I had intended to post a second part of my tribute to Jeff Beck before death intervened again. This morning I want to note the death of David Crosby last week at the age of 81 and post a few videos that represent early highlights of his work and provide pleasure in themselves. As in the case of Jeff Beck, my selections here derive almost entirely from the early years of his recording career. They are the years I know best and include the work that touched me most deeply. Please forgive the limits I observe and excuse my overlooking your own favorites. I nevertheless hope to have dredged up a track or two you may not have heard before.
Crosby was clearly an impossible person of great gifts. I won’t dwell on the impossibility here. In Yeats’s formulation of the choice, he chose perfection of the art. Even that was compromised by his personal failings, some of which played out in public and resulted in his doing hard time. Variety covers his lengthy career in an obituary that is accessible here. Let’s go to the music.
Crosby had a beautiful voice and a gift for singing harmony. Listen to the high harmony part he contributes to the Roger McGuinn/Gene Clark number “You Won’t Have To Cry” (1965) on the Byrds’ debut album. You had to buy the album to hear this track. I think Crosby moves it into transcendent territory.
On the Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965) you can also hear Crosby contributing the high harmony throughout the Roger McGuinn/Harvey Gerst number “It Won’t Be Wrong.”
On Fifth Dimension (1966) Crosby takes the vocal by himself on his own “What’s Happening?!?!” His voice is what’s happening.
Crosby wrote “I See You” with McGuinn, who contributed the guitar fills inspired by John Coltrane.
On Younger Than Yesterday (1967) Crosby again takes the vocal by himself on his own “Everybody’s Been Burned.” He had talent to burn and he burned it.
Crosby wrote “Lady Friend.” It was released as a single in 1967 and went nowhere. Have I mentioned that the Byrds were a great band and that Crosby was a founding member?
The band fired Crosby during the 1967 recording sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968). They recorded Crosby’s “Triad” but sat on it. We didn’t hear the Byrds’ recording for 30 years. The invitation extended in the song may have worked better when presented by Grace Slick on the Jefferson Airplane’s cover of the song on Crown of Creation, but this track is notable as well.
Crosby moved on to join Crosby, Stills & Nash. He co-wrote “Wooden Ships” with Stephen Stills and the Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. The song appeared as track 1 on side 2 of CSN’s debut album (1969) as well as on the Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers a few months later that year. The CSN track sounds younger than yesterday to me. Stills plays lead guitar, bass, and organ. I was reading the Iliad at the time the album came out. I thought the song was about the Trojan war rather than the post-apocalyptic future.
Crosby recorded If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971) as a solo album. I think it was disparaged and/or underrated at the time, but it is classic. He recruited just about everybody to back him. Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, and Joni Mitchell all contribute to “Laughing.” I loved the album and thought this track was the standout. Like Daryl Hall’s “I Can’t Go For That,” it is a song whose spirit is very generally applicable.
We first heard Crosby’s “The Lee Shore” on the group’s live 4 Way Street in 1971. They originally recorded it in the sessions for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu (1970). This song is at the summit of Crosby’s art. Here is the outtake with Stephen Stills doing his thing on guitar.
Here is the live version released in 1971 featuring Graham Nash singing harmony.
Let’s take our leave with Crosby’s “Carry Me.” This version is from Wind On the Water with Graham Nash (1975). “Carry me above the world” — RIP.