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Classic Rock Magazine

"A frustrating album for me because every brilliant detail seems to be matched by something I don't like": Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Déjà Vu
(Image credit: Atlantic)

Carry On
Teach Your Children
Almost Cut My Hair
Déjà Vu
Our House
4 + 20
Country Girl
Whiskey Boot Hill
Down, Down, Down
Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)
Everybody I Love You

Déjà Vu was the second debut album for the band... well, for Crosby, Stills & Nash. Joined by Neil Young, they spent 800 hours in the studio, according to Stephen Stills. However, with the exception of the Joni Mitchell cover Woodstock, all the songs were recorded separately by the four. Jerry Garcia and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian were also involved, each guesting on one track.

The end result, released in March 1970, remains a quintessential fusion of folk and rock and a masterclass in harmony, with the four members blending their distinct voices to create a rich and resonant sound. From the protest anthem Ohio to the introspective title track, the album's songwriting is both poignant and socially aware, reflecting the tumultuous era in which it was born. Tracks like Helpless evoke a sense of longing and nostalgia, while others, such as Woodstock, capture the spirit of a generation. 

It's the biggest-selling album any of its participants have been involved in, with more than eight million units shifted. And, for the deep of pocket, a variety of expanded and deluxe editions fulfil humanity's ever-growing need for expensive box sets.  

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. 

Join the group now.

Other albums released in March 1970

  • Lie: The Love and Terror Cult - Charles Manson
  • Climbing! - Mountain
  • Band Of Gypsies - Jimi Hendrix
  • A Beard of Stars - Tyrannosaurus Rex
  • Egg - Egg
  • Leon Russell - Leon Russell
  • Vintage Violence – John Cale
  • Easy Action - Alice Cooper
  • First Step - Faces
  • Sentimental Journey - Ringo Starr
  • Ginger Baker's Air Force - Ginger Baker's Air Force
  • It Ain't Easy - Three Dog Night
  • Bloodrock - Bloodrock
  • Cold Fact - Sixto Rodriguez
  • Don't Think Twice - Waylon Jennings
  • Marriage on the Rocks/Rock Bottom - The Amboy Dukes
  • On Tour with Eric Clapton - Delaney & Bonnie
  • Tom Rush - Tom Rush
  • Travelin' - Tommy James and the Shondells
  • Magick Brother - Gong

What they said...

"There is much on this album of real merit. Helpless, Carry On and Teach Your Children are excellent songs, well performed. But for me Crosby, Stills and Nash – plus or minus Neil Young – will probably remain the band that asks the question, “What can we do that would be really heavy?” And then answers, “How about something by Joni Mitchell?” (Rolling Stone)

"Déjà Vu worked as an album, a product of four potent musical talents who were all ascending to the top of their game coupled with some very skilled production, engineering, and editing. There were also some obvious virtues in evidence -- the addition of Neil Young to the Crosby, Stills & Nash lineup added to the level of virtuosity, with Young and Stephen Stills rising to new levels of complexity and volume on their guitars." (AllMusic)

"It's no surprise Déjà Vu is always mentioned as the group’s quintessential record. It could have been more consistent in style or collaborative as a whole, but as it is, there are some pretty damn good tunes on here. Maybe Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young didn’t write together well, at least they played together well. It’s all that Déjà Vu seems to need to work." (Sputnik Music)

What you said...

Peter Thomas Webb: Déjà Vu is the album, along with Neil Young's Decade, that first got me into the sound of folk-rock – after years as a diehard metalhead. The album rocked well enough on Almost Cut My Hair and Woodstock to appeal to my rock instincts. As time went on, and I became more acquainted with folk music (the real stuff, not the California hippified folk found here), I gravitated more to tracks like Neil Young's Helpless and Stephen Stills's 4+20.

Recently, my perspective on the album has changed again, as I've come to appreciate the songwriting of David Crosby (both on this album and the self-titled CSN debut). His Almost Cut My Hair and Déjà Vu are two standout tracks that keep me coming back to this album. Conversely, I can do without Nash's contributions, including the mawkish Teach Your Children and Our House, the worst sort of hippy-dippy sentimentality. My rating 7/10.

Andrew Cumming: CSNY long since stopped being fashionable and cool, but this album stands up well. At their worst they could be pretty sickly sweet (Our House), but most of the time they either rocked properly (Carry On), had some of the best of Neil Young (Helpless) or showed what a collection of great songwriters they could be (title track - Crosby, 4+20 - Stills). 

From this distance it’s hard to comprehend just how big a deal CSN (with or without Y) were at the time. The live album CSNY74 captured them playing massive stadiums at a time when there were no relayed speakers or video screens. People were prepared to stand long way away from the band and hear what they could because they wanted to be there. A huge deal in rock history and it’s pleasing that at least one of their albums shows what the fuss was about.

Evan Sanders: Déjà Vu is the quintessential CSNY album, earning an 8 from me. And like so many other great bands, this album likely led to them splitting apart, as the four individual egos were too much to fit into one band. All of the songs are strong, and possibly Neil Young is the catalyst for a more energetic sound compared to their debut album. 

Given how well their harmonies are working on this album, I was surprised to read that they recorded nearly all of their parts separately. And I have to point out the bonus for Grateful Dead fans, as the story goes that the Dead were recording Workingman's Dead at the same time, resulting in Jerry Garcia wandering into the CSNY session to contribute pedal steel to Teach Your Children.

Brian Carr: As a history lover and especially rock and roll/popular music history, I love going back and listening to artists and records that younger me would not have spent a second with. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young definitely fits the bill. I did dive into the debut (without Neil Young yet aboard) a few years ago and liked it reasonably well. But before this week, I hadn’t spent more than a passing spin with the classic Déjà Vu.

At this point in my life, I have a pretty good grasp on the importance of CSN&Y, but Déjà Vu is a frustrating album for me because every brilliant detail seems to be matched by something I don’t like. Naturally the vocal harmonies are stunning, but the musical vibe is also great on classic tracks like Carry On and Woodstock, as well on tracks with less familiarity for me like 4+20 and to some degree the Country Girl suite.

On the other hand, the biggest complaint I have with Déjà Vu is that in many ways it sounds dated to me. I didn’t read other reviews thoroughly yet, but saw some positive comments about Almost Cut My Hair. Despite a reasonably cool guitar intro, the lyrics just sound hokey to me. Actually, there are multiple cringeworthy lyrical moments throughout the record, which is interesting because I often don’t seem to pay as much attention to lyrics. Maybe the clarity made them impossible to ignore. I was also disappointed by many of the guitar breaks, which sounded sloppy to me.

Ultimately, Deja Vu is a record regarded as a classic by many, and I can generally see why. The details that leave me cold, though, will likely keep me from revisiting the album very often.

Gus Schultz: I first heard this album at the time of release courtesy of older siblings. At the time Our House, Teach Your Children and Helpless were the standout tracks for me as a child. Oddly enough they are still my favorite on this LP which I own and play rarely these days. Woodstock is very good cover however I have heard it enough times in my life regardless of the great harmonies and Neil’s guitar solos.

I am a big Neil Young fan so I am a little more partial to his material l kinda always had this mindset that C+S+N-Y=Zzz, but that’s just my opinion. All are very talented singer-songwriters, I like Nash’s style especially his work with the Hollies, and Stills' work with Buffalo Springfield. I really didn’t like David Crosby at all regardless of his talent and tenacity for telling things like he sees them. Supergroups like these never seem to last very long usually releasing one decent LP then imploding or fizzling out. This supergroup was no exception.

Mike Canoe: While a commercial juggernaut, I always felt Déjà Vu was a letdown compared to the supergroup's 1969 debut without Neil Young. I am a big fan of Young but his iconoclastic songwriting and one-of-a-kind voice always seemed out of place to me in a group that seemed built on vocal harmonies. As someone once wrote about something else, it would be like Jimi Hendrix trying to join the Beatles, two unquestionably great musical acts but not necessarily compatible.

Doing my weekly album research, i.e. reading Wikipedia entries, I now understand that there was a whole lot more going on. Both Stephen Stills and Graham Nash had relationship breakups with Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell, respectively (and the respective inspirations for Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and Our House). Worse, David Crosby's longtime girlfriend Christine Hinton had been recently killed in a car accident. These events had to contribute to a bleak mood in the studio.

Additionally, all four band members were very possessive of their particular songs and sniping at the others about theirs. Little wonder that the album seems like a collection of singles instead of a cohesive whole.

Taken on their own, most of the songs are pretty good. Half of Déjà Vu also makes up half of their first greatest hits compilation - granted that's compiled from two albums and both sides of a non-album single.

Not that we're keeping score, but Nash comes up the winner with the blissful folk of Our House and the country rock of Teach Your Children - with, Wikipedia tells me, sublime pedal steel guitar from the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.

The title track is a mesmerizing and haunting beauty by Crosby but I always found Almost Cut My Hair a little shrill and strident. Same with Young's contributions: Helpless is a melancholic wonder (though it could just as easily be on a Young solo album from the same time period) and Country Girl is too melodramatic for me.

That essentially puts the load bearing weight in terms of singing or songwriting on the more-than-capable Stephen Stills. Two well-known songs, Carry On and Woodstock, two "new to me" pretty little ditties, 20 + 4 and Everybody Loves You. His songs just don't hit me in the feels the same way Nash's do.

As is often the case with supergroups, an auspicious beginning didn't equal repeated success. While Young occasionally dipped his toe back in, he had his own unique and prolific road to follow. The other three released a lot more albums together than I realized but never achieved Déjà Vu again.

Gary Claydon: There are some artists or albums that you respect, rather than actually enjoy, regardless of their undoubted greatness and their rightful place in rock'n'roll history. For me, that applies to both Déjà Vu and CSN&Y. No denying the talent on show or the skilful songwriting or the level of musicianship, especially those vocal harmonies but the truth is, it just leaves me a little cold, always has.

Eric Pedersen: Not as good as the first one without Neil, but still very nice. And the 50th anniversary vinyl reissue is ace.

Greg Schwepe: Believe it or not, I bought a used CD copy of Déjà Vu a number of years ago after hearing a song from it used in a television commercial. Which surprised the heck out of me, because I figured these would be the last guys to license their song to some (possibly!) “greedy corporation.” I can’t remember the product, but I sure remember hearing Our House. Marketing fail on that commercial!

And at the end of that commercial whoever was sitting in the living room watching TV at that time here in Ohio would sing along, trying to harmonize. And just about then I realized “I really do need to get that album.” It’s a classic album by a group of classic musicians who made classic songs that are staples on classic rock radio (OK, that’s four). Kind of one you have to own because of its stature if you call yourself a music fan.

Listening again I realized before I had bought it, I already knew half the songs. And some of the ones I didn’t know, I heard name-checked by other artists as something that really made an impact on them.

The harmonies are what grab me most. Whether it’s all four of the group, or just a few of them, they are so distinctive. And the clean, clear acoustic sound throughout, whether it’s one guitar or more, its simple feel draws you in. And overall, the simplicity of it all. The bouncy piano melody on Our House is so catchy it probably made a ton of kids want to learn piano after hearing it in the 70s. Something you could learn to play and sing along to.

In high school and college, I had many friends who hung on every note from CSNY (and CSN, and all the solo stuff from these four artists), but at the time I didn’t get it. My quieter, mellow, and introspective music came in the form of a proggy song that lasted the entire side of an album, not something that was folkie, slightly country-ish, hippie-ish. And while I’m definitely not a total CSNY convert, I appreciate the songwriting, musicianship, and vocal ability that makes up this album.

Déjà Vu stands the test of time, and takes you back to that time. A classic in its own right. There, that’s five uses of “classic” and I’m at my limit. 8 out of 10 for me on this one.

Chris Elliott: I've a soft spot for CSN in general - one of those bands who showed me there was more than screaming guitars to music in my teens. My brief hippy phase involved a lot of CSN. Nowadays in all honesty I'd choose a Greatest Hits over their actual albums. But it's a good album – a little too cluttered for me these days but that isn't unusual for this period in time – and thats before you've four people fighting for space.

John Davidson: Although a classic, this is not an album that I ever chose to own before.

My impression was that it was middle-of-the-road Laurel Canyon countrified rock and therefore, not my bag. And I was largely right. However it is, nonetheless, very enjoyable.

Reading the press opinions they allege that Young brought a bit of edge to the harmonious trio but equally it's not clear how much involvement he had on many of the tracks (though the absence of four of them from Spotify might be a clue!)

The best tracks are the opener, Carry On and Almost Cut My Hair. If you like meticulously crafted melodies, tight vocal harmonies and intricate/delicate guitars then this is the album for you.

As it is and despite its obvious legacy in creating a genre (and listening to Wishbone Ash's Argus I can only assume this was a huge influence on them) it's not really something I'd choose to listen to, but I wouldn't switch it off either. 8/10.

Philip Qvist: If you read most of the reviews, then Déjà Vu is one of those albums that I should have in my collection - but I don't. In fact, although many of the songs are familiar to me, such as the title track, Helpless, Woodstock and Teach Your Children, this is the first time I have listened to the album in full.

Strongest songs are Carry On, Country Girl and Almost Cut My Hair. I would consider Helpless, courtesy of Neil Young's whiny vocals, and their cover of Woodstock (I prefer the version by Matthew Southern Comfort) as the weakest tracks.

Although not a disjointed album; considering that CSN&Y are/were all excellent songwriters in their own right, there does seem to be an element of individualism running throughout Déjà Vu - although that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I get why this record is held in high regard by many, but I guess folk music never really hit my music radar. A good album for sure, but not one that fits on my essential list. 7 / 10 for me.

Mark Herrington: Smooth harmonies and some well-known classics, pepper this enjoyable album. But there was much here I hadn’t been familiar with until fairly recently. Not really on my musical spectrum in the 70s, I can appreciate it more now with the passage of time. The individual contributions make for a very varied listen overall, rather than a thematic whole. Ballads like Our House contrast with more robust songs like Almost Cut My Hair. This works well though because of the obvious skill and time that has gone into the whole thing. A high score from me.

Adam Ranger: Not sure I can review this album constructively. It has long been a favourite of mine. Very much an album of its time, but it still stands up today. Country rock, folk and hippy peace-and-love freakouts. It's all here.

Carry On opens the album with that hippy feel and beautiful harmonies, changing styles along the way Then we have the country folk of Teach Your Children, still keeping that hippy feel. Next the standout track for me, Almost Cut My Hair. David Crosby at his best. And perhaps the song that "rock fans" would enjoy the most.
Always gets me in the feels.

Neil Young being Neil Young with Helpless is next. The contrast with the close harmonies of the rest of the album is really nice. Woodstock is next. A feel-good groove about that great event. Covered well by others, but this version still stands the test for me. 

Déjà Vu and we are back with changing time signatures and lovely harmonies. Our House next. It is perhaps out of place on the feel of this album. 4+20, a beautiful folk ballad, follows. Then Mr Young again with Country Girl, a song with sweeping strings and piano. And to finish, the short joyous Everybody I Love You finishes on the right tone of the album.

A classic album of its time. So easy to listen to and so many little bits on each track to find. Great vocals, great musicianship. Always a 10 for me.

Keith Jenkin: One of those rare supergroup moments when the result was perhaps even greater then the sum of its parts. Several of the participants' best songs are here, Almost Cut My Hair and Déjà Vu by David Crosby, Helpless by Neil Young, Carry On by Stephen Stills and Teach Your Children and Our House by Graham Nash all played immaculately by the group on what would turn out to be the quartet's only studio outing until the mid-eighties. Throw in the best recorded version of Joni Mitchell's Woodstock and you have a classic from the tail end of the hippie era. Almost a perfect ten from me.

Richard Cardenas: I love this record and it was played with great frequency when I was in college. My go-to record when I was to engage in intimate relations. That aside, I think it’s an album that’s transcended eras. Lyrically, it’s still relevant, if a bit too optimistic.

Wibo Koeman: Brilliant album, you could say I grew up listening to this (born in '63) my father had this in his collection from the year it was released. Not a weak song on it in my opinion. If you like this one you might want to give the compilation album So Far a try.

Final score: 8.89 (157 votes cast, total score 1397)

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