Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Four Way Street
1971 One thing the blues ain't...is funny
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, as well as a legion of Grateful Dead snores that should have been left in the can). 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). Not only had the turbulent '60s come to a close and America found herself standing at the foot of a decline a fall unequaled since, the band was being torn apart by the centripetal force of fame, drugs and egos. On Four Way Street
, CSN&Y stood at this cultural and personal cusp looking both ways with a mercurial defiance.
The Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young of the 1970s were an ambitious and 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. That band alone had a resultant sound unlike any of its precursors. This trio, sans Neil Young released their eponymous first recording in 1969, and supported it with a tour that included Woodstock (after adding 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 tense, if not emotionally charged, 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, 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."
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, dedicating it to Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley and his police state in '68 at the Democratic National Convention. However, acoustic critical mass is fully achieved and realized when an anxious and manic Stephen Stills seats himself at the piano and proceeds to lose his mind, detonating a frenzied and biting medley of "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 It's Worth, delivered as if from a Huey's machine guns. Save for this beautifully poetic psychotic break, the acoustic sides are quiet introspection (with a couple of Claymores set off). More Ghandi than Malcolm X; more Mother Teresa than Elijah Mohammed. For certain.
On the electric side, the centerpiece could be no other song. "Ohio" is today a song of protest and despair. Its chunky over-driven guitar introduction beats like an angry fist on a table, upsetting everything in sight. Neil Young is a flamethrower of rage and despair with every word, a premonition of his later work on the subject of death and war. "Southern Man" contains the same bitter sentiments pointed at a recalcitrant and unforgiving South. "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 and Crosby's almost Muscle Shoals soul singing. The band plays electrically with a gale- force wind. "Carry On" has the best vocals and "Preroad Downs" the best, if not loosest, boogie. This Electric music can only be equaled only by Neil Young's later work, identifying him as the molten core of the band's electric soul.
The collection is not perfect by a long shot. "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 lacking in a major way, and most of the electric sides sound muddy and bogged down. I can forgive Dave Marsh his opinion, but a really bad live album would be Tom Petty's Pack Up The Plantation
(or Peter Frampton's Frampton Comes Live
(A&M, 1976 regardless of how popular it was. Listen to Frampton play lead guitar on Humble Pie: Performance Rocking the Fillmore
(A&M, 1971) and then praise the pantywaist blather of Comes Alive
). But not Four Way Street
, no. For all of its faults, Street
remains a grainy color 8mm, a rock Zapruder clip, capturing all of the drama and rage of the period. Regardless of all, Four Way Street
was the sound track to a militant generation, capturing perfectly the time and place that was the birth of the 1970s.
With the release of CSNY 1974
(Rhino, 2014), a chronical of the band's 1974 tour, there remains hope that Atlantic and Rhino will do the same for the 1970 tour. All we have to do is dream. The Ten Best Live Rock Recordings