Numerous times here, I’ve alluded to my late blooming as an appreciator of rock music. This strikes many people (including me) as an oddity for someone who headed off to college in the late ’60s. How could I have slept through the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, et al. ad infinitum? (My freshman-year roommates thought it hilarious that I came equipped for college with the complete oeuvre of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.)
Eventually I got on board, and I hope the phrase “of course” is understood. The first rock album I bought while in college (ever? holy cow, was I so out of sync that I can even seriously ask that question?) was Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s (pre-Neil Young) self-titled debut. Ye gods, but I loved that album. I’m not even sure what made me get it in the first place. It may well have been recommended by the guy in the next room, named Bruce, who was the only person I ever knew who’d actually attended Woodstock; Bruce was funny, mild-mannered, smart as heck, and — like me — a fish-out-of-water Northeastern US native attending a college in North Carolina. Our suitemates from the South tended to favor rather louder music, which I had difficulty adjusting to, but it’s easy to imagine Bruce off-handedly saying something like Listen to this… and putting (say) “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” on a record player.
And what a “song.” As Wikipedia notes, it’s a true suite of several songs. I imagined that that word merely punned on sweet. It did that, all right — “it” meaning both the song itself, and the Judy in question (Collins). But it also met a more formal standard. The mood and the rhythm wandered all over the place from verse to verse, without becoming chaotic. Steven Stills seems to have poured into it everything he could think of, musically and lyrically, without straying outside the country-rock lines.
(When you consider that he apparently wrote it almost explicitly in desperation to keep Collins from leaving their relationship, you maybe can see why he’d throw everything into the mix.)
What a performance, for that matter. Among the other things Wikipedia asserted which I didn’t know: “CSN actually formed in order to record ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.’” Stills’s emphatic guitar, the almost weirdly perfect harmonies… Well, now I’m straying into wordlessness; the thing still transports me. (If they’d chosen any other song to open the album, I wonder if I’d have ever listened to the rest.)
Anyway, here’s the song:
[Below, click Play button to begin Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (CS&N). While audio is playing, volume control appears at left -- a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 7:24 long.]
Edit to add (2013-03-16): [Lyrics]
So anyhow, a couple days ago I was enjoying revisiting the song (and the album it came from) when I came across another version of the song — a possibility which would have struck me as ridiculous a moment before. This is by a group known, implausibly, as the Vitamin String Quartet.
I had something of a hard time pinning down who, exactly, the Vitamin String Quartet comprises. (It seems that the membership changes every now and then.)
But information lies thick upon the ground when it comes to wondering what music the VSQ has recorded. They’ve recorded a bazillion rock songs… all arranged (obviously) for string quartet.
I mean, really — they’ve recorded a LOT of albums, not to mention songs. (One site I saw online concluded that at least one of the Wikipedia entries, however, was bogus. Which makes one wonder.)
Here’s the VSQ’s take on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” — almost exactly the length of the original:
[Below, click Play button to begin Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (VSQ). While audio is playing, volume control appears at left -- a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 7:26 long.]
A funny old world humans have made for themselves, isn’t it?
Update (later in the day): There’s a really good behind-the-scenes/making-of story about this song here at Sound On Sound. (It’s an interview which will probably hold even more interest for readers who, like, actually know about music.) One of my favorite bits:
It still gives me goose bumps when I listen to that recording, aware that [Stills] blew through seven-and-a-half minutes with all the time changes, all the pauses, all the everything in just one take,” [engineer Bill] Halverson says. “No edits, no nothing.”