Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Crosby, Stills, & Nash: Helplessly Hoping

One of my all-time favorite albums is Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s debut LP from 1969. What a great collection of songs that occurred by the chance collaborations of three superstars: David Crosby who took flight from The Byrds, Stephen Stills who was seeking a musical home following the divorce of Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash who left the Hollies over creative differences. The result was one of the most enduring marriages of rock music from the sixties forward – and this first album was just a taste – but a very good taste of the wonderful things to come.


A peak into some of the songs gives us some insight into the mind of one of its members: Stephen Stills. Judy Collins had recently broke off her relationship with Stills and nearly a third of the album is his dealing with the loss. The results were “49 Bye-Byes,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and “Helplessly Hoping.” While “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was a musical magnum opus with its different movements, “Helplessly Hoping” was a lyrical masterpiece with Stills’ painting a series of alliterations into a coherent set of lyrics over a canvas of a song.


While Nash and Crosby supply some guitar to the album’s various tunes and Dallas Taylor was drummer on all cuts except “Marrakesh Express,” the majority of the instrumentation on “Crosby, Stills & Nash” was strictly Stephen Stills. His work as a multi-instrumentalist shines.

But, the band was not known specifically for its instrumentation. Their three part harmonies are their signature . . . and the vocals on “Helplessly Hoping” are just wonderful – it just sends chills up and down my spine when I hear it. “Helplessly Hoping” is sparse by comparison to the other tracks – it’s only the vocals and one finger-style guitar courtesy of its author Stephen Stills.

“They are one person – they are two alone – they are three together – they are for each other.”

2 comments:

  1. I love alliterations, and I love this song! Stills wrote "So Begins the Task," later recorded by Manassas, soon after "Helplessly Hoping," in the same vein musically. :-)

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    1. Me too Steve. I have the Manassas LP, but don't remember the cut. I'll have to dust it off and give it a listen.

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