Friday, 29 May 2009
♫ Howdy, howdy, howdy, hi hi hi and welcome to a special edition of everybody’s favourite monkeynuts newsletter. June 1st this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first CSN album, a special event that broke the mould for singer-songwriters in so many ways. As well as our old friends CSN, however, this issue marks the debut of a much more recent talent, nelson, whose semi-regular column is all set to study developments in the music business past, present and future. First up, though is the news – and there’s rather a lot of it to get through this week, so without any further ado….
♫ Beatles News: Yet more interesting developments in the world of music auctions. One of John Lennon’s earliest guitars, one that dates back to the Quarrymen days, is due to come up for auction this month. The guitar has been in the hand of a private collector until now and, as far as I know, was thought to have been destroyed or lost a long time ago as it has never been seen since. Those of you who have been following this column for the past few weeks will know that this is in fact the third interesting Beatles artefact to come up for auction in the past three weeks, following the discovery of an unpublished George Harrison lyric and a revealing George fan letter.
♫ CSN News: Happy 40th birthday CSN! While sadly the anniversary date seems to have been forgotten by the media (no TV, radio or even magazine articles this month by the looks of things), record label Rhino earn our respect once more by releasing a special CD full of unpublished demos from the key CSN years of 1968-71. The idea of releasing an album full of CSN demos was mooted as far back as 1991, when Nash was digging through old tapes for the CSN box-set, but to date only a handful have appeared. It’s not yet clear whether the 12-track album, released at a special budget price on June 1st, will include many previously released recordings or any unknown tracks, although ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, ‘Deja Vu’ and an early version of ‘Long Time Gone’ are included (all of the above may be the same as the demos released on Crosby’s ‘Voyage’ retrospective of 2006, but then again – given how many recordings the trio used to make together and apart in this era – they may not). There is at least one new recording , Stills’ demo for his biggest solo hit ‘Love The One You’re With. Remember, the years might seem limited, but the material produced in this period by all three members is staggering, covering the 1st CSN album, the 1st CSNY album, the first C-N album and no less than four solo albums. More news come release day!
♫ Kinks News: Ray Davies has finally released the Khoral Kinks album he’s been threatening us with for the past few years. ‘The Kinks Choral Collection’ is by ray solo, with no input from any other members of the band worse luck, and includes several of his most famous songs performed by a 65-piece choir, The Crouch End Festival Chorus. Bet brother Dave is furious!
♫ Pentangle News: Guitarist Bert Jansch’s three post-Pentangle records have had a chequered history since former Monkee Mike Nesmith rescued him from labeless obscurity and landed him a deal with
Lindisfarne’s label Charisma. The first of these albums, ‘L.A. Turnaround’ has often been called a ‘forgotten classic’ (wasn’t all of Bert’s releases?! Ed!) and is out now, to be joined by the other two CDs ‘A Rare Conundrum’ and ‘Santa Barbara Honeymoon’ sometime in the near future. I’m not sure about the other two albums but ‘LA’, at least, has some intriguing bonus tracks – a 13-minute DVD film, recorded during the album’s first sessions. Watch this space for more!
♫ Rolling Stones News: batch two of the post-60s Rolling Stones re-issues are due for release this week, including remastered editions of 1978’s impressive ‘Some Girls’, 1980’s torrid ‘Emotional Rescue’, 1981’s patchy ‘Tattoo You’ and 1983’s under-rated ‘Undercover’. The four CDs don’t have anything new in the way of bonus tracks but do have better sound so I’ve heard. The four CDs join May’s re-issue of ‘Sticky Fingers’, ‘Goat’s Head Soup’ ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Black And Blue’ and will soon by joined by all the albums from ‘Dirty Work’ onwards, plus a deluxe edition of ‘Exile On Main Street’ due for re-release before the end of the year.
♫ Neil Young News: Neil Young archives blah blah blah….will honestly be released this month definitively blah blah blah…will feature 30 hours of music now with 128 tracks (48 unreleased) on 8 CDs, 10 DVDs and a book or 10 Blu-Ray discs and a book, blah blah blah…if you get the Blu-Ray set you can download new bits and pieces as they become available (actually, this is a new one on me – it’s the first ‘new’ bit of info we’ve been told since the set was re-commissioned a few years ago)…this is the first volume spanning 1963-72 blah blah blah… out on June 8 honestly absolutely no way Neil is going to change his mind…blah blah blah will break your bank balance blah blah blah… (to be followed up next month by the new that Neil has changed his mind, no doubt!)
♫ Anniversaries: Happy jiving birthdays this week (May 29th-June 4th) include Ronnie Wood (guitarist with The Rolling Stones 1976-present) who turns 62 on June 1st, Charlie Watts (drummer with the Rolling Stones 1962-present) who turns 68 on June 2nd and Michael Clarke (drummer with The Byrds 1965-68) who would have been 65 on June 3rd. Anniversaries of events this week include: Roger McGuinn plays his first solo gig in nine years on May 29th 1973, following eight years’ worth of involvement in The Byrds; CSNY release their second album ‘Deja Vu’ 39 years ago this week (may 30th 1970); John Lennon records his first ‘proper’ solo single ‘Give Peace A Chance’ during one of John and Yoko’s bed-ins at a hotel in Canada on May 31st 1969; The Who break the record for the loudest ever gig during a 1976 show at Charlton Athletic Football Ground on May 31st that year; it was 42 years ago today that the Beatles told Sgt Peppers to play, with the releae of that seminal album on June 1st 1967 and finally ‘5th Beatle’ Jimmy Nicholl fills in for a poorly Ringo Starr on June 3rd 1964, the only time a Beatle was replaced on-stage.
♫ 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:
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
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 Hawaii ’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.’ San Francisco
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!
'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of CSNY' is available to buy in ebook format by clicking here!
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  ‘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.
 ‘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  ‘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.
 ‘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'.
 ‘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.
 ‘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  ‘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.
 ‘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.
 ‘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 SIDEWAYS LOOK AT KEY MOMENTS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY – PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
This week, that 1st CSN LP and how it changed the definition
of the word ‘band’
Amazingly, it will be 40 years this week since the release of
Crosby, Stills and Nash’s first album, one which changed our whole perception of what it meant to be a ‘band’. In this first of a series of semi-regular columns, Nelson looks at the impact this super-trio continue to have on music……………….
It used to be easy didn’t it? A ‘band’ was a group of musicians who grew up on the same corner of the same street, went to the same schools, hung out in the same clubs and ended up playing in the same groups. The only difference with your ‘brothers’, in fact, was the instrument you played.
CSN were the first to change all that, in rock and pop circles at least (we’ll leave aside the special case of Cream for the moment, as only Eric Clapton was a truly household name at the time of their first single) and have often been claimed as the world’s first super group.
Crosby was a guitarist with the Byrds, Stills a guitarist with the Buffalo Springfield and Nash a guitarist with The Hollies. All three men had reached the pinnacle of the pop charts with different groups but had rejected the lifestyle altogether after realising that they lacked the space to express their identity.
That seems strange to believe now – despite the many changes CSN brought onto an unsuspecting public, ever since the mid-70s it’s been taken for granted that any member splitting for a group will go solo (before rejoining the band again – it’s only a matter of time before Robbie Williams gets sucked back into Take That). That was the case in 1969 too – Crosby and Stills had both been plotting solo careers before realising they were working together unofficially so often they might as well get together properly (recording several demos under the name ‘The Frozen Noses’ as a result).
Certainly, none of them ever wanted to be in a ‘band’ ever again – and it was only an informal get together in late 1968 when Crosby and Stills were showing off a new song (‘You Don’t Have To Cry’) and Nash started singing along that they changed their minds. But CSN wasn’t an ordinary group, from the very beginning – all three men felt so heavily penned in by ‘pop prisons’ and strict ideas of what group members could and could not say that they decided to lay down some new rules about governing their group.
There was no leader in the group, with all three equal characters jostling for position (Crosby by being a natural counter-culture rebel leader, Stills by being a forceful workaholic and Nash via friendly persuasion) and all three expressing themselves and their individual thoughts and feelings without being afraid of how these songs would look when sat next to their colleagues’ work. Therefore a song like Crosby’s ‘Deja Vu’ – with it’s weird time signatures and talk about past lives informing our present selves – sits easily against Nash’s ‘Teach Your Children’ (with it’s more straight- forward country tale of learning from past mistakes and guiding the next generation to help them best make their own decisions) and Stills’ ‘Carry On’ (with it’s rock moral about how, if only we can hold on through the bad times, ‘love is coming to us all’).
As you can see, all three men are heading for exactly the same destination, but they all have very clear views as to how they’re going to make that journey and what they have to do to get there. This is what makes the first (and second) CSN/CSNY albums such a landmark in music history – here we have four very individual writers all working towards the same message but approaching it from different angles. The closest you get to a previous partnership like this is the Beatles, with Lennon’s droll sarcasm and scattered brainstorms balanced by McCartney’s thoroughness and natural melodic sense. But CSN take this idea to it’s logical conclusion, adding in a third (and when Neil agrees to join them a fourth) voice to the mix and stressing their differences, rather than have George Martin’s production values smother both Beatles for the sake of ‘album unity’.
Almost every track on every CSN album sounds like a completely different beast to its predecessor and successor (even if all three writers do, from to time, rehash old ideas of their own) and that’s exciting to listeners then and now. You don’t know where each of these albums are going next. And yet CSN still seem like a band of brothers with similar interests, even now many many years after the band’s split (next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the first CSN split, believe it or not!)
Perhaps modern bands should take a leaf out of CSN’s book: differences are what cause the artistic tensions within a band and should be encouraged, not extinguished. Just look at the awful situation we have with today’s girl and boy bands, where the only differences seem to be people’s hair colour (and occasionally talent). Whatever the future of ‘supergroups’ (and let’s face it, there haven’t been many recently have there?!), this week’s anniversary of the first CSN album is still a milestone in popular music – the point when it was showed how possible it was for former pop stars to have successes in a completely different context and how key individual expression is to band members’ satisfaction.