260: David Crosby/Joni Mitchell, ‘Yvette in English’

Posted by jeff on Apr 14, 2017 in Rock, Song Of the week
February 1969, California, USA --- Musicians David Crosby and Joni Mitchell travel to Big Bear Lake. --- Image by © Henry Diltz/Corbis

© Henry Diltz/Corbis

David Crosby, ‘Yvette in English’

Joni Mitchell, ‘Yvette in English’

David Crosby, ‘Arrows’

David Crosby/Phil Collins, ‘Hero’

CPR, ‘Breathless’

David Crosby is one elusive sonofagun.

At his best, he’s as magical as a perfect high (‘Guinnevere’, ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’).
At his worst, you want to find something high to jump off of (‘Mind Garden’).

To tell the truth, he’s not much of a songwriter. Almost all of his best music is written/performed/created in collaboration. He most frequently shines in the light reflected off a partner he’s enhancing, as happened so frequently in The Byrds (‘Eight Miles High’) and CSN. Sometimes, he’s the best harmony singer ever (CSN, SoTW 171, Jackson Browne’s ‘Something Fine’).

landscape-1483037434-david-crosby-1Left to his own devices, I’ve found him to be more often than not just annoying.

But when he’s on, he’s just so damned good that you keep going back for more. Then you get ‘Where’s the meat?’ frustrated, and you leave. Then you come back, looking for just a “little bit of instant bliss”.

I followed Crosby closely up through “Déjà Vu”, even that lovely contribution he made to Jefferson Starship’s first album, ‘Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?’ – co-written (no surprise) with Paul Kantner. But then I admit, I abandoned starship. I tried to keep an eye out for what he was doing, all the subsequent CSN and CSN&Y reunions, and most of the solo albums – 1971, 1989, 1993, 1995, 2014, 2016. I even read his autobiography, for which I should get extra credit point.

6a00e008dca1f0883401a510f5a5e2970c-400wiBut I just couldn’t generate the energy to really follow Crosby closely. There were always glimpses of magic, but in the morning I was left with a headache. The same with his buddy Stills, the same with CSN, not to mention &Y (for which I always had limited patience).

But then I recently had the urge to revisit some of Stills’ output over his latter decades, and discovered that Graham Nash had compiled box sets for each of C and S and N himself. The recent SoTW 258 on Stills was a result of checking out his 4-CD retrospective, “Carry On”. In short – if Stills were as sensible as he is talented, he would have been inside the pantheon instead of in the entry hall. Proof: SoTW 072, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ (from “Just Roll Tape”). There’s an awful lot of shouting and carrying on in those latter decades, very little memorable music.

1043Crosby’s 3-CD retrospective, “Voyage”, is more enlightening and more satisfying. The first CD includes 3 Byrds cuts, 5 CSN/&Y, 5 from his 1971 solo album “If I Could Only Remember My Name”, 7 from early Crosby & Nash. The earlier stuff is great, the latter fine. The third CD is unreleased demos which, for me, might better have been left unreleased.

But that second CD? It’s Crosby. Maybe not at his very best, but at his very good. It’s like staring at a beautiful woman, or (they tell me) a chemically-induced hallucinogenic experience: it doesn’t mean anything, and it leaves no imprint on the memory or the soul. But it sure is lovely while it’s happening.

joni-mitchell-david-crosbyThere are three songs from the 1977 album “CSN” (‘Shadow Captain’, ‘Delta’, ‘In My Dreams’) and one from the 1988 CSNY “American Dream” (‘Compass’), then one from his 1989 solo album, ‘Tracks in the Dust’ . They’re lovely, but so blatantly lacking in the inspiration that made the early material an indelible part of our brains and our hearts that we’re left a bit depressed by the contrast.

Arrows’, from the 1990 CSN flop “Live It Up” fares a little better. But then come two cuts from a much disparaged 1993 “A Thousand Roads”, a collections of slickly produced cuts written for him mostly by mercenaries: Jimmy Webb, Marc Cohen, John Hiatt.

Hero’ is co-written with Phil Collins. It’s not a great song, perhaps more Phil than Dave. But at least it’s a song. It coheres, and I enjoy it every time I hear it. (And every time I hear it, it sounds like it came from Brian Wilson’s darned good new album “No Pier Pressure”.)

But then there’s one cut that made all this rather depressing work worthwhile, our SoTW, ‘Yvette in English’, co-written with one Joni Mitchell.

Not Yvette

Not Yvette

It’s a lovely, enigmatic bossa nova vignette. Like so many of Joni’s finest songs, it rings patently autobiographical – full of precise, evocative details, seeming to allude to real people, real events. I don’t know the back-story here. Joni recorded it a year after David, and the other persona in the song is a male. So my imagination draws Joni watching a French girl with short hair in a short skirt and black tights (I keep thinking Brigitte Auber from “To Catch a Thief”, but upon checking, that’s wrong; I guess Grace Kelly addled my visual memory there) sidling up to him and offering him some heavily-accented mind-altering substance.

When Joni’s songs work best, then entice you into connecting the details. That’s pleasure enough for me, but if someone out there knows The Facts, I’d be glad to hear them as well. From past experience, the real versions do not diminish the imagined ones.

rs_1024x759-150627081143-1024.mitchell-crosby.cm.62715How many other songs has Joni co-written? I can think of none.
But she certainly owes Crosby. In late 1967 she was just starting to attract attention as a solo artist. Even though her success today seems inevitable, Crosby was instrumental in jump-starting her career.

He ‘discovered’ her in Florida in 1967. They hooked up, he took her back to LA, got her a manager Elliot (Rabinowitz) Roberts and a record deal (including artistic control, a rarity for a rookie), produced her first album, and brought in his buddy to play bass, the recently unemployed (Buffalo Springfield) Steve Stills. The rest is history. Well, the rest for the 3-4 few years, anyway. After that we have 50 years of non-history.

So in 1993, with Crosby floundering in drugs and jail and sundry shit, Joni did him a solid, wrote him a song/poured a bucket of cold water on him to get him to co-write a song for his covers album. She recorded ‘Yvette in English’ a year later, on “Turbulent Indigo” – not one of her standouts, produced by Larry Klein shortly after their divorce. Still, it’s got soprano sax from Wayne Shorter.

600003790Then Crosby got a new liver and a new son-bandmate. James Raymond, a young musician Crosby had fathered but didn’t know (as Joni wrote about her abandoned daughter, “my child’s a stranger/I bore her/But, I could not raise her”). They formed a band, CPR, which did little to resuscitate his career (sorry, couldn’t resist), but I’m sure gave him a lot of paternal pride. “Voyage” contains 5 songs by CPR—they’re mostly lovely, all forgettable.

Crosby’s had somewhat of a comeback recently. In 2015, Michael League, leader of Snarky Puppy, just about the hippest act in music these days, invited him to perform a song with them, ‘Somebody Home’. It may not be ‘Triad’, but it’s pretty darned affective. League then gave Crosby a butt-kick, inviting him to record together “Lighthouse”, a quickie album (Crosby was used to belaboring recordings to death), including 5 co-written songs.

“Lighthouse” won’t get Crosby inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as he was twice (as a Byrd and as C. But like so much of his corpus, it’s limpidly perfect one moment, annoying as stepping in dog-do the next.

Well, he’s still alive, happy, making music. That’s a pretty remarkable feat in and of itself. And if we look hard enough, we can still find some gems like ‘Yvette in English’ to remind us of just how pure a talent he was and, in his own unique 75-year old way, still is.


He met her in a French café, she slipped in sideways like a cat
Sidelong glances, what a wary little stray, she sticks in his mind like that
Saying, “Avez-vous une allumette?” with her lips wrapped around a cigarette
Yvette in English saying, “Please have this little bit of instant bliss”

 He’s fumbling with her foreign tongue, reaching for words and drawing blanks
A loudmouth is stricken deaf and dumb in a bistro on the left bank
“If I were a painter, “Picasso said, “I’d paint this girl from toe to head”
Yvette in English saying “Please have this little bit of instant bliss”

 Burgundy nocturne tips and spills, they trot along nicely in the spreading stain
New chills, new thrills for the old uphill battle. How did he wind up here again?
Walking and talking, touched and scared, uninsulated wires left bare
Yvette in English saying, “Please have this little bit of instant bliss”

 What blew her like a leaf his way? Up in the air and down to Earth
First she flusters, then she frays, so quick to question her own worth
Her cigarette burns her fingertips, as it falls like fireworks she curses it
Then sweetly in English she says, “Please have this little bit of instant bliss”

 He sees her turn and walk away skittering like a cat on stone,
Her high heels clicking, what a wary little stray.
She leaves him by the Seine alone with the black water and the amber lights.
And the bony bridge between left and right.
Yvette in English saying, “Please have this little bit of instant bliss”

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171: Jackson Browne (with David Crosby), ‘Something Fine’

Posted by jeff on Apr 26, 2013 in Rock, Song Of the week

Nicky & Sheina — My Grandkids

It’s 42 days after Valentine’s Day, the perfect time to talk about couplehood. Pas de deux. Aural symbiosis. Harmony.

I could talk about what’s wrong with being alone – like Nilsson’s One.
Or I could talk about the pleasure of being together – ‘Two of Us’ of course pops into mind.
Or I might try to distill ‘twoness’. Then I’d fo’ sure share Jack Bach showing off what he can do with two lines (Invention for Piano 13 in Am, , BWV 784). And if you’d like a demonstration of how that works in human terms, here are the ladies from The Real Group singing the same piece.



Margareta & Katarina — The Real Girls

Still not convinced?
Here’s one person tangoing.
And here are two.
Ok, I can’t resist. The bustiest Beach Bingo belle went to that mouseketeertrap in the sky the week before Valentine’s day, so here’s Annette Funicello overstating the obvious.

What’s the point? David Crosby, of course. Or more precisely, “Ooh-ooh-ooh, what a little harmony can do-oo-oo.”

Jackson Browne & David Crosby — in harmony

I’m not talking holistic harmony. Take for example ‘Claudette’, written for his wife and originally sung solo by Roy Orbison, then made a hit by the sultans of symphony, Don and Phil Everly. It’s great, but it’s obvious.
I’m talking about nuance. How you can have a perfectly lovely song, just a singer and his guitar and his song and his singing, ostensibly an autonomous whole. And then along comes David Crosby (the greatest of harmony singers in rock, alongside James Taylor), adding just a pinch of a hint of an oblique juxtaposition, and– voilà–magic.

David Crosby & some other cat

The easiest harmony is for the second voice to ride on top of and parallel to the melody line, either a third or a fourth or a fifth above it. Graham Nash does that very well. David Crosby slips underneath the melody line with a disembodied voice that seems to have no presence of its own. It’s just in the air, enhancing the soloist and entrancing the listener.

He did it for The Byrds.

He did it for Crosby, Stills & Nash.

And he did it for Jackson Browne in a little gem, ‘Something Fine’.

Here’s Jackson doing the song solo (from Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2).
And here’s the original version from his eponymous album, 1972. With a little help from his friend.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also like (in order of appearance here):

155: Nilsson, ‘One’
053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’
005: Glenn Gould, Toccata in Cm (J.S. Bach)
059: The Real Group, ‘Joy Spring’
115: Astor Piazzolla, ‘Tango: Zero Hour’
111: David Crosby (The Byrds), ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’
076: Roy Orbison, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’
162: Everly Brothers, ‘Crying in the Rain’
136: Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, ‘Wonderful World’
072: Stephen Stills, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ (“Just Roll Tape” demo)


Something Fine

The papers lie there helplessly in a pile outside the door.
I’ve tried and tried, but I just can’t remember what they’re for.
The world outside is tugging like a beggar at my sleeve–
Oh, that’s much too old a story to believe .

And you know that it’s taken its share of me
Even though you take such good care of me.
Now you say “Morocco” and that makes me smile–
I haven’t seen morocco in a long, long while.
The dreams are rolling down across the places in my mind
And I’ve just had a taste of something fine.

The future hides and the past just slides, England lies between
Floating in a silver mist so cold and so clean.
California’s shaking like an angry child will
Who has asked for love and is unanswered still.

And you know that I’m looking back carefully
‘Cause I know that there’s still something there for me.
But you said “Morocco” and you made me smile
And it hasn’t been that easy for a long, long while
And looking back into your eyes I saw them really shine
Giving me a taste of something fine – something fine.

Now if you see Morocco I know you’ll go in style
I may not see Morocco for a little while
But while you’re there I was hoping you might keep it in your mind
To save me just a taste of something fine.


111: The Byrds (David Crosby), ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’

Posted by jeff on Sep 16, 2011 in Rock, Song Of the week

(L to R) Crosby, Hillman, Clarke, McGuinn

I interviewed The Byrds – well, kind of – early in 1968, at half-time of a show in Cincinnati. I’m able to reconstruct the date because Gram Parsons had just joined the group a couple of days earlier. I remember him sitting on stage with them, plunking a few notes, but clearly not plugged in. To tell you the truth, McGuinn and Hillman were pretty lost themselves, apparently in a chemical maze. This is how their discussion of what to play in the second set went:

H: waddaywannaplay?

M: idunno. waddidwealreadyplay?

H: idonrmmbr. donyourmmbr? Read more…

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