David Crosby was a crucial voice of both hippie idealism and world-weary realism of the classic rock era. As a founding member of the Byrds and later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, he helped invent folk-rock and country-rock in the 1960s and was instrumental in the sensitive singer-songwriter scene of the 1970s. ; his singing and guitar playing expanded the way people thought about the meaning of pop music, even as he helped create a culture in which rock stars were encouraged to indulge in every earthly excess available.
Crosby, who grew up in Southern California and did as much as anyone to define the sound of the region, died Wednesday at age 81. Here are 12 songs that sum up his life and work.
1. The Byrds, “Mr. The Man with the Tambourine” (1965)
Crosby did not write the Bob Dylan tune that served as the Byrds’ debut single, nor did he play guitar on the chart-topping hit, as he was replaced in the studio by the Wrecking Crew’s more seasoned professionals. But “Mr. Tambourine Man” offers an early demonstration of the close harmony singing talent that would define much of Crosby’s work for decades to come.
2. The Byrds, “Eight Miles High” (1966)
The first real psychedelic rock song? Many have defended this lush but fierce guitar jam over a lack of warmth “found among those who fear losing their ground.” Co-written by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark of Crosby and the Byrds, and later mentioned by Don McLean in a rock history none other than “American Pie,” “Eight Miles High” went on to be covered by the likes of The Ventures, Roxy Music , Hüsker Dü, Tom Petty and the Netherlands Golden Earring, who stretched the song out to a mind-blowing 19 minutes.
3. The Byrds, “All the World Has Been Burnt” (1967)
An exquisite piece of romantic fatalism from “Younger Than Yesterday,” Crosby’s last album as a Byrd full-time (prior to a mid-’70s reunion). “I know so well how to turn, how to run / How to hide behind a wall of bitter blue,” she sings against a hypnotic minor key beat, “But you die inside if you choose to hide / So I guess I’ll want you instead. “
4. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Wooden Boats” (1969)
Written while Crosby was sailing the Florida seas with Stephen Stills and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane (whose band recorded their own version the same year), “Wooden Ships,” from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Grammy-winning debut, paints a portrait astonishingly chilling of a nuclear holocaust.
5. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Long Gone” (1969)
Crosby drew the ire of his Byrds bandmates at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival when he questioned the Warren Commission’s findings on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Two years later, he commemorated Kennedy’s younger brother, Robert, after his murder in this poignant, slow-burn number that CSN performed at Woodstock.
6. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Deja Vu” (1970)
Now joined by Neil Young, CSNY titled their multi-platinum 1970 hit after Crosby’s complicated multi-part psych-folk song in which he wonders “what’s going on underground.”
7. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Almost Got My Hair Cut” (1970)
“I feel like letting my freak flag fly,” Crosby howls over dueling electric guitars in this beautiful gritty statement of queer pride. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t go through with the haircut.)
8. “Laughing” (1971)
Critics hated Crosby’s solo debut, “If I Could Only Remember My Name,” when it premiered in 1971. But in the years since, he’s become something of a furry, maverick touchstone thanks to spacey tunes like this one. with Jerry Garcia in Pedal Steel. and Joni Mitchell on backing vocals.
9. “I Swore Someone Was Here” (1971)
Crosby’s own choice for the highlight of his debut was the album’s haunting a cappella coda, which he called “probably the best piece of music I’ve ever thought of” in a 2021 interview with The Times. Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes fans can track his favorites here.
10. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Triad” (1971)
Crosby wrote “Triad” about a threesome sex: “You want to know what it’s like / Me and her, or you and me,” he says, for a Byrds album, so the story goes, but the band turned it down. from the comparatively chaste “Goin’ Back” by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. (“The French have been doing ménage à trois for centuries,” Crosby told The Times. “It’s just unusual if you’re sexually very square.”) He went on to sing “Triad” on CSNY’s early ’70s live album ” 4 way street.
11. “Holding on to Nothing” (2014)
The middle period of Crosby’s life was dominated by drug problems and legal problems. But in 2014 he returned to music with his first solo album in decades, the well-received “Croz,” which featured this tender meditation on aging complete with an elegant trumpet solo from Wynton Marsalis.
12. “Rodriguez for one night” (2021)
“Croz” launched a late-career resurgence for Crosby, who quickly followed the album with four more LPs on which he sounded as excited to write and record as he ever had. “For Free,” his most recent outing, peaked with this sneaky jazz-funk song that he co-wrote with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, who once tweeted that it was his “favorite band in the world, point”.