From The Huffington Post
In the world of box sets, it would be impossible to find something better than Neil Young Archives Volume 1 (1963 – 1972). This is truly overwhelming in every sense–sound quality, archival material, previously unreleased recordings, live tracks, old and new interviews and documentaries, image galleries, letters, personal memorabilia, lyrics, lyric manuscripts, biographies, timelines, videos, radio spots, film snippets, interactive elements–seriously, the content and its variations just go on and on. And the news keeps getting better for Neil Young’s fans…this is merely the first of at least four more installments of equal quality and integrity covering his remaining recorded history. This ultimate musical experience is being delivered non-traditionally through Blu-Ray and DVD formats at an extremely high audio resolution of 192k/24-bit, its visuals in 1920/1080 high def, with both elements taking full advantage of crushingly superior technology when compared to the meager compact disc.
A quick sidebar: Although the CD variant of Young’s endeavor is formidable, in comparison, it’s like sitting Tony Stark’s clunky gray body armor next to its shiny, red and gold, full-throttle upgrade. Archive’s release absolutely should stimulate a discussion on how the geriatric CD format finally has been made obsolete, and this new approach is something the music business could employ on a wider scale to re-invigorate itself (getting back on the horse after its unsuccessful attempt at an upgrade during the SACD/DVD-A war). This box isn’t just important in the context of Neil Young’s career; the music biz has been handed the prototype of a unique concept that could create a new business model. The question is, can the ol’ dog learn a new trick?
Getting back to Archives, this superb assembly of recordings from Young’s most fertile creative period–one that begins in Winnipeg with The Squires, and moves through virtually every solo classic (in one form or another), as well as Young’s stints in Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse, and, of course, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young–thoroughly gathers its history, both sonically and visually, like an autobiography. Archives also can be perceived as a journal of its era due to its interviews (including David Crosby and other friends and contemporaries), photo galleries, historical performances (such as Filmore East and Woodstock recordings), and the inclusion of Young’s obscure, first film, Journey Through The Past, that is presented in 96k/24-bit, 5.1 DTS surround sound. Its compelling 236-page hard cover book includes endless photos, 45 and album label shots, archival notes, and limitless details. Across the ten discs, quick “filing” screens shuttle you along the content, and there are hidden gems lurking about for the adventurous.
We have to stop here because, quite frankly, words don’t do it justice. If you like this artist, go buy this box. It will bring joy to your life for weeks since you will never get through it in your first few sittings. Despite scores of excellent, high concept, minutia-driven collections, or even Grammy-winning box sets released over the years by some of our greatest artists, and regardless of if you like or dislike the music of Neil Young, nothing comes close to what Archives achieved. And that’s not an exaggeration. Let’s just call this what it is–the best box set ever made. Surely, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, The Rolling Stones, and other musical icons deserve this treatment as well. Thanks to Archives, they just might get it.
Disc 00 – Early Years (1963 – 1968)
Aurora – The Squires – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
The Sultan – The Squires – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
I Wonder – The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono
Mustang – The Squires – previously unreleased instrumental (mono)
I’ll Love You Forever – The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
(I’m A Man And) I Can’t Cry – The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
Hello Lonely Woman – Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased version
Casting Me Away From You – Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased song
There Goes My Babe – Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased song
Sugar Mountain – Neil Young – previously unreleased demo version (mono)
Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing – Neil Young – previously unreleased demo version (mono)
Runaround Babe – Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
The Ballad Of Peggy Grover – Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
The Rent Is Always Due – Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
Extra, Extra – Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
Disc 01 – Early Years (1966 – 1968)
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong – Neil Young – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
Burned – Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
Out Of My Mind – Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
Down, Down, Down – Neil Young – previously unreleased version (mono)
Kahuna Sunset – Buffalo Springfield – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
Mr. Soul – Buffalo Springfield – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
Sell Out – Buffalo Springfield – previously unreleased song (mono)
Down To The Wire – Neil Young – from the album Decade (mono)
Expecting To Fly – Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield
Slowly Burning – Neil Young – previously unreleased instrumental
One More Sign – Neil Young – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set
Broken Arrow – Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield Again
I Am A Child – Buffalo Springfield – from the album Last Time Around
Disc 02 – Topanga I (1968 – 1969)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young – from the stereo promotional 45 RPM single-second pressing
The Loner – Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
Birds – Neil Young – previously unreleased version
What Did You Do To My Life? – Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
The Last Trip To Tulsa – Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
Here We Are In The Years – Neil Young – from the album Neil Young – second version
I’ve Been Waiting For You – Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
The Old Laughing Lady – Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
I’ve Loved Her So Long – Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
Sugar Mountain – Neil Young – previously unreleased stereo master
Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Down By The River – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Cowgirl In The Sand – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Disc 03 – Live At The Riverboat (Toronto 1969)
Sugar Mountain – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
The Old Laughing Lady – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
On The Way Home – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
I’ve Loved Her So Long – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
I Am A Child – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
1956 Bubblegum Disaster – Neil Young – previously unreleased song
The Last Trip To Tulsa – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Broken Arrow – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Whiskey Boot Hill – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Expecting To Fly – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Disc 04 – Topanga II (1969 – 1970)
Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets) – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Round And Round (It Won’t Be Long) – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Oh Lonesome Me – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased stereo mix
Birds – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
Everybody’s Alone – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased song
I Believe In You – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album After The Gold Rush
Sea Of Madness – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the original soundtrack album Woodstock
Dance Dance Dance – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased version
Country Girl – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the album Déjà Vu
Helpless Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased mix
It Might Have Been – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased live version
Disc 05 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Live At The Fillmore East (New York 1970)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Down By The River
Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown
Cowgirl In The Sand
Disc 06 – Topanga III (1970)
Tell Me Why – Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
After The Gold Rush – Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
Wonderin’ – Neil Young – previously unreleased version
Don’t Let It Bring You Down – Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush (first pressing)
Cripple Creek Ferry – Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
Southern Man – Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
Till The Morning Comes – Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
When You Dance, I Can Really Love – Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album After The Gold Rush (first pressing)
Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the stereo 45 RPM single
Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased live version
Tell Me Why – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased live version
Music Is Love – David Crosby, Graham Nash & Neil Young – from the album If I Could Only Remember My Name
See The Sky About To Rain – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Disc 07 – Live At Massey Hall (Toronto 1971)
On The Way Home
Tell Me Why
Journey Through The Past
Love In Mind
Suite: A Man Needs A Maid / Heart Of Gold
Cowgirl In The Sand
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
There’s A World
Bad Fog Of Loneliness
The Needle And The Damage Done
See The Sky About To Rain
Down By The River
Dance Dance Dance
I Am A Child
Disc 08 – North Country (1971 – 1972)
Heart Of Gold – Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
The Needle And The Damage Done – Neil Young – from the album Harvest
Bad Fog Of Loneliness – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – previously unreleased version
Old Man – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
Heart Of Gold – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
Dance Dance Dance – Neil Young – previously unreleased version
A Man Needs A Maid – Neil Young with the London Symphony Orchestra – previously unreleased mix
Harvest – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
Journey Through The Past – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – previously unreleased version
Are You Ready For The Country? – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
Alabama – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
Words (Between The Lines Of Age) – Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the original soundtrack album Journey Through The Past
Soldier – Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
War Song – Neil Young & Graham Nash with The Stray Gators – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
Disc 09 – Journey Through The Past – A Film By Neil Young
Available for the first time since its original theatrical release in 1973
In 5.1 DTS surround sound and stereo
Includes rare performance and documentary footage of Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and scenes from the recording of the Harvest album featuring Neil Young with The Stray Gators
Longtime LA record man Bill Bentley says he first saw a listing for the Neil Young Archives project when he was working at Warner Brothers in the late 1980s. The release was supposed to be a follow-up to Young’s classic collection Decade, a three-record set that came out in 1977. This rumored sequel, Decade II, was also supposed to be a three album set, but soon became a something else.
It was known that Young obsessively documented all his voluminous endeavors — indeed, had a full-time archivist, Joel Berstein, in charge of gathering film, video and audio. In hardcore fans’ imagination, there existed somewhere a vast basement or barn (or something equally Youngian/rustic) with piles of files and rows of master tape — and not just of himself; Young is known to have possessed some of the original and best copies of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes masters.
After about ten years, it had become a sort Ark of the Covenant or King Arthur’s Sword — this mythical thing that we’re pretty sure existed, but heretofore unproven. By the early ’00s, the project had expanded to include outtakes, photos, lyric sheets and “every possible kind of thing we could find that we could put together and he could form,” recalled archivist Joel Bernstein. It was a running joke among Neil Young fans: “Will this thing ever come out — and if so, could it ever live up to what exists in our imagination?” Over the years the project grew bigger, thicker, as though Neil Young and his longtime documentarians had secured a Philosopher’s Stone and were teaching themselves alchemy.
Turns out the Stone they had acquired was Blu Ray technology, which allowed Young, Archives producer Larry Johnson, archivist Bernstein and a Warner Bros. team to create a multimedia feast that is Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1, which they unveiled last night at the Sunset Marquis.
Twenty-three years is a long time, but, based on an hour-long demo of the Blu Ray version in dining room at the Marquis, it was worth it — and not just because I walked out with the advance of 10-DVD version of Archives (don’t have Blu Ray yet). Watching the creators of the Archives box — which a longtime Young designer described as “a piece of furniture” — wend their way through the many offerings is pretty astounding. From video of Neil Young recording in a barn, to an intimate in-studio medley of “The Loner” and “Cinnamon Girl,” to watching him open old letters with songs inside that he’d scribbled down in order to secure copyright on them, to written lyrics of classics, to old newspaper reviews, to fantastic graphics, to Young’s first feature film, Journey Through the Past, It’s a goddamn feast, and one that promises to keep on giving. With the technology, Young and his colleagues are able to offer new content that owners of the Blu Ray version can download when they’re made available. (See the entire track listing here.)
The Blu Ray and DVD versions have 128 tracks, the CD version has 116. The Blu Ray has way more stuff than that, though (hence the $299 list price, vs. $199 for 10 DVD set and $99 for eight CD set), including twelve hidden tracks and bonus “Easter eggs” planted on various pages, which, when clicked, reveal video clips and other extras.
It’s all pretty amazing, but it wouldn’t mean anything if the music wasn’t there.
But Young is, thankfully, a stickler for sound quality, and whatever they did to the music within, it sounds like Neil Young is sitting on your back porch with you strumming on his guitar. Astounding. I heard layers of sound in “The Loner,” from one of three “Topanga”-titled discs in the collection featuring music Young made when he was living in the canyon, that I’d never heard before. Listening to “Round and Round,” one of my favorite of his songs (among about 50 others), on headphones, which I’m doing right now, is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Analog warmth, it seems, has finally been infused into the new technology. The depth is incredible.
Another cool, retro thing about the DVD and Blu Ray versions of Archives is that when you listen, an image of a record player or other audio device of the era is shown onscreen playing the song, A 45 record spins as though a an old turntable embedded on your screen. During one of the most beautiful versions of “Sugar Mountain” you’ll ever hear — soft, smooth and harmonic — the DVD runs a video of a vintage reel-to-reel player (hi-fi in 1972) sitting on a candlelit table, an ashtray and a half-empty cup of coffee next to it. The reels turn along with the song. During “Down by the River,” we see a close-up of a record player tone arm reading the music on a spinning LP.
This was obviously a labor of love, but what’s more, it seems to be at least a labor of lust. The passion with which the the creators have imaged Decade II feels all consuming, as though they totally lost themselves inside the the project.
But it’s an expensive proposition for sure, especially for the Neil Young completist. After all, to really get the most out of their past 23 years of collecting and compiling, you’re not only going to have to pony up the $300 for the 10-Blu-Ray set, but, chances are, another $300 for a decent Blu Ray player. That would be $600 for the full experience.
But to Young, it’s worth it. As he said in Jimmy McDonnough’s biography, Shakey:
“I don’t give a shit whether anybody BUYS it or not. I just wanna do it. And there may only be two hundred copies, signed by me. But it’s gonna fuckin’ exist. When it’s done, people can do whatever the fuck they want, make any fuckin’ order they want out of it. But they’re gonna have the whole fuckin’ thing to choose from. They’re not gonna get part of it. Everything-the good, the bad, the ugly.”
At some point during the last twenty years, as Neil Young’s Archives set was pushed back another nine months on the official Warner Brother release schedule for the umpteenth time in a row, I became convinced that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. Not the archive of unreleased songs itself, but the plans to release it.
The songs were surely there; many of the rare tracks that have surfaced on bootlegs rate among his finest work. And there are definitely a lot of them; the 2000 unreleased-song compilation Archives Be Damned, culled by tape-trading fans from a multitude of unofficial sources, fills up five audio CDs, and that’s just the stuff the general public was able to get its grubby hands on. Ever since the late seventies, Young has been talking about the project, occasionally revealing song lists on his website and then abruptly removing them. But after more than a decade of this talk, I was positive he’d never allow the whole banana to be unpeeled in his own lifetime, possibly preferring to leave it for his descendents to deal with. It was easy to imagine him calling his manager every so often to say, “I’m not dead yet, push it out to next October.”
The reasons given at the time had to do with the limitations of CD audio as a medium, or the need to re-design the accompanying booklet, but the more likely culprit was the eternally restless Young’s inability to focus on his past long enough to pull it into coherent shape. As he held press conferences and even posted a trailer for the damn thing, it seemed like he was just bringing more people in on the joke as release dates continued to be postponed through 2007 and 2008. Just a few weeks ago, as they started taking money for pre-orders, his spokespeople were promising “This time, it’s REALLY coming out” with a tone that suggested they didn’t expect to be taken seriously any more. As of last week, I would have bet you twenty bucks we’d never see it while Young was alive.
But today I have ceased to doubt. As far as I know, the man still walks the earth, and I hold in my hands a set of ten DVDs from Warner Bros labeled Neil Young Achives Vol. 1: 1963-72. Among the contents are several tracks I have never heard in many years of obsessively seeking out Young’s music, along with a lot of others I have heard before, but in a fidelity that surpasses anything in my collection.
Yes, fellow Rusties, it was worth the wait.
Whether it’s worth the steep asking price is more subjective. While it’s possible to get the set on CD for a relatively modest $99, minus the videos and about a dozen audio “easter eggs”, the extensive extra content on the DVD makes a good case for doubling your investment, particularly if you already own a lot of Neil Young CDs. Each track contains a “file” with multiple compartments, and can be drilled into to peruse Young’s handwritten lyrics, interview excerpts, period photos, alternate mixes and even the occasional performance video. Purchasers of the top-line $299 Blu-Ray edition get the same content that’s on the DVDs, plus the promise of downloadable new content at some point in the future.
Nevertheless, the audio quality observed on the DVD set is already a marked improvement from every previous pressing of Young’s studio material. The songs from Crazy Horse’s 1969 debut Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, in particular, burst out of the speakers with a three-dimensional attack and stunning clarity. I wouldn’t say it’s like listening to vinyl; more like listening to half-inch tape. This really does have the feeling of throwing the original masters on for a playback, and it’s hard to imagine I’ll be needing to buy any of this music in remastered form any time soon.
As for what’s on it: the set takes a kind of strange approach to presenting Young’s entire recorded output, giving you most of the officially released tracks released during the years in question, but not quite all of them. A few songs, including favorites like “Mr. Soul” and “Words”, are represented only by live or alternate versions, leaving out their well-known studio recordings, while others have simply vanished. Surely there will be detailed lists of every relevant omission posted on the net by Tuesday afternoon, but just a cursory listen reveals are some really major ones. What happened to “Out On The Weekend”? “Emperor of Wyoming”? The Richie Furay vocals on his Buffalo Springfield material; the nine-minute version of the Springfield’s “Bluebird” that contains one of Neil’s earliest recorded guitar freakouts, his contributions to CSNY’s live album Four Way Street… it’s hard to understand why these were left off when other tracks have multiple versions taking up space. As such, it falls a bit short of being a true “complete recordings” collection; purchasers of this set can’t trade in all their existing Neil Young CDs without losing something essential.
The big draw for the most devoted collectors will be the previously-unreleased material found here, though it’s interesting to note that there’s precious little here that we boot afficionados haven’t already heard in some form. Most of those songs come from Disc 0, Neil’s legendary, un-heard recordings with his teenage band The Squires, and his earliest demos as an aspiring folksinger. It’s a trip when the very first vocal we hear, following a few rowdy Link Wray-inspired instrumentals, is a familiar one. “Well I wonder who’s with her tonight, and I wonder who’s holding her tight” sings Young, as he would in the second verse of “Don’t Cry No Tears” on 1975’s Zuma, over a decade later.
The band’s mix of surf music and Stonesy R&B must have been a hoot and a half on the Canadian club circuit in 1964. They’re not very accomplished, no better or worse than a lot of other garage bands of the time, but would certainly rate an entry on one of the Nuggets collection. Young’s 1965 demo for Elektra Records – made not in the company’s studio, but rather their tape library, with a portable reel to reel machine and a single mic – reveals Young the Dylan-esque solo troubadour still finding his voice, sometimes struggling to find his footing. But hearing it with forty years of hindsight is illuminating, much like hearing the early tapes made by the Who when they were still known as the High Numbers, or CCR’s days as the Golliwogs. Although you can tell they haven’t fully developed as musicians, singers or writers yet, there’s already a distinctive quality about them, a sense that a path has now been charted and is about to bear fruit.
Young’s Buffalo Springfield years get a disc of their own, though anyone who wants the complete story is advised to pick up the 4-disc box set that came out a few years ago (and do so soon as it is evidently now out of print), which includes all of Young’s compositions for the group, including Furay’s definitive vocal takes of “On The Way Home” and “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”. The only unreleased song here is a short song called “Sell Out”, which, oddly, is missing the jaunty, “la-la-la” chorus it had when it first popped up on a 2004 bootleg. But there’s also about ten minutes of audio from the band’s final performance in Long Beach, from May of 1968, that finally proves what you’ve always heard about the Buffalo Springfield live: they had an electricity on stage which never translated properly in the studio. The two-guitar exploration here is phenomenal, light years beyond the tight, professional unit that made those perfect pop singles. If there’s any more stuff of this quality in Young’s vault, I might be tempted to take up safecracking.
Hearing (almost) all of the studio cuts from Young’s Topanga 1968-70 years over the course of three discs is nearly overwhelming. In about eighteen months, he cut the two albums that established the baseline for the rest of his career, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After The Gold Rush, and was brought into the realms of Crosby, Stills and Nash in order to “take something soft and give it balls,” as his manager once declared. As you can see on an incendiary 1969 performance of “Down By The River” on live TV, Young took this job seriously, and as a result, inspired Stephen Stills to step up his own game as much as he could, in a desperate attempt to avoid being upstaged. The interplay between these two rival/ pals has never been more evident than on the Woodstock outtake, in which they perform a slow, doomy, droning rendition of “Mr. Soul,” with acid harmonies biting through the sludge. (Young, who angrily refused to be filmed at Woodstock, is seen as a dark silhouette from the side of the stage.)
But you start to notice something when CSNY’s pristine, multiple-overdubbed studio tracks are heard smack dab in the middle of Young’s first work with the immortal Crazy Horse, the band that’s continued to back him for the last forty years, though rarely were two of those years in a row. The contrast between the tight-but-hip session players of CSNY, and the raw, raucous “American Rolling Stones” that was the Horse is immediately obvious when you put them side by side. Crazy Horse has always been the best vehicle for him to really stretch out and play endless, Coltrane-length solos that seek to explore every last possibility before crashing back into the head, while CSNY produced immaculately crafted gems that took forever to record and sounded like it. In one of the embedded interview segments, archivist Joel Bernstein likens the difference to the Beatles and the Stones, but I think that’s understating it. At their furthest extremes, you could say CSNY are kind of like Yes while Crazy Horse is kind of like the Stooges, two fundamentally different, even opposing approaches to music. And yet, this one guy manages to pull off both gigs, with mostly the same material, at the SAME TIME. It’s uncanny, folks.
The set also includes three live performances. The Horse’s show at the Fillmore East in March 1970, and Neil’s 1971 solo set from Toronto’s Massey Hall were released individually years ago, but the third, from Toronto’s Riverboat in 1968, makes its debut here. The show is wonderful, capturing a period in Young’s career that even the boot collectors haven’t heard too often. Though the one unreleased song performed, “The 1956 Bubblegum Disaster”, turns out to be a thirty-second, one-line goof, Young’s in superb voice and seems to be discovering his own songs as he works through them, spontaneously seeking out new counter-melodies for the familiar chord progressions.
Rounding out the collection is Young’s first feature film attempt, Journey Through the Past, making its first appearance on home video. “Attempt” seems like the right word even though he did in fact complete the movie. In one interview from the time of filming, included amongst the DVD extras, Young states, “There isn’t any big plan… we have a list, but we don’t really have a script.” No one who sees the film will doubt this statement. It’s mostly incomprehensible, or just plain dull. In perhaps the most typical scene, Young and girlfriend Carrie Snodgrass drive on screen, stop the car, get out and smoke a joint without talking to each other, then get back in and drive away. But there are yuks to be found periodically, particularly when sage philosophers Crosby, Stills and Nash are dispensing their pearls of wisdom, and a small helping of very good performance footage, including some of Neil’s Harvest-era band jamming away in his barn. Consider it his (relatively) clean-living Cocksucker Blues if you will, finding deeper meaning in salamander cages instead of junkies’ hotel rooms.
Here are some of the highlights for the folks who may think they’ve heard it all before:
• The foot-stomping acoustic blues “Hello Lonely Woman,” cut near the end of his days in Canada
• Another solo tune from Canada, “Casting Me Away From You”, the earliest tune that really and truly sounds like Neil Young, lilting chord changes and all
• The alternate, original version of “Mr. Soul” with a notably different guitar track, touted by Young in his autobiography Shakey as the “correct” one, which he’d irretrievably screwed up by overdubbing for the official release.
• A haunting waltz titled “Slowly Burning” from May, 1967 with Jack Nitzche leading an all-star session band of Don Randi, Russ Titleman, Carol Kaye and Jim Gordon, performed as an instrumental although there are lyrics attached in the “file”
• Versions of “Birds” and “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” cut during the sessions for his 1968 solo debut, which although inferior to the released tracks, shine a light on what the choice of backing musicians can do to his raw material. The latter, especially, just kind of sits there, totally lacking the infectious charm that Crazy Horse would bring to it a few months later. It’s as good an illustration of what the funky, anti-professional Horse brought to the party as you could ask for.
• An electric version of “Everybody’s Alone” from the Gold Rush sessions with a blistering solo.
• Two studio versions of “Dance Dance Dance”, a Crazy Horse take from the Gold Rush sessions and a duet with Nash cut in England in early 1971
• The Horse wailing through “It Might Have Been” in Cincinnati; though widely bootlegged, you’ve never heard it sounding this good.
• A studio version of “Wonderin’”, similar to the one heard on the Fillmore East ’70 show released a few years ago, which also appears as part of this set
• A video of Young performing an incredible version of “The Loner” at a tiny folk club in NYC from summer of 1970, which cuts into an acoustic performance at the Fillmore East, before concluding with footage of Young showing some hippie in Washington Square Park the chords to “Cinnamon Girl.”
• Several video clips from CSNY’s summer 1970 tour, including a transcendent “On The Way Home”
• A studio take of “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” from the Harvest sessions, which misses the tequila-soaked abandon it would find during the recording of Tonight’s The Night two years later… and then, also, kick around the vault without ever being released.
• Footage of Neil recording “A Man Needs A Maid” and “There’s A World” with the London Symphony Orchestra. He has some harsh words for the musicianship of one of the world’s most famous orchestras, sputtering “They were half a beat behind me for the WHOLE FUCKIN’ THING!” which Jack Nitzche tries to explain that’s actually the conductor’s fault.
• An incredible piece of cinema verite, which I’d read about but never seen, in which Young accosts a record store clerk for selling bootleg albums and walks out the door without paying for one of his own.
It’s been a heavy couple of days, taking it in all at once. You probably shouldn’t try to do that. There’s enough music here to last a normal person for years. Given that, the prices don’t seem so out of line anymore. It is, after all, the (nearly) complete early output of one of the greatest talents rock music has ever seen. And that’s worth something.
In the wake of Bob Dylan’s successful 1985 expanded anthology Biograph, it seemed like every rock artist of note was lining up for CD box-set canonization. And true to his reputation as a futurist, David Bowie tried to outdo them all with 1989’s Sound + Vision, which supplemented the usual greatest-hits-plus-rarities format with a bonus disc of visual content that would showcase the glorious new CD-Video format. There was only one problem with his attempt to revolutionize the box set: no one knew what the hell a CD-Video disc was, let alone owned any kind of device that would allow one to view it.
It was around this same time that Neil Young started talking up an ambitious career-retrospective project called Archives, and given the amount of unreleased songs Young routinely dusted off in his concerts, fans had come to expect nothing less than a parallel-universe repertoire every bit as rich and deep as his official one– a Decade to last for decades. But as gleaned by anyone who’s gone to a Neil Young show expecting to hear the hits but treated to an hour of Greendale instead, being a Neil fan requires a certain amount of patience. Twenty years since its first public mention, Archives has gone on to usurp even Chinese Democracy as the ultimate lost-album punchline. But the long-delayed arrival of this first volume seems less a matter of archeology as technology. And like the Bowie box, there’s some confusion about how exactly you’re supposed to use the thing.
Neil Young is an odd sort of perfectionist, favoring a raw immediacy in his recordings that often means leaving the mistakes in for purity’s sake, but he’s obsessed with making sure those mistakes are mixed and mastered to sometimes unattainable standards of fidelity. (He refused to release arguably his finest album, 1974’s On the Beach, on CD until 2003 for this reason.) So it appears that the advent of Blu-ray HD audio technology was the missing piece that has allowed Neil to realize his multimedia masterplan for Archives. What little public comment he’s made about Archives’ release has taken the form of evangelical praise for the medium, urging fans to adopt the new technology like a Best Buy salesman working on commission.
The first volume of Archives arrives as a 10-disc set, spanning the first 10 years of Young’s career and, somewhat confusingly, three different formats. For the most ardent audiophiles, there’s the $300 multimedia-enhanced Blu-ray edition that includes six compilation discs; the previously released Live at the Fillmore East and Live at Massey Hall; an additional solo concert recorded in 1969 at the Riverboat coffeehouse in Toronto (though it boasts a tracklist similar to last year’s Live at Canterbury House set, also included here as an unlisted bonus throw-in); the first DVD release of Young’s infamous tour-documentary-cum-existential-road-flick, Journey Through the Past; plus online-update capabilities through which users will have access to more material.
For equally fervent fans (and Pitchfork reviewers) with inferior home-entertainment set-ups, there’s a $200 version boasting all of the above musical and multimedia content in a DVD format. And for those who just want some Neil on-hand in the car to soundtrack future road trips forevermore, there’s a basic eight-disc $100 CD box with all the tunes but none of the extras. (All versions come with mp3 download codes, though we all know how Neil feels about iPods.)
Regardless of the format, each version of Archives makes the same convincing case: For Neil Young, the years of 1963 to 1972 were marked by a rapid maturation and a series of successful stylistic reinventions that rivaled the Beatles. Starting out as the surf-rockin’ frontman for Winnipeg garage combo the Squires, he quickly transitioned into the folkie busker cutting early demos of “Sugar Mountain” for Elektra Records in 1965; the wide-screened psychedelic visionary in Buffalo Springfield; the savage electric warrior of 1969’s Crazy Horse debut, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; the heroic hippie wingman for Crosby, Stills and Nash; and then the country-rock traditionalist of 1970’s After the Gold Rush and 1972’s Harvest. On top of summarizing a tidy 10-year span, Archives Vol. 1 ends symbolically with Neil at his commercial peak, before a growing disillusionment with rock stardom and the death of close friends would usher in a more darkly compelling phase of his career.
But while they’re paying the least amount of money, the CD-box purchasers may feel the most short-changed, as Archives is not quite the vault-clearing revelation that fans may have been hoping for. Of the advertised 43 unreleased tracks, most take the form of alternate mixes or live versions of familiar material, ranging from the subtle (a cavernous mix of “Helpless” that enhances the song’s hymnal qualities) to the substantial (early stripped-down versions of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and future On the Beach track “See the Sky About to Rain”). But as Archives attests, the lack of true, unheard rarities can be explained by the fact that Neil’s been pulling from his mythical stash of lost songs since the mid-60s, padding his 70s and 80s releases with songs (“Winterlong”, “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown”, “Wonderin'”) written during this early era.
So in a purely musical sense, Archives’ real selling point isn’t so much the tracklist as the remastering. And make no doubt about it: Next to the budget-line CD issues that Reprise rushed to the market in the late 80s, the new versions sound spectacular, breathing new life into these old warhorses. (The swirling symphonics of Harvest’s “A Man Needs a Maid”, in particular, beg for a big pair of headphones and an easy chair.) However, one can’t help but question why these remasters can only be accessed via an expensive box set rather than through individual album reissues. With so many songs here already familiar to even the most casual classic-rock radio listener, the most illuminating moments on Archives come from the less celebrated tracts of his career. For one, the Squires tracks provide not just a time-capsule snapshot of Neil’s first recording forays; rather, songs like the wonderful “I’ll Love You Forever” provide glimpses of an unrealized future as a Beatlesque balladeer. (Alternately, the twangy instrumental “Mustangs” could pass for vintage Meat Puppets.) And if the turn-of-the-70s triumvirate of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, and Harvest became the go-to soundtracks for America’s post-hippie hangover, Neil’s comparatively overlooked 1969 self-titled debut feels all the more contemporary for being excluded from that classic-rock holy trinity, boasting a soft-rock lushness that– in light of psychedelic successors like the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Sparklehorse– has proven as influential as any album in his canon.
But as Archives’ multitude of newspaper clippings and radio interview excerpts explain, it was Neil’s dissatisfaction with that first album’s textured production and mastering that made him go folk/rock (not to be confused with folk-rock), and though they’re already been released, the Massey Hall and Fillmore sets still represent this era’s purest manifestations of those acoustic/electric extremes. The 1969 Riverboat disc, however, is less about what Neil does during the songs (acoustic readings of his first-album and Springfield catalogues) as between them: he talks. A lot. So much so that the these between-song “raps” constitute their own bonus feature on the Riverboat disc– perhaps inspired by one-time tour-mate Thurston Moore’s similar verbal deconstruction of a Venom live album– with a stream of amusing anecdotes about groupies, drugs and the Guess Who. In the same sense, Archives is ultimately less interesting when seen as a compilation of music than as a digital storehouse of a man’s complete life and work.
Taken individually, the reams of extras that accompany every track on the DVD/Blu-ray editions– candid photos, original handwritten lyric sheets, radio-promo spots, newspaper clippings, tape-box doodles, and so on– may not seem like a compelling reason to pony up for Archives’ enhanced options. But cumulatively, they chart an evolution as intriguing as that heard in the songs. Given that Neil’s become rather media-shy in his old age, Archives provides an opportunity to track his transformation as a public figure through the many newspaper articles and radio-interview clips gathered here, from the wide-eyed teenager promoting his club night in the Winnipeg daily to the disgruntled Buffalo Springfield exile trashing Jimmy Messina’s mixing job on that band’s last record (early evidence of Neil’s notorious audiophilia) to the self-described “rich hippie” contemplating the peculiarities of fame just as Harvest is about to make him a superstar.
And the (mostly hidden) video teases sprinkled throughout the set– like CSNY performing “Down By the River” on a David Steinberg-hosted teen dance show, or rare glimpses of the long-gone Riverboat– culminate with a treasure trove of footage on Archives’ final disc. Here we get a series of intimate interviews conducted during Harvest’s farmhouse recording sessions, as well as Archives’ most amusing easter egg find: a 15-minute sequence where Neil discovers CSNY bootlegs during a record-shopping trip circa 1971, sparking a heated argument with the store employee that culminates in Neil walking out of the shop, bootlegs in hand, without paying for them. (The sequence is especially resonant in light of Neil’s recent endorsement of Warner Music Group pulling all their artists’ videos off YouTube.)
Taken together, Archives’ musical and visual material form as complete a picture of Neil Young’s early years as the most die-hard fan could hope for. But therein lies the fundamental flaw of Archives on DVD– you can’t take them together. Each track is housed in a virtual file folder that allows you to play the audio track or scour the bonus content; there is no way to do them simultaneously. So your options are either to let the music play uninterrupted (while your screen displays serene film loops of spinning record players and reel-to-reel machines), or exit “play” mode and silently sift through the extras– without being able to actually listen to the song those extras are meant to contextualize. It’s like being told that your computer can run iTunes, or your web browser, but you have to shut down one to use the other. It means you end up spending as much time fiddling with your DVD menu controls as enjoying the material you’re trying to access. You have to spring for the Blu-ray to access different pieces of media simultaneously.
Brian Eno was recently quoted as saying that if the practice of selling music in physical form is to continue, the emphasis will have to shift from the content to the form, to enable a unique user experience that can’t be replicated with the click of a mouse. Archives constitutes a bold step towards this new paradigm, where the delivery system is as much in service to the supplemental materials as the music that ephemera serves to canonize. And for all its multimedia chicanery, Archives ultimately seeks to reassert an old-fashioned mode of attentive listening and engagement that’s been mostly lost as music becomes a WiFi-streamed soundtrack to some other activity. But if Neil expects his fans to retain their enthusiasm for future volumes (particularly when the focus shifts to his erratic 80s output), he’ll need to make that immersion process more fluid, less disruptive. Certainly Archives’ first volume contains enough audio and visual stimuli to keep a Neil Young fan busy till the next edition arrives (presumably) in 2029. But that’s as much a comment on the impractical, time-consuming interface as the content itself.
A fan’s dream package, finally here…
This has literally made my day. My week. My month. My year. A parcel containing 11 discs has just dropped on my desk and I am smiling from ear to ear.
Neil Young has long promised his Archives set, and has teased his fans by putting its release date back and back and back, claiming he’s perfecting various technologies while busy recording and releasing new albums instead. What I’ve just been blessed with is the mammoth project’s first part – ‘Archives Vol.1 (1963-1972)’. Ten of the discs make up the series, while the eleventh is a preview disc, presumably a short compilation of the best of all of them. (There are no track listings, but I’ve found a web resource that lists them all.)
I’m gonna fly through them and write as I go on what I hear, see and experience. There are worse ways to spend a grey Tuesday…
Disc 0 – ‘The Early Years (1963-1965)’
It’s a DVD! Menu page is a great sepia picture of Neil Young and the Squires, Young’s first band in Winnipeg, Canada. You can play all, or go via the Song Selection option, which I’ve done, taking you to a virtual filing cabinet of the songs filed by year.
First up, 1963’s ‘Aurora’. If you click play, it takes you to a film of the 45 acetate playing, and you hear the Shadows-esque instrumental. Alternatively, you can read the track’s personnel, see photos from the time (with captions), including a great black and white picture from Christmas 1962 that sees young Neil with an all-American short back and sides – long before his trademark hippie-style straight middle parting. You could also click ‘Documents’ and see artefacts relating to the song, including hand-drawn notations, while ‘Press’ throws up local paper cuttings, and ‘Memorabilia’ shows the label of the original vinyl release. It’s a great start, even if the song is largely forgettable, showing absolutely nothing of the Neil Young that was to become…
These treats feature with every song, but it’s wonderful to hear the progression of Neil as a writer and musician across these early pieces. ‘I’m A Man And I Can’t Cry’ tries its hands at Beatles harmonies, and its naive charm of Neil’s matinee-idol vocals gives a fun insight into the direction he was clearly heading… but then diverted down the acoustic road, as demonstrated on the fantastic demo versions of ‘Sugar Mountain’ and ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’, which later was recorded with Buffalo Springfield. There are also links to get the song lyrics so we can sing along! Don’t think that will go down too well in the office, though.
Disc extras include a biography, a detailed timeline of Neil’s formative career – from the Canadian roots to his venture down to the States – a web link, and DVD credits.
Disc 1 – ‘The Early Years (1966-1968)’
The sound of screams almost drown out ‘Mr. Soul’ as a picture of Buffalo Springfield on stage graces the menu screen. A voice comes over, sternly warning: “The Buffalo Springfield will NOT perform unless you get back to your seat.” The song selection, then, is the wonderful collection of mid-Sixties Springfield tunes penned by Young. This was the group, of course, led by Stephen Stills, whom Neil would later join up with again as part of the super-group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Songs such as ‘Expecting To Fly’ still radiate beauty, and they become so much more special with the extras’ glimpses into their history. More great photos, more fascinating documents. I think I need to keep ploughing through these…
1. Aurora / The Squires – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
2. The Sultan / The Squires – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
3. I Wonder / The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
4. Mustang / The Squires – previously unreleased instrumental (mono)
5. I’ll Love You Forever / The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
6. (I’m A Man And) I Can’t Cry / The Squires – previously unreleased song (mono)
7. Hello Lonely Woman / Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased version
8. Casting Me Away From You / Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased song
9. There Goes My Babe / Neil Young & Comrie Smith – previously unreleased song
10. Sugar Mountain / Neil Young – previously unreleased demo version (mono)
11. Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing / Neil Young – previously unreleased demo version (mono)
12. Runaround Babe / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
13. The Ballad Of Peggy Grover / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
14. The Rent Is Always Due / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
15. Extra, Extra / Neil Young – previously unreleased song (mono)
16. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong / Neil Young – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
17. Burned / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
18. Out Of My Mind / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield (mono)
19. Down, Down, Down / Neil Young – previously unreleased version (mono)
20. Kahuna Sunset / Buffalo Springfield – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
21. Mr. Soul / Buffalo Springfield – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set (mono)
22. Sell Out / Buffalo Springfield – previously unreleased song (mono)
23. Down To The Wire / Neil Young – from the album Decade (mono)
24. Expecting To Fly / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield
25. Slowly Burning / Neil Young – previously unreleased instrumental
26. One More Sign / Neil Young – from the Buffalo Springfield Box Set
27. Broken Arrow / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Buffalo Springfield Again
28. I Am A Child / Buffalo Springfield – from the album Last Time Around
Disc 2 – ‘Topanga 1 (1968-1969)’
Named after the Los Angeles canyon where Neil and many other musicians lived, this disc compiles the demos and songs that made up the beginning of his solo career. An alternate version of ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ begins proceedings. The ‘Press’ section of ‘The Old Laughing Lady’ has a page excerpt from a magazine interview with Neil, the headline of which reads: “Tea fan seeks mate – must own phonograph and be free to travel.” One click and you zoom in to read the text. Fabulous. Album versions of ‘Down By The River’, ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ and ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ are just as fresh and lovely to these ears as anything I’ve heard today.
1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Neil Young – from the stereo promotional 45 RPM single-second pressing
2. The Loner / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
3. Birds / Neil Young – previously unreleased version
4. What Did You Do To My Life? / Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
5. The Last Trip To Tulsa / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
6. Here We Are In The Years / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young–second version
7. I’ve Been Waiting For You / Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
8. The Old Laughing Lady / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
9. I’ve Loved Her So Long / Neil Young – from the album Neil Young
10. Sugar Mountain / Neil Young – previously unreleased stereo master
11. Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
12. Down By The River / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
13. Cowgirl In The Sand / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
14. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Disc 3 – ‘Live At The Riverboat (1969)’
Video footage of the queue, the venue and the assembled crowd build up to the venue. You can also hear him taking to the stage – to near silence. I’ve clicked on Song Selection again. There is no video of the performances; instead there is a visual accompaniment to the live recording. It’s very intimate – Neil is talkative, personal and sounds great. The Riverboat, which is in Toronto, is treated to eleven solo and acoustic tracks. Extras include black and white photos from the event, handwritten notes and lyrics, press clippings, plus ‘Riverboat Raps’ – Neil’s rambling monologues from the gig in one handy nine-track solo!
1. Sugar Mountain / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
2. The Old Laughing Lady / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
3. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
4. On The Way Home / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
5. I’ve Loved Her So Long / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
6. I Am A Child / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
7. 1956 Bubblegum Disaster / Neil Young – previously unreleased song
8. The Last Trip To Tulsa / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
9. Broken Arrow / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
10. Whiskey Boot Hill / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
11. Expecting To Fly / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Disc 4 – ‘Topanga 2 (1969-1970)’
This late-Sixties collection introduces Crazy Horse, Neil’s incredible backing band, and covers the demos for his masterpiece ‘After The Goldrush’, and his contributions to CSN&Y’s ‘Deja Vu’ album. The songs, again, are alternative mixes, unheard originals, and insightful demos.
1. Cinnamon Girl / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
2. Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets) / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Round And Round (It Won’t Be Long) / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
4. Oh Lonesome Me / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased stereo mix
5. Birds / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
6. Everybody’s Alone / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Previously unreleased song
7. I Believe In You / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album After The Gold Rush
8. Sea Of Madness / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the original soundtrack album Woodstock
9. Dance Dance Dance / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased version
10. Country Girl / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the album Déjà Vu
11. Helpless / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased mix
12. It Might Have Been / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – previously unreleased live version
Disc 5 – ‘Live At Fillmore East (1970)’
As previously released, this six-track document of Neil at the beginning of the Seventies finds him touring the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ album with Crazy Horse, featuring guitarist Danny Whitten. It’s notable that this was the last tour Whitten came on. He died of an overdose in late 1972. The songs are accompanied by so many photos from the event. It would be amazing to see filmed footage of this, but sadly there is none.
1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Down By The River
5. Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown
6. Cowgirl In The Sand
Disc 6 – ‘Topanga 3 (1970)’
More songs from the canyon, this time revealing alternative versions of selections from ‘After The Goldrush’ alongside proper album versions. There aren’t so many extras on here aside from various lyrics and handwritten manuscripts, however this disc is valued for the solo piano version of ‘See The Sky About To Rain’, recorded live at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC in 1970.
1. Tell Me Why / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
2. After The Gold Rush / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
4. Wonderin’ / Neil Young – previously unreleased version
5. Don’t Let It Bring You Down / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush-first pressing
6. Cripple Creek Ferry / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
7. Southern Man / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
8. Till The Morning Comes / Neil Young – from the album After The Gold Rush
9. When You Dance, I Can Really Love / Neil Young with Crazy Horse – from the album After The Gold Rush-first pressing
10. Ohio / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – from the stereo 45 RPM single
11. Only Love Can Break Your Heart / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased live version
12. Tell Me Why / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – previously unreleased live version
13. Music Is Love / David Crosby, Graham Nash & Neil Young – from the album If I Could Only Remember My Name
14. See The Sky About To Rain / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
Disc 7 – ‘Live At Massey Hall (Toronto 1971)’
This was previously released in 2007. Seventeen solo acoustic songs taken from all albums so far, including his CSN&Y stuff, but at time of performance, most songs would have been unfamiliar to the audience. From their reactions, you’d never have known. Live sound is supplemented by more relevant photo and video montages. The ‘Archives’ extra on this disc offers three great short videos – ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ and ‘Journey Through The Past’ from Johnny Cash’s TV show in 1971, the ‘Old Man’ from a 1971 documentary, and then a 1997 clip of Neil going through his archives, discussing photos from the 1971 tour. Each is, of course, brilliant. “These young minds will be our leaders in the future,” says Johnny Cash. How right he was. The ‘Radio’ extra features two recordings, ‘Old Man’ and ‘A Man Needs A Maid’, with Redbeard from 1989.
1. On The Way Home
2. Tell Me Why
3. Old Man
4. Journey Through The Past
6. Love In Mind
7. A Man Needs A Maid/Heart Of Gold (Suite)
8. Cowgirl In The Sand
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. There’s A World
11. Bad Fog Of Loneliness
12. The Needle And The Damage Done
14. See The Sky About To Rain
15. Down By The River
16. Dance Dance Dance
17. I Am A Child
(all previously released live versions)
Disc 8 – ‘North Country (1971-1972)’
Cine-film of Neil driving his car through a field starts the disc. The songs within would mostly make up ‘Harvest’. An unreleased live version of ‘Heart Of Gold’ from UCLA 1971 starts – the official version follows later, which, considering it’s probably his most universally loved song, has disappointingly few extras. The disc is mostly album versions, which is a bit of a swizz, but presented so beautifully, who can really argue?
1. Heart Of Gold / Neil Young – previously unreleased live version
2. The Needle And The Damage Done / Neil Young – from the album Harvest
3. Bad Fog Of Loneliness / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – previously unreleased version
4. Old Man / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
5. Heart Of Gold / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
6. Dance Dance Dance / Neil Young – previously unreleased version
7. A Man Needs A Maid / Neil Young with the London Symphony Orchestra – previously unreleased mix
8. Harvest / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
9. Journey Through The Past / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – previously unreleased version
10. Are You Ready For The Country? / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
11. Alabama / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the album Harvest
12. Words (Between The Lines Of Age) / Neil Young with The Stray Gators – from the original soundtrack album Journey Through The Past
13. Soldier / Neil Young – previously unreleased mix
14. War Song / Neil Young & Graham Nash with The Stray Gators – from the 45 RPM single (mono)
Disc 9 – Journey Through The Past. A Film by Neil Young
Sadly I don’t have time to sit and devour the whole 80-minute feature. It’s a freewheeling colour documentary with no discernible storyline, but includes fantastic footage of Neil live with the Springfield, with CS&N, and of course solo. I’ll be watching this in full tonight. The Special Features include a photo gallery, memorabilia and press cuttings relevant to the movie.
It’s all just a little too much to take while sitting at work. This is what I’m going to have to spend my weekend investigating further. This has been an incredible dip into the first part of Neil’s astonishing ongoing project.
Neil Young has proven himself as a unique talent, dedicating himself to following his muse, and this is no exception. It’s been well worth the wait. How long until part two? Who knows…
From the Los Angeles Times
I’ve seen it, I’ve touched it, I’ve heard it — it’s real.
Neil Young’s archive project has been so long in the making, it’s not surprising that even though the elaborately packaged 10-disc set plus book plus oodles of extras was on display for an invited audience Wednesday night at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, there’s still considerable skepticism about it out there in the music world.
“There are a lot of people who are convinced it’s just never going to come out,” Young spokesman Bill Bentley said at the preview listening/viewing of “Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1 (1963-1972).” Even from an extremely limited first glance, it’s apparent this will be a musical and visual treasure trove of a journey through the past of one of rock’s most creative and mercurial talents.
It’s scheduled for a June 2 release, and even though project execs said it’s not out of the question that Young still could make some changes before that date, the production wheels are in motion on what looks like one of the most ambitious career-retrospective packages ever.
It will be offered in three disc formats, on CD (for $99), DVD ($199) and Blu-Ray ($299). The Blu-Ray version was demonstrated in West Hollywood because it’s the fully interactive version that Young had in mind all along.
The Blu-Ray disc will work with any player, but the Sony PlayStation 3 used on Wednesday is “the player of choice,” longtime Young associates Larry Johnson and Will Mitchell told about three dozen onlookers.
Young’s been talking about putting together material from his personal archives since the late 1980s. Johnson said the long wait has primarily been because there wasn’t a technology format available to carry out Young’s vision until the emergence of Blu-Ray discs.
“Our philosophy has always been quality whether you want it or not,” Johnson said. That means audiophile quality digital sound — but two-channel stereo, as virtually all these early recordings were originally intended, rather than remixing them into multichannel surround versions.
The big advantage of the Blu-Ray edition over the DVD or audio CD versions is that fans can listen to the music while exploring the myriad multimedia capabilities built into the discs. They contain vintage photos, short films, reproductions of handwritten song lyrics and various “hidden” bonuses that make it function in part like a video game. The PS3, connected to the Internet, will also let users download additional content immediately and continue to add new material as Young and his pals make it available.
Mitchell, using the PS3’s game controller, hop-scotched across several discs, demonstrating the virtual file cabinet function where Young fans can pull up file folders that include reams of material about his songs, albums, concerts, films and other ventures over the years.
They estimated the set includes 25 to 30 hours of music alone. And that’s just for the first decade of his recording career, touching on his early stint with the Squires and on into his breakthrough with Buffalo Springfield, and then the launch of his solo career and the first offerings from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Despite his inseparable role in the ‘60s counterculture — the “hippie dream,” as he once phrased it — Young has long been acutely attuned to the twists and turns of emerging technologies.
The first time I ever encountered a rock performer using wireless microphones and electric guitars was in 1978, during Young’s performance at the Boarding House in San Francisco, where he was trying out material that would surface full blown the following year with the landmark “Rust Never Sleeps” album and tour. And love it or hate it, his 1983 album “Trans” was a fully wired marriage of rock and techno music elements. I’m in the camp that loved that willfully idiosyncratic experiment.
This box set certainly ain’t cheap — not for the deluxe version anyway — but it appears that Young will once again be out front giving fans fascinating new ways to experience his artistry. Long may he run.
— Randy Lewis
By Alexis Petridis in The Guardian
Archives arrives – a staggering 23 years after Neil Young first started talking about it – heralded as “the most ambitious artist collection ever produced”. Indeed, so ambitious is it that Young has written an open letter to his fans: reasonable as ever, he suggests they all immediately buy Blu-ray players, the better to enjoy its 10 discs of music, film footage, interview clips and reproduced memorabilia. “It is not going away,” he warns. “It is worth it to get into Blu-ray now. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.”
He sounds confident, but then, this is a man who once confidently asserted that the music of A Flock of Seagulls was the future. And even on DVD – you can also get a CD edition – Archives can be hard work. This critic is prepared to believe that the fact he found the menus slightly counterintuitive points to deficiencies on his own part, but suffice to say that at least one Neil Young fan – temporarily unable to navigate away from one of the on-stage “raps” provided as “audio bonuses” and gripped by the fear that he was going to spend the rest of his life listening to Neil Young saying “ummm … ahhhhhh … wrote this sahwng … ummmm … my house” – found himself howling for the luddite comforts of a CD box set with a nicely illustrated booklet.
But it’s hard to argue with the music. Even the first disc of juvenilia is fascinating. His songwriting ability is in place surprisingly early: a 1963 demo called I Wonder ended up as Don’t Cry No Tears on 1975’s Zuma and he has returned to 1965’s Sugar Mountain throughout his career. But what’s most striking is the sound of Neil Young literally trying to find his voice as he is buffeted along by the gusting pop culture of the 60s. He tries everything, including singing in a weird, clipped accent around the time of the British Invasion, manfully attempting to bulk-up the fragility that would become his trademark, even essaying the didactic coffee-house bellow so expertly mocked in A Mighty Wind: it was awfully blustery up on Sugar Mountain in 1965, with the wistfulness of the song’s lament for adolescent innocence trampled by the earnest desire to be taken very seriously indeed.
You could argue that 60s pop culture buffeted him along for much of the next three discs, which cover his time in the Buffalo Springfield and his debut solo album. Although the songs get increasingly impressive, there’s still a sense of a man trying on passing styles to see if they fit: Stones-like raunch on Mr Soul, Sgt Pepper psych-pop on Expecting to Fly and Broken Arrow, Desolation Row Dylanisms on The Last Trip to Tulsa. His meeting with Crazy Horse seems to have changed everything. David Crosby famously complained that they could barely play, but it is as if their willful lack of finesse gave Young the confidence to finally be himself, whether he was playing with them or not. The difference between the versions of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere that bookend the second disc is staggering. The first sounds prim and straitened and features a flute solo, the second features Crazy Horse and is unequivocally fantastic.
It was the beginning of one of rock’s greatest purple patches – 10 years during which Young’s music was seldom less than stunning. And from that point on, Archives is, in the parlance of the day, a total gas. The best of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Goldrush and Harvest, the peerless Helpless and Country Girl rescued from Crosby, Stills Nash and Young’s otherwise leaden Déjà Vu, a stunning 1970 Crazy Horse live set and a handful of outtakes including the fantastic Everybody’s Alone and a limpid See the Sky About to Rain.
That is, at least, until you hit the final disc, containing Journey Through the Past – Young’s infamous debut as a film director, and a gas only in the sense that a chronic attack of flatulence is a gas. It’s both pretentious and deadly dull, although in fairness, it’s not without its fleeting pleasures, among them footage of David Crosby pompously waxing at length about how the forces of the establishment are ranged against the early 70s west-coast rock aristocracy when, in truth, the most immediate danger the early 70s west-coast rock aristocracy appeared to face was being bored to death by David Crosby pompously waxing at length.
You watch it wondering how mischievous Young’s intent was. He certainly sounds a little waspish when bantering with his bandmates on Archive’s live CSNY cuts, but their vocals on Tell Me Why and Only Love Can Break Your Heart suggest four men in perfect harmony. Then again, trying to fathom out the reason Young does anything is a thankless task, as Archives – a project no reasonable man would ever have undertaken – proves.
From the very beginning of his musical career, Neil Perceval Young has never doubted his own importance, even in his high school days. The recollections of colleagues and friends recently gathered in Uncut Take 142 describe a young man utterly focused on writing, playing and the technology of stardom, be it guitars or blagging gigs. The first disc of Archives offers a fascinating glimpse of the teenage Neil, already able to blaze out on electric guitar with The Squires, but also venturing into the twee folk of “I’ll Love You Forever”, delivered in the vulnerable, melodic falsetto that’s been his calling card ever since. The demo of “Sugar Mountain” at age 20 finds him almost fully formed.
It’s telling that “Sugar Mountain” is a song about leaving childhood behind; there never was a time when Neil Young wasn’t staring into his rear-view mirror, chewing over experience, whether reminiscing on “Helpless” about “the town in North Ontario/all my changes were there” or delivering at the ripe age of 26, a film called Journey Through The Past, more of which later. It’s entirely in character that at 63 Young should issue the obsessively detailed electronic documentation of his life that is Archives Vol 1, the most ambitious retrospective any musician has undertaken.
It’s a behemoth of a boxset, firstly as there are several versions of it. Do you go for the DVD version, which delivers 10 discs, including the movie, and a plethora of photos, lyrics and memorabilia? Or the economy set, which delivers audio content only? Or do you dig deep for the Blu-Ray version, where you can browse through the time-line of Neil’s life and discover hidden tracks and such odd video clips as Neil in the corner of a New York bar, playing for passing strangers, before swapping media horses to leaf through the gloss of the colour book? One suspects most fans will take options two or three, since the DVD version won’t deliver in your CD player (or download to iTunes), and listening to Neil’s archives while watching an antique record player or tape recorder, YouTube style, soon gets old.
Interactive trickery aside, what does the committed Young fan get for their bucks? For many, the answer may be not as much as they hoped. As deep musical archaeology the disc of Young’s formative years is intriguing and largely unreleased, but predictably in a lesser class to what followed after he’d joined Buffalo Springfield in 1966, or his solo output after signing to Reprise in 1968. The Springfield material is all extant in one form or another apart from “Sell Out”, a quirky commentary on commercial pressure with a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” tinge to it, and “Slowly Burning”, a dreamy string-laden guitar instrumental.
The 26 tracks from the era of Neil Young and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Disc02 and Disc04) likewise hold few surprises beyond a a live session in which Young berates his audience – “You’re all so down, I’m going home to write for a month” – before delivering a beatific version of “Sugar Mountain”.
His show at Toronto’s Riverboat club in January 1969 – the content of Disc03 – offers an equally compelling sample of Young’s live act. Neil spoofs his meagre crowd with rambling asides about “the English guitarist Alan O’Dale – he’s better than Clapton” between poised takes of Springfield’s (and his own) songs. The crowd clearly don’t realise to what they’re being treated by a man who within the year would become a major star. His mercurial ascent with Crazy Horse and then Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young is well captured here, demonstrating how Young songs like “I Believe In You” and “Helpless” overlapped the styles of both bands: the muscular approach of Crazy Horse (perfectly captured live on Disc05) and the intricate harmonies of CSN&Y.
By the turn of the decade Young was writing profusely and with an acuteness that his earlier work lacked. After The Gold Rush – profiled extensively on Disc06 – with its themes of mortality and vulnerability, ecology and political anger, perfectly caught the mood of disillusion that greeted the departure of the ’60s. If the follow-up, 1972’s Harvest, took that mood to a more self-satisfied place it was understandable; Young was by now a wealthy star esconced on his Broken Arrow ranch in California, with a laid-back lifestyle enforced on him by spinal surgery. Disc08 is given over to this period, interspersing original album versions with out-takes that vindicate the original choice, and sundry live takes that include a superb “Heart Of Gold”.
In there, too, is 1971’s Toronto concert at Massey Hall (Disc07) – previously released but here endowed with grainy live footage and home movies from Broken Arrow – you want to know who inspired “Old Man”? Here he is, in all his weatherbeaten glory.
That leaves Journey Through The Past (Disc09), Young’s first directorial outing as Bernard Shakey, released in 1973 to a critical panning and dormant until now. As a movie it’s a mess, a hopeless mix of documentary footage from the 1970-71 CSN &Y tour, clips of Neil that invariably involve cars, and a long end sequence of clumsy symbolism involving black-hooded horsemen, a robed scholar stranded in a desert and suchlike. As a piece of history it’s priceless, capturing CSN&Y in blistering, indeed, deranged form onstage, spaced out offstage amid fields of clover, and articulating the paranoia that had infested the hippy dream –cutting away to a clip of Richard Nixon promising America “clean air and clean water” or seeing “Ohio” to the Kent State massacre, you get a whiff of the times. Indeed, an entire wordless scene is devoted to Neil and his old lady sitting on a vintage car fender smoking a doobie; the hippyidyll in aspic.
Archives bristles with much more – you’ll find, for example Young’s father’s review of his 1971 show – and it’s hard not to believe that Neil the tech-head has not laid down a template for all future retrospectives (one can imagine Dylan and McCartney, the only artists of comparable stature and longevity, paying close attention). There’s more, too much more, to come, but for now, Volume One will do just fine.