4 Way Street
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Released: March 1971
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 42
Certified Gold: 4/12/71
Between two miserable bootleg albums -- Wooden Nickel and Live at the Forum, atrocious not so much due to the production imperfections common to bootleg recording but largely because of the wretched workmanship of the group themselves -- and six cuts on the two Woodstock albums which collectively constituted a monumental disaster in the history of live recording, it seemed to me that, however one might view their two studio albums, Crosby, Stills Nash and Young had about as much business recording live concerts as did the Monkees.
But 4 Way Street is a surprisingly good album. To begin with, CSN&Y all sing and play in the same key on almost every single cut. One of the principal failures of their previous live work was that thy attempted to duplicate those tight, three-part harmonies which required numerous takes and overdubs in the studio, but this double album is for the most part a showcase of solo material by each of the four. The exceptions -- "Long Time Gone," "Pre-Road Downs," and "Carry On" -- are still pretty ragged live, but in the latter case this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that "Carry On" serves as the vehicle for some long, exciting Stills-Young electric exchanges.
About a year ago (in a review of Déjà Vu) someone remarked that CSN&Y's principal weaknesses were Crosby's singing and Nash's songwriting. I tend to disagree, and I think this album goes a long way in refuting both points. As for the first argument, well, his solo album aside, Crosby does two excellent songs here. One of them, "Triad," is particularly notable, for the song was one of the major bones of contention leading to Crosby's departure from the Byrds. The haunting "The Lee Shore" is a treasure, it is not so much the fault of Crosby's vocal inadequacy as the fact that the song -- like, among others, "Suite -- Judy Blue Eyes" -- is one of those in CSN&Y's repertoire which is difficult enough to be beyond the group's ability to competently perform it live.
In point of fact, if criticism of somebody's writing is to be levied in connection with CSN&Y, one might well point to a couple of the Stills numbers. Stephen jumps from "49 Bye-Byes" into a latter-day version of his Springfield-era "For What It's Worth" called "America's Children." It is a patronizing, gratuitous piece of drivel (the liner notes describe it as a "poem") which is presumably supposed to heighten the political consciousness of all us "children." Still's "Love the One You're With" has been roundly criticized as being offensive to women; it is insulting to human beings. About the only good thing that can be said about the song is that, in the absence of that background chorus and hokey arrangements, it sounds better here than on his solo album.
CSN&Y's latest backup duo, Johnny Barbata on drums and Calvin Samuels on bass, perform creditably if unspectacularly. The album does clearly point up their limitations as a group, but Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are all performers of unquestionable talent, and -- mostly because they stay out of each others' way -- 4 Way Street must surely be their best album to date.
- George Kimball, Rolling Stone, 5/27/71.
David Crosby has the best voice, Graham Nash is the most consistently good singer, Stephen Stills is the most volatile, but Neil Young is the only one of the four who -- individually -- has anything approaching style. So this album is a disappointment, for the most part, except when Young is featured singing one of his own songs. The album was recorded "live" at various concerts, and in concert they usually featured one member at a time; none of the performances recorded here captures the brightness of the close vocal harmonizing the group has done in recording studios. Young comes off well because he has style all his own and because his songs are so stylized there's just one way he or anyone else can sing them. Stills needs the discipline of the studio; his version of "49 Bye Byes" (running into "America's Children") might have been exciting at the concert but it sounds preachy and rambling in the living room. The supporting voices behind Crosby and his "Long Time Gone" seem to collapse, and that apparently messed up his timing. The vocal harmonizing isn't very together on Stills' "Carry On" or Nash's "Pre-Road Downs" either, although Nash gets decent backing on "Chicago" and Crosby is ably helped during his moody "All Along the Lee Shore."
The album is half acoustically-backed (the first disc) and half electric, the latter containing long, mostly dull, jams around the songs "Southern Man" (by Young) and "Carry On."
Crosby, Stills and Nash, when they are harmonizing right, have great style collectively, and have provided some of pop music's finest moments in recent years, but apparently they need a studio to get it right. Young continues to try to sing higher than he can sing; nevertheless, an audience always has confidence in him, and his "On the Way Home" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" are far and away the best things about this album.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 9/71.
"This is a song you have not heard."
This live album gives a different perspective on the band. Their studio album was Crosby, Stills & Nash. Stephen Stills laid down bass, lead and organ. The band decided they didn't like sounding like machines on their records. So Déjà happened. Déjà was a well balanced album that despite David's "Almost Cut My Hair," Stephen's "Carry On," Graham's philosophical "Teach Your Children" and Neil Young's "Helpless" was still a little plastic. Sure they got off making poetic statements and rockers -- but something wasn't quite right.
In actuality the band was moving towards a live album. They wanted to show themselves as human beings playing music. They wanted to prove themselves that people would buy their music on plastic discs made without the aid of machines. Plain honest music. A true measure of their ability as musicians.
Well, they did it. Focusing on songs that had not been previously recorded by the collective band, with exceptions, they give a clear reflection of their musical heads. The main points of interest lie in the jam songs on which Stephen and Neil really cook. In their own words they "boogie."
Neil's version of the oldie but goodie "On The Way Home" is the best thing he has put out. Visions of waterfalls, country meadows and that special girl were evoked and danced through my head. More cosmic than Alan Watts. Graham Nash's strength dwells in his ability to harmonize and write poetry. "Chicago" is technically a lyrical masterpiece. Especially the last part in which Graham pleads:
David Crosby, by the way, gets his licks in too. In "Triad" he sings it with such personal involvement that it resembles Lennon's primal scream LP. As good as the Airplane's cover in it's own way.
Neil Young does quite an evocative version of "Cowgirl In The Sand" which more than makes up for other lackluster Neil Young tunes on the album. Stephen Stills's songs such as "49 Bye-Byes" (especially) and "Love The One You're With" come on like trains, steaming and gaining speed until they shake and run over you. Something like the mail train from the old Engineer Bill kiddie show. He reminds us all that he was in Buffalo Springfield. His political consciousness as expressed in "America's Children" is truly cannabis based. The rhythm section for the electric cuts -- namely Johnny Barbata, drums and Calvin Samuels, bass -- does a good job keeping time, playing quiet and steady as Stephen and Neil work out.
This album is a naked representation of the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Without the aids of overdubbing they show their musical gifts and shortcomings. Nobody's perfect. One of the disapppointing things about this album is that it means CSN&Y won't be releasing another album for a long time. Four Way Street is a "long time coming and it is going to be a long time gone."
- Stephen Wimer, Hit Parader, 11/71.
This LP was recorded live across the country, and captures the excitement and casualness of four professional musicians who have hit the top of the charts with almost every single and LP they have released. Featuring individual solos as well as the collective efforts of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, this LP is a sure drawing card for every record the group has produced.
- Billboard, 1971.
Was it only two years ago that the formation of Crosby, Stills & Nash brought gladness to the hearts of of rock and rollers who remembered that they loved tight songs rather than endless jams and believed that an ex-Hollie's pop sense would temper Byrds/Springfield folk-rock? Who would have figured that none of them would remember that rock and roll is also supposed to be funky -- and fast. And that the best stuff on their live album would be the jams, dominated by the new guy, who would also write their tightest songs? And for that matter that a singalong of dig-its and right-ons by the man who wrote "For What It's Worth" and a goody-good song about Chicago by the ex-Hollie would sound like political high points? B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
This 1992 expanded version of the original double live album (originally released on April 7, 1971) by CSN&Y is now an indispensible part of any collection, with additional Neil Young and Graham Nash material (and even a version of "King Midas in Reverse," the old Hollies tune) that any serious listener will want. Some of the extended guitar jams between Stills and Young ("Southern Man") go on longer than strict musical sense would dictate, but it seemed right at the time, and they capture a form that was far more abused in other hands after this group broke up. * * * *
- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The live 4 Way Street became more attractive after it was expanded with four more songs on the 1992 CD reissue, but it may put off casual listeners who prefer the polish of the group's studio work. * * * 1/2
- Brian Escamilla, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
"I only wish this had been a six-album set instead of a double" declare admirers of this landmark time capsule that captures the excellent quartet in a live setting. Vital and unpredictable, it sums up the late '60s/early '70s with political, anthemlike, multi-harmonized home-hitting songs like "Ohio" (it's eerie hearing it after Kent State) and "Southern Man." The legendary supergroup's synergy defies description. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Crosby, Stills Nash & Young had split nearely a year before this live set was released and listening to this fans of the band would have only mourned their demise all the more. Versions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classics such as "Teach Your Children" and "Long Time Gone" together with the extended version of "Southern Man," Young's swipe at the bigotry of America's Deep South are all as sharp as ever, if occasionally self-indulgent on the part of individual band members.
Recorded at Filmore East, in New York, the Chicago Auditorium and The Forum, Los Angeles, the album is divided between an acoustic set, which ends with a medley of classic Young tracks, and an electric one. It includes a searing version of "Ohio," Young's protest song about four students at Kent State University who were shot dead by National Guard members three years earlier during an anti-Vietnam demonstration.
COming so soon after the band's split -- and subsquently tapping into a demand for more CSN&Y material -- the album sold particularly well, topping the US Hot 100 and achieving a Number Five placing in the UK.
As of 2004, 4 Way Street was the #61 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
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