Stephen Stills is the American working man’s musician. Born January 3rd in 1945, in Dallas, Texas; he wrote songs identified with everyday people. Writing some of his incredible hits in the late 60s into the 70s, he is one of those often overlooked musicians, who so finely represented his times. According to bandmate Richard Furay, he was “the heart and soul of Buffalo Springfield”, the band that would catapult him to stardom.
Already with an impressive foothold in California and the rest of the country, he would later join forces with David Crosby, Graham Nash, and eventually, Neil Young. Crosby, Stills and Nash’s debut album was an immense success, going quadruple platinum and reaching number 6 on the US charts – their force was unlike anything that had come before them.
Their debut album was in large part, thanks to Stephen Stills; he once stated, “The other guys won’t be offended when I say that one was my baby, and I kind of had the tracks in my head.” With this kind of success within their stride, Crosby, Stills, and Nash sought to tour and therefore required more members to fortify their sound. This would lead to them adding Neil Young to the group, for their even more successful follow-up, Deja Vu, which went 7 times platinum.
Unlike their first album, Deja Vu was recorded during a lot of heartbreak and friction amongst the band. Stephen Stills and Neil Young found themselves going head to head often, seeking control of the creative process. The songwriting process for the album was not unlike the process associated with The Beatles’ White Album — it was slightly individualistic, where each member of the group would bring their song to the table, and hopefully, everyone in the group would back it up. Stephen Stills contributed ‘Carry On’, ‘4+20’, and wrote ‘Everybody I love you’ with Neil Young.
Despite the slight uneasiness behind the scenes of the recording process, this album shot all members of the group to the height of their careers. Riding this high, Stills released his eponymous debut album, even outselling the other three members at the time. This album featured a cast of phenomenal players such as Jimi Hendrix, Booker T. Jones, and Ringo Starr.
We decided to dig into the vault and unveil Stephen Stills’s six definitive songs: ones that he not only wrote but also defined him as the artist he is and still remains to this day.
Stephen Stills’ Six Definitive Songs
‘Sit Down I Think I love You’ – Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Stephen Stills wrote this before the formation of Buffalo Springfield. Stills commented on this period of time and said his songs “were personal statements and had something to say.” Unfortunately for Stills, he must not have thought much about the song at the time, as he sold the publishing rights. The song did well and charted in the Top 40 for The Mojo Men, while Stills was not paid any royalties.
The song itself represents the fuzz soaked lead and jangly rhythm guitars with a big drum sound; Buffalo Springfield definitely inhabited an interesting place between psychedelic rock, more traditional rock n’ roll, and a slight sense of Americana creeping in.
‘For What it’s Worth’ – Buffalo Springfield (1966)
This, of course, is Stills’s most definitive song he ever wrote; it is a song of a generation, in fact, it is so embedded in its decade, that we can’t help but think of this song when we think of the ’60s, and vice versa.
While it is now considered the quintessential anti-war song, it is in fact, a critique of another conflict: The Sunset Strip Curfew Riots. The riots were in response to a curfew that had been set in place, designed to curtail the amounts of younger people going out to see live shows — because of the amount of loitering that was taking place. If there is anything we have learned from history, you can’t stop people from having a good time, without a hitch.
‘Rock n’ Roll Woman’ – Buffalo Springfield Again (1967)
Taken from Buffalo Springfield’s second album, Buffalo Springfield Again, this track definitely gives us a taste of what’s to come from Crosby, Stills, and Nash, while retaining a certain garage rock/psychedelic sound. It’s some of the group’s best work.
It should come as no surprise that, David Crosby does do backing vocals on this track, and is, though disputed, co-writer on the song.
‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ – Crosby, Stills, and Nash (1969)
Performed by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the single reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chats. Like a classical suite, the song has the corresponding amount of sections. The track’s content talks about what Stephen Stills perceived as the imminent break up with his then-girlfriend, the singer-songwriter, Judy Collins.
Judy Collins says of the song: “Stephen came to where I was singing one night on the West Coast and brought his guitar to the hotel and he sang me ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,’ the whole song. And of course, it has lines in it that referred to my therapy. And so he wove that all together in this magnificent creation. So the legacy of our relationship is certainly in that song.”
‘Carry On’ – Deja Vu (1970)
Another breathtaking opener to an album by the same group but with a new addition, Neil Young. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young outdid all of themselves together and individually all at once, with this once. The track is another example of Stephen Stills writing a piece with many parts, this time put together, by an old song intended for Buffalo Springfield; a newer part written during the Deja Vu sessions; and a jam session to glue the whole thing together.
Led Zeppelin would find inspiration from this song, prompting them to write ‘Friends’, which appears on their Led Zeppelin III album.
‘Old Times, Good Times’ – Stephen Stills (1970)
Riding on the success of Deja Vu, Stephen Stills didn’t waste any time and got to work on his solo album. The song is a particular rocker, with some incredible guitar work featured on it, by not only Stills himself but by the one and only Jimi Hendrix. This would occur shortly before Hendrix’s death.
Stills would later find out in his life that, Hendrix always admired Stills from afar, having at one point considered asking Stills to join The Experience as the bass player. Stills was invited to go record with Hendrix on his own record, however, Stills had a broken hand at the time.