David Crosby (formerly of Byrds), Stephen Stills (formerly of Buffalo Springfield), and Graham Nash (formerly of the Hollies) formed the creatively named Crosby, Stills & Nash supergroup in 1968. There were no formal ties between the three; they had just played together in non-formal settings and were wrapping up their involvement in their previous bands around the same time. Starting in 1969, Neil Young (who knew Stills from Buffalo Springfield) was in and out of the group. This supergroup is the first band to have all members inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, true supergroup status!
Despite their popularity and success, there was frequent transition between being a trio and being a quartet due to conflicting dynamics within the group. They started as CSN in 1968, became CSNY in 1969, and then went on a hiatus in 1970. Until 1973 everyone was working solo, and then CSNY 2.0 arose in 1973. By 1976 they were down to CSN. Young made his final stint in the band starting in 1988 but wasn’t always part of the touring, especially in the 2010s.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Blackbird (The Beatles cover)
Early on in the supergroup’s history and after Young joined the team they played Woodstock, not knowing what they were in for. It was only their second big performance together, and I can imagine how daunting the crowd must have been. This cover made an appearance in their setlist with the group focusing on simple guitar (no metronomic percussion here) and leaning into their harmonies to make the song their own.
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Blackbird (The Beatles cover)
Later on in one of their Young-less periods, CSN covered “Blackbird” again. Crosby is actually on record saying his group performs the song better than The Beatles. The crowd here is certainly appreciative, but you’ll ultimately have to decide for yourself. The harmonies still remain, but the main vocals and guitar get little extra frills. The group has had some time to evolve since Woodstock.
Crosby, Stills & Nash – He Played Real Good for Free (Joni Mitchell cover)
When David Crosby first heard Joni Mitchell perform, he saw her talent. She went on to open for the group during their first real gig, pre-Woodstock. Here they opt for guitar over piano in a cover of her 1970 song but otherwise stay true to Mitchell’s original vision, keeping it simple and heartfelt.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Woodstock (Joni Mitchell cover)
Joni Mitchell wrote about Woodstock based on Nash’s recounting (they were dating at the time), and it seems fitting that the group reminisced about what turned out to be their big break. This time, their version of a Mitchell song is very different from the original. Theirs is more upbeat, and they don’t try to reach Mitchell’s high notes, staying comfortably in a more rock groove.
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Girl From the North Country (Bob Dylan cover)
Like Bob Dylan, CSNY had an activism streak and were openly anti-war. They had spoken out against the Vietnam War and reacted in song to the Kent State shootings. Later on they had protest music for the Iraq War and even more recently, their political participation continued with support for Bernie Sanders in 2016. The rise of Trump even had the potential to bring them together in a time when they weren’t working together. This version of the song is a little slower and more somber, with a little more mournful longing rather than nostalgic acceptance. I personally miss the evocative harmonica solo, but what can you do?