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.
Originally slated to be the title track for a mid-'70s solo record, "As I Come of Age" finds Stills working once again with his old CSN bandmates David Crosby and Graham Nash – as well as Ringo Starr – on a song that would have been a standout on any of their group projects.
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.
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.
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.
The lilting opening track to the Stills-led side project Manassas, "It Doesn't Matter" was co-written by the Byrds' Chris Hillman. But it serves as a sturdy showcase for Stills' hoarsely emotive vocal and ringing guitar.
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.
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.