Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young -- "Country Girl" (1970)

Country girl I think you're pretty,
Got to make you understand,
Have no lovers in the city,
Let me be your country man.
In the course of writing this blog, I've discovered a lot of great songs.  I've also rediscovered a lot of great songs that I used to know but had forgotten about.  For some reason, the rediscovery of a forgotten song is even more satisfying than the discovery of a new one.

Bitoni's "Return of
the Prodigal Son"
Until yesterday, "Country Girl" was dead to me, but it is alive again.  It was lost, but now it is found.  (Apologies to Luke 15:32.  By the way, do you remember what the prodigal son spent all his money on?  "Harlots," according to the King James Version.)

Last year, I began a series of posts on songs from albums that everyone listened to in when I was in college.  Those years -- the early 1970's -- was a sort of "Golden Age" of popular music, and I had no problem finding great songs that were also well-known and very popular.

2 or 3 lines has a short attention span, however, and that series has sort of petered out after roughly two dozen posts featuring songs by King Crimson, It's A Beautiful Day, Led Zeppelin, James Gang, Traffic, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Steely Dan, Derek and the Dominoes, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, David Bowie, and many others.

I've been ready to move on and post about the music I listened to in law school and afterwards, but felt that I needed to bring the college-era series to a formal close.

I have a long list of remaining "possibles" for that series -- Pink Floyd, Yes, Blind Faith, the Allman Brothers, the Who, Steve Miller, George Harrison, T. Rex, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, among others.  But there was one group from that era that was so popular and so iconic that I simply could not overlook them: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

I was never a huge CSNY fan.  In fact, I never owned any of their records -- as a group, or as solo performers -- while I was in college.  They were a little on the soft side for my taste.  Or to be more accurate, they were a little on the soft side for me to admit that I had a taste for them. 

There is a lot of music from those days that I've always liked, but that didn't fit the image I was trying to project -- not only to the world at large, but also to myself.  I think I've gotten over that now.  But back in the day there were a number of songs (usually sentimental, girly songs) that had an effect on me that I refused to acknowledge -- even to myself.  Some of CSNY's songs fit in that category.

But I didn't think I could claim to have really covered the music of my college years without posting about a CSNY song.  Plus I know that a lot of you love CSNY, and -- let's be honest here -- if I want 2 or 3 lines to remain a wildly popular blog, I've got to keep the customers satisfied.   

Crosby, Stills and Nash
So I took a quick look at the group's first two albums -- the first one without Neil Young and the second (Deja Vu) with him.

I quickly rejected about half the songs on those records.  "Marrakesh Express" is OK, but too lightweight.  "Wooden Ships" is too serious, and the Jefferson Airplane's version is more interesting.  "Guinnevere" sounds more like Simon and Garfunkel than CSNY, plus they misspelled it.  "Teach Your Children" always made me roll my eyes, and "Almost Cut My Hair" is not a song that can be taken seriously.

So what did that leave me with?  "Judy Blue Eyes" is a very interesting song, but also very familiar.  "You Don't Have to Cry," "Pre-Road Downs," and "Carry On" are all very representative of the group's style, but no one of them really stood out for me.  I've listened to "49 Bye-Byes" a few times recently -- the words don't make much sense, but I like the song a lot, and it hasn't been played to death -- so it was probably the leader in the clubhouse.

Neil Young
Then I got to "Country Girl," which I don't think I had heard in at least 30 years.  I think of the group more as CSN than as CSNY, so I resisted using a Neil Young song at first.  But after I listened to "Country Girl" all the way through, I could not say no to it.  

I can't make an intellectual argument for the song, but I can't deny its emotional effect on me.  I have no clue what the song is about -- it's all pretty vague.  The line "Country girl, I think you're pretty" is as sappy as it gets -- I don't think I've ever told a girl or a woman that I think she is "pretty" because I think the word is vapid and unconvincing -- but somehow it works.  

Stehpen Stills has claimed that Deja Vu is the result of 800 hours in the studio.  I don't think of CSNY recordings as being particularly polished in terms of production -- too many of the songs sound pretty casual, and the harmonies wander at times.  But "Country Girl" shows considerable attention to detail.   

"Country Girl" is subtitled "A. Whiskey Boot Hill -- B. Down, Down, Down -- C. Country Girl (I Think You're Pretty)."  But "Country Girl" doesn't sound like three different songs to me -- in contrast to "Judy Blue Eyes," which sounds like three distinct songs that have been stapled together.

Let's listen first to a Neil Young-only version of this song:

I think that version is very good.  But the four-voice harmony and the other instrumental touches that were added to the Deja Vu version add a lot to the song.  Also, Young loses control a little in the last chorus -- he is pounding away on his acoustic guitar and singing at the top of his lungs.  You can't help but be moved by his letting all his emotion come out, but I think most people would say he crossed the line just a little.  (It's always been a challenge for Neil to stay on pitch, and he wanders quite a bit here -- and he overwhelms his microphone as well.)

But I like the fact that he didn't hold back here.  I used to do the same thing on the piano -- at times, I couldn't play loud enough to suit myself.  My audience may have preferred to turn the volume down on me just a bit, but I was having none of it.

The Deja Vu version strikes the perfect balance between transcendence and self-control.  The song builds and builds, but saves something for the end.  The final chorus is like the sun bursting through the clouds.  

Here's CSNY's "Country Girl."  With this song, I am declaring "The College Years" series of 2 or 3 lines posts to be officially over.  That doesn't mean I won't blog about other songs from that era in the future, of course.  But it does mean that I can move on to our next series: "2 or 3 lines: The Law School Years (1974-77)," which will feature songs by Roxy Music, Brian Eno, the Tubes, 10cc, City Boy, the Sparks, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, and others. 

Here's a link to use if you want to buy the song from iTunes:

Here's a link to use if you want to buy it from Amazon:


  1. Where is the Neil Young-only version from? i love it!

  2. i likethe renaisance touch and i must ADMIT IT i go CLEAR BACK to buffalo springfield when i was in college in wash. d.c. and of coure the BYRDS they sort of introduced me into the psychadelic ERA so these musicans represent a most ENSHRINED crosssection of what the SIXTIES were ALL about!!!