Performer: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Songwriter: Stephen Stills
Original Release: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Definitive Version: Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More, 1970
This isn’t the first song on this here list that at one time could’ve laid claim to being my No. 1 song of all-time (Do You Feel Like We Do? and Stairway to Heaven). I guess it’s another song that suffered from familiarity as time marched on.
I like the Woodstock version, because the song hadn’t yet become iconic. The band still was finding its way in it, so the finale hadn’t yet become a communal experience or one that Stills oversung. (For the life of me, I don’t get why the sound is punted down at the end of the song on the CD before being punted back up for the post-song comments.) It’s possible that the version from Four Way Street might have been definitive, but I haven’t found a full-length recording.
That Four Way Street includes only the final 30 seconds of this song as something of a prelude always perplexed me. Why wouldn’t you want to include the whole thing? It was—and always will be—CSN’s most well-known song. (SPOILER ALERT: It’s not my favorite.)
The answer is obvious, of course: Four Way Street wasn’t a CSN album, but a CSNY album, and this song was—and always will be—a CSN song. As far as I know, Y never joined CSN on this one the way he has for, say, Wooden Ships. The closest he came might have been when he sat to the side of the stage on the piano bench and watched CSN do the whole thing in 2000. At the end, in Columbus, he said that some songs take you to a certain place and this was one of them. Then he said, “that’s a great song.”
Actually, this song doesn’t take me to one place but several: the basement at Darcann, seventh-grade art class, football season junior year of high school, Live Aid, the 2000 show as mentioned, a date with a nurse in 2004, Millennium Park. I suppose one place it takes me to in particular isn’t pleasant per se, but it definitely was memorable.
The first time I heard the snippet off Four Way Street was at my grandparents’ house in Upper Arlington. Aunt Nan had bought this album, apparently, years before and left it at home in the family stereo (one of those pieces of furniture jobbies with album storage) when she went to college. That’s where Dad found it.
In 1975, when I was in sixth grade, Mom threw Dad out of the house for the first time after a particularly disturbing round of fights. I still remember him leaving while I was in bed late at night. My grandparents were gone—I don’t remember whether they were in Florida or at Torch Lake—so Dad stayed at their house.
He was gone for a few weeks, and I thought that my parents were going to divorce. At the time, that was a terrible thought. When it finally happened a year later, it was upsetting, but I already was prepared.
Anyway, one night early on, Dad was feeling lonely, so he took me over to my grandparents’ house. It was a school night, and I had homework, which I took with me. I would bet money that we ordered pizza for dinenr, but I don’t specifically recall that.
What I do recall is how we hung out in the formal living room where the stereo was. I did my homework on the floor and Dad played Four Way Street for me—sides 1, with this song, and 4, with Ohio. Being a big CSN(&Y) fan, I liked it right away. It felt odd to be there under the circumstances, but it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t yet as estranged from Dad as I would become in the next few years.
Eventually, Mom and Dad reconciled, and Dad came home. When he did, in the great tradition of my family when it comes to albums that have been left behind, he brought Nan’s Four Way Street with him. And when he moved out for good the next year, I carried on the tradition. I moved the left-behind album up to my bedroom, where I could listen to it over and over—pretty much solid for the next year.
I believe John, Shani’s brother, now has it. And so it goes …