Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
|"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"|
|Single by Crosby, Stills & Nash|
|from the album Crosby, Stills & Nash|
|B-side||"Long Time Gone"|
|Format||7" 45 RPM|
7:28 (album version)4:35 (single edit)
|Crosby, Stills & Nash singles chronology|
"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is a suite of short songs written by Stephen Stills and performed by Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN). It appeared on the group's self-titled debut album in 1969 and was released as a single, hitting #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart. The song is ranked #418 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
CSN performed "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" at the Woodstock and Live Aid festivals, and their performance at the former is featured in the film Woodstock (1970). The title is a play on words for "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes". The song is a suite in the classical sense (i.e., an ordered set of musical pieces).
The recording features an acoustic guitar tuned to EBEEBE ("Bruce Palmer Modal Tuning") vs. the standard EADGBE tuning. This style of tuning would later be used for the Déjà Vu songs "4+20" and "Carry On".
The title "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" refers to Stephen Stills' former girlfriend, singer/songwriter Judy Collins, and the lyrics to most of the suite's sections consist of his thoughts about her and their imminent breakup. Collins is known for her piercing blue eyes, which are referenced in the title. During a July 15, 2007 interview for the National Public Radio program Just Roll Tape, Stills revealed that Collins was present in the studio when the demo tapes were recorded. Collins had advised Stills "not to stay [at the studio] all night." Stills later commented that "the breakup was imminent...we were both too large for one house." Stills said that he liked parts of this demo version of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" better than the released version.
Collins and Stills had met in 1967 and dated for two years. In 1969, she was appearing in the New York Shakespeare Festival musical production of Peer Gynt and had fallen in love with her co-star Stacy Keach, eventually leaving Stills for him. Stills was devastated by the possible breakup and wrote the song as a response to his sadness. In a 2000 interview, Collins gave her impressions of when she first heard the song:
"[Stephen] came to where I was singing one night on the West Coast and brought his guitar to the hotel and he sang me “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the whole song. And of course it has lines in it that referred to my therapy. And so he wove that all together in this magnificent creation. So the legacy of our relationship is certainly in that song."
CSN actually formed in order to record "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes". Stills and David Crosby had discussed the idea of creating a three-man vocal group, but were unable to find a suitable third partner. Among those seriously considered was John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful. At an informal gathering one evening, Stills and Crosby performed a two-voice version of a new song entitled "You Don't Have to Cry". Graham Nash, who was present at the gathering, asked the duo to sing the song again repeatedly. After several performances, Nash began singing the missing high vocal harmony, resulting in his joining the group shortly thereafter.
"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" has four distinct sections. The timings below are for the full album version, not the shortened version released as a single (in the UK at least) that cut the third section of each of the first three parts and shortened the guitar break between the second and the third).
The first section is a traditional pop song, featuring a chorus of "I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are." Running at approximately 2:55, the lead vocal is performed by Stills, with Crosby and Nash providing harmonies.
The second section is performed in half time relative to the first section, and features three-part harmony from the band, with Stills performing a brief vocal solo. This section runs from 2:55 to 4:43.
The third section is more upbeat and features poetic lyrics ("chestnut brown canary, ruby-throated sparrow"), lasting from 4:43 to 6:25. Each phrase is initially sung by Stills, with Nash then joining, and finally Crosby rounding out the harmonies. Connecting the phrases are instrumental breaks performed by Stills on acoustic guitar.
The final section (the coda) is sung in Spanish, starting at 6:34 until the song concludes. The "doo-doo-doo-da-doo" backing vocals are the best known segment of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", with Stills singing Spanish lyrics in the background. Stills has said that he intentionally made the final stanzas unexpected and difficult, even using a foreign language for the lyrics, "just to make sure nobody would understand it" (not even Spanish speaking people).
The final section has been parodied many times, notably in Frank Zappa's compositions "Billy the Mountain" and "Magdalena" on The Mothers of Invention's album Just Another Band From L.A. Most recently, "Weird Al" Yankovic performs a takeoff of it ("Mission Statement") on his 2014 album Mandatory Fun, only instead of Spanish, the lyrics are corporate buzzwords strung together in such a way as to be ultimately nonsensical. It is also sampled in the 2010 Cypress Hill song "Armada Latina".
In the mid-1960s, Stills attended Lincoln School in San José, Costa Rica. The private school was attended mainly by upper-class Costa Ricans and had many foreign teachers and students. Stills's longtime musical collaborator, the Cuban percussionist Joe Lala, plays on the recording of the song.
The lines might be transcribed as follows:
- ¡Que linda! Me recuerda a Cuba
- La reina de la Mar Caribe
- Quiero sólo visitarle allí
- Y que triste que no puedo. ¡Vaya!
- O Va! O Va! (varies in different recordings)
A rough translation into English might read:
- How pretty! I'm reminded of Cuba (alternatively, if the song is about Judy, "(she) reminds me of Cuba")
- The queen of the Caribbean Sea
- I only want to visit her there
- And how sad that I can't. Go!
- Oh go! Oh go!
A variation of this occurs on the live album 4 Way Street where Stills sings "Que lástima que no puedo. ¡Vaya!" ("It's a pity that I cannot. Go!").