Song of the Day #4,581: ‘Helplessly Hoping’ – Crosby, Stills & Nash

I had a great time ticking off my 25 favorite songs over the past couple of weeks. And it was even better to see some regular readers chime in with lists of their own.

List-making is a perilous exercise that risks turning art into science, appreciation into competition. But done right, it’s an excuse to dive deeper into the things we love, to dissect the reasons, to learn more about the work and about ourselves. That’s what draws me to it.

I used to read year-end top ten lists, of movies and albums, and root for each one to hew closely to mine. Agreement meant validation. Widespread agreement meant we list-makers were getting closer to some objective truth.

Over the years I’ve realized that’s silly — and worse, it’s boring. It robs art of its power to move many different people in many different ways. Now I’d rather read a top ten list completely different from mine and try to understand why those movies, albums or songs struck a nerve.

That’s what I plan to do over the next few weeks. I’m going to feature songs listed as favorites by those who commented on my own list.

Maybe I’ll discover new songs to treasure. Maybe I won’t get the fuss. Either way, I’m going to learn more about the art, and more about the people who love it, and that’s a whole lot to learn.

Kicking things off is ‘Helplessly Hoping,’ a Crosby, Stills & Nash song listed by Madison. This track appeared on the folk rock supergroup’s debut album in 1969. I know ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ from that album (though I didn’t know it was called that) but this one is new to me.

Like ‘Judy Blue Eyes,’ ‘Helplessly Hoping’ was written by Stephen Stills about his ex-girlfriend, Judy Collins. Collins herself performed the song on a 2012 CSN&Y tribute album.

Stills really has fun with the alliterative language here, and spins out some clever wordplay in the chorus. Great melody as well, and the harmonies are typically excellent.

In a nice callback to my post about ‘Take On Me,’ this song is also featured (albeit briefly) in the video game The Last of Us Part 2, when main character Joel is seen in flashback relaxing with his guitar.

[Verse 1]
Helplessly hoping
Her harlequin hovers nearby
Awaiting a word
Gasping at glimpses
Of gentle true spirit
He runs, wishing he could fly
Only to trip at the sound of good-bye

[Verse 2]
Wordlessly watching
He waits by the window
And wonders
At the empty place inside
Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams
He worries
Did he hear a good-bye? Or even hello?

They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other

[Verse 3]
Stand by the stairway
You’ll see something
Certain to tell you confusion has its cost
Love isn’t lying
It’s loose in a lady who lingers
Saying she is lost
And choking on hello

They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,581: ‘Helplessly Hoping’ – Crosby, Stills & Nash

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    What a fun idea to do a deeper dive into our respective favorite songs lists! I suspect that most of the new discoveries will come from our kids, though how cool is it that it took a 25 year old girl to shine a spotlight on a 50 year old classic beautiful CSN&Y song?

    Maddie will hopefully chime in to explain how she came to love this song, but perhaps it was (or was solidified by) hearing Brandi Carlile cover it on the Howard Stern Show. Here is a clip of that with Brandi telling the story about ho she performed the song in a show attended without her knowledge by Stephen Stills:

  2. Amy says:

    I, too, have found myself viewing others’ lists in a similar fashion as you describe above and love the insight into the person such lists can provide. Maddie is a sucker for a good harmony, and CS&N may be the masters of the art of harmonizing. I look forward to seeing which other gems we chose haven’t been featured among the 4,000+ songs you’ve written about on your blog. I believe Daniel was going to ask if he might guest blog to write about his list, as I see he has yet to share it though he might have been the first of us to complete one.

  3. Peg says:

    I really love your analysis on list making 😊 I look forward to reading your posts on the songs on the other lists!

  4. Maddie says:

    This is a great idea! 🙂 I actually first fully registered this song in a significant way when it was used in an early opening scene of the film Annihilation. I find a lot of my most beloved songs in a film or TV feature, and I guess this was no exception. It struck such a different eerie, gloomy, dreamy and romantic tone all at once. Since then, my close friends at Emerson (a couple who grew up with the song and some who came to know it as I did) would harmonize with it on long road trips together. Can’t lie, we sounded great lol Anyway, hopefully that offers some deeper explanation and I can’t wait to read about the other songs you feature. 🙂

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