Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Music of Woodstock, Part 4 - Déjà Vu

One of the most hotly awaited sophomore albums in rock history, and by the first supergroup (plus Young to create the first super-supergroup - credited to the four, plus Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves), Déjà Vu lived up to its expectations and rocketed to No. 1. The achievement is all the more astonishing given the fact that the group barely held together through the Beatle-esque 800 hours it took to record the LP, and scarcely functioned as a group for most of that time. Déjà Vu worked as a product of four potent musical talents ascending to the top of their game, coupled with highly skilled production, engineering, and editing. There were obvious virtues in evidence with Young and Stills rising to new levels of complexity and indeed volume. Young's presence ratcheted up the range of voices and added a uniquely idiosyncratic songwriter to the fold. Crosby's songwriting would peak here and Nash's reflection of human nature would keep it real. 

Most of the music, apart from the quartet's version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," was created in individual sessions by each of the members when they turned up (seldom together), contributing whatever was needed that could be agreed upon. "Carry On" worked as the album's opener when Stills "sacrificed" another complete tune, "Questions," which comprised the second half of the track and made it rich and cohesive. While "Woodstock" and "Carry On" represented the group as a whole, the rest of the LP was a showcase for individual members. David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" was a piece of high-energy hippie-era paranoia not too far removed in subject from the Byrds' "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," only angrier in mood and texture (especially amid the pumping organ and slashing guitars); the title track, also by Crosby, took 100 hours to engineer and master and was a better-received successor to experimental works such as "Mind Gardens," out of his earlier work with The Byrd's, showing his abandonment of a rock back beat, or any fixed rhythm at all, in favor of washing the listener with waves of tone and mood. 

"Teach Your Children" was a reflection of the hippie-era idealism that filled Graham Nash's life, while "Our House" was his stylistic paean to the late-era Beatles; an homage to life with Joni in Laurel Canyon. "4+20" was a gorgeous Stephen Stills blues excursion that served as the precursor to the material he would explore on the solo album that followed. And then there Young's pieces, the exquisitely harmonized "Helpless" (which took endless hours to evolve into the stylistically lethargic version finally used) and the roaring country rockers that close out side two. "Everybody I Love You," was a bone thrown to long-time fans as the greatest unrecorded Springfield song. All of this complexity made Déjà Vu a rich musical banquet for the most serious and personal listeners, while mass audiences reveled in the glorious harmonies and the thundering electric guitars, presented in even more dramatic and expansive fashion on the tour that followed.

More than any other artists' Woodstock offerings, the one-two punch of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Déjà Vu, LPs that sandwiched the Aquarian Exposition, served as veritable tableaus of the Woodstock era.