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This is the musical story of 1970, concentrating on the making of four albums: Let it Be by the Beatles, Bridge over troubled water by Simon and Garfunkel, Sweet Baby James by James Taylor and Deja Vu by CSNY. 1970 was a year in which two of those groups fell apart, one achieved success and then collapsed and another, James Taylor, broke through with a successful album. It was a year when the Beatles went into freefall and the author relates the various issues - the end of the Apple dream, solo albums (including the arguments over the release dates of the McCartney album), John's primal scream therapy, etc.

The whole saga of CSNY's tour is described, including the lack of rehearsals which resulted in the first show ending with Crosby, Neil and Young flying to LA and leaving Stills to head to the soundcheck in Chicago only to find the show had been cancelled. After threats from promoters, they agreed to resume the tour. Meanwhile, Paul Simon was becoming irritated by Art Garfunkel's disappearance to make films. Unhappy about having to work around a partner, Simon ended the year by deciding to make records on his own. There is also the inter-twined story of James Taylor and manager Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon fame and who sensibly decided to leave the debacle that was Apple) and his rather reluctant path to success.

It is interesting to read how all these great musicians intersected - having the same girlfriends, hanging out together, competing and also, often, combining to make wonderful music. Still, the year ended in December with Paul McCartney having writs delivered to Lennon, Harrison, Starr and Klein. As Stills recalled, "The Let it Be stuff was overhanging the whole year, that they were basically ready to kill each other," and that "it permeated the whole industry". This is a fascinating account of that year of excess and personal trauma and the music that was made, almost despite the problems facing the people involved.
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Here's a book which tells the story of a year in the life of four musical acts: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles and James Taylor. The year is 1970, and the four albums they are working on (Deja Vu,Bridge Over Troubled Water,Let It Be and Sweet Baby James) would all go on to become amongst the best-loved and most popular records of all time. It was also the year in which each of the three ensembles would break up, and the author describes how this happened in detail - concentrating particularly on the way the members of The Beatles pulled the group apart, leaving the fragmented and unsatisfactory "Let It Be" to be re-worked for release by Phil Spector (whose arrangement of "The Long And Winding Road" came as an unpleasant surprise to Paul McCartney, resulting in further divisions between him and his colleagues).

By contrast, the split between Simon and Garfunkel seems to have been as allusive and underplayed as one of their delicate songs - "The Dangling Conversation", for example. And CSNY could be viewed as barely having been together in the first place: although "Deja Vu" is probably a stronger record than their groundbreaking debut album, Browne shows that it resulted from a much reduced degree of collaboration, which only decreased during their subsequent tour in support of the record. The fragmenting groups are contrasted with the increasing importance of solo artists such as James Taylor, leading to the identification of 1970 with the dawn of the era of the singer-songwriter.

The author sets the musical scene within the context of the changing political and cultural climate in the USA at the end of the sixties, telling the story of the protests against the Vietnam war and for civil rights, and their violent manifestations in the bombs of the Weathermen and the students who were killed at Kent State (which famously resulted in CSNY's single "Ohio"). This part of the story contained many surprises for me - for example, it was estimated that radical groups were responsible for more than four thousand explosions in the course of the year. Because they were all preceded by warnings, none were fatal - indeed, the only fatalities occurred when three members of the Weathermen blew themselves (and the entire building they were in) up whilst constructing nail bombs in March 1970.

The author visits the tale of each act in turn, cleverly managing to give the impression that each one is more interesting than the others. He presents a lot of details that were new to me, including a fascinating account of Paul Simon teaching a course on songwriting at New York University, the making of James Taylor's 1970 film Two-Lane Blacktop, Stephen Stills' lengthy sojourn in London, and the creation of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and its companion (which I hadn't known existed) Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. Instead of spending a lot of time exploring the music, he concentrates instead on teasing out the links between the four acts. This produces some interesting insights: I knew that Art Garfunkel had a relationship with Laurie Bird, James Taylor's costar in "Two-Lane Blacktop", but I hadn't known that Crosby, Stills and Nash had failed an early audition for Apple - possibly because of old animosity between The Beatles and The Hollies (Graham Nash's previous band).

I greatly enjoyed this book for such fascinating insights. On the whole, it's well-written, apart from a couple of clunkers which would have benefited from closer attention by the editor - e.g. (p172) "Just a few weeks before, Nash had been in he and Mitchell's shared house on Lookout Mountain Avenue [...]". Elsewhere, we learn that (p214), "Other than McCartney [...] the others looked disinterested in being Beatles.", but I'm fairly sure the author meant that they weren't interested in being Beatles, as opposed to taking an unbiased view of the matter. Finally, I got a bit tired of people who were continually "reaching out" to each other, rather than merely getting in touch or telephoning. But this is to pick nits from a nice piece of work, which more than lived up to the expectations I had of it.
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on 4 August 2011
This very well written and entertaining book chronicles in novelist fashion four groundbreaking albums: "Deja Vu" (CSNY), "Sweet Baby James" (James Taylor), "Bridge Over Troubled Water"(Simon & Garfunkel) and "Let It Be".

Actually the focus is not so much on the albums themselves - Brownes interpretations of the various songs are surely one of the weaker aspects of the book - but more the tumultous lifes of the involved artists. All 3 bands at the verge of break up and breakdown, leaving James Taylor in many ways as the 'hero' of the story.

No doubt David Browne has put lots of effort and research into this work, though apparently CSN are the only ones who have actually wanted to participate in the books making. He also succesfully manages to put the music in to a larger perspective: Nixon, Vietnam war, bombings running rampant in the US (a rather forgotten aspect of the times), the killings at US university campuses by the national guard, the Mason family.

In the end though he doesn't really make it evident why such brilliant and long lasting Art could grow out of all this trivial in-fighting and dope misuse. The idea that perhaps Art is a sphere of it's own with its owm laws seem foreign to him. Which might be connected with his disdain for the more spiritual aspects of these artists as when he says that '..he[Phil Spector] even made the chant "Hare Krishna" in "My Sweet Lord" palatable'.

A fine read for anyone into rock history and ofc for anyone interested in these four formidable acts.
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on 16 November 2015
If you are of a certain age (I am) and interested in The Beatles, James Taylor, Paul Simon then this is a MUST read. Example, why did Paul Simon start teaching music during the height of his "Bridge over troubled water". What was Suite for 20G (James Taylor). What really happened with the Beatles. All is revealed. Very well written.
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on 15 January 2015
A terrific meeting of minds from Browne's pen. 1970 was the year rock turned inwards, as displayed by the goings-on of the key figures. Almost a half-century on, it seems like those days were rock's glory years, in between Woodstock and Led Zeppelin.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 October 2015
On the surface this seemed like a good idea. Take one specific year in rock history - 1970 - and chronicle it through four major albums - Bridge over Troubled Waters by Simon and Garfunkel, Fire and Rain by James Taylor, Let It Be by the Beatles and Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. This book is as much about the times as it is the specific albums and there seems to be little to hold it together apart from the year.

It chronicles breakdowns, band excesses but somehow struggles to make any real point. There is nothing new here that we didn't already know and the author seems determined to link together diverse artists without ever really doing so. That makes it a great disappointment overall.
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