Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – 4 Way Street

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

If you want to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rock out live in your listening room, this copy will let you do it. It’s not easy to find good sound on even one side of this album, let alone all four!

Three Shootout Winning White Hot Stamper sides out of four! These three sides handily blow other copies out of the water, with the size, space, presence and energy that only the finest pressings are capable of. If you want to hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rock out live in your listening room, this is the only copy that will let you do it. No other copy we’ve ever played rocked the way this one rocked! For three quarters of the “concert”, YOU ARE THERE.

If the singers get hard and shrill in the louder passages, then what you have is a pretty typical pressing. Add grit and grain, smeared transients, opacity, surface noise and a lack of weight down low and you’ll know why it takes us years to find enough copies to shoot out — because this is what most pressings sound like.

As you have surely read on the site by now, this band has put out more bad pressings of good recordings than practically any I can think of. Here is an excerpt from our review of their first album that discusses the issue in more depth.

Wrong Sound

95% of all the pressings of this album I’ve ever played have been disappointing. They’re almost always wrong, each in their own way of course. Some are dull, some are shrill, some are aggressive, some have no bass — every mastering fault you can imagine can be heard on one copy or another of this record. The bottom line? If you want to buy them and try them from your local record store, plan on spending hundreds of dollars and putting in years of frustrating effort, perhaps with little to show for it in the end. This is one tough nut to crack; it’s best to know that going in.

Sound So Real

The song “Triad”, for example, presents us with a lone David Crosby and acoustic guitar. It’s as real sounding as anything I’ve ever heard from this band. Listening to that natural guitar tone brings home the fact that their studio recordings (and studio recordings in general) are processed and degraded significantly relative to what the original microphones picked up. This live album gives you the “naked” sound of the real thing — the real voices and the real guitars and the real everything else, in a way that would never happen again. (Later CSN albums are mostly dreadful. Fortunately later Neil Young albums, e.g., Zuma, are often Demo Discs of the highest quality.)

Side One

A+++, our Shootout Winner! Big, clear, present, dynamic — what’s not to like? It shows you what few copies can: how well-recorded the album is. Halverson did a great job but you have to work your tail off to find a copy that does his brilliant engineering justice. Sad, isn’t it?

Super High Rez — listen to how clear the crowd noises are. Yet the sound is immediate, with layers of depth and space around all the instruments and voices (and crowd members even!).

And last but not least, the most ENERGY. It’s a big deal with us here at Better Records. We want to feel something when we play these records. You will feel it when you play this copy, that we can guarantee.

Side Two

A+++ and actually A++++, not only our Shootout Winner but a big step up from any other copy, which is why it should be A++++; this side is operating on an entirely different level from any other side of any other copy we played.

Amazingly spacious and clear, with some of the richest midrange we heard all day — the guitars and vocals are hard to fault. Master Tape Sound in every way.

Side Three

A+++, our Shootout Winner again, with the most rock energy of them all. The sound just comes jumping out of the speakers on this copy. The voices are especially breathy and clear, the bass the deepest and tightest of any copy we played.

Side Four

A+ to A++, mostly clear, never edgy, with a solid bottom, but like most side fours, it can get a bit congested when loud. It needs more space, but they all do. It appears we did not give out any grade higher than A++, so this copy actually fared quite well against the competition.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
On the Way Home
Teach Your Children
Triad

This is one of the best sounding songs on the album. It has that “Traction In The Rain” quality: amazingly transparent and intimate. The guitars and the voice should sound DEAD ON when you get a good copy of this album, or at least if you get a good side one of this album.

The Lee Shore
Chicago

Side Two

Right Between the Eyes
Cowgirl in the Sand

Like Triad, this song should be amazingly transparent and intimate. A top performance by Neil Young and the best music on side two.

Don’t Let It Bring You Down
49 Bye-Byes/America’s Children
Love the One You’re With

Side Three

Pre-Road Downs
Long Time Gone
Southern Man

Side Four

Ohio
Carry On
Find the Cost of Freedom

AMG Review

A double live album originally released on April 7, 1971 by CSN&Y is an indispensable part of any collection… Some of the extended guitar jams between Stills and Young (“Southern Man”) go on longer than strict musical sense would dictate, but it seemed right at the time, and they capture a form that was far more abused in other hands after this group broke up.

Rolling Stone 1975

Between two miserable bootleg albums Wooden Nickel and Live at the Forum, atrocious not so much due to the production imperfections common to bootleg recording but largely because of the wretched workmanship of the group themselves and six cuts on the two Woodstock albums which collectively constituted a monumental disaster in the history of live recording, it seemed to me that, however one might view their two studio albums. Crosby, Stills. Nash and Young had about as much business recording live concerts as did the Monkees.

But 4 Way Street is a surprisingly good album. To begin with, CSN&Y all sing and play in the same key on almost every single cut. One of the principal failures of their previous live work was that they attempted to duplicate those tight, three-part harmonies which required numerous takes and overdubs in the studio, but this double album is for the most part a showcase of solo material by each of the four.

“Long Time Gone.” “Pre-Road Downs,” and “Carry On” are still pretty ragged live, but in the latter case this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that “Carry On” serves as the vehicle for some long, exciting Stills-Young electric exchanges.

Young and Stills also really get it on together on the other extended number (13-plus minutes), Neil’s “Southern Man,” trading off some steaming riffs which compare favorably with the Danny Whitten-Young guitar work on the original (After The Gold Rush) version. Neil Young’s “Cowgirl In The Sand” (done by himself with acoustic guitar) is a strangely different song than the recording with Crazy Horse, but it is utterly exquisite all the same. Young also does lovely acoustic solos of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” (from Gold Rush) and an old Buffalo Springfield tune, “On The Way Home.” Even “Ohio” is no worse (though no better) than the single – but then the message is the medium anyway, I guess.

About a year ago (in a review of Deja Vu) someone remarked that CSN&Y’s principal weaknesses were Crosby’s singing and Nash’s songwriting. I tend to disagree, and I think this album goes a long way in refuting both points. As for the first argument, well, his solo album aside, Crosby does two excellent songs here. (One of them, “Triad,” is particularly notable, for the song was one of the major bones of contention leading to Crosby’s departure from the Byrds. The haunting “The Lee Shore” is a treasure, and while “Long Time Gone” is pretty well botched here, it is not so much the fault of Crosby’s vocal inadequacy as the fact that the song – like, among others, “Suite – Judy Blue Eyes” – is one of those in CSN&Y’s repertoire which is difficult enough to be beyond the group’s ability to competently perform it live.

And while Nash’s songs are, to be sure, pretty lightweight, they rarely pretend to be anything else. The worst thing you can say about them is that they’re harmless, and most of them are actually damned nice. They have suffered from some incredibly saccharine, overly-slick renditions on the first two albums – sometimes so disgustingly sweet they make you want, as Dorothy Parker once put it, “to fwow up.” Nash’s “Right Between The Eyes,” though, is one of the high spots of 4 Way Street, and “Teach Your Children” is one of the few cuts on the record where the whole group sings together without blowing it. (While there’s no Jerry Garcia steel guitar on this version of “Children,” somebody picks a fine mandolin.)

In point of fact, if criticism of somebody’s writing is to be levied in connection with CSN&Y, one might well point to a couple of the Stills numbers. Stephen jumps from “49 Bye-Byes” into a latter-day version of his Springfield-era “For What It’s Worth” called “America’s Children.” It is a patronizing, gratuitous piece of drivel (the liner notes describe it as a “poem”) which is presumably supposed to heighten the political consciousness of all us “children.” Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” has been roundly criticized as being offensive to women. It is not merely offensive to women; it is insulting to human beings. About the only good thing that can be said about the song is that, in the absence of that background chorus and hokey arrangement, it sounds better here than on his solo album.

CSN&Y’s latest backup duo, Johnny Barbara on drums and Calvin Samuels on bass, perform creditably if unspectacularly. The album does clearly point up their limitations as a group, but Crosby, Stills. Nash, and Young are all performers of unquestionable talent, and mostly because they stay out of each others’ way 4 Way Street must surely be their best album to date.

Wikipedia

The album contained material previously available in studio versions, from both the various affiliations and individual work of the four principals. Two songs each by Nash and Crosby had not been officially released by its writer at the time of the arrival of this album in the shops: “Chicago,” soon to appear one month later on Nash’s Songs for Beginners album, and “Right Between the Eyes”; “The Lee Shore” by Crosby, as well as his controversial ménage à trois “Triad” composition, recorded by Jefferson Airplane on their Crown of Creation album of 1968, and by The Byrds, but not released until 1987 on the compilation “Never Before” and later as a bonus track on The Notorious Byrd Brothers reissue.

At the time this album was recorded, tensions between the band members were high, with their dressing-room fights becoming the stuff of rock legend, even being referenced by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in their 1971 LP Fillmore East – June 1971. The tensions led to CSNY dissolving shortly after the recording of Four Way Street (and many months before its release). The next release of new material by the firm proper would not be until CSN of 1977.

The album went to #1 upon its release and also garnered a positive review in Rolling Stone where the reviewer called it “their best album to date.” Other more recent reviews have also been positive.