Top 10 Stephen Stills Songs
Even though Neil Young gets far more attention for his contributions to Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills Nash and Young, two-time former bandmate Stephen Stills has created his own niche as a stirring singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. Unfortunately, a sporadic, up-and-down solo career hasn’t always helped his profile. Still, as you’ll see in a list of Top 10 Stephen Stills Songs which steers clear of his two most famous groups, there’s plenty to recommend from this lengthy, too-often-overlooked catalog.
Stills’ 1970 self-titled debut solo album – best known for the hit “Love the One You’re With,” found elsewhere on our list of the Top 10 Stephen Stills Songs – is dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, who took part in the sessions before his death. But it’s Stills who expertly explores gut-bucket blues on the standout track “Black Queen.”
This one’s for anyone who ever doubted Stills’ rep as a songwriter of deep complexity and a guitar player of roving genius. A layered, mystical journey featuring Herbie Hancock on piano, “Spanish Suite” soars through the many chapters of Stills’ muse over the years, making for a complete return to form in the ’00s.
‘As I Come of Age’
That anything listenable emerged from the acrimonious sessions for an aborted CSNY reunion (in which David Crosby and Graham Nash erased their vocals before departing) is a small miracle. Stills penned the emotionally gripping triumph “Black Coral,” while Neil Young (who received co-billing on the LP) made “Long May You Run” a longtime favorite.
A near-miss of the Top 40 in 1971, “Marianne” – along with “Change Partners,” featuring Jerry Garcia – may be the only song worth hearing from an unsteady album that boast little of the creative impetus found on Stills’ 1970 debut. It’s a hoot, with a gurgling riff and an impossibly stratospheric love-struck vocal.
‘Turn Back the Pages’
On an album (not to mention an entire era) often marred by too-slick-and-soft production, “Turn Back the Pages” offers a muscular shove against the radio-ready sounds of the day. But it was short-lived: Stills’ 1978 album, Thoroughfare Gap, returned to terrible period production, incorporating some disco elements.
‘Sit Yourself Down’
Stills moves from an anthem-style sing-along to a delicately conveyed verse and then back again on this episodic triumph, which includes a stirringly complex guitar solo to boot. It’s not “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” but it’s as close as Stills gets without help from his old CSNY bandmates.
‘It Doesn’t Matter’
The darkly intricate “Treetop Flyer” is a rumination by a free spirit, presented in a suitably raw setting featuring only Stills and his imaginative guitar. The album-closing song from 1991’s Stills Alone includes a narrative twist: He’s not flying so close to the ground because he’s some kind of daredevil; he learned that trying to avoid anti-aircraft fire in Vietnam. And it arrives like a punch in the chest.
‘Love the One You’re With’
Ignore the Ron Burgundy-like theme of Stephen Stills’ biggest hit and focus instead on how this one song collects everything that can sum up his career. From its island-inflected percussive elements and utterly irresistible chorus to a vocal so full of unfettered longing and those chunky organ fills (played by Stills), “Love the One You’re With” is the sound of a performer at his tour-de-force peak.