One thing I’ve been meaning to do here is write a post solely devoted to a single artist. That time has come. This Monday, I saw Crosby, Stills and Nash play at the Puyallup Fair for a solid two and a half hours. That was all I needed to decide to write this.
My relationship with this band is based on deep, unwavering love. Their debut was the first album I bought by a band other than the Beatles if you can believe that. Yes back in 2002, before Zeppelin, before Floyd and even before Bob Dylan, there was Crosby, Stills and Nash, staring at me on that faded pink couch. This planted the seed that has produced one of the most fruitful trees in my collection. After this album, I made the logical progression to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the sophomore album, Déjà vu, which is equally, if not more, incredible. And now, I have solo albums by each of the band’s members, albums by The Byrds, The Hollies, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby and Nash, and Manassas. As each of these groups have a C, S, N or Y in them that makes nearly twenty-five albums with some connection to the “holy trinity” as my friend Mark so heretically referred to them.
Okay. Enough. I like this group. And why this obsession, you may ask? First off, the vocal harmonies. If you know anything about CSN, you know that their harmonies give them their identity. The blend is impeccable, the precision unbeatable. These guys flat out sing better together than nearly anyone else has in rock and roll history.
But while the harmonies are the first thing that impresses about this band, the three unique songwriting styles in this group is the factor that keeps me coming back again and again. Much like Paul, John and George, Graham, Steven and David have three different skill sets for songwriting. Mr. Crosby is ever the dreamer, but always equips his songs with a bite. His songs are smooth but complex and drenched with passion. A perfect example of this is the song “Déjà vu” with its surging intro followed by the jazzy, slowed down second section. Not to mention, he probably has the best solo voice in the group.
And then there’s Graham Nash, the ever-charming Brit. He and David Crosby have collaborated for the majority of their lives despite being polar opposites as songwriters. While Crosby’s songs are dense, weaving pieces, Nash writes simple, charming songs like “Our House” and “Teach Your Children”. Of course, Graham shares Crosby’s left political leanings and has written songs that have nothing to do with romantic love though even these have an overarching message of positvity. Nothing like the dark opacity present in Crosby’s songs. Like for example, the Crosby and Nash song, “Page 43”. Ha! Now you know!
Lastly, I must discuss Stephen Stills. He may be an arrogant prick, he may have very little left of his voice and he may have taken a few too many drugs, but he is one of the finest songwriters of his generation. Not only that, he played just about all the instruments on the trio’s eponymous debut! That’s some serious talent. Honestly, his bass playing is more interesting than any of the session pros the hired on later albums, who were certainly more than adequate. That’s just how all-around gifted Stills is. As for songwriting, the guy wrote “Carry On”, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Rock & Roll Woman”, three of the best songs ever. Enough said.
Though I love Neil Young very very much, I wasn’t planning on writing anything about him. He just isn’t a pivotal part of the group, though when he was sporadically there, it was awesome.
Sadly, Crosby, Stills and Nash saw more than their fair share of problems with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and were never able to consistently churn out albums. Nonetheless, their momentary bursts of unified energy have been unforgettable. Seeing them live, I came to realize just how many fantastic songs these guys made despite only having a handful of true albums. Their first two records are like the Ruth and Gehrig of rock music. This is the stuff that legends are made of. Unbeatable.
*If you hadn’t read enough praise of this group, here’s a recent review,
*Last week’s subheading was “There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)” by Radiohead, correctly guessed by Sean Leonard.