Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
A Last Gasp of '60s Idealism
Different music was needed in the aftermath of Woodstock. To grossly oversimplify: The nation of flower children woke up from the trip, found Nixon still in power and things trending badly in Vietnam and elsewhere, and came face-to-face with the grown-up disillusionment that the heady previous years had kept at bay. It was a harsh morning after. An idealism hangover.
Ready with the salves and smelling salts was this carefully lawyered supergroup, built around a three-way of rock refugees—David Crosby (ex-Byrds), Stephen Stills (ex-Buffalo Springfield), and Graham Nash (ex-Hollies). Their first collaboration had given the world the doot-dootling "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" the year before. For its second effort the trio added Neil Young (ex-Buffalo Springfield), and immediately sought cultural relevance by singing Joni Mitchell's you-are-there postscript "Woodstock." Both a last reprise of '60s idealism and a prayer for inner peace, Déjà vu applies reassuring colorburst harmonies to songs about controlling the few things a rainbow child could—the length of one's hair (Crosby's still-dramatic "Almost Cut My Hair"), the values you impart to your kids (Nash's "Teach Your Children"), the order of one's home (Nash's domesticity curio "Our House").
Incredibly, the four participants didn't often function as a band while recording this hotly anticipated (and instantly successful) effort, which allegedly took eight hundred studio hours to finish. Each brought in a few originals, and recorded them independently. Only when it was time to do vocals did the four come together, and it is those soaring, precision-formation harmonies that remain the focal point. Young's hymnlike "Helpless" simply isn't the same song without the distinctive colorations of this choir; the same can be said of his three-part "Country Girl" or the mystical Crosby title track, which proclaims, "We have all been here before." To really appreciate what this contentious group did when it was united, however, just start with the Stills-penned opener "Carry On." This is the essence of CSNY—impossibly gorgeous cascading vocals that urge everyone leaving the farm to continue in faith, because "love is coming to us all." It might have been a last gasp. But it doesn't sound like one.
Released: 1970, Atlantic
Key Tracks: "Helpless," "Woodstock," "4+20," "Carry On."
Catalog Choice: Crosby, Stills, and Nash
Next Stop: Joni Mitchell: Blue
After That: Buffalo Springfield: Retrospective
Book Pages: 195–196