Crosby Stills and Nash captured one of rock’s best supergroups at the peak of its powers

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The widely celebrated self-titled debut album by Crosby Stills and Nash signaled — along with others, like James Taylor — a shift away from the harsher, heavier sound of the late 1960s, while helping to establish the template for lighter, more melodic fare that dominated rock for much of the 1970s.

One of rock’s first supergroups has also been one of its most successful, despite David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash never being able to match the heights of this first album, released on May 29, 1969. That is, on any album credited only to “Crosby Stills and Nash.” But, boy, what a debut. This record captured the three at the peak of their songwriting powers, guys whose average work exceeds the quality of many a rock composers’ best work. That isn’t to say every single song on Crosby Stills and Nash is a classic, but the magic emanating from these sessions make it feel like every cut is, anyway.

Instrumentally, this is a Stephen Stills record; he played everything save for rhythm guitar by Crosby and drums by Dallas Taylor. Though Stills is a highly skilled guitarist, his organ and bass work are also notably top notch on these songs — and the production from all three stands the test of time, due to avoidance of any clutter getting in the way of the songs. It’s a superb mixing job. All this makes way for the dual star attractions: those voices, and those songs.

There aren’t many extended compositions that become staples on rock radio, but “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is arguably the best of ’em all. Stepping back from familiarity, it’s a pretty daring song, what with Stephen Stills managing to stitch together these disparate sections in a coherent way. The glue used to make it all stick together is the flawless harmonies.

The next two tracks proceed to show off the abilities of the other two guys: Graham Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” is an earlier example of his charming pop sensibilities — and David Crosby’s “Guinevere” is dark, moody and enigmatic, due to its strange tuning and its wandering tempo.

Politically driven rockers like “Wooden Ships” and “Long Time Gone” served notice that Crosby Stills and Nash wasn’t going to be content falling back on soft, romantic folk songs every time out. The edginess and angst from these songs might get a little self-righteous at times, but they’re still great tunes.

For my money, the purest beauty on this album full of beauts, however, will always be Stephen Stills’ “Helplessly Hoping,” which have the full harmonies nearly all the way through accompanied only by a single acoustic guitar. As the three move through Stills’ cleverly crafted series of adverbs/verbs (helplessly hoping/wordlessly watching/heartlessly helping), they stay in perfect sync through all the delicate phrasing.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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