David Crosby’s Ten Greatest Songs, With Crosby, Stills, & Nash, The Byrds, Solo, & More


David Crosby bemoaned a lack of outlets for his tunes a few years ago.

“I’ve written so many things,” he explained while promoting in the early 2000s, when he felt he was experiencing a creative resurgence. “When you’re in a band, your tunes get mixed in with everybody else’s. And no record label wants to release as much music as I am. It’s a challenge, man, but I just keep writing and creating, and perhaps what I want to say will come out one day.”

Despite this, we’ve heard plenty of songs from Crosby, who died on Thursday at the age of 81.

Crosby’s unique touch with a melody and a lyric was shown in abundance, whether on his own or with The Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young), CPR, and, most recently, the Lighthouse Band. Intimate and personal, perplexing and important, he was a craftsman guided by a diverse range of muses, both artistically and conceptually. He channelled Woody Guthrie and John Coltrane, Pete Seeger and Ravi Shankar, Bach and The Beatles. He fashioned remarkable music out of political and social commentary, romantic longing (and, occasionally, fulfilment), and the well-documented issues with narcotics that frequently ruined his life.
David Crosby's 15 Essential Songs - The New York Times
Crosby’s collection of work was a lot to take in, but it was always worth the effort. And here are ten of the greatest, in alphabetical order, from that vast collection.

“Delta” (1982) (1982)

Crosby’s only contribution to CSN’s Daylight Again album, as he wasn’t in the best of health at the time, was this often forgotten paean. He made it count, though; “Delta” is passionate and soulful, and surprisingly basic, with a softly dynamic ebb and flow rich in subtleties and heightened by the trio’s luscious harmonies. There are also undertones of self-awareness; when Crosby, an ardent sailor, sang, “I love the youngster that drives this riverboat/ But lately he’s crazy for the deep,” he may have been pulling from a source very close to home.

“Deja Vu” (1970)

In many ways, the title tune from the first CSNY album is the classic Crosby cut – intricate, unique, metaphysical, experimental, and unclassifiable. With its seemingly random vocal and musical intricacies, “Deja Vu” feels like it could break apart at any moment. It doesn’t, and the fact that it feels longer than its 4 minutes and 12 seconds is a positive thing in this case, especially when delivered by kindred spirits who either A) obviously knew what Crosby was going at or B) didn’t but were surely enjoying the trip.

“Eight Miles High”/”Why?” (1966)

Please forgive us for sneaking in one extra tune. Crosby was part of the triumvirate that wrote The Byrds’ psychedelic A-side classic, along with Gene Clark and Jim “Roger” McGuinn — but the late Clark claimed Crosby’s contribution was only one line: “rain gloomy town/ famed for its sound” (a reference to London). Nonetheless, the track’s careening rhythms and Eastern textures are unmistakably Crosby. Meanwhile, the B-side and Fifth Dimension album track “Why?” is all him, inspired by Indian ragas and, in particular, sitar master Ravi Shankar (not yet widely known in the pop world). McGuinn also deserves credit for his tense, sitar-inspired guitar solo.

“Everyone’s Been Burned” (1967)

On the A side, The Byrds were singing about wanting to be rock ‘n’ roll stars; on the flip, Crosby was warning about “why you shouldn’t try to love someone” — a far cry from the later “Triad,” in which he extolled the merits of loving more than one at a time. McGuinn’s slinky guitar and Michael Clarke’s hollow percussion complement the track’s Eastern character, while Crosby’s vocal demonstrates how effective and evocative he can be without harmonies.

“Guinnevere” (1969) (1969)

Crosby drew inspiration for this light love song from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut album from three major relationships in his life: Joni Mitchell, the late Christine Hinton, and Nancy Ross. The simple instrumentation allows the trio’s harmonies to soar front and centre, and its unusual tuning and time signatures, like so many of Crosby’s best compositions, demonstrate his inventive genius for creating beauty from the most unexpected places.

“Laughing” (1971) (1971)

“Laughing,” a hallmark piece from Crosby’s first solo album, If Only I Could Remember My Name, is a wonderfully sung homage to LSD trips, couched in poetic language that carries various meanings – especially if listened to while under the influence of anything. With Jerry Garcia on pedal steel and Nash and Joni Mitchell singing, this is as fully finished a tune as Crosby has ever released.

“Long Time Gone” (1969)

All three of Crosby’s songs for the Crosby, Stills & Nash debut album became worthy classics, and this powerful protest anthem showcased the muscle that complimented the more elegant stylings of his songcraft. Its urgent call to “speak up against the madness” and “speak your mind, if you dare” provided ample encouragement to anti-war and civil rights activists, and its inclusion at the beginning of the Woodstock documentary the following year brilliantly captured the mood of the period.

“Shadow Captain” (1977)

Crosby enjoyed his boats and being on the wide sea; in fact, the cover of 1977’s CSN album depicts him, Stills, and Nash windswept and lounging aboard a schooner. “Shadow Captain” begins the set as a kind of morning chanty, set by moody, sparse instrumentation, a haunting piano motif, and the trio’s distinctive harmonies before switching tempos throughout the bridge as the sails catch the wind and the ship gathers up pace. The cinematic track also announced CSN’s comeback seven years after its last studio outing (with Young) on Deja Vu.



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