Friday, 4 July 2008
Crosby-Nash "Wind On The Water" (1975) ('Core' Review #67, Revised Edition 2014)
Track Listing: Carry Me/ Mama Lion/ Bittersweet/ Take The Money And Run/ Naked In The Rain/ Love Work Out// Low Down Payment/ Cowboy Of Dreams/ Homeward Through The Haze/ Fieldworker/ To The Last Whale ( i Critical Mass ii Wind On The Water) (UK and US tracklisting)
My first edition of this album on CD, leased from original copyright holders ABC to the Hallmark greetings card company, was proudly titled 'The Best Of Crosby and Nash'. A Bit of a lie - 'Immigration Man' was the only hit the duo had together and that's not here - but it's true about this record in a way that wouldn't be true for the inconsistent 'Graham Nash, David Crosby', tired 'Whistling Down The Wire' or repetitive 'Crosby*Nash'. Joint album number two, it's unusual in that it's the only one of the four fully intended as a Crosby-Nash record from the start: not a holding place for songs unused from previous albums, not created out of the ashes of doomed CSNY reunions or cobbled together from songs dating back records. There's a consistency of sound and ideas to 'Wind On The Water' that's impressive and both Crosby and Nash are at least approaching their best across this record. Sometimes a mellow singer-songwriter breeze, sometimes a towering gale force of indignation and wrath, 'Water' is an album that shows off more sides to both men's talent than the space they'd get on a CSNY album without resorting to the occasional filler of both men's solo records. So great was my joy at finding this album priced £1.99 at UK DIY shop Wilkinsons (I didn't even mind that the back of the box memorably credited the record to Crosby and Stills and told us in the biographical notes that Nash first met Crosby when he was with the Buffalo Springfield!) that I ended up spending more than I would have done buying this album at full price, giving this album away to family and friends who looked at me strangely and filed it away in a drawer before giving it away to the nearest charity shop. Ah well, I tried - even amongst a discography full of records that feel like old friends, 'Wind On The Water' feels like an older and wiser friend than most opening my head to all sorts of new ideas and teaching me something new without neglecting my needy ears.
Crosby and Nash were always seen as having the strongest bond of the four members amongst fans (they must surely have known each other in an earlier life they share such a telepathic bond - shades of Deja vu for you here - we reckon they were someone big and powerful and benevolent, perhaps Antony and Cleopatra. Or Lenin and Trotsky. Or the Anglo-American Laurel and Hardy). Their intimate ’unplugged’ shows couldn't have been less like the CSNY stadium tours and were so different to anything else being done at the time that they have gone down in history as gigs to tell your grandchildren about: spooky, 'real', an unique blend of comedy gold and serious politics and improvised on-the-edge unrehearsed rawness and something carefully planned and thought through. Wind On The Water - recorded immediately after the failure to complete that 1974 CSNY album tentatively dubbed Human Highway - is a bit like those shows (first tried out in 1971) as well as the second and best of the four duo records, with Crosby and Nash keen to forge out a new style for themselves that owed little to the hugeness of CSN.
Is there a distinct difference between a Crosby-Nash record and a CSNY record? Sort of. As a pair Crosby-Nash can afford to be even more intimate than they could as part of a big quartet - they knew these records would most likely sell to passionate fans rather than casual music collectors and there's much more 'character' here than they get a chance to show off on 'band' records. Without that pressure to be 'big' all the time (as heard on the lyrics of 'Take The Money and Run', Nash's sarcastic response to CSNY's big tours of 1974 which broke then records for the biggest crowds ever at a rock concert and even came with their own logo stamped onto everything!) Crosby and Nash can afford to be 'small' and in many ways their four records together are like seeing a bigger CSNY picture in close-up: with sharper quality and slightly more colour on the sidelines. However that said songs by both men are still predominantly in the CSNY mould: politics, love, ecology and above all injustice. Whether it's poorly paid immigrant workers, harpooned whales, miserable clowns or dying mothers Crosby and Nash are on crusade mode in the first year post-Nixon (1975 was a great year for music, when most of 'our' guys - ie AAA ones - felt vindicated for speaking out against a 'crook') and heaven help anyone who gets in their way. 'Wind On The Water' is a protest record, but not a release-it-for-charity, can't-remember-the-words release like so many 'protest' songs are today - every word is heartfelt, every riff intended as a dagger stabbing at the heels of the corrupt world leaders who won't say no. Some call Crosby-Nash records naive (some misguided souls say that about CSN/Y too but we won't go there for now) but this isn't some hippie idealism record: it's an angry, defiant record that knows things are wrong - it just never stops trying to find solutions to the world's problems either or believe that there are better times to come.
David Crosby is a musical genius, I have no doubt about that, creating some of the best crafted and perfectly realised songs ever made out of nothing more than weird guitar tunings and off-the-wall ideas that shouldn’t work but somehow do. Many of his songs here rank amongst his best, from the personal honesty of songs like Carry Me about his dying mother and Homeward Through The Haze about CSNY’s critical fall from grace, to the off-the-wall Bach like chorale that opens the title track.Yet Nash is Crosby’s equal here, more than on any other previous CSN record, reaching his own peak somewhat later than his two colleagues (after writing some of the greatest psychedelic songs ever with The Hollies in 1967, his second peak is very much between 1975 and 1977, some years after first Crosby then Stills began to fade - just a fraction, only the very smallest wattage on the rock and roll-ometer, but enough to be noticeable). While Crosby simply revels in the chance to be 'himself' and as weird as he wants to be - knowing his partner will always back him up and catch him with a clever harmony part - Nash revels in the chance to play both the duo's catchy tune-smiff and the dark angry relentless voice (where so often he was in competition with Stills on both counts). Graham's title track, in particular, is one of the defining CSN moments even without Stills on board: swooping harmonies, clever chord structures and brave meaningful lyrics which makes for a neat end to the album.
Considering it follows the unusually bleak and mournful solo records If Only I Could Remember My Name and Wild Tales and the mini civil war that took place during recording sessions for a 1974 CSNY magnum opus, this album is a surprisingly sunny one. Yes social protest is there in abundance, as on all great CSNY works, but post-Watergate Crosby and Nash seem to feel that the future is in safe hands at last and the most biting songs on this album all seem to snipe at themselves and their colleagues, rather than the world at large. This album is also one of the most positive-sounding CSNY family records, full of hopeful choruses, lively guitar riffs and large dollops of summery sun-shiny pop, without sacrificing the depth or pioneering work of the duo’s earlier records. Like Stills on his most recent work titled, um, 'Stills' Crosby and Nash seem suddenly content with their reputation as some sort of elder statesmen of rock, men whose careers have already outlasted the often shallow glam rockers who filled their shoes. Sadly for them all that hard work is about to be lost amidst the dual attacks of inward forces (Crosby’s growing dependency on drugs) and outward forces (the growing popularity of the punk scene), but Crosby and Nash didn’t know in 1975 that their huge success and influence were about to come to so sharp an end. Nor should they have done – with Wind On the Water they had produced one of the best records of their lives and the future still looked comparatively bright and sunny.
That said, there's one theme that runs through this record that doesn't sound quite so sunny: that the world wasn't what you thought it was. 'Carry Me' is Crosby's painful goodbyes to first his girlfriend Christine (who died in a car crash while CSNY were making 'Deja Vu') and his mother (who was dying while this record was being made). A plea for optimism when there's none to be found, Crosby's feeling of helplessness in the face of life's currents - no matter how hard he wishes them to go away - shows that he's found a new understanding of the world he never had before. 'Mama Lion' is a mysterious figure who comes out of nowhere and even arrives in a fog 'helping to guide the blind in a dream' - part helper, part mystic, part trap - Crosby and Nash's joint narrator can't work her out. 'Bittersweet' is, well bittersweet: caught between being truthful and staying in a relationship past it's natural end; a striking realisation that leaves Crosby as emotional as we've ever heard him. 'Take The Money and Run' re-appraises those CSNY 1974 stadium shows (returned to by Nash on their 40th anniversary earlier this year with everyone suddenly saying nice things about them) and starts to think that perhaps they were a bad idea (while mainly a dig at the managers who shared the biggest cut, it's also a dig at the band and the idea that 'there's no place left to go' when they've just performed to the world's biggest crowds; Crosby concurred, saying that 'to charge people that much money to sit on a slab of mud miles away from the stage - I don't care if you've got a pa system bigger than God, that's not fair!') 'Naked In The Rain' is about the shock of finding out a new side to your character, with Crosby returning to a favourite Nash Hollie theme of the clown forgetting how to be funny before finding himself pure of more than just his make-up. 'Love Work Out' tries to put a brave face on things but is as sad and angry a love song as Nash ever wrote, deciding that hope and happiness isn't enough - you have to 'work' at love as well. 'Low Down Payment' features more 'dreams dying' and asks for 'another way', asking 'don't you even know who you are?' 'Cowboy Of Dreams' is more fun with Neil Young, a pleasant quiet picnic between him and Nash that ends in typically unexpected Neil Young style (we won't spoil the end until the review of the song, although a good half of you reading this review have probably already guessed what it is...) 'Homeward Through The Haze' is the most gorgeous song about failure - a 'hollow echo in the halls of praise' that goes on to look at other unlikely heroes and wonder whether any human being is really that great (do they just have better pr departments?) The human race is not heading to some great future, reduced by Crosby to the phrase 'the blind leading the blind'. Finally, both 'Fieldworker' and 'To The Last Whale' are political songs, trying to raise awareness of issues not often covered in music back in 1975, trying to tell us, the listener, to stop turning blind eyes to it all. Throughout 'Wind On The Water' the world is a scary place, with more traps than it appears on the surface and with several self-realisations for all of us due to come at some stage in life. But still the overall message is one of hope: the hippie dream is wounded, as battered and worn a one as we have ever seen, but still that hippie freak flag flies as brightly and as beautifully as it ever has done.
One other rather more prosaic development across this record is that it's Crosby and Nash's 'piano' album. While Nash had had fun with pounding simple chords ever since his late Hollies days, he plays it an awful lot across this album, including his best ever performance on the instrument on the title track. Crosby meanwhile has just learnt and the piano seems to be his instrument of choice in this period over the guitar (one story that's always fascinated me is his tale of getting the idea of 'Bittersweet' in his head while out walking and having to find a bar to write it down: given that he was in LA, home of the guitar with any hippie around to lend him one if he'd asked nicely and signed a few autographs, that suggests the song must have come to him as a 'piano' one). The next album, 'Whistling Down The Wire' is already back to being very much a 'guitar' record - so why this one album I wonder? Were they deliberately trying to get away from a 'CSNY' sound? ('Whistling' was, of course, a CSNY record - sort of - so may have been written round the guitar deliberately). Was it a re-action to a full tour of standing in between Stills-Young guitar duels that went on for hours (and allegedly saw both colleagues turning their guitar amps up to down out the other, leaving Crosby and Nash feeling left out). This is the first time songs have been written deliberately without a spot for Stills to play something and while Danny Kortchmar plays guitar a lot on this album and plays it well there's none of the Stills-Young soloing fans would have come to expect (fiery finales to 'Mama Lion' and 'Love Work Out' being the two exceptions). While you wouldn't want every CSNY release to sound like this, as a one-off it's a nice addition to an established sound.
Talking of which, the session musicians do a good job all round. Borrowed from the 'The Section', a bunch of guys who regularly played on San Francisco-area records in the 1970s, the band were always a little stiff on C/N tours but do wonders here, embellishing the sound without distracting from Crosby and Nash. Some of the band become firm friends, around for years to come - especially pianist Craig Doerge (Crosby's occasional writing partner into the 1990s) and drummer Russell Kunkel, who along with his son Nathaniel will produce the fourth and (to date) final Crosby-Nash record in 2004. This is quite a varied LP, demanding competence at a whole range of styles (arguably far more of a range than the band would have got working with James Taylor or Art Garfunkel in this period) and the band seems much tighter than they do on follow-up 'Whistling Down The Wire' (that album was more rushed - or were the songs just better on this LP?)
Needless to say, the harmonies throughout this record are uniformly excellent including some of the pair's best harmony work – they may have born on different sides of the Atlantic, brought up in very different social classes, worked in very different groups in the 60s and have very diverse musical tastes, but Crosby and Nash’s voices seem to be pre-destined to go together. Let's just emphasise that point again: The Byrds and The Hollies were very different bands (the former a bunch of competitive aggressive twenty-somethings; the latter a bunch of close-knit Mancunian friends), the pair's backgrounds were even more different (Crosby was a misfit in a comfortable family with no responsibilities he couldn't escape; Nash was poverty-stricken from the Salford slums and the chief family breadwinner for most of his years in The Hollies when his dad became ill and later died; Crosby could look out of his childhood bedroom and see American canyons and mountains - Nash saw grey industrial smoke). Their brotherhood is proof that upbringing doesn't have to provide barriers to people, without the casual dismissal Anglophiles so often have about their younger cousins or the more affluent yanks have about their poorer elder relatives. While other albums try to get the balance between the pair just right (an even harder juggling act with CSN - and near impossible with CSNY), 'Wind On The Water' is where the pair are at their most equal: they each get the same number of songs, they collaborate twice, they each get demented aggressive rockers and passionate rockers, they each get to speak what's on their mind and get things off their chest and pen their hearts. The surprise of 'Wind On The Water' isn't that they're complementing each other so much or how hard they work on each other's songs as well as their own (that's what friends do) as how well they seem to know each other: just listen to the moment when Nash gate-crashes his best friend's deeply personal song 'Carry Me' with just the right dollop of angelic grief; how the pair suddenly swoop on the dramatic 'Mama Lion' at just the same fraction of a second; how gloriously united the scat vocals on 'Critical Mass' are. Anyone who thinks that CSNY only stayed together in their numerous forms for the money or who only got together because their old bands had broken up aren't listening: Crosby and Nash always share a special bond, but this record is where their telepathy shines the greatest. Before 1975 Crosby-Nash was something the pair did in between solo and band records; post 1975 it's something they do out of friendship and duty when Crosby's drug dependency slides out of control; but in 1975 Crosby and Nash are together because they couldn't have made this album a millionth as well alone or as part of the 'parent' band.
Overall, then, 'Wind On The Water' is a major record that succeeds on several levels: the songs, the playing, the harmonies are all top notch. The record is wise and erudite when it needs to be, heavy rocking and passionate sometimes too, with a touch of beauty. The production lies just between intimate roughness and glossy polish. The running order is excellent, alternating not just Crosby and Nash songs but heavy and light songs throughout. As a last gasp of the pair’s friendship before Crosby’s drug addiction turned the pair into something of a one-man and his cameo show, its one hell of an album to say 'goodbye' to the pair as true jointly functioning artists (Nash noses ahead on 'Whistling' and on the next two CSN LPs). Finally, it's all good practice for the CSN reunion two years down the line that, with Stills on good form too, is even better than this record. So often on these reviews we have to add a 'but'; however there is no 'but' this time around with 'Cowboy Of Dreams' the only less than four-star song (and even that gets three). 'Wind On The Water' has gone in and out of fashion within the CSNY community a lot (to be honest being on sale at £1.99 didn't help!), alternately applauded or sneered at for it's hippie politics and lack of fiery guitar solos. Forget the tacky covers, the mistake-riddled sleeve-notes and the cheap price of to date the best-selling CD re-issue of this album, however; Wind On The Water is a classic record in any costume however badly it is dressed up and it remains one of my favourite CSN-related records, a pleasure to listen to and a joy to own.
 Carry Me is a classic Crosby song, catchy but deep (bet you knew that was coming…) with references to an early girlfriend, as lost and confused about life as Crosby was at the time and a particularly poignant verse about the time when Crosby really did help his mother to die in hospital under medical supervision. Carry Me is not a sad song, however, but an upbeat yearning track about flying away to a happier place whenever things get us down and a testament to the role that hope plays in the human condition, however hopeless things seem. The glorious chorus, which swoops in after every verse, is as light as a cloud in contrast to the weighty dramas that surround it and Crosby-Nash’s harmonies are exceptionally strong, especially the last verse where they sound both optimistic and drained. Many of Crosby’s songs are personal – even on the few occasions where Croz tries his best to write a song that isn’t, there’s still more than an element of him in there somewhere – and Carry Me is one of the best examples of the way he manages to make his personal experiences so universal and heartfelt that they end up mirroring the audience’s own. A strong beginning to the album, gloriously arranged (listen out for the chiming gong that occurs just after Crosby sings the line ‘she’d like to hear that last bell ring’), this is
Crosby at his best. Band
friend James Taylor guests on acoustic guitar, by the way.
 Mama Lion is the first of the joint Crosby-Nash compositions on the record and is one of their finest rockers, with the pair getting increasingly desperate in their attempts to urge Mama Lion out of her troubles and onto better things, whoever she may be. This song is quite different to anything either man had come up with before, sharing more with Creedence Clearwater Revival than Crosby-Nash in the song’s swampy tempo and shrieking guitar riffs. The lyrics are also quite fragmented and hard to follow - which is common of many later CSN songs but not so during their classic period here - and the end result is delightfully adventurous and unexpected. For example, Mama Lion starts off the song ‘feeding and weeding’ her soul, before her life journey finds her ‘bouncing over boulders’ and running ‘over rocks’. The idea of Mama Lion having some greater destiny to be fulfilled just beyond her reach is classic CSN, however, even if the end result seems like anything but. To add to the listener’s confusion, the two singers also forgo their more normal velvety sound for pure rock and roll hollering in the vocals, although their two very different voices go together as well as ever even here.
 Bittersweet is in many ways a close cousin of the last track, although its haunting riff and slow building dramatics are David Crosby trademarks. A short poetic song about the ups and downs of life and how even our bad times can help us understand ourselves better, this recording was made when the song was just a few hours old and the resulting spine-tingling performance one of the pair’s best ever, with Crosby capturing the spookiness of his lyrics superbly and Nash’s harmony work at its most supportive. This track is also quite a landmark, marking the point where the David uses a piano for pretty much the first time – keyboards tend to dominate
material from hereon-in, after a decade’s worth of guitar-based songs. Both the
song’s hypnotic tune and the interesting, soul-searching lyrics about looking
for inspiration from pain are mesmerizing and the song’s tag - with Crosby’s heart crying for the ‘heat’
of the sun/companionship even though his brain knows it will bring him
unhappiness - is one of Crosby’s most moving allegories. Listen out too for
Crosby’s first allusion to his narrator as a ‘climber’, stumbling over life’s
obstacles in order to reach the top and see what lies on the other side – it’s
a sketchy theme left dangling in the air for much of his career until inspiring
some of the better CPR (Crosby Pevar Raymond) songs from the tail end of the
1990s. Here, Crosby’s narrator is trying to
navigate a treacherous path through the mountains, where on one side ‘truth
towers like a cliff’ and on the other love dangles precariously over a
precipice. Lasting only a mere 150 seconds, in common to the two tracks before
it, Bittersweet packs one hell of a lot into its two verses, leaving us
an alluring, shimmering and downright beautiful song which may well be the
highlight of the whole record.
 Take The Money And Run is the first of an unprecedented three solo rockers from Nash and it’s one of his most epic, with a twin guitar and piano backing, plus a double-tracked violin solo in the middle. This powerhouse of an arrangement is surely ironic, though, given that Nash actually wrote the song as a condemning slab of guilt about CSNY’s similarly grandiose 1974 ‘arena’ tours, where the foursome played to then-record numbers of people (breaking the Beatles’ nine-year record set at Shea Stadium, itself beaten by the Stones and later Paul McCartney in the 1980s) against his better wishes. By all accounts, everything about this tour was big and erred towards the excess: with no less than four supporting artists playing a full set, including The Band and Joni Mitchell, with their own caterer on hand 24 hours a day to cater to their needs and even – hilariously – their own pillow cases printed with Joni Mitchell’s CSNY logo, Nash felt that the four men were about as far away from their roots standing up for the down-trodden of the world as they could get. Nash sounds uncharacteristically sneering and nasty here, as he laughs at himself for taking the easy way out and ‘taking the money’ without questioning his ethics. Listen out for the line ‘because you were out of sight’ - in the context of the song it sounds like the narrator is stealing money when backs are turned, but this is probably a sneaky reference to the poor audience members in the cheaper seats of the larger auditoriums who – back in the early days of rock concerts in the 70s before sound systems and video screens – could only see their heroes as four distant blobs and on some occasions sat on the floor with no seating whatsoever. Nash starts off the song sounding almost tongue-in-cheek, but there’s certainly no questioning his angry feelings by the end of the song. The chanted ‘run’ section near the end, with Crosby and Nash using their normally peaceful voices for a section that makes them sound like something out of a horror movie, remains one of the most thrilling sections of their back catalogue, especially the solo section on the fiddle which – coincidentally or not – is exactly what the narrator is doing in the song.
 Naked In The Rain is the second Crosby-Nash collaboration on the album, mostly mixing Nash’s lovely wistful tune with
lyrics. A gentle acoustic ballad about how your faults and frailties always
seem to catch up with you just at the point where your ego has convinced you
that you are invincible, it’s a gorgeous, heartfelt and thoughtful song. It’s
also interesting to note the lyrical return of a ‘clown’ in the first verse of
this song – this had been an early symbol of Nash’s discontent with the Hollies
and led to some of his first autobiographical songs. Here, though, the clown is
no smiling performer who is really crying tears inside but a stranger to his
old ways, trying desperately to remember how to paint himself in the mirror
because he hasn’t been called on to ‘perform’ for years. Listen out too for
Crosby’s line about ‘fluttering pages of faces’, an image inspired by a
hallucination Crosby had in the 70s where the face of one of his friends,
unconnected with CSNY, suddenly took on the form of a photo book, flipping
between expressions as the person’s many thoughts flitted through his head. Crosby
had been trying to shoe-horn this idea into a song for a while, so he must have
been dead chuffed when the pair came up with this song about changes in
identity and not being quite who you thought you were. The performance
incidentally is prime Crosby-Nash, featuring the soft and gentle acoustic
fragility that concert-goers came to love so much in their concerts, although
the long drawn-out tune and traditional verse-chorus-solo structure is another
step in an unusual direction for this album.
Nash’s  Love Work Out rounds out the first side with another surprisingly noisy rocker, with session star David Lindley’s jagged guitar work transforming a rather ordinary song into a transcendental freak-out. The only song on this album with any passing resemblance to the usual musical fixation with love and romance in the traditional sense, it’s built on a chugging bass riff and tells of the hard work we’ll have to put in if we want our relationships to last. The percussion of this slow and lumbering song sounds fittingly like workers building a railroad with hammers, although the note-perfect Crosby-Nash harmonies softens this song’s harder edges. Nash’s latest narrator marks another in his latest batch of seemingly self-critical songs, admonishing himself for burying his head in the sand and ignoring the problems in relationships at times in his past. Lindley’s long guitar solo near the end then channels this aggression for almost three minutes, building the tension and the noise levels higher on one of the greatest instrumental moments of any CSNY record, Stills and Young’s playing included.
After such a rocking start, you’d normally expect a Crosby and/or Nash record to begin side two with a quieter song, but not here –  Low Down Payment is
at full throttle, fighting just about every injustice ever known with another
of his committed vocals. In truth, the story-line of this song is unclear,
confusing without being as poetic or elliptical as Crosby’s other work, but the
rhyme structure is clever clever stuff, in places writing not couplets (where
the last word in two consecutive lines rhyme) but triplets (where the last word
in three consecutive lines rhyme!) The busy burbling riff that holds the whole
song together is a good one too The
song’s sudden slow down at the end of each verse is a masterful touch, adding
to the song’s breathless excitement and its lyrics of built-up frustration at
not being able to move your life in the direction you want it to move in and
the way you always seem to end up back in the same old place again.
 Cowboy Of Dreams is, unusually, Nash’s only true ballad on this album after giving us nearly a whole record of the stuff on his Wild Tales LP, but sadly this is more like Nash’s handful of blooming awful country-style lacklustre songs from that record rather than the sparse and chilling songs like I Miss You and Another Sleep Song. The tune is poor, sounding like an almost deliberate attempt to be catchy and commercial without the charm or originality of Nash’s usual work and the country trappings on the song are just that – trappings. That’s a shame, considering that the seemingly straightforward lyrics tell quite an interesting story and aren’t as straightforward as they sound on first hearing. Nash revealed on the CSN box-set that he actually wrote this song for Neil Young (‘because he sang one for me’ – see Only Love Can Break Your Heart from Neil’s After The Goldrush album) and although its hard to think of Neil as a ‘cowboy’ (surely he’s more of an ‘indian’ given those fringe jackets he used to wear in the 60s?!) this song does reveal much about his life at the time (Before Nash talked about it, though, I bet I wasn’t the only CSNY fan to think that Nash might have been talking about Crosby here, given the lyrics about following one’s own instincts and the lyric ‘I looked at the hole where the Byrd used to be…’. Maybe this song is about CSNY in general then? (or I’ve just wasted 10 minutes of my life speculating when the song is really about none of the above?!?) The first verse, where a song ‘descends’ on the hapless narrator and the space where his ‘head used to be’ is thought to refer to the occasion when Neil took Nash out on the lake on his ranch on the pretext of talking over something personal – little did Graham realise that Neil had rigged his house and his barn up to act like a pair of huge 50-foot speakers set up to play back Neil’s latest song! The other lines might well refer to Young’s infamously un-predictable nature and the scores of friends, employees and hangers-on the guitarist used to employ/hang out with (hence the chorus ‘The way I live determines the way my people survive’). If the whole song really is about Neil rather than simply telling a story, though, what on earth is that last damning couplet about? (‘I’ve tried so hard to tell you in so many ways that I’m scared of the heartache and scenes with the cowboy of dreams’) - making a scene isn’t Neil Young-like at all (again, is this song about
Crosby and his growing drug dependency in this period?)
Given the post-reunion fallout nature of the rest of the album, is Nash
referring to Neil’s ability to simply walk away from projects when he’s had
enough, whether his colleagues have or not? Fascinating but excruciating all at
the same time, this song works well as an episode in the CSNY soap-opera, but
struggles to make its mark as a piece of music – which must surely, ultimately,
be the first consideration of any track however intriguing this is.
No such worries about [160b] Homeward Through The Haze though, the next of
Crosby’s mid-70s piano-based ballads.
It’s another gorgeous, sumptuous song, with a breathtakingly expansive backing
track where pianos and guitars all seem to be competing each other for space
despite the languid tempo. Like much of Crosby’s work, its one of those
head-shrugging songs about trying to find out what is really going on in the
world as ‘the blind lead the blind’ round and round in circles, repeating the
same old mistakes. Like many a Crosby song,
Croz tells us that far from being a leader he is just as confused as everyone
around him. There’s even a rare piece of biting self-commentary in those
opening lines about a ‘fall from grace’ and a ‘hollow echo in the halls of
praise’. Given the other songs on this album you’d assume that Crosby was
talking about the 1974 CSNY reunion again but no – this song was actually
recorded by the foursome before the tour and their version is stunningly good
for anybody who wants to try and look for it (see the ‘out-takes’ section on
the first page). Beautiful and scary, often at the same time, this impressive
song continues Crosby’s strong run of form on
this record, being both very adventurous and very Crosby-like all at the same
 Fieldworker is the last of Nash’s angry rockers on the album and like his famous Immigration Man is another thinly-veiled attack on racism and the lack of respect each country seems to have for people who are not of their own culture. Workers fleeing atrocities in their homelands think that they will be better off in Western countries, but - as Nash argues - exploiting workers for low pay in return for sanctuary is a ridiculous state of affairs to find ourselves in during the 20th (or even 21st) centuries. Crosby and Nash have long battled for the idea that all humanity should treat each other with respect (they even ran jointly for the 2004 American presidential election to try and stop Bush getting in again!) and this is one of their most explicit songs on that theme, with fittingly jagged guitar work adding to the effect. Those Crosby-Nash harmonies are at their brittle best here too, rising and falling all over the track as if they are trying to knock the fieldworker’s overseer from his precarious perch. Don’t worry guys, I’ll become an American citizen and vote for you myself at the next election if I have to – so would a lot of people after hearing song like this track!
The closer  To The Last Whale is another epic protest song, this time looking at ecology with a beautiful wordless Crosby mass (or ‘Critical Mass’ to give the song its title) giving way to a moving Nash song about how whales and dolphins are killed for something as artificial as human vanity (‘shadow on your eye’ and ‘lipstick on your face’). Crosby’s latest piece of a capella wordless vocals is, for my money, less impressive than his earlier efforts on his first solo album but any piece that features Crosby and Nash in close harmony like this is always a delight and its still an impressive scene-setter for getting us in the mood for the haunting track to follow. After a lovely segue featuring a spooky church organ and an eerie dolphin cry, Wind On The Water quickly makes its mark with its lovely sweeping melody and note-perfect orchestral accompaniment. One of Nash’s most famous pieces, this song has unfortunately tagged CSN forever in the minds of the record-buying public as ‘whale-huggers’ (as if that was a bad thing to be – excuse me, are you the same critics who love your music bland and toothless like the spice girls or something?) but it’s actually one of only two overtly ecological songs in their back catalogue (Nash’s Barrel Of Pain from his 1979 record Earth And Sky is the other example – despite how it sounds After The Dolphin from CSN’s Live It Up album is actually about a pub hit by a bomb in the early days of the second world war). Giving us a brief history of whalers and schooners and why they exist, Nash turns his attentions to the audience for that wistful chorus line, speaking in the first person: ‘maybe we’ll go, maybe we’ll disappear, its not that we don’t know its just that we don’t want to care’. Those Crosby-Nash harmonies are also never better than here, sounding both deeply human and emotional and on the other hand very ghostly and other-worldly. However, curiously enough, Nash has since revealed that his first draft of this song wasn’t about whales at all – it was in fact about critics ‘harpooning’ David Crosby by not understanding his work and Nash’s admiration for the singer’s resilience against such attacks. How Crosby got turned into a whale I’m not quite sure (he’s not that large, well he wasn’t in the 70s anyway!), but however you read this song, To The Last Whale is terribly moving and has deservedly become the highpoint of many a CSN show since its release. Just like its parent album, its an out and out classic from a time when CSN/Y could do no wrong.
Wind On The Water is harmony-laden change-the-world-rightness at its beautiful best and deserves to regain its reputation when it was one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the period. Both Crosby and Nash gave us many beautiful recordings over the years, on Byrds and Hollies records, on CSN/CSNY albums and on their own solo releases, but somehow these duo recordings are the ’heart’ of the two men’s music, with more variety than their solo records and more space than with their parent groups. Brave and beautiful, usually at the same time, this is classic stuff.