KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – CROSBY, STILLS & NASH “CSN”

Artist: CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
Album: CSN

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

David Crosby, Stephen Stills & Graham Nash formed the supergroup bearing their surnames in 1968 following their dismissals from/dissolution of their former bands, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies, respectively. Within a year they had an era-defining Top 10 album (which I’ve already discussed in Part 3 of my Great Out Of The Gate series) and followed that up in 1970 by combining forces with Stills’ former bandmate, Neil Young (whose discography I revisited for a 10-part series back in early 2013), and released an album that arguably surpassed its predecessor. Instead of capitalizing on this momentum the group splintered into two factions, with Crosby & Nash collaborating on three albums and Stills & Young releasing a single joint effort (previously covered in Part 3 of my One And Done series), in addition to solo releases from all four. Each of these records was successful, but nothing that matched the creative & commercial accomplishments of their work as a 3- or 4-piece. It took until the second half of the ‘70s for the original trio to regroup for a new studio release, and fortunately the music world was still interested. The not-so-cleverly-titled CSN arrived in June 1977 to great acclaim, missing the top of the album charts by one spot. All three contributed wonderful songs (5 from Stills, 4 from Nash & 3 from Crosby), and their unmistakable group harmonies remained intact. The arrangements & production reflect the prevailing trends of the era’s mega-sellers, with a smooth, sophisticated sheen a la Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Steely Dan’s Aja. Although CSN was a multi-platinum success it seems to be overlooked in their discography, possibly because none of the songs became classic rock staples (in spite of one Top 10 hit and a few others that garnered sporadic FM radio airplay).

Of Crosby’s three contributions, two are absolute gems, including album opener “Shadow Captain” which is soft, smooth & a bit jazzy, with 3-part harmonies throughout, a fast hi-hat rhythm and a nice repeated piano refrain. The other is “In My Dreams,” one of two tracks to surpass the 5-minute mark. It’s a lovely quiet Joni Mitchell-esque ballad with subtle percussion & jazzy acoustic guitar, which perks up with a steadier rhythm in the second half. Nash’s harmonies add some sweetness. Stills brought three winners, my favorite of which is “Dark Star,” featuring Latin-inspired percussion with a pulsing 4/4 rhythm, a cool guitar figure and his smooth vocals & melodic acoustic guitar solo. Album closer “I Give You Give Blind” is a driving rocker with an insistent groove, subtle orchestral accompaniment, tasty guitar work and Stills’ voice in peak form. It’s a shame it wasn’t released as a single, and certainly deserved to be higher up in the track listing. “Fair Game,” with its Latin rhythm, acoustic guitar solo and Stills singing “just relax enjoy the ride,” would have fit nicely on one of his solo albums. It was issued as a single but just missed the Top 40. Three of Nash’s finest songs appear here. “Cathedral” memorably recounts the effects of an LSD trip he had at Winchester Cathedral. It’s a stark piano ballad with Nash & Crosby sharing tight harmonies in the chorus (“I’m flying in Winchester Cathedral). At around 2:30 the pace quickens, capturing the thrills & chills he must have experienced, before settling back to the original tempo after a minute. “Carried Away” is a short & sweet piano ballad with light instrumentation, a lovely harmonica solo by Nash and Crosby adding his one-of-a-kind harmonies. The biggest hit from this album was Nash’s “Just A Song Before I Go.” It’s a smooth, jazz-tinged soft-rock tune with a gorgeous melody. The four songs I haven’t highlighted are all very good, but none of them are on quite the same level as the others. Although their eponymous debut and CSNY’s Déjà Vu remain their crowning achievements, CSN isn’t far behind, and any fans of their earlier work who might have overlooked or undervalued it would be wise to give it a fresh listen.

 

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29 comments on “Forty Year Friday – CROSBY, STILLS & NASH “CSN”

  1. Jeff Kempin
    August 4, 2017

    Agree with this post entirely, Dark Star is one of my favorite CSN songs. Not much else to add this time except 2 thumbs up.

    Great post, Rich!

    Like

    • Thanks, Jeff. I’m happy to know you feel as strongly about this album as I do. It doesn’t get mentioned often like their debut and Deja Vu so I’ve been curious to find out how others feel about it.

      Like

  2. stephen1001
    August 4, 2017

    I’m always intrigued to read about the breakdown of songwriting credits on these sort of supergroup recordings, relatively even distribution here.
    Interesting, and perhaps not surprising, to read about the synergy they had as a 4 piece, where CSNY > CN + SY !

    Like

  3. Alyson
    August 5, 2017

    I think you probably know what I’m going to say here as I approach your FYF from the perspective of what I was listening to in 1977 when I was aged 16/17, and it wasn’t really CSN. I did of course wonder, after they added Neil Young to the line-up, what would happen if they added a fifth member – It would all get very unwieldy.

    Didn’t realise actually until much later that it was Graham Nash from our own Hollies who was the N in CSN. The Hollies were a staple on our music oriented telly shows when I was very young and I liked them a lot. I do love these rock and pop family trees but just like adding a fifth member to CSNY, they can also get very unwieldy!

    As ever, a pleasure to read your excellent review however. Have a great weekend.

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. This one was a toss-up as far as your enjoyment was concerned, but I had a feeling it would be a near-miss. I’ve always enjoyed playing connect-the-dots with musical family trees and other various connections between artists. I suppose Nash is a common enough name to not make the immediate connection, but I believe when CSN first appeared it was the links to their previous bands that everyone was excited about.

      I hope you had a great weekend. Mine was good but another busy one, hence the inability to respond to your comment until 30+ hours after I posted this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        August 6, 2017

        Hi – yes love joining the dots too but I was so young when the Hollies were around that I wouldn’t have known their individual names and they were so very British whereas CSN were so American. Great to discover all these links in later life though especially now with access to so much more info than was ever possible before (although maybe too much for those of us who get drawn in by it all!).

        Our weekend should have been good but our daughter, who should have been enjoying our local music festival, had to be taken to the emergency room – Turns out that having cold viruses and music festivals don’t mix so all very dramatic. Crossing fingers she will get well soon.

        Like

      • I never thought of CSN as sounding American but I also never thought of British Invasion bands as sounding British. When I was discovering all the musical greats of the last half century as a pre-teen & teenager, I didn’t even considered where those artists came from. Most likely it was because I didn’t care. Haha.

        So sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope she has a quick recovery and you don’t blame her too much for missing the music festival. Sending good wishes your (and her) way.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. kevin
    August 5, 2017

    Nice post, Rich. Hard to compete with those first two albums. Even though I always loved “Shadow Captain” and “Dark Star,” I, admittedly, am one of those “fans of their earlier work who might have overlooked or undervalued” this album. I am going to re-assess soon.

    Like

    • Hi Kevin. Since you already love those two songs I’m confident you will find a lot more to like on this album, but you’ll probably feel like I do when comparing it to the incredible work that preceded it. It’s always an unfair comparison, so enjoy this album on its own merits.

      Like

  5. Vinyl Connection
    August 5, 2017

    Fine album. Hi fives on this one, Rich.
    And delighted to see you managed to work in both covers, the smiley one and the ‘serious’ one. Nice work.

    Like

    • Thanks, Bruce. To tell the truth, I was unaware that both photos had been used for the album cover. I previously assumed there was one official cover and the other photo was used elsewhere in the packaging.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Aphoristical
    August 5, 2017

    Yeah, I really like this album. Dark Star, Shadow Captain are really good songs.

    Like

    • Glad we agree about this album. Those are wonderful songs and have long been two of my favorites, but in revisiting it the last couple of weeks several others really grew on me. It’s a very strong album.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        August 6, 2017

        I like how it’s grown up as well – not trying to recreate the first two albums, just a snapshot of where they were in 1977. Kind of Yacht Rock.

        Like

      • It’s hard to argue the “yacht rock” description for this album, especially with the three of them on a boat, but that term is often used mockingly by people who only enjoy music of that era ironically. I loved all of those Yacht Rock videos, which were hilarious and made by people with a clear affection for those artists. There’s certainly a smooth latter-half-of-the-’70s sound that sets CSN apart from their previous releases, and that’s one of the things I’ve always loved about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        August 7, 2017

        I just covered a Michael McDonald song on my blog, so Yacht Rock was on the top of my mind. CSN (and Daylight Again) do have that smooth sound, and do fit with the aesthetic, even if there’s little personnel crossover, which is probably why they didn’t turn up on the series. I also wanted second phase Roxy Music to turn up on the series too – they’re not Yacht Rock, but they’re from the same era and so smooth.

        Like

      • Hmm, I like the concept of an alternate Yacht Rock series with artists not normally associated with that West Coast smooth, jazzy sound. Good call on latter-period Roxy Music.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        August 8, 2017

        I figure they could have just made an extra episode. Roxy Music could have come into the marina on a huge Ferry.

        Like

      • Well-played. Hopefully that Ferry would stop by the (near to me) Eno River. So, what’s your favorite Manzan-era of the Roxy Music discography?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        August 8, 2017

        I definitely like the first era best – I think the second half of the debut is tough going, but otherwise it’s all pretty great. Avalon is very good, but the other two comeback albums are pretty spotty for me.

        Like

      • Are you referring to Manifesto and Flesh & Blood? Hadn’t considered those “comeback” albums before but I guess after a few years apart they divided their discography into two fairly distinct eras. I covered their catalog several years ago and found a lot to like on all the albums, but it’s hard to top the first several.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        August 8, 2017

        I covered them all last year: https://albumreviews.blog/reviews/roxy-music/

        Like

      • I’ll check out those reviews soon. It’s amazing how much overlap we have.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        August 8, 2017

        I’m younger than you (late thirties), but my parents don’t like pop music, so I don’t really have the issue where music from the 1960s and 1970s is my parents’ music.

        Like

      • Even if you did have that issue, at some point you would have realized that your parents had excellent tastes and you had dismissed some amazing music. Consider yourself lucky that you were able to skip over that step and enjoyed it all along.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Forty Year Friday – NEIL YOUNG “AMERICAN STARS ‘N BARS” AND “DECADE” | KamerTunesBlog

  8. zumpoems
    August 11, 2017

    Time sure does fly!

    Like

    • Very true. I suppose that can be said for all the albums I’ve featured in this series (and even more so in your Fifty Year Friday series). 😀

      Like

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