Stephen Stills: Helplessly Hoping

June 28, 2007

In my opinion, this is one of Crosby Stills and Nash’s best songs, written by Stephen Stills and on their first album. Stephen Stills, fresh from the Buffalo Springfield, sings the melody on bottom, David Crosby, recently booted from the Byrds, sings the middle voice, and Graham Nash, formerly of the Hollies, sings high tenor.

The song is harmonically noteworthy because it begins on vi, or the submediant, and never really settles down to the tonic until the end of each version. That’s excellent harmonic control.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Wood June 28, 2007 at 11:03 am

No argument here. And that whole album is fantastically good, and for some reason some of the tunes had been coursing through this skull for the last couple of days without obvious provocation, in particular “You Don’t Have To Cry”.

Elaine June 28, 2007 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for posting this Roger. I too have always loved this song and every song on the album. It was actually one of only about 10 non-classical recordings I owned during my teenage years, and I probably listened to it hundreds of times. I never saw Crosby, Stills, and Nash sing it though, so this is a whole new experience for me.

PK June 28, 2007 at 7:59 pm

It scares me, to try and be objective about the music that was so interwoven with my life. As AOR radio exploded into the popular world, it seems as if CSN exploded with them. So many of the wonderful sixties vids you have posted make me want to cry out “SEE! Our music (of our time) WAS truly great, not like this pish-posh that is poured out today, like so many hostess cupcakes from a machine”. No, I shall not go there (oops 🙂 )

Brad Wood June 29, 2007 at 10:26 am

PK, I’m not afraid to state that much of the music of that era was outstanding. Of course, plenty of it was mediocre too.

One heartening thing: I have friends in their teens and early-mid twenties who openly appreciate this stuff. Gen X had to spurn their parents’ music, in the nearly-compulsory rituals of adolescence, but the latest folk when exposed to it are able to embrace it, given the sufficient separation.

Rhapsody June 30, 2007 at 9:38 am

I loved CS&N….as a baby. *cough*

When I saw them in concert, however, they were positively hideous–out of tune, out of balance, and out of their minds (possibly). I was so disappointed! It’s good to hear them live (I’m assuming) and sounding like they should have…..

Brad Wood June 30, 2007 at 10:21 am

“Cocaine is a hell of a drug…”

PK July 1, 2007 at 5:44 am

” “Cocaine is a hell of a drug…” ” 😮

And as much as I found the Greatful Dead’s instrumental music enchanting, when they broke into vocals, I broke into sweat. Monitoring systems of the seventies were just pale compared to now, the problems of group singing in giant stadiums with primitive PA systems can not be ignored.

I was once on the same bill as Steven Stills, and just before the show I was VERY drunk. I had noticed Stills name on the “dressing room” (university classroom) next to mine and had been waiting for him to show up so that I could profess my undying admiration. As the lights were on and the door was ajar, I stumbled in where I found the man alone, wearing guitar and getting ready for his bit. I started gushing something and he cut me right off with very explicit directions on where I should go.

Brad, you have made me ponder about times in past history when a particular set, and/or movement, of artists cast deep shadows over what came after. But if music is, indeed, a means of communication (to what purpose still being discussed), our subjective judgments as to what is “good” may be so much hooey. Perhaps, musicologically, we should simply be interested in finding what the message is and how it is being communicated.

Rhapsody July 2, 2007 at 6:45 am

I heartily agree about the primitive sound systems in large venues–back in the day. However, I also attended a Doobie Brothers’ concert in the same time frame, in the same venue…and they were just stunning.

One of my favorite songs to hear live (where, just a couple of bars into the song) the beat feels like it’s come from the inside out rather than the outside in) is “Black Water,” in which I’ll be dipped if I can hear a grandiose message being communicated. However, let me tell you…hearing this song live is a treat for the soul.

PK July 2, 2007 at 8:22 am

“… I’ll be dipped… ” that expression has left me ROTFLMAO for a few minutes, I like it, will have to find a place to use it. “Grandiose”? What IS a message? What is communication? Why do we make music? I sure as hell don’t know, but the questions are becoming more and more interesting to me with the years, and a song such as “Black Water” seems ripe with subtle possibility.

It is one of many songs that I didn’t like so much at the time (I was more jazz and R&B leaning, and this faze of the Doobies, pre Michael MacDonald, seemed a bit white bread) and love now. Sometimes I think that, as I was an instrumentalist, I was always a little suspicious of music that was primarily vocal in its arrangement.

Rhapsody July 2, 2007 at 8:39 am

“… I’ll be dipped… ”

Careful, sweetheart! The etymology of that idiom has much to do with sheep being “dipped” in nasty concoctions to rid them of unwanted critters, which could ruin the fleece. 🙂

And as Shakespeare hath proclaimed (at least, I hope it was Shakespeare), “If music be the food of love, play on…” 🙂

PK July 2, 2007 at 3:34 pm

Some days I can use a good dipping, I tell ya’! But now I am thinking (always a bad sign) about how YouTube presents all of this music material from pre-MTV, in a format very different from its original success in radio and vinyl records (tape cassettes and eight tracks). The problem of visual primacy and how that effects the perception & cognition. It is like history being rewritten. Although all music was visually associated with its performance until the end of the 19th century when the technology to fix the sound permenently was invented, the history of music in the twentieth century is so focused on the disembodied recording, that this casual return to the visual (that MTV and YouTube have created) seems important to remark.

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