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by Justin Farrar

July 17, 2012

Crosby, Stills and Nash Through the Years

by Justin Farrar  |  July 17, 2012

With the recent release of the Crosby, Stills and Nash live album CSN 2012, we here at Rhapsody thought it would be a perfect time to honor the Woodstock icons with a sprawling playlist. As you'd expect, all their shaggy, hippie classics are present and accounted for: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Helpless Hoping" (the vocal gymnastics on this one are mesmerizing), "Marrakesh Express," "Guinnevere" and, of course, the intensely moody "Wooden Ships" (though Jefferson Airplane's version just might be the better one).

But because I've always found classic rock radio's "all the hits, all the time" philosophy to be beyond boring, my playlist also contains selections from many of the earlier bands and subsequent side projects related to David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, respectively. Several years before CS&N came together, Crosby logged time with another outfit boasting pristinely soaring harmonies: The Byrds. A guitarist and sometime lead vocalist, he co-penned one of psychedelia's most innovative anthems, "Eight Miles High." He also wrote an incredibly pretentious yet convincingly spacey ode to free love called "Triad." As the title implies, Crosby meditates on the joys of a ménage á trois... rock stars have all the fun, don't they?

While Crosby and his fellow Byrds (Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, et al.) were busy bedding all the young, half-naked hippies tripping about the greater Los Angeles area, Stills came to town and quickly hooked up with Neil Young and Richie Furay to form Buffalo Springfield. This might offend his most ardent supporters, but I think Stills as songwriter produced his best material with this group. His big solo hit, 1970's "Love the One You're With," might be his most memorable calling card, but it simply isn't on the same level as "Bluebird," "Rock & Roll Woman" and the forever haunting "For What It's Worth." Dude truly was on top of his game in the mid-'60s.

As for Nash, before relocating to California in 1968 (or maybe it was early '69), he was a massive pop star as a member of The Hollies, who in terms of British chart actually kept pace with The Beatles throughout the decade. But it's funny: Nash in interviews over the years has always dismissed his work with The Hollies as lightweight, show-biz pop. That's certainly true, if the opposite of lightweight is growing your hair long, smoking weed and singing about bringing down The Man. This view, however, overlooks the fact that The Hollies wrote absolutely incredible songs. "Bus Stop," "King Midas in Reverse" and "Carrie Anne" are some of the most perfectly catchy songs of the '60s, and that's saying a lot considering the decade also birthed such legendary tunesmiths as The Beatles, The Kinks and The Beach Boys.

Nash's view is all the more confounding when you listen to his first two solo albums: Songs for Beginners and Wild Tales. Both sound like what they are: a British Invasion guy with a uncanny knack for perfect pop applying said uncanny knack to rootsy, California folk-rock. Indeed, his "Military Madness" just might be the most hook-laden, melodically bopping anti-war anthem to emerge from the Vietnam era.

Speaking of solo material, David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name... is one of the best albums to ever come out of the entire CS&N nexus. Be sure to check out the jams "Music Is Love" and "What Are Their Names." They're so blasted-sounding it's unreal -- real dream-is-over-and-my-soul-has-melted kind of stuff. Stills never went that far out on his own, but he did in 1972 release the double LP Manassas. It didn't receive terribly positive reviews when it came out (the lead single was the Santana-flavored "It Doesn't Matter"), yet it has grown really well with age. Fans of Exile on Main St. really should give it a spin.

And now, time to eat some of those purple berries and get listening....

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