Fifty years ago today, the band Crosby, still, Nash & Young released the album Deja Vu. I heard this a lot growing up, it was on heavy rotation in the car. It’s very comforting to hear it again and very comforting to feel that the music is actually still very good.
Title: Deja Vu
Studio album by: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Released: March 11, 1970
Recorded: July, 1969 – January, 1970
Studio: Wally Heider’s Studio C, San Francisco; Wally Heider’s Studio III, Los Angeles
Genre: Folk rock
Producer: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Singles from Déjà vu
“Woodstock”. Released: March 1970
“Teach Your Children” Released: May 1970
“Our House” Released: September 1970
“Carry On” Released: November 1970
The album was recorded between July, 1969 and January, 1970 at Wally Heider’s Studio C, San Francisco, and Wally Heider’s Studio III, Los Angeles. It was produced by all four members of the band. Stephen Stills estimates that the album took around 800 hours of studio time to record; this figure may be exaggerated, even though the individual tracks display meticulous attention to detail. The songs, except for “Woodstock”, were recorded as individual sessions by each member, with each contributing whatever was needed that could be agreed upon. Young appears on only half of the tracks with Nash stating he “generally recorded his tracks alone in Los Angeles then brought them back to the recording studio to put our voices on, then took it away to mix it”.
Commenting on the album to Hit Parader in 1971, Stills stated “getting that second album out of us was like pulling teeth, there was song after song that wouldn’t didn’t make it. The track, ‘Déjà Vu,’ must have meant 100 takes in the studio. But ‘Carry On’ happened in a grand total of eight hours from conception to finished master. So you never know.”
Young told Rolling Stone in 1975 that only “Helpless”, “Almost Cut My Hair”, and “Woodstock” were band sessions and “all the other songs ones were combinations, records that were more done by one person using the other people.”.
It was during these sessions that Crosby would break down and cry due to the recent death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton. Telling Crawdaddy in 1974 “he couldn’t function”.
Nash stated to Music Radar, the mood was different to the first album, which was recorded while the band were in love, and by the second “Joni and I (Nash) had split up, Stephen and Judy had split up, and Christine had just been killed. It was all dark”.
During this time members were not getting on as they would critique each other’s contributions causing friction, with Crosby stating to Rolling Stone “I kept ‘Almost Cut My Hair” in there over the protestations of Stephen, who didn’t want me to leave it in ’cause he thought that it was a bad vocal.”.
Stills bought “Woodstock” into the band, having already worked out the arrangement for it while playing with Jimi Hendrix in September 1969, this was released on the 2018 Hendrix album Both Sides of the Sky. The final version had Stills singing a slightly rearranged version of Mitchell’s lyrics which put the line, “we are billion year old carbon” — which only appeared in her final chorus — into each of the first three choruses. Then that line was replaced with “we are caught in the devil’s bargain” in the last chorus, which was also in Mitchell’s final chorus. “Woodstock” was one of the few Déjà Vu tracks where Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young all performed their parts in the same session. Later the original lead vocal by Stephen Stills was partly replaced with a later vocal recorded by Stills, who recalled: “I replaced one and a half verses that were excruciatingly out of tune.” Neil Young disagreed, saying that “the track was magic. Then later on [Crosby, Stills & Nash] were in the studio nitpicking [with the result that] Stephen erased the vocal and put another one on that wasn’t nearly as good.” Stills also made Nash change ‘Teach Your Children’ from a Henry VIII style song to a hit record with a country swing.
Drummer Dallas Taylor and bassist Greg Reeves play on the majority of tracks, and are credited on the cover with their names in slightly smaller typeface. Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia plays pedal steel guitar on “Teach Your Children”, and former Lovin’ Spoonful leader John Sebastian plays harmonica on the title track.
The anticipation was so big for the album that by January 1970, Atlantic records had taken in $2 million in preorders.