Genre: Westcoast, Folk Rock
Preceded by: Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
Followed by: 4 Way Streets (live album,1971)
Last week I spoke about the Eagles’ masterpiece which predicted the end of an era. We travel back in time this week, to 1970, when Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young launched Déjà Vu, marking one of the highlights of this same era. Crosby, Stills & Nash had debuted the year before with their self titled album, and on this second one they were joined by no one less than Neil Young.
In this way, ‘CSNY’ was one of the first supergroups, consisting of individual members who had been successful with their own bands before. David Crosby was one of the prominent members of The Byrds, Graham Nash was in the ‘British Invasion Group’ The Hollies and Stephen Stills and Neil Young played in Buffalo Springfield. The way they formed CSNY is an excellent example of how all musicians were intermingling in California during the seventies.
Crosby and Stills left their bands first in 1968, and started to jam together now and then. Crosby ran into Nash (who he already knew from his tour in the UK in 1966), when The Hollies were performing in California. They improvised a song with the three of them at a party at Mama Cass (Mama’s and the Papa’s) which convinced them of their vocal chemistry. Neil Young joined the trio after their first album, after he also arrived in Laurel Canyon. Just like The Eagles, CSNY were famous for their vocal harmonies, but very intricate sometimes, making Déjà Vu my personal favorite westcoast album.
The personal history of the individual members had a great influence on the recording of this album. All four of them (Nash to a lesser extent) had difficult personalities which would often lead to interpersonal problems. That’s why all songs, except for ‘Woodstock’, were recorded individually by the member who had written it, the other guys contributing what was needed from them afterwards.
Just like the CSN-debut (‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’), this album kicks off with an absolute gem full of harmonies from Stephen Stills: ‘Carry On’. It continues with ‘Teach Your Children’, one of the two Graham Nash songs on the album, the other one being ‘Our House’. The first one was inspired by a famous picture of an angry child holding a toy hand grenade in Central Park (NYC). By the way: Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead plays pedal steel guitar on this track. ‘Our House’ is about Nash’s short relationship with Joni Mitchell, with Nash’s desire for a monogamous family life in the middle of the free love era. Those were two of the three top 40 singles from the album, Joni Mitchell herself delivering the third one with ‘Woodstock’, which became the absolute anthem of the festival when it was played by CSNY there, being their first public performance with the four of them.
My personal favorite track however is ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, written by David Crosby. It’s basically a song about personal freedom and it’s a rare chance to hear Crosby sing with a very raw instead of a clear voice. Neil Young delivered the oh so typical Young songs ‘Helpless’ and ‘Country Girl’ for the album. Young had just released After the Gold Rush, and his perceptions of the wide marshlands in his home country are still prominent in this songs. Enjoy this masterpiece of musical chemistry.