Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.
When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.
In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.
Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.
Set That Baggage Down – Croz (January 2014)
Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”
Somebody Other Than You – Lighthouse (October 2016)
This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”
Sky Trails – Sky Trails (September 2017)
Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.
1974 – Here If You Listen (October 2018)
1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he told Songfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”
Rodriguez For a Night – For Free (July 2021)
The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfacts notes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify