It sometimes escapes notice that Crosby, Stills & Nash’s initial run only included three proper albums — 1969’s self-titled debut, 1977’s CSN, and 1982’s Daylight Again. There’s much more to the CSN legacy than that, of course, but it’s mixed up with solo and duo projects from David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, as well as a seminal ’70s release — Déjà Vu — with Neil Young as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
What: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Where: Township Auditorium, 1703 Taylor St.
When: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m.
More Info: 576-2356, thetownship.org
The trio’s current sets tend to include material from throughout the members’ long and winding discographies. Each of the three core singers has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two separate times, once for CSN and again for either solo work or membership in previous bands. Neil Young has been inducted twice as well, but not for his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash; his role with the band has been notable but rarely essential.
Columbia itself appears briefly yet pivotally in the group’s history. Biographer Jimmy McDonough recounts in Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography that after a July 20, 1976 show here on a Stills-Young tour, tensions between the two resulted in Young’s bus going a different direction from Stills, who arrived in Atlanta to a Young telegram informing him that the duo tour was over.
Young has been an on-again-off-again presence in the CSN orbit from the start, even though his contributions, such as “Ohio,” helped define the group’s sound and politics. One could make the argument that his strong personality didn’t gel with the rest and ultimately splintered them all, but it’s not like the others were wallflowers. All of them had attained prior success — Crosby in The Byrds, Nash in The Hollies, Stills and Young in Buffalo Springfield — but it wasn’t until they began working together and honed their striking harmonies that things really took off.
Musically speaking, it’s the singing that set CSN apart from other popular rockers of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Crosby got a taste of it in The Byrds, perhaps, and Nash brought some British Invasion pop influence, but never have three distinctly different voices sounded better together.
The group’s 1969 entrée is about as perfect a document of its era as exists on vinyl. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” alone would make any group’s career, with its multiple sections and simplistic melody executed with a confidence that belies its structural complexity. The remainder of that debut holds what are still some of the best known and best-loved CSN songs: “Helplessly Hoping,” “Long Time Gone,” “Marrakesh Express” and “Wooden Ships.” Not all of them have aged well, being clear products of their own tumultuous times, but the performances are solid and unimpeachable.
The trio’s next album, the post-Young CSN, didn’t come along until 1977 and it suffers a bit from the soft rock focus of the late ’70s, though the hit “Just a Song Before I Go” deserved its top-10 chart position.
By the time the ’80s arrived, the group only had room for one more round of hits, though “Southern Cross” and “Wasted on the Way,” both from 1982’s Daylight Again, are essential additions to the CSN canon. They have continued to work together off and on since then, more so in recent years with several tours and even new recordings, but it is those early albums and hits that made a lasting impact.
Their association with Young and his subsequent success is a big part of CSN’s renown, but the bulk of the group’s essential material was rendered without him. So, while some attendees may miss the Crazy Horse leader when the trio touches down in Columbia without him, they’ll still get CSN’s best material — and harmonies that sound as good as ever.
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