Book Reviews

The On Track series: Book Review

A couple of new appearances on the On Track bookshelf from Sonicbond. Crosby, Stills & Nash and Barclay James Harvest might have had their best days in the late Seventies although their legacies extend well beyond their peaks. Both outfits get thoroughly discussed with an every album, every song analysis.

Regular On Track author, Andrew Wild takes a look at the work of Crosby, Stills & Nash.

on track crosby stills and nash

The common factor amongst Sonicbond authors is being fired by their own passion for a band. Listening to a mates knock off tape of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil Young and the acquisition of the So Far compilation on cassette on a Scottish holiday kick-starting this lifetime’s obsession. I’m sure Andrew won’t mind me using the word.

In his intro, Wild admits that the solo, duo, trio output of CSN, plus their work with Neil Young and onto Young’s own solo career (“mercifully out of the scope of this book“) adds up to quite a collection. Add their Hollies, Buffalo Springfield etc careers and it’s quite a mountain of work. They are also a band whose narrative is like a soap opera – egos, tantrums, breakups, reconciliations, the drugs and the madness.

What makes it through the filter is a focus on the eight studio and three key live albums. The tip of the iceberg if you will and a sensible approach to the mass of music. Having said that, there is a checklist of 300 essential songs (!!) “you’ll need to listen to if you want to gain a full understanding of their collective careers.” A cursory check and I’m not even halfway and that’s without any Neil Young solo work where I’d be more at home.

You could be forgiven for labelling CSN as a band of the Seventies, as seems to be the wont of the On Track authors (see the following piece on BJH and the subjects of the rapidly building output) although the authors own live experiences in Manchester with Nash, with Stills and with Crosby / Nash since 2005 have been very positive.

The wild anticipation and “crushing disappointment” of 1988’s American Dream contrasts with the 1977 CSN ‘comeback’ and a personal favourite. I’m on board with Wild on Cathedral (“one of Graham Nash’s best songs surely?” – hell yeah). The latter an album that had me backtracking – I didn’t go forward too much… – to their definitive work on Deja Vu and the debut album. The latter one of those that he ranks up with the groundbreaking debuts from Sabbath and King Crimson in terms of their influence on a generation and beyond.

Interesting to hear (for me anyway – it could be common knowledge) that they courted Steve Winwood before making the decision to bring in Neil Young for Deja Vu (and for better or for worse).

A snapshot of the CSN before CSN pathways is a useful if complex introduction and as a primer to anyone starting out on a similar path to the author, his knowledge and enthusiasm, as one who’s gone before, is invaluable.

Barclay James Harvest authors Keith and Monika Domone are well versed and equipped in their appreciation of the band from the unlikely environs of Oldham, Lancs.

Having run the BJH fan club and websites, they’ve already written the only bio of the band to appear in print (note to self to look up that one). Presumably, the On Track addition covers a more in-depth song by song analysis that may have been absent from the bio so fans can hopefully expect an absence of repetition.

The usual On Track format follows with the gentle rise (meteoric in Europe) and slow decline of the Barclays. Having encountered and enjoyed the band’s music in the late seventies before lapsing, there’s a chance to see how the thoughts of two knowledgeable fans compares with my personal experience. And to catch up with what I missed in the latter days.

They were one of those bands whose European successes eclipsed everything else. Check out the chart positions and the ‘superstar’ (or sperratus…) status in Germany who went crazy for them. They didn’t often make any serious dents in UK chart although were always playing in the Apollos and the Odeons up and down the nation on their regular album-tour cycles.

Moving from their lush orchestral ambitions of the first few albums (and the Robert John Godfrey saga) they seemed to develop in a style similar to The Beatles. The songwriting soon splitting into the John Less (the more sharply observed Lennon areas) and Les Holroyd (yes, Les is Paul with a softer/sweeter sound) songs.

Over half their album output might come from the Seventies but what becomes apparent in the text are the numerous nods to other bands and their music – the Beatles song titles that make up the BJH song Titles; the infamous Poor man’s Moody Blues; try not to sing Eagles’ One Of These Nights or something by The Byrds in Rock ‘N’ Roll Star hear the sound of Don’t Fear The Reaper at the start of Rock ‘N’ Roll Lady. One could also argue that the vibe of their own signature song Hymn was reprised on In Memory Of The Martyrs and He Said Love.

The Eighties albums generally fall into the ‘have their detractors/well-received/contain some strong songs’ category, while 1990’s Welcome To The Show gets good copy. And to give the band their due, they attempted to move with the times although within a familiar formula.

The latter days see Woolly Wolstenholme and Mel Pritchard no longer with us. A strained relationship between the two living members sees them in agreement in still working the back catalogue in their own way. The John Lees version possibly the pick of the two. As for the debate as to which is the definitive BJH song, I’m in the Hymn camp – sorry Mockingbird.

As the authors say, the time seems right for a reappraisal – intelligent, melodic, unique and pastoral progressive music. And yes, I’ve been digging out my BJH LPs and CDs while chasing the streaming services to wallow once again in the harmonious sounds of the Lancastrian forgotten sons.

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