youtube video are filled with political arguments about immigration. This led Youtube user luvtotruck to outburst, “Just like I figured. Bullshit arguing instead of commenting on a great fuckin jam with Dave Mason cranking out some smokin guitar. Don’t they have political forums where all you want to be politicians can go argue till the cows come home?”
#5. “Tamalpais High (At About 3)”
Have you ever heard anything as nasty as this in your whole life? 3:33 of wordless jam, just trippy vocals over a crush groove. I’m pretty sure this song should be classified as a controlled substance because it certainly places my mind in an altered state.
This David Crosby track features Nash on harmony vocals and the Grateful Dead combo of Jerry Garcia on axe, Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums, with Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen on guitar as well. It’s a god damned 60s all star team.
David Crosby is kind of a caricature of a 60s rock star, more known for his drug problems, political harangues, parentage of Melissa Etheridge’s kids, and bloated waistline than his musical talents. But that’s partially because his debut album, “If I Could Only Remember My Name,” goes tragically unlistened-to. This track is just one of the many unbelievable numbers you’ll find on that record…Crosby and Young collab memorably on “Music is Love,” while Joni Mitchell assists on the killer “Laughing.” It’s a must-own.
#4. “As I Come of Age”
This cut is from Stephen Stills’ 1975 solo album, “Stills.” It’s got the CSN boys back together again for a poignant tune about gettin’ older and stuff.
I never really appreciated this one when I was a younger man, but now that the years are wearing on me, I see that this song is a straight up JAM! So many songs have been penned on this theme, but few of them ever sounded this fantastic. Those tender harmonies never ever get old, and you have to love the section that begins “yes but it’s all over now…” It evokes the best moments of CSN, dating back to the debut.
Sessionman Donnie Dacus lays down a pretty choice solo as well, and might I add – RINGO STARR on drums!
#3. “I Used To Be a King”
From Nash’s incredibly, thoroughly underrated solo debut, “Songs for Beginners.” Another one to add to your shopping list. You will not be disappointed.
This track is, quite simply, gorgeous. Tragic verses are interspersed with powerful choruses as Graham walks us through a heartbreaking tale of lost love. When he drives into the impassioned finale, you can’t help but listen in awe.
Adding to the grandeur and greatness of this track is the work of the band around Nash, keyed by some famous names. Jerry Garcia is brilliant on pedal steel, augmenting the vocal with his soaring tones. Johny Barbata powers the beat forward, David Crosby rings out on electric axe, and the best of all is Dead bassist Phil Lesh, who simply dominates.
Nobody is a more maniacal Beatles fanatic than this guy, but this cover version of one of Paul’s most famous songs absolutely crushes the Beatles’ edition. Stills takes the lead, Crosby provides some woodsy undergrowth, and Nash soars over the top. I’m told they learned it from Macca himself soon after the song was written, and they utterly made it their own.
This clip is a collection of studio outtakes. The best version starts at 4:09, but if you listen to the entire thing you can hear the singers shaping it, refining it. Nash’s part is especially epic — it’s hard to listen to this song done by anyone else without thinking of his harmony on “blackbird fly.” One of the best things about these dudes is how perfectly their three different voices complement each other so wonderfully.
#1. “You Don’t Have To Cry”
This ridiculously good version was apparently recorded on “The Tom Jones Show,” and while it’s only a minute long, it showcases the killer harmonies that this group was built around in the first place. The studio version is equally great — hell, their entire debut album is so essential that you need it in your music library yesterday.
Take a typically-awesome Stills groove, with personal and confessional lyrics penned for his ex-girl Judy Collins, add the harmonic machine that was Stills/Nash, and you have the seeds of the Laurel Canyon sound that electrified the universe in the late 60s and early 70s. Add to the greatness of the song the fact that it’s the very first tune that CSN harmonized on and you have yourself a truly vital deep cut. “You Don’t Have To Cry” isn’t one of their best known songs, but it’s the one that started it all, and it has always been at the top of my list for great CSN tunes.
Basically, nobody ever did harmonies better than CSN, and nobody ever will. But good luck trying!
With the magic of Spotify, I’ve created a playlist featuring some of these tracks, as well as other great CSN songs I think you’ll enjoy.
So much good stuff in this. Crosby’s nonsense baby-boomer rants, Stills jamming on “Black Queen” and then bitching out Crosby, a tasty grab of “Cost of Freedom,” Crosby and Stills reflecting on Woodstock, Nash opining on using music to change the world, and Stills dropping a little “4+20,” with a weird latter-day clip of Stills to finish it off!
|DEEP CUTS INDEXAl Green
Crosby, Stills & Nash