I have a hunch people of my generation have a very different view of David Crosby than our parents do. For us, Crosby was a walrus-looking dude who seemed like one of those former hippies who liked to be interviewed so he could tell the rest of us what disappointments we were and how much better everything was in the '60s. Maybe I'm the only one who got that vibe, but I took a pretty strong dislike to him.
In college, I worked at a classic rock station and we played some Crosby, Stills, & Nash (as well as CSN&Y) and it really didn't do much for me. I don't like Neil Young for a lot of the reasons I associate with Crosby and I've never been able to like Neil's voice. It didn't work for me and I pretty much chalked them up as one of those legendary bands I just was not going to like.
I still feel that way but I've softened on David Crosby. A little. It was a perfect storm of events that brought it about. I had been listening to a lot of Tom Petty and reading interviews with him wherein he praised The Byrds profusely. Then, in a pricing glitch, ("Satan") Best Buy sold a new Byrds box set There is a Season for $29.99. I decided to take a chance on it.
As I listened, I've got the opportunity to find something to appreciate about Crosby. I still haven't done enough research to make judgments about Crosby the songwriter, but I have heard enough to declare him one of the finest male vocalists ever.
"The Airport Song" is beautifully breezy and melancholy and that can be traced mainly to a Crosby lead vocal that is emotive without being overwrought. It's brilliant singing and this is a song that pre-dates The Byrds. In other words, he was that good that early in his and the band's development. He's a freak of nature. This is California, folk-jazz-pop at its absolute best.
"The Airport Song" would not likely have been a radio hit, but it would have given their great debut Mr. Tambourine Man even more depth. The song finally saw light of day on a rarities collection, and was released on the There is a Season box set.
In bands like The Byrds and CSNY, bands where there are several great voices, it can be hard to focus on one. The Byrds recorded some of the most amazing harmonies and Crosby is a huge part of that. With songs like "The Airport Song," he stepped far enough out front that I was able to appreciate his voice as a lead instrument.
David Crosby, I never knew thee.