Music Is Love: If I Could Only Remember My Name Turns 50

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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name

Released February 22nd, 1971 on Atlantic Records

Produced by David Crosby

Peaked at #12 US, #12 UK

Singles:

“Music Is Love” (#95)

“Orleans” (#101)

David Crosby (recently referred to by Phoebe Bridgers as “a little bitch”) always seemed like the odd man out in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young despite having top billing in the name. Stephen Stills and Neil Young were both in Buffalo Springfield, which broke up; Graham Nash left the Hollies to play with them, despite their commercial success. Crosby got kicked out of his band, The Byrds, for a variety of reasons: being a total drag to work with was one, but also his on-stage discussion at the Monterey Pop Festival that JFK’s assassination was a conspiracy and his insistence on writing songs like “Triad” (a steamy ode to threeway sex that would later be covered by the Jefferson Airplane). His new group was a major success but the sudden death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car crash in 1969 led him to mire himself in deepening self-abuse, becoming addicted to drugs and, if the tales of CSNY’s tours in the early 1970s are to be believed, endless casual sex. As such, he skipped out on a lot of the mixed success that his bandmates had as solo artists through the remainder of the decade. His sole solo contribution was If I Could Only Remember My Name, released fifty years ago at the height of CSNY’s powers.

It was panned at the time; Rolling Stone was unfavourable in their review and Christgau’s writeup in the Village Voice called it “disgraceful” and challenged his readers to come up with new names for David Crosby (like “Rocky Muzak”). Compared to CSNY records and some of the solo records his bandmates were putting out it’s meandering and uneven, seeming to take the long way around to say something, even if it was difficult to put a pin in exactly what. Time has been much more kind to it, however. The freak folk/New Weird America movement that crawled up out of 2003-2004 to bring us such acts as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Devendra Banhart, and Animal Collective retconned a number of albums from the deep past that had been shoved aside at the time. One of those albums was If I Could Only Remember My Name, brought back to life by a collective of people for whom stoned psych-folk wasn’t just okay, it was life. The presence of spiritual father Jerry Garcia on several songs (most notably in the guitar work on the eight-minute epic “Cowboy Movie”) doesn’t hurt this at all, of course. Neither do appearances by Grace Slick, Phil Lesh, Joni Mitchell, and his CSNY bandmates. In a sense the album is a summit of the top minds of freaky California in the early 1970s, and as such the amiable wander the album takes is an inevitability. Do as its creator intended and spin a couple up before you put it on.

Also, as an aside, the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano put out a list of the ten best pop albums and If I Could Only Remember My Name came in second, topped only by Revolver. This was Ratzinger’s Vatican and not Francis’. Did the writer know about all the *gestures vaguely toward David Crosby*? They had to have, right?

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