Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young: Four Way Street
Four Way Street
Touted as one of the worst live albums of all time by Dave Marsh's Book of Rock Lists, Four Way Street may be anything but that. Sure, it's sloppy, poorly recorded and a bit self-indulgent, but hey, it was 1970 and it does not compare with the bloated carcasses released later in the decade (Zep's The Song Remains The Same comes to mind). No, Four Way Street is a clenched-fist, raging tome appropriate for 1970, performed by the closest thing to super group royalty America has ever produced (in spite of the colonial inclusion of Anglo Graham Nash). The turbulent '60s come to a close and America finds itself standing at the foot of a decline a fall unequaled since. On Four Way Street , CSN&Y stand at this cusp looking both ways with mercurial defiance.
The Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young of the 1970s were an angry quilt stitched together from three significant bands from the 1960s. David Crosby brought his wistful tenor and floating compositions from Roger McGuinn's Byrds. His addition to the new group is more "Eight Miles High" than "Turn, Turn, Turn," providing the band with his spacious open- chord vision. Stephen Stills and Neil Young made their way from Buffalo Springfield, bringing with them the electric soul of the band, both members being formidable lead guitarists. Graham Nash came over from the Hollies, establishing the calm center of the group. The band that resulted sounded unlike any of its precursors. The trio, sans Young released their eponymous first recording in 1969, and supported it with a tour that included Woodstock (after adding Neil Young). They came along to play at the right place at the right time and they had a lot to say.
Four Way Street is a concert tour recording divided between Chicago, the Fillmore West in San Francisco and the Forum in Los Angeles, all hallowed Rock and Roll Ground. The crowds sounded large, excited, and appreciative. The ambiance of these halls is well captured in this relaxed set. The set was re-released with new material dreadfully but necessarily omitted from the original 2-LP set. Of note was the addition of Stephen Still's "Black Queen," a staggering, gambling blues and Graham Nash's reprise of the Hollies' "King Midas in Reverse" and Neil Young's acoustic "Down By The River." But these additions are gravy. Memorable are the starkness of "Don't Let it Bring You Down, the hope of "Teach Your Children," the whimsy of "Lee Shore," and the anathema of "Love The One Your With." On the electric side, well, it is all of the songs.
Four Way Street is quite the schizophrenic affair, half being acoustic and half electric. The sum of all its parts is protest. This is music recorded two years following the 1968 Chicago National Democratic Convention and two years prior to Watergate, smack-dab in the middle of the beginning of the end of Vietnam. On the acoustic side, Graham Nash chimes in with his "Chicago" played only on piano. However, acoustic critical mass is achieved when Stephen Stills seats himself at the piano and proceeds to lose his mind, detonating a manic and biting "49 Bye-Byes/America's Children." Stills transforms his beautiful country ballad of love lost into a corrosive metaphor for the Vietnam War by juxtaposing it with the spitting rage of his "For What Its Worth, delivered as if from a Huey's machine guns. For the most part, the acoustic sides are quiet introspection with some hand grenades thrown in. More Ghandi than Malcolm X.
On the electric side, the centerpiece could be no other song. "Ohio" is today a song of protest and despair. Its chunky guitar introduction beats like an angry fist on a table. Neil Young spits rage and despair with every word. "Southern Man" contains the same bitter sentiments. "A Long Time Gone," David Crosby's elegy to RFK, is perhaps the best of the electric sides, peppered with Stephen Stills staccato lead guitar. The band plays electrically with a gale-force wind. "Carry On" has the best vocals and "Preroad Downs" the best boogie. Electric music equaled only by Neil Young's later work (more on that another time).
The collection is not without its real boners. "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is still truncated as it was on the original release. What is with that? The "Right Between the Eyes" introduction is muffed (though some will argue this adds to the quaintness of the recording). The sonics are somewhat lacking, as most of the electric sides sound muddy. I can forgive Dave Marsh his opinion, but a bad live album would be Tom Petty's Pack Up The Plantation or Peter Frampton Live , not Four Way Street. For all of its faults, Street is a grainy color 8mm, a rock Zapruder clip, capturing all of the drama and rage of the period. Regardless, Four Way Street was the sound track to a militant generation, capturing perfectly the time and place that was the birth of the 1970s.
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