If I Could Only Remember My Name by David Crosby


Rita Coolidge was a highly successful solo artist in the late 70’s and had four consecutive Top 25 hits. She had been discovered by Delaney & Bonnie in the late 60’s and became a backing singer for many artists including Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason. She became known as “The Delta Lady” and inspired Leon Russell to write a song of the same name for her. Rita Coolidge received no songwriting credit for the coda for “Layla”, which she had played to her boyfriend, Jim Gordon, who played it for Eric Clapton during the recording of “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs“. (Her relationship with Jim Gordon ended when he hit her in an unprovoked assault. He was later convicted of murdering his mother.)

Rita Coolidge later married Kris Kristofferson and appeared as Billy The Kid’s wife in Sam Peckinpah’s “Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid“. However, before Jim Gordon or Kris Kristofferson, she had relationships with Crosby, Stills and Nash. She first came into their orbit when she sung background vocals on the 1970 Stephen Stills song “Love the One You’re With,” from his eponymous 1970 album. Graham Nash also sung on the track and he asked her out. However, a few hours before they were due to meet, Stephen Stills made two phone calls: one to Graham Nash telling him that Rita Coolidge didn’t want to go out with him and the second to Rita Coolidge saying that Graham Nash was unavailable and he, Steven Stills, would be taking her out. After Stephen Stills and Rita Coolidge had been dating for a few weeks, the truth emerged which resulted in Stephen Stills punching Graham Nash (when the other round might have been more comprehensible). When David Crosby found out about this, he accused Rita Coolidge of being a “devil woman” and he continued to maintain that Rita Coolidge caused Crosby, Stills & Nash to break up. Rita Coolidge and Graham Nash dated for a year until she met Kris Kristofferson.

Track Two on “If I Could Only Remember My Name” is called “Cowboy Movie” and it tells a tale of five characters, Eli (Stephen Stills), Fat Albert (David Crosby), Young Billy (Neil Young,) Raven (Rita Coolidge), and Duke (Graham Nash). Eli, Fat Albert, Young Billy and Duke have just robbed a train and are heading back to camp, when they come across Raven, an “Indian” girl. Presumably, a Native American girl. “Now Eli and the Duke they got down to it. They each wanted the Indian girl for their own.” Eli got mad and threatened to kill the rest of them and Raven bit Fat Albert’s thumb, nearly killing him. Musically, it’s a brilliant song, with some spine tingling electric guitar solos from Jerry Garcia. Lyrically, it typifies the sexism, narcissism and self-indulgence of Laurel Canyon in the early 1970s.

The musicians that appear on “If I Could Only Remember My Name” include three of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (no Stephen Stills – maybe he objected to “Cowboy Movie”), four members of The Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann) two members of Santana (Greg Rolie and Michael Shrieve), five members of Jefferson Airplane (David Freiberg, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Jack Casady and Grace Slick) and Joni Mitchell. They named themselves The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.

Laughing” is a particularly gorgeous track with a soft, slow, soothing groove accentuated by wonderful harmony vocals from Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell and delightful pedal steel guitar playing from Jerry Garcia.

Tamalpais High (At About 3)“, “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here” and “Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves)” are instrumentals with soaring wordless harmonies. “Orleans“, a French children’s song dating from the 15th century, consists of the line “Orleans, Beaugency, Notre Dame du Cléry, Vendôme, Vendôme” repeated three times, sung in perfect harmony by a multi-tracked David Crosby.

What Are Their Names” is either ridiculous hippy twaddle, an optimistic belief that the future can be made better or a rather intimidating threat by a younger generation, depending on your point of view. The lyrics are “I wonder who they are, the men who really run this land and I wonder why they run it with such a thoughtless hand. Tell me what are their names and on what street do they live? I’d like to ride right over this afternoon and give them a piece of my mind about peace for mankind. Peace is not an awful lot to ask.” The guitar interplay between Jerry Garcia and Neil Young is joyful and the menacing vocals are by David Crosby, Graham Nash, Neil Young, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Joni Mitchell, Phil Lesh and David Frieberg.

It’s worth putting this album’s release into a context.

AlbumArtistRelease date
Deja VuCrosby, Stills, Nash & YoungMarch 1970
Ladies Of The CanyonJoni MitchellApril 1970
Workingman’s DeadThe Grateful DeadJune 1970
AbraxasSantanaSeptember 1970
After The GoldrushNeil YoungSeptember 1970
Blows Against The EmpirePaul Kantner & Jefferson StarshipNovember 1970
American BeautyThe Grateful DeadNovember 1970
Stephen StillsStephen StillsNovember 1970
If I Could Only Remember My NameDavid CrosbyFebruary 1971
4 Way StreetCrosby, Stills, Nash & YoungApril 1971
Songs For BeginnersGraham NashMay 1971
Stephen Stills 2Stephen StillsJune 1971
BlueJoni MitchellJune 1971
Grateful DeadThe Grateful DeadSeptember 1971
Santana IIISantanaSeptember 1971
BarkJefferson AirplaneNovember 1971
SunfighterPaul Kantner & Grace SlickNovember 1971

There’s plenty not to love about Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young but when they get it right, the sounds they make are the perfect epitome of everything I love about music. The opening song, “Music Is Love” sums it all up perfectly. Music is love. What’s so funny about peace, music, love and understanding?

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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