(L to R) Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Greg Reeves, Graham Nash, David Crosby, and Dallas Taylor, from the cover of “Deja Vu” (Atlantic)

Their long musical partnership has been good to David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash. During the period when they added Neil Young to the group, it was very good indeed—although those good days were relatively short.

The partnership among the four artists was a reluctant one. Crosby, Stills & Nash had already released their classic debut album and considered adding Steve Winwood as a member. When he was unavailable, a record executive suggested Young. Stills knew him well from their days in the Buffalo Springfield, but Nash hardly knew him at all. Each of the four intended to maintain solo careers, which sometimes made it difficult for them to defer to one another in the studio—or to share, preferring instead to hold their best songs for their solo projects.

The process of making Deja Vu put the group under strain, and their 1970 tour broke it. The group had been together as a foursome for barely a year before splitting up. One more album would follow under the CSNY name, the live Four Way Street in 1971, but it would be four years before they had anything to do with one another again. They toured in the summer of 1974 to support the compilation album So Far, but plans to make an album of entirely new material went out the window.

Allmusic.com says that CSNY was “the only American-based band to approach the overall societal impact of the Beatles.” Surely they cast a long shadow over the mellow 1970s, although the fact the four of them worked together in various combinations for most of the 80s and 90s helped keep them relevant for a long time. But they rivaled the Beatles in another way: Deja Vu is not a group effort so much as it’s pieced together from sessions featuring one or more of the squabbling musicians whenever they could get away from whatever they were doing to participate. Like the White Album, recorded under similarly acrimonous circumstances, it’s a minor miracle that it turned out as great as it did.

Deja Vu was released in March 1970 and spent the week of May 16, 1970, at #1 in Billboard. And although it’s as familiar as the weather, “Teach Your Children,” with steel guitar by Jerry Garcia, is also one of the most magnificent things to come out of the whole Laurel Canyon scene of the late 60s.

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J.A. Bartlett

Writer, raconteur, radio geek, beer snob. There's more of this pondwater at http://jabartlett.wordpress.com.

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