Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
[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.