This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site which was abandoned for its current site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
From the Cream of The Crate Series – An album in my collection that is irreplaceable, and simply a classic!
Number eight in the series of albums I’m featuring is a classic from the early 1970’s, and in many ways sums up the feelings that was created by Woodstock, held on August of 1969 not all that long before the release of this album in March 1970.
Déjà vu is the second release with Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the first for the group as a quartet when joined by Neil Young.
Their individual stories should be well know, with David Crosby joining via The Byrds; Stephen Stills via Buffalo Springfield; Graham Nash recruited from the English hit makers, the Hollies; and finally, the enigmatic Neil Young – the Canadian who helped form Buffalo Springfield.
This album was initially panned by Rolling Stone who said among many things, “Along with many other people, I had hoped that the addition of Neil Young to Crosby, Stills, and Nash would give their music the guts and substance which the first album lacked…….. Despite Young’s formidable job on many of the cuts, the basic sound hasn’t changed a whit. It’s still too sweet, too soothing, too perfect, and too good to be true……. for me Crosby, Stills and Nash — plus or minus Neil Young — will probably remain the band that asks the question, “What can we do that would be really heavy?” And then answers, “How about something by Joni Mitchell?“
It comes as a gatefold with photo collages on both inside covers.
Interestingly many years later they were to change their tune and rate it as #147 of the top 500 albums of all time, saying, “Neil Young transformed the folk-rock CSN into a powerhouse – offering pop idealism (Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children”), militant blues (David Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair”) and vocal-choir gallop (Stephen Stills‘ “Carry On”). The achingly plaintive “Helpless” is prime early Young.”
Yet other reviews were glowing. Allmusic wrote, “One of the most hotly awaited second albums in history — right up there with those by the Beatles and the Band — Déjà Vu lived up to its expectations and rose to number one on the charts.”
When I first purchased this album in 1970, it grabbed me by my (then) long hair and shook me around. I loved it.
I have three versions of this album, the original first pressing (1970) that has the textured cover with the cover photo actually a seperate picture stuck to the cover.
There is also a British pressing and I have one of a number of US re-pressings as well but that original pressing, while sound-wise not as good as the reissue from the 80’s cut by Sam Feldman which it is claimed is the ultimate sound quality version on vinyl.
Now, some 50 years later I listen back and marvel at the harmonies.
The compositions are strong, they tell of hope, with ‘Teach Your Children’, concern with ‘Carry On’ and even the militant blues feeling (as identified by Rolling Stone) with, ‘I Nearly Cut My Hair’ – a song of praise with the wonderful ‘Our House’, and the whole thing is neatly tied up with the Anthem of a Generation – ‘Woodstock’.
I listen back and I truly believe there is not a weak track on this album.
It’s a product of four potent musical talents who were all ascending to the top of their game coupled with some very skilled production, engineering, and editing.
It represents closeness between them that would not be reproduced again. It was a great moment in recording, and particularly represents a moment in social harmony that would not last long.
The first of the tracks I’m featuring is, Our House. Written by Graham Nash it is best described using his words.
“It was a kind of a cold gray morning as it sometimes can be in Los Angeles, and I said, ‘Why don’t I light the fire and you put some flowers in the vase that you just bought.” So she’s cutting stems and leaves and arranging flowers in this vase, and I’d lit the fire. Now, my and Joan’s life at the time were far from ordinary … and I thought, ‘What an ordinary moment.’ Here I am lighting the fire for my old lady and she’s putting flowers in this vase that she just bought. And I sat down at Joan’s piano and an hour later, ‘Our House’ was written.“
Next is the track that gives the album its name – Deja Vu. Written by David Crosby it is reputed to have taken around 100 hours to actually work out as in many ways it was quite experimental with a fixed beat being dropped in favour of washing over the listener with tones and moods.
Steven Still wrote the track Carry On apparently in response to the album not having a track that the group thought was an appropriate opening track.
In many ways it is a track of two parts – 2 distinct sections bridged with the proclamation, “Carry On, love is coming, love is coming to us all.” In fact, the track is often referd to as Carry On/Questions.
The story goes Stills combined two unfinished songs and stuck them onto a jam the group had out in the studio a few nights before.
It certainly highlights the amazing harmonies of the four and the Hammond B-4 just adds another dimension to a great track
That leaves a track by the enigmatic Neil Young. I have chose Helpless which is a brilliant track. It’s meaning? Well a book could be written on the various interpretations but it is a reflection of Young thinking back on his early life, particularly his contracting polio at the age of seven, and, about his early town of Omemee!
In an interview he said – ““Well, it’s not literally a specific town so much as a feeling. Actually, it’s a couple of towns. Omemee, Ontario, is one of them. It’s where I first went to school and spent my formative years.”
In many ways there is a lack of coherence in the album, which is not surprising as the four of them rarely were in the studio at the same time, yet, it is a beautiful album and while it does have strong overtones of the “hippy ethos” of the period, there is no denying the strength of the writing and the brilliance of the musicianship.
As for the vocals – WOW!
Sadly there are no promotional clips for this album, but there are clips of the four playing live.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – almost cut my hair 1974
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Teach Your Children [From movie “Long Time Com’in”]
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
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