Classic Album: Crosby, Stills & Nash - Crosby, Stills & Nash

Forty years later, their debut still soars
Crosby, Stills & Nash
They are one person. They are two alone. They are three together. Crosby, Stills & Nash will always be for each other.

In 1969, an entire US nation was ‘helplessly hoping’: the same year that Woodstock hit and man landed on the moon, Robert Kennedy was shot and 10,889 “Communist guerrillas” died in Vietnam. Anti-Nixon sentiment lingered in the Californian air like a claustrophobic fog. The Sixties’ underworld (AKA the youth) was finally finding their voice.

Their fears and hopes were voiced by CS&N’s eponymous album, which delved into the folk roots of rock music and strapped it like a cathartic band-aid across a ruling class that had lost its way. CS&N would spectacularly lose theirs in the ‘Helter Skelter’ hell that followed the Charles Manson murders. The sea change, however, had already occurred. Introducing David Crosby (godfather of social commentary, lynchpin and all-round hellraiser), Stephen Stills (ambidextrous guitar player, career-driven gameplayer and soul man) and Graham Nash (angel-voiced peacemaker and bubblegum pop star). CS&N weren’t just a band - they were a supergroup made up of individual artists in their own right (Crosby came from The Byrds, Stills from Buffalo Springfield, and Nash from The Hollies). Each member brought their own rhythm and demons to the table. And what a table it was…

The trio’s debut was truly born in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon - their debut success would signal a movement managed under the partnership of Elliot Roberts and David Geffen. From CS&N came Canadian songbird Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and - not forgetting - the lone wolf that came to define the era: Neil Young.
Looking back, David Crosby is quick to bring the romanticism down a peg or two. “Lately people have been looking back a lot, trying to analyze what happened, and that period of time, the ’60s, has acquired the “rosy glow” that the aggrandizement of time can do to things… With Laurel Canyon, some people are making it into this mythical place, beyond what it was. Some of it was truly delightful. I enjoyed the hell out of it at the time.”

So, just what were the songs that came to define them? And where were they gloriously conceived? In February ’69, when the rain came to Laurel Canyon, David, Graham and Stephen headed indoors, and into Wally Heider’s studio on the corner of Cahuenga and Selma in Hollywood. Studio manager Bill Halverson recalls, “They all showed up in Crosby’s VW bus. I asked them what they wanted to do. They said, “Tonight we’re going to sing and play acoustic guitars.”

That’s exactly what they did - starting with Stills’ strangely-tuned (rather than the usual EADGBE, it favours EEEEBE instead) ode to ex-lover Judy Collins, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, which sparkles and spirals over an epic seven minutes and twenty-two second. No one could accuse Stills of not taking his shit seriously. He wasn’t nicknamed ‘Captain Manyhands’ in the studio for nowt; compensating Nash’s adequate guitar skills by executing all bass parts, lead guitar, most finger-picking and rhythm parts and unleashing the demon on the organ.

It was Stills’ focus that gave birth to the soaring guitar solo intro (or spiralling, as it’s recorded backwards) on ‘Marrakesh Express’, which took Graham Nash’s inspired train-ditty to new levels. And who could forget David Crosby’s Monty Python-esque “whoopa-a-mess-a-hoogahoofa- a-messi-goush-goush” ramblings before Stills cranks in?

Where CS&N really mesmerised their captive audience was in their crystal-clear harmonies, as The Hollies’ publicist summed up, recalling when he first heard album track ‘Bye Bye Baby’: “I don’t think my nipples have softened since.”

To all purposes, CS&N’s unashamed romanticism softened a nation’s nipples in one fell folk record. No track encapsulates their harmonised romanticism quite as succinctly as ‘Guinnevere’ - a medieval yarn that acts as an anecdote to ’69’s troubled times. It’s a hypnotic composition that cuts through the ether like ice. Myth relents to timely reality on Crosby’s ‘Long Time Gone’, addressing the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Which brings us round full circle: humanity and political consciousness are never far displaced from this debut, rooted in David Crosby’s acute awareness of the band’s time and place.

The time was 1969. The place was Laurel Canyon. The band were CS&N. Forty years later, as their summer reunion looms, their debut still soars. Hoofa-amessi-goush-goush!

Words by Kat Lister

Released: May 29th 1969
Producer: Bill Halverson / Crosby, Stills & Nash

TRACKLIST

1. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
2. Marrakesh Express
3. Guinnevere
4. You Don’t Have To Cry
5. Pre-Road Downs
6. Wooden Ships
7. Lady Of The Island
8. Helplessly Hoping
9. Long Time Gone
10. 49 Bye-Byes

MUSICIANS
David Crosby: rhythm guitar, vocals
Stephen Stills: guitar, bass, organ, vocals
Graham Nash: vocals, acoustic guitar
Dallas Taylor: drums, percussion

1969: IN THE NEWS
• Richard Nixon becomes President.
• The Beatles’ perform last ever public appearance on the roof of Apple.
• Woodstock festival is held.
• Rolling Stone Brian Jones dies in his swimming pool.
• Sesame Street premieres on TV.

1969: THE ALBUMS
The Beatles ‘Abbey Road’
The Band ‘The Band’
MC5 ‘Kick Out The Jams’
The Rolling Stones ‘Let It Bleed’
Bob Dylan ‘Nashville Skyline’

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