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.
Preceded by: One of These Nights (1975)
Followed by: The Long Run (1979)
Related to: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu
Hotel California from the Eagles, another real classic album. You love it or you hate it. Jeffrey Lebowski and punk hated it, I still love it. Hotel California was the last call for help from the so called Westcoast-scene, a call from maybe it’s most famous representatives: the Eagles.
It’s 1976 and this is the Eagles’ fifth studio album, featuring the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard on it’s cover. Peace and love dominated the American Westcoast during the early seventies. Next to psychedelic bands like Jefferson Airplane, another music style was born there. Musicians like The Mama’s and the Papa’s; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and The Byrds lived in Laurel Canyon and came together in ‘The Troubadour’, a club where Neil Young gave his first performances in the US and Tom Waits was discovered during an amateur night. The Eagles also used to hang out there, although none of the members were actually from California. What all those artists have in common are polyphonic vocal harmonies, melody and a melancholic tone.
However, around 1976 the spirit of peace and love was turning into cynical hedonism and the Eagles came up with ‘Hotel California’ as a metaphor for this decline into materialism and decadence. The concept album was a mind-blowing success, as 16 million copies of the soundtrack of decadent times were sold in the US alone.
So what’s on it? The first three tracks immediately became top 20 singles, starting with the famous title track. Personally, I find it one of those rare rock evergreens that don’t start to annoy after a while. It’s about the traveler becoming trapped in this creepy luxury hotel, an allegory for the self-destructing music scene at that time (late seventies). Absolute highlight of the song is of course the guitar duet towards the end between Don Felder and Joe Walsh.
‘New Kid in Town’ (about the ease of being replaced in the music industry) was the second number one hit, and won a Grammy for Best Arrangement for Voices. It was followed by ‘Life in the Fast Lane’, a more hard rock, riff-based song about a couple’s excessive lifestyle. The last track of side one on the LP is ‘Wasted Time’, a ballad about lost lifes, including an instrumental reprise.
One of the Eagles’ best songs is without any doubt the final track of this album, the epic ‘The Last Resort’. The fragile voice of Don Henley tells us very delicately about mankind destroying every place he finds beautiful. Paradise is being screwed up and at some point there will be no new frontiers…
Hotel California proved to be a predictive album, as the LA scene perished due to its success some years later: Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles itself became cold money machines, the price of dope was determined by the purchase of David Crosby and Brian Wilson was lying coked up on his bed for 3 years. Enjoy this essential part of rock history.