Like many Crosby Stills Nash & Young fans, I’ve read books about them, watched documentaries, bought all of their group albums, and most of their solo albums. Even so, when Amazon suggested I might like another book about CSN&Y (and it was at half price) I bought it.
This book, came out in 2018, but somehow I missed it, or thought I didn’t need to read more about the group. Amazon provided the first chapter as a sample, and I was hooked. Author David Browne also wrote Fire And Rain (about Rock in 1970), which I read when it came out in 2011.
This book provides a lot more detail about Crosby Stills Nash & Young, but maybe even more than I wanted to know. Sure there’s all the info about what made them so special, but Graham Nash was right when he sang about “Time we have wasted on the way”. CSN&Y wasted time by not getting along, mostly because of egos and drugs. It’s a real shame that drugs were a part of the Rock & Roll lifestyle, because drugs almost killed David Crosby, and they did kill some of the musicians CSN&Y worked with.
There were also personality clashes, and significant differences in work habits when it came to the recording process. Stephen Stills could play all of the instruments needed for a band, and loved to work in the studio. Sometimes that was good, but other times he would get so involved he’d spend days working without sleep. No one else thought that was a healthy way to make music, and lack of sleep hurt his interactions with the others. During part of his career, Stills also had an alcohol problem.
David Crosby’s extreme drug usage caused him to almost miss 1982’s fourth group album, Daylight Again. His time in jail for drug possession actually helped him get clean. Graham Nash also had some drug problems, but was the most stable of CSN, and helped the group by handling much of the business side of their career.
The book clarified how Neil Young fit in (or didn’t fit in) with the others. The author’s opinion was in line with my long-held belief that Neil Young cleverly joined CSN mainly to become well known. It greatly impacted the sales of his solo albums. He had released two previous solo albums that (despite being good) had poor sales. After his fame with CSN&Y, his album sales took off, often to the platinum level.
One of my main takeaways from the book is that Young was probably right to limit his involvement with CSN. Buffalo Springfield showed that Young wasn’t a good member of a group. He abandoned Buffalo Springfield just before a TV appearance, and again before the Monterey Pop Festival. Neil proved he needed to be in charge of his own unique career, and he couldn’t function well within a group…especially one so often at odds with one another..
Neil Young only wrote three songs that CSN&Y recorded and released on their 1970’s albums. His real place was as a very valuable member of their live shows. Anytime the “& Young” was added to a tour, the group played larger venues and made more money. That seems a fair payback for the jump-start CSN gave to Neil Young’s solo career.
The first album, Crosby Stills & Nash, arrived in 1969, just before The Beatles stopped recording together. CS&N helped fill that major gap, along with the surge of singer-songwriters.
CSN’s most significant group recordings are contained in their first four albums, as shown above. These albums were recorded between 1969 and 1982. CSN (& sometimes Y) recorded four more albums, but when the group released their CSN Greatest Hits album in 2005, all of the songs chosen were from those first four albums.
Here’s the list of those songs, placed in chronological order.
- Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
- Marrakesh Express
- Helplessly Hoping
- Wooden Ships
- Long Time Gone
- 49 Bye-Byes
- Teach Your Children
- Carry On/Questions
- Our House
- See The Changes
- Just A Song Before I Go
- Shadow Captain
- In My Dreams
- Southern Cross
- Wasted On The Way
- Daylight Again/Find The Cost Of Freedom
The first seven songs are from their initial album, Crosby, Stills & Nash, 8, 9 & 10 are from Deja Vu, the next five are from CSN, and the final four from Daylight Again.
That’s an impressive line-up of very original recordings. Notice anything missing? Unfortunately, It was decided to not include any songs Neil Young recorded with them, so “Woodstock” and “Ohio” are not there. That poor decision eliminated a great Stephen Stills arrangement and vocal of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, and the excellent group effort on Neil Young’s “Ohio”.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash also had many outstanding songs on their solo albums of the 1970’s, but they would have needed to add another disc to accommodate them, plus get clearance from multiple labels.
These are the other four albums released by the group from 1988 to 1999. I did a count of the songs I listen to regularly from these albums (on my playlists), and there are only seven. That’s not a winning percentage, but I wouldn’t want to be without those tracks. It just shows that even great artists and songwriters can’t keep up the quality for their entire careers.
Looking at the above albums, it’s hard to forgive Graham Nash for approving the cover with giant hot dogs on the moon.
Since reading the CSN&Y book, I’ve been trying to put the group into perspective. For me personally, the quality and amount of music (including solo albums) make them second to The Beatles. Other strong contenders include the Eagles and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. CSN&Y sales and streaming aren’t as big as some other Classic Rock groups, but their unique blend of voices and the variety of styles from four songwriters are unmatched.