People have often asked me if I have a “favourite” album, despite knowing that I am deeply inured in the music of the Sixties and early Seventies. I do. More than one. It all depends on the mood I’m in. The Doors’ LA Woman is definitely up there. As is the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, along with Revolver. The Grateful Dead show up at least twice, with American Beauty and Blues for Allah. John Mayall’s The Turning Point raises the stakes in a different direction, as does Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Cat Stevens’ Tea For The Tillerman fights its corner, and In The Wind from Peter, Paul and Mary is an unlikely contender. The Doobie Brothers won’t be denied with What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. Dylan shows up a few times with Desire and Freewheelin’ and Blonde On Blonde; Simon and Garfunkel with Bridge Over Troubled Water and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme put in a strong showing. Jim Croce is unforgettable with You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, as is Carole King with Tapestry, James Taylor with Mud Slide Slim and Joni Mitchell with Blue.
The Band’s eponymous album has to be there, as does Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Jethro Tull hop their way in, one-legged, with Aqualung if not Thick as A Brick as well. Led Zeppelin won’t be denied with 3. Cream’s Disraeli Gears has to be counted. Leonard Cohen walks in whenever he feels like with Songs From a Room and Songs of Love and Hate. Steely Dan can be chosen multiple times, though I’d probably go for Can’t Buy a Thrill over Aja, just. America’s first is amazing. Stevie Wonder can be counted for many albums but he must be in there with Innervisions. The Allman Brothers have multiple possibilities as well, Brothers and Sisters edging it for me. Van Morrison has to be somewhere in the mix, Moondance probably swings it. Janis Joplin has to be in the mix with Pearl. Hendrix can’t be left out, with Electric Ladyland. ELP and Yes are hard to fit in despite having strong contenders. Supergroup albums like Blind Faith’s eponymous first and Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills with Super Session are impossible to ignore. Live compilations are difficult to deal with, especially when you come across superb examples like Woodstock or The Last Waltz. Outliers like Fotheringay, Fog On The Tyne, and the superbly unusual collection of people on On the Road To Freedom.
But if I really had to try, the battle would be between Neil Young’s Harvest, the Who’s Who’s Next and Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s Four Way Street. And I’ve probably left fifty other great albums out. A hard, hard call. [And I would have given it to Four Way Street except for one thing I've never been able to understand. More of that later].
I wish people would ask me instead if I had a favourite song. That one I can answer, straightaway, unambiguously, with full conviction.
Yes, I have a favourite song.
It’s getting to the point
Where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
And you make it hard.
It’s not just any song. I’ve been in love with it ever since I first heard it, for a variety of reasons. The words. The music. The melody. The changes in tempo. What the song is about. The harmony. The harmony. And the harmony. You get my drift.
I’ve had the privilege of hearing it “live” a handful of times now, and hope to extend that sequence as long as possible. It’s an incredible song. Sometime yesterday, I was reminded of it when Judy Collins shared the photograph below, a contemporary one of her with Stephen Stills. He wrote the song about her and about the end of his relationship with her, “Judy Blue Eyes”. You can see why she gets called that.
That got me poring into the web, looking for an early shot of the two of them together. The best I could find was this one, but it doesn’t do her eyes justice:
Maybe this one gives you a better sense of why:
It’s a truly amazing song. Three separate songs rolled into one, carrying on where the Beatles’ A Day In The Life left off. It was the first-ever song recorded by Crosby, Stills and Nash; they started their set at Woodstock with it. Fifteen years later they were still going strong with it at Live Aid. Sound On Sound has a beautiful article about how the song was recorded, seen through the eyes of the incredibly talented Bill Halverson. Ultimate Classic Rock has it as No 30, with a decent write-up. Rolling Stone covers it in their Song Stories. Time Magazine could not leave it out of their All-Time 100 songs either. Over the years, I’ve read so many reviews of the song, by other songwriters, by other musicians, by sound engineers, by poets and lyricists, it’s always up there.
Which reminds me. The song is conspicuous in its absence on Four Way Street: the snatch at the end alone just doesn’t do it justice. Which is one of the reasons why I couldn’t put that album down as my Number One.
I have no such problem when it comes to choosing a song.
My thanks to Stephen Stills for writing it, and to all who’ve been involved in giving him the reason to write it, play it, share it with us.
It continues to Thrill Me to The Marrow.