If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do.
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal
With all of you.
And I feel
Like I've been here before,
Like I've been here before.
And you know it makes me wonder
What's going on under
Do you know?
Don't you wonder
What's going on down under you?
We have all been here before. (6x in pairs)
Déjà vu is the first album reviewed here of the 1970s. Crosby Stills Nash & Young (CSNY) had played in concert together since the release of the first CSN album, and had increased in popularity with the release of their biggest hit up to this point, Woodstock, which reached #11 in the U.S. (The single got higher on the charts than the previous hit celebrating a countercultural festival, Eric Burdon’s Monterey, which only rose to #15 in 1967. By the time of the single release celebrating the Woodstock Festival, which occurred in August 1969, the murder at the Altamont Concert had occurred in December of that year, seriously undermining the high hopes of the hippie counterculture. Rather than celebration, the song Woodstock evoked nostalgia: “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”) The album was heavily anticipated, and rose within a few weeks to #1 with force enough to knock Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel) off of the top position. It would turn out to be CSNY’s only studio album to date.
Wikipedia reports that the album was rarely recorded as a group; with a couple of exceptions, the songs were recorded individually as each member got around to laying their track, much as the Beatles’ White Album had been recorded. Each side of the album featured one composition by each of the artists, with the final song being composed by the two previous members of the former Buffalo Springfield, Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Though handsomely packaged in leatherette and embossed in gold (with Dallas Taylor on drums and Greg Reeves on bass guitar included in the headline credits), the album failed to have the coherence expected of an album in 1970, as “concept” albums had become the fashion. The album Déjà Vu held the number one spot in the U.S. for only one week before Paul McCartney took over with his first album as a solo artist.
According to Bruce Eder of allmusic, it took a hundred hours to work out the song Déjà vu to the satisfaction of its composer, David Crosby. The song starts out with a rollicking rhythm guitar in an odd time signature with scat accompaniment before it completely comes to a halt, gets set up with a countdown again and then continues at the same rollicking speed to accompany the lyrics of the first verse. The B section is a slower spacious jazz melody accompanied by twelve string guitar. The lyric is overburdened and runs over at last so that “the ground” line at the end really feels as if it’s fallen from mid-air to a crash. The C section with noodling electric guitar has a brief lyric that introduces a lengthy set of complex and precise scat harmonies accompanied with John Sebastian on harmonica. This leads to an instrumental segment featuring Greg Reeves on bass guitar. The wrap up continues in a similar musical pattern as section C to repeat the concluding lines six times in pairs, ending with CSN harmonies and Graham Nash on the high note. Does the song reproduce the psychological state of déjà vu? Langdon Winner of the Rolling Stone magazine wrote in his review that it “fails totally to capture the eerie feeling that accompanies the déjà vu experience.” I disagree...the A section depicts an adrenaline rush and skipping heart, a sort of panic, that opens up in B and further in C to a sort of oceanic wonderment. Eventually this dissolves into a wordless “rightness”, a feeling of harmony with the universe from which arises the certainty of the logical statement “We have all been here before”. The problem is that there is no indication of what moment in the past the present moment is an echo of. From the album cover are we to assume that 1970 has something in common with the Wild West of 1870? The parallel is not clear, regardless of the style of clothing the band tended to prefer at the time, with its Wild Bill Hickok fringe wear.