Midweek Music Break: Crosby, Stills, and Nash (with a twist), “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”

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.)

Crosby, Stills, & Nash: 1969Eventually 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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Edit to add (2013-03-16): [Lyrics]

Vitamin String Quartet: Tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungSo 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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.”


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  1. I still remember my older brother waxing effusive about what “genius” Steven Stills is/was/will be when this album made it’s debut in our household and my recall was that this & Deja Vu made an almost simultaneous entry to 710 (memory is an interesting thing, isn’t it?). Is that memory close to correct? I suppose it could be that they DID enter the house simultaneous to me as you were bringing them home from your first year of college.
    That fleeting memory also suggests that I was “schooled” on that genius issue even though Neil was dancing around the edges of the CSN album (including his peeking through the screen door on the jacket). Neil might be an important contributor – but it was Stills that held the mantle here, my elder brethren assured me. A fond memory of musical education. You might have been a late starter, but you certainly got up to speed quickly enough, and have made up for lost time since.

    • Well, thanks, I guess — I don’t remember any of that! In fact, my own memory is that YOU were well ahead of me in appreciating Deja Vu. (I’d loved the first album so much that I thought of Neil Young as an interloper — someone who’d throw off the perfect balance of what was already in place. Of course, what he REALLY did was energized them; in hindsight, I can easily imagine CS&N immediately moving into saccharine irrelevance without the edge he gave them. But I didn’t get that for a while.)

      You might want to check to be sure, but I’m close to 100% certain that the guy peeking through the screen door/window on that first album was Dallas Whatzisname, their drummer. You’re right on the larger issue, about Young’s standing around in the wings, I just don’t think it was him on the jacket.

      • s.o.m.e. one's brudder says:

        Well, one last divergence on this topic. This posting has driven me to Spotify to sort through the three original albums by Buffalo Springfield. YOWZA! Could CSN&Y have existed in their absence? If they had continued on, what would THAT have been like? Add ins of Crosby and Nash? Boy that woulda been something!

        • It would be nice (read: really, really cool) to know that someone with some mad mixing skillz had done a mashup of three recordings — one by Buffalo Springfield, one by the Byrds, and one by the Hollies — to produce a never-recorded song by CSN(& with or without Y). That’d be almost worth initiating a Kickstarter project for.

          Hmm… I don’t suppose you know anyone with such skillz???

  2. Boy, I loved this album. I listened to it again and again, but not in our house. I didn’t really get to play it much at all until I was in my own house! I had a boyfriend (before hubby) who loved it and would play it ad nauseum when I was over his house. But the Suite, well, I had a friend who would talk to me on the phone for hours on end and he would laugh purposefully at a joke or something stupid just like that! I had forgotten all about that until you wrote about this. Thanks for the memory jogger and now I’ll have to go hunt it up…oh! wait I can get it on iTunes, right??

    • I haven’t looked for it there but I am almost 100% sure you can get it on iTunes. (I got mine, in MP3 form anyhow, from Amazon.)

      I don’t think I ever talked to your hubby about this album, or the group. I may have worried that it would be too tame/middle of the road, and I didn’t want to seem unsophisticated. (This would have been in the days before I stopped caring about sophistication, haha.)

  3. Love this piece. Cannot listen to CSN’s Suite: Judy Blue Eyes without thinking about how my siblings and I–who wore out the grooves of this album–would excitedly anticipate the double hand claps toward the end of the song (I think just before the verse in Spanish?) and would, invariably, as if it were bad luck not to, smack our hands in sync.

    And of course, when Y joined in, the vinyl got really frayed.

    • Thanks for reminding me that I never included the link to the lyrics. Correcting that fault anon.

      Were your sibs as, er, “enthusiastic” (putting it mildly!) as you about music?

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