In 1971, the live album, 4 Way Street, was released of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s recent concert tour.
The foursome were quarrelsome, and that would be the hallmark of their relationship. To this today, they are quarrelsome, and after several disputes, unlikely to perform together again.
Let’s turn the clock back 50 years.
Crosby, Stills and Nash released their first album in 1969, and with Neil Young, released Deja Vu the following year. Neil Young was recruited to play with CS&N after the release of the Crosby, Stills & Nash album to help fill out the sound. Stills and Young had been in Buffalo Springfield together.
The foursome toured, then stopped, when the bickering made it hard to work together. After awhile, things cooled down and they regrouped to record what would become Deja Vu, then we’re obligated to tour in order to support it, and 4 Way Street was recorded from several shows on this. Confusing? (Just wait till the mid-70’s, but that’s for a separate blog.)
When Neil Young joined up with CS&N, he had already released two solo albums, and his third, After the Gold Rush, would follow on the heels of Deja Vu.
In the 1970-71 years, and despite the internal friction, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were at the height of their collaborative relationship. Following the finale of the 4 Way Street tour, they would splinter into separate roads, although various groupings would exist over the next four decades.
In 1971, each would released a solo album, in addition to having a group studio album and the live album in the universe during the same time-frame.
Stills and Young were the alpha males in Buffalo Springfield, and tensions between them heated up again, along with the presence of strong egos of Crosby and Nash.
To give everyone equal time, 4 Way Street was released as a two-record set, two sides consisted of acoustic songs (solo and in various combinations of CSN&Y), and two sides were electric songs with all four of them, plus drums and bass. The 1992 re-lease added more acoustic songs.
Let’s take a look at the songs on 4 Way Street.
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” – This is just a snippet of the long version of the song, I wish it had been more but it gets the album going.
“On the Way Home” – A Buffalo Springfield song and one of my favorites. Young playing acoustically brings out the greatness of the song. The harmonies are nice too.
“Teach Your Children” – A great Nash song that sounds better as an acoustic singalong.
“Triad” – A Crosby song never released by the group. I always liked it, Crosby’s voice soars with feeling.
“The Lee Shore” – Another Crosby song, rich with emotion, best served with minimal instrumentation. Crosby has the purest voice in the group.
“Chicago” – Nash’s best rocking solo song in the 1970’s, it doesn’t lose any power in a stripped down version. Nash pounds the keys.
“Right Between the Eyes” – Nash again. His soaring voice in harmony with Crosby. Nash is a great storyteller in song.
“Cowgirl in the Sand” – A fierce song that is lovely as an acoustic version. Instead of angry, it’s poignant.
“Don’t Let it Bring You Down” – Young again. He writes exquisite songs with deep imagery. His writing can be on the same plane as Dylan when he wants to be.
“49 Bye-Byes/America’s Children” – Stills can be very soulful. Not a bad song, but he has better ones to play solo.
“Love the One You’re With” – This is more like it, Stills hits a homerun. Great with the harmony vocals.
“Pre-Road Downs” – The band kicks off the electric portion of the show with a Nash tune. Rollicking but thankfully not a lengthened arrangement.
“Long Time Gone” – Crosby’s dark, heavy song was made for being played live. This version digs in but keeps the arrangement near the recorded version.
“Southern Man” – Young’s anthem that had yet to be released. At over thirteen minutes is it twice as long as the version that would appear on After the Gold Rush. It’s a rather sloppy version, plenty of guitar solos, which is fun, but not near the studio version.
“Ohio” – A very impassioned version of their single. Almost but not quite as fierce as the recorded version.
“Carry On” – Still’s triumph from Deja Vu, lengthened to match Young’s “Southern Man” with numerous guitar solos. Longer doesn’t mean better. Nice, but doesn’t match the power of the original.
“Find the Cost of Freedom” – Stills’ song with four-part harmony. Not as clean as the original version but a great effort, especially the acoustic guitars, and perfect end to the album.
It was evident from the recording that Crosby and Nash were going to pair up in the future, and they quickly did. Their voices, though different, complimented each other perfectly, especially on the quieter songs where you can hear and savor each note. Although strong personalities, they seemed to bond against the more dominant Stills and Young.
Stills and Young never stopped being competitive with one another. The friction that tore Buffalo Springfield apart quickly surfaced after Young joined CS&N. Friction can be effective creative energy but in this group it fueled egos and craziness.
Bill Halverson, who engineered Crosby, Stills & Nash and Deja Vu, engineered 4 Way Street, said he spent six months editing the album under pressure to give Neil Young and Stephen Stills equal musical highlights throughout the recording, down to the number of notes and bars.
When released, the album went to number one on the pop chart and was certified as a gold album, very good for a two-disc live album.
In 1992, the CD was re-released and expanded to allow songs not included because of limited space on the vinyl albums. The re-release was even more successful, certified as 4x platinum.
4 Way Street is one of my favorite live albums, and if I could save any other group or individual C,S,N&Y albums, I would settle for this one. Although the electric songs are okay, the acoustic material is the gold.
There is a very good documentary, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Fifty at Four, which follows the group from their individual careers through the 2006 CSN&Y tour (Freedom of Speech). That was the tour that seemed to piss out about half their fans because of the political themed-songs, including “Let’s Impeach the President.” People walked out of those shows, particularly in more conservative areas. Those folks didn’t pay attention to the tour announcements before they bought tickets. It was definitely not the oldies tour some had thought. The tour produced a live album, Deju Vu Live. That’s the last work the four have done together.
This album represents very high ground, a place the band would never reach again. Let your freak flag fly.