Friday 29 May 2009

The Stills-Young Band "Long May You Run" (1976) (News, Views and Music 33, Revised 2014)

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The Stills-Young Band “Long May You Run” (1976)

Long May You Run/Make Love To You/Midnight On The Bay/Black Coral/Ocean Girl/Let It Shine/12-8 Blues (All The Same)/Fontainbleau/Guardian Angel

'The spirit of the Buffalo Springfield is back!' yelled Stephen Stills triumphantly during the Stills-Young band's first night on stage. Unfortunately, that statement became truer than even Stills would have guessed - this project was the Springfield to a tee: it started with a bang, promised much but ended with a whimper. Just eight gigs after that triumphant statement was made, Neil had quit the tour without a word, sending Stills a characteristically inflammatory telegram ('Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a Peach, Neil!')  and leaving a once promising project in disarray, with Stills left holding the baby (fulfilling dates with his band when Neil wouldn't play) and Neil left with the critical accolades (in the few days before the tour split anyway). Fans - of both the Springfield and the pair's equally tempestuous relationship in CSNY - had expected nothing else, but even by their standards this split came quick. To this day Stills isn't quite sure why ('all I know is he turned left at Greensboro' was his typically understated reply) and neither are most fans. People's memories of these brief shows are still generally quite positive, with great guitar duels and the best of the pair's back catalogue to choose from while many picked up on a real camaraderie between the pair who clearly realised working alone ('no Crosby-Nash's, no Richie Furays, nothing - just undiluted us!' as Stills once put it). The bootlegs of the shows don't always bear this out, mind, but the general consensus at the time was 'yippee' and 'why didn't it happen sooner?' 

I'm not sure if I can answer that (CSN success and the Doom Trilogy perhaps?) but I can answer why there was never another record quite like it: this record didn't just damage the reputation of the Springfield but CSNY to boot. Contrary to usual opinion, the record was always meant to be a Stills-Young album from the first, but at some point during the early mixing the duo listened to the playback, scratched their heads and decided the album was ‘missing something’. The pair phoned up Crosby and Nash, got them to record some harmonies over the following weeks and for a while all seemed like peace and harmony: after an aborted reunion in 1974 CSNY really needed a record to rescue their reputation and show them at the top of their game again. However it wasn't to be: Crosby and Nash were in the middle of making their own record ('Whistling Down The Wire') and took part mainly out of loyalty and duty, on the understanding that the quartet would go on to make a 'proper' record soon after (the pair even started saving songs back for it - which is why 'Wire' is such a poor and feeble record by their high standards). The group then had a big argument (bet no CSNY fan saw that coming!) and the reunion ended when Stills asked Nash to sing a particular chord progression during one of the songs (usually reckoned to be ‘Guardian Angel’), Nash found he couldn’t do it (and that the part was impossible and he shouldn’t have been asked), Stephen threw a wobbly and slashed the master tapes of the songs with a razor blade, ruining several weeks’ work. Instead of leaving the album in the vaults or adding other ideas to it, Stills and Young simply decided to put it out as it was (Knowing what he’d go on to record, perhaps Neil wanted the album this loose and ragged from the beginning and always planned it this way). As a result, 'Long May You Run' sounds decidedly unfinished, as if we’re listening to a record of demos or perhaps a bootleg before the overdubs have been put into place - the very definition of an ad hoc band that really isn't going to last much longer. The worst part of the CSNY fiasco is that the quartet broke up over what would have been, by their standards, a very inconsequential album indeed. Neither ‘Long May You Run’ or Crosby-Nash’s ‘Whistling Down The Wire’ (which may or may not have recycled some of the CSNY material, depending on the mood of the musician during interviews of the time) are particularly interesting albums and simply tread water for the most part. 

Things in the CSNY camp weren’t helped by what happened after that. Heading out on tour as a duo for the first time, Young basked in the warmth of newspaper reviews that had finally woken up to what a great guitarist he was and what an overlooked talent he’d been for the past five years (Neil had been basking out on this warm glow since 1975’s mainstream ‘comeback’ album ‘Zuma’, after a series of poor-selling but retrospectively courageous and admirable albums). Stills was going through a frustrating time, going through his third divorce (see the gloriously optimistic family-orientated songs on 1975’s ‘Stills’ album, review no 65, for why this was such a shame at this point in his troubled life), suffering declining sales and hitting the bottle and drugs far more than he should have done (his glorious voice really goes downhill from 1976 onwards). After playing a handful of shambolic solo gigs and releasing the first real blunder in his solo career (the so-so ‘Illegal Stills’), the music media were getting ready to jump up and down on Stills’ head whatever his form and the contrasts between how the reviewers rated Stills and Young alongside each other seems to have done considerable damage to Stills’ confidence. Which is an awful shame, because these ‘Young hot, Stills not’ reviews (that really was one infamous headline!) have overshadowed the record – Stills’ songs do show a bit of craft and polish (it’s just the recordings that let them down), while Neil’s material is a typically rag-bag collection of the great and the gruesome (and the apocryphal story that he wrote them all in a single sitting after helping Stephen with his four songs is probably not that much of an exaggeration).

Many a fan has come a cropper with this album. Neil Young fans see the 1976 vintage, realise this album is sandwiched in Neil’s back catalogue because the classic comebacks of ‘Zuma’ and ‘Like A Hurricane’ and assume it must be full of feisty rock and roll. Many a Springfield fan sees this album, thinks 'ooh yes - a 1970s Buffalo without the country rock' and depending when and how they came to the party makes it their first choice of CSNY records to buy. Many a CSNY fan sees this album, is probably more impressed than they expected with the Crosby-Nash spin off albums and can’t see how Stills and Young (often seen as the talented duo of the quartet by the press of the day, probably erroneously) can do any worse. Many a Stills fan turned to this album after the superlative 'Stills' LP of 1975 (we'll assume for the minute they hadn't got round to buying 'Illegal Stills' yet) and expected more mature thought-out pop. Oh dear. On all counts. Instead of endless fiery solos and landmark rock and roll, with each man competing to inspire the best out of each other (as so often happened between 1966 and 1970) we get, well, murky rock and watered-down roll. Instead of CSNY harmonies we get Stills’ already-losing-it’s-edge growl and Young’s falsetto whine. Instead of 'Mr Soul' and 'Bluebird' we get songs that sound like the singers are on the edge of falling asleep. An insipid murky production makes a slightly under-performing album sound ten times worse as well: even cleaned up for CD it's a murky world full of not-quite-joined up double tracking, weird stereo balances and a drum kit that sounds as if it's being played while wrapped in woollen sweaters. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that even the biggest CSNY/Neil Young fans don’t like this record, that it bombed badly when it came out and that it took a ridiculous 12 years before the pair worked on a record again (CSNY's 'American Dream'. And if you thought this one was under-par...) ‘Long May You Run’ is, understandably, a confused record, from the deleted Crosby-Nash harmonies at the eleventh hour, to the lack of any real Stills/Young trademarks (there’s hardly any guitar on this LP and none of the famous interplay between the two axemen so beloved of Springfield and CSNY fans) to the sheer amount of rhetorical questions going on in this album’s lyric sheet; the edgy examples above are only the tip of the iceberg on this record – nothing is what it seems and nobody sounds sure of anything. The only ‘faith’ and ‘confidence’ on this album comes at the end, in the sublime ‘Guardian Angel’ – and even then it’s a kind of backhanded confidence because of the belief that someone else will always be there looking over your shoulder and leading you away from your own mistakes. Not having any answers is a CSNY trademark (though to be fair, it’s probably more of a Crosby-Nash trademark), but the effect on this album isn’t ‘stay away from people who try to give you answers when there aren’t any’ or even ‘life is better when we don’t know what’s going on’ but simply ‘I’m lost…and I’ve got nothing to tell you’. Of course, this album does have things to say, it’s just that you have to dig down deep for them (no wonder Stills sounds so at home several miles deep under the ocean – it’s how the pair of songwriters keep describing life on the surface too on this album). None of these songs are actually that bad - well, not too many of them anyway – it’s just that they are almost all lost in such anonymous recordings, with such desperately tired production ideas that even the bits that are new and quite interesting (the unexpected flute solo on ‘Make Love To You’, the bar-room piano playing on ‘Guardian Angel’ and the harmonies on the title track) sound empty and tired. You know something’s gone wrong on an album when you can’t actually remember what any of the tracks sound like when you take the needle off the record, even after you’ve gotten to know it quite well – and yet, if you persevere, this album opens up like the treasure-filled ocean caverns described in the lyrics, revealing more and more touches of talent here and there. But boy do you have to avoid the sharks to reach the pretty little fishes.   

Talking of which, there’s a neat watery theme running through this album too, giving the album some slight sense of inter-connection that truthfully it doesn’t actually possess (and no, it’s not because the songs are all a bit drippy).  Many of these songs were written on holiday in Hawaii - one of the few things Stephen and Neil had in common was their shared love of the island - and in truth this record sounds like a 'holiday' project: one made without time pressures or responsibilities. The three tracks with 'water' themes are all close together on the album ('Midnight On The Bay' 'Black Coral' 'Ocean Girl') and all three have a similar sense of limitless horizons. Both of Neil's songs are about the people as much as the water, an exotic cast of characters he would never have met at home (this is one of Neil's last albums as a bachelor, remember, and sets the tone for the first half of his next record 'American Stars 'n' Bars'). While Neil is atypically just involved with the surface, Stills is more concerned with the ocean and how deep and unfathomable it is - he even has a near-religious experience while scuba-diving and seeing a new world of life ordinary people don't see ('I saw Jesus - and it made sense that he was there'). Boats are a big thing with CSNY, with Crosby and Stills keen sailors with their own ships and this song pits the ocean as mysterious, as opposed to  'Wooden Ships' (a mean for escape and freedom) and 'Southern Cross' (a means for healing). Like the water itself, all three are ever-moving, shimmering, slippery when wet - difficult to define. Even the rest of the album explores similar themes to that of the ‘water’ tracks, being full of the shimmering, ever-changing currents of life and the mysterious depths that might hold the key to life if only we can find the right keyholes to slot them in - from scary hotels to songs about hearses and digs at religion and the afterlife  (although that might be making too much of a point of the more single-sided songs ‘12/8 Blues’ and ‘Make Love To You’).

Yes, by the way, you did read me right: there is a song about a hearse. How I laughed when Neil's 'Greatest Hits' album came out with 'Long May You Run' included and so many unenlightened critics started talking about the track as a 'tribute to the old days' (a few even saw that the record was on a Stills-Young LP and assumed the song was about the Springfield; which it kind of is in a way but not how they're thinking!) The fact is Neil doesn't often write songs for people - he writes them for objects that mean a lot to himself, his family or his friends. 'Run' is a song about his car Mort (short for 'Mortimer'), a hearse that he'd bought up cheap in Canada and had been with him through thick and thin before finally collapsing beyond repair in this period. As Neil so often explains, a hearse is the perfect car for a touring band - the rollers for the coffin are perfect for loading amplifiers and instruments, there's lots of space for the whole band and everyone, instinctively, gets out of the way. Neil was particularly taken with the 'ashtrays which used to whip out into the high street whenever you opened the doors', the height of cool in the mid-60s. Mort was also the reason the Springfield existed - Stills and Furay were  both mutual friends and badly wanted him in the band they were trying to form but in the days before emails and mobile phones had lost touch. The minute they saw Mort in heavy Los Angeles traffic with Canadian licence-plates they knew it could only have one driver: without that car there might never have been a band. No wonder Stills sounds so tearful on this song (Neil, by contrast, sounds drunk). Really, though, it says a lot about this album that it's most famous song isn't about friendship or possibilities or memories per se, but about a car.

So, as we've seen, this album was far more trouble than it was actually worth and the best known song is only really an in-joke, applicable only to those who knew the car it was based on. But does this album have any worth at all? The answer is most decidedly yes. For all of it’s faults and mis-steps, there is a unity to this album which you’d be hard-pressed to find on either Stills’ or Young’s other albums of the period. What’s typical for this album is the frustrating anti-climax in ‘Make Love To You’ an otherwise quite successful experiment in creating a smoky bar-room feel and a feeling of only-just-held-in-check tension and desperation. After giving us a fairly pedestrian set of lyrics about being in love Stills dangles a carrot before us with ‘how we got together, well that’s quite a different song’ and, after holding back the tension for a full four minutes, the song simply fades without telling us the ending of the story. The ending would have made for a far more interesting song as well, presumably, but to date we’ve never got to hear what it was (although Stills’ ‘Fair Game’ and ‘Dark Star’ from 1977’s CSN LP might not be entirely unconnected; see review no 70 for more).  And yet....there's definitely something about this album that makes me keep coming back to it time after time. Now granted there's usually quite a bit of 'it can't be as bad as I remember it can it? Oh...yes it can' going on and I have to say that even if it counted as part of the Springfield or CSNY canons as a whole (which it only sort of does) then the title track would still be one of the weakest songs for either.  But actually, once you get to know it, there’s a lot of promise to this record.

The album is softer than most people would have been expecting, with ballads galore. 'Midnight On The Bay' 'Black Coral' and 'Ocean Girl' are exactly the sort of things I moan at Stills and Young for not being able to do today: sweet acoustic ballads that do better from multiple hearings. On the other hand 'Fontainebleau' is the noisiest 1970s Neil Young song not played with Crazy Horse - Neil's memories of an epileptic seizure in a hotel (the sort of thing that used to happen to him all the time in the Springfield) inspiring one of his most angst-ridden songs. I can hardly accuse this one of being too one-dimensional either: in many ways there's too much going in the song's nightmarish imagery for even me to feel I've got anywhere close to getting a handle on it. 'Make Love To You' and '12/8 Blues' aren't the best Stills songs ever made but they're rare example of Stephen Stills playing the blues - that can't be bad, can it?! Plus the album contains  in the closing controversial track ‘Guardian Angel’ something close to an outright classic, with Stills pouring his grief and guilt into a scenario where even his guardian angel has been driven away in disgust, all centred on a hypnotic whirlpool of a riff that for once on this album points to real intensity and passion. Now, I have to add a caveat here for all you fans who spend a long time and a fair bit of money looking out for this album (it did make it onto CD but only very briefly): it is still something of a disappointment. Neither man is on anywhere approaching top form, there's too many 'filler' songs, the vocals leave much to be desired (mainly because Stills' and Young's parts were designed to be surrounded by Crosby and Nash's) and Don Gehman's production is a disappointment for anyone who knows Stills' or Young's solo work. But 'Long May You Run' isn't quite the one-star no-talent disaster many critics took it to be and many fans have considered it since. Think of it as a two-star record: bad, but with good bits in it (for reference both Stills' 'Man Alive' and Young's 'Greendale' are one star albums: by contrast this is a work of art). No, the sad news is this record will never be the classic you hoped for when you bought the darn thing and might well stay un-played on your shelf for years and years and years, but if you can give this album houseroom for a long enough it will reward you eventually. The question is whether you run long enough to be as patient as this album needs you to be.

Title track [206] ‘Long May You Run’ is generally the only song from this album to ever receive any recognition and is the only song to have lasted more than a few weeks in either man's discography. However to me it's always been the album’s nadir, a throwaway jolly song which is the only track from this album that casual Neil Young fans will know (unbelievably, there’s an inferior alternate take of it on Neil’s fine retrospective ‘Decade’ featuring the full CSNY harmony vibes – that’s ‘unbelievable’ because the one we have here isn’t exactly the record of a lifetime) and, bizarrely, most critics think it’s the best song on here. ‘Long May You Run’ tries hard to be a schmaltzy, gosh darn don’t I just love all of the people from my past type song, but Neil just isn’t the kind of guy to look back lovingly at his past. Somewhere near the beginning the theme of this song subtlety changes, never to return, and lyrically turns into an angry rant about how the happy and joyous memories of our childhoods are only a front for the griping and sniping that really went on underneath, even though the glossy harmonies and sweet vocal remain the same. Even Neil’s car deserves a better tribute song than this sappy muck, reflecting on ‘chrome hearts shining in the sun’ (bit of a giveaway that, Neil) and ‘trunks of memories’ which is generic stuff painfully below Neil’s usual talent. There’s also an idea in the song that we shouldn’t be spending our time looking to the past, despite the lines in the chorus, because if we spend too much time in the past we might just get stuck there (witness the extremely harsh reference to the Beach Boys in this track, implying that they threw away their talent by ‘rollin’ down that empty ocean road’ and staying locked in people’s memories (it’s no coincidence that this album came out during what was – for the time – a ridiculously long hiatus for the band, who spent three years on the road without making a record but, even so, at least their band kept together and ploughed on despite bigger difficulties than any that ever befell the Springfield; this verse is very unusually harsh - maybe one of the band said something we don't know about or maybe Neil was just jealous of having a band who were always there after a career spent endlessly changing his?) Neil is too proud of his chorus to change it, however, so what we end up with is a lopsided song, one that fails to tie either it’s peaceful or it’s angry feelings to its mast, and as such is a poor substitute for a truly nostalgic song a la Ray Davies or a snarling looking-to-the-future song a la most of ‘Rust Never Sleeps’. Perhaps if this pretty but pretty standard melody had been given a less obnoxious set of lyrics I might like it better, but somehow it’s everything that’s wrong with Neil at his worst – it’s insincere, it’s undeveloped and it’s laughing at the people who don’t get whatever the latest Neil Young in-joke is (his 80s Geffen albums are full of throwaway songs like this).  Stills' harmony is nice though - perhaps he should have sung it instead? Thankfully better is to come.

[207] ‘Make Love To You’ should be thrilling. Despite his reputation as a blouesman, Stills hasn't written all that many true blues songs (the Springfield’s ‘Everydays', the solo 'Black Queen', Manassas' 'Bluesman' and CSN's 'Run From Tears' - and they're all classics!), but other than coming up with an intriguing organ lick (which might well be Jerry Aiello’s idea anyway) this song has nothing new to say and isn’t quite sure why it’s saying it. Frustratingly, this is the best Stills vocal on the whole album (and his guitar solo isn’t bad either, short and tentative as it is), but it’s wasted on this chugging blues song that probably has less chord changes than any other Stills song (usually his songs sound as if he can’t keep still; this one sounds like he’s fast asleep). The ‘love you love you love youuuuuu’ chorus, which is repeated ad infinitum by the backing singers of Stills and Young is also one of the most irritating parts of any Stills song, right up there with the linn drums that crash throughout the ‘Right By You’ record (to be fair Crosby and Nash's harmonies were meant to soften the blow - but while that's an explanation its no consolation for fans who actually have to sit through the flipping thing).  What idiot decided to put two of the worst three songs on this record right at the beginning? Did they really want to scare people away this badly?

Young’s [208] ‘Midnight On The Bay’. The second soppy Neil Young song on the album, it must have given his newer fans in 1976 quite a shock, although it’s gentle rocking motion and sweet melody (successfully conjuring up waves and seashores a la Brain Wilson) is pretty indeed. The lyrics are less successful (they’re the worst on the album in point of fact), but the atmosphere is a good one and do contain the odd nugget or two (the breeze ‘blowing through the keys’ makes no sense until you realise it’s a pun on ‘quays’ and ‘key changes’, with Neil’s fans often comparing his improvised workouts with Crazy Horse to winds building up naturally from gentle breezes to ferocious storms and back again). Overall, ‘Midnight On The Bay’ is too minor to be a true Young classic, and it’s performance here is too ragged to make it one of Neil’s prettiest recordings, but it’s a pretty good second division number. 

[209] ‘Black Coral’ is Stills’ answering song (or is that the other way round? Chances are Stills wrote his songs for this album first, given Neil’s penchant for writing close to album deadlines) and it’s another fine track marred by a muddy production and Stills’ gruffest set of vocals to date. Yet then again, the muddy production does kind of suit this song about the murky depths down below the ocean floor, with Stills’ narrator busy scuba-diving and realising that, for all of it’s enthralling beauty, he can only be a visitor to nature’s murky depths. The whole idea of mother nature ‘hiding’ something magical and mysterious outside of mankind’s usual reach is a promising one and this set of lyrics is among Stills’ most multi-layered and under-rated, wondering out loud about what put us here in the first place and what plans he she or it has in store for us. As Stills tells us ‘I saw Jesus, and it made sense that he was there’ – this is the closest CSNY ever came to a true religious song and there’s something of a gospel feel about the recording too, even if it is dominated by the unusual combination of piano, flute and drums. An under-rated song which deserves either a decent remix or a re-recording for us to fully appreciate.  Against all odds the CSNY mix somehow survived Stills' fun with razor blades and appeared on his solo 2013 box set 'Carry On'.

[210] ‘Ocean Girl’ is more of the same, a gentle song about romance by the seashore with Neil at his most laidback and derivative. Whatever the faults of the song , it’s by far the best recording on the album, with Stills’ wah-wah pedal guitar making a welcome return (last heard on the Mike Bloomfield/Al Kooper/Stills ‘Super Session’ LP of 1968) and Neil’s basic but effective piano playing the closest we get to a Stills-Young duel on the entire album. The lyrics are less impressive, being two short verses that repeat an awful lot for such a short simple song, but the instrumental backing and the surprisingly tight backing harmonies make up for any losses in the composition.

[211] ‘12/8 Blues’ is another song that shouldn’t work but somehow does. It’s another of those lazy derivative blues songs that seem to find their way onto an awful lot of Stills’ solo albums, but somehow this song has enough twists and turns to keep our interest and – at long last – we get a Stills vocal on the album which has all of the energy and bite of old. Neil’s whiny falsetto might well be the only time on a CSNY record where you ado actually want him to shut up and let the other sing, but Jerry Aiello’s funky organ and Stills’ own bluesy guitar riffs are good enough to overshadow it. The lyrics closely follow previous Stills blues songs like ‘In The Way’ and ‘Shuffle Just As Bad’, but their very basic-ness really suits this song about frustration and trying to talk to someone who doesn’t want to listen. I may be reading too much into a song which seems to be about general rage rather than anything particular, but it could be that this song is another in the CSNY soap opera, though whether it’s about Nash (who had just walked out of his life, seemingly for good) or about Young (who was about to do the same) I’m not sure (‘We’ll be old friends…trying’). Stills’ dominance and bullying nature is legend among CSNY fans, even if true fans recognise Stills’ workaholic nature is only a front for his more troubled and introverted self and this song of depression and self-inflicted misery seems more like a cry for help than anything. If so then the lines ‘Do you know me like I know you?’ and ‘I wanna talk to you, listen! Too many times I’ve swallowed my words, is it a crime to want to be heard?’ may be one of the most revealing of Stills’ career – how typical, then, that it should be hidden away on a derivative song on such an average album.    
I’ve been listening to this album for 15 years now (not consecutively, obviously, or I’d be about 38 billion years old now given the amount of albumsto review for this site that all need a look-in) and I still can’t tell if [212] ‘Fountainebleau’ is the highlight of the record or one of the worst songs of Neil’s career. It’s a messy, unfocussed song that seems to be about a hotel that Neil stayed at once and had a rather unhappy time in. Why any musician should remember one hotel in particular when nothing that bad seems to have happened seems strange – unless Neil is just focussing his energies on the one place as a sort of metaphor for all the others. Unlike the rest of this simple, basic album this is a return to Neil’s earlier descriptive Dylan-like stream of consciousness songs which are hard to follow but somehow make sense all the same. Certainly the song seems to mean something to it’s composer as he turns in a very powerful vocal (unlike the rest of the album, where he’s either asleep or on auto-pilot), but why he should sing lines like ‘THEY PAINTED IT GREEN!’ and ‘THERE’S A PALACE IN THE GRAVY!’ with such force is beyond me. Most reviewers look at the closing lines ‘I guess the reason I’m so stared of it is I stayed there once and I almost had a fit’ as some sort of revealing twist (some reckon the stress of staying there might have brought on a later-period epilepsy attack for sufferer Neil), but it’s more likely Neil having a joke with us, suggesting that he ‘had a fit’ because of something else troubling him and he just happened to be staying in the Fontainebleau hotel at the time. Either way, all this confusion means that this song stands out on this album far more than it would on any other Neil Young/CSNY album and Neil’s electric guitar and electrified vocal really cuts through all the wordiness of the song.

[213] ‘Let It Shine’ is an angry rant of a song, something which on paper looks like it will be one of those Neil Young milestones like ‘Ohio’, ‘Alabama’, ‘Southern Man’ that have something important to say and says it admirably straight, pulling no punches. But those three songs (and lesser known classics like ‘Yonder Stands The Sinner’ and ‘Mideast Vacation’) worked because they had specific targets in mind and Neil’s wrath seems very honest and real. ‘Let It Shine’ has no real target except a very vague stab at religious figures – but unlike the earlier songs ‘Sinner’ and ‘Soldier’, this isn’t some carefully thought out diatribe against the double standards that seemed to go hand in hand with most religions in the modern age, it’s a vague and snarling piece of nothing. The only actual aggressors in the song are the religious zealots who pass Neil’s narrator flyers in the airport terminal while he’s waiting for his baggage – and they sound, at worst, misguided rather than the brainwashing double-standard filled cynics who appear on Neil’s other anti-religion songs. Interestingly, this is the last of Neil’s anti-religion songs to date, as far as I can think of anyway (oops no it isn’t quite – I’d forgotten about ‘Song X’ and it’s spoof of the churches’ position on abortion, but that song’s about attitudes in general rather than religion specifically – ed), suggesting that Neil had rather run out of steam on what had been one of his favourite subjects. A messy song and a scrappy performance, how this song got past censor control I’ll never know.

[214] ‘Guardian Angel’ is the album’s forgotten classic, the last truly epic Stills song until 2006’s ‘Spanish Suite’ (which was a 10-minute letdown after all the fuss, quite frankly). It’s a fascinating song, full of things going on just out of our reach and understanding, both sonically and lyrically. The narrator is brought down to his knees at his lowest point, having lost faith in himself, his dreams and his ability to escape the mess he’s made of his life. After coming up with the unhappy thought ‘only you got to live with you all the time’, Stills ponders whether he’s even scared his unseen ‘guardian angel’ away with his lies and behaviour before righting himself with his last gasp chance of redemption, the idea that the guardian angel watching over him will never leave and will always be by his side. Suddenly this self-pitying song rights itself and becomes an unlikely love song for a guardian angel, with the narrator reaching for ‘her’ in the darkness and promising to mend his ways if only she can get him back on his feet again. Unhappily, after a thrilling instrumental where Aiello and Stills one again excel themselves, the song falls right back down another hole with Stills telling us that ‘there’s no more time and nothing left to do’. The song then swells to a thrilling climax where Stills and Young at last mesh guitars in the way we’d hoped and expected (better the last 30 seconds on the record than none at all, I suppose) before suddenly running out of steam and fading out on a bluesy guitar duet between the two that frustratingly has more potential in it’s 10 seconds than most of the songs on this album have at five minutes each. The only trouble with this strong song is the double-tracked vocals, with Stills having another rough day when he recorded both parts and the murky production, whilst in keeping with this song’s ideas of unseen forces forcing our hand without our knowledge, is just too far on the side of murky for its own good. 
A real mixture of an album, then, taking in all sorts of highs and lows. Still, three absolute shockers still seems like a small number that’s come to be as hated, mocked and derided as this one has over the years. Whilst ‘Guardian Angel’ is the only track you’d ever contemplate putting on a Stills or a Young  ‘best of’ (and it would have to be a multi-volume ‘best of’ at that), there’s still an awful lot of promise on this album. If only the duo had spent a couple more weeks working on the recordings here (and perhaps replacing the lesser moments with some new works in progress) this album would have been fine, perhaps even one of the best. As it is, it’s a forgettable album and even the biggest CSNY fans seem to have forgotten it along the way – but perhaps it’s time we stopped giving it such a short shrift and remembered how good CSNY were in this period, even on auto-pilot. ‘Long May You Run’ may not run forever, but it’s got a good few miles left in yet as long as you lower your expectations and keep the skip button handy.

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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