You’re gonna want to buy a new playback system for this.
Today’s news is Apple went lossless. Which Amazon has already done. And they both announced new, attractive price points, but Amazon Music can stream in Ultra HD right now, and the difference is between 16/44.1, i.e. CD quality, and 24/192, and you can hear it. But most people don’t own systems good enough to properly feel and hear the incredibly enriching experience of full band audio. Sure, it sounds better even on crappy equipment, but when you fire up the good stuff and listen, you’ll be AMAZED!
Come on, the hits of the classic rock era have been remastered so many times most have tuned out. Now the effort is to remix these LPs, which I believe is heresy, unless you’re like Steven Wilson and trying to exactly replicate the original, which he does. Bottom line, we don’t expect any more. But this “Déjà Vu” package delivers more, you feel like you’re jetted right back to 1970, and it feels so good, even if you were never there! That’s the power of classic rock, cut before the loudness wars, for vinyl.
To tell you the truth, I was more interested in the bonus tracks than the originals, which I know so well, so I scanned the track listing and clicked on the “4 + 20” demo…and I felt like Stephen Stills was sitting two feet away, and his voice was still intact, and the experience was so different from what we experience today, Stills paid his dues before he wrote this, even though he was then only 24.
“Four and twenty years ago
I come into this life”
That was in 1945, January 3rd in fact, technically Stills isn’t even a baby boomer, the war was still raging, on both fronts, Europe and Japan.
“I walk the floor and want to know
Why am I so alone”
You could be lonely back in the last century. Yes, you can still be so today, but you have options, you can go online and try to find like-minded people, but in 1970 all you had was the telephone, there weren’t even answering machines, you sat there, unable to sleep and at wit’s end… Then you put on a record. And the pain of the performer resonated with the one inside you, and this connection allowed you to soldier on.
Another revelation is the demo for David Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair.” You’ll listen to the guitar strum, repetitively, and then just over half a minute in Crosby starts to sing and you’re snapped to attention, the hair on your arms stands straight up.
“Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day”
This was when people in some burgs were just growing theirs long, even though the Beatles had broken through more than half a decade earlier. They couldn’t take the risk. They needed everybody else to do it first. They didn’t want the parental blowback. But David Crosby was a rock star, he was beholden to no one, and he could debate whether it had to go, but he wanted to let his freak flag fly. And over the ensuing decades, Crosby’s rep has sunk. He’s difficult, he’s opinionated, but one thing is for sure, back then he sure could sing. And I was so enamored of the demo that I pulled up the original. And there’s that exquisite winding Stephen Stills guitar intro and then Crosby starts to sing, and once again it’s like you’re in the studio with him, not in the control room, but sitting mere inches away as he sings into the mic. For eons people have thought “Almost Cut My Hair” was a dated curio, but here it’s up front and center once again. Crosby’s rep is instantly rescued, and Stills’s is elevated, too much history has ensued since, but at the time Stills was a giant.
I wondered if all the original, remastered tracks were such a revelation. So I pulled up the overplayed, never disappearing “Woodstock.”
Let’s see, Joni Mitchell wrote it, connoisseurs will say her later released, slowed down less bombastic take is superior, the definitive statement. And Ian Matthews had an AM hit with a soft version of the song, but…this original is so powerful, so in your face, that it’s UNDENIABLE! Stephen’s guitar is spitting, the drums are pounding, you can feel them, and then Stills sings on top of it all and it’s as if he’s testifying, not self-conscious at all, as if he’s live on stage singing for thousands and caught up in the moment.
“Said I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land
And set my soul free”
There was only one Woodstock, it’s never been replicated since. Because they had all the best acts and no one knew so many would come, that it would be a defining cultural event showing the power of the youth bookended not by Altamont but the Moratorium in D.C. in November. We had light before we had darkness. Our souls were nearly completely free, that’s not even a goal anymore, now everybody wants to sell out and cash in, you’ll sacrifice your credibility, your beliefs, anything for the buck, telling yourself everybody else is doing it so it’s O.K. And “Woodstock” never weakens, when it fades at the end you want to run and catch up, you replay it, just to marinate in that joyous sound, which makes you come alive, you might have been passive before, but no more.
But the real thrill of this package is not only the demos but the originals that were never included, especially the Stills cuts that were ultimately released later. “Know You Got to Run” appears in two versions, the first a demo as exquisite as the one for “4 + 20,” albeit louder, with less inherent intimacy. And it’s sans the vocal mistakes we expect in the preparatory tracks, Stills could sing every note. And the 48th track, at the package’s end, is a fully produced take, that didn’t make the album, it’s so interesting, it’s electric and powerful instead of acoustic and quiet like the version on “Stephen Stills 2.”
And there’s even a demo of “So Begins the Task,” which didn’t come out until 1972, as part of the Manassas package.
“And I must learn to live without you now”
This is the flip side of today’s music, where you kick them to the curb and crawl out of the wreckage into a brand new car, the rock stars of yore were three-dimensional, they could get hurt, they had pain, which is one of the reasons their works meant so much to us, they were living a life that we would soon experience, if we hadn’t already.
All the hype has been about the demo for “Birds,” which was soon released as part of “After the Gold Rush,” which wouldn’t have meant much if it weren’t for “Déjà Vu.” It’s a ten, but we’ve been privy to so much of Young’s vault. But the publicity is about it because Neil Young’s credibility and stature are still intact, whereas what’s left of the others’ is in tatters. But, I must admit Graham Nash’s background vocals here add another layer.
But there are all these Crosby cuts, the man who is seen as the lightweight of the act in retrospect, his guitar was unnecessary, and Nash wrote the hits. There’s even a take of “Song With No Words,” which appeared on his initial solo LP, which went straight into the dumper a year later and has been resuscitated in reputation recently, to a degree undeservedly, but this was one of its great cuts.
There’s even a demo of “Laughing,” another one of the really good cuts on “If I Could Only Remember My Name.” The album was released in the dead of winter, I remember lying in the dark, stoned, listening with my headphones on, the demo is less polished, but even more intimate. Even better is the demo for “Triad,” once again incredibly intimate.
And you’ll want to listen to “Bluebird Revisited,” for the guitar if nothing else, remember when we were into guitar players, argued about them, and it wasn’t just how fast they played?
There’s even a version of “Change Partners”!
I’ll be honest I haven’t listened to most of the Graham Nash stuff, but there is a demo of “Right Between the Eyes” which is less cutesy than the take on “4 Way Street.”
And then there are the alternate takes, the alternate mixes. Most are not especially gripping, but the alternate mix of the title track is especially interesting, the original didn’t have the gravitas, the impact of other cuts on the album, but this version does, and be sure to listen to the demo.
And the truth is “Déjà Vu” was a disappointment, but no one could live up to that original Crosby, Stills & Nash LP, oftentimes people do their best work when no one is paying attention, when they’ve got something to prove. And in truth, the Neil Young songs don’t really fit, even though “Helpless” is now considered a classic and I always liked “Country Girl,” especially the last section, entitled “Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty),” I was living in the country, but I was no one’s country man, that’s for sure, any romance was in my head, triggered by these songs.
And the Crosby, Stills & Nash debut percolated slowly in the marketplace, it was like Led Zeppelin’s debut, it built, and then when the second album was released everyone had to have it IMMEDIATELY!
I remember the day “Déjà Vu” came out, driving to a mall that no longer is used for retail to get it, with its faux-leather cover, and I got home and dropped the needle…
Now the funny thing is Graham Nash wrote the singles, the hits, but there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that the star of the band was Stephen Stills. And the track that truly put the act over the transom, turned them into stars, was the opening one on the first LP, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” a song embedded in every baby boomer’s DNA which has not caught fire with the younger generations which cotton to the softer and the louder, James Taylor and Led Zeppelin, but in ’69, even ’70, Crosby, Stills, Nash (and sometimes Young), were bigger than either of those acts, and it was because of this one damn song.
Why was “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” so great? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS!
First and foremost it’s a suite, it slowed down in the middle and gained further gravitas and then it accelerated once again, it needed all of its seven plus minutes.
Second there was the intro acoustic guitar, which people at home tried to replicate but no one seemed able to do.
Third, Stills’s vocal. It’s not about having the best voice, it’s about having the most expressive voice, just ask Rod Stewart or Bob Dylan.
Fourth, there’s the electric guitar dancing throughout this seemingly acoustic number.
Fifth, it’s Stills’s exclamation…oh-a-oh-a…just shy of ninety seconds in, it’s so human!
Sixth, and most important…THE HARMONY VOCALS!
We’d never been exposed to something so rich, so perfect. Turns out they couldn’t replicate the sound live, just listen to “4 Way Street,” but at this point we did not know that, all we knew was these three meshing voices together sounded so transcendent that the end product seemed inhuman. So the question was…could CSN and now Y come up with another “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” a track that affected us so?
Of course not.
Then again, maybe…
It’s the opening track that nobody talks about anymore.
But it’s the best cut on “Déjà Vu,” no matter what anybody says.
“One morning I woke up and I knew
You were really gone”
The sound was even BETTER than “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” I know, seemed impossible, but you couldn’t deny it.
“A new day, a new way”
There was the acoustic guitar intro, but this time the vocals were amped up, you were drawn to them, you had to pay attention.
“The sky is clearing and the night
Has cried enough”
There’s that dancing electric guitar once again, but “Carry On” is not a remake whatsoever, it’s its own damn song, but with nearly equal magic.
“Where are you going now my love
Where will you be tomorrow
Will you bring me happiness
Will you bring me sorrow”
Yes, after an instrumental interlude, the song completely changes, also akin to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” yet different.
“Oh the questions of a thousand dreams
What you do and what you see
Lover can you talk to me”
But the bottom line is overall there are fewer dynamics than “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Carry On” is more aggressive, less quiet, more demanding of attention, and therefore it’s inferior to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”…BUT IT’S SO DAMN GOOD!
I’d wake up every morning and drop the needle, “Carry On” would get me amped up for school, I could drift through the halls with this sound in my head, no one could penetrate me, I was protected.
“Carry On” is not background, none of CSNY’s music is, at least not on the first two LPs, this is not music for playlists, tracks cherry-picked to get you through your day at the office, they’re statements, THEY’RE LIFE ITSELF!
And now you can get even closer.
I’ve got my original vinyl, which sounds different, but nowhere near as clean, here the steel wool has been scrubbed away, I used to be outside the building, now I’m in the studio with the band, it’s a dream come true.
Now the truth is all four members have continued to carry on. With varying levels of artistic and commercial success. But there will come a day when you can no longer see them.
Crosby has been the most experimental, but Stills even went on tour with Judy Blue Eyes herself, he’s taking risks, but they’re all getting older by the minute, and they’re a bit worse for wear. Furthermore, they all swear they’ll never play together again, because of Crosby’s mouth, some things should not be said, no matter what you think.
I’ve got the feeling I’ve been here before. But I haven’t been here for so long, I thought the place evaporated. But then I pulled up this album and started listening and I was drawn through the vortex to a scene, an album, a feeling, a life, fifty years ago, as if it were yesterday.
I don’t think newbies will feel quite the same. Then again, if you’ve never heard music like this, it’s kinda like the English axemen discovering the Delta blues records.
But no one wants to put this kind of time in anymore. Everybody involved had paid a lot of dues, even had hit records, before they came together in this formation.
And they’re top vocalists and players but the reason the rep remains is because of the SONGS! They’re hard to write, but when you’ve got the skill we want to hear what you’ve got to say.
You’ll be positively blown away when you hear how these tracks sound. They might even inspire you to upgrade your reproduction equipment, realizing you want to listen to music at the level you listen to TV, even better.
We are stardust, we are golden, we may have to shake off some rust but the roots are still there, we know where we came from, what we experienced, we felt. And at this late date the only thing left to do is get back to the garden.
Listen to the 50th Anniversary edition of “Déjà Vu” and your journey will begin. You will be optimistic instead of pessimistic. You’ll think of the possibilities. You’ll remember what once was and start to believe…maybe we can make it come back again. After all, we’ve now got the Dead Sea Scrolls. They’re cleaned up, they’re pristine, we can digest the message fully, we can’t help but be overwhelmed and motivated. There’s still time…
Responses from Bob’s readers – please note that these comments are unedited for grammar or content.
In 1974 I was the agent for The Beach Boys. Bill Graham was promoting the CSN&Y tour and made an offer to the BBs to open six or seven of the shows.
I was at the first date in Milwaukee at County Stadiumand watched The Beach Boys kill. The audience of 50,000 was into it from the first notes of “Heroes and Villains”. Thunderous response. I was bursting at the seams thinking that CSN&Y couldn’t possibly follow them.
Crosby came out alone, with a guitar, played “Almost Cut My Hair” and it was like The Beach Boys never played.
This one is a desert Island fave. Still stands up! I wore this one out. The songwriting and vocals and the playing. Like no one else. Most people love the 1st album, as do I, BUT..Deja Vu.. every track is a classic!
CSNY was the shit.The interplay between Neil and Stephen is magic and the VOCALS- the writing..! Carry On, What an album starter !
They don’t make albums like this anymore.. well most people are listening to clowns with a laptop and Garage band calling them selves ‘ musicians’ or ‘ producers’ lol You plug the drum machine in and you are a writer. I know someone that overheard a kid on a plane telling someone ‘ I play the drum machine’ .
These are the end times..
Back to Deja Vu. Where is anyone remotely TRYING to make music like this? And this is 50 years old??? Jeez I am old. haha
Where is the new Steely Dan, or any ORIGINAL sounding band?? Composition that make you go ‘ Holy shit how did they think of THAT?’
Yes spoken by an old guy .. one that has been making records and touring for 45 years but .. yeah I am old and thank GOD I lived the the golden age of rock n roll.
I’m 56, which means ‘Deja Vu’ was one of the albums that was immediately prior to my generation, but it was ubiquitous, in every house, and certainly in my stepdad’s record collection (he’s 8 years younger than my mom).
‘Deja Vu’ is also part of one of my oddest and funniest rock and roll memories. We were in Donnie Ienner’s fancy fancy office at 550 Madison Avenue. Columbia and Maverick/Warner were the two labels fighting to sign us in the home stretch. Donnie had just CRANKED “Lump” (album was already out on indie Pop Llama) at maybe 120 dB on his mega-stereo and told us about how much he liked our record and that he would put it out as-is on Columbia or let us remix or re-record if we wanted to…and then out of nowhere as were talking about music he sort of leaned back and wistfully spoke aloud what he was going to do that weekend, which was go out to his farm and listen to his favorite album, ‘Deja Vu’, which he went on to wax rhapsodic about for a few minutes.
That’s what music is all about. Here’s this big badass New York City gorilla of a guy, a human bulldozer who let nothing get in his way, but what was actually in his soul, and he couldn’t express himself, was all the weirdness and sensitivity that CSNY captured in that album.
Nothing but mad respect for both of them, but I was pretty sure Guy O’Seary and Freddy DeMann weren’t spending their Saturdays listening to ‘Deja Vu.’
We signed to Columbia.
Bob. Thank you. One of your best essays ever. So many great insights I can strongly relate to. Your praise for Carry On is also so right on. It always pumped me up also. I haven’t listened to whole album but there is lots of magic there. Almost Cut My Hair and Country Girl really seemed sonically much better w better separation of voices and instruments. The acoustic guitar in right channel of Country Girl really came through.
One memory. I visited the Rock Hall of Fame for about three days in a row in 2000 during a 15 month RV trip w my then wife and they had a digital playback system and booths where one could dial in the entire catalog of artists. A hard disc early version of quasi streaming. And Suite Judy Blue Eyes had a loud drum track in the mix! It was so bizarre to hear this mix version! Loud pounding drum. Ahmet must have told that asshole dipshit poseur Wenner to tell his quislings sycophants to put that version of the song in there. It just did not fit at all. Maybe Ahmet thought it was too soft and needed pounding drums. Wonder if Stills knew in advance. I doubt it. Would love to hear story of that.
Everything else I heard was original recordings and I spent hours listening. It was such a great source to explore entire catalogs that we take for granted today w availability of streaming. Of course today so many the Rock Hall (Rap Hall?) inductees are a total fucking piece of shit joke though I love the museum itself and the displays and exhibits and programs etc and the staff does a great job. If I were relegated to Cleveland I’d be a docent. Sad that even the museum itself was subject to the music industry record label bullshit influence. He said naively!
How well I remember the anticipated release of Deja Vu. I was in college in a small town in Ohio with one record store and phoned the owner “Old Man Myers” every day until I was finally told a box of 25 LPs had arrived.
I lived off campus so I hiked the 2.5 miles into town, purchased the odd faux-leather covered album and hurried back to my apartment to enjoy.
When I placed the LP on my Garrard turntable I discovered the album was so warped that it would not play – the stylus jumped all over the tracks! I was so angry and disappointed that I immediately retraced my steps and asked for a new copy. Guess what? Every one of the 25 copies was as warped as mine. Apparently, I found out later, the combination of a still- warm vinyl LP stuffed into a cover that was already somewhat warped due to the weight of the front photo, caused the problem.
It was another two weeks before good copies arrived. In the end worth the wait but at the time it felt like the birthday present you really wanted, when opened, was crushed.
Excellent piece, Bob. Deja Vu is one of my favorite albums. I can’t wait to hear it as you described. When I turned 4+20 in 2005, I made a point of learning to play that song and it culminated with me playing it solo on guitar on my birthday. However I changed some of the lyrics to:”/He was tired of being poor/He left my mother and ran off with a slightly masculine whore/“ to better suit my situation. (That was a joke of course.) I also saw CSNY do Carry On live in the winter of 2000 and that was extremely powerful.
All the best,
Every single thing you said below filled my heart. I got my copy of Déjà Vu the first day possible, at the Palm Beach Mall, along with some of my girlfriends. We had our ‘leather album’s and I believe I played it more than any other record of that time. Maybe Tea for the Tillerman is a close 2nd. And it really does hold up. Stills’ voice, and Crosby’s, just sublime.
Always especially loved Stills’ Spanish conclusion to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” singing about the beauty of peaceful Cuba and his regrets that he could not visit…CSN (&Y) filled such a great niche in music of the era! Great 50th Anniversary collection. Thanks.
When I listen to “Déjà vu”, it makes me daydream about a different, more pastoral/tangible life that would make more sense for me, if the world progressed in the ways people thought it would, a decade+ before I was born.
I’ve lost count of friends who would surely have different lives, too — people who should be writers, working in the theater, painters, musicians, a few who’d have their own farms — instead of whatever screen-based or service-based grind they’re locked into. The 21st century has plenty of advantages over life as it was 50 years ago, it’s true, but it’s also true that things today are spiritually cruel in myriad ways that feel specifically designed to deaden the soul.
But a few weeks ago, I had a weird musical epiphany while listening to ‘Déjà vu” on a drive, which is that you can do a quasi-“Dark Side of the Moon”/”Wizard of Oz” thing with “Déjà vu”/the arc of the pandemic. The songs seem to create that story and, somehow, actually really fit together. I know that sounds ridiculous, I have absolutely no idea why such a thing came to mind, and I guess it doesn’t really matter. I just think it’s incredibly cool, rare, and wonderful that a 50-year-old album can paint brand-new sonic pictures in my life as it is now. Wild and powerful music tends to be timeless, thank God.
It was far from a disappointment for me. The Deja Vu album had the 2nd most emotional impact of any album in my entire life. It was a truly lifting experience. Sgt. Pepper’s takes first place only because it is both weird and wonderful, whereas Deja Vu is simply wonderful.
When I dropped the needle on that record, I was transported to some other place in the universe that I didn’t know existed. A true transformation took play in my young mind. It was like I had been imbued with an extra sense to enjoy the world. How incredible is that? Music can resonate with your soul and put you in touch with the Heavens. I wanted more.
“Our House,” “Almost Cut My Hair, ” Woodstock,” et al. It was an astounding musical accomplishment. A true gift to anyone who wanted to partake in a self-discovery tour. Listening to those lush vocals and wonderful harmonies was beyond anything I had yet encountered. Me, a young teenage boy in Melbourne, Australia, sitting alone in my blackened-out den with fluorescent hippie stickers adorning the ceiling with the ultraviolet light charging them up with radiation so that they glowed with the lights off. I felt like I was in heaven. Perhaps I was. Perhaps this is as close as it gets while still on Earth. Thank you CSNY for your timeless gift to humanity.
God you just sent me down the itunes rabbit hole with this post.
Deja Vu was a seriously important album to me when I was a kid.
I clocked hours listening to that.
And Stephen Stills in particular.
Underrated vocalist IMO.
I was crazy about his work when I was younger..
Still holds up beautifully..
And even on my computer speakers the complexity of those sometimes intricate arrangements shines through.
What an era. There’s great music being made today– But listening to this and more reminds me once again that we grew up in a renaissance era.
After my first listen, on Tidal hi/res, on Friday, I posted, “the guitars were covered with gauze until this issue, it’s been a long time”
I upgraded my playback in January, the Kef LS50 Wireless II is a high end streaming stereo system on it’s own.
I’ve been listening to that era’s recordings, in hi/res, daily for 4 months, this is the most sumptuous offering.
It’s been a long time, it’s better than ever.
Bob, I’ve never stopped listening to Deja Vu which in my opinion is the greatest hippie rock album of all time. Listening to the 50th Anniversary Deluxe as i write this…but i still think that “Country Girl – I Think You’re Pretty” is perhaps the best track on the album.. it sure as hell resonates with me. The imagery is fantastic . i wanna cry everytime i hear it..This album has been an incredible lasting influence on my approach to music throughout my career.
I was seven when Déjà Vu was released. Would be seven more years before I listened to the album for the first time. I knew that day, It would not be my last.
Love this album, one of the greats.
Though CS&N debut is hard to beat by any band, even if you add in Neil Young.
I also have a weak spot for the Graham Nash & David Crosby 1972 album, bit more patchy but tracks like Where Will I Be?, Page 43, Immigration Man, The Wall Song, Strangers Room, Girl Be On My Mind are up there with their best.
Add their solo works, I Miss You, There’s Only One, Wounded Bird, Better Days, Traction In The Rain, Stephen Stills albums including Manassas, Crosby with If Only I Could Remember My Name……
All sheer genius and make up one of my favourite playlists “CN&S some Y”, so called as the trio for me are untouchable.
So sad we are likely to never see the trio live again, as live their three voices come together to make a fourth voice that nobody else can match.
“It’s not about having the best voice, it’s about having the most expressive voice, just ask Rod Stewart or Bob Dylan.”
Having heard it many times on the radio as a teen, I always thought it was “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes”. Then I bought the album.
It seems that everything I need to know I learn from you. Thank you.