Friday, 29 May 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 33 (Top Five): CSN Projects 'Wasted On The Way'

And now the moment all our top five fans have been waiting for, it’s…the top five! And in keeping with the CSN theme we’ve analysed that elusive grail of CSN collectors, the albums that almost were but never quite made it to the shops. For a band with such a turbulent history as CSN it’s no surprise that so many projects were wasted along the way – here are five of the best:

1) ‘Human Highway’ (abandoned CSNY reunion album, 1973-1974). Provisional track listing included: Pardon My Heart, And So It Goes, Prison Song, Wind On The Water, See The Changes, Homeward Through The Haze and Through My sails (all recorded but only the last three songs are ever released (the first two on the CSN box in 1991 ansd the second on Young’s solo record ‘Zuma’ in 1975); all of them will be re-recorded for various CSNY joint, solo and group albums. Other possible tracks intended for the record but unrecorded include Human Highway, Time After Time, Guardian Angel, Fieldworker and Myth of Sysyphus (all of which are released on various C-N/S/Y albums) plus Pushed It Over The End and Traces (Neil Young songs that are still unreleased to date).

This record, which would have been the first time CSNY had got back together since their original split, was abandoned not once but twice. The first time was in mid-1973 when CSNY met in Hawaii and tentatively agreed to a new album; the band recorded at least three songs and had even agreed to a record cover (of the band silhouetted against a Hawaiian sunset, taken by camera buff Nash with a timer switch). The band then broke off in a state of acrimony, but amazingly reconvened for a concert at San Francisco’s Winterland venue in October 1973, turning the reunion into a full-blown touring show that ran between July and September 1974. The quartet then headed into the studio in December but recorded a grand total of two songs before splitting for good (well, until the abandoned 1976 reunion project anyway…). The whole debacle is best summed up by a Stills quote from 1974: ‘I’m a little slower these days…you sit and diddle at the piano for hours and wait for something that sets it off and it takes hours and hours. Finally you get bored and go ski-ing.’ 

2) Untitled (abandoned CSNY reunion album 1976). Provisional track listing included: Little Blind Fish, Can’t Handle his, Separate Ways, No One Seems To Know, Traces, Western Witches, Talk Too Much, Treetop Flyer, One Way Ride (One Way Ticket), Walk Before You Run (all unreleased), Fontainebleau (released on ‘Long May You Run’ with C-N harmonies erased), Will To Love (released on Young’s ‘American Stars ‘n’ Bars’ album 1977), Beaucoup Gumbo (released on Stills’ ‘Thoroughfare Gap’ album 1978), Human Highway (again! Later re-recorded for Young’s ‘Comes A Time’ album 1978) and ‘Taken At All’ (the only recording from this project ever officially released – on the CSN box in 1991). Other possible tracks include much of the ‘Long May You Run’ and ‘Whistling Down The Wire’ albums by Stills-Young and Crosby-Nash respectively.

This second abandoned album came even closer than the first. The story goes that Stills and Young were having a ball recording their ‘Long May You Run’ album together (see above), but unbeknown to Stills Neil called up Crosby and Nash and asked if they’d be willing to help out with some harmonies. Excited by the prospect of making a record together, the quartet pooled their best material together (frustratingly much of it has still never seen the light of day) and started again from scratch. Alas, the atmosphere turned sour again and yet another possible milestone in music was wasted along the way. The project is best summed up by Nash’s song ‘Taken At All’, a song written about the stupidity of the band’s in-fighting and all the great things they threw away when they abandoned ‘Human Highway’. Alas, no one listened – this song too was abandoned for the time being (only to be re-recorded by Crosby and Nash  for their joint album ‘Whistling Down The Wire’).

3) Untitled (abandoned Crosby-Nash album, circa 1979). Provisional track listing: Drive My Car, Out On The Island, Barrel Of Pain and Love Has Come (all recorded but none released in their original versions; all are re-recorded for either Crosby’s ‘Oh Yes I Can!’, 1989, or Nash’s ‘Earth And Sky’, 1979). Other possible tracks include The Other Side Of Town, Samauri and King Of The Mountain (all of which had to wait until 2004’s ‘Crosby*Nash’ album for official release).

Crosby and Nash had the most stable relationship of all the CSNY members, and yet even they’ve had their arguments and discarded albums along the way. The main cause for the loss of what would have been the fourth C-N album was Crosby’s growing drug use, which had gradually been gnawing away at him since the early 70s to the point where his creativity was almost stifled (Nash, in contrast, was enjoying quite a creative roll between 1975-79). Matters came to a head when Crosby stopped an energising band jam to pick up a pipe from the floor so he wouldn’t miss a fix he badly needed; Nash was not amused and the album sessions broke up pretty much then and there. Most of the material ended up on various solo albums over the next decade or so, which are the next best thing to Crosby-nash albums (the one is usually guesting on recordings made by the other anyway!)

4) Drive My Car (abandoned Crosby solo album, circa 1980). Track listing included: Distances (released without any changes on Crosby’s 1989 album ‘Oh Yes I Can!’), Samuari (released on the Crosby retrospective ‘Voyage’ 2006), Kids and Dogs (a duet with Jerry Garcia recorded in 1971 and eventually released on ‘Voyage’), King Of The Mountain (a 1974 versionj of which eventually came out on ‘Voyage’), Drive My Car (this original version released on the CSN box set 1991), Delta and Might As Well Have A good Time (re-recorded for CSN’s ‘Daylight Again’ album 1983), plus Melody and Flying Man, both of which were re-recorded for ‘Oh Yes I Can!’

This would have been a sterling album – the re—jigged and re-recorded album ‘Oh Yes I Can!’ was pretty good, but take away the weaker tracks and the 80s production values and replace them with career highlights like ‘Delta’ and you had a possible winner. Capitol weren’t so sure, however – they’d recently put Crosby on a solo contract after first Atlantic and then CBS let Crosby and Nash go and they were more than a bit alarmed at the reports coming back to them about Crosby’s drug use. Contrary to popular thought, Crosby was perfectly capable of live performance in this period and the recordings from these sessions that have come out are pretty good all round – but Crosby had lost his consistency in this period and the quite nasty press he was getting at the time for his solo gigs and interviews suggest that capitol might have had a point when they reckoned this album would be a weak seller. Maybe so – but if Capitol had been brave enough to have gone ahead they could have had one of the most loved CSNY albums of all.

5) Untitled (abandoned Crosby-Nash album, 1989). Tracks recorded: Yours And Mine, Arrows, After The Dolphin, House Of Broken Dreams (later given overdubs by Stills and released on ‘Live It Up!’ 1990) plus King Of The Mountain, Samauri (these later versions unreleased).

Here we go again. Following Crosby’s rehabilitation in prison he was wide eyed and ready to go, bursting with newfound creativity which found its way onto his first solo album for 18 years, a handful of tracks with the original line up of the Byrds and a revealing autobiography that set the trend for most of the music autobiogs to follow. However, Stills was falling down the same hole as Crosby had, growing ever dependent on drink and drugs and so instead of the expected three-way reunion project Crosby and Nash decided to record their first joint album in 13 years. Somewhere along the way, though, Stills curbed his excesses long enough to be welcomed back into the fold and the duo album became a much more marketable trio album. Along the way some of the tracks intended for the Crosby-Nash album got recorded from scratch and the older Crosby songs intended for the project are abandoned altogether in favour of three new Stills songs (and are eventually re-recorded for a fourth time for ‘Crosby*Nash’ in 2004, a staggering 30 years after ‘Mountain’ was first written!)

Well, that’s all for now – except to say happy birthday CSN! More next week! Happy rocking!

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