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David Crosby: If Only I Could Remember My Name - Album Of The Week Club review

Recorded while he was coming to terms with the death of his girlfriend, David Crosby's If Only I Could Remember My Name made for an ambient, experimental journey

David Crosby: If Only I Could Remember My Name
(Image: © Rhino)
David Crosby: If Only I Could Remember My Name

David Crosby: If Only I Could Remember My Name

(Image credit: Rhino)

Music Is Love
Cowboy Movie
Tamalpais High (At About 3)
Laughing"
What Are Their Names
Traction in the Rain
Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves)
Orléans
I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here

By 1971, David Crosby had more than his fair share of things going badly wrong. Long‑term girlfriend Christine Hinton had died in a tragic automobile accident and Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young were lost in a haze of marijuana smoke and slow-burning enmity. Against such odds, the singer managed to produce a remarkably focused solo album.

A dazzling reconciliation between the conflicting aspects of his musical personality, it threaded a masterful balance between wild, let-it-all-hang-out abandon and the reined-in discipline of a truly inspired harmonist.

Alongside the presence of Graham Nash and Neil Young, it features the great and the good of the West Coast scene, including members of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, who were at Wally Heider’s studio putting the finishing touches to American Beauty during the day while Crosby worked his magic in the evening shift.

Against the intricacies of Crosby’s painstakingly constructed, pristine harmonies, there’s a scratchy quality to some of the playing. Whatever momentary lapses in technique that may exist on the album, overall he’s carried aloft by the sense of transcendent joy that comes from foraging out at the edges of things and relishing his newly acquired freedom.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in February 1971

  • Once Again - Barclay James Harvest
  • Tapestry - Carole King
  • If I Could Only Remember My Name - David Crosby
  • The Yes Album - Yes
  • One Way... or Another - Cactus
  • Fourth - Soft Machine
  • Crazy Horse - Crazy Horse
  • The Hawk - Ronnie Hawkins
  • James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine - James Taylor
  • Long Player - Faces
  • The Polite Force - Egg
  • Ring of Hands - Argent
  • Tago Mago - Can

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What they said...

"The great thing about this album is the depth of sound, its huge, lush, deep and warm – listen to the track Laughing and you will see exactly what I mean. Clocking in at little over five minutes this is one of those Crosby introspective “What’s Going On in my life/head?” (delete as applicable) epics. With harmony vocals from Crosby, Nash and Joni Mitchell and musical accompaniment from Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann, Laughing drifts long in a slow smoky haze. (Head Heritage)

"As it is, If I Could Only Remember My Name is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era." (AllMusic)

"Cosmic flapdoodle. That’s really all I have to say about this execrable 1971 David Crosby solo LP, which you will likely love or hate depending on how much you love or hate the heavenly harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Me, I hate Crosby, Stills & Nash. I consider them the most overrated supergroup of all time, and that’s saying something." (Graded On A Curve)

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What you said...

Roland Bearne: In 1971 I was six, we kept a supply of candles for regular power cuts, couldn't afford a fridge and the highlight of my week was Voyage To the Bottom Of The Sea on a black and white telly with Shipham's meat paste sandwiches. So, about as far removed from the diaphanous, cricket-chirping Canyon love-in that this is as can be found! 

So, no real surprise, that I never caught up with this stuff (I have a CSN Best Of CD). A couple of plays and I must admit it really is rather lovely. Chiming acoustic guitar tones, lovingly picked by sedately manicured nails, angelic harmonies and dreamy melodies. I can almost hear the smug smiles of artists wholly at ease with their own legends as they channel the music of the West Coast spheres with hazy pot-fuelled ease. 

The overall effect is absolutely lovely and on first listen in the car, I could swear the wheels where a couple of inches off the road and we were drifting on the vibe. I have no insight into this music but I thought it was unexpectedly lovely and will play it again. Sunday mornings are now sorted!

Mark Whitby: A fine, fine album that hasn't really received the acclaim it deserves. Perhaps it benefits from successive listens, but for me the first couple of tracks are as strong as they come. The wonderful harmonies of Orleans on side two have for some time been my wake up alarm. 9/10

Shane Reho: For some reason when I got into CSN(Y) I only listened to this once, why I don't know. Either way, it was nice to give it another listen, so thanks to whoever picked it for getting me to do that. I wouldn't view this so much as an album of songs, it's more a collection of melodies that go in some interesting places (consider Guinnevere from the first CSN album the template, just looser and more spacey). Overall, this makes for a good album to put on to mellow out to, if not a great display of songcraft. But that's not a bad thing.

Mike Canoe: Since I have been aware of David Crosby, his status as a musician has been frequently overshadowed by his reputation as a walking punchline. Whether it was increasingly sad drug escapades or rating Eddie Van Halen as "meh" right after his death, it became easy to disconnect Crosby from the music he made more than five decades ago.

If I Could Only Remember My Name is a nice reminder of Crosby as a musician and that he once had the ability to literally and figuratively play well with others. As noted, the guest performers are a "Who's Who" of the West Coast branch of the Woodstock generation.

A lot of the magic comes from Crosby and others using their voices as wordless instruments on nearly half the tracks, whether it's the obviously named Song With No Words or the equally entrancing Tamalpais High or I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here. I realise Orleans doesn't really count as wordless if you're up on your 15th century French, but I am not so the lyrics are just more colour and texture for me.

Even on most songs with lyrics, the vocals tend to be deep in the mix and function more on a visceral than literary level. Although the lyrics are often unintelligible, there's no mistaking the joy in Music Is Love or the dread in Cowboy Movie or the anger in What Are Their Names.

I'm a bit of a soft touch for albums equally pretty and melancholy, so If I Could Only Remember My Name delivers for me. While not as great as Nick Drake's Pink Moon or Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Water, it gets me in that same introspective headspace. Next time David Crosby pops up on social media, I'll do my best to tune out and put on this album instead.

Alex Hayes: With David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, we're effortlessly transported all the way back to the Californian counterculture 'hippie' scene of the late 60s/turn of the 70s, centred around Laurel Canyon. As one of four solo albums released by each member of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young collective within the space of a year, If I Could Only Remember... still holds up well as a fine time capsule of that era.

I'd never heard the album prior to this week, but it's not too far off from how I've often imagined it. This particular album may be new to me, but many of it's 'companion pieces' are anything but. I've long been an admirer of the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Deja-Vu, Stephen Stills and After The Gold Rush. This cultural scene has always held a fascination for me and still sounds rich, even though elements of it are admittedly dated now.

Crosby brought out all the 'big guns' for this one, as was pretty common practice at that time. If I Could Only Remember... is blessed with a hugely impressive supporting cast, including the likes of Graham Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and members of Jefferson Airplane, Santana and the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia is particularly heavily featured). Despite this star studded line-up, the album's final two tracks feature just Crosby alone.

Would it surprise you to learn that it's a largely mellow affair, rich in acoustic textures and strong harmonies? It really shouldn't. Side two in particular is very laid back fare. The 'angriest' track here is probably also the longest, Cowboy Movie. Although a good idea for a song, it's rambling nature ensures that it overstays it's welcome with me a little.

What Are Their Names is quite an interesting track. In it, Crosby imagines finding an address for 'the men who really run this land' and heading over there to give them a piece of his mind as 'peace is not an awful lot to ask'. I guess that's one way of sorting the matter out. I'd probably just go round there and put their hypothetical windows through, but there we go.

Parts of If I Could Only Remember... feel a little padded out, especially on the instrumentals. The album has a great vibe overall though, and is very reminiscent of that period. It was very satisfying for me to delve a little deeper into the Laurel Canyon scene and I will certainly revisit this music in the future. Peace out folks.

Joe Owens: I loved this LP when it first came out and to this day it remains one of my all time favourites.

John Davidson: We do cover the bases on this group.... never heard this before.

First five minutes suggests a camp fire hippy singalong, but when the folks singing are Crosby, Nash, Young and Joni Mitchell and with Jerry Garcia in the 'band' you get the feeling it might be a magical evening.

Greg Schwepe: Now here’s a nice slice of Laurel Canyon-inspired music that I’d never heard before. Great find and yet another good reason why this group is so fun. Had never listened to any solo David Crosby and this was a nice surprise. Here’s something from an artist who has now seen it all, lived through it all, and is still around!

The album kicks off with the raw, slightly rambling acoustic of Music Is Love. Next up is Cowboy Movie with its stinging, "angry", intertwined guitars. And then Tamalpais High (At About 3) you get the trademark David Crosby harmonies. Those harmonies alone are worth the price of admission on this album.

Overall, I really like the guitars and seems like they kind of said “OK, I’ll just keep playing until we find something we like. How about another Strat, and another acoustic?” That multi-guitar vibe just seems to fit this album well. Seems to be the case on What Are Their Names.

And this is a mellow, lazy album that you would listen to while you just chill. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing when I listen to it again. Because I will be listening to it again! Short, succinct review because sometimes with a good album that’s all you need. 8 out of 10.

John Davidson: Coming in cold to this album, without any preconceptions I found myself drawn in by the campfire charms of these post-hippy, Californian country rock musings on opener, Music is Love .

The vocal harmonies that defined (and for my ears overwhelmed) much of CSN&Y’s output are less intrusive . Crosby has a great voice on his own, as on Cowboy Movie where he carries the song, unadorned by backing vocals, relying on an incredibly well defined set of bass lines, acoustic guitars and electric guitar flourishes. The rhythm is propulsive, driving the song forward so that it doesn’t sound like it is 8 minutes long.

Tamalpais High has the kind of wordless vocal harmonies that remind me of Wishbone Ash's Argus, as does the mixture of finger picking and bluesy electric guitar.

Jerry Garcia’s steel guitar on Laughing provides plenty of atmosphere but it isn’t until Crosby and Nash start to harmonise that the song really takes off.

What Are Their Names* is another guitar-driven song, and largely instrumental, it builds in power until the ‘choir’ begins to sing its refrain, before fading out again.

Traction In The Rain is the first song that doesn’t really work for me. It's a gentle, contemplative song with a slightly dreamy vibe that is just a bit too hippy culture for me to connect with.

Song With No Words returns to the wordless vocal harmonies but lacks the drive of Tamalpais High and the piano refrains which largely replace the guitar work are no substitute The guitar solo, when it does come, is fine but overall the song feels too drawn out at six minutes long.

The inclusion of traditional ‘nursery rhyme’ Orleans albeit a medieval French one, feels like filler as does closing track, I’d Swear There Was Somebody There.

It’s not music I would ever choose to listen to, but based on side one I’d have scored this highly. Sadly it runs out of steam and ideas in the second half… so overall I’d score this a 7/10.

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Final Score: 6.18 (53 votes cast, with a total score of 328)

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