Here’s a clip of 60s and 70s supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash with a live rendition of the Graham Nash-penned “Just a Song Before I Go” as taken from the group’s 1977 album CSN. It was an AM radio hit for them, scoring #7 on the Billboard charts that year.
This song is about having to leave for the road, a pretty big rock sub genre. Yet this one is less self-pitying than most, and focuses not so much on the rock star who leaves, but rather on the loved ones who are left to wait for them. As such, there’s a boatload of pathos to be found here. This is the expression of someone who is driven to hit the road, yet is tied to home too, with the opposing forces of both stretching his relationships and his sense of identity too to the breaking point. Travelling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned. Nash wasn’t talking about the Concorde here.
By 1977, these guys had been touring for over ten years with this band, and in many others too. Nash was an original member of the Hollies. Crosby had been a member of the Byrds. And Stills, most busily of all had been a founding member of Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young, a solo artists, and a member of the short lived band Manassas.
CSN (and sometimes Y) was only one stop on their busy schedules, with this record following up 1970’s Deja Vu, arguably their biggest record. Yet, they were active in between those years too, with solo albums, tours, duos, and other side projects. You could say that their careers had made them something of itinerant troubadours, rootless, and by the time the decade had passed, perhaps wondering what it all meant. It is of no surprise to me at all that this song was a top ten hit for them. They lived every word by the time CSN came out.
Yet, 1977 was late in the day for these guys who were so much a part of the cultural framework of the 60s. This would be a bold move to release a record in this transitional period of popular music history, with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors vying for the attention of the mainstream pop-rock fan, and with disco, new wave, and punk making inroads as well. Yet this was the last wholly successful record these guys would put out that didn’t mine the retro vein. It would be their last gasp as a mainstream commercial band.
Their follow-up in 1982 in Daylight Again would make up the numbers, but it didn’t rely strictly on the principle three members. It was a record which relied on session players and guests to bolster it. In this sense, the title of “Just a Song Before I Go” on the album which preceded it has a number of levels of meaning to recommend it. In some ways, much like the Band’s The Last Waltz, this song was a poignant goodbye to 60s idealism with which each member is forever associated.
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