In the late 60s, Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young) solidified their status as music icons. The lore of the group still lives on in such a way that, despite having not performed together in almost six years, whenever fans and critics think back on the band’s illustrious career, it triggers a myriad of reasons as to why they’re considered one of the best bands of all time. In addition to being the soundtrack of a pivotal era in history, there’s the Woodstock performance, the fact that they were individually successful before coming together to form a supergroup, as well as the numerous nasty break-ups—and make-ups—expected of any rock group. But above all, it’s their thoughtful songwriting and heavenly harmonies that make them one of the best, a group that has influenced many other generations of musicians. In fact, their first two albums alone have inspired hundreds of covers, so let’s take a look at five of the best.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real— “Carry On”
Lukas Nelson has frequently been vocal about his love of CSNY—especially “Y.” While attending a Neil Young show in 2008, he met future Promise of the Real drummer, Anthony LoGerfo, and they came up with the name for the band using a line in Young’s song “Walk On.” Since 2015, Promise of the Real has also served as Young’s backing band and they’ve recorded four albums with the Canadian rocker. So, it’s no surprise that the first song on Déjà Vu and the B-side to “Teach Your Children” has been covered dozens of times by Nelson and company, who perform a lovely version faithful to the original, harmonies and all.
Jefferson Airplane— “Wooden Ships”
Founding member of Jefferson Airplane, Paul Kantner, actually wrote this song with David Crosby and Stephen Stills while aboard Crosby’s boat, Mayan. “Wooden Ships” is the only song on Crosby, Stills & Nash with more than one writer, however, Kantner wasn’t credited as a co-writer due to a legal battle with Airplane’s manager at the time. Six months after the release of CSN’s debut album, Jefferson Airplane released their version of “Wooden Ships” on the album Volunteers. Where the CSN version is soft and mellow, the Airplane version is edgy, foreboding, and psychedelic, with Grace Slick’s vocals boldly soaring above the music. Both versions are great, but because they’re quite different sonically, in this case, we’ll say it’s possible for an artist to cover their own song.
Brandi Carlile—”Helplessly Hoping”
In this clip from The Howard Stern Show, Brandi Carlile and twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth offer up their take on this oft-covered track, prefacing it with a story of when they once performed the song with Stephen Stills standing in the crowd, arms folded over his chest for the duration. Afterward, Stills gave them his stamp of approval, which isn’t surprising considering the obvious reverence the trio holds for the tune, handling it with care and effortlessly blending their harmonies in a way that’s reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. “Beautiful, like an angel,” Stern, in awe, says at the end of the video.
Stan Getz— “Marrakesh Express”
Produced by George Martin and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, virtuoso tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s instrumental version, accompanied by a full orchestra, of this slightly lesser-known couch album tune captures all the fun and magic of Graham Nash’s original, just with a jazz flare.
Trey Anastasio— “49 Bye-Byes”
The Phish frontman debuted his cover of this deep cut at a show in Brooklyn in 2015.
Like Carlile, he also had a funny story to share about a run-in with one of the members of CSN, this time Nash, before launching into the song. The encounter understandably left Anastasio starstruck and a little intimidated, but he took the piece of advice Nash gave him and applied it to his version of one of the more upbeat songs on the Crosby, Stills & Nash album. With help from his backup singers, Anastasio expertly embodies the lively spirit of “49 Bye-Byes.”
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