David Crosby was a vital voice of hippie idealism and world-weary realism in the classic rock era. As a founding member of the Byrds and later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, he helped shape rock and country rock in the 1960s and was an integral part of the sensitive singer-songwriter life of the 1970s; His singing and guitar playing even broadened the way people thought about the meaning of pop music as he helped create a culture where rock stars were encouraged to enjoy every available worldly excess.
Crosby, who grew up in Southern California and did as much as anyone to define the region’s sound, died Wednesday at the age of 81. Here are 12 songs that encapsulate his life and work.
1. The Sorrows, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965)
Crosby didn’t write the Bob Dylan tune that was the Byrds’ first single – and he didn’t play guitar on the chart-topper, having taken advantage of the Wrecking Crew’s more experienced LA session in the studio instead. But “Mr. Tambourine Man” provides an excellent display of the virtuosity of intimate songwriting that defined much of Crosby’s work in the years to come.
2. The Byrds, “Eight Mile High” (1966)
The first real deal psychedelic rock song? Many have made a case for this lurking guitar jam that rages about the lack of heat “to be found among those who fear losing their land”. Co-written by Crosby and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark — and later referenced by Don McLean in rock history no less than “American Pie” — “Eight Miles High” was covered by the likes of Enterprises, ie Roxy Music, Hüsker Dü, Tom Petty and Golden Earring of the Netherlands, who stretched the song to 19 minutes to discourage.
3. The Byrds, “Everybody’s Burned” (1967)
An exquisite piece of killer romance from “Younger Than Yesterday,” Crosby’s final album as a full-time Byrd (before that big mid-’70s reunion). “I know very well how to turn, how to run / How to hide behind a bitter blue wall,” he sings against a hypnotic minor-key groove, “But you’ll die inside if you choose to hide / So I think instead I will love you.”
4. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Wooden Ships” (1969)
Composed while Crosby was sailing a Floridian sea with Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane (whose band recorded their own version the same year), “Wooden Ships” — from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Grammy-winning debut — paints a chilling portrait. of a nuclear holocaust.
5. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Long Time Gone” (1969)
Crosby raised the concerns of his Byrds bandmates at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival when he questioned the findings of the Warren Commission on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Two years later, he later memorialized Robert Kennedy’s younger brother by him slays in this soulful, slow-burning number made famous by CSN at Woodstock.
6. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Deja Vu” (1970)
Now with Neil Young, CSNY titled his multiplatinum smash 1970 after Crosby’s complex multi-part psycho-man song in which he wonders “what’s going on underground.”
7. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Almost Cut My Hair” (1970)
“I feel like I wanna let my freak flag fly,” croons Crosby as he wields electric guitars in this beautiful declaration of queer pride. (Spoiler alert: He didn’t go through with the haircut.)
8. “Laugh” (1971)
Crosby’s debut single, “If I Could Only Remember My Name,” was hated by critics when it came out in 1971. But in the years since, it’s become a shaggy-hipster touchstone thanks to spacey tunes like this one with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel and Joni Mitchell on backing vocals.
9. “I Wish Someone Was Here” (1971)
Crosby’s own choice for the highlight of his debut was the album’s haunting a cappella, which he called “probably the best piece of music I’ve ever thought of” in an interview with The Times in 2021. Fans can Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes trace their fame back to the present.
10. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Triad” (1971)
Crosby wrote “Triad” about a sexual trio – “You want to know how it’s going to be / Me and her, or you and me,” he goes – for a Byrds album, as the story goes, but the band turned it down in his favor. of the chaste “Goin’ Back” with Gerry Goffin and Carole King. (“The French have been doing ménage à trois for centuries,” Crosby told the Times. “It’s unusual if you’re very square sexually.”) He continued to sing “Triad” on CSNY’s early 70s live album “4 Way Street.”
11. “Holding On to Anything” (2014)
Drug problems and legal trouble dominated the middle period of Crosby’s life. But in 2014 he returned to music with his first solo album in years, the well-received “Croz”, which included this tender meditation on aging with some excellent trumpet music by Wynton Marsalis.
12. “Rodriguez for Night” (2021)
“Croz” launched a late-career recovery for Crosby, who quickly followed the album up with four more LPs that seemed to have him writing and recording as much fun as ever. “For Free,” his latest tour, culminated in this slinky jazz-funk song he co-wrote with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, who he once tweeted about his “best band in the world, period.”