David Crosby had been fired by The Byrds, Stephen Stills had seen The Buffalo Springfield dissolve, and Graham Nash had left The Hollies. This seemingly unconnected series of events would lead to the formation of one of the most lasting and eternal rock groups in American music history.
Crosby, Stills & Nash released their self titled debut album May 29, 1969. Less than two months later they would play at Woodstock before nearly 400,000 people and shortly after they would forever be linked together.
They would combine folk and rock with a polish and production almost unprecedented in music at the time. Their harmonies were so tight and clear they almost make you ache. Combine those attributes with Stills guitar playing ability and the songwriting skills of all three, and you have the makings of a legendary group.
Crosby, Stills & Nash would help define their generation. The baby boomers were coming of age, the drug culture and flower power were spreading across the country, and the Vietnam War was heating up. They were able to hook into this youth counter culture despite not being a guitar based, energetic rock group. Their gentle music plus their political and social viewpoint would fit their generation well.
While Nash and Crosby would play some acoustic and rhythm guitar, it was Stephen Stills who created the instrumental foundation for the album. He would provide the lead guitar work on most of the tracks, play the bass parts, and even contribute the keyboards.
From the opening notes of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” it is quickly apparent that you are hearing something quite different, especially for 1969. This seven minute Stephen Stills ode to then-girlfriend Judy Collins became a unique hit single.
“Marrakesh Express” is just about perfect American pop. This Graham Nash song about the drug trade was a bouncy tune with exquisite harmonies. Nash’s high vocal range was always the key to their sound.
There is a lot to enjoy on this album. “Lady Of The Island” is a Nash composition which features him on acoustic guitar and just combing his voice with David Crosby’s. “Helplessly Hoping” is another acoustic piece, this time by Stephen Stills. It is a simple composition about yearning for love and proves that simple is often best. “Wooden Ships,” written by Crosby, Stills, and Paul Kantner, explores the theme of nuclear war. It is always interesting to compare this version with that of The Jefferson Airplane. “Guinnevere” is as good as anything David Crosby has written. Even his odd “Long Time Gone” is appealing.
Crosby, Stills, & Nash remains an excellent representative of the light rock side of the late sixties. Its message and timeless beauty still resonate today.