Monday, June 24, 2024

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Songs for Beginners (1970)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released their second studio album, Deja Vu, on March 11, 1970, through Atlantic Records. Mostly recorded during the latter half of 1969, it came as the successor to the highly successful Crosby, Stills & Nash album, which they had toured with the addition of leader Stills' former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Neil Young on guitar and keyboards. It became an even bigger success than its predecessor, with Nash's "Teach Your Children" becoming a hit that summer and the supergroup performing a very successful tour through July 1970. During that tour, they debuted and performed many songs that would later appear on their solo albums, in order to fill out the early acoustic sets and showcase the individual members' talents. It was also probably due to the internal issues the band was facing at the time, with their group spirit giving way to infighting, drug use, and egotism. It was really no surprise when, following the end of the Deja Vu tour, the individual members decided to simply carry on with their solo careers instead of regrouping later in the year to start work on a third LP. It would be three years before the next time CSNY would perform together as a group again.

We will collect the best then-unreleased songs CSN played during their 1970 tour and turn them into a new album, the follow-up to Deja Vu. That way, we have an objective way of selecting the songs, and a way to avoid this turning into a "my favorites" playlist, which has always annoyed me. The reason I chose to exclude Neil Young from this was because I figured the only way CSN could carry on in the 70s would be to leave Neil alone. It seems clear that they could resolve their issues as a three-piece, but not as a foursome, it being no coincidence that when they finally managed to reunite in 1977, Young was nowhere to be seen. When it comes to their quotas, four Stills songs and three each for Nash and Crosby seems fair enough, as Stills was always the domineering one in the group, and he's the one who had the most material available. It would be ten songs long, just like the previous two, and as no high-quality live performances of this tour are available to us, we will have to make do with their solo studio versions. We operate under the assumption they wouldn't save their best songs for their solo albums, so that we can put together the best possible album here. With that out of the way, here's our album:

Love the One You're With (Stephen Stills)
Simple Man (Songs for Beginners)
The Lee Shore (Four Way Street)
Black Queen (Stephen Stills)
Laughing (If I Could Only Remember My Name)
Chicago (Songs for Beginners)
So Begins the Task (Manassas)
Man in the Mirror (Songs for Beginners)
Song With No Words (If I Could Only Remember My Name)
As I Come of Age (Illegal Stills)

Young, Crosby, Nash & Stills performing at the Fillmore East, 1970.

Of the ten songs selected for the album, nine were mainstays of the 1970 CSNY tour. The exception is "Song With No Words", which was only performed during the early 1969 tour. As we're short on Crosby songs for the album, we'll allow it, making it the only outlier in the reconstruction. In "The Lee Shore" we have our only de facto CSN recording, as the only studio version of it available is a Deja Vu outtake. However, given there are plenty of harmonies in the rest of the songs, it's easy to imagine the trademark Crosby, Stills & Nash vocals in most of these songs. The exception is "Black Queen", which would take "Almost Cut My Hair"'s spot as the harmony-less song on the record. "Chicago" incorporates the "We Can Change the World" coda, as it doesn't feel quite complete without it, bringing its runtime to four minutes. Outtakes include Nash's "Sleep Song" and Stills' "We Are Not Helpless". There's nothing wrong with those two, other than the fact that they were played live only once in 1970. Given that the others were played semi-frequently, I thought it was fair to give them preference. With three songwriters in the band, there are always a few outtakes to their albums, and this one would be no different.

In terms of sequencing, this album opens with its probable lead single, "Love the One You're With", with the second side starting with "Chicago", its probable follow-up. Side one ends with Crosby's magnificent "Laughing", and the album ends with one of the best songs on the album, Stills' "As I Come of Age". Other than that, I simply tried to not have two songs by the same member in a row, and put the songs where I thought they fit best. The result was a 41-minute album with roughly equal sides, which is what we were aiming for. Since they'd already released a self-titled album before, I decided to steal the Songs for Beginners title from Nash's album, as it's a nice name and fits this material well, them starting over after Neil's chaotic passage. I also made a nice album cover to go along with it, them rehearsing backstage at a CSNY gig with Young carefully cropped out. This album, which ideally would come out right before Christmas 1970, is a very good record, a better and more focused album than Deja Vu, but without reaching the heights of the debut, somewhat a compromise between the two. It would be nice to see what they would've done during the 70s, their sound and image evolving as they came of age.

- Peter Doggett - CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young


  1. Quite enjoyed listening to this - I suppose if you wanted to make it C,S,N & Y you could include "Ohio" and it's B-side.

    1. Interesting idea! And would fit timing-wise.

      During the CSNY '70 tour, they played "Tell Me Why", "Don't Let it Bring You Down", "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Southern Man" by Neil.

      Those would be the contenders given the constraints I put forward in the post.

  2. Very nicely done! Thank you!