DÉJÀ VU — WE HAVE ALL BEEN HERE BEFORE
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:27 August 2021
Déjà vu was the first album featuring David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. It was released in March 1970, receiving enormous attention and and achieving massive success. Fans, critics, other musicians… everybody loved it. The singles did well, the LP sold around the world, and even today Déjà vu is the most successful album by any of the four musicians.
This 2021 RSD release, Alternates, offers (as the name implies) different versions of the songs on the original album. As many who will want this LP know the 1970 disc back-to-front, we’ll do a track-by-track in a moment. But first, a word about the packaging.
This is a beautifully presented LP. From the facsimile design in complimentary colours through the shiny burnished brass type to the embossed sepia photograph, it is a class act. The cover shot and all the internal photos are from the same shoot, while the printed information is a whole lot easier to read than the incongruous futuristic font of the original. The cardboard sleeve is heavy enough to stop a pellet from an antique rifle and the pressing sounds terrific. Really, it is a quality item.
So, to the music.
“Carry On” is a very strong opening to Déjà vu. Here, on Alternates, the vocals are mostly in place though the guitar parts differ. The mix sounds more spacious. An enjoyable, if not revelatory recording of Stephen Stills’ song.
“Teach Your Children”, Graham Nash’s popular intergenerational ditty, is more acoustic folk than the country flavoured album version. No Jerry Garcia steel guitar on this one, and only rudimentary harmony vocals (which nevertheless have the trademark beauty).
“Almost cut my hair”, David Crosby’s strange paranoiac vision, is slower, having a more theatrical lyric and vocal. The prominence of the dirty guitar in the mix is great; there are even duelling guitars that sound like Stills and Young having a blast through an extended final jam. Ten minutes of grooving stoner bliss. Unexpected and fabulous.
“Helpless” - This “harmonica” version of Neil Young’s beloved song previously appeared on one of Young’s archival releases. With the others contributing background vocals and a plaintive harp interlude from the songwriter, this is a highlight.
“Woodstock”. The alternate vocal is actually quite different from the original album. When coupled with a looser musical arrangement, this version has an upbeat, festive feel. The longer guitar lead out is unexpected and very cool.
“Déjà vu”. A jittery, uneasy opening gives way to a swooning “we have all been here before” section. One of David Crosby’s most intricate and interesting songs, this subtly different mix sounds fresh and retains Greg Reeves wonderful bass work.
“Our House”. Graham Nash’s gentle nursery song of domestic bliss with Joni Mitchell is not much different from the finished product, just a little less polished.
“4+20”. Like the previous track, this brief Stephen Stills song retains its acoustic intensity, varying little from the released version.
“Know you got to run”. An early version of "Everybody I love you", this is the Stills original he worked up with Neil Young into the song that closes Déjà vu. Driven by some excellent Dallas Taylor drumming, it thunders along for almost seven minutes (compared to the concise 2:20 of “Everybody I love you”) but misses the vocal layers of the collaborative version. Nonetheless, a satisfying ending to a very worthwhile addition to the mythology of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Alternate albums are designed to augment the original, not replace them. In that respect, despite disappointing Neil Young fans by overlooking his “Country girl” suite, Déjà vu Alternates is top class. It will certainly make it onto my turntable again, even if the feeling that I’ve been here before is strong.
© Bruce Jenkins