David Crosby was a fearless musical maverick – these 5 songs ...
David Crosby was one of music's most fascinating figures.
The singer-songwriter, who died this week at 81, was, to some, known as much for his belligerent attitude and struggles with addiction as his music.
But he was a genius artist whose work is among the most instrumental in the development of folk-rock.
"I know people tend to focus on how volatile our relationship has been at times, but what has always mattered to David and me more than anything was the pure joy of the music we created together, the sound we discovered with one another, and the deep friendship we shared over all these many long years," his band mate Graham Nash wrote in tribute.
Crosby added an experimental yet refined edge to the folk and pop music that was dominant through the 1960s and 70s.
He made music alone, but his most celebrated work came as part of his time in acts like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Byrds.
Prodigiously talented and fearlessly creative, Crosby pushed musical boundaries in a way that many critics and peers couldn't understand at the time, but that now position him as a key architect of a range of genres from soft rock to psych rock.
"David was fearless in life and in music," Nash said.
"He leaves behind a tremendous void as far as sheer personality and talent in this world. He spoke his mind, his heart, and his passion through his beautiful music and leaves an incredible legacy. These are the things that matter most."
The following five tracks merely scratch the surface of his incredible career.The Byrds – 'Eight Miles High'
A classic example of the world being unready for the vision of an artist.
This ground-breaking piece of pop music paved the way for generations of psychedelic rock, as The Byrds smashed together their love of sitarist Ravi Shankar and jazz icon John Coltrane – artists David Crosby insisted on blasting in the band's tour van – with their endearing jangly folk-pop.
Like so many of history's most influential musical works, the song's vitality wasn't reflected in the charts at the time. Its druggy undertone – denied at the time, confirmed in later years – didn't help.
Radio stations were encouraged to remove the song from their playlists due to its content, though its leftfield musical content was perhaps just as much to blame for the lukewarm response.
Fifty-seven years on from its release, much of the song is disputed: who wrote what, where the inspiration came from, why its title changed from 'Six Miles High'. No one, however, calls into question its influence on the psych-rock genre.David Crosby – 'Cowboy Movie'
In hindsight, David Crosby's debut solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name is one of the most influential recordings on what would become known as the Californian sound of the 1970s.
While panned by many critics at the time, today it sounds musically prophetic, with its glorious, swelling harmonies and freewheeling vibe.
Dig into its lyrics and 'Cowboy Movie' will tell you a lot about the rancour in the camp of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the time.
The song is just as good without that knowledge, though. Crosby delivers a scorching vocal while searing lead guitar breaks form Neil Young and Jerry Garcia cut through the lazy, stoned groove perfectly.
It would be 18 years before Crosby would follow up If I Could Only Remember My Name – a combination of other projects and drug abuse getting in his way – and thankfully it has received the positive critical reassessment it deserves in recent years.Crosby, Stills & Nash – 'Wooden Ships'
David Crosby really loved boats. Especially his boat Mayan, a 74-foot Alden Schooner that he bought in 1967 (thanks to a $25,000 loan from The Monkees' Peter Tork) and owned for almost 50 years.
It was on Mayan that he wrote the music for 1969's 'Wooden Ships', one of his biggest songs. It was a co-write with Jefferson Airplane frontman Paul Kantner, whose band released a slightly modified version ten months later.
The song was written amidst both the Vietnam and Cold Wars, a time of great geopolitical tension that worried many. Crosby has said that Mayan was a genuine escape plan for when the world ended.
"I always figured if everything really went to hell, we’d just leave on Mayan and head for the islands," he once said.
"Back then a lot of us thought everything was going to collapse pretty soon. I'm sure glad it didn't."
That fear is all over Wooden Ships' lyric, as Crosby sings from the perspective of someone who has fled land and sits out at sea watching the end of the world.
'Horror grips us as we watch you die,' he sings.
"We imagined ourselves as the few survivors escaping on a boat to create a new civilisation," he wrote in the liner notes of a CSN box set in 1991.Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – 'Almost Cut My Hair'
'I feel like letting my freak flag fly,' David Crosby sings in this 1970 hippie anthem.
The sentiment in one of many great tracks from CSNY's Déjà Vu album is fairly clear-cut. Straight people had short hair, the freaks of the counterculture had long hair, the very act of growing one's hair perceived as an act of resistance.
The song almost didn't make the album, as Stephen Stills believed it wasn't up to scratch.
"[He] didn't want me to leave it in 'cause he thought that it was a bad vocal," Crosby told Rolling Stone in 1970. "And it was a bad vocal in the sense that it slid around, and it wasn’t polished, but I felt like what I meant when I sang it, and so it always put me on that trip."
While their flawless harmonies were a big part of CSNY's appeal to many, there's none of that here: this song is all attitude. A bluesy, slightly messy jam that matches the muddled, paranoid mind of its protagonist, which Crosby plays with a soulful confidence.
'I'm not givin' in an inch to fear,' he asserts in the song's second verse.David Crosby, Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League – Buddha On A Hill
After shirking solo records for much off his career, Crosby became very prolific in his final years.
He no longer sounded like a revolutionary artist, because many had already trodden over the ground he broke in the 60s and 70s, normalising the approaches some may have considered weird when Crosby first tried them.
His latest albums did, however, remind us of his musical intelligence. While not of the style of the day, they're still excellent pop records that might have netted Crosby a few more bucks had he made them in the 70s.
In 2018, he released an album called Here If You Listen in collaboration with his band: Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and he considered this song 'Buddha On A Hill' as another example of the power of quality collaboration.
"If you are open to the chemistry with other people, they always think of something you didn't – if you're working with good people.
"I'm really good at that, I'm really good at picking people to work with."