Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Cross Pollination

To have been even a peripheral cog in that late ’60s/early ’70s Laurel Canyon songwriting wheel would have been quite something, I’d imagine. In houses tucked deep into the lush Californian flora and fauna, bands shared players and partners – of both the writin’ and romantic kind – and created a stoned immaculate co-operative of epoch-defining music.

The beautiful and not so (hi, David Crosby) plucked all manner of floaty harmonies straight out of the west coast ether and entangled them in gently strummed 12 strings and carefully picked alternatively-tuned Martin guitars and, with the help of a passing drummer or two – Buffalo Springfield’s Dewey Martin perhaps, or maybe crack sessioner Eddie Hoh, or, if he was looking for a quick gig in-between sessions, Hal Blaine (the drummers’ drummer) – commited to vinyl tracks that still ring and resonate half a century and more later.

Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name album – check it out! – reads like a Wikipedia who’s who of the era’s Californian singer/songwriter scene. Graham Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and assorted Grateful Deads and Jefferson Airplanes show up to add their lightly toasted harmonies and frazzled, sloppy guitar playing to the record. The result is something of a one-off, recorded spontaneously (mostly) and sent to the pressing plant before anyone had the bright idea of tinkering with it. As rough ‘n ready albums go, it’s hard to beat.

I’m a sucker for the meandering and hippy Laughing, a track written in memory of the time Crosby met George Harrison at the height of Beatlemania and they bonded over Eastern philosophy and Ravi Shankar. It’s a tapestry of highly strung guitars, weeping pedal steel and overlapping, multi-stacked harmonies and it just might soothe your troubled post-millenial soul.

David CrosbyLaughing

Recorded while Crosby was in the heavy depths of grief following his girlfriend’s death in a car crash, those in attendance would often find the singer curled up on the studio floor, overcome to the point of uselessness. Yet, when he made it to the mic, you’d never have known.

With a voice coated thick in heavy drugs and alcohol, he sang his melody-rich songs; some entirely wordless, their meaning conveyed by multi-stacked Eastern-tinged vocal-less harmonies, others thinly disguised accounts of life as a free lovin’, easy ridin’ Laurel Canyon troubadour.

Cowboy Movie, for example, is the sprawling musical story of the end of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with Young himself riffing on a loose ‘n funky guitar duel with Jerry Garcia. It’s Down By The River by way of Cowgirl In The Sand, while Crosby outlines (via lyrical aliases) how Rita Coolidge came between he and Graham Nash, to the detriment of their band. You should seek it out.

Just out of the eye of the storm, and slightly more peripheral to the machinations of the scene were The Monkees. Desperate to be seen as credible and serious, they employed the best writers, the best sessioneers and called in the best favours to ensure their records sparkled and soared like the best of ’em. Dig beneath the hits – and there are plenty – and you’ll discover a catalogue rich in introspective melancholy and sef-deprecating balladeering.

The Stone Roses, yesterday.

Written by Carole King and sung by Micky Dolenz, As We Go Along first appeared in the film Head and then crept out on the b-side of the movie’s lead single, the trippy and non-hit Porpoise Song – a track that probably requires a blog all of its own at some point.

The MonkeesAs We Go Along

As We Go Along is so un-Monkees. There’s no obvious poppy hook. It’s downbeat, languid and loosely strummed, a raggle-taggle Rod and The Faces soundalike played on gently scrubbed acoustic guitars and thunking, woody bass. Carole King’s embeded melody eventually finds its way to the fore between the skirling acoustic strings and flutes, electric guitars riffing off into the Laurel Canyon sunset. You’ll want to play it again and again. It’s a beauty.

Get This!

Rizzla Kicks

Or, if you prefer, Crosby’s Still Hash ‘n Guns

If I Could Only Remember My Name is the title of David Crosby‘s first solo LP. I like to think it’s so-titled because Crosby always seemed to be lightly toasted; a joker, smoker and midnight toker who always appeared just on the wrong side of  frazzled. With his impish grin and walrus moustache, he’s always been a cartoonish figure, a happy hippy, a furry freak brother for real. His police mugshot from 1980 certainly adds fuel to the fire. This is the man of course who wrote ‘Almost Cut My Hair‘.

david crosny mug shot

Despite – or perhaps as a direct result of this – If I Could Only Remember My Name just so happens to be a spectacular album.

Recorded at the beginning of the 70s, it’s the sound of Laurel Canyon looking inwards for inspiration. The personnel reads like a who’s who of all who were responsible for creating music in cosmic Ca-li-for-ni-aay; Joni and Neil, Jerry Garcia, half of Jefferson Airplane, the odd waif and stray moonlighting from Santana, they all combined talents over the course of the album, creating a super-stoned marker for the future of singer/songwriters everywhere.

February 1969, California, USA --- Musicians David Crosby (left), Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash travel to Big Bear Lake. --- Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS

The album is full of peaks and troughs, with fragile, Nick Drakeisms one moment making way for soaraway CSNY-ish harmonising vocals the next and delicately plucked acoustics that take a bell-bottomed step aside in favour of tastefully amped-up electrics. Wordless vocal passages, Gregorian Chants as sponsored by Rizzla, weave in and out like lightly-blown butterflies in a summer field. It’s a distilled microcosm of late 60s/early 70s, a fine balance of carefree troubadour tormented by inter-band tension.

12 Jul 1970, USA --- Musician David Crosby smokes a cigarette while Neil Young looks on. They are in a backstage bathroom. --- Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS

With it’s sandpaper-smooth acoustic guitars and a hot-wired electric guitar forever on the point of teetering over the edge, second song in, Cowboy Movie, is the lo-fi scratchy half cousin of Neil Young‘s Down By the River. It’s over 8 minutes long, and not a second of the story, a metaphor for the in-band fighting that was going on at the time, is wasted.

David CrosbyCowboy Movie


David CrosbyTraction In the Rain

Traction In The Rain rings with brightly strung, wonkily-tuned acoustic guitars, a close-miked, half-asleep vocal and tumbling harps. Very 70s hippy-shit. And very nice, man.

If this has whetted your appetite, the album is well worth buying. I think you’d like it.