15 Essential David Crosby Songs

In 1971, Crosby released his fully atmospheric solo debut album, “If I Could Only Remember My Name”, backed by members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, as well as Joni Mitchell. Crosby sings about a failed spiritual quest—finding “only reflections of the shadow I’ve seen”—and Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel guitar floats above him.

In this elaborate miniature, a whimsical chorus of vocal harmonies bears the names of places in France; Then the guitar takes over the counterpoint, drawing out a melody once and letting it drop.

“Holding on to Nothing” contains more than a hint of Crosby’s lifelong admiration for Mitchell. From “Crows,” his return to making solo albums after 20 years, “Holding On to Nothing” meditates on time, nostalgia, depression and perseverance, feeling “like a stranger passing by.”

In a song from “Lighthouse,” the album that began Crosby’s multi-year collaboration with the Michael League of Snarky Puppy, Crosby looks at the vast distance between the stars and wonders, “Why do we have to be alone forever?” But gradually, layer by layer, guitar patterns and voices chime in and tell us we’re not.

Even in his last years, Crosby tried new approaches. “Bend Wind” — written with his son James Raymond — is bouncy and rhythmically unpredictable, with flamenco-like handclaps and a bass line that speaks to him. The lyrics want “a little drag here/a little solid ground,” but as the melody bounces around, Crosby is absolutely committed.

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Written with members of the band Lighthouse, “Balanced on a Pin” ponders fragility and mortality: “Landing’s the hardest part/The link’s broken,” Crosby sings. For much of the song, his only accompaniment is a solo guitar pick-up, suspending his voice above the inevitability of silence.

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