We're not even halfway through the year, but the 50th anniversary edition box set of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's landmark Déjà Vu is a prime candidate for one of 2021's best box sets. This new four-volume set lifts the curtain on the folk supergroup's first album together, offering a trove of rare and unreleased demos, outtakes and alternate versions. If you've not had the pleasure of cracking into this one yet, allow us to provide four of our favorite bonus tracks from the box - one representing each member of the group - a first splash to invite you to dive in.
"Almost Cut My Hair" (Demo): one of David Crosby's signature songs with any of the groups he's played with over the years, the hippie anthem "Almost Cut My Hair" is a humorous anecdote wrapped in a searing ribbon of rock, in which the other three members contribute instrumentation instead of close harmonies. In demo form, though, it's more contemplative, with Crosby backing himself on acoustic and playing with the melody and rhythm of his lyrics. Talk about letting your freak flag fly.
"Woodstock" (Alternate Vocal): Stephen Stills led this track, the album's biggest hit and a brilliant account of the legendary 1969 rock festival (penned by Joni Mitchell, who you'd never know didn't attend from the evocative lyrics). While the album take has a pretty straightforward vocal from Stills, this alternate take on the set's fourth disc brings some fire to the track; on the iconic chorus, he weaves his voice through the tight background harmonies instead of acting as a counterpoint.
"Our House" (Demo): Though it was the lowest-charting single from the album, "Our House" is perhaps a defining CSNY song today, thanks to its use in movies and television. Graham Nash drew from his own relationship with Joni Mitchell at the time - every detail comes from something that really happened during their time together, down to the two cats - and the intimate demo featured in the Déjà Vu box is a must-hear: Nash plays the tune on Mitchell's piano as she offers her own harmonies (a precursor to what the rest of the group would add on the final mix). Their adoration is palpable - at one point, he hesitates before switching chords and curses "Shit!" - prompting an easy laugh from Joni.
"Birds" (Demo): While Neil Young only contributed a few of his own songs to Déjà Vu, including "Helpless" and "Country Girl" (itself built from a handful of ideas for when Young and Stills were in Buffalo Springfield together). One of the gems of this collection, however, is an unearthed demo of "Birds," which Young included on his beloved solo album After the Gold Rush, released later in 1970. In its early form, the final mix's piano part is figured out on an acoustic guitar - but Stills is on hand to flesh out the lovely harmonies that would feature on the final album.