Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Songs We Wish We'd Written - Non-Album Tracks (2009-2010)

This blog is coming close to having posted 500 albums. Out of all of those, this is the one that was the most difficult for me to make. And that's saying a lot, since I've often had to dig deep to find obscurities for many of the compilations I've made. I'm very relieved to finally be able to post this!

I've posted many (at least 17 so far) albums here that present a sort of alternate universe history of Crosby, Stills & Nash (with or without Young). It's one of things I'm most proud about regarding this blog, because CSN and/or Y made lots of great music together, and yet only a small percent of it made it to their albums at all, and a bunch of those albums were botched. But after posting the last CSN stray tracks album (for songs up to 2005), I had to pause in posting any more for many months, due to my difficulty in making this album.

Before explaining my difficulties, let me explain what this album is about, since CSN had even more difficulties with it. By 2009, it had been a very long time since there had been a new CSN or CSNY studio album. (The last one was CSNY's "Looking Forward" in 1999.) For their next studio album (with just CSN), they decided to do one that consisted of nothing but covers. They even had a name picked out for it: "Songs We Wish We'd Written." They hired Rick Rubin to produce it. That seemed like a great choice, because he's one of the most successful producers of all time, and he's had a particular reputation of making older artists popular again after their recent albums had been mostly forgotten.

Unfortunately, CSN are known for their big egos and  their inability to work well with others. Apparently, part way through recording the album, CSN had a big falling out with Rubin and the album plans collapsed. Here's Nash's explanation of what happened, from a 2012 news article

"After almost 50 years of making records, we think we know what we’re doing, so it’s very hard to tell Crosby, Stills and Nash what to do. You can suggest anything you want, but you can’t tell us what to do. First of all, [Rubin] pissed off David Crosby. David said we wanted to do Blackbird and another Beatles song. Rick said, ‘There will only be one Beatles song.’ Crosby said, ‘There will only be one Beatles song if we decide there will only be one Beatles song.’ You know, like, ‘Who the f*** are you to tell me?’ You can’t tell us what to do. Rick is a brilliant man - but we rubbed each other the wrong way."

Then, in 2014, still with no new CSN studio album in sight, Nash said work on the covers album had finally resumed and they were close to finishing it off. "We did seven songs and none of them excited us. Sony owns those seven songs that they have no right to release. We went back to the studio in Santa Monica and started over and we've got five we really like."

Aaaaannd... that seems to be the last anyone has heard about the CSN covers album. Late in 2015, CSN performed at the White House, and somewhere in that event there was an argument that caused Crosby to be estranged from the others. It's so bad that apparently even Crosby and Nash haven't directly spoken to each other since, despite the two of them being closer than most brothers for the previous 35 years. It sounds like the 2015 argument was just the final straw. So, in that context, it's understandable how they never got along well enough to finish off their covers album.

However, all hope is not lost! I haven't seen any evidence of them doing much in the way of unusual covers in concert from 2011 until their break-up in 2015. Plus, there have been no leaks of any studio recordings of the covers album. But all through 2009 and 2010, CSN played a varying handful of covers in pretty much all the concerts they did. It was my goal to find recordings of those covers and make an album out of them.

Unfortunately, it turns out there's a serious lack of good CSN bootlegs from that time period, and no officially released versions of those cover songs from then. In fact, I couldn't find a single soundboard bootleg, or even an excellent audience bootleg, from that time. Furthermore, for many of the covers they did, I couldn't find a single recording at all. As examples, they played Tom Paxton's folk classic "The Last Thing on My Mind" a bunch of times, as well as other songs more rarely, like "Peace of Mind" by Neil Young, "Lives in the Balance" by Jackson Browne, and even "Lady Stardust" by David Bowie (!). But I couldn't find recordings for any of those. And some of the songs I did find frankly had such poor sound that it was barely listenable to my ears.

So I waited and waited for many months, hoping that I'd stumble upon some better recordings while I was looking for other things by other artists. And I'm happy to say that I did eventually find a few things, enough for me to feel it's finally time to post this.

That said, this still is a frustratingly uneven album, due to sound quality issues. Probably THE key factor in any CSN performance is their vocal harmonies. If the sound quality is poor, you can't appreciate those vocals, and then the whole thing sounds like crap. The good news is, for about half of the songs here, I found excellent sound recordings that I'm happy with. But the bad news is, for the other half, I'm still unhappy. But I figure by now this is probably as good as I'm likely to get. If any of you have possible better sounding versions of any of these songs (and especially the songs I couldn't find) please let me know and I'll update this album.

I've divided the album into two parts. The first half are all their fully acoustic performances, just acoustic guitars and vocals. I've organized them by sound quality. The first few sound the best. By the last two acoustic ones ("Reason to Believe" and "You Can Close Your Eyes"), the sound quality is still decent, but noticeably worse than the ones that came earlier.

Then the last handful of songs, from "Bluebird" to the end, are all done in full-band versions. Unfortunately, the sound quality needs to be higher for the vocal harmonies to be heard well over all those other instruments. "Bluebird" sounds great, but there's a slow decline from there. I made the last two songs bonus tracks, since the sound quality of those are the worst.

I'm especially bummed not to have a better version of them performing "Uncle John's Band," since I love that song, and it suits them. I believe they actually helped the Grateful Dead to improve their harmonies for when the Dead recorded the original version of that song in 1970 (and the other harmony-rich songs the Dead did around then).

In a few cases, I had to stretch outside of the 2009 to 2010 time frame to get the versions I used here. One reason for that is because one thing I heard about the covers album was that they planned to record at least one song each from the bands they were in before joining CSN: the Byrds (for Crosby), Buffalo Springfield (for Stills), and the Hollies (for Nash). But CSN didn't play any Byrds songs in 2009 or 2010, or any years close to that, at least that I could tell. I had to stretch all the way back to 1996 to find CSN doing a version of the Byrds hit "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Sadly, I couldn't find any examples of CSN playing a Hollies song in concert, so I had to skip that. (I'm not counting a solo acoustic version Nash did of "King Midas in Reverse" in 1970 as a bonus track for the CSNY live album "Four Way Street.") Technically, CSN did play the Hollies' hit "Bus Stop" a few times in 2015, but apparently that was just Nash singing it alone during his usual short solo portion of the show.

I had to make an even greater stretch in order to include a version of "Blackbird." Note that one of the Nash quotes above specifically mentioned that "Blackbird" was one of the two Beatles song they planned to have on the album. (The other one almost certainly is "Norwegian Wood," and I have that one included.) But according to www.setlist.fm, CSN hasn't played "Blackbird" in concert a single time since 1992. So I was forced to use a version from 1991. (Frankly, I'm surprised they were going to put that song on the covers album at all, since they'd put a version of it on their 1992 box set, but I digress.)

CSN did put out an official live album in 2012, simply called "CSN 2012." I used two songs from that, strictly due to sound quality issues.

Note that two of the songs here - "Long May You Run" and "Human Highway" are songs written by Neil Young. Furthermore, they're songs that are closely associated with CSNY, since there were failed attempts between 1974 and 1976 to record a CSNY album that could well have been named after either of those two songs. But of course for those versions the lead vocals were done by Young. I think these are sufficiently different to warrant inclusion. "Long May You Run" in particular was likely to make it onto the covers album, since CSN played it for every one of their 2010 concerts.

Anyway, I think this is a pretty good album (with a good length of 44 minutes, not counting the bonus tracks), if you can handle the occasional sound quality issues. If you do have a problem with that, just knock off the songs that are more problematic, and you still should have a good, though shorter, album. That said, this is merely a pale shadow of how good the studio version of the cover albums would have been. Even putting the recording quality issues aside, they could have nailed their performances, especially their harmonies, in the studio much better than what they did in concert.

Are the songs here the very same ones that they would have put on the official studio album? I doubt it. Probably, they did some others they didn't play in concert at the time. (Plus, there are surprisingly few Crosby lead vocals here, and I doubt that would be the case on album.) But I think it's safe to say the vast majority of the songs here would have been on the album. Most of these songs were played for most of all of their concerts in 2009, or 2010, or sometimes both.

One final note. For a long time, from about 2006 to 2012, it seems CSN wrote very few new songs, and even fewer really good new songs. So it makes sense they wanted to record a covers album during that time. But then, from about 2013 until their break-up in 2015, they actually came up with a lots of really nice new songs. There are so many that I've made two albums out of them. Now that I've finally gotten this monkey off my back, I'll be able to post those in the near future.

01 Blackbird (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
02 Ruby Tuesday (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
03 Human Highway (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
04 Girl from the North Country (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
05 Norwegian Wood [This Bird Has Flown] (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
06 Midnight Rider (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
07 Reason to Believe (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
08 You Can Close Your Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
09 Bluebird (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
10 Turn, Turn, Turn [To Everything There Is a Season] (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
11 Long May You Run (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
12 Rock and Roll Woman (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
13 Uncle John's Band (Crosby, Stills & Nash)

Behind Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Rocky Mountain Way (Crosby, Stills & Nash)


For the album cover, I found an image of a CSN T-shirt the band was selling at their concerts from this era that prominently features their logo. After cropping the image, all I did was add the album title at the bottom.


  1. You're welcome. Please let me know what you think of the sound quality. As I said in my write up, I've really struggled over that for this album.

  2. I love this. I never knew they covered most of these. Thank you for sharing it here.