Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Released: March 1970
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 97
Certified Gold: 3/25/70
Along with many other people, I had hoped that the addition of Neil Young to Crosby, Stills, and Nash would give their music the guts and substance which the first album lacked. Live performances of the group suggested that this had happened. Young's voice, guitar, compositions and stage presence added elements of darkness and mystery to songs which had previously dripped a kind of saccharine sweetness. Unfortunately, little of his influence carried over into the recording sessions for Deja Vu. Despite Young's formidable job on many of the cuts, the basic sound hasn't changed a whit. It's still too sweet, too soothing, too perfect, and too good to be true.
Take for example all of side two. Here we have a splendid showcase of all the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young strong points -- precision playing, glittering harmonies, a relaxed but forceful rhythm, and impeccable twelve-string guitars. But are there any truly first rate songs here? If there are, i don't hear them. David Crosby's "Deja Vu" has little or no tune and fails totally to capture the eerie feeling that accompanies a real deja vu experience. "Our House" by Graham Nash is a flyweight ditty with nothing to say and makes this clear through its simpering melody. Steve Stills' "4 + 20" conjures up some quiet enigmas, but with such tepid questions at stake, who really cares? Neil Young's "Country Girl" continues his tradition of massive production numbers which includes the masterful "Broken Arrow" and "Down By The River." But compared to his earlier work, the piece is sadly undistinguished. In both this song and the next one, "Everybody I Love You," Young's voice is absorbed in the major key barbershop harmonizing of the other singers. C, S, N and Y could probably do the best version of "Sweet Adeline" in recorded history.
One's disappointment with the album is heightened by the absurdity of its pretensions. The heralded leather cover turns out to be nothing more than crumpled cardboard. What a milestone -- fake leatherette! The grainy portrait of the "Old West" characters on the cover looks less like Billy the Kid, the James Gang and Buffalo Bill than the waiting room for unemployed extras for Frontier Atmosphere Inc. "Now then, which of you desperados is next?" And, of course, the pretty gold lettering turns out to be yellow Reynolds Wrap. Deja Vu would like to convince you that it has roots deep in the American soil. But a closer inspection reveals that its tap root is firmly implanted n the urban commercial asphalt.
There is much on this album of real merit. "Helpless," "Carry On" and "Teach Your Children" are excellent songs, well performed. But for me Crosby, Stills and Nash -- plus or minus Neil Young -- will probably remain the band that asks the question, "What can we do that would be really heavy?" And then answers, "How about something by Joni Mitchell?"
- Langdon Winner, Rolling Stone, 4/30/70.
- Billboard, 1970.
Of the five (or seven, I forget) memorable tunes here, N's "Our House" is a charming but cloying evocation of puppy domesticity, while both N's sanctimonious "Teach Your Children" and C's tragicomic "Almost Cut My Hair" document how the hippie movement has corrupted our young people. S half-scores twice and in-law M provides the climax. Which leaves Y's "Helpless" as the group's one unequivocal success this time out. It's also Y's guitar -- with the help from S and hired hands T and R -- that make the music work, not those blessed harmonies. And Y wasn't even supposed to be in on this. B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
"Insubstantial confection" may be history's final judgment on the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. However their particular brand of soft melodic country rock, based heavily on close vocal harmonies, sold millions on first outing and bears rehearing. The net was thrown wide to bring together David Crosby from The Byrds, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield, Graham Nash from The Hollies and Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young.
Songs like "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Our House" have not lost their dreadful mawkishness but there are enough country rock gems to justify the price of admission on CD, particularly in light of the new found sonic refinement and solidity. There is some hiss but acoustic guitar and vocal tracks are pleasantly natural and crisply recorded. Bassist Greg Reeves contributes a fine solo to the title track while drummer Dallas Taylor underpins the guitar-heavy sound.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
This was the group's triumph, displaying a broader musical scope than that found on the CSN debut record. Each of the four members contributed high-quality material, with Stills turning in the lead-off track, "Carry On," Nash contributing such standards as "Teach Your Children" and "Our House," Crosby presenting the title track, and |Young| adding the characteristic "Helpless." There was also the hit version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock." Flawless harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, accomplished playing: this is state-of-the-art 70s rock music and continues to be the best explanation of CSN&Y's enormous stature and enduring legacy. * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
CSN's first album with Neil Young, Deja Vu, solidified the quartet's status as the superstar American band of the Woodstock generation. With a hippie anthem by Crosby ("Almost Cut My Hair"), Stills' guitar heroics ("Carry On"), Nash's sing-along tunes ("Our House," "Teach Your Children") and Young's introspective "Helpless," they still found room for another songwriter's work (Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock"). * * * * *
- Brian Escamilla, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Stephen Stills' ex-Springfield bandmate Neil Young joined the supergroup in time for Woodstock and their second superb album, adding his unique tenor, songs of depth and passion and fluid guitar work to the mix. The result: a soul snatcher that transformed their sound from folk to rock and became part of the collective unconscious. Unfortunately, four guys this talented just can't fit their egos on one bus for very long -- they perfected it here and then blew up. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Contrary to popular myth, Crosby, Stills Nash and Young worked together on all of Déjà vu's songs, regardless of the author; that is, except for one song: "4 + 20," written and performed entirely by Stephen Stills. Why did CN & Y leave that one alone? "We just said, 'It's too damn good. We're not touching it,'" recalls David Crosby. On other songs, CSNY called in some big-name help. John Sebastian played mouth harp on "Déjà vu," and Jerry Garcia played pedal steel guitar on "Teach Your Children," written by Graham Nash. That song, along with "Our House," another Nash composition, went on to become the album's biggest hits, along with "Woodstock" (written for the band by their friend, Joni Mitchell).
Many fans lament the fact that David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young couldn't get their collective act together to record more often. Indeed, years later, Nash wrote "Wasted on the Way," about that very issue. "No question we could have made more music," Crosby allows, but adds, "We were lucky even to finish Déjà vu," thanks to the various issues the members were dealing with. But his confidence in the album hasn't waned in the decades since they recorded it: "I think it stands up really well, I think we did an excellent job. I think it was a milestone of an album."
Déjà vu was voted the 61st greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Brian Ives, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
Neil Young was just getting his solo career under way when he joined his old Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills, ex-Byrd David Crosby and former Hollie Graham Nash in the world's first supergroup. Young's vision and guitar transformed the earlier folk-rock CSN into a rock & roll powerhouse. This is the best of CSNY's sadly few albums, a feast of sweet idealism (Nash's "Teach Your Children"), militant blues (Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair") and vocal-choir gallop (Stills' "Carry On"), and "Helpless" and the explosive mini-opera "Country Girl" are prime early Young.
Déjà Vu was chosen as the 148th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills and ex-Hollies Graham Nash had seen their eponymous debut album hit the Top Ten of the Hot 100 in the summer of 1969 and been named Best New Artist of the Year at that year's Grammy Awards, but it was when they were joined by ex-Buffalo Springfield guitarist Neil Young and recorded Déjà Vu that the ensemble really took off, the album topping the US Hot 100 and hitting Number Five in the UK.
The record, with its lyrical content and alternating styles, caught the anti-culture vibe of the time and there was much to be admired in its effortless yet intricate vocal harmonies -- by this time already a trademark -- jangling acoustic guitars and achingly beautiful songs, none more so than the Young-penned "Helpless." Young, whose arrival appears to have galvanized the band's performance on the record, additionally wrote the pensive but no less lovely "Country Girl." The countrified exhortation "Teach Your Children" hit the Number 16 spot on the chart, and "Our Children," released in November 1970 managed Number 30.
As of 2004, Déjà Vu was the #25 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
For their sophomore release, David Crosby (ex-Byrds), Stephen Stills (ex-Buffalo Springfield), and Graham Nash (ex-Hollies) called on the help of fellow Buffalo Springfield alumnus Neil Young, who had just released After The Gold Rush, one of his best loved works.
The album took nearly 800 hours to record, and circumstances were less than auspicious. Crosby's girlfriend Christine Hinton had died in a car accident in September 1969 -- he remained grief-stricken and took solace in heroin; cocaine and booze abounded during recording; the four musicians squabbled -- the moody Young was often absent -- and Nash was forced to play peacemaker. Somehow they created a masterpiece, one that encapsulates the spirit of American West Coast culture in the early Seventies.
"Carry On" -- like "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" from CSN's 1969 debut -- is a shape-shifting beauty featuring spine-tingling harmonies, and is surely one of the best songs to cure a Sunday morning hangover. "Our House" and "Teach Your Children" demonstrate Nash's gift for simple, catchy melody. "Almost Cut My Hair" is Crosby at his most antiauthoritarian, delivering a throaty vocal at odds with his trademark pure harmonies. The majestic, spare "Helpless" reflects Young's response to the wide open spaces of his Canadian homeland, while "Country Girl" is a stunning piece with an ambitious arrangement.
With peerless vocals, dynamic musicianship, and top-notch songwriting, little wonder the album catapulted to No. 1 in the United States.
- Lino Portela Gutiérrez, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
Different music was needed in the aftermath of Woodstock. To grossly oversimplify: The notion 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 on 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-information 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.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
The best CSNY album has pop idealism (Graham Nash's "Teach Your Children"), militant blues (David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair"), and vocal-choir gallop (Stephen Stills' "Carry On"). The achingly plaintive "Helpless" is prime early Neil Young.
Déjà Vu was chosen as the 220th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.
- Rolling Stone, 10/20.
No comments so far, be the first to comment.
Main Page | The Classic 500 | Readers' Favorites | Other Seventies Discs | Search The RockSite/The Web