11/16/70: Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills
November 1970 was quite a significant month in the world of album releases, and today the train rolls on with the second of four major solo releases from the members of CSNY after Déjà Vu’s release the previous March. Stephen Stills relocated to England to put some distance between himself and the drama emanating from the group, moving into Ringo’s old residence in Surrey. While there, he established musical connections and wrote a bunch of songs which he recorded primarily in London in the first half of 1970 between CSNY tours. His somewhat eclectic and fantastic Stephen Stills was released on this day 50 years ago.
Though he crossed the Atlantic to get away from it all, and while this is 100% solo Stills in terms of songwriting, by the time the album was finished he’d enlisted the help of a number of A-Listers including the names Hendrix, Clapton, Starr, Crosby, Nash, Sebastian, Mama Cass, Booker T., Rita Coolidge, and others. The songs on the LP are personal in nature and hint at his relationships in CSNY as well as his unsteady romantic involvement with Coolidge, the latter symbolized by the giraffe on the album cover photo taken by Henry Diltz (Stills and Coolidge either bought the stuffed animal together or she bought it for him). By the time of its release, she had left Stills for Nash, putting a temporary nail in CSNY’s coffin. And what of that odd cover? AllMusic refers to it as an understatement, that judging by the cover one might think the album is full of gentle, introspective singer/songwriter material, only to hear a “seamless” blend of folk, blues, hard rock, and gospel.
Contemporary reviews ranged from tepid with its “undefined” or “elusive” qualities, to fantastic, such as AllMusic’s retrospective description as a “jaw-dropping experience, the musical equal to Crosby, Stills & Nash or Déjà Vu.” I tend to hear it as a little of both, though not elusive in a negative way. Stephen Stills starts out with a bang. The theme of his anthem to free love might be dated, but the song is a classic in which he uses the chorus to full effect. By the end of side one we’ve heard signature guitar licks from Jimi Hendrix (who would pass before the album’s release, and who it’s dedicated to) on the funky Old Times Good Times, and Eric Clapton on Go Back Home. My other favorites include the quieter Do for the Others, the spirited Sit Yourself Down, and the CSNY concert staple, Black Queen.
Looking at it through the lens of 2020, perhaps the only thing the album suffers from is the fact that there were other great albums released in 1970, namely Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, which came out just a couple weeks later. (And to tie them together, it’s interesting that Stills borrowed the phrase “love the one you’re with” from Billy Preston, who also tutored Harrison in the ways of gospel music George used on My Sweet Lord. Was there ever a time of more cross-pollination in music than around 1970?) Stephen Stills reached number three on the U.S. Billboard album chart, and eight in the U.K., and was fueled by singles Love the One You’re With b/w To A Flame and Sit Yourself Down b/w We Are Not Helpless. This is Stills at or near the peak of his powers, and it gets better for me with each listen.
- Love the One You’re With
- Do for the Others
- Church (Part of Someone)
- Old Times Good Times
- Go Back Home
- Sit Yourself Down
- To a Flame
- Black Queen
- We Are Not Helpless