CROSBY, STILLS & NASH Crosby, Stills & Nash (Classic)

It’s the harmonies that get you, and pretty much immediately. There’s a succession of brickbats that can be aimed at this 1969 debut from a Byrd, a Buffalo Springfield and a Holly – the air of smug, satisfied self-regard that it totters perilously close to; the suspicion that, despite its counterculture stance, enough dollars were thrown at this album (obliquely suggested by sleeve notes that credit David Geffen with ‘direction’ and Ahmet Ertegun with ‘spiritual guidance’) to ensure that it simply could not fail – but when David, Stephen and Graham begin to sing they conjure up the kind of telepathic closeness normally only heard in sibling partnerships.

And it’s the opener “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, where you hear them first. But what is it: prog? Folk? Country? Retrospectively, it’s easy to place “Crosby, Stills & Nash” on the line that twines “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” to “Eagles”, and its guitar-heavy acousticity part of the general reaction to psychedelic excess that ran from “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to “Led Zeppelin III”, but it must’ve been deliciously bewildering upon its initial release in May 1969. And doesn’t that wordless coda (presumably the part that Stills called the “little kicker at the end about Cuba”) get you every time? Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” hasn’t aged anywhere near as gracefully, especially those painfully Stylophone-esque guitars. “You Don’t Have To Cry” is soured by the acid tang of contempt, giving it a spiny edge that much of the album lacks, and, seasoned music business veterans that they are, they can cram the obligatory rock star whinge (“Pre-Road Downs”) into their debut. A bluff reading of Crosby and Stills’ own “Wooden Ships” bludgeons the subtlety of the song’s post-apocalyptic vision with its electric thump; Jefferson Airplane would treat the song with far greater sensitivity on their “Volunteers” album, released six months later. “Long Time Gone” is darkly portentuous; written in response to Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, it’s chillingly appropriate to a year that would bear witness to both Woodstock and Altamont.

There’s lots to like, if not enjoy, about “Crosby, Stills & Nash”, an album which, for all its Aquarian age posturing maintains its insular sense of Laurel Canyon privilege even when inciting the kids to protest. Follow-up “Déjà Vu” would ultimately prove the better work, almost entirely due to the presence of a stomping, snorting Canadian, his songs and his electric guitar. This Classic reissue is presented how all records should be, in a stiff cardboard sleeve with polythene-lined inner, with the original lyric insert on textured paper, and pressed on 200 gram vinyl. The sound is probably as good as the original tapes allow: a little dry and dull, but it does the job.

The Byrds