Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-"Human Highway" The Unreleased LP - A Rock Room Reconstruction
Today I have a very special and unique article developed for what is the 50th edition of "Talk From the Rock Room"! Thanks to all my readers for keeping up and inspiring me to keep the blog going! This week in the 'rock room' I have been exploring the fertile period of 1973 to 1974 for the quartet of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. In May of 1973 after an extended period of non collaboration, the group met in Hawaii for some rest, relaxation and to discuss and possibly create a new LP.
Unfortunately this LP would never come to fruition as the respective members quickly moved on to solo projects before anything could be finished. The normal bickering and friction that comes from the meeting of the four powerful personalities reared its head during the LP's creation and things came to a screeching halt. Graham Nash is quoted as saying that the 'unfinished' LP would have been called 'Human Highway' and that the group had ten tracks planned for it. The LP even had the artwork picked out which I have included in this blog, of a picture of the principals taken on their Hawaiian beach vacation during the pastel of dusk. Many of the recorded songs for the prospective Human Highway were performed by the group at various performances, as well as ending up on future solo records. But as a defined collection of officially released studio recordings, it was not meant to be.
Over the course of time the unreleased LP has grown in stature and legend. Some tracks have escaped through various releases, and some still remain hidden in the deep recesses of CSNY's musical vault. What I have done in this weeks blog is recreate this 'lost' album based on what tracks are available, statements that have been made, and the information that has been leaked by various sources. On all of the studio versions I have reviewed, Johnny Barbata and Tim Drummond are featured on drums and bass respectively I believe (Little Blind Fish has Russ Kunkle on drums). Ok, without anymore extended rumination, anticipated and speculated upon, I give you my version of the lost CSNY LP 'Human Highway'
In May of 1973 it had been three years since the release of the 'Deja Vu' album and the stars were in alignment for another attempt at a group LP. Neil Young had rocketed to super stardom with the release of his LP 'Harvest', and the other principal members Crosby, Stills, and Nash were in an era where they were all extremely prolific in their creativity and songwriting. After their planned meeting in Hawaii the group convened at Young's 'Broken Arrow' ranch to get their new tracks down on tape. Using sources such as David Zimmer's CSN biography, as well as various band member interviews, and the CSN box set liner notes the band reportedly recorded the following tracks, 'See the Changes', 'Prison Song', 'And So It Goes', 'Human Highway', 'Little Blind Fish' and 'Through My Sails". I, as the 'rock room', have also taken the liberty to include the following songs to the list, based on the circulating reunion concert that took place at a Stephen Stills and Manassas show in October of 1973. The compositions,'As I Come Of Age', 'New Mama', and 'Roll Another Number' have been added. These tunes were freshly preformed when Crosby, Nash and Young joined Stills unannounced for his acoustic set and played off the cuff renditions. I assert that these songs were also in the running for the LP, based on their workout at this performance during the records formative stages. The songs I have listed total up to nine tunes for the hypothetical LP, which leaves room for one more song based on Nash's assertion of ten tracks.
This is honestly a guess on my part, but there are available choices of songs to fill that last slot. "Hawaiian Sunrise", an unreleased Young track fits the bill, and is somewhat an obvious choice because of its Hawaiian genesis, and subsequent performances by the group. David Crosby's 'Time After Time" is also a possibility due to its being composed around this time, and because of the lack of Crosby songs on the hypothetical LP. So for the case of representation I will include the Crosby song on my version of 'Human Highway'. The track listing I have developed is based on my own feeling of flow and balance, there is obviously no way I can find the true proposed track listing, so it is what it is.
Young's song 'Traces', Stills 'First Things First' as well as Nash's 'Another Sleep Song' are also candidates for slots on the album, but alas there are only ten hypothetical spots so these songs will remain 'on the beach'. I believe this album could have the defining moment for the fragile super group and it was a great joy digging into the possibilities for its creation. For experts on this topic who may ruminate about such things, I have steered away from the post 1974 tour recordings and have focused my constructed LP on tracks recorded in 1973 and early 1974. I am a wealth of useless rock knowledge, but I am no expert and my vault access is limited. I also realize that some folks may disagree with the 'Little Blind Fish' addition, but I believe regardless of its late 1974 recording date, it was a contender for the LP. I now present to you the 'rock room' version of CSNY 'Human Highway' side A.
'See The Changes'-(Stephen Stills)-Released on the 1991 CSN box set, the actual CSNY version from 'Broken Arrow' 1973 finally found its way into the daylight. A jaunty acoustic track with the meshing of the Stills/Young acoustic guitars the songs defining hallmark. The song rolls with a confident wavy gate and speaks to me that it would be a fitting opener for the LP. Definitive CSNY vocals on this one. With personal Stills lyrics reflecting on age and universal life questions, the tune is one of Stills finest and most honest compositions or the time. This song would remain unheard until the 1977 CSN LP. This version is soaked in a sweet soul.
See The Changes
'Prison Song'-(Graham Nash)-There is a CSNY version of this song that floats around in traders circles and was actually broadcast on radio some years ago.(it actually can be found on You Tube now!-see below) So, it now can be confirmed this song was slated for the eventual LP. The song deals with the silly marijuana drug laws that still haven't changed in the forty years since the songs composition. The tune is supported by some watery keyboard work by Nash, and some fireside overlapping echo vocals by Stephen and Neil on the chorus. Young lays down some shimmery vibrato guitar lines from his 'White Falcon' on the outro that reflect on Nash's perky harp blasts. The officially released version can be found on Graham Nash's 1974 LP 'Wild Tales".
'New Mama'-(Neil Young)-While no documentation exists of a studio CSNY version of this track, a version circulates of the quartet preforming it during the 1973 Winterland Reunion. I believe this song would have been on the album without a doubt as Stills would end up recording it for his 1975 self titled LP 'Stills" and Neil for 'Tonight's the Night". A moody but delicate song that spotlights the CSNY blend, both Neil and Stephen would 'rock' the song up a bit for their respective versions. The track feels tailor made for CSNY and its a shame that it never received that treatment officially.
CSNY Winterland 1973 Concert
'Little Blind Fish'-(CSNY)-The only song ever composed by all four members of CSNY, 'Little Blind Fish" is a pleasant ditty opening with Crosby/Nash solo vocals, before blossoming into a wah wah drenched funky groove that contains shared vocals by Young, Stills, and Crosby. I realize that this track was recorded for the pre 1974 tour rehearsals, but it has been said that this song was in the running for 'Human Highway' hence its inclusion here. I struggled between this and the Stills song 'First Things First' which is another rumored song that would infuse the LP with some ethnic percussion and a unique groove. But because 'Little Blind Fish' is a true collaboration I decided to place it here. A track that needed some future work and touch ups but an important addition nonetheless.
Little Blind Fish
Alternate Song Choice: 'First Things First'-(Stills)- Preformed on the 1974 tour this song benefited from great percussion by Stills and Joe Lala as well as stinging Young guitar licks. My personal preference in the song are the CSN infused chorus lines. Song would see official release on the 1975 album 'Stills'
'Roll Another Number (For the Road)'-(Young) In my original line up for the album I had Young's 'Pushed It Over the End" closing side one. 'Pushed It Over the End" was a dark highlight of the 1974 tour with the entire band getting off on it. The sog remains unreleased except for its appearance on the 'B' side of an imported 7" single. Upon further research and reflection I believe that this planned album had more of an "acoustic" vibe as witnessed by the casual Hawaii island rehearsals and the caliber of the more acoustic based songs that were being composed. I also tend to think that "Pushed It Over the End" was composed later than the working sessions for the LP. This is all speculation on my part, but in the end I believe "Roll Another Number" nestles at the end of side one nicely in the context of the surrounding tracks. A classic Young tune with funny and surreal lyrics, topped off with a singalong chorus. Performed at Winterland reunion 1973. The song eventually would end up on Young's 'Tonight's the Night'.
CSNY Winterland Concert
Alternate Song Choice: 'Pushed It Over the End'-(Young)-One of Neil's most legendary unreleased tracks, I hope this song would have ended up on the LP, but I have never been able to confirm that it was planned for it. the song was performed numerous times on the 74 tour and often reached wonderful heights.
THE B SIDE
'Human Highway'-(Young)- The song that gave the proposed LP its title and one of Young's most melodically pleasing compositions. Every time CSNY would preform this number their voices soared into swirling sleek vocal blends and cumulus cloud harmonies. Crosby was quoted as saying this song is the reason the group got back together to record. Young and Stills would share vocals on live versions with Crosby/Nash lifting the chorus, and again, the intertwining of Stills and Young's guitars soak the number in rich personality and give it its sturdy bones. There is a studio CSNY version that circulates on bootlegs from the abandoned 1976 sessions, otherwise the song would not see an official release until Young's 1978 'Comes a Time' LP. The version from that album in my opinion pails in comparison to any CSNY performance.
Human Highway (Live 1974)
'As I Come Of Age'-(Stills)-A song performed as far back as the 1970 CSNY tour, Stephen had been looking for a home for this amazing piano based ballad since its inception. One gets the feeling he was holding on to it until it could grace a CSNY album, as it would not see release until his 1975 'Stills' LP after all hopes of a CSNY LP had been dashed. In my opinion some of Stills truest words and most haunting melodic lines. A sparse song that speaks volumes in its delicate content.The official version from 'Stills' 1975 features Crosby and Nash on vocals.
As I Come Of Age (Live 1974)
'And So It Goes'-(Nash)-A song that was recorded at Young's ranch for the 'Human Highway' LP but which no CSNY version has circulated. The group performed the song at the Winterland reunion in a rendition that featured Young on some rainy gutter honkey tonk piano. A perfectly catchy Graham Nash song with a unforgettable chorus. An edgy tune that has the feeling of a Young composed track with its shady chord structure. The song would eventually see release on Nash's 'Wild Tales' LP, an album that contained many songs that were planned to be Nash's contributions to 'Human Highway'
CSNY Winterland Concert
'Time After Time'-(Crosby)-One of the most tender melodies ever composed by Crosby, and a highlight of the 1974 acoustic sets. Especially amazing when the other members of the group would trickle out and add their voices to the song from the deep of stage's shadows. The song would finally make its official appearance on the Crosby/Nash 1976 LP 'Whistling Down To the Wire'. ' 'Time After Time' was never confirmed to have been recorded at 'Broken Arrow' in 1973, but I have taken the liberty to add it to the hypothetical LP. The track was composed around the same period, preformed on the 74 tour, and it fills the Crosby slot nicely.
Time After Time (Live 1974)
Alternate Song Choice: Hawaiian Sunrise-(Young)- Left off of my hypothetical LP because of the amount of Young songs already on the album. The cut is an obvious choice for the record, but basing my LP on the ten tracks mentioned by Nash, this one had to be bumped in favor of a Crosby tune. This is testament to how prolific Young was during this time period with numerous unreleased songs and even entire albums! An acoustic song in the Hawaiian folk style that sways like a grass Hula skirt in a warm sandy breeze. There are fine CSNY versions available from the 1974 tour.
'Through My Sails'-(Young)- A song that would eventually close Young's 1975 LP 'Zuma", the tune takes the same position on this fantasy album. The song feels like sand, ocean, and sky with quintessential CSNY vocals dressing the sparse percussion and acoustic guitar instrumentation resulting in an intimate blend. I am of the opinion that this song was worked on in Hawaii and was a contender for 'Human Highway' based on the songs lyrical content and how Young still used the full CSNY line up even on a 1975 Crazy Horse LP. One of the best "lost" CSNY songs, even though it eventually found its way to a commercial release.
Through My Sails (CSNY)
There are numerous different possibilities and track line ups for the unreleased 'Human Highway' album. While compiling my version I paid special consideration to the tracks confirmed to be contenders for the LP, actually recorded for the album, and then used corroborating evidence from multiple sources from the 'rock room' to fill in the blanks for the rest of the LP. The period of 1972 to 1976 is a strange one for CSNY, as up to three different attempts were made at creating cohesive albums. The songs and recordings made ended up being unreleased, forgotten, performed, and sprawled out over the quartets solo and joint projects. If one of these attempts were successful I am of the opinion that the resulting album would have been legendary and a defining statement for the quartet. Nash was quoted as saying in the Zimmer biography, "Because its hard- you get so high with the prospect of doing a great album that the temptation to just put up with other peoples bullshit is great. But this just turned to a piece of shit." Its unfortunate, because the songs being brought in were great, even in some cases being held onto specifically for a CSNY album. It's sad that the individual egos could not be kept in check, eventually getting in the way of some great music. So is the tale of CSNY.
I hope fans of the group find my article informative and use it as a road map to create or listen to their own "Human Highway". The period of time which this music was being created was prolific and resulted in many timeless classics being birthed, but lost in the context of their development. Like my previous blog entry about the great lost Kinks LP, its an interesting chore to look at how and why these LPs ended up covered by the sands of time, and eventually forgotten about by their respective creator's.The possibilities are endless. Thankfully the music exists in some form for my rock fantasies and our listening pleasure.