Crosby, Stills and Nash
Crosby, Stills and Nash
Very few records from that mythic period known as “the ‘60s” have the unique ability to be both time capsule and timeless. The newly-remastered debut disc from Crosby, Stills and Nash, is, unquestionably, one of these rare birds. On one hand there’s the background scenery of the record, on which are painted the main conflicts of that polarized time: the ‘freaks’ versus the ‘straights;’ long hair versus short; who’s ‘holding,’ who isn’t. And why won’t those materialistic, “silver people on the shoreline,” just leave us alone, man. But this 1969 release is also simply one of the most intricately-played, staggeringly-musical rock albums you’ll ever hear. To paraphrase a character in the film Almost Famous, this disc makes you want to shout, ‘Does anyone remember beauty?’ C, S & N’s debut will remind you.
Although Crosby and Nash sing here like coke-stoked seraphim, the album belongs to Stephen Stills. With his gorgeously muted electric guitar licks, (as immediately identifiable as Miles Davis’s trumpet playing), his sitar-style acoustic-picking, his burbling bass and Floyd Cramer-style keyboards, Stills is the aural architect of this album. And his songwriting sings; from the rangy, digressive beauty of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” to the country-soul of “49 Bye Byes,” the breadth of musical accomplishment by this former Buffalo Springfield member will simply astonish you.
Crosby, Stills, and Nash is heartbreaking for two reasons. Most importantly, for the honest, uncontrived and openhearted sense of purpose that these three future superstars bring to the project. Having left (or been booted out of) their famous, if constricting, bands, Nash and Crosby bring the loosest, jazziest music of their lives to these sessions. Just listen to Graham and David ‘do-do’ their way through Nash’s “Lady of the Island,” like a counter-culture Jobim and Gilberto. And Crosby, a former Byrd, never composed anything as unearthly as “Guinevere,” replete with such spare, eerie imagery, and tunings so full, it sounded like he was playing three 12 string guitars.
The other painful aspect of the album is its success and that of its follow-up (Deja Vu), which brought with it enough money, celebrity and drugs to doom the band to ego trips, in-fighting and, mostly inferior, shadow versions of these tunes on future records. This album may have come out in May of ’69. But considering what lay ahead of these guys? Fall – in every sense – was not so very far away.
Regardless, Crosby, Stills and Nash emotionally and sonically wipes away all the bad memories and later affectations of its creators; time and the sad changes it brings gets washed away with one listen to this masterpiece. As Croz casually croons a snippet of Robert Johnson in between “Long Time Coming” and “49 Bye Byes,” Stills backs him effortlessly on about six instruments, and Graham tosses in all of his Hollies-like sweetness.
Anything seemed possible for these denim-clad hippies back in the 1960s. And even if that didn’t prove to be true, well, that’s okay. To paraphrase a great American writer who spoke for his generation in the 1920s: “It sure was pretty to think so.”