Top 10 David Crosby Songs
One of rock and roll’s most enigmatic figures, David Crosby first caught our attention as a member of the Byrds, arguably one of the greatest American bands ever. He stayed only a few short years before moving on to greener pastures with friends Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. Whether solo or as part of a group, there is no denying David Crosby. His vocal talents alone would earn him a boatload of accolades, but throw in some great songwriting, and a colorful existence, and you have one of music’s most cherished icons. Though we may not always applaud his life decisions, we certainly must salute his music, which we do with our list of the Top 10 David Crosby Songs.
Though the idea may seem a quaint nostalgic moment now, the idea of long hair as a political statement was certainly in bloom at the time of the writing of this song. The first entry on our list of the Top 10 David Crosby Songs, ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ put forth his mission statement. Crosby sings defiantly about increasing paranoia, and of letting his “freak flag fly,” both sentiments shared by many confused youth of the era. The song is a slow burner that features some classic guitar work from Neil Young and Stephen Stills.
‘What’s Happening?!?!’ was one of Crosby’s first contributions to the Byrds catalog, and it’s a doozy. A song of seemingly general confusion, Crosby appears to question everything that surrounds him while Roger McGuinn‘s psychedelic 12-string guitar weaves in and out, creating an almost disorienting effect. The song is short and void of any real verse/chorus distinction, adding to the mood created.
‘Wooden Ships’ is but one of the many classics to be found on the debut album from Crosby, Stills & Nash. The song was written by Crosby, along with Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, who also recorded the song (on their 1969 ‘Volunteers’ LP). Musically, it carries a subtle groove and features some dynamic playing, with Stills’ guitar solo in particular shining through. According to the Jefferson Airplane bio, ‘Got A Revolution,’ the song dates back to a boating trip Crosby shortly after being ousted from the Byrds in 1968. “I had this set of changes that I’d been playing for a long time, that I really, really loved,” recalled Crosby, “We were sitting around in the main cabin of the boat, and we started playing that set of changes and we wrote that song together.” He later told Rolling Stone. “It’s one of my most favorite Crosby, Stills & Nash songs. I really love what it says, I really love how unusual it is and I really love the harmonies. It’s definitely a science fiction song, no question.”
‘Everybody’s Been Burned’
This is one of the Byrds’ darker songs, and one of Crosby’s finest with the band. ‘Everybody Has Been Burned’ is a somber realization of life put forth amid chiming guitars,haunting vocals and minimal percussion. This hauntingly beautiful song from their 1967 LP ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ was also issued as the b-side of their hit ‘So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star’ prior to the LP.
Jazz like in its feel and mood, the title cut from ‘Deja Vu’ is an instant ear turner, and a good midpoint for our list of the Top 10 David Crosby Songs. Set loose in waltz time, as the vocals jump, they offset the rhythm in a striking manner. The song gradually flows into a more mellow, slightly psychedelic vein, with some nice Stills guitar soloing played out over the “we have all been here before” mantra.
‘Guninnevere’ remains one of the most beautiful songs ever written by David Crosby. Found on the very first Crosby, Still & Nash album, it rings with pure warmth and gentle beauty. The amazing harmonies the trio were capable of are front and center here, with minimal instrumentation. Though seemingly about one woman, the song is actually about three different woman from Crosby’s past. “That is a very unusual song, it’s in a very strange tuning with strange time signatures,” Crosby told Rolling Stone, “It’s about three women that I loved. It might be my best song.” The song made a true believer out of Graham Nash. “It was one of the things that made me really realize that this man was a profound thinker and a great musician.”
Found on the flip side of the Byrds groundbreaking ‘Eight Miles High’ (which would have made our list, but Crosby’s involvement in the writing has always been debatable) single, ‘Why’ was born from David Crosby’s interest and enthusiasm for the music of Ravi Shankar. Within the song, his idea was to replicate the drone of Indian music in a pop context. The solo break is all played out on one chord, with McGuinn doing his best guitar-as-sitar solo. There are two versions of the song that were released, one on the band’s ‘Fifth Dimension’ LP, and the other on the single. The single version has more energy and drive, hence its inclusion here.
‘Long Time Gone’
One of many classics found on the first CSN album (see Nos. 8 and 5 on our list of the Top 10 David Crosby Songs), ‘Long Time Gone’ is very much of the era. “You got to speak out against the madness, you got to speak your mind if you dare,” sings Crosby in reference to the uncertainty of the times. ‘Long Time Gone’ was written the night after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. “I started to feel overwhelmed,” Crosby told Rolling Stone, “It seemed as if it was ballot by bullet. It seemed as if it didn’t matter how good a person we could find to put up as an inspiration and a leader for the good, that somehow the other side would triumph by simply gunning them down.” The song, which was also featured in the opening scenes of the Woodstock film, features some of the finest harmonies ever laid down by the trio and ranks as one of Crosby’s finest songs without question.
Crosby’s first solo album stands as one of his greatest achievements. Armed with an amazing array of players, including members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ puts Crosby fully on display, without pretense and shining bright. ‘Laughing’ delivers one of his finest vocal performances, full of genuine emotion and spirit. Add in some nice pedal steel guitar from Jerry Garcia, rhythm section courtesy of the Grateful Dead, and some ethereal harmonies from Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, and you have a truly beautiful song.
As the final days of David Crosby’s involvement with the Byrds was coming to an end, he managed to dish out some of his best material yet with the band. Working on the band’s fifth album, ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers,’ Crosby came up with what may be the finest pop song he ever put his name to. Issued as a single in the summer of 1967 prior to the album’s release, ‘Lady Friend’ only made it to No. 82 on the pop charts and was seen as a complete failure at the time. Not long after Crosby was ousted from the band for a variety of reasons. One of the most bewildering examples of a song that should have been huge, but, for whatever reason, failed terribly. One listen will sell the uninitiated to its greatness.