Neil Young made a promise to David Crosby to reunite with Crosby, Stills & Nash if Crosby could solve his problems with drugs and clean out. Prison time for Crosby in 1986 accomplished exactly that, and good to his word the quartet assembled to record the second CSNY studio album at Young's ranch in Woodside, California.
The title song, written by Neil Young, was a satire of sensational political scandals involving Oliver North, former presidential candidate Gary Hart, and televangelistJimmy Swaggart. The promotional video of "American Dream" for MTV received some airplay, but the single missed the Billboard Hot 100 completely, as did three of the other four singles released from the album. The only single to chart, "Got It Made," peaked at #69. Crosby's "Compass" is a lament on how much time he had wasted on drugs, and the production of the album in general is a mix of the group's trademark acoustic spareness and their sound updated for the 1980s.
Anticipation for the quartet's first studio album since Déjà Vu in 1970 was great, but all four performers were at various ebbs in their songwriting. The harmonies still sounded intact, but critics found the songs too placid and trite. American Dream was meant to be a concept album on the meaning of American dreams and aspirations, but critics and fans alike felt that CSNY had fallen short of their goals. Writing in Rolling Stone, critic Anthony DeCurtis wrote, "Despite pleasant melodies, the occasional interesting song, and the signature harmonies, American Dream is, for the most part, a snoozefest." Writing in their 1991 book The Worst Rock and Roll Records Of All Time, Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell were especially vicious, rating American Dream as the fourth-worst album ever. As ardent detractors of Crosby, Stills and Nash, the two authors declared that they had not expected anything worthwhile from the trio anyway and took Young to task for his songs, which they felt made the album especially bad. Guterman and O'Donnell declared that Young's contributions to American Dream were flops that he never would have put on any of his solo albums. "Here, of course," they wrote, "they were the highlights."
David Crosby, in fact, agreed that the album had too many songs and that the writing was not up to par. "The whole thing, the recording of American Dream, it got stretched out. And we did not have, really, the best group of songs to work with. . . . Then, even though we did not have enough good songs, we ended up putting fourteen of them on the album! I think that was stupid."
Stephen Stills — vocals; guitars on "Name of Love," "Don't Say Goodbye," "Nighttime for the Generals," "Drivin' Thunder," "Clear Blue Skies," "That Girl," "Soldiers of Peace," and "Night Song" keyboards on "American Dream" and "Got It Made"; bass synthesizer on "Don't Say Goodbye"; bass, synthesizer and handclaps on "Night Song"; percussion on "Drivin' Thunder,"
Joe Vitale — drums on "American Dream," "Got It Made," "Name of Love," "Don't Say Goodbye," "Nighttime for the Generals," "Drivin' Thunder," "Clear Blue Skies," and "Night Song"; all instruments, sound effects and vocals on "Shadowland"; keyboards on "Clear Blue Skies," "That Girl," "Compass," and "Soldiers of Peace"; synthesizer on "Don't Say Goodbye"; percussion on "Drivin' Thunder" and "Feel Your Love"; vibraphone on "Feel Your Love"
Bob Glaub — bass on "American Dream," "Got It Made," "Name of Love," "Nighttime for the Generals," "Drivin' Thunder," "Clear Blue Skies," "That Girl," and "Soldiers of Peace"
Joe Lala — percussion on "Got It Made," "Shadowland," "Clear Blue Skies," and "That Girl" drums on "Soldiers of Peace"
Chad Cromwelll — drums on "That Girl"
The Bluenotes: Tommy Bray, Claude Callilet, Larry Cragg, John Fumo, Steve Lawrence — horns on "That Girl"
Brian Bell — synthesizer programming on "This Old House"
Rhett Lawrence — synthesizer programming on "Soldiers of Peace"
Niko Bolas, Tim Mulligan, Tim Foster, Brentley Walton — handclaps on "American Dream"
Bill Boydston, Don Gooch, Bill Lazerus — sound effects on "Shadowland"
The Volume Dealers Choir: Kelly Ashmore, Betsy Aubrey, Tom Banghart, Cha Blevins, Niko Bolas, Craig Doerge, Scott Gordon, R. Mac Holbert, Stanley Johnston, Bill Krause, Debbie Meister, Tim Mulligan, Susan Nash, Jay Parti, Steve Perry, Vince Slaughter, Joe Vitale, Paul Williamson — backing vocals on "Soldiers of Peace"