Monday 13 April 2015

Otis Redding "The Soul Album" (1966)

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Otis Redding "The Soul Album" (1966)

Just One More Day/It's Growing/Cigarettes and Coffee/Chain Gang/Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)//Good To Me/Scratch My Back/Treat Her Right/Everybody Makes A Mistake/Any Ole' Way/634-5789

Otis Redding should have been in a real good place in early 1966. While not quite the global superstar he'll become after the Monterey Pop Festival a year later, 'Otis Blue' had been a popular and commercially successful record, propelling the singer ever closer to his goal. A legendary set at the Whisky-A-Go-Go the same year, since thankfully released as a record in its own right, is still talked about in hushed tones and was performed in front of a highly prestigious audience (including Bob Dylan, who tried in vain to get Otis to cover one of his songs). Otis was closer than ever to backing band, Booker T and the MGs, who are now fully integrated into the Redding masterplan with more co-writes with guitarist Steve Cropper than ever before. For once record company Volt are really interested in what he's going to do with the next LP, after years of treating him as merely a junior yet larger version of 'Sam and Dave' standing on top of one another. Married life to Zelda was as rosy before, with four years on the clock by now and almost the full quota of four children. Life was still hard work, full of unwarranted prejudice at many concerts and in social life and a home American audience still less enthralled than perhaps they should have been compared to European fans, but even this was fading away a little as Otis began to be seen as a 'star' and Martin Luther King's peace rallies take on more and more momentum and receive wider coverage . So what does Otis Redding make of this?

Well even for a singer who played on the name 'Mr Pitiful' and spent a lot of time in song worrying about the future, 'The Soul Album' is a very melancholic album, which is a surprise. The record begins with a Redding original (one of three on this album) that finds the singer nostalgic for happier, rosier days, pleading for another day of happiness before the inevitable darkness comes in. The rest of the album include covers of songs about working in chain gangs,  poverty ('Nobody Loves You...') and  the sighing regret of 'Everybody Makes A Mistake'. Even a late surge of happiness at the album's finale (singalong original 'Any Ole Way' and a Steve Cropper song that chants out a telephone number like it's the answer to life's problems) can't disguise this album's oppressive heavy feel. Until now most of Otis' songs can be taken at face value - the 'happy' songs sound jolly, the 'sad' songs sound depressed . Of course you could say that for anyone but one reason that I love Otis' records despite hating  the work of so many other soul giants is that his songs 'feel' as if there' more going on in them somehow - a combination of cover choice, original material and interpretation. Some of the material can sometimes be one-dimensional - but it doesn't sound that way when interpreted by Otis. While 'The Soul Album' is far from Otis' greatest moment that statement is more true for this album than perhaps any of the other original records that came out before Otis' death at the end of the following year. We've already seen that this album has its fair share of unhappy songs, but on this record even the 'up' songs sound sad the way they're interpreted here, with Otis growing ever more brave and knowledgeable in his means to re-casting and re-moulding other people's songs to fit his style. If you read the lyric sheet there isn't particularly more going on here than in 'Otis Blue' (a comparatively 'up' record) but this record has a weight and oppressive feel to it that isn't always there in the words.

Take opening song 'Just One More Day' which promises the world and sounds as if the narrator has no reason to think there won't be another just like it - but the sighing aching agonising  horn part , the sudden slides towards a bottomless pit of a minor key and one of the best 'pleading' Otis vocals suggest otherwise. That song is matched in the Redding catalogue only by a second version of the same trick at the opening of side two with 'Good To Me', a song that reads as if it's the happiest song in the world about how much good a wife has done for her husband - and yet sounds as if Otis is crying is heart out, all cat-and-mouse tension, hard hitting horns and pulsating gospel confessional organ. Otis then  promises that he's going to stay around twenty years 'and after that another forty', but the way its sung it seems more like a threat than a devotion of love. I thought for years too that 'Cigarettes and Coffee' was a naturally 'sad song' before I properly studied the lyrics (sadly not provided on the original album) and discovered that actually its meant to be a sweet chat-up line, as Otis meets his soulmate on a blind date and finds it so 'natural'. Only the way Otis sings it here you'd believe that he accidentally insulted her big nose, the food arrived two hours late and cold, he lost his credit card so she had to pay and the candle set alight to the tablecloth. We sometimes talk about the album covers on this site and how they might 'hint' at some hidden inner secret: in truth there isn't much lee-way from using yet another pretty model on the cover. But look again when you know this record really well and see how expression seems to have 'changed' since the first time you brought that record home: the model gazes out at you not with the twinkling sexy eyes of the model on 'Otis Blue' but with a far more intense and thoughtful stare to go along with the half smile, as if trying to put something over that can't quite be expressed in words. There's....something Otis is trying to convey on this album, from the cat-and-mouse tension of 'Good To Me' and I'd love to know what it is. Was he feeling guilty about fame, about being away from home, about alleged groupies on the road? Was he feeling guilty about running out of steam at this point in his career? (the next two records will be all downhill from this last great release, the sudden unexpected success at Monterey and 'Dock Of The Bay' the next year notwithstanding) Was Otis just eager to indulge his newly minted 'Mr Pitiful' persona? 

That's particularly interesting because, on the face of it, 'The Soul Album' doesn't try to do anything the previous three albums haven't done already and yet it's only from this point on that the self-coined nickname seems to be around to stay (you couldn't really call the 'hits' from the last album 'Shake' and 'Respect' self-pitying songs). Formula-wise this is the same batch of ingredients as usual, but it's as if the cooker's been set to a slow speed this time around and everything is coming out sad. Personally I rather like sad and rate this album if not quite the best then certainly as among the best in Otis' career, his last truly great album in fact. Sad can be a winning move for a writer - especially the way that Otis sings it - and having recently divided up my mp3s between 'uptempo songs that keep me going while out doing something I need stamina for' and 'slow songs I can go to sleep to' I was surprised at just how uneven my musical tastes seem to be (interestingly my Otis Redding favourites seem to be pretty evenly matched). However it seems a strange career move for someone whose just become one of the surprise hits of the year with an album that's generally happy, considerably catchy and faintly political to turn around and release an album's that's almost completely miserable, largely slow and almost entirely ignores the outer world for tales of love in all its many forms.

It's also a surprise that Otis twists his sound so far. Well, not too much just yet - this is still oh so obviously an Otis album from first note to last and only at the end of his career, with 'Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay', did Otis chop and change styles to any great extent, with the usual mixture of sure and true soul classics, more obscure covers by artists Otis admires, a handful of originals and a mixture of uptempo numbers and blistering ballads. There's less of a 'rock' feel about this album though, with Otis growing ever further from the Little Richard influences of his early days (and no rock cover songs this time around). There is however much more of an emphasis on horns, the Mar Kays performing on every song rather than just the half of the album where they're most suitable and fascinatingly they even perform  slightly different function: instead of parroting Otis' lead or performing in an entirely 'separate' world (though they do that a bit too) they now 'answer back'. Several times in the album Otis uses the trick of telling us something that seems on the surface to be 'true' - only to have the horns blast in his face, causing Otis to change his story, only for them to keep blaring, only for him to end up on his knees pleading, only for them to shoot an ice-cold blast during an extended solo before the whole dance starts again. It's the musical equivalent of the soap opera wife, with curlers in her hair, saying 'oh ho - yes? Say that again why don't you?' while the husband digs himself a bigger and deeper hole.

Ironically, for a record entitled 'The Soul Album' and despite the increasing presence of the horns, this release also moves Otis further away from the soul sound and towards a gospel one. There's always been a little of the 'church' about Otis' records and never has he looked more like a traditional preacher than on this record's back cover, with hand out stretched or finger waggling in the air. However this album is definitely more keyboard-based than guitar-based (despite Steve Cropper's greater input), with an organ Booker T's choice for most of the record. While some songs use the same template as before, much of the rest feature simple sweeping organ chords rather than ivory tickling or individual note-stabs. Otis isn't singing these songs so much as cooing, cajoling and pleading his way through them and while there are no happy clappy gospel singers around anywhere this is a long way away from the traditional view of soul (James Brown snarling into a microphone or Sam Cooke tearing into a song).

One theory is that Otis always intended his music to sound this way: what with the growing interest in 'Otis Blue' record label Volt finally had enough 'respect' for Otis to give him the time he needed to make this album. The band spent far longer in the studio than they had for the previous efforts, which tended to be recorded in hurried snatches in between tours, with Otis spending much longer on the horn sound in particular. As a result, 'The Soul Album' is perhaps the best-sounding of all of Otis' albums, with Al Jackson's drums particularly piercing throughout this record. The Mar Keys horn section too sounds wonderfully full and you can really hear each and every nuance on songs like 'Good To Me' that show them off without many other distractions. Throughout the album there's a feeling that the adrenalin rush of old has gone now that Otis can sink back into the ballads he always seemed to love the best, without the rush of trying to get things done in a short space of time (it's easier to play hard and loud where mistakes can't be heard or don't matter quite so much  when you have a deadline looming than something slow which reveals everything to the world). Note too the sheer range of producer credits on this album - always a sign that a record is either taking a long time or hitting problems: as well as the Booker Ts there are separate credits for legendary Stax producer Jim Stewart, soul legend Isaac Hayes and Sam and Dave's regular producer/writer David Porter. To date only Stewart and Booker T have been involved before now - so was Stax, keen on following up a hit album, simply taking more interest? If so then it's even more interesting still that this record should have turned out the way that it did.

Otis certainly seems to have spent longer crafting his songs, working closely alongside Steve Cropper. Until now Otis has tended to write alone, but the success of the pair's 'Mr Pitiful' and a growing closeness between the pair resulted in an unprecedented three songs by the pair, plus 'Soulsville', written by Cropper with another regular Redding contributor Eddie Floyd. Though Otis Redding's band was his main job, Cropper had become increasingly in demand across the sixties, writing or co-writing Sam and Dave's 'Soul Man' and Wilson Pickett's 'In The Midnight Hour'. Cropper's hard work as a guitarist on previous albums had not gone un-noticed either: The Beatles commented often in 1966 that the 'harsher sound' they were trying to get circa 'Day Tripper' and 'Paperback Writer' was partly influences by his heavier slashing style (there was even loose plans to record with Cropper in Motown this same year, axed by Brian Epstein over security fears of a million screaming Beatlemaniacs following them everywhere, or so the story goes). Otis, who preferred working as something of a lone wolf when it came to writing, had clearly overlooked Cropper's obvious talents and wasn't prepared to do so again and the pair struck up a nicely profitable partnership (with Otis generally putting words to Cropper's riffs, with the melody falling into place somewhere between the two) which includes the singles 'Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)' and 'Dock Of The Bay' in addition to the three songs here. How odd, then, that with his sound so in fashion there's so comparatively little of Cropper's work on this album.

So, then, we've seen that 'The Soul Album' isn't really soul as Otis used to sing it even though in many ways its more 'soulful' than ever before, with deeper more emotional and generally slower songs than normal. By album four, Otis' 'breakthrough' years are now behind him and his household name years are yet to come - but this record is fascinating as it doesn't exist on a straight line from A to B, with some twists to the usual formulas and a new gospel sound added to the usual layers of Otis style. However fascinating isn't always the same as good, and it has to be said that this in many ways the most uneven of Otis' records. While the songs that work well are as truly great as ever and deserve to be known every bit as much as the hummable tunes on 'Otis Blue' (interestingly the ones that go furthest into this new style: all three originals 'Just One More Day'  'Good To Me' and 'Any Ole Way', plus the superb cover of 'Cigarettes and Coffee' and the mournful standard 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out') the other six songs are largely bland and forgettable - a real shame given the sheer consistency of the last two records. Heard one track or another this album often becomes repetitive in a way that the previous albums never did, new sound or not. That said, though, there's nothing truly off-putting on this album, the way that the Carla Thomas duets to come especially will be and while at the end of it Otis is still very much in his great momentum swing that sees him record some of the definitive soul recordings of his era. Certainly Otis himself is on top form throughout, with none of the Little Richard or Smokey Robinson style phrasings in his mannerisms - he now has the confidence to take Sam Cooke on at his own game for instance, re-working 'Chain Gang' so heavily that it barely sounds like the same song and 'Soulsville' too reveals a new, more playful side to Otis that we haven't really heard before (and which is welcome after ten intense ballads). The fact that a relatively newcomer to writing (this is only Otis' third year making albums after all) can match and surpass the work of most of his contemporaries is an extraordinary fact that shouldn't be overlooked: all three Redding-Cropper compositions are the best here: it's just a shame that there aren't more of them (although for all our praise for it it's worth remembering too that 'Otis Blue' also has just three original songs). All this album needs to reach the near-perfection of 'Otis Blue' are a couple more classic covers and an inspired original or three - the performances, the nuances and a lot of the writing are already first class. 'The Soul Album' isn't 'Otis Blue', its perhaps not quite up to the similarly titled second record 'The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads' even (a record with less highs than this one but enjoyable pretty much all the way through), but it is another very good Otis Redding record that broke far more ground than it was given credit for at the time without sacrificing any of the depth or musicality of the predecessors and like them it deserves to be much better known. The only problem is that, from here, it's a case of downhill all the way as first 'The Dictionary Of Soul' and then 'King and Queen' return to the 'old' template which is rapidly running out of new approaches, a downward trend that will only be revived at the absolute eleventh hour with the last batch of 1967 recordings released posthumously...

The album starts with my favourite song on the album, 'Just One More Day', the first of the Otis-Cropper originals. The opening peal of horns is one of the most memorable moments of any Otis record and opens a deliciously sour and melancholy album as it means to go on. Throughout the song the horns then sit waiting to pounce the minute that Otis' near-rapping soul vocal slows down momentum for even a second, finally dragging the song down to the depths  of hell during a sudden twist to the minor key at the end, Otis' struggling against the current as he tries to conjure up some hope out of the darkness. Otherwise this song is beautifully sparse, with just Steve Cropper's drifting guitar and the very occasional drum lick from Al Jackson, each one so many miles apart you really notice it whenever another whallop drums the song back to its senses. Fascinatingly the lyrics doesn't 'read' like any of this: Otis has been 'missing' his girl for days and wishes he could have another day by her side. The way it's written is nice and ambiguous she could be on holiday, or visiting her mothers. You could easily imagine a cover version of this song minus horns that could be jaunty, looking forward to the moment when she gets home. It's only Otis' pained coo as he reminisces about 'the sweet thing you used to do to me'  and the horn part that suddenly make this seem much bigger and the well of sadness much deeper, hinting that she's either left him for good or died. Other lesser vocalists would have locked themselves into a prison of sadness too early but Otis knows just how to play his own lyric, pushing it just that bit further than we're expecting in the build up verse by verse. Alongside 'Try A Little Tenderness' and of course 'Dock Of The Bay' it may well be his definitive vocal, so it's a shame that this song never got the kudos it deserved, a fabulous start to any LP.

Smokey Robinson's 'It's Growing' was back then a brand new song and an interesting choice to cover - thought it went top 20 in America it was hardly the biggest hit Robinson ever had nor the most obviously 'Otis' like of Smokey's songs. For a start it's an uptempo track, unusual for this album and especially the first side, held together by a lovely sweet riff that's played by Booker T and Steve Cropper in tandem before being pummelled by a 'Thwack!....Thwackwthwackthwack!' by the horns that's really ear-catching.  However Otis struggles to know what to do with this song, which is more of a novelty number than anything, the narrator comparing his suddenly growing love to an increasingly odd list of objects such as a 'snowball rollin' 'the size of a fish that's broken it's reel' and a 'rose bud'. Listen out for yet another mournful reference here to how the love that's 'growing' can so easily be replaced by the growing gnawing pain 'like the sadness in his little heart when she knows that she's gone to stay' (is everything alright at home Otis?!) Of all the songs on the album this is the most contemporary to what the pop and rock world was doing, with the same folk overtones common to early 1966 and its a good sound for Otis - its just a shame that the vocal line gives him less room for manoeuvre and is less suited to his voice so that the vocal comes over as so much huffing and puffing.

Lefty Frizell's 'Cigarettes and Coffee' (originally 'Cigarettes and Coffee Blues') is another album highlight, the only song from this album that's a regular on Otis' best-ofs. Otis has finally found his soulmate, they've been talking over cigarettes and coffee until, looking at his watch, he's shocked to find its 2:45am. here did all that time go?! Despote being jokinglty titled a 'blues' the original keeps the song at that - it's not fast exactly, with the same sleepy overtones as this song, but it's the sleepiness of barely contained joy and delight, rolling off into asides because despite the narrator's promises he's gonna go he really really doesn't want this moment to end. Otis just sounds weary, as if he knows that this meeting can never happen again and that even if the pair meet up again it won't be the same. Throughout this version the horns and Booker T's saloon bar piano drag the tempo, all but refusing to go to bed - and in contrast Al Jackson's drums hammer away like an alarm clock, nagging the narrator away from his newfound love. What probably drew Otis to this song in the first place is the hint - understated in the original - that the narrator has been looking for a long time: comparing this new girl to 'all the others' he declares  'All the good looking girls I've met don't seem to fit in[to my life] knowing this man's particularly sad, yeah!' This is Otis' Mr Pitiful character again but this time finding love and hope, his life 'now complete'. So why does this song still sound so blooming sad? Otis sings as if his heart is breaking through sadness not happiness, his vocal getting muted on the lines like 'now I've got nothing but good ol' joy' and emphasising the lines  like 'I've really got to go now'. Otis is being a master interpreter here, teasing out nuances you probably didn't even notice on the original.

Sam Cooke's 'Chain Gang' sounds even more different in Otis' hands. Cooke's second ever hit, released as long ago as 1959, the original is a sad and slow ballad about the men who 'work so hard' toiling all day and night for the good of the community and 'moanin' their lives away' without anybody there to love them (inspired by a chance meeting when on tour - Cooke was so moved by one convict's story he passed over all the cigarettes in his entourages' possession)!  Otis' nagging, teasing, singalong spirited version seems to point more towards the release that work can offer: the 'wham wham wham' of the drums and horns makes this sound less likely tireless work and more like a chance to be outside the prison walls experiencing real life. With an added horn riff 'stolen' from 'Louie Louie' (a song Otis had already recorded) this is unbelievably the breeziest, happiest  song on the album till the closing pair - and it's a song about incarceration and loneliness! Otis is clearly having fun subverting our ideas (though less known today, the song would have been popular enough for most soul fans to have recognised it in 1966 and got the 'joke') and is on top form on the vocal again, alternating between the part of a gospel style 'convert' to living life properly and one of the chain gang members himself complete with 'hoohs' and 'hahs'. Perhaps the most telling part of Otis' interpretation comes during his improvised vocal on the fade: 'We've all got to keep working' the workaholic Otis tells us, 'Everyday we work to become a little bit stronger, all day and night, we've got to be working men...' One of the first things that people mention when talking about Otis was his strong work ethic, as if he sensed that he didn't have long on this planet and needed to make his mark as quickly as possible. Forget James Brown: Otis was the real hardest working soul singer in show business - this song hints at why.

The first side ends with the first song that does what we expect it to: James Cox' 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out' would have probably been the most well known song on the album on first release, a blues standard dating back to 1923 and clearly inspired by the great depression, covered by everyone from Bessie Smith to Eric Clapton. John Lennon will later re-work the song to become 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out' for his 'Walls and Bridges' album of 1974. Otis' narrator used to be a millionaire - but that was a long time ago and when he lost his fortune he lost his family and friends with it, finding out that they weren't really interested in him but his money. Tailor made for Otis' peals of pitifulness (the fadeout is prime Otis, even hinting at life being better this way with nowhere to be and no one left to please: 'Nobody wants you! Nobody needs you! Nobody ever say a good thing about you! But nobody can tell you when to go! Gotta get back on your feet again!' still wailing away at full strength as the song quickly fades to nothingness). The horns again point their scrawny heads downwards throughout the song as if dragging Otis down with them, although the slight lift upwards at the end of each verse (usually when the narrator is remembering better times) is a clever twist on the original. Not the best Otis cover perhaps, but far from the worst with an arrangement that makes a much-covered oft-heard song shimmer with a slightly different light.

'Good To Me' starts side two much like the first with another Redding original (co-written with Julius Green this time) which is best described as 'sleepy'.  Booker T's slow quiet organ riff screams of 'church' and Otis is in confessional mood, subverting his better known 'I've Been Lovin' You Too Long' by declaring that he hasn't had time to love enough. Clearly a love song for Zelda, Otis promises to love her for 'twenty years' until all the love is used up - 'and if it takes another forty I'm willing to try!' Otis sounds deliciously contented and loved up and the stark arrangement and the upfront production but more emphasis on his vocal than any other song on the album, as if for the first time on this record he isn't playing games and means every word he sings. And yet...there's something slightly 'off' about this song, deliberately I mean. If you listen to this song without 'hearing' the words it comes over quite differently: its designed to sound like a musical confessional, the horn parts slide in with their usual sting of bitter tears and seem to arrive at all the most unexpected moments, the song keeps sliding into unexpected minor keys that sounds like a subtle twist of the knife and Jackson's uneasy rat-a-tat drumming doesn't sound that contented to me. Even that lyric, that's apparently sung at face value, is at times odd for a love song: most narrators speak about 'loving you forever'; they don't try to put years and dates on it. The narrator doesn't speak of their love being 'perfect' either or vow to mend his ways or all those old hoary clichés: instead he promises 'I'm never gonna dissatisfy you in way', complete with double negative which Otis must have known was actually pointing to 'failure' on the narrator's part. Is this song also playing with us, telling us one thing while hinting at another with the narrator not quite the romantic gent we think he is? Another clever and highly under-rated song.

'Scratch My Back' is arguably the weakest song on the album. Slim Harpo's blues song isn't a natural for Otis or soul in general, though Cropper has fun cycling through the scratchy riff and the horns at last get to play the sort of thing most soul arrangements ask for (bambambambambambambamadooeydooey!')  Otis sounds less comfortable almost speak-singing the song and lyrics like 'I'm itchy  and I don't know where to scratch' aren't exactly up to the best of the lyrics he's had to sing in his career. A tired song that like 'Cigarettes and Coffee' talks about meeting a soulmate, but this time in the most basic and un-poetic terms, this is a case of romance reduced to the level of getting a girlfriend because she can scratch the parts of your back you can't scratch yourself (a particular problem at Otis' great height one imagines!) I'm also a bit concerned at Otis doing what he calls 'the chicken scratch' - has the narrator caught chicken pox now?!

Roy Head's 'Treat Her Right' is another surprisingly contemporary song, a #2 hit for the writer a mere year before. A rare example of Otis covering 'white' soul ('Louie Louie' is the first 'white' song of course but isn't really soul), its notable for sounding as Otisified as all his other covers when re-arranged by Booker T and the MGs. A two minute screamer, this is Otis as lothario offering us advice on how to romance the person of our dreams: 'You start real slow...make her feel good...and tell her that you love you know you should'. The song has a real swing behind it thanks to the triumphant Mar Keys horn part, although the fact that the rest of the band are playing what's really a head-down 12 bar blues relates to the album theme of not quite giving us what we think we're getting. After a run of songs based around the idea of Otis being a 'love man' on earlier albums its strange to hear the older Otis returning to the theme of his youth, even though it's only been a couple of albums and a little over a year since this was all a regular part of his repertoire. This is far from the deepest or most suitable song he ever sang on the subject either, although a strong band performance just about rescues the piece as an overall recording and Otis particularly is right on the money in the songs stop-starts and pauses, dismissed by a characteristic intake of breath.

I'm not that convinced by friend Eddie Floyd's 'Everybody Makes A Mistake' either, which seems to fall into all the traps that albums like Otis' do so well to avoid. The narrator is kicking himself for being a 'fool' for trusting his girl and 'paying her bills' while she's been of 'like a fool, running around, doing me wrong'. The song ought to soar and has clearly been written with Otis' keening, worrying vocal in mind and certainly the bits of the song that Otis improvises and makes his own works well. But there just isn't enough of a song here for Otis to get his teeth into and this time the song is conveyed straight, with some sighing see-sawing horns and a plodding Booker T piano part that's uncharacteristically basic (like almost half of this album, there is no guitar). Even a final outpouring of grief where the narrator changes his mind and calls out 'I love you baby, I love you darling!' can't lift the song.

Redding and Cropper's own 'Any Ole' Way is much better, a gentle 150 seconds of pure bliss with the Mar Keys horn parts getting a triumphant peal of 'bam bam bam bam bam!' and a strangely mournful cry of happiness that's irresistible. In truth the lyrics don't say much instead of repeating the lyrics of 'My Girl', but they're pretty sweet too for what they are: unlike the soulmate of 'Cigarettes and Coffee' this narrator has almost nothing in common with his loved one. They share different backgrounds, go to different places and see different friends. They should have nothing in common, but their love for each other is so strong that it can withstand any differences and there's a glorious acceptance of the fact that the pair's lives are intertwining as they know each other better, with him willing to go anywhere out of his comfort zone to be beside her and vice versa. A great realistic love song, as opposed to so many clichéd romantic songs that you know won't work when the lust wears off, this is a grown-up piece about meeting in the middle and the compromises being worth it to be together. There's even a middle eight - rare for this album - and we like a middle eight on this site, this one sounding like a rough draft for 'Dock Of The Bay' as the narrator glances at his watch getting irate at her being late - before realising it means nothing and that their love is going to outlast the lifetime of his watch anyhow. Otis sings with real sunshine in his voice, the horns almost dance in their delight at being able to do the sort of things they do on other soul singers' records and a sweet backing band delivers the song with the minimum of fuss, even if co-writer Cropper is conspicuous by his absence again (close listening reveals he is there, but picking at his guitar with the strings compressed rather than playing actual 'notes'!) Not as deep as the other Otis originals on the album, but a strong song all the same.

The album then ends on a playful note. Booker T leads off the song with what sounds like a countdown to the song starting, but soon turns into the song's title '1...2...6345789!' Steve Cropper and Floyd's silly lyrics and strutting riff have Otis back in 'love man' mode, delivering his alleged telephone number (destination: Soulsville) and in a rather risqué way for the times promises to deliver 'lovin' at the drop of a hat, night or day. Offering the service as if he's simply offering to be the speaking clock, it's hard not to laugh at Otis' cheek or his goodwill. Otis copes well on a song that to be honest isn't like any others we've had from him before - though it has the same tongue in cheek daftness as 'Love Man' et sequence, none of those songs actually boasted about what a good time a girl could have with him - instead they joked about what friends called him, what girls called him, what he wanted to be himself and rather shyly asked a girl to find out if they were true; Otis has never actually boasted before. This might be because the song wasn't actually written with Otis in mind but Wilson Pickett, who scored a #13 hit with the song in August 1966  (and recorded in May, about a month after Otis' version had been released). Though perhaps livelier than Otis' cover, it's less fun, missing his cheek and the strut of the horn players and was perhaps a little too insubstantial to be a hit single back in the days when there were son many great soul records out there. You'd never point to this song as an example of what Otis can do better than anybody or proclaim it as the highlight of the album, but it's still great fun and sits in great contrast to most of the album that came before it.

Overall, then, 'The Soul Album' is far from perfect and indeed is about as far away from being a pure 'soul' album as Otis ever came. It is however another very good and pioneering Otis Redding record, the end really of a great run that stretched back to the start of the previous year (and three very god records in 18 months, while still touring tirelessly, is a great achievement by anyone's standards). Though released on April Fool's Day there's nothing foolish about this record, although several 'pranks' are played on the listener - notably the fact that so many of these songs deliver something quite different to what fans of earlier cover versions of the songs would have been expecting or what the song titles on the back of the album would have suggested. It's not always a successful idea either, with some covers like 'Chain Gang' perhaps too far removed from the writer's original intentions, but Otis and the Booker T Band get bonus points for at least thinking about how to do things a bit differently and this album is far more brave than sequels to successful records tend to be (there's little of the optimism and even less of the politics heard on 'Otis Blue', which tends to deal with its subject matters far more directly than here). 'The Soul Album' may not match that record song-for-song, but it's another good album from a great singer almost at the top of his game and is by turns both hilarious and heart-breaking. A few songs short of a classic maybe, but what's here is generally very good and even the worst songs aren't that bad - not yet anyway...

A Now Complete List Of Otis Redding Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'The Soul Album' (1966)

'Complete and Unbelievable - The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul!' (1966)

‘King and Queen’ (1967, with Carla Thomas)

Surviving TV Footage 1965-1967 plus The Best Unreleased Recordings

Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums 1963-2014

Otis Redding Essay: It Takes Two – The Art Of Melancholy In Soul Music

Crosby Stills Nash and (Sometimes) Young: Solo/Live/Compilation Albums 1964-1980

Available to buy in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young' by clicking here!

The Au Go Go Singers (featuring Stills and Furay):
 "They Call Us The Au Go Go Singers"

(Roulette Records,  'Late' 1964)

San Francisco Bay Blues/What If?/Gotta Travel On/Pink Polemoniums/You Are There/Oh Joe Hannah/Miss Nellie/High Flying Bird*/What Have They Done To The Rain?/Lonesome Traveller/Where I'm Bound/This Train

* = Stephen Stills vocal showcase

"Lord, look at me - I'm rooted like a tree!"

Remember that feeling of dread when someone you love is about to get out the family photo-album and share your happy childhood memories with a bunch of perfect strangers? That's how Stephen Stills and fellow Buffalo Springfielder Richie Furay must feel about this album, which has been long deleted and is now ridiculously rare (alas I'm having to base this review on a mere three songs, which are all I've ever heard to date; expecting a fuller update when/if this album ever gets a full re-issue and if I ever win the lottery - which is unlikely, not just because it's statistically near-impossible but because I never enter it). Very much in the 'Peter, Paul and Mary' folky vein, The Au Go Go Singers are effectively a phone-book: a nine-piece band of earnest folkies who play traditional folks songs acoustically. They were named after The Whiskey-A-Go-Go, a famous Californian nightclub where the band formed and will also play major roles in the Springfield's and even more so The Byrds' histories. Like many similar records by The New Christy Minstrels (Byrd Gene Clark's first band) and the Serendipity Singers An interesting snapshot into what most bands started out like in the few months before The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 and the world went electric overnight, the odd thing about this album is how late in the folk era it comes: somewhere in the Autumn, by which time folk is almost over (until a slight revival when The Byrds and Simon and Garfunkel come along in 1965). You sense that the band already know that, too, from the sheer weariness with which the parts of this album I've heard are sung and sounds like the tail end of the prog rock era when the punks have come along to claim all the fun - or perhaps what the dinosaurs sounded like when they discovered the first mammal with a record deal.

Given that they're very much the junior wannabes (still in their teens at this stage) Stephen Stills and Richie Furay get very little to do; inaudible amongst the nine-voice chorus and with just one lead vocal apiece. I still haven't heard Richie's but the few who have consider it the highlight of the set - the anthem of confused and lost teens everywhere 'I Don't Know Where I'm Bound', which already showcases Richie's delicate fragile melodic tones. Stephen Stills' vocal on 'High Flying Bird' (sensibly used to kick-off the Stills box set 'Carry On' in 2012) is much rougher and raucous and Stills - aged 19 - already sounds like a wizened blues singer, packing a real emotional punch the rest of the rather bland material can't compete with. To be honest this record isn't that essential a purchase and bears no real links with the Springfield sound (the 'folk' element of which is mainly brought by Young). However this is a key move -the first time either man had been inside a professional recording studio - and even on a small independent label like 'Roulette Records' (biggest star: Tommy James and the Shondells) it gave the pair a clout that will be useful in their futures with the band. Just physically, it's worth noting that without this step it's probably fair to say the Springfield would never have formed. Sensing that he's jumped aboard the wrong boat, Furay left soon after the band's one and only recording, but Stills continued with the band playing to smaller audiences and taking every gig they could find. Canada was a little behind America and hadn't yet caught on to The Beatles in such a big way, so Stills rejoined the 'new-look' Au Go Go Singers (christened 'The Company') who played all of Canada's big coffee houses with local support acts opening for them. One of these just happened to be The Squires, a Shadows-style band with Neil Young on lead guitar and the start of a love-hate brotherly relationship that's going to last through two of these Ebooks and counting...

Stephen Stills: "Just Roll Tape"

(Rhino, Recorded April 26th 1968, Released July 2007)

All I Know Is What You Tell Me/So Begins The Task/Change Partners/Know You've Got To Run/The Doctor Will See You Now/Black Queen/Bumblebee aka Do You Have A Place To Hide? aka Love Gangster/Judy/Dreaming Of Snakes/Suite: Judy Blue Eyes/Helplessly Hoping/Wooden Ships/Treetop Flyer

"Can you be believin' what they told you yesterday?"

A true revelation, the  'Just Roll Tape' suddenly came out on archive label Rhino with no warning in 2007, catching all of Stills' fans off guard. Taped on April 26th 1968, when Stills was guesting at a session by girlfriend Judy Collins (presumably for her seventh and folkiest album 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes?' out that November), Stephen asked engineer John Haeny if he wouldn't mind staying on a bit longer while he threw together some rough acoustic demos of songs he'd been working on, 'peeling off several hundred dollar bills' as he did so according to the sleevenotes. Stills then went home, intending to pick the tape up soon after but he never did (did he and Judy have a row that night? Was it even about him staying behind instead of seeing her home? The pair have a very on-off relationship that lasts through most of the first two hundred pages or so of this book and is the sort of thing you can imagine happening). When the studio was due to close in 1978 musician Joe Colasurdo happened to be the last musician in. Heaving out boxes of tapes to the rubbish dump the owners told him he could have a look inside and hang on to anything he fancied. A big CSN fan (our kind of guy!) Colasurdo spotted this tape box with just the name 'Stephen Stills' written on it and took it home, keeping it safe for years (he didn't even hear it for several years, not having a reel-to-reel machine in his house). Zoom forward a quarter of a century and Colasurdo is hanging out a lot at a record shop known as The Mystic Disc Record Store in Connecticut. He happens to say to the manager Dan Curland that he has a Stills tape reel at home he rescued back in the seventies - another of Curland's occasional customers happens to be Graham Nash. The tapes get mentioned, he gets interested, meets Colasurdo and hires a machine to play them on (most likely Joel Bernstien's as the pair are already working on 'CSNY '74' at the time). Nash is awed to hear his partner so young and committed and rings him up immediately telling him he has to release the tape - now! A surprised Stills gave them a listen and complied, with a release out in the shops so soon most people didn't know it was coming - and from a tape source that had never been bootlegged before. Happy days for CSN fans!

Taped the week before the Buffalo Springfield's last ever show on May 5th (although some have doubted the official date given: the Springfield were meant to be playing a show in Atlanta that day, although I don't see why Stills couldn't have made both if he was due to meet Judy Collins that night anyway - and it's also not entirely out of the realms of possibility that the band cancelled that night as they did often towards the end), the recording is fascinating because it shows Stills clearly trying to work out what his future might be. At this point he's friends with Crosby and the pair will spend most of the Summer working together, but it may be that Stills was toying with a folkie solo album first, similar to what he'd just seen Judy recording (and perhaps featuring just him an acoustic - the 'Stills Alone' record some 23 years early). Most of his biggest songs from the next few years are already here sounding not unlike their future selves (including a messy but brilliant 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' that's only missing the ending, 'Helplessly Hoping' 'So Begins The Task' 'Change Partners' 'Black Queen' and even a tentative version of 'Wooden Ships', minus the Crosby 'If you smile at me' opening but with most of Paul Kantner's as well as Stills' bits already intact interestingly, Stills apparently trying on for size to his own modifications). Even without the glorious harmony vocals and the overdubs they already sound complete, rounded and whole. Elsewhere we get very early versions of songs that appear later on in very different form (the bouncy 'Bumblebee' becomes the more predatory [7] 'Love Gangster' from 'Manassas', while 'Know You've Got To Run' is the first half of [36] 'Everybody I Love You' heard faster than the 'fuller' reading on 'Stephen Stills II'). (The odd song out is a 1976 demo of the ubiquitous 'Treetop Flyer', a tale of Vietnam Veteran gun smugglers, which featured in many a CSN concert until Stills finally recorded it for 'Stills Alone' in 1991 and seems to crop up in every rare CSN release somewhere - presumably Stills added it to bulk out the album and to not get in the way of the planned 'early years demos' CSN CD then in the works).

The tape also includes no less than four previously unfinished Stills songs - most of them unfinished and all of them about Judy Collins. 'All I Know Is What You Tell Me' 'The Doctor Will See You Now' 'Dreaming Of Snakes' and 'Judy' are not perhaps up to the greater work elsewhere on the tape but all four are fascinating songs that lesser singer-songwriters would have turned into five-star classics, each of them sounding like a 'lost verse' from 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' and further tracing that rocky relationship from delight to confusion to resentment. 'All I Know Is What You Tell Me' is a sweet, folky number that would have been right at home on 'Stills II', with only three simple verses and no choruses clearly lacking something but with some pretty chord changes. 'The Doctor Will See You Now' is edgier, Stills angrily challenging Judy Collins after another row ('What do you say after you've said everything? Whose left to play when you've played all of them? Do you know better than anyone else?') while his acoustic chugs along in a stop-starty motion as if trying to get a word in edgeways. 'Judy' on the other-hand is the most 'natural' love song in the Stills canon (at least till 1975), coming without any nasty twists or repercussions but coming with a pretty tune and a first reference to Judy Collins as 'like a bird in flight'. Finally 'Dreaming Of Snakes' is the sketchiest song here (it only lasts 1:45 and a lot of that is Stills turning up) but this had the potential to be another prog rock epic masterpiece, with a bad-is-good lyric where Stills' narrator learns the most when he'd in danger and on the edge of his faculties, his eyes working better in 'darkness'. Another verse and a proper chorus (plus the removal of the rather limp rhymes of 'girl' and 'whirl' in the last verse) and this song would have been right up there with all those other classic.

The result, overall, is fantastic - the best Stills CD since 'Stills' in 1975 if you're counting this as a chronological release and more evidence that the guitarist was on unbeatable form between 1968 and 1972. Stills' voice is strong and confident, his guitar playing electrifying and he sounds so relieved to have the stress of the Buffalo Springfield dropping from his shoulders and his horizons widening. While the Judy Collins years were difficult from the first he sounds in love and content with his lot in life (again not unlike 'Stills' in 1975), eagerly anticipating the future and with his songs a mixture of the deep and complex CSN tales to come and the frivolous, silly and joyful. You wonder what the 65-year-old Stills made of this tape when he first heard it, his young 26-year-old voice hitting him full throttle out of the tape recorder after so many years of assuming this tape missing or lost. This a time capsule to be treasured, gloriously cleaned up by Rhino (it sounds better recorded and mastered than Stills' 2005 record 'Man Alive' actually - how is that possible?) and given a fun front cover of the simple writing scribbled over the tape box. A great reminder to many about how glorious CSN at their peak could be - Back then all Stills needed to create magic was a guitar and a roll of tape.

Mike Bloomfield/Al Kooper/'Steve Stills': "Super Session"

(Columbia, July 1968)

Albert's Shuffle/Stop!/Man's Temptation/His Holy Modal Majesty/Really/It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry*/Season Of The Witch*/You Don't Love Me*/Harvey's Tune*
* = songs Stills plays on

"Play it for me Stephen!"

Jamming sessions were all the rage for musicians in the late 60s, although most of them ended up on the cutting room floor to be released forty years later as padding for some archive set or another. Al Kooper, super sideman to the stars (most famously the organ lick on Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone') and a mere year away from founding Blood Sweat and Tears had a vision. It wasn't unique: bands like Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead had been improvising and expanding their setlists for a good two years by now, but both bands had struggled to get their sound onto a studio LP basically because nobody trusted the new untested groups to deliver. Kooper, though, was a respected name  in the industry and had the clout to make such an album - and what's more he knew he could do it cheaply too, booking just two days' worth of studio sessions to make it. Unfortunately his choice of companion Mike Bloomfield - between jobs with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag - didn't share his vision, quitting after the first day (he infamously left Kooper a note complaining of an in-grown toe-nail and needing to go back home to sleep)and leaving Al facing something of a problem.

As luck would have it, he bumped into a very forlorn looking Stephen Stills, who was kicking his heels outside the studio after another unproductive week watching the Buffalo Springfield fall apart (this is common practice for Stills, who will forever be turning up in studio unexpectedly across the 1970s!) The pair didn't know each other personally but knew the other's reputation, but the chance meeting was a gift and Kooper knew it: Stills was one of the few guitarists in the business who had the ability to step into someone else's shoes at the last minute, with almost no rehearsal, and his lengthy jamming spells with Springfield colleague Neil Young were already the stuff of legend (with song 'Bluebird' routinely stretched out to twenty msnutes). As luck would have it he also happened to have with him a brand new toy he'd just bought and was looking forward to playing around with, a  'wah-wah' pedal that will appear on a lot of Stills recordings over the next few years. Although Kooper promised a good chance of success, Stills was a little wary and seems to have treated the session as the sort of rehearsal session he'd have been practicing at home anyway and letting Kooper more or less stick with the recordings he had planned anyway. In the end the pair and their backing band (mainly members of the Electric Flag to be, who'd bravely stayed on despite their 'leader' going home) had such a fine time that they taped a lot more than just the ten minutes Kooper needed to complete the album and the long awaited 2003 CD re-issue reveals that the pair had quite a few 'extra' goes at the songs too in order to use up the designated recording hours. In the end Kooper decided to use the best of everything he had an divided the lengthy 50 minute record into two halves - a 30 minute side one in which he plays with Bloomfield and a 20 minute side two which is purely Stills.

The results are a revelation. Until now the only jamming session in a studio environment Stills had taken part in is the less than convincing 'Kahuna Sunset' and 'Buffalo Stomp Raga' jams from 1967 as heard on the 'Buffalo Springfield' set. Freed of the need to compete with Neil and with a grooving well-drilled band behind him (who do largely know what they're doing), Stills is free to fly safe in the knowledge that if he messes up he's only helping a friend out - and he still half reckons these tapes will never see the light of day anyway. The result is some of the greatest Stills guitar solos and proves for once and all that Stephen is a master of the blues guitar, albeit with the wah-wah pedal giving his stinging guitar lines a nicely psychedelic sound (and thus making this album the sound of the first half of 1968: melancholic flower power). While Bloomfield's 'half' of the record is intermittently interesting (and includes the jaw-dropping theremin jam session 'His Holy Modal Majesty'), it's Stills' second half that's the stunning half of the record and it duly got most of the press attention too. The rocking and rolling Dylan cover 'It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Laugh' (with Stills adding falsetto to Al Kooper's vocal) doesn't sound too removed from the Springfield, with a neat country-rock 'Go And Say Goodbye' style solo from Stills and a nice cooking rhythm section of Eddie Hoh and Harvey Brooks. Donovan cover 'Season Of The Witch' is the highlight', stretched out to seven minutes with Stills' crystal-clear twanging guitar among the best he ever recorded, the sappy happy clappy original turned into a monster of cat-and-mouse paranoia and hysterics with a terrific Stills-Kooper guitar-organ battle in the middle that has to be heard to be believed (this may also be the start of Stills' love affair with horns, which were added by Kooper in a hurry before release - this track in particular sounds very like the 'feel' of 1971's 'Stephen Stills II'). Willie Cobbs' 'You Don't Love Me' is arguably the lesser moment of the second half, a relatively trite blues ballad with an uneasy Kooper vocal but even this has flashes of style and energy with Stills sounding the most like his old teenage pal Jimi Hendrix in the solo. Finally 'Harvey's Tune' is a sad and sorrowful blues written by bassist Brooks and you can start to hear something of the 'bluesman' in Stills comes out here.

The result was released in a distinctive sleeve with three pictures of the main participants and all the writing squirreled away in the top left hand corner, Stills looking particularly photogenic tinted blue and sweating buckets (and uniquely he's credited as 'Steve' rather than 'Stephen', perhaps reflecting the informal feel of the sessions). 'Super Session', which had cost a mere $13,000 to make at a time when this was peanuts (the previous year's Beatles record 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band' cost around $55,000 and the EMI studios at Abbey Road were much cheaper than Columbia's!), took off very quickly and won over some superlative reviews - to this day it's one of the most critically acclaimed across-the-board albums any member of CSN has ever taken part in, although it rarely gets mentioned today. Columbia reckoned they'd hit on a successful formula and persuaded Kooper to do it all over again and he duly rang up Stills - only to find that he was already in the process of setting up CSN. Instead he made up with Mike Bloomfield and the pair toured together for a while, cutting the occasional album although none with the success or the clout of this debut. Sparking, lively and full of tense drama, 'Super Session' isn't an album for everyone but if you like your Stills smoking hot and adore the jamming CSNY sessions released on CSNY's 'Four Way Street' then this is the album for you, a great showcase for Stills' many talents back when he was young and hungry.

 Various Artists : "Woodstock/Woodstock Two"

(Atlantic, May 1970/)

Woodstock: I Had A Dream (John Sebastian)/Goin' Up The Country (Canned Heat)/Freedom (Richie Havens)/Rock and Soul Music (Country Joe and the Fish)/Coming Into Los Angeles (Arlo Guthrie)/At The Hop (Sha Na Na)/I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag (Country Joe McDonald)/Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man (Joan Baez)/Joe Hill (Joan Baez)/Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (CSN)/Sea Of Madness (CSNY)/Wooden Ships (CSNY)/We're Not Gonna Take It! (The Who)/With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker)/Soul Sacrifice (Santana)/I'm Going Home (Ten Years After)/Volunteers (Jefferson Airplane)/Medley (Sly and the Family Stone)/Rainbows All Over Your Blues (John Sebastian)/Love March (Paul Butterfield Blues Band)/Medley (Jimi Hendrix)

Woodstock Two: Jam Back At The House (Jimi Hendrix)/Izabella (Jimi Hendrix)/Get Back Together (Jimi Hendrix)/ Won't You Try?-Saturday Afternoon (Jefferson Airplane)/Eskimo Blue Day (Jefferson Airplane)/Everything's Gonna Be Alright (Paul Butterfield Blues Band)/Sweet Sir Galahad (Joan Baez)/Guinevere (CSN)/4+20 (CSN)/Marrakesh Express (CSN)/My Beautiful People (Melanie)/Birthday Of The Sun (Melanie)/Blood Of The Sun (Mountain)/Theme For An Imaginary Western (Mountain)/Woodstock Boogie (Canned Heat)/Let The Sun Shine In (Audience)

"Sing the song, don't be long, thrill me to the marrow!"

No wonder CSNY were famously 'scared shitless' in the film version of 'Woodstock'. Imagine: it's your second ever gig, you've never played to more than a room of people before, the crowd is full of 400,000 hippies who don't quite know who you are (not in this combination, anyway) and back stage there's everyone whose anyone in music in 1969 checking you out. In retrospect it's amazing CSNY agreed to show - unlike The Beach Boys, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull and Crosby's old band The Byrds who were all approached and some of whom were billed to appear, but all chose not to for one reason or another (how good a line-up would that have been?) However CSNY 'owned' the festival: their beautifully warm and soothing acoustic-magic-with-harmonies and their right-on we-can-change-the-world political mood exactly the mixture that represented everything that was great about Woodstock. All the papers the next week said that 'CSNY' were the 'highlight'  - all that stuff about Hendrix being the big hit was rather blown out of proportion by his sad death the following year (in fact only a tenth of the crowd were left when Jimi, the last performer, took the stage: by then the organisers were running so late that everyone had left for work on Monday morning). That many people being turned on to the same thing at the same time had never ever happened before - who knew what was going to happen the next time this amount of people met? And the next? And the next? Unfortunately as soon as four months later (with Altamont - some might even say the restless and only slightly less fractious crowd at Big Sur a month later in September) was a game-changer. 'Woodstock' wasn't seen as part of the solution, but as part of the problem and even with the (in retrospect remarkably) quick turn around to put the first compilation album out in the shops, 'Woodstock' was already a fading memory, a stark reminder of what could have been rather than the joy of what was.

In truth you don't go to dig out the Woodstock soundtrack if you want to simply hear a classic gig. Nobody, not even CSNY, come out of these sets that well (in AAA terms this is only a high for Jefferson Airplane, who turned in a stunning breakfast set - but you can't even tell that from the fragments spread across these two albums). However you don't turn to 'Woodstock' for the music but for the vibe: it's there in every note played, from the so-bad-it's brilliant moment that CSn reach out for a note that isn't there while Stills desperately tunes his guitar during a ragged-but-oh-so-right performance of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes', a 'Long Time Gone' that sounds as if it's about to topple over throughout but bravely staggers through to the end, cheap but cheerful low key versions of  'Marrakesh Express' '4+20' and 'Guinevere' which reduces some of the greatest music of the eras to the level of being merely ordinary (and barely audible), with only a fiery 'Wooden Ships' coming out of the Woodstock fire particularly well cooked. 'Sea Of Madness' is a special case by the way: until Neil's 'Archives' set (2009) it was the only place to hear this quirky little Young song, taken at a fierce, chaotic pace and with Nash's swampy organ and off-key harmonies struggling to keep up. A real contender for 'Deja Vu' it appears on a lot of CSNY bootlegs from 1969/1970 and fits the more muddied, paranoid feel of 1970 a lot more than the 'Woodstock' vibe. While the song was indeed played at 'Woodstock', this isn't it: it's taken from a gig at the Fillmore, fro either September 19th or 20th (legend has it the tape 'went missing', although it might be simply that the Woodstock take was even worse). It's also the only appearance of Young on the Woodstock soundtracks or indeed in the film: fed up of having cramped stages invaded by diva cameraman he'd refused for his segment of the show to be filmed and so sadly no visual footage exists (though all the audio, thankfully does). That explains what always used to bother me when I first got to know the film: the emcee's introduction that reads 'Crosby, Stills, Nash...' without the 'and', trailing off in mid-air (Young's instructions were to cut all mention of him out). Luckily for history's sake CSN played their usual opening 20-odd minute set as a trio and it's mainly that opening half - not the fiery electric set from later - that's come out on official releases of 'Woodstock' to date. Even if the performances are dodgy, however, you need to own this set, to see how CSNY fitted into the cross-section of 1969 music if nothing else (no other band mixes acoustic and electric songs like they do or sings as sweetly yet with such rage) .Incidentally only the opening number 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' appears in the film (even the extended 'director's cut') although 'Marrakesh Express' is used in the spin-off three part series 'Woodstock Diaries' made for the 25th anniversary in 1994 and remixed versions of the studio tracks for 'Long Time Gone' and 'Wooden Ships' appear in the first half hour of the film when the stage is being erected.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: "Four Way Street"

(Atlantic, April 1971)

CD One: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Extract)/On The Way Home/Teach Your Children/Triad/The Lee Shore/Chicago/Right Between The Eyes/Cowgirl In The Sand/Don't Let It Bring You Down/49 Bye Byes-For What It's Worth-American Children/Love The One You're With
CD Two: Pre-Road Downs/Long Time Gone/Southern Man/Ohio/Carry On/Find The Cost Of Freedom

CD Bonus Tracks On Disc One: King Midas In Reverse/Laughing/Black Queen/The Loner-Cinnamon Girl-Down By The River

"America is still the home of the brave - and we've got to be brave!...And I don't quite know if I want America to remember or to forget"

The stark title, the black background and the curious mini shots of the quartet solo rather sums it up: this band of brothers who used to take a Marrakesh Express of freedom have been derailed. Temporarily as it turns out, but as with every CSNY bust up to come it seems like forever. Had CSNY been like every other band out there and stayed together for longer than two albums (or arguably one-and-a-half) then this live record would almost certainly never have existed. When the band set out on the road a second time in 1970 Atlantic knew that it would be a 'big deal' and arranged to record an impressive run of shows: five whole dates at New York's Fillmore East between June 2nd and 7th, Los Angeles' 'Forum' from June 26-28th and The Chicgao Auditorium in, um, Chicago on July 5th. That's nine shows professionally recorded, back in the days when every CSNY shows was different and all four men had so many songs they wanted to sing their solo spots in particularly were in regular rotation. Fans generally reckon that the first of these is the best, CSNY on a high from having released the 'Ohio' single the same day while still smouldering with brotherly hatred for the Nixon administration (this is also the show where most of the surprisngly kind stage announcements come from: Nash giggling as Crosby accidentally crashes the opening line to 'Right Between The Eyes' with his introduction' and Young announcing Stills' solo spot with the line 'we've had our ups and downs but we're still playing together!'. What nobody in the room knows is that CSNY will be over as early as July 9th, a 1974 tour aside Neil's last ride with the quartet for 18 years.

For all the kind stage announcements you can tell that this CSNY is different to, say, the one that performed at Woodstock. The banter is heavier, the songs are more angsty and political than we-can-change-the-world hippiedom and it speaks volumes that a good third, even two-fifths of the record features CSNY not together but apart (with each of them getting two songs each in the solo spot that takes up most of sides one and two). The unlisted person who put this compilation together (it's unlikely to have been CSN or Y, who were all aghast to various degrees at it coming out at all - was it even Atlantic boss Ahmet Etrtegun keen to oversee potentially the label's biggest seller of the year?) even seems to refer to this during the cruel opening track: a stunning 30 second burst of the 'ba-da-da-das' from 'Suite : Judy Blue Eyes' that feature CSN at their most together and committed, blown out the water when straight away Nash announces 'we'd like you to meet our friend Neil Young!' who promptly sings 'On The Way Home', a troubled song about the Springfield break-up. 'It's happened again' the record seems to be saying. 'Can you believe it?'

Certainly the end result is not something that feels like it's 'meant' to be part of the CSNY canon. For a start none of the 1970 shows on bootleg live up to the astonishing ones from the second half of 1969 - this tour is a mopping up, contractual obligation exercise with the magic already gone. The performances are deeply ragged, in stark contrast to the two studio records to date and Stills for one claims to have always been deeply embarrassed by how rough and ready this record is. The two lengthy jams on the second disc (thirteen minute renditions of 'Southern Man' and 'Carry On' respectively) would surely have been trimmed had CSNY knew what was going on with this record (and are the breaking point for many a fan, although the latter especially is the best thing here, far looser and oppressive than the later more triumphant copycat versions on the 1974 tour). The sound of Nash pounding out 'Chicago' one heavy chord after another and the improvised political rant that is Stills' 'America's Children' tend to be the moment my non-CSNY friends and family leave the room (even the ones who stay for 'American Dream' 'Live It Up' and 'Lookin' Forward'!) Had the entire CSN/Y studio canon suddenly disappeared down a black hole one day and we were left with this I doubt many people would be calling CSNY the greatest band of their era.

And yet...there's a certain thrill about 'Four Way Street' that even the studio records don't have. Stripped to the basics, freed of perfection and recorded during a grinding tour bookended by the Kent State University riots and extra troops being sent to Vietnam it sounds intense and powerful even for CSNY. Considering the band have only just played a note-perfect rendition of it the live recording here of 'Ohio' is ugly and yet it's every bit as right on the money, a hoarse Crosby standing away from the mike and screaming the finale and S N and Y fall into a hypnotic trance of 'four dead in Ohio' over and over, the horror still in their voices. Songs like the bouncy 'Love The One You're With' and 'Pre-Road Downs' really benefit from the extra attack of a live band, especially the first with its many acoustic guitars flying all a-kimbo (the song so new that Nash can't resist stealing his partner's thunder and announcing the title to giggled applause). A harrowing 'Long Time Gone' beats everything, Crosby's voice reduced to an angry whisper as he attacks his signature tune like never before while Neil's guitar work is a sharp needle piercing the fragility of the American dream - this is a reading without any daylight breaking anytime soon and the tune sounds all the better for the mourning with which it's played. Crosby also turns in beautiful renditions of two 'lost' songs that never did find a 'proper' home - the single best version of 'Triad', his rejected Byrds song (demoted by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman on the grounds of 'taste' as Crosby delights in a love triangle, although it's really just a mischievous Crosby asking questions about civilisation rules again rather than anything 'distasteful') and a lovely version of 'The Lee Shore', the nautical-but-nice ditty that was attempted for 'Deja Vu' before finally turning up on the 1991 box set. Nash chips in with his exclusive-till-2009 folkie lament 'Right Between The Eyes'. I personally find Stills' political rant against 'Richard Nixon and Richard Daley and all the other...well, whatever you want to call them' hilarious, his political sniping all the better for coming at the end of a piano singalong of his 1966 warning about all this 'For What It's Worth'. Neil unusually is the only one of the four not to get a previously unreleased song on the album, but a note-perfect replica of 'Don't Let It Bring You Down' (his best song from 'After The Goldrush', reckons me!) and an highly experimental acoustic rendition of 'Cowgirl In The Sand' (originally a ten minute electric jam with Crazy Horse) proves that his songs can sound great when played in any form. Add in the two soaring jams with some of the greatest Stills-Young guitar duelling on record (even if they take a while to get there - and with the caveat that I still think the sarcastic audience-pushing 'Southern Man' is one of the worst songs Neil ever wrote till 'Greendale' any way) and a breathtaking all-acoustic finale of 'Find The Cost Of Freedom' and you have many reasons to love this album.

 While it's clearly not as 'worthy' or as 'finished' as the records, 'Four Way Street' is a long long way from being 'embarrassing' - instead it's a testament to how brave, how committed and how 'right' CSNY were then now and always, putting on their tin soldier suits where audiences could see them and speaking out against Nixon four years before Watergate where the rest of the world catches on. This is an important album, made all the better on CD thanks to the addition of four extra tracks (Crosby's and Stills' aren't up to match, but Nash' revival of one of his greatest Hollies songs 'King Midas In Reverse' and a three-song ten-minute Neil Young acoustic guitar medley, all made up of songs better known from electric firepower are excellent additions to the canon). The 'new' or at any rate 'exclusive' songs (Including the Neil Young ones not included as part of the CSNY canon) are reviewed below:

No sooner have CSN arrived on stage with the 'doo doo doos' of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' than they're moving centre stage to hand over to Neil Young. This rather unfortunately sets the tone for CSNY and their future when they'll always find themselves moving over for Mr Young whenever things are just getting interesting! Neil's choice of song is interesting. [85] 'On The Way Home' had been one of Neil's last pair of songs recorded by the Buffalo Springfield, but largely in his absence (his demo being turned into a poppy brass-fuelled pop sang by the band's singer Richie Furay; Stills probably doesn't appear on it either). That was extremely apt given that, along with 'I Am A Child', Neil's two finished songs from 'Last Time Around' were both loosely about his time in the band: 'I won't be back till later on...if I do come back at all'. Here the song is reclaimed by Neil as a folky song of brotherhood and sounds far more upbeat and positive, with some lovely partnering guitar work from Stills and some terrific ragged-but-right CSN harmonies. However there's still something rather unsettling about the song choice: Neil had two solo albums and three Springfield recordings to choose from (a CSNY-harmony drenched version of 'Expecting To Fly', for instance, would have been truly sublime), so why choose this song with defensive lines about 'having a chance to see through me' and how 'I went insane, like a smoke ring day when wind blows'. The ultimate irony, of course, is that Neil being 'on the way home' isn't a happy thing like it sounds: it's more about the sadness left behind him when he suddenly ups and leaves! It sounds to me as if Neil is already quietly warning his colleagues that he beats to his own tune and is already looking for a way out of the CSNY dream. The ultimate irony is, this song never sounded more 'right' than it does here, with harmonies fully re-instated and the song pared back to its bare basics.

[86] 'Triad' is a Crosby song originally written for The Byrds and would have made a fine addition to perhaps their greatest album 'The Notorious Byrd Brothers'. That band were never going to accept this song in a month of sundays however: with lyrics about how marriage is an outdated concept and how three-way relationships are the way forward, it seems like typical mischief from the rhythm guitarist who knew his straighter colleagues would never go for it. A compromise was reached, of sorts: Crosby could have the song if he agreed to take part in sessions for his band's cover of Goffin and King's interminable 'Goin' Back'. In the end Crosby was sacked and his song unused, with the guitarist giving it away to his friends in the Jefferson Airplane (where the track got a slightly different vibe switched around to the female perspective and sung by Grace Slick). Crosby reclaimed the song and played it in concert often, although never again in the studio, with the solo acoustic version from his solo slot a welcome additional rarity for purchasers of CSNY's 'Four Way Street'. The Byrds version is upbeat pop, the Airplane's version (on their fourth album 'Crown Of Creation') a smoky ballad: Crosby's solo reading is jazzy folk. Like the lyric, which defies all conventions openly ('What we can do is to try something new!' 'I don't really see - why can't we go on as three?'), the music in this version beats to it's own inner clock, sometimes hanging in the air after every line, sometimes running together into a melody. It remains the definite reading of the song, Crosby pleading rather than demanding and the slight melancholy underpinning the song ('Your mother's ghost stands at your shoulder, a face like ice but a little colder!') coming through louder and clearer. 'We're not sure what mood David's in...' begins Graham at the start of the song. 'Mischievous' is the word: 'Triad' remains Crosby at his rabble-rousing peak and still has the power to shock now (or at least 15 years ago when I adopted this song for a class discussion during my music lessons - heh heh heh!)

Neil's [87] 'Don't Let It Bring You Down' is one of the more straightforward songs recorded live for 'Four Way Street'. This solo acoustic version is near enough note similar to the version recorded shortly before the 'Deja Vu' sessions for Young's record 'After The Goldrush'. While Neil is right in his jokey introduction (which gets a raucous laugh from Nash!) that this depressing song is indeed 'guaranteed to bring you right down', he's wrong when he says that 'it starts off real slow and then fizzles out altogether'. On the contrary, 'Down' sounds in rude health, a fine recording of one of Neil's better songs of the period: a hallucinatory Dylanesque lyric about a sequence of unconnected events that all fuel the narrator's paranoia and sum up everything that's wrong with modern life ('The buildings scrape the sky' and the man 'walking dfown the road with the daylight in his eyes', both from the second verse, are two of his most picturesque images). What a shame CSN don't join in for a burst of harmonies though - they'd have suited this song's spooky ambience well.

With so many songs bursting through his veins, Stills decides to give the crowd no less than three songs, looped together in a piano melody that demonstrates just how well he's mastered the instrument. [88] '49 Bye Byes-For What It's Worth-America's Children' is an interesting collection of the recent, the very old and the new: 'America's Children' won't ever quite make it into a full song although Stills soes sing a snatch of it over the final track on his 'Stephen Stills' LP on 'We Are Not Helpless'. The first album's '49 Bye Byes' was already a song that came in two and sounds quite different without the punchy 'Bye Bye Baby' ending, nicely pretty with the catchy piano lines Stills gives it here. Always keener to revive his 'pre-CSNY' songs than the others, he finds his way into an audience pleasing 'For What It's Worth', Stills getting what sounds like the entire crowd on their feet clapping. This song too sounds strangely right pared back to the bare-bones and given a simple choppy piano chord accompaniment. Stills' vocal is tremendous too, still burning with the fires of injustice from five years earlier. The song even prompts the 'America's Children' rap - which if it was 40 years later really would be treated as 'rap, with Stills speak-singing whatever thoughts are on his mind. With the Vietnam war still raging and Nixon still in office, Stills tells the crowds to 'Well it looks to me like there's  a few politicians hanging around, children, perpetrating some kind of myths on us all...telling us what a drag all the kids are, 'cause they got the guts to get out in the streets and tell the truth every day, making it a little hot for them...we're all just out there proving to Richard Daley and Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew and all them other...well, whatever you want to call them...that America is still the home of the brave and you got to be many of us is that they've shot down already? 17 Of us?...I don't quite know if I want America to remember or to forget!' While some of Stills' comments are a little OTT ('Jesus was the first non-violent revolutionary! Dig it!'), others are spot-on: for all the flower power era and the hippie dream, principles of love and peace are still getting cast down by violence, ignorance and hatred from the 'elder' generations, led by Nixon. Despite 'For What It's Worth' ,Stills has generally been the least political of the foursome down the years (and when he is Stills tends to write songs about struggling Vietnam Vets or draft dodgers rather than taking individuals to task the way Crosby and Young particularly do). This is a rare but welcome exception, labelled 'embarrassing' by future critics and the 'weak link' of the record by others who don't 'get' how important it was in 1970 that someone was out there saying what needed to be said: that this was a line in the sand between generations and returning to the bad old ways of our elders would almost certainly mean a third world war. This really is a matter of life and death and Stills gets a gold 
medal for being on the front lines here.

[89] Neil's [89] 'Southern Man' - another song from 'After The Goldrush' - was one of CSNY's lengthy jamming war horses. While the jam itself is excellent (and near enough up to the highs set by the 20 minute run through 'Carry On'), the song itself isn't right for the band: a violent angry tirade against Southern America (and the sort of thing only a Canadian can get away) it stirs up as much violence as it condemns (Lynyrd Skynyrd for example, outraged at being tarred by the actions of their ancestors, recording 'Sweet Home Alabama' in direct response to this song, with the line 'we don't need Neil Young anyhow' - Neil admitted later he considered it a better song). Young stopped playing it for a while after a fracas broke out in the audience one night during the song and, with memories of Altamont still in the air, Neil dropped it and played something else. In truth though he brought it on himself: while I'm all of or having the 'darker' side of life come through in CSNY concerts this one goes a little too far with its tale of Ku Klux Klan, crosses and burning bodies and Neil 'ironically' inhabiting the mind of a racist ('I've seen your black man coming round, swear by God I'm going to cut him down!') We know he's being ironic and so hopefully do 99% of the audience - but just as comedian Al Murray and the TV series 'Till Death Us Do Part' were on risky ground, making fun of bigots who don't get the humour is aimed at themselves, so it seems as if Neil is provoking a re-action so subtle that a tiny proportion of his audience wouldn't understand. A lynching should not beget a lynching - or am I being ungenerous in how intelligent CSNY audiences are, am and always will be?

The CD re-issue included three additional songs, all played solo and with Stills the one losing out. While Crosby gets a rather average solo version of his exquisite 'Laughing' (not as bad as the Byrds reunion album version, but not up to the record, badly missing Jerry Garcia's pedal steel and Joni Mitchell's harmonies) and Stills throws in a rather tentative version of his classic [6] 'Black Queen', Nash's rare solo version of his Hollies masterpiece [90]  'King Midas In Reverse' is a terrific addition to the canon. Tired of writing pop songs, this was Nash's attempt to write a pop single for The Hollies that cut that little bit deeper. On those grounds he succeeded admirably: 'Midas' is one of his greatest songs, telling the believable tale of a man who had everything and lost it, with the familiar tale inverted with everything he touches falling apart. Dressed up to the nines with a towering string arrangement and a thrilling counter-part from Hollie lead singer Allan Clarke, it deserved so much better than a UK chart high of **#17 and after going out on a limb for Nash and this song, the others were quick to question his writing abilities from then on in. Crosby, particularly, loved this song and held it up as an example of why his partner should leave the Hollies and work with him and Stills; a grateful Nash, who'd had nothing but criticism for one of his greatest works, became ever closer to him. Until recently, when Crosby and Nash enticed Allan Clarke on stage in Manchester to sing 'Bus Stop', it was the only Hollies song ever attempted during a CSN/Y family gig (though Nash did briefly re-join the Hollies in 1983 for a tour and album). It's odd really that 'Midas' should be given such a stark solo reading: it's a song built for harmonies and Crosby's in particular would have sounded perfect here, while the solo - expressed through booming brass on the record - needs a little something rather than a few strummed guitar chords. All that said, it's nice to hear 'Midas' without the King's New Clothes, as it were, and reduced to a state as sad and lonely as the song really is. A nice and welcome find.

Neil's extra track is clearly the 'selling point' of the CD re-issue, with Atlantic hoping to draw on his legion of followers with a nearly ten minute medley of three solo songs, all set regulars in 1970. [91] The Loner-Cinnamon Girl-Down By The River combines one song from 1968's 'Neil Young' and two from 1969's 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere', which sound very different without first the embellishments of Jack Nietzsche and then Crazy Horse. 'The Loner' is less rocky and more reflective, Neil's funky song about the slightly angry, paranoid young man no one sits next to on the tube because of his intense stare sounding less defensive and more pleading. The joyous 'Cinnamon Girl' loses something without the electric power and the single best guitar solo in my collection (all played on one note!), but still sounds like great fun - an apt depiction of a person you want to drop everything for to spend some time with. The best of the three is the intense drama of 'Down By The River', which sounds remarkably together without all that fierce jamming, but still heartbreakingly full of guilt, awe and fright as the narrator's emotions overpower them. Neil strings all three very different songs together with some neat acoustic strumming and whole none of the three quite match the studio originals all three are well worth going out your way to hear.

Crosby-Nash "Another Stoney Evening"

(Grateful Dead Records/Arista,  Recorded October 10th 1971 Released January 1998)

'Anticipatory Crowd'/Déjà Vu/Wooden Ships/Man In The Mirror/Orleans/I Used To Be A King/Traction In The Rain/The Lee Shore/Southbound Train/Laughing/Triad/Where Will I Be?/Strangers Room/Immigration Man/Guinevere/Teach Your Children/'Exit Sounds'

"I've just played three licks I don't even know how to do!" or "There's no cure, folks!" or "Isn't it a good job we don't have a show tonight? If we were to do this in front of people we'd feel foolish!" or "I spend my time working us up to church and he goes right back to Disneyland!" (Crosby and Nash are in a very chatty and quotable mood this gig!)

One of the very earliest and most fondly regarded CSNY-related bootlegs is 'A Very Stoney Evening', a Crosby-Nash show from October 10th 1971 where Crosby is in particularly surreal form, suffering from a high fever which he jokes is 'Lebanese flu' and cracking jokes about his fading memory. Sadly that isn't the gig re-used on this CD (Crosby and Nash figured, probably rightly, that most of their audience already had this show anyway) but from the same week with Crosby slightly more lucid (although he still thinks the whole audience are 'frogs' at one point and the film cameras - whatever happened to the film? - 'look like German submarines) and still with a nasty hacking cough. The fact this show appeared at all, 27 years after being performed, is down to the complicated saga of what happened to CSN in the mid-70s when they lost their contract with Atlantic. The band searched long and hard for a new record label but nobody wanted to know. However one label they knew they could count on was the deeply successful Grateful Dead label, which had been releasing archive sets at the rate of at least one a month since the band dissolved in 1995 following the death of Jerry Garcia. There are literally hundreds of these shows currently available in legal form and usually at a cheap price, a nice nod back to the fans who taped them while earning them enough money for the band members to get by (technically illegally but more often than not  with the band's help - their sound engineers even had a special 'patch' where bootleggers could plug their microphones in to get really good sound - now that's what I call looking after your fans!) The CSNY taping industry was never quite that well engineered (like the gigs they tended to be loose and sporadic, in muddy sound with lots of fans taping one show and no one the gig after, although I'm often surprised at just how many 1969/70 shows are out there) but many tapes do exist, including some fascinating souvenirs of the Crosby-Nash gigs of 1971. Self-billed as 'the loosest show on Earth' this is Crosby and Nash at their most basic, telling songs and swapping stories with just two acoustic guitars and occasionally a piano. For most fans that's all they needed.

While none of the versions of the songs featured here come close to being 'definitive' there's a certain aural spookiness that makes you feel as if you've come as close as you'll ever come to the 'essence' of each track. The opening rendition of 'Déjà Vu' is even spookier than band versions of the song, a brief 'Where Will I Be?' is even creepier than the finished product and even old warhorses like 'Guinevere' and 'Teach Your Children' sound fresh and new, as if they've been held up under a microscope. The glory too is of hearing so many songs either one or the other used on their solo albums and which aren't ever usually heard as a 'duet': a startling 'Orleans', a gorgeous 'Traction In The Rain' and a sadly rather tough and ready 'Laughing' (all from Crosby's 'If Only I Could Remember My Name') really benefit from Nash's high harmonies soaring away in glorious rapture while in turn  'I Used To Be A King' and  'Man In The Mirror' (from Nash's 'Songs For Beginners') really benefit from Crosby's humming and supportive backing. Nash even busks a quick version of 'Bus Stop' before crying 'no, no - that's yesteryear!' Not everything works and you long for a final electric set to blow the acoustic cobwebs away as was always the CSNY tradition, but then the whole point of this gig is that it isn't CSNY: it's looser, quieter, more spontaneous, even a little weirder - the quartet re-cast in monochrome and on a no frills budget. The magic is still very much the same however and for many fans this was the release of the decade in the 1990s. The sound quality is certainly striking - this disc is currently available only as a DVD audio in surround sound - and strangely enough sounds far better sound-wise than the two most recent CSN reunions made with much more money and equipment! However I for one find this slightly annoying - I can't keep this set with my CDs (the box and packaging won't fit) and yet it's too small to keep with my DVDs, while the 'extra footage' you get while you watch each disc and is so often the selling point of these things ends up being...a crumpled bit of paper with the track listing and a coffee stain in the corner. Gee, thanks for that guys (there is a set of lyrics as an 'extra' though and a brief photo gallery too, though as the gig itself was in near-pitch darkness you can't really see very much!) It also has to be played on a DVD player - fair enough if you've got 14 of them in each room but I haven't (this also means you can't play it in the car, rip it onto an mp3 player or lend it to someone without the right equipment; given the age most CSN fans are please take pity and release this as a regular compact disc too!)

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young "So Far"

 (Atlantic, August 1974)

Déjà Vu/Helplessly Hoping/Wooden Ships/Teach Your Children/Ohio/Find The Cost Of Freedom///Woodstock/Our House/Helpless/Guinevere/Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

"You know it does make me wonder what's going on..."

The nerve of it! Releasing a greatest hits compilation after a mere two albums - and then neglecting to include one of the band's bigger hits! ('Marrakesh Express' which peaked at #28 in the US and #17 in the UK). You have to feel for Atlantic though: CSNY had all but promised them a new album in 1974 which was sure to be a big seller and much of the label's finances for the year had been structured around it (this is the moment when Ahmet Ertegun, the trio's biggest and loyalist supporter until now, starts having doubts). 'So Far' was an attempt to regain some of those losses and is actually rather fondly regarded by many fans who bought it in enough quantities to make it their third chart-topper in a row. For a start it used to be the only place for album collectors to hear the single 'Ohio' plus B-side 'Find The Cost Of Freedom' which was becoming rather rare by 1974. There's also a relatively kind and sensible tracklisting which gives roughly equal space to each of the four (with the addition of Joni Mitchell cover and Crosby-Stills collaboration 'Wooden Ships' left over), although it's a real shame that 'Marrakesh' isn't here as well as Nash's two songs from 'Déjà Vu'. Best of all the album comes with a Joni Mitchell drawing that's now become one of the most famous symbols of the group, a sketchy black and white drawing with colourful touches that does a fair job at summing up the different personalities within the band (although interestingly while she gets Crosby's leonine stare, Stills' lost-in-the-music expression and Neil's folkie balladeer image spot-on, she rather messes up the drawing of one-time lover Nash who looks more like James Taylor, or possibly a late 60s Ringo - was she really still that cross?!) The compilation was re-issued on CD in 1994 as part of the trio's 25th anniversary proceedings where it won stronger reviews than new release 'After The Storm' out around the same time, although in truth you don't really need to own it assuming you have one of the many re-issues of 'Ohio' and 'Freedom' (on 'Carry On' the box set 'Greatest Hits' or even Neil's own compilation 'Decade'); our advice is download the cover off the internet for a nice poster for your wall (checking for the copyright first, of course) and then buy the first two albums complete instead. 

Stephen Stills "Still Stills"

 (Atlantic, December 1976)

Love The One You're With/It Doesn't Matter/We Are Not Helpless/Marianne/Bound To Fall/Isn't It About Time?//Change Partners/Go Back Home/Johnny's Garden/Rock and Roll Crazies-Cuban Bluegrass/Sit Yourself Down

"Watching for signals, wearisome vigils, was I misled? I remember you said that you don't want to forget me!"

Here's a puzzle: I understand why Atlantic wanted a Stills best-of. After all, Crosby and Nash had just had one and Stills had been the one with (just about) the bigger solo hits. But Stills had been a busy boy in 1976 (with a solo and a Stills-Young Band album) so the market was saturated with Stills at that point (hey, 'Saturated Stills' - there's a follow-up set right there!) He was also as unpopular as he'd ever been at that stage, a year short of 'CSN' and critical re-appraisal. Even the contemporary Stills shot used on the cover (bearded and short-haired) is a look that he only wore for a few months that year and never went back to (so at a glance it doesn't even look like him). AS for the music inside, it doesn't really sound like him either. Admittedly Atlantic have done the sensible thing and included the songs you'd expect to be here: 'Love The One You're With' 'Change Partners' 'Johnny's Garden' 'Marianne' (well, technically it charted, so somebody must have liked it). The rest however seems to have been selected at random, which means that we get 'Go Back Home' instead of 'Do For The Others' off 'Stephen Stills', no sign of 'Word Game' from 'Stephen Stills II' and lots the jamming and not-very-Stills heavy songs from the first side of 'Manassas' plus cover song 'Bound To Fall' as opposed to, say, 'So Begins The Task' or 'Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)'. The result is something of a mess, not worthy of either Atlantic or Stills and quite rightly has yet to appear on CD. Amazingly it still beats the Crosby-Nash one out the following year, though, a sign perhaps of just how much scorn Atlantic now treat their former superstars with. 

Crosby-Nash "Live"

 (ABC Records, Recorded September 1975/September 1976 Released October 1977)

Immigration Man/The Lee Shore/I Used To Be A King/Page 43/Fieldworker//Simple Man/Foolish Man/Mama Lion/Déjà Vu

"On the one side truth towers like a cliff - on the other side love dangles by a thread...both sides, why is it always bittersweet?"

Meanwhile Crosby and Nash's old record label ABC - displaying the sort of commercial nous that will see their hit album 'Wind On The Water' re-issued time and time again - were once more in need of money and thought they'd cash in on the sudden return to form of CSN. On the plus side they decided to release a live recording from the era in between the two albums the duo had recorded from them (and featuring a fair mix from both sets plus older songs) which had been toyed with at the time but rejected for replicating too much of the studio material. On the negative side, it's yet another one of those CSN live releases that flipping missed out on something genius. Just as everyone who saw CSNY live in late 1969 who bought the 1970 live set 'Four Way Street' was disappointed, just as Stills' fans raved about his 1974 shows but were bored by his 1975 sets (as compiled into 'Stephen Stills Live') and just as, in the future, fans will worship the bootlegs of the 2000 CSNY reunion tour but care less about their 2006 tour (guess which one they put out? Yep you guessed it - see 'Déjà Vu Live') so this concert was deemed less exciting than either the Crosby-Nash live shows of 1971/72 or the longest tour CSN had yet undertaken across 1977 would have been.

The problem isn't that this record is bad: there's still arguably the best full-band live version of 'Deja Vu' around, which starts off in a scream of noise and feedback and only slowly unfurls into a nicely jazzy beat and then turns into full blown rock somewhere along the way. There's a nice chance too to hear some of the greatest Crosby or Nash songs of the period that are rarely if ever played live again: a cracking 'Fieldworker' and a pretty 'Bittersweet' among them. The backing band - the same band who played on the records and were known unofficially as 'The Mighty Jitters' generally play well (especially guitarist David Lindley, whose about as good a substitute for Stills as the pair could have found) although it's true that they do lack the looseness of more broken in bands like the 'Four Way Street' team. However few of these live recordings - in fact none of them bar 'Déjà Vu' - add anything that you won't already have heard in better form on the records. Some songs, like a horribly overblown preview of 'Foolish Man' or an oddly slick 'Page 43', are Crosby-Nash at their worst, turning art and inspiration into workaday perspiration. Heard back to back with the official or unofficial releases from the pair's 'Graham Nash/David Crosby' supporting shows and this is distinctly underwhelming, with little in-between song chat and no real sense of danger or mystery. Of course compared to every other slick arena-filling band on the planet Crosby and Nash can more than hold their own, but this release is distinctly underwhelming. The CD re-issue of this album turned up in 2000, oddly late in life for a label with such a background of re-issues under their belt ('Wind On The Water' had been out under five separate ways on five separate labels by then) and added a first hearing for unreleased piano Crosby demo 'King Of The Mountain' later included in shorter form and on guitar on the 'Voyage' box set (it was actually taped long before these shows in 1974, but whose complaining - it's a lovely song). However it says much for the seriousness with which this project was taken that instead of sticking it at the end where it belongs 'Mountain' turns up unexpectedly as track four on the album, interrupting the flow between 'I Used To Be A King' and 'Page 43' (this isn't even the end of the vinyl side, for goodness' sake!) Thankfully a live version of 'Bittersweet' not heard on the original album fares rather better and is another of the album highlights, with Nash harmonies throughout. 

"The Best Of Crosby and Nash"

 (ABC Records,  'Late' 1978)

Love Work Out/The Wall Song/Wild Tales/Carry Me/Out Of The Darkness//Southbound Train/Laughing/Chicago/Bittersweet/To The Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind On The Water)

"A shambling run, a ridiculous dance, like a scarecrow that's hung up to dry on a fence pole"

With Crosby and Nash having returned 'home' to Atlantic and their work as a trio out-selling their work as a duo, this best-of set (from just two studio albums and a live set!) seems somewhat inevitable. However that doesn't excuse it: for sheer shoddy packaging (any compilation that features a front cover of its stars way out in the distance is asking for trouble, especially when it makes Nash out to look like a scarecreow!) and bizarre track listing (less than half of these songs were chosen by Crosby and Nash to represent them on their own solo box sets in thirty' years time so clearly something has gone wrong somewhere about this best-of gets it's track selection from) this is easily the worst CSN-related release to date. What makes this set weirder, though, is that after spending all of a few measly quid on the packaging (there are no liner notes, by the way) ABC go to all the bother of licensing three songs from Atlantic. Do they do they obvious and choose the 'Graham Nash/David Crosby' album thus keeping to the work the pair did together? No, they plump for Crosby's solo 'Laughing' and Nash's 'Chicago' and  'Wild Tales' title track - three of the very few solo Crosby or Nash songs not to feature the other as a guest star anyway! A true oddball, which perhaps mercilessly never appeared on CD. 
Various Artists "No Nukes!  The MUSE Concerts For A Non-Nuclear Future"

 (Asylum, Recorded September 1979 Released November 1979)

Dependin' On You (Doobie Brothers)/Runaway (Bonnie Raitt)/Angel From Montgomery (Bonnie Raitt)/Plutonium Is Forever (John Hall)/Power (Doobie Brothers)/The Times They Are A-Changin' (James Taylor/Carly Simon/Graham Nash)/Cathedral (Graham Nash)/The Crow on The Cradle (Jackson Browne/Graham Nash)/Before The Deluge (Jackson Browne)/Lotta Love (Nicolette Larson/Doobie Brothers)/Little Sister (Ry Cooder)/A Woman (Sweet Honey In The Rock)/We Almost Lost Detroit (Gil Scott-Heron)/Get Together (Jesse Colin Young)/You Can't Change That (Raydio)/Once You Get Started (Chakra Khan)/Captain Jim's Drunken Dream (James Taylor)/Honey Don't Leave L.A. (James Taylor)/Mockingbird (James Taylor/Carly Simon)/Heart Of The Night (Poco)/Cry To Me (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)/Stay (Bruce Springsteen)/Detroit Medley (Bruce Springsteen)/You Don't Have To Cry (CSN)/Long Time Gone (CSN)/Teach Your Children (CSN)/Takin' It To The Streets (Doobie Brothers/James Taylor)

"I can see the sea begin to glow, I can feel it leaking down below, I can barely bear it what we're doing to ourselves!"

Of all the causes CSN fought against, the dangers of nuclear power was one particularly close to Nash's heart. After years of escalating use of nuclear power in a less and less controlled way (as backed by - who else? - Richard Nixon) the inevitable happened and on American soil too. On March 28th 1979 a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania (known as 'Three Mile Island') leaked nuclear reactor coolant after a relief valve got stuck and a broken light failed to give a warning to the staff working there. No one was harmed in the incident but they could so easily have been - the incident was judged a 'five' out of seven on the 'International Nuclear Event Scale' rating and the 'clean-up job' was only ended in 1993! There was also controversy over the not-that-well-publicised dumping of nuclear waste off the Furlong Islands in Hawaii - which unluckily for the authorities concerned took place right outside Graham Nash's house.
Clearly this wasn't a cause that Nash was going to slip by - but he had a problem. CSN in 1979 were not the big draw they'd once been. In fact CSN weren't even together in 1979: a planned Crosby-Nash album was reluctantly abandoned when Graham felt David's drug-taking had grown out of control (generally put down to one incident where Croz stopped a 'cooking jam' in order to pick up a pipe that was beyond repair because he couldn't cope without it). Nash's answer was to create a series of five all-star charity concerts that would raise awareness as much as funds and formed MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) with several like-minded organisers, although he was always the prime mover behind it. The shows were aimed from the beginning to be as big as they could get, with as many big names of the day as they could get (Bruce Springsteen, The Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt) as well as Nash's usual pro-protest friends from the 'old days' (James Taylor, Carly Simon, Jackson Browne). The concerts were a huge success at the time, spawning a film and a two-LP soundtrack album, although sadly they seem to have dropped out of favour in recent years (the film is currently unavailable, having been shown on TV only once in the UK, although thankfully the soundtrack was re-released on CD in 1997).

Originally CSN weren't meant to play at all. Nash was embarrassed by the state the band was in and thought that asking Crosby back so soon after their last painful split would give him the wrong impression that he was perfectly ok and able to work, but was persuaded by Jackson Browne that the cause was bigger than any personal issues going on and that CSN together were a bigger draw than Nash apart. In the end, though, CSN turn in a very ragged low-key set and play a very minor role in the film (a timid rehearsal of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes', so different to its last 'movie' performance in Woodstock) while getting three on the soundtrack album. None are all that memorable, sadly, with Stills sounding like he's struggling as much as Crosby. Neil was invited but didn't show - to no one's great surprise as his Republican in the early Reagan years saw him move the furthest away from his colleagues in this era - although the presence of Jess Colin Young listed near CSN's name on the posters gave more than one fan a double take (by this stage CSNY hadn't been seen together in public for five years - alas it will be another nine before the next reunion). Nash, however, is on passionate form and despite being needed backstage a lot (Nash is on charming form in the film, moving mountains with his loveable mixture of diplomacy and passion) is rarely off the stage, backing James Taylor and Carly Simon's set and appearing on stage with Jackson Browne. It's his solo set, however, that's the highlight of the entire set featuring a gorgeous organ-drenched performance of 'Cathedral' (the first time most fans had heard this song in concert after a mere handful of performances on the 1977 CSN tour) and a riveting new song named 'Barrel Of Pain (Half-Life)' directly inspired by the Three Mile Island incident (it will appear in lesser re-recorded from on his next album 'Earth and Sky', although Mike Finnigan's mock-soul second half of the song is a bit of a struggle for some fans to get through).

You could argue that 'No Nukes', which seemed so promising at the time and got lots of American talking, ultimately had little impact on politics and popular culture. Surprisingly few people remember it today even though it was the 'Concert For Bangladesh' or 'Live Aid' of its day, uniting people in a cause that politicians so desperately wanted to stamp out and sweep under the carpet. However MUSE never broke up - the organisation continued to stand and has had a bigger influence on modern-day politics than people often think. Democrat John Hall, a 31-year-old politician when MUSE turned to him for help, continued his campaign into his career and was elected to congress in 2007 on the back of his plans for alternative energy. That same year Nash, Raitt and Browne reunited under the MUSE banner to release a cover version of Stills' Buffalo Springfield song 'For What It's Worth'. Then when the Fukushima nuclear accident happened in 2011, causing the deaths of several people and an evacuation of an entire town - exactly what MUSE had feared in 1979 - another benefit concert took place with as many names from the original gigs as possible back on board (basically everyone but Bruce and featuring another CSN reunion). All three also took part in a lengthy press conference about the horrors of nuclear where Nash sounds just as angry as ever (when asked how to change perceptions of nuclear energy he argues 'We have to stop worrying about Kim Kardashian's ass and start getting real...we have to stop them treating us like sheep, saying 'lie down, buy some sneakers, buy this soft drink, back down and shut the fuck up while we rob you blind!') The 'No Nukes' set may be about to enjoy a revival in fortunes, despite Governmental attempts to ignore it and it's well worth reviving, featuring Nash at his bravest and feistiest, even if in CSN terms it's easily their worst officially available gig. 

Crosby Stills and Nash "Replay"

 (Atlantic, December 1980)

Carry On/Marrakesh Express/Just A Song Before I Go/First Things First/Shadow Captain/To The Last Whale (Critical Mass/Wind On The Water)//Love The One You're With/Pre-Road Downs/Change Partners/I Give You Give Blind/Cathedral

"Trying to give the light the slip"

The date December 8th 1980 was a terrible day for collectors. Obviously the murder of John Lennon cast such a long shadow over every other event that day that nothing can compare, but even without his sad untimely death fans would have had to have coped with the first ever really stingy CSN release. With CSN having gone their separate ways and Crosby increasingly fragile Atlantic suddenly 'demanded' a new compilation for their catalogue despite the fact that CSN had only managed one more album than the last time they were asked. What's more, record company politics meant that nothing of Neil Young could be used on the album (he was now a fully-paid member of rivals Reprise), which wasn't as big a problem as it might have been for some bands (Neil only played on about six songs from 'Déjà Vu anyway) but a desire to repeat as little from first compilation 'So Far' as possible meant the band (namely Stills) had to get the scissors out for 'Carry On' (which lost the entire second half known as 'Questions' and simply looped round on an extended version of the classic riff). Stills also had second thoughts about his 1977 song 'I Give You Give Blind', remixing it without the strings where it sounds much better and rockier, although oddly perhaps knowing his perfectionist tendencies, he left everything else alone. The result is a compilation that you don't really need (especially now the alternate 'Blind' is tucked away safely on Stills' own 'Carry On' box set) but which does a fair job at adding all the songs that were strangely missing off the 'So Far' set (including the big hits 'Marrakesh Express' and 'Love The One You're With) while interestingly touching briefly on the Crosby-Nash years licensed especially from ABC as well as three solo songs (not always the right ones) from Stills himself. Topped and tailed with a hideous cover of a Joni Mitchell style painting done by a staff illustrator which manages to make all three look anaemic.  That might perhaps be a comment on the record which lasts for a mere 38 minutes and despite containing some of the greatest music of the past eleven years is distinctly underwhelming. 

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