Stephen Stills’ Manassas Album

The first album by Manassas, featuring Stephen Stills and Chris Hillman was released in 1972. This is one of my favorite albums. I’ve owned three copies on vinyl, and I have it on CD. It’s been a favorite of musicians for more than four decades.

The most important albums are the ones that people play over and over after they buy them. The number of albums sold isn’t the only measure of success. Stills fans still play this album, decades after they bought it. (How many people do you think still listen to Thriller?) Stills fans still dream of a Manassas reunion tour, but there’s been no talk of one.

Songs from Manassas are included in the KNUS 98.7FM, and the KZEW 98FM playlists on Spotify. (See Spotify Playlists here at the HoustonGuitar website.)

The album went Gold (500,000 units) within weeks of its release. The RIAA Gold certification takes into account that Manassas is a double-album set. Manassas was a hit album without a hit song. The popularity of the album owed much to the popularity of Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Stills had two previous Gold albums. Before that, Super Session (it wasn’t) was also certified Gold. Sales of Manassas also owed much to Chris Hillman’s work with the Byrds. Stills knew Manassas would be compared to Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Hillman was still a member of the Burritos when he joined Manassas. Steeler Al Perkins had played with the Burritos in 1971.

Most people don’t think of Manassas as a concept album. There’s no obvious theme. Each side has its own title, and it’s own feel. Side one, The Raven, features LatinĀ  and blues influences. Side two, The Wilderness, leans toward traditional country, folk and bluegrass. Side three, Consider, opens with one of the album’s strongest songs, “It Doesn’t Matter,” then settles into a sophisticated acoustic-driven set. Side four, Rock & Roll Is Here To Stay, includes upbeat rocker “Right Now,” and the meandering jammer “The Treasure.”

From Wikipedia: Stills has stated the album did not receive the recognition it deserved due to Atlantic Records and Ahmet Ertegun (head of Atlantic Records) wanting him back in the “goldmine” that was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Stills has stated that as soon as the album shipped gold, Ertegun pulled the record, and people could not find it in stores.

This is some of the best singing of Stills’ career. The songwriting is strong overall. Manassas combines bluesy rock, Latin, folk, and country. There was nothing else like it at the time. On this album, and on albums like Illegal Stills, Stills offered a vision for new directions in country music, but Nashville didn’t take the bait.

On Youtube:

Song Of Love” is the opening number from Side One, titled The Raven, and features an Afro-Cuban feel.

How Far” an easy-going ballad, but rhythmically intricate, built on Stills’ tasty acoustic guitar playing.

Fallen Eagle is the closest thing to a bluegrass track on this record. The instrumentation and tempo remind me of “Rocky Top.”

So Begins The Task begins with an almost imperceptible walk-up on the bass. This song features a beautiful steel guitar part by Al Perkins, which melds perfectly with the guitars.

It Doesn’t Matter” is a great example of the interplay on both vocals and guitars between Stills and Chris Hillman.

Paul Ingles’ Music Archive Showcase did a retrospective on Manassas (May 7, 2022).

Here is an alternate take of “So Begins The Task.” This is a different version, in a different key, from the version featured on Just Roll Tape.