David Crosby is one of the most singular and accomplished musicians of his generation. Whether it’s fronting The Byrds or singing harmonies with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, the songwriter has shown himself to be worthy of his acclaim and place in the museums of rock. As it happens, he has his favourite works, some of them portrayed in a very different manner to the pastoral ballads of his younger output.
Spin magazine asked the veteran songwriter to name five albums he couldn’t live without, and the finished result is an engaging list, only showing predictability by selecting two Steely Dan records. The two chosen – Aja and Gaucho – are very different albums, showing the quirky band at two unique points in their long life. Crosby was eloquent in his descriptions of Aja, an album that means a great deal to him. “Songs,” he summarises. “Stunning writing. Stunning production, stunning singing, outstanding playing, but songs. Unbelievable goddamn songs. It’s too good. They’re all fantastic.”
It’s hard to hear Steely Dan’s influence in his catalogue, if Steely Dan have an artistic peer, it’s 10cc, but it’s refreshing to hear that the band held a wide fanbase. He feels similarly about Gaucho. “Songs. Best goddamn writing anybody was doing, or has done. Nobody’s topped it.”
Crosby might be Steely Dan’s biggest fan, but there’s more to his record collection than quirky art rock, as is evident from his third choice: Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Out of the five albums that make his list, it’s my personal favourite, as it’s so raw, revealing, and rich with texture. “Probably the best singer-songwriter record ever made,” he aptly summarised. Unlike the Steely Dan epics, it’s easy to hear Mitchell in his music, especially on his more recent album, For Free, sparsely produced and bolstered by a genuine sense of disappointment in the surrounding areas. Blue is a superb album, and it should make everyone’s top five.
But that’s not to say The Weather Report don’t bear some merit, and Heavy Weather is a striking inclusion. The album is mostly instrumental, punctuated by Jaco Pastorius’s pummelling bass patterns, and the album is a triumph of musicianship, every passage placed with great purpose and precision. “It’s one of the best jazz albums that anybody ever made,” Crosby continued. He’s not wrong – it’s up there with Miles Davis.
Crosby was good enough not to include one of his own albums, but he did finish his list off with an album he contributed to. It’s James Taylor’s Gorilla, which boasts a harmony vocal contribution from the songwriter, who sings with bandmate Graham Nash. “‘Mexico,’ Crosby cheekily said. Of course I like ‘Mexico’, I sang on it,” Crosby continued, adding an element of wit to the interview, bringing his trademark bravura to the proceedings. But there’s more to the album than ‘Mexico’, as the song is rich with context, contradiction, compulsion and understanding.
Crosby made a point of criticising the streaming services he eventually made a decision of cutting off ties with during the 2021 interview. “I like vinyl and then I like CDs,” he said.”I really don’t like streaming, because it doesn’t pay us. I wouldn’t mind if they weren’t getting paid either. If they were broke and not getting paid either, then I could live with it, but they’re not. The streaming companies and the record companies are making billions with a “B”, and that’s not okay because they’re not paying the people who make up the music.”
These days, Crosby has removed his music from Spotify, partially in response to the Joe Rogan podcast that purportedly advocated for alternative information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Invariably, Stills and Nash also agreed to remove the music the three of them cut together under the umbrella banner of Crosby, Stills & Nash. The songwriters feel that Spotify doesn’t represent their personal philosophies in life, culminating in a protest from the three men to a large conglomerate that does not enrich their personal settings. Instead, Crosby seems happier either listening to music or writing music for large attendees of music buyers who wish to pick up vinyl or cd.
Music should be born into the lexicon of the world. The men and women who write music are the very men and women who entertained the world as we underwent through the lockdown. If another pandemic should arise- and I seriously hope it doesn’t – we will need music to entertain us. As part of the continuation of the work, more albums need to be added to the growing catalogue. And with the advent of time, it’s better to listen to a wide array of work than the same rock formula that has resulted in some truly boring work.
The five albums David Crosby couldn’t live without:
- Aja – Steely Dan
- Gaucho – Steely Dan
- Blue – Joni Mitchell
- Heavy Weather – Weather Report
- Gorilla – James Taylor