by Elliot Blinder
ROLLING STONE, April 30, 1970
Neil Young strutted out of the swanky Americanese coffee shop at the Fenway Commonwealth Motor Hotel, on Commonwealth Avenue near Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox play ball. He had just finished eating lunch instead of breakfast after waking up late from a midnight concert at the Boston Tea Party, which is opposite Fenway Park.
The Tea Party had spent the week before broadcasting and advertising the one-night, one-show performance, and conservative estimates said that 200 people were turned away and another 2,000 or so were sardined in, elbow to elbow and elbow to head.
Young came on after several hours of intermissions and other groups, laboriously tuned three guitars, walked offstage, came back on and played and rapped an acoustic set of old Buffalo Springfield songs, warming everybody up for a beautifully long set with Crazy Horse. Standing ovation, hoots and howls.
Next morning I couldn’t conceive of the pleasure in his smile when we sat down on your average American motel room twin-double and got into the kind of stoning session I might have expected to get into had we been longtime friends living on opposite coasts.
How long have you been playing guitar?
About nine years.
How old are you now?
Twenty-four. I’m gettin’ tired of this too. Really it’s groovy, but I don’t know how much longer I can do it.
Why is that?
I just want to do something else.
Other than music or other than touring?
After this next album I don’t know how much longer it’ll be before I put out another one, of any kind, with anyone. I think I’ll just stop for a while.
Do you lead the kind of life where you’re busy every day with more than one thing?
Yeah, it’s like living two different lives. People who see me and come over and want to talk to me because of Crosby, Stills and Nash are weird compared to the people I know through Crazy Horse; and then there’s the people I know who don’t have anything to do with either one of them, who are a whole other trip, and by the time the day’s over I’m just completely screwed up. I start off real well depending on which one I see first.
Is that a reflection of what was in “Broken Arrow,” of being a rock & roll star?
Yeah, that was when I was living in Hollywood, though, that a whole other number I was into then. I was a Hollywood Indian.
I guess so, everybody thought I was an Indian. That was when it was cool to be an Indian. I was wearin’ fringe jackets and everything. I really loved these fringe jackets I used to have with the Springfield. I dug wearing them.
What happened to them?
They died with the Springfield. A lot of changes went down in everybody’s heads when the group broke up. When we got together we thought we were gonna be together about fifteen years. We really thought it was gonna last a long time because we knew how good it was. Nobody else did, though.
You must get this question a lot, but it’s a question a lot of people want to know the answer to, so that’s probably why you get it a lot, but how do you feel now about the Springfield and ever playing with those four people again?
I sometimes think about that and I would like to do another couple of concerts with the original Buffalo Springfield, the original. I think if we could get everybody together, I’d like to do that. It’d be fun.
Has anybody tried to get it together?
Do you think it’s on Jim Messina’s mind, and…
Well, I know it’s on Dewey Martin’s mind, and uh, it’s on Messina’s mind probably. Although I don’t know who Stephen [Stills] and I would want to use if we could get Bruce [Palmer]. But you see that brings up a touchy subject of who we could get, or if we could get Jim Fielder too, from Blood, Sweat and Tears…
You could use them all, if you could…
Yeah, but we tried, uh, just a minute… [Young begins searching for something.]
What are you looking for?
I was just looking for another number.
We were just talking about bass players…
Yeah, well, I don’t know what bass player we’d use.
All the while we talked over in one end of the room, Susan Young milled around – as much as one can mill in a motel room – gathering things, and getting ready to go out and see what she could see in the ninety minutes that was left over from touring a nation. Young had spoken earlier to people from Right-a-Wrong (RAW), who were sounding him out on what he might be willing to do to help RAW’s campaign to legalize marijuana. Young said he thought they were doing good things, but it was obvious that he was too far into his four guitars and two bands and one wife and home in Topanga Canyon. One of the RAW people came up to the room and a brief rap on politics and ecology ensued.
Five years they’ll come around, five years. This is just starting. The hassle about pollution isn’t gonna go away. The people aren’t gonna get less uptight about it. So naturally the rate at which people respond is gonna get faster. I think five years is when things are really gonna start being done about it.
RAW: It might be a lot sooner, man.
I don’t think so. You won’t get these big plants to shut down and change things so…
RAW: Within four or five years there might be a very violent revolution, man, that will stop every wheel turning!
I can dig it. I hope not though, ’cause if it is I’ll be in Big Sur (laugh). I’ll be in Big Sur with my guns.
With his guns…
Yeah, I’ll get a big cannon if they’re gonna have a revolution. I’ll sit up on top of my studio there, with my material gains after the game, and uh, contemplate my future…
You were talking before about not making any more records for a while…
Well, I’m not sure really what I want to do because I think ahead: I’m finishing this tour, then I go home and make a Crazy Horse album, then I go out on the road for thirty or forty days with CSN. It’s getting to be a lot of work. It’s getting to be no privacy at all.
Couldn’t you just say, “No, we’re not playing this week, or next week?”
No, I couldn’t do that. Crosby, Stills and Nash have been resting for two or three months, right; they’re ready to go back on the road, so it’s hard for me to say, “Let’s not go on the road now, let’s wait, because I’ve been on the road playing with Crazy Horse.” That just doesn’t seem like a very good reason to them.
Well, couldn’t they tour as Crosby, Stills and Nash and as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?
The reason that they asked me to join in the first place is ’cause they couldn’t tour just as Crosby, Stills and Nash, ’cause they haven’t gotten anybody to play the instruments.
What about Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves?
Well, yeah, bass and drums. So what have you got? Bass and drums, rhythm guitar and Stephen. It’s not enough for that big sound. They want more. Few guitars, organ at the same time as piano, they wanted a big group, I guess.
How do you feel now about what has gone down with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?
I think, uh, the tours we’ve done have been pretty successful. I don’t know, it’s blowing my mind – a lot of the applause, a lot of the reaction and everything. I don’t know how it got so big – I knew it was gonna be big and everything because when I joined them they had a lot of hype out and everything. They had a good album out, you know, and they had a rapport there… so I mean I knew they were gonna be pretty big, but I didn’t think it was gonna be as big as this. It’s big. Makes a lot of money, and it’s hard to relate to after what I was doin’ before.
I meant musically, though… I’ve not seen the four of you play together, but from what I’ve picked up in the media, you seem to take a backstage role in the group.
Yeah, I don’t really… well the main thing with that group is their singing, the three of them singing, you know, and they sing those three-part harmony things and occasionally I sing a fourth part, but not often. It’s the same sort of general role I played in Buffalo Springfield: I play lead guitar and occasionally I’ll sing a song, and I’m quite happy to do that as long as I can do my own thing, because my songs actually require a different kind of thing than that anyway, so I’m quite happy to do them with Crazy Horse. We do most of them, they’re just different. I couldn’t do Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere with Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Did they ask you to join the group… how was the contact made?
Yeah, Steve came over to the house one day and asked me to join. First they didn’t want to be called Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. They just wanted it to be Crosby, Stills and Nash. They said, “Everybody’ll know who you are, man, don’t worry about that.”
They wanted you to do a George Harrison. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Friends.
No, just Crosby, Stills and Nash… but anyway we got that all straightened out because, you know, the music is good, the music is exciting to me, it’s more pop than Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse is liable to have a bad night, you know, and I think Crosby, Stills and Nash just isn’t liable to have a bad night because the personalities are there. If the music isn’t happening that night, just the fact that those three guys are there makes it cool. You know if you see Clapton having a bad night, you’re still seeing Clapton… and that’s the way the kids feel, there’s still that other trip happening…
People come to see and to hear.
Yeah, but with Crazy Horse, nobody knows who they are really, nobody’s familiar with them, except for maybe Jack (Nitzsche), and now when we go out to play… we’re used to playing at home, playing in the studio.
We have a studio underneath the house, a P.A. system and wood walls and everything, and it’s really groovy, and we play in there and that’s where we get sound… and like we don’t play together very much, ’cause there’s no time. Now we’ve been playin’ together for almost a month, and before that it was six months off, and together for three months before then, and that’s all we’ve played together, so we’re like about as loose as you can get.
Why did it take you so long to tune up last night?
Listen, I’ll tell you… last night didn’t take me nearly as long as the two days before that.
Really, people had waited for hours and hours for you to come on, and waited through bands that were doing a completely different type of thing than what they were waiting for, and then you come on…
Oh, you mean when we came out front and tuned up…. We were tryin’ to be careful so it didn’t happen during the show. It did happen during the show anyway, but something’s been happening to my guitars during this trip where they just aren’t staying in tune at all. We were just being ultra-careful, rather than have Crazy Horse come out in the middle of the thing, after I’d done six acoustic songs, and then tune right in the middle of things, it wouldn’t make it, you know what I mean….
Right, but I think it was really interesting ’cause what happened was that you had not wanted to come out and tune in the middle of a show, but that little thing that you did with tuning those four guitars became a show in itself, and everybody really got into it, and then you walked off, everybody sat there in a kind of limbo… like we were talking about people coming to see you as well as to hear… well, we’d just seen you tuning up for fifteen minutes and then you disappeared.
If there had been a curtain there… it happens every time we play a place without a curtain, but I just won’t go out and get everything together right in the middle…. I guess it was kind of weird, though, ’cause I did tune three guitars.
That white one you really had trouble with, people wanted to come up and help you…. About Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, when I asked you before about what had gone down, I meant musically, because Graham Nash particularly does a really different style of music than you do…
Yeah, I know what you mean… well, on the new album, I play on about five songs and sing on three…
Three different from the five or three out of the five?
No, three of the five… and the ones that I play on we mostly recorded live. Like my two songs, “Helpless” and “Country Girl,” I did the lead vocal while I was playing, all at the same time, so the drums and bass, guitar and piano were all going at once, and I was singing the lead, so my things sound different, from overdubbing, you know. I mean, I probably could have played on all of them, ’cause you know, I can make up lines and put ’em down…
Was there any particular reason they were taken live?
Yeah, that’s the way I like to do it, and David likes to do it that way too, ’cause he likes to get off, he really likes to get off. So one of David’s songs, “Almost Cut My Hair” – yeah, that’s the name of the song – there’s gonna be a lot of reaction to that song. It’s really Crosby at what I think is his best. It’s like all live, three guitars, bass, organ and drums, and it’s all live and there are no overdubs, one vocal and the vocal was sung live – we did it in San Francisco at Wally Heider’s – and then there’s the other way of recording, which is the way they recorded their first album. And on this second album there are about five songs that sound sort of like the first album…
To tell you the truth, I didn’t like the first album. I like individual parts of it, but as an album it sounds too much like studio music. It’s the kind of thing that gets into music through the back door; it’s this computer sound that comes out.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean. The sound doesn’t really come out of the studio, it comes out of the musicians, it’s true. That’s what I figure is the fault of the first album – as is the fault of my first album. It was overdubbed instead of played. People like to hear these people play together, I think. Playing live is very exciting, especially the guitars really get me off, and everybody playing at once is really groovy; but some bands prefer to do it that way.
Some bands have got to…
The Beatles do it that way and that accounts for the difference between the Beatles and the Stones. The Stones almost always have at least four of five guys playin’ at once… and that’s where that funny feel comes from, ’cause if you ever tried to overdub that you can’t have it, ’cause you’d get everything right…. When somebody makes a mistake, and some other guy does another thing because a guy made a mistake, to make the mistake feel good, and somebody else comes back in, and that is all happening every beat with the Rolling Stones… it’s human you’re hearing it….
It’s great; that’s what was happening last night… but when you first were talking about live, were you talking about playing before an audience?
No, I’m talking about live in the studio, you know, everybody doing it….
Rather than one guy playing it and later having another guy see where it fits.
Yeah, or not even knowing what it is when he played the first one.
And CSN’s first album was done that way….
Yeah, it was all overdubbed, because Steve Stills played the organ and the guitar and the bass and the other guitar and the other organ and the keyboard… because they didn’t have anybody else who could play, I mean there wasn’t anybody in the group who could play any other instruments.
Well, why couldn’t they put down the basics and then add to it…
They did in some cases, but a basic putdown is like bass and drums, and Dallas plays drums and Steve plays bass and sometimes they’d do it that way. It’s just a different way of making records, that’s the way they do it. I don’t know how to really explain it, ’cause it isn’t my way. I did one album that way and, although in a lot of cases I was happy with what happened, especially in the new pressing of that first album, it just doesn’t get off, doesn’t get off.
Except for one song, which is great: “I’ve Been Waiting For You.”
Yeah, yeah, that’s the only one that sounds like it got off, but you know all those things were played at different days, every instrument. On that cut, isn’t it incredible… you see that’s how it can work, every once in a while. Because when I put on the lead guitar I was really into it that day, you know, and all the moods I was in at all the times that I put those things on. See, what I do is… in the beginning, we put down acoustic guitar and bass and drums, that’s the smallest track that I ever did, one guitar, bass and drums… and then the acoustic guitar had a bad sound and the bass wasn’t playin’ the right notes and was a little out of tune, so we did both of these over again; so then we have only one original thing that I’d done before and Jimmy Messina, who played the bass on it, played the bass part over, and then he made up a different bass part so we took off the first one completely and played a whole new one… and then we dropped the acoustic guitar, ’cause it didn’t fit with the other things that I put on… so then there was nothing left except for the drums. The pipe organ was put on…. Part of these things were done in different cities….
What about the vocal? The vocal seems to be the thing that really holds it together.
The vocal was done at a different studio…. It does stick together though. It’s very rare. It’d take you a long time to get a whole album of records like that, it’s just not easy to do.
Were you not satisfied with the album as a whole, when it came out?
The first album? I was satisfied with what I’d done, as much as I could be. But then when the mastering job came out on it, it blew my mind, because I couldn’t hear what I’d done… but now it’s been remastered and you can almost hear it. It was badly mixed.
Young got up to get a glass of water, as our throats were apparently parched. I got up and noticed a pile of variously sized, colored and assorted pills. My vitamins, said Young.
“What do you eat?”
When I’m on the road I eat anything. I eat meat, anything. The guys, Crazy Horse, they don’t eat meat, most of them…. They’re really down, I don’t know if you can tell by lookin’ at ’em, but they’re not your usual bunch of rock & roll guys… they’re just not that way. They’re very funky, I think they’re great. I don’t know if you have to live with them to know how great they are or what. I don’t know if the people are really hearing what I hear, you know.
How did you meet Crazy Horse?
I met all of them during the first six months that I was in L.A., when the Buffalo Springfield was just getting together, and they didn’t know how to play at that time, not very well… they were just hangin’ out, and I was starting to work with the Springfield, and I met Jack Nitzsche shortly after that and then he joined…. They were called the Rockets.
When is your new album coming out?
Which one, with Crazy Horse? It’ll be out in about two months. It’s really gonna be funky, it’s really gonna be a dirty album. We’re gonna do some things on it, some really old things, but we’re gonna do them right. Like I think I might do this one country song that I learned in high school, when I was goin’ through church dancing, junior high, I guess. I just remember the song; I don’t remember who wrote it or anything.
There was this one record they played, sounds like an old Hank Williams song, we might do that one. And then there are some other songs, some songs that I wrote that are gonna be sort of… I don’t know how to explain it. I’m trying to make records of the quality of the records that were made in the late Fifties and the Sixties, like Everly Brothers records and Roy Orbison records and things like that. They were all done with a sort of quality to them. They were done at once. They were done in Nashville….
It doesn’t matter where you do it. Nashville, it happened to be done there. Could be done anywhere. It’s just a quality about them, the singer is into the song and the musicians were playing with the singer and it was an entity, you know. It was something special that used to hit me all the time, that all these people were thinking the same thing, and they’re all playing at the same time.
Like the early Beatles.
Yeah, yeah, right. That’s what I’m tryin’ to get. That’s what I want to get, on this next album. I started approaching getting it on the last album, on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It happens on a few cuts, you can hear it. It’s there all the time….
Which cuts would you say?
Uh, I think “Cinnamon Girl,” uh, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and, uh, “Round And Round” has that feeling of togetherness, although it was just Danny [Whitten] and me and Robin Lane.
I thought that one was really a little bit too long.
Well, it depends on where you’re at, you know. A lot of people like that better than anything else on the album. I do things like that.
Like “The Last Trip To Tulsa,” in my opinion, after I did it, I didn’t like it and I didn’t want it. After the album came out that’s the one I really didn’t like, you know, and I still don’t, but a lot of people really dug that better than anything else on that whole album. See, it’s strange. Just because it doesn’t happen to be my favorite part, and I know a lot of people really didn’t like it, you know, and I can dig why. Because it sounds overdone. It just sounds like it’s a mistake to me, and luckily it’s cool. It’s the same thing with “Round And Round” on the second album. The acoustic live thing bores a lot of people.
Is that what that was, “Round And Round”?
Yeah, because the sound of that record, if you get into the sound of it and you know what’s happening, thinking of the fact that there were three people sitting like you and me, and then another, and six microphone booms coming down, absolutely stoned out of our minds in the studio, singing a song with the guitars, three guitars goin’ at once. If you listen to it, “Round And Round” is one of my favorites on the second album, because of some of the things – I guess you sort of have to listen to them, ’cause I didn’t bring them out very much – but the echo from the acoustic guitar on the right echoes back on the left, and the echo from the guitar on the left comes back on the right and it makes the guitars go like this… one line starts goin’ like da-da-daow… and then you can hear like one voice comes in and out, and that’s ’cause Danny was rockin’ back and forth…. Those things are not featured, they’re just in it, you know, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. I think they last longer that way. Doing it live and singing and playing all at once just makes it sound more real.
Do you remember “Cinnamon Girl” last night, you did it second to last, or so?
Oh, yeah, I remember that.
I thought that was a really great version, better than the album version.
Yeah, it probably was. The album versions weren’t that hot. We’d only been together for eight weeks when we cut that album. Really literally, we’d only been together for six or seven days when “Down By The River” was cut.
Was there any reason that you did it that soon, instead of waiting?
I just wanted to go ahead and do it, I just wanted to catch it… because there is something on those records that was recorded… like it was when we were really feeling each other out, you know, and we didn’t know each other, but we were turned on to what was happening. So I wanted to record that, because that never gets recorded. And that’s what that album is, it’s just the bare beginnings. And the change between that album and the next album is really gonna blow a lot of minds.
For anyone still passionately in love with rock & roll, Neil Young has made a record that defines the territory. Defines it, expands it, explodes it. Burns it to the ground.
Rust Never Sleeps tells me more about my life, my country and rock & roll than any music I’ve heard in years. Like a newfound friend or lover pledging honesty and eager to share whatever might be important, it’s both a sampler and a synopsis — of everything: the rocks and the trees, and the shadows between the rocks and the trees. If Young’s lyrics provide strength and hope, they issue warnings and offer condolences, too. “Rust never sleeps” is probably the perfect epitaph for most of us, but it can also serve as a call to action.
On 1974’s On the Beach, the singer summed up a song (“Ambulance Blues”) and a mood with the deceptively matter-of-fact phrase, “I guess I’ll call it sickness gone.” On that same LP, he felt such a renewal of power that he delivered, in “Motion Pictures,” what may be the most boastful and egotistic line in all of rock & roll: “I hear the mountains are doing fine.” Rust Never Sleeps makes good on every one of Young’s early promises.
As you can see, we’re dealing with omniscience, not irony, here. Too often, irony is the last cheap refuge for those clever assholes who confuse hooks with heart, who can’t find the center of anything because their edges are so fashionably fucked up, who are just too cool to care or commiserate. Neil Young doesn’t have these problems. Because he actually knows who he is and what he stands for, because he seems to have earned his insights, because his idiosyncratic and skillful music is marked by wisdom as well as a wide-ranging intelligence, Young comes right out and says something — without rant, rhetoric, easy moral lessons or any of the newest production dildos. He doesn’t need that crap.
This man never reduces a song to the mere meaning of its words: he gives you the whole thing, emotions — and sometimes contradictions — controlled but unlimited. For my money, Neil Young can outwrite, outsing, outplay, outthink, outfeel and outlast anybody in rock & roll today. Of all the major rock artists who started in the Sixties (Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Who, et al.), he’s the only one who’s consistently better now than he was then.
Though not really a concept album, Rust Never Sleeps is about the occupation of rock & roll, burning out, contemporary and historical American violence, and the desire or need to escape sometimes. It’s an exhortation about coming back for those of us who still have that chance — and an elegiac tribute to those who don’t. That much is pretty clear. But unlike most of Young’s records, this one’s a deliberate grab bag of styles, from sensitive singer/songwriter seriousness (“Thrasher”) to charming science fiction (“Ride My Llama”) to country rock (“Sail Away,” a gorgeous Comes a Time outtake sung with Nicolette Larson) to an open embrace of the raw potency of punk (the hilarious and corrosive social commentary of “Welfare Mothers”).
Side one is awesomely acoustic: ostensibly a folkie showcase, it’s actually a virtuoso demonstration of how a rock & roller can switch off the electricity and, through sheer personal authority and force of will, somehow manage to increase the voltage. Side two is thunderous Crazy Horse rock & roll, but its opening song, “Powderfinger,” is, oddly enough, the LP’s purest folk narrative. And, to prove that he’s more than just a contender, Young punches out one tune, “My My, Hey Hey (out of the Blue)” or “Hey Hey, My My (into the Black),” both ways.
Rust Never Sleeps leads off with “My My, Hey Hey (out of the Blue),” and you can tell in an instant — by those haunted, ominous low notes played on the bass strings of the guitar, by the singer’s respectful and understated vocal, by the lyrics’ repetition — that this song lies not far from the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter here is death and desperation. And commerce. While “out of the blue and into the black” is a phrase that’s filled with mortal doom, “into the black” can also mean money, success and fame, all of which carry a particularly high price tag. “My my, hey hey,” Young sings, the line both fatalistic and mocking, “Rock and roll is here to stay.” Elvis Presley and the Sex Pistols are introduced:
The king is gone but be’s not forgotten
This is the story of a Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out than it is to rust
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten.
Though Young believes “Rock and roll can never die,” he knows that a lot of people in it can — and do. Fast. Hence, the final admonishment: “There’s more to the picture/Than meets the eye.”
The autobiographical “Thrasher” (the threshing machine as death symbol) follows, and it’s about rock & roll destructiveness, too — this time in the guise of the easy living that can lead to artistic stagnation. But even as the singer chronicles the downfall of many of his friends and fellow musicians
They had the best selection, they were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed, they had nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations, they were waiting, waiting
he makes the decision that it won’t happen to him: “So I got bored and left them there, they were just deadweight to me/Better down the road without that load.”
Written partly in the florid and flowery style of mid-Sixties rock “poetry” and beautifully played on the twelve-string guitar and harmonica, “Thrasher” is a very complex composition that dwells deeply on the ties and boundaries of loyalty, childhood memories, fear, drugs, the music business, taking a hardheaded stand and art itself. When the latter is threatened, Young sings:
It was then that I knew I’d had enough, burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth and my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends I still don’t understand.
If those lines remind you of the “On the Beach”/”Motion Pictures”/”Ambulance Blues” side of On the Beach, they’re supposed to. That song cycle was also about survival with honor.
Taken as a unit, “My My, Hey Hey (out of the Blue)” and “Thrasher” almost suggest a paraphrase of the frontier father’s warning to his son in side two’s “Powderfinger”: rock means run, son, and numbers add up to nothin’. But Young isn’t that preachy. If he’s strong enough to leave, he’s strong enough to stay and work, too. He’s able to adapt (“I could live inside a tepee/I could die in Penthouse thirty-five”). He’ll bury his dead and maybe even drop a ghastly joke about it: “Remember the Alamo when help was on the way/It’s better here and now, I feel that good today.” Though his profession may be dangerous, it can also be glorious, and in the end, he’s proud of it (“Sedan delivery is a job I know I’ll keep/It sure was hard to find”).
With Crazy Horse in Rust Never Sleeps’ ferocious finale, “Hey Hey, My My (into the Black),” Neil Young makes rock & roll sound both marvelously murderous and terrifyingly triumphant as the drums crack like whips, the guitars crash like cannons and the vocal soars above the blood-red din like the flag that was still there. “Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?” the singer asks. Yes and no. If we can’t beat it, we can sure as hell beat it to death trying, he seems to be saying.
I’d be the last person in the world to claim that “My My, Hey Hey (out of the Blue)”/”Hey Hey, My My (into the Black)” and “Thrasher,” two of the album’s best tunes about rock & roll, have any direct connection with “Pocahontas” and “Powderfinger,” Rust Never Sleeps’ pairing about America. Of course, I’d be the last person in the world to deny it, too.
“Pocahontas” is simply amazing, and nobody but Neil Young could have written it. A saga about Indians, it starts quietly with these lovely lines
The icy sky at night
Paddles cut the water
In a long and hurried flight
and then jumps quickly from colonial Jamestown to cavalry slaughters to urban slums to the tragicomic absurdities of the present day:
And maybe Marlon Brando
Will be there by the fire
We’ll sit and talk of Hollywood
And the good things there for hire
And the Astrodome and the first tepee
Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me.
With “Pocahontas,” Young sails through time and space like he owns them. In just one line, he moves forward an entire century: “They massacred the buffalo/Kitty corner from the bank.” He even fits in a flashback — complete with bawdy pun — so loony and moving that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry:
I wish I was a trapper
I would give a thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the mornin’on the fields of green
In the homeland we’ve never seen.
Try reducing that to a single emotion.
Like the helicopter attack in Francis Coppola’s hugely ambitious Apocalypse Now, the violence in “Powderfinger” is both appalling and appealing — to us and to its narrator — until it’s too late. In this tale of the Old West, a young man, left to guard a tiny settlement, finds himself under siege and can’t help standing there staring at the bullets heading his way. “I just turned twenty-two/I was wonderin’ what to do,” he says. Between each verse, Neil Young tightens the screw on his youthful hero with some galvanizing guitar play.
There’s something about October, with the cool, crisp air, that always makes me reach for Neil Young. Perhaps it’s my propensity for flannel shirts during the cooler weather.
Or perhaps it’s the warm glow of acoustic guitars mixed and Neil’s yearning vocals. Whatever the reason, you’d be wise to get yourself some Neil Young for the coming cold…
Live Rust, released in 1979, documents songs from Young’s Rust Never Sleeps tour in the fall of ’78. Hey, what do you know, fall time! Anyways, the album is split into two distinct parts, acoustic during the first half and raw electric during the second half. Actually, it’s not quite that cut and dry as out of 16 songs, only 6 of them are acoustic. Still, those first five acoustic songs are wonderfully played by just Neil, his guitar and harmonica. He even finds time to play piano during “After the Gold Rush” to emotional effect.
Songs like “Sugar Mountain,” “Comes A Time,” and “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” are all played with such heartfelt emotion they quickly became my favorite versions. There is just something about that sparse guitar mixing with Neil’s trebly, shakey voice that stops time. There is a realness to the material that is quite remarkable and I often find myself staring out the window with a sense of yearning, watching the leaves fall from their trees, Neil softly strumming in the background. It’s real, true, and almost noble music. There are no tricks, no screwing around, just a simple man with a handful of simple songs.
“When You Dance I Can Really Love” kicks off the first of the electric songs with a surge of electricity. Suddenly the amps are turned to 11 and that warm guitar distortion is running rampant. The band, the aptly named Crazy Horse, is playing with a controlled chaos that is almost comforting. The vocal harmonies are all spot on, the bass and drums hold down the groove, and Neil sets off into one of his trademark melodic solos. “The Loner” follows with similar results, Neil singing with a unique rock & roll swagger that is just plain cool.
“The Needle and the Damage Done,” a harrowing song about a fallen friend who succumbed to the dangers of drug use, follows and Neil’s performance is spellbinding. For such a short, simple song the message rings clear with some of Neil’s finest lyrics delivered in excellent voice.
As things move along the album grows darker and heavier, the dense electric guitars threatening everything in their path. “Cortez the Killer” moves with a thick sound and molasses like beat while Neil delivers stunning solos that sound like his guitar is about to explode. One thing that is always unique about Neil’s electric work is that it’s never too loud, never hurting or piercing, and instead goes towards the warmer side of things; whereas other guitarist like to set their guitars to stun, Neil likes to wash over you with thick waves of electricity.
A quickly paced and heavily rocking “Cinnamon Girl,” complete with a stunning electrified coda, sets the stage for the live favorite “Like a Hurricane.” Neil comes in like a storm, almost quiet but with an unnerving sense of foreboding. When the main riffs sets in the band gels with ragged magnificence, setting the groundwork for Neil to come in with his heaviest solo of the night. Amidst his highly melodic solo Neil throws in a ton of heavy effects and at one point hits notes so low they must have rippled the roots of the amber autumn trees.
The night’s heaviness continues with a seriously rocking version of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” that settles into a deep head shaking groove. Neil’s thin voice sounds almost scary when paired with the heavily distorted riffs that are being thrown around without a care. “Tonight’s the Night,” another song about a fallen friend, rounds out the set with heavy grooves, excellently ragged harmonies, and raging, emotional solos. The band throws down for the final time in a wash of feedback, leaving the heaving crowd to voice their full approval.
Live Rust is one of those albums that every music fan should have. The acoustic numbers are excellent and the electric songs just plain rock. Neil’s penchant for being real is on full display and there is plenty to enjoy throughout the entirety of the album. I can recommend a lot of albums that are fall time essentials and this certainly makes it high into my list. Just awesome.
Neil Young Decades is one of the most ambitious Young bootlegs to be produced. It’s a project to collect his more interesting songs in various arrangements collated from the vast archive of live tapes. OMS state on the cover of the box they use soundboard tapes, but that isn’t accurate. They utilize available audience recordings ranging from excellent stereo DAT tapes to fair recordings from the seventies.
Decades draw comparisons to last year’s big Neil Young box set Road Of Plenty: The Unreleased Songs 1966 – 2010 & Live Rarities 1969 – 1984 (Godfather Records BOX04). At sixteen audio and one DVD, Decades is much longer than the six disc Godfather set. It also much more variety since it’s not focused exclusively upon unreleased songs and rare live performances.
In the words of the manufacturer: ”This set does not contain complete concerts but rather hundreds of unreleased soundboard recordings throughout Neil’s career. The concept is to offer you an insight into how songs have developed and changed through the years. For example you hear one song performed solo acoustic and the next track is the same song with full band played 20 years later. The set also strives to include seldom-heard songs performed live like the touring that followed the release of the On The Beach album. You get to hear all the songs he played only on that tour and then never again in his life.”
The earliest music dates from his initial studio sessions in 1965 and the most recent date from early 2011. The stylistic variations in the tunes reflect Young’s absorbing and, in many cases, critiquing current styles ranging from sixties folk to seventies arena rock, eighties new wave and nineties grunge.
These stylistic variations are also reflected in the different bands Young played with throughout the years. He’s joined by The Mynah Birds, Crazy Horse, The Bluenotes, The International Harvesters, The Lost Dogs, The Stray Gators, The Santa Monica Flyers, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Echoes, Poncho and The MG’s, Neil Young & His Electric Band, The Prarie Wind Band, The Gone With The Wind Orchestra, The Shocking Pinks (the 1983 Trans era band) and of course solo.
Decades is a gorgeous package. Each disc rests in its individual single cardboard sleeve and they are all housed in a gorgeous box with a thick booklet with detailed track listings. Overall it’s a nice production and a true labor-of-love. However, they are not all soundboard recordings and the organization is hard to follow. It seems the material are thrown together on the disc without forethought. The editing also could have used more work. Too often, when a song ends, you can hear the stage introduction to the following song of the concert only for it to be cut and you’re moved onto the next track on the disc.
Given the scope of this project, the rest of the review with touch upon points of interest on each disc instead of a detailed commentary on everything. Seasoned Neil Young collectors, to whom this box is targeted, will know by looking at the track listing if this will be worth having or not.
And given the high interest I’m publishing this review partially finished. Keep checking back to read the paragraphs on each piece as they are being written.
(77:01): Sugar Mountain (solo) Dorthy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA – February 1st, 1971 / I’ve Been Waiting For You (with Crazy Horse) Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – June 21st, 2001 / I Ain’t Got The Blues, studio 1965, unreleased Elektra single / It’s My Time (Neil Young & The Mynah Birds) studio 1966, unreleased single / The Sultan (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) RAI Theatre, Amsterdam – February 20th, 2008 / Burned (Neil Young & His Electric Band) Trent FM Arena, Nottingham, UK – June 23rd, 2009 / Broken Arrow (with Crazy Horse) Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970 / Everybody’s Alone (solo) KQED Studios, San Francisco, CA – February 19th, 1970 / Expecting To Fly (solo) Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway – April 25th, 2003 / The Loner (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL – November 13th, 2007 / Last Trip To Tulsa (solo) Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA – March 5th, 1999 / Wonderin’ Intro (solo) KQED Studios, San Francisco, CA – February 19th, 1970 / Wonderin’ KQED Studios, San Francisco, CA – February 19th, 1970 / Here We Are In The Years (with Crazy Horse) last show at Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA – November 24th, 1976 / Mr. Soul (with The Lost Dogs) Entertainment Centre, Sydney, NSW, Australia – April 18th, 1989
The first disc focuses upon the songs written early in Neil Young’s career. OMS’s intent with this box set is obvious in the first two tracks. ”Sugar Mountain” first appeared as a b-side to “The Loner” in 1969. It was played live a few times in the following two years but never became a regular until the Journey Through The Past tour in January, 1971.
Taken from the final show of that tour, it is a distant but clear audience recording from scratchy vinyl. But the epic 10 minute performance really sums up the genius of the artist. Part confessional and part sing-along, it demonstrates Young working with the audience to invite them to understand his muse.
It’s followed by “I’ve Been Waiting For You” from his 1969 solo album debut Neil Young. Except for two performances in 1968, it wasn’t played live until he toured with Crazy Horse in 2001 and OMS utilize an excellent stereo audience recording from Rotterdam.
Other interesting tracks include the unreleased 1965 demo “I Ain’t Got The Blues” rejected by Elektra Records and an instrumental take of “It’s My Time” with one of Young’s early bands The Mynah Birds.
Much of the rest of the disc it taken with several tracks from the February 19th, 1970 KQED radio session “Everybody’s Alone” and “Wonderin’” (including intro), “Broken Arrow” taken from the famous 1970 show in Cincinnati a week after, and a phenomenal 1989 feedback laden reading of the old Buffalo Springfield track “Mr. Soul.”
(79:03): Heart Of Gold (solo) Firestone Vineyards, Los Olivos, CA – September 28th, 2003 / Pardon My Heart (solo) The Bottom Line, New York, NY – May 16th, 1974 / Bandit (solo) Firestone Vineyards, Los Olivos, CA – September 28th, 2003 / Homefires (solo) Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA – March 24th, 1992 / Feel Your Love (solo) Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK – May 18th, 2005 / The Ways Of Love (solo) The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 24th, 1978 / Country Girl (with Crazy Horse) The Bitter End, New York, NY – February 12th, 1969 / Slowpoke (solo) Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA – March 20th, 1999 / Change Your Mind (with Crazy Horse) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 2nd, 1994 / Hanging On A Limb (with Frank Sampedro and Ben Keith) Muziek Theatre Stopera, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – December 10th, 1989 / Comes A Time (with Crazy Horse) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 28th, 1995 / Long May You Run (solo) Vicar Street, Dublin, Ireland – March 13th, 2003 / Razor Love (with Frank Sampedro and Ben Keith) Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – December 13th, 1989
The second discs in the Decades box set is devoted to various mellow acoustic folk tunes played throughout Young’s career. In keeping with the theme of the set, the well known tunes are given slightly different arrangements than what we’re used to. ”Heart Of Gold” is given a stark, slightly quicker reading in 2003 than in other performances.
“Comes A Time,” another wildly popular tune, is given a whimsical treatment with Young strumming along to the tune instead of picking out the melody. It’s more of a crowd pleasing anthem than the expected contemplative nature.
OMS include two 1974 rarities. ”Homefires,” a song still unreleased, was played in a handful of shows on the CSNY reunion tour and in 1992. ”Pardon My Heart,” played in the 1974 Bottom Line show in New York and once more on August 15th that year in the Nassau Coliseum with CSNY. ”Hangin’ On A Limb” is another rare song. It was released on Freedom in 1989 and played only five times that year.
The highlight of the disc is “Change Your Mind” from the 1994 release Sleeps With Angels. The label use the pristine recording of the full twenty-minute performance from the Bridge School Benefit in 1994. It is one of Young’s anti-protest songs. Written during the early years of the Clinton presidency in the early nineties, it reflects much more hope and optimism than his songs written under Republican presidents in the past (and future) such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes. The lyrics are minimal but the song contains many long instrumental passages of great power and beauty. The entire set can be found on the excellent Bridge 1994 Day 2 (Zion-006).
(79:12): Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown (with Crazy Horse) Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970 / Winterlong (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) United Palace, New York, NY – December 13th, 2007 / Mellow My Mind (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Velma V. Morrison Center For The Performing Arts, Boise, ID – October 18th, 2007 / New Mama (with The Stray Gators) Carnegie Hall, New York, NY – January 21st, 1973 / Nil’s Tune (with The Santa Monica Flyers) Palace Theatre, Manchester, England – November 3rd, 1973 / New Mama (with The Santa Monica Flyers) Palace Theatre, Manchester, England – November 3rd, 1973 / Speaking’ Out (solo) Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO – September 15th, 1992 / Roll Another Number (with Crazy Horse) The Catalyst Club, Santa Cruz, CA – November 13th, 1990 / Albuquerque (with The Santa Monica Flyers) Royal Festival Hall, London, England – November 10th, 1973 / Albuquerque (solo) Aerial Theater, Houston, TX – June 1st, 1999 / Traces (studio outtake 1973) / World On A String (with The Santa Monica Flyers) Royal Festival Hall, London, England – November 10th, 1973 / Tired Eyes (with The Santa Monica Flyers) Royal Festival Hall, London, England – November 10th, 1973 / Lookout Joe (with The Stray Gators) Carnegie Hall, New York, NY – January 21st, 1973 / Borrowed Time (with The Stray Gators) Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY – January 14th, 1973 / Tonight’s The Night (with The Bluenotes) Audurn Hills Palace Arena, Detroit, MI – September 4th, 1988
Decades‘ third disc focuses upon Danny Whitten and the “ditch” era. Young’s and Crazy Horses’ success in 1971 and 1972 was tempered by Whitten’s drug use. He was kicked out of Crazy Horse in 1971 and died of an overdose in November 1972. Young’s subsequent albums were dark, contemplative, and angry.
The disc starts off with Whitten’s “Come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown” taken from the February 25th, 1970 show in Cincinnati, the first show of the year and the first Neil Young with Crazy Horse show with Jack Nitzsche. It is followed by “Winterlong” from the New York show in December, 2007 which Young dedicates to Whitten.
OMS also include two versions of “New Mama.” The first is taken from the January 1973 show at Carnegie Hall in New York and sounds close to the version included on Tonight’s The Night. The second is taken from November of that year in Manchester, England, and is much different, featuring the band singing in harmony. The latter is proceeded by “Nils Tune.” It refers to Nils Lofgren and is a short jam on “Roll Out The Barrel.”
Most of the recordings are taken from 1973 concerts, but a handful come from much later performances. ”Winterlong,” from 2007, “Mellow My Mind” from Boise in 2007, ”Speaking’ Out” in 1992, “Roll Another Number” in 1990 and “Tonight’s The Night” from Detroit in 1988 are all played more with reverence and reflection rather than anger and depression.
(76:18): Pushed It Over The End (solo) The Bottom Line, New York, NY – May 16th, 1974 / Walk On (with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) Roosevelt Raceway, Westbury, NY – September 8th, 1974 / See The Sky About To Rain (solo) Music Hall, Boston, MA – January 21st, 1971 / Revolution Blues (solo) The Bottom Line, New York, NY – May 16th, 1974 / For The Turnstiles (Neil Young & His Electric Band) Sportpark Boshoven, Weert, The Netherlands – July 11th, 2008 / Vampire Blues (solo) Mondavi Center, Davis, CA – July 15th, 2010 / On The Beach (solo) Congress Centrum, Hamburg, Germany – April 29th, 2003 / Motion Pictures (solo) The Bottom Line, New York, NY – May 16th, 1974 / Ambulance Blues (with The Prairie Wind Band) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 22nd, 2006 / Pardon My Heart – The Old Homestead (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY August 15th, 1974 / Goodbye Dick CCrosby, Stills, Nash & Young) Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY August 15th, 1974 / Cripple Creek Ferry (with The Stray Gators) Carnegie Hall, New York, NY – January 21st, 1973 / L.A. (with The Stray Gators) Maple Leaf Garden, Toronto, ON, Canada – January 15th, 1973 / Don’t Be Denied (solo Trans) UICC Pavilion, Chicago, IL – January 15th, 1983 / Time Fades Away (with The Stray Gators) Carnegie Hall, New York, NY – January 21st, 1973
Decades disc four continues the exploration of the “ditch” era, focusing upon material from Time Fades Away and On The Beach. Before the first (of many) over-hyped and ultra commercial reunions with CSN&Y he played a low-key gig at The Bottom Line in New York on May 16th, 1974, playing many songs from On The Beach. Suggested by fans for official release, it exists in a very good audience tape. OMS include three songs from the gig on this disc.
“Pushed It Over The End,” which Young calls “kind of a quiet song, called, ah… ‘Citizen Kane Jr. Blues,’” this is the first of only performances of the unreleased track. The Bottom Line is also the only appearance as a solo track. The other thirteen were on the CSNY tour later that year. OMS include the final performance at Wembley on disc seven.
“Revolution Blues” and “Motion Pictures” from this show are also included on this disc (“Pardon My Heart” and “Greensleeves” from this show are also included elsewhere in this collection). “For The Turnstiles” wasn’t played live until the late eighties. OMS include a performance from the the Bosop Festival in The Netherlands in 2008, the only time it’s been played since 1989.
“Pardon My Heart” from the August 15th Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young show at the Nassau Coliseum, is played for the second and final time. Released in 1975 onZuma, it’s played in a medley with “The Old Homestead” a song that wouldn’t be released until 1980 on Hawks & Doves. It is sourced from a poor audience tape, but it is a magical performance.
“Goodbye Dick,” the following track, is taken from the same show. An impromtu banjo-based ditty celebrating the resignation of President Richard Nixon the previous week, the poor sound quality makes it hard to follow the words. But the Nassau Coliseum audience laugh hysterically.
“Cripple Creek Ferry,” the final song on After The Goldrush, was the opening tune of the January 21st, 1973 show in Carnegie Hall in New York. The only available recording is a fair audience tape, but it’s a great performance and extremely rare. Young played the song only two more times (1992 in New Jersey and at the 1997 HORDE Festival in Phoenix, Arizona). ”Time Fades Away,” the final song on the disc, is also taken from this Carnegie Hall show.
“Don’t Be Denied,” a feedback slice of sludge from 1973′s Time Fades Away, is a surprise addition to the Trans set list in 1983. Instead of a Sennheiser Vocoder VSM201 transformation, he plays it as a sensitive solo acoustic piece with the occasional drum and synthesizer elaboration. OMS use an excellent recording from Chicago.
(65:21): Ordinary People (with The Lost Dogs) Entertainment Centre, Sydney, NSW, Australia – April 18th, 1989 / White Line (with Crazy Horse) Tarrant County Convention Center, Fort Worth, TX – November 10th, 1976 / Human Highway (with Crazy Horse) Hammersmith Odeon, London, England – March 31st, 1976 / Interstate (with The International Harvesters) Bayfront Center Arena, St. Petersburg, FL – September 17th, 1985 / Cortez The Killer (solo) Congress Centrum, Hamburg, Germany – April 29th, 2003 / Spirit Road (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 28th, 2007 / Mideast Vacation (with Crazy Horse) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 21st, 2001 / For The Turnstiles (with The Lost Dogs) Bunka Taiikukan, Yokohama, Japan – April 27th, 1989 / No Hidden Path (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 28th, 2007
The fifth disc of the Decades box set can be loosely themed “songs given their live premier before the official release.” Six of the nine tracks are recordings fitting this description, beginning with the opening song “Ordinary People.” The long acoustic narrative was given its live debut in the summer of 1988.
The lyrics have narrative continuity with the others on This Note’s For You, but stylistically the live arrangement fits his seventies folk output rather than The Bluenotes’ R&B. OMS use a recording from the April 18th, 1989 show in Sydney, the song’s final live performance. It would be released almost twenty years later on Chrome Dreams II in 2007 (The studio recording sounds very much of its era – it’s been dubbed “Cortez The Killer” with horns).
“White Line” was released on 1990′s Ragged Glory but was played three times fifteen years before its release (and once in 1999). This is an excellent audience recording from Fort Worth, Texas. ”Human Highway” follows. The banjo-scored meditation made its stage debut in 1973 but wasn’t officially released until the LP Comes A Time in 1978. The label use a great sounding tape from London in 1976.
“Interstate” was played only nine times in September, 1985. It was recorded in studio in 1990 and finally released in 1996 on the Broken Glory LP only and the “Big Time” CD single in Germany and Australia. Not sure why it’s such a hassle to obtain, but the label use a gorgeous stereo audience recording from St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Cortez The Killer” is one of the exceptions. The Crazy Horse electric version was released on Zuma in 1975. But this is a folk acoustic version from Germany in 2003. The stark arrangement does nothing to diminish the song’s power.
“Spirit Road” recorded at the Bridge Benefit in 2007 which corresponded to its release on Chrome Dreams II and has been played constantly over the past five years. “Mideast Vacation” is the lead track on 1987′s Life and was played eighty-seven times in 1986 and 1987. It technically fits the pattern of the disc, but the label uses a recording from the Bridge School Benefit in 2001.
“For The Turnstiles” from On The Beach is taken from a show in Japan and is played in a different arrangement than the Bosop Festival recording on disc four. The disc ends with “No Hidden Path.” Much like “Spirit Road,” it was released on Chrome Dreams II and made its live debut about the time the disc was released and is present in its fifteen-minute long glory from the Bridge Benefit.
(71:46): Fuckin’ Up (with Crazy Horse) Bonnaroo Festival, Manchester, TN – June 13th, 2003 / Cortez The Killer (with Crazy Horse) The Forum, Inglewood, CA – October 24th, 1978 / Cinnamon Girl (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Chevrolet Theater, Wallingford, CT – December 7th, 2007 / Dangerbird (with The Echoes) The Catalyst Club, Santa Cruz, CA – May 9th, 1996 / Cowgirl In The Sand (with Crazy Horse) The Catalyst Club, Santa Cruz, CA – November 13th, 1990 / Powderfinger (with Crazy Horse) The Forum, Inglewood, CA – October 24th, 1978 / Down By The River (solo) New World Music Theater, Tinley Park, IL – October 3rd, 1998
Decades 6 focuses upon some of Young’s legendary feedback-laden guitar epics. Despite the seventy-one minute duration, only seven tracks are included on this. The two shortest songs are “Cinnamon Girl,” taken from Wallingford, Conneticut in 2007, runs just under four minutes and “Powderfinger” from Los Angeles in 1978, at just under six minutes, are the shortest.
Most run about ten to twelve minutes and the longest is a twenty minute rave-up on “Down By The River.” Taken from his appearance at Farm Aid in Tinley Park, Illinois, it is probably the longest version on record. And endless stream of guitar solos and duets threaten to derail the song at times. At one point someone even starts to play what sounds like “Eleanor Rigby,” but it ends with an astounding climax.
“Cowgirl In The Sand” is taken from the legendary 1990 show and two songs, the above mentioned “Powderfinger” and “Cortez The Killer” originate from the final night of the Rust Never Sleeps tour in 1978 and would be his final show for many years. This is perhaps the most fun disc to listen to for those who love Young’s endless guitar solos.
(69:00): Let It Shine (with Crazy Horse) Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan – March 6th, 1976 / Midnight On The Bay (with Crazy Horse) Hammersmith Odeon, London, England – March 29th, 1976 / Give Me Strength (with Crazy Horse) late show at Auditorium Theater, Chicago, IL – November 15th, 1976 / Tell Me Why (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) Fillmore East, New York, NY – June 4th, 1970 / A Man Needs A Maid (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) INB Performing Arts Center, Spokane, WA – October 20th, 2007 / No One Seems To Know (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Constitution Hall, Washington, DC – November 15th, 2007 / Two Old Friends (with Poncho and The MG’s) Nürburgring, Eifel, Germany – May 18th, 2002 / Change Your Mind (with Crazy Horse) Hamilton Warren Amphitheater, Sedona, AZ – October 22nd, 1994 / Helpless (with Crazy Horse) The Bitter End, New York, NY – February 12th, 1969 / Long May You Run (solo) Teatro Smeraldo, Milan, Italy – May 3rd, 2003 / Pushed It Over The End (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) Wembley Stadium, London, England – September 14th, 1974
The seventh disc of Decades focuses upon the contrast between Neil Young the folk-song balladeer and Neil Young the loud rock star. The opening tunes are taken from the acoustic portions of their respective show’s set lists. The first two songs are from the underrated 1976 LP Long May You Run. ”Let It Shine” is a rarity, played in only nine shows between March and July. The label use the performance from the March 6th, show in Osaka, Japan. It sounds as if they use the Mr. Peach tape which surfaced several years ago and can be found on Best Chaw? (Tarantura TCDNY-4-1, 2).
The following two shows are also quite scarce, rarely played after 1976. ”Midnight On The Bay” was played five times and only once after 1976, and “Give Me Strength” remains unreleased. It was played nine times in 1976 and one each in 1985 and 1997
“Tell Me Why” is on Young’s third solo LP After The Goldrush but began it’s live stage life as a CSN&Y song. Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, they sing beautiful four-part harmony. This recording is taken from a soundboard recording from the Fillmore East in New York.
“A Man Needs A Maid” was a consistent part of the set in 1976, but was rested for thirty years until Young reintroduced it in 2007. Complete with “Like A Hurricane” introduction, Young accompanies himself on organ instead of piano. This performance is from Spokane, Washington, the second time it was played that year. (The first was on october 18th at Velma V. Morrison Center For The Performing Arts, Boise, Idaho, USA).
“No One Seems To Know,” still unreleased, is an unofficial sequel to “Maid.” It too was played in 1976 and dropped for thirty years until reintroduced in 2007. The label uses the performance the following month in Washington DC. It’s followed by “Two Old Friends,” released and played on the tour for Are You Passionate? in 2002. One of his catchiest tunes.
A twenty-minute version of ”Change Your Mind” is taken from the Verde Valley Benefit in Sedona, Arizona, on October 22nd, 1994. Unlike the acoustic Bridge School Benefit earlier that month, Sedona is a full electric version with long fuzzy guitar solos in the middle, much like his famous jams.
“Helpless” is listed as being with Crazy Horse from The Bottom Line in New York on February 12th, 1969. But that is an error. Young did play that venue with Crazy Horse, but no tape exists and nobody knows the exact set. In fact “Helpless” wasn’t played live until November that year. And the recording, an excellent soundboard, is a Crosby Stills Nash & Young show, not Young with Crazy Horse.
The disc ends with the CSNY arrangement of “Pushed It Over The End.” Taken from the final show of the 1974 reunion tour in Wembley, it is a full and electric arrangement sourced from the video soundtrack. It stands in contrast to the solo version played a The Bottom Line in New York which opens disc four. Steven Stills provides excellent guitar in this recording of the song which has never been released and has never been played after this performance.
(74:29): My, My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) (solo) early show at The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 24th, 1978 / Shots (solo) late show at The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 27th, 1978 / Ride My Llama (solo) late show at The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 27th, 1978 / Look Out For My Love (solo) Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria – May 4th, 2003 / Like A Hurricane (solo) Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA – March 24th, 1992 / Lost In Space (Neil Young & His Electric Band) O2 Arena, Dublin, Ireland – June 21st, 2009 / Thrasher (solo) early show at The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 24th, 1978 / Sad Movies (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Constitution Hall, Washington, DC – November 15th, 2007 / Campaigner (studio outtake) / Kansas (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Constitution Hall, Washington, DC – November 16th, 2007 / Pocahontas (solo) Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – April 19th, 1999 / Southern Man (with Crazy Horse) Suwannee Park, Live Oak, FL – August 23rd, 1997 / Powderfinger (solo) late show at The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 26th, 1978 / Depression Blues (solo) Beacon Theater, New York, NY – February 17th, 1992 / Shaddup, Asshole – Don’t Let It Bring You Down (solo) Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA – April 24th, 1999
Most of the songs on disc eight originate from Young’s fecund period in the mid to late seventies which produced American Stars N Bars, Comes A Time, Rust Never Sleeps, Live Rust, Hawks And Doves and the underrated Re-act-or.
In May 1978, several months before Comes A Time was released, Young played eight shows at The Boarding House in San Francisco. Dubbed the One Stop World Tour, it was Young solo introducing not only songs from the new album but also songs that would appear on some of the later albums as well.
Five of the tracks on the disc come from these shows including the first three. ”My, My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)” originates from the first show of the stint. This is the live premier of a song that would really define this era, it has a few embellishments in the guitar not found in other performances. The audience’s reaction is almost immediate, however, confirming its status as a quasi-anthem.
It’s followed by “Shots” from the May 27th late show. This is an acoustic performance of a song that would be given a full electric arrangement when recorded for Re-act-or in 1981. It is played at every one of these dates, but would never surface again, even after it was given official release. The third Boarding House recording is “Ride My Llama” from Rust Never Sleeps. Young jokingly calls it an “extraterrestrial folk song.”
The other two Boarding House tracks are the stage debuts of “Thrasher” and “Powderfinger.” The former, “Thrasher,” is the second track on Rust Never Sleeps and hasn’t been played since that year. Young makes a mistake in the middle and starts over. The latter, recorded for the same album, not only had a much longer stage life but has become one of his most mysterious anthems. This performance is a solo acoustic rendition, far from the electric jam it would become.
“Look Out For My Love” was released on Comes A Time but wasn’t given its stage debut until a decade later. Little seen since, the Linz performance is its most recent. ”Lost In Space” has a similar story. Recorded and released onHawks And Doves in 1980, it wasn’t played live for almost thirty years until it found its way into eight shows in 2009.
The final track is an excellent recording of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” from the April 24th, 1999 show in Philadelphia. The “Shaddup, Asshole” label at the beginning is his response to a heckler interrupting his story about his guitar.
(72:41): Hey, Hey, My My (Into The Black) (with Crazy Horse) Suwannee Park, Live Oak, FL – August 23rd, 1997 / Driveby (with Crazy Horse) Hamilton Warren Amphitheater, Sedona, AZ – October 22nd, 1994 / Alabama – Sweet Home Alabama (with the Gone With The Wind Orchestra) Bicentennial Park, Miami, FL – November 12th, 1977 / Windward Passage (with The Ducks) The Catalyst Club, Santa Cruz, CA – August 22nd, 1977 / Touch The Night (with Crazy Horse) The Omni Coliseum, Atlanta, GA – October 22nd, 1986 / Powderfinger (Neil Young & His Electric Band) Le Théâtre de Plein Air, Colmar, France – August 15th, 2008 / No More (with The Lost Dogs) Entertainment Centre, Sydney, NSW, Australia – April 18th, 1989 / Cocaine Eyes (with Frank Sampedro and Ben Keith) Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – December 13th, 1989 / Words (with The Friends And Relatives) Coors Amphitheater, Chula Vista, CA – September 25th, 2000 / My, My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) (solo) Constitution Hall, Washington, DC – May 24th, 2010
The ninth disc in Decades continues with songs written and / or performed in the late seventies starting with a great performance of ”Hey, Hey, My My (Out Of The Blue)” taken from the HORDE Festival played in Florida and is followed by “Driveby.” The somber track was only ever played three times. It appeared in the Bridge School Benefit shows and the Verde Valley Benefit in Sedona in 1994.
A rare performance of “Alabama” from 1977 follows. Taken from a benefit for Miami’s Children’s Hospital on November 12th, 1977, it’s Young’s only concert with The Gone With The Wind Orchestra containing the band that recordedComes A Time. Young throws in a short reference to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” in the middle. Three weeks after the plane crash killing Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray, it is a fitting tribute.
“Windward Passage” is another unreleased rarity. Played only three times, it is an eight and a half minute catchy instrumental played with The Ducks, one of the short-lived backing bands.
“Touch The Night” from 1986′s Landing On Water, “Cocaine Eyes” from 1989′sEldorado and “No More” from Freedom, also released in 1989, are all songs that were included in the live act for a short time and didn’t survive past the eighties. ”No More” in the most interesting tune of the three.
“Words,” the profound closer for Harvest, was played only once in the seventies, appearing in the 1973 show at the Cobo Hall in Detroit. It was raised from the dead in both 2000 and 2009, appearing in more than sixty shows. OMS include common live performances of “Powerderfinger” and “My, My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)” at the end of the disc. The former is one of Young’s most popular rockers, and the latter is a powerful acoustic solo tune.
(77:12): Stupid Fucking Guy (with Crazy Horse) James L. Knight Center, Miami, FL – October 29th, 1986 / Drive Back (with Crazy Horse) James L. Knight Center, Miami, FL – October 29th, 1986 / Bad News Beat (with Crazy Horse) The Spectrum, Philaelphia, PA – September 17th, 1986 / Inca Queen (with Crazy Horse) The Omni Coliseum, Atlanta, GA – October 25th, 1986 / Sample And Hold (with Crazy Horse) The Omni Coliseum, Atlanta, GA – October 25th, 1986 / Opera Star (with Crazy Horse) James L. Knight Center, Miami, FL – October 29th, 1986 / Sixty And Zero (with The Bluenotes) Canadian Exhibition Grandstand, Toronto, ON, Canada – August 18th, 1988 / Southern Pacific (with The International Harvesters) Bayfront Center Arena, St. Petersburg, FL – September 17th, 1985 / Boxcar (with The Restless) Opera House, Spokane, WA – February 23rd, 1989 / Road Of Plenty (with Crazy Horse) James L. Knight Center, Miami, FL – October 29th, 1986 / Ordinary People (with The Bluenotes) Poplar Music Theater, Hoffman Estates, IL – August 16th, 1988
Decades 10 is similar in theme to the preceding disc except the focus is upon the latter Geffen years in the eighties. The decade was a time when older artists made attempts to incorporate the popular synth-pop into their already established sounds. Although Young made some attempts in that direction (such as the quickly disowned Trans in 1982), he largely kept to his own oddball muse with varying commercial results.
Decades ten begins with “Stupid Fucking Guy” and “Drive Back” from the October 29th, 1986 show in Miami, Florida. During the Live In A Rusted Out Garage tour in 1986 Young would play a recordings of Sam Kinison and his mother telephoning him. Meant to be a bit of comic relief, Kinison’s is typically profanity laced and was actually bleeped on the FM simulcast on the Pay-Per-View telecast of the final night of the tour in Daly City, California.
“Bad News Beat” from Landing On Water, it was only played the first week of the tour before being dropped forever. The Philadephia show is an excellent stereo audience recording. A great recording of “Inca Queen” follows. Included on the 1987 album Life, it was introduced a year before. The acoustic guitar contrasting with the jungle drums create a unique atmosphere for one of Young’s most intriguing songs.
Other interesting tracks on this disc include a full 20 minute version of “Sixty And Zero,” the full version of what would be recorded later as “Crime In The City” onFreedom, “Boxcar” which would be released twenty years later on Chrome Dreams II, and “Road Of Plenty,” and early arrangement of “Eldorado.” The final track is a full band electric arrangement of “Ordinary People” whose acoustic cousin appears on disc five.
(76:20): Don’t Cry No Tears (with Crazy Horse) Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA – January 10th, 2001 / Love And Only Love (with Crazy Horse) Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA – January 10th, 2001 / Over And Over (with Crazy Horse) The Catalyst Club, Santa Cruz, CA – November 13th, 1990 / Don’t Spook The Horse (with Crazy Horse) late show at Portland Meadows, Portland, OR – July 13th, 1997 / Like A Hurricane (with Crazy Horse) The Forum, Los Angeles, CA – October 24th, 1978 / Cortez The Killer (with Crazy Horse) Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – June 21st, 2001 / Cinnamon Girl (with Crazy Horse) The Forum, Los Angeles, CA – November 4th, 1976
Decades 11 is another OMS celebration of Neil Young’s fuzz tone. For more than an hour this disc covers several of Young’s well known electric guitar epic tunes played in their most extreme manner (whatever that may be). The disc starts off with ”Don’t Cry No Tears” and “Love And Only Love” from the January 10th, 2001 show in the Warfield Theater in San Francisco. This show was the first of two warm up gigs and his first with Crazy Horse since the 1997 Horde Festival.
Both of the songs are quite common live, but at this show “Don’t Cry No Tears” was played for the first time in five years and “Love And Only Love” in eleven. Following is ”Over And Over” from Ragged Glory. It is taken from the Catalyst Club show on November 13th, 1990, one of only four times it has been played live.
“Don’t Spook The Horse” is another relative rarity. Taken from the rare ”Mansion On The Hill” CD single, this strange tune was only played three times on the 1997 Horde Festival.
The disc ends with three very common tunes. ”Like A Hurricane” is taken from the October 24th, 1978 show at the Los Angeles Forum, the same tour that produced the live album Live Rust. The recording of the song on the official album is taken from the October 15th show in St. Paul, but this performance is just as potent. “Cortez The Killer” is taken from the June 21st, 2001 show in Rotterdam, and “Cinnamon Girl” is from the November 4th, 1976 show with Crazy Horse. The Zuma era produced some of the wildest versions of that song on tape.
(63:49): Days That Used To Be (with The Lost Dogs) Bunka Taiikukan, Yokohama, Japan – April 27th, 1989 / Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown (with Crazy Horse) Tea Party, Boston, MA – March 1st, 1970 / The Loner (with Crazy Horse) Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970 / Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (with Crazy Horse) Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970 / Wonderin’ (with Crazy Horse) Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970 / Cinnamon Girl (with Crazy Horse) late show at Fillmore East, New York, NY – March 6th, 1970 / Winterlong (with Crazy Horse) Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970 / Down By the River (with Crazy Horse) late show at Fillmore East, New York, NY – March 6th, 1970 / Oh, Lonesome Me (with Crazy Horse) The Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA – February 28th, 1970 / Cowgirl In The Sand (with Crazy Horse) Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA – March 28th, 1970 / Announcement,Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH – February 25th, 1970
Decades 12 is an odd collection of songs. The first track, “Days That Used To Be,” is taken from the first show on the Japan tour in 1989. Recorded for Ragged Glory in a full band electric arrangement, this is a mellow acoustic solo number from early in the show.
After starting in the late eighties, the disc shifts and remains in 1970 for the next hour’s worth of music. The first is the Danny Whitten tune “come On Baby, Let’s Go Downtown” with Crazy Horse taken from the March 1st show in Boston. It is a fair audience recording but a fantastic performance as the final song of the night. The entire recording, including a three song fragment from the soundboard, came out a decade ago on Boston Tea Party 1970 (Screamer-040/81019).
Many of the remaining songs come from the February 25th Cincinnati soundboard recording including ”The Loner,” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” “Wonderin’” (the Crazy Horse rockabilly arrangement, not the Shocking Pinks doo wop version), “Winterlong” and the closing announcements (where the audience beg for an encore and the mc tell them the band are already past their contract). The entire show can be found onLive In Cincinnati 1970 (Waterface Records).
Two songs, “Cinnamon Girl” and a scintillating “Down By The River,” are labeled from the late show on March 6th at the Fillmore East in New York but that is incorrect. No tape is in circulation from that show, but there is an audience tape from the early show. ”Cinnamon Girl” is a soundboard recording taken from some other show (and era), and “Down By The River” is from a fair audience recording of the early show.
“Oh, Lomesome Me” is taken from a poor audience recording of the February 28th show in Philadelphia and a fifteen minute version of “Cowgirl In The Sand” from the final show of the short spring tour with Crazy Horse on March 28th in Santa Monica.
(79:02): Coastline (solo Trans) Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA – January 5th, 1983 / Mexico (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) Orpheum Theater, Boston, MA – December 6th, 2007 / Stringman (with Simon & Garfunkel) Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA – March 1st, 1993 / Try (with Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young) United Palace, New York, NY – December 16th, 2007 / Out Of My Mind (solo) late show at The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 27th, 1978 / Love In Mind (solo) Music Hall, Boston, MA – January 21st, 1971 / A Man Needs A Maid (solo) Music Hall, Boston, MA – January 21st, 1971 / Heart Of Gold (solo) Music Hall, Boston, MA – January 21st, 1971 / Journey Through The Past (with The Stray Gators) Maple Leaf Garden, Toronto, ON, Canada – January 15th, 1973 / Intro – After The Gold Rush (with The Stray Gators) Convention Center, Louisville, KY – February 15th, 1973 / After The Gold Rush (with The Stray Gators) Convention Center, Louisville, KY – February 15th, 1973 / Dangerbird (solo) Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany – May 1st, 2003 / Homefires (solo) Orpheum Theater, Minneapolis, MN – November 22nd, 1992 / Love Art Blues (solo) Orpheum Theater, Minneapolis, MN – November 22nd, 1992 / Philadelphia (solo) Aerial Theater, Houston, TX – June 1st, 1999 / Campaigner (solo) Beacon Theater, New York, NY – February 18th, 1992 / Winterlong (with Frank Sampedro and Ben Keith) Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – December 13th, 1989 / I Believe In You (solo) late show at The Boarding House, San Francisco, CA – May 27th, 1978 / Someday (with Frank Sampedro and Ben Keith) Sportpaleis Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – December 13th, 1989 / This Note’s For You (with The Lost Dogs) Shi Kokaido, Nagoya, Japan – May 5th, 1989
The thirteenth disc is one of the longest and most diverse of the entire set. The tracks range from 1971 to 2007 and feature songs on acoustic guitar, grand piano, and full band electric onslaughts. Some of the tracks, especially at the beginning, are hopelessly rare and others are some of the most common and popular songs found in Young’s live sets.
It begins with a solo piano renditon of “Coastline.” Taken from 1980′s Hawks & Doves, it made one appearnce in the 1980 Berkeley benefit concert and three more in the early Trans tour in 1983. It is followed by the somber “Mexico,” a more recent song played four times in 2007 and 2008 but remains unreleased.
“Stringman,” a song written in the mid seventies but not released untilUnplugged in 1993, comes from a show Young did with Simon & Garfunkel and “Try” is another unreleased song played ten times in 2007 and 2008.
After a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Out Of Mind” dating from 1978 OMS include several tracks from the January 21st, 1971 show in Boston from theJourney Through The Past tour. It is notable for the strange melding of “A Man Needs A Maid” with several verses from “Heart Of Gold” thrown in the middle a year before it was released on Harvest.
The performance of “After The Goldrush” from the February 15th, 1973 show in Louisville is halted after a few lines because Young forgets the words. He starts the song again, but sings it in a higher key than the studio performance.
The live performance of “Campaigner” dates from a 1992 show in New York. Unlike the studio cut found earlier in the collection, Young sings about Ronald Reagan rather than Richard Nixon. It’s followed by a solo piano performance of “Winterlong,” much different than the Crazy Horse all band recording. The disc ends with “This Notes’ For You” played as a solo piano piece rather than the groovy all band version from the studio recording.
(76:37): Four Strong Winds (solo) Community Theater, Berkeley, CA – September 15th, 2004 / Forever Young (with The Grateful Dead) Golden Gate Park, Polo Fields, San Francisco, CA – November 3rd, 1991 / Walking To New Orleans (with The Prairie Wind Band) Tweeter Center, Tinley Park, IL – September 18th, 2005 / All You Need Is Love (with Crazy Horse) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 20th, 2001 / Blowin’ In The Wind (with Crazy Horse) Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC – February 28th, 1991 / Greensleeves (solo) The Bottom Line, New York, NY – May 15th, 1974 / All Along The Watchtower (with Pancho and The MG’s) Nürburgring, Eifel, Germany – May 18th, 2002 / Country Feedback (with REM) Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN – October 5th, 2004 / (Sitting On) The Dock By The Bay (with Booker T And The MG’s) Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA – June 13th, 1993 / A Day In The Life (Neil Young & His Electric Band) Hyde Park, London, England – June 27th, 2009 / Imagine (with Crazy Horse) Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA – October 20th, 2001
The fourteenth disc in the Decades box focuses upon the many cover tunes Neil Young has performed throughout his career. Young’s use of cover tunes was never as important as, say, Bob Dylan’s. And whereas Dylan would play covers as an acknowledgement of his source material, Young’s covers seem more of an acknowledgment of respect for a given artist. Most are taken from benefit concerts, and all but one tune is taken from shows in the past twenty years when Young entered the latter half of his career as an elder statesman of rock and roll.
A haunting version of “Four Strong Winds” is taken from a solo benefit performance in Berkeley in 2004. Young’s solo performance, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, is one of the most powerful performances contained in this set. His wife Pegi harmonizes throughout the piece. It was the final number of the main set that night and is followed by loud applause.
The following cover of Dylan’s “Forever Young” is taken from a soundboard recording of the Bill Graham Memorial Concert in San Francisco on November 3rd, 1991. Young had already played a set with CSN&Y, but he joined The Grateful Dead for a few numbers including this classic. It’s followed by a cover of Fats Domino’s “Walking To New Orleans” from the 2005 Farm Aid benefit.
Young covered The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” during the two Bridge Benefit gigs in 2001. They play a faithful cover including the Marseilles introduction.
The cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” is an exception. Unlike the others, it does not come from a benefit concert and Young gives his own feedback style arrangement. He gives melodramatic punctuations to the songs and receives a loud ovation in the second verse after singing: ”Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows / That too many people have died?” in response to the Gulf War which ended that day.
“Greensleeves” is the oldest tune on the disc, both in terms of composition and performance. Although it’s often cited as a medieval tune, the earliest reference is found in the late 16th century dating from the English renaissance. Young played the song only twice in his forty year career. The first, included on this disc, is from a show at The Bottom Line in New York in 1974. (The second is from the 1991 Bridge Benefit).
“All Along The Watchtower,” the third Dylan cover on the disc, is taken from the Rock am Ring Festival, Nürburgring, Germany on May 18th, 2002. And just like Dylan he plays a modified version of the Jimi Hendrix arrangement. Young adds more guitar and the MC5 add a strong Hammond in the mix.
“Country Feedback” is taken from the Vote For Change Benefit at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, on October 5th, 2004. Joining REM, this is the third and final time he played this song after two previous performances at the 1998 Bridge Benefit. The sound quality of this recording is quite poor and hard to make out unfortunately.
The disc ends with his cover of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” This cover was the encore for every show from 2008 to 2009 and was introduced into the set after McCartney introduced it into his set that year. Unlike McCartney’s (or Jeff Beck’s instrumental version), Young’s is actually closest to the Sgt Pepper’s recording. But instead of the loud piano chord fading out, Young and the band engage in a collage of noise and feedback. OMS use an excellent recording of Young’s final performance of the song at Hyde Park in June, 2009.
The covers disc ends with an excellent recording of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Young covered the tune three times, all in 2001 as a response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th. The first performance was a telecast with members of Pearl Jam, and the second two were played at the Bridge School Benefit a month later. They play it as an instrumental but the audience sing along.
(78:50): Rockin’ In The Free World (with The Lost Dogs) Shi Kokaido, Nagoya, Japan – May 5th, 1989 / Looking Forward (solo) Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento, CA – March 17th, 1999 / Old Man (with The Stray Gators) Maple Leaf Garden, Toronto, ON, Canada – January 15th, 1973 / Hitchhiker (solo) Tempodrom, Berlin, Germany – April 30th, 2003 / Hitchhiker (solo) Hippodrome, Baltimore, MD – April 28th, 2011 / Love And War (solo) Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL – May 7th, 2011 / Peaceful Valley Boulevard (solo) Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL – May 7th, 2011 / You Never Call (solo) Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL – May 7th, 2011 / This Old Guitar (with The Prairie Wind Band) Tweeter Center, Tinley Park, IL – September 18th, 2005 / Distant Camera (solo) Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA – March 20th, 1999 / Big Time (with Crazy Horse) Suwannee Park, Live Oak, FL – August 23rd, 1997 / Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young & His Electric Band) Hyde Park, London, England – June 27th, 2009 / Complete Day (solo) Falconer Salen, Copenhagen, Denmark – February 28th, 2008
The fifteenth disc focuses upon more recent solo acoustic performances (with some exceptions of course). The two oldest tracks are the opening acoustic version of “Rockin’ In The Free World” from 1989 and an excellent version of “Old Man” from Toronto in 1973.
Included also are two versions of “Hitchhiker.” The first is a solo acoustic recording from 2003, predating it’s official release on Le Noise in 2010. The second is an electric performance comes from Baltimore on April 28th, 2011. The sound quality of the second version is quite poor.
The next three songs all date from the same show in Chicago on May 7th, 2011. Both “Love And War” and the haunting “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” are from Le Noise while “You Never Call” remains unreleased. These three tracks are the most recently recorded in the entire box set.
“This Old Guitar” is a great down home folky performance with his wife Pegi taken from the Farm Aid benefit. Two more electric tunes close the disc, “Big Time” and “Rockin’ In The Free World.” The final track labeled “Complete Day” is a short interlude from the February 28th, 2008 show in Copenhagen where Young responds to some hecklers demanding he play old songs. After ripping into them, he makes a comment about a complete day.
(79:35): Time Fades Away: Time Fades Away, Journey Through The Past, Yonder Stands The Sinner, L.A., Love In Mind, Don’t Be Denied, The Bridge, Last Dance. Where The Buffalo Roam: Buffalo Stomp (Neil Young with the Wild Bill Band of Strings) / Ode to Wild Bill #1 (Neil Young) /All Along the Watchtower (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) / Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (Bill Murray) /Ode to Wild Bill #2 (Neil Young) /Papa Was a Rolling Stone (The Temptations) / Home On the Range (Neil Young) / Straight Answers Dialogue (Bill Murray) / Highway 61 (Bob Dylan) / I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) (Four Tops) /Ode to Wild Bill #3 With Dialogue (Neil Young) / Keep On Chooglin’ (Creedence Clearwater Revival) / Ode to Wild Bill #4 (Neil Young) / Purple Haze (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) / Buffalo Stomp Refrain (Neil Young with the Wild Bill Band of Strings)
The bonus disc contains two rarities. The first part of the disc has the rare 1973 LP Time Fades Away. Part of the ditch period, it was meant for CD release in 1996 but was inexplicably cancelled. There have been many very good unofficial needle drops of the LP. Perhaps the best is the no label Time Fades Away from 2007 which not only has the LP but the rare single “Last Trip To Tulsa.”
Decades doesn’t have the single. However, it is still great sounding.
The first song “Time Fades Away” comes from the March 1st show at The Myriad in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This ballad of drug addiction has a vague narrative with “fourteen junkies / too weak to work” being reduced in the final verse to “thirteen junkies.” Did the one escape, or did he die?
“Journey Through The Past” comes from the February 11th, 1973 show in Cleveland. The performance features Young alone at the piano and was played on the solo tour two years before. “Yonder Stands The Sinner” was recorded on March 17th, 1973 in Seattle and features Crosby and Nash on backing vocals. The band punctuates the self-accusatory lyrics with howls and Young himself shouts out “SINNER!!” in the songs final verse.
“L.A.” is taken from the same show as the title track on the album. “Don’t Be Denied” was recorded on March 28 in Phoenix and again features Crosby and Nash on background vocals. This cynical autobiography was also a regular inclusion on the Trans tour in 1983.
“The Bridge” is a pretty piano based ballad written about the same time as “Journey Through The Past.” The song, which gave the name to Young’s school in California, was played only three times. The first was on February 27th, 1971 and the final is this one on April 1st, 1973 in Sacramento. It is a rare upbeat song and serves as an uplifting prelude to the finale song on the album.
“Last Dance” dates from the March 29th show in San Diego recalls the daily hassles of repetitive jobs answered by a coda that contains repetitive “no’s” chanted over a constant back riff. With Crosby and Nash on backing vocals, it is a tour-de-force reaching almost nine minutes long.
The latter half of the bonus CD is the rare Where The Buffalo Roam film soundtrack. The LP was released in 1980 when the movie came out but hasn’t been seen since and has never been pressed onto CD. Young’s contribution to the soundtrack includes various reiterations of the title tune sung with harmonica.
Also included are various non-Young songs such as “Keep On Chooglin’,” “Purple Haze” and clips from the soundtrack featuring Bill Murray. The disc is nothing revelatory. It is a strange movie with strange music, but it is good to have this as a bonus for Neil Young completists.
The bonus DVD contains the complete Journey Through The Past film. Directed by Neil Young himself, it was released in 1972 to poor reviews and remained unreleased until its inclusion in 2009 in the Neil Young Archives. OMS include a direct copy of the official release, complete with menus.
It is a strange documentary without much focus or purpose, filmed on the premise that the rock star life is inherently interesting and worth seeing on celluloid. Instead of being a compelling slice of cinema verité, it comes off as a major ego boost for the artist and is quite difficult to sit through. The crusaders on the beach were fun to watch (reminded me of parts of Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same), but ultimately this journey through the past is no more than a curious relic.
Decades comes packaged in a box with a removable top and each disc is in its individual sleeve with tracklisting on the back. A thick booklet is included with an essay and detailed liner notes describing each track. It is one of the biggest and most comprehensive collections ever produced of any artist whose appeal is aimed at the dedicated Neil Young collector.
Review This is a great reminder (if we needed one) of just what a fine songwriter Neil Young is. The album is a recording of some solo sets he did in 1970 and they are very good indeed. I had the great good fortune to receive an advance copy of this album, I have played it a lot and the more I play it, the better it gets.
This is the young (sorry) Neil Young with just his guitar and a piano performing some great material like After The Goldrush, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Old Man and others. They are really good, heartfelt performances which in these stripped-down versions often have tremendous emotional power. Don’t Let It Bring You Down, for example, really packs an emotional punch for me – perhaps even more than the studio version does. The wonderful chord structures combined with Young’s distinctive, ætherial, almost falsetto vocal give it a fabulous, spare beauty and the same is true of many of the other songs here.
The sound quality is excellent and the choice of material is very well balanced, I think. It’s hard to get the balance right on a live album between failing to capture enough of the live atmosphere and having so much chat that it becomes tedious on repeated listening, but the producers here have judged it impeccably. There is very little of Neil Young speaking throughout most of the album – generally just a brief introduction to each song, which is exactly enough to give a feel of the live performance without interfering with the music. (And as an aside, although I know this is from 1970, it still brought me up short to hear Only Love Can Break Your Heart introduced as “a song from my new album”.) The one exception is a longish, good humoured chat before the last track, Flying On The Ground Is Wrong, and here it is good to get a flavour of the man himself. It is excellently done.
I’m delighted to be able to give this album a rave review. It deserves it, which – let’s face it – cannot be said of all Neil Young’s work. This, though is among his best which means that it is very good indeed. Don’t look for the Crazy-Horse-driven power which made Psychedelic Pill so brilliant last year, for example; this is no less powerful but in that more quietly thoughtful, contemplative Neil Young way. It’s an excellent album of great songs, beautifully performed and recorded. Warmly recommended.
Review This is an wonderfully beautiful live offering from Neil Young – an early offering from the After The Gold Rush days live at The Cellar Door in Washington D.C in late 1970 – it’s a solo performance – just Neil with his guitar and piano.. I live in the area and used to go to The Cellar Door years ago…and it was always one of my favorite venues for a performance – small, intimate and very personal…and that’s what this CD offers – an intimate and very personal concert with Neil doing some of his finest solo work and some real gems from his Buffalo Springfield days – boy, I wish I had seen this show, it would’ve been one for the ages……….
There are several tracks on this – like Expecting To Fly, Birds, Don’t Let It Bring You Down, and I Am a Child – that will send shivers up your back – If there wasn’t the polite and subdued applause at the end of each track, this could easily pass for a studio recording. The folks in attendance here got a very special treat from Neil. I really like the version of Old Man on this as well – there’s just a lot to like on this. This is one of those CD’s that when you’ve finished listening to it…you queue it up again because there’s nothing else that can follow that fits….
I’m usually reluctant to buy Neil’s live stuff – he can tend to get a little sloppy, but that’s Neil and it’s not been a problem for most Neil Young fans – this is NOT one bit sloppy, Neil’s voice is strong and clear….lush, rich and beautifully mixed and edited, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a better live performance by Neil. I am wonderfully glad I bought this CD.
The only tracks that I wish had either been done differently or just replaced with different tracks would be Cinnamon Girl and Down by the River – the originals were pretty rocking cuts, but here he tones it down and does a pure acoustic version of each – and I prefer the more rocking version – but that’s just my opinion and you may find it suits your tastes well.
If you are a Neil Young fan, this will not disappoint….boy, I wish I had seen this one….
The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, CA – November 13th, 1990
Disc 1 (49:56): Audience, Country Home, Surfer Joe And Moe The Sleaze, Love To Burn, Days That Used To Be, Bite The Bullet, Cinnamon Girl
Disc 2 (68:02): Audience, Farmer John, Cowgirl In The Sand, Over And Over, Dangerbird, Don’t Cry No Tears (False Start), Don’t Cry No Tears, Sedan Delivery, Roll Another Number, Fuckin ‘Up
Disc 3 (65:14): Audience, T-Bone, Homegrown, Mansion On The Hill, Like A Hurricane, Love And Only Love, Cortez The Killer
Before Neil Young & Crazy Horse toured for Ragged Glory in 1991 the played a few warm up gigs in small venues. The second date they visited The Catalyst in San Jose, a venue they performed in several times since 1975. Young played three sets that night and all were recorded in an excellent stereo DAT audience recording. An earlier silver pressed release came out several years ago on Cowgirl In The Santa Cruz (Seymour-77/8/9).
It has been suggested that this is the greatest Neil Young concert available on any format, legal or illegitimate. After a decade which saw Young start out at the height of his popularity and see him going through extreme stylistic changes and fights with his new record company, he reasserted himself with Freedom and Ragged Glory.
His live performance hearkens back to the his best as well. There are no acoustic numbers in this set but a full electric assault recalling the improvisational mindset, not from the late seventies, but from the early seventies where they would expand songs with endless solos and fun jamming.
At close to three hours, this is also one of the longest Neil Young concerts on record. The first set starts off the familiar “Country Home.” It sets the tone for the evening by being pushed to ten minutes long, almost double it’s usual length. It is followed by ”Surfer Joe And Moe The Sleaze” from Re*Ac*Tor played for the final time live.
The band begins to loosen up by the end of the first set. Neil gives an introduction to “Cinnamon Girl,” saying: “A little bark grew on us while we were gone. A little rust. We’d like to bring this golden oldie out of the pocket for you. From the rust bucket. I hope this won’t prick you now, you’ll get tetanus.”
The second set begins with “Farmer John,” a song that had its live debut the previous night in La Honda. Although it would never be a regular part of the live set, having been played only twelve times, it would be included in some important shows in the intervening years such as Farm Aid in 1994.
“Rattle your brain … Shake the cobwebs out” Billy Talbot says before they embark on a fifteen minute “Cowgirl In The Sand.” Later in the set they play ”Over And Over” for only the second of two times live (the first on the previous night in La Honda), and “Dangerbird” receives its live debut.
The third set starts off with the only live performance of “T-Bone,” with it’s heavy feedback to set the tone for the final extraordinary hour. There is some familiarity in the long jam session of “Like A Hurricane” but “Love And Only Love” caps the evening. At eighteen minutes long, it culminates with all of the mannerism of Neil Young and Crazy Horse which is real fun to listen to. “Cortez The Killer” is played as the encore.
Don’t Spook The Crazy Horse is a fantastic release worth having. It is one of the best Neil Young performances out there and is worth having.
It may be a bit controversial to name a decidedly “retro” album as the album of the year for any particular year.
Many rock fans who reflect back on the era of the early nineties, and the year 1992 in particular, will rightfully think of the alternative or “grunge” craze which had then fully materialized. But Classic Rock Review is all about timelessness in rock, and Harvest Moon by Neil Young may have sounded like something that should have been made 20 years earlier, but 20 years later it holds up as well as anything from 1992. So we chose this restrained, Nashville-produced, Americana classic over anything that came out of Seattle that year.
Much speculation has been made about the relationship of this album to Young’s 1972 album Harvest, with many labeling Harvest Moon as a “sequel” to that album two decades earlier. There certainly is a case to be made due to the similarities in title, the fact that both albums were recorded in Nashville with some of the same players (dubbed the “Stray Gators” by Young), Ben Keith on pedal Steel, Tim Drummand on bass, and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Then, of course, there is the plain fact that the albums are very similar in sound and arrangement. However, Young denied that there was a strong connection between the two albums in an interview;
…people see the correlation between the two, and it’s kind of a plus to be able to refer back 20 years and see the same people and do that. But the thrust of the albums is different, even though the subject matter is similar, so I tend to shy away more from comparisons between them…”
Young spent much of the 1980s experimenting with vastly different styles from electronic to rockabilly to hard-edged electric rock. Previous to Harvest Moon he explored the outer limits of guitar noise with the 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded along with his sometime backing band, Crazy Horse. In this light, Young’s return to his predominant style of the 1970s, was just another radical turn in style. While most longtime fans and critics appreciated this move, some found his return the antipathy of spontaneity and therefore less ambitious.
The opening track on Harvest Moon is “Unknown Legend”, a song of romance and imagination which tells of an adventurous woman who has settled into the relative obscurity of domestic life and middle age. The sound is intentionally retro and haunting with the deep reverb and a sparse, acoustic arrangement beneath the strong melody which is harmonized by Linda Rondstadt. The song’s lyrics are bittersweet and poetic;
..the chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes…”
“From Hank to Hendrix” is a self-reflective county-rock song which speaks of Young’s own diverse influences and is led by a strong harmonica riff musically while it lyrically sounds like it may have been influenced by younger contemporaries like Tom Petty. “You and Me” is the most direct link back to Harvest, with strong elements of “Old Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done” evident implicitly and explicitly. It is a personal and introspective ballad with a very sparse arrangement of just acoustic guitar and vocals by Young and Nicolette Larsen who does some fine harmonizing.
What truly makes the album a masterpiece is the absolute masterpiece of a title song, “Harvest Moon”. The song celebrates longevity in relationships and love affairs with a flawless melody backed by a perfect music arrangement. From the upfront acoustic riffing to the picked steel guitar, subtleties of ethereal sounds, soft brush strokes on the drums, and beautiful background vocals, this song captures the essence of beauty and romance as well any song ever.
The middle of the album contains a couple more Neil Young classics. “War of Man” is dark folk with an Americana aura throughout, where Young comments on the destructive tendencies of mankind. It contains a haunting acoustic arrangement with some interesting presence by Drummand on bass, who breaks into an almost-rock rhythm towards the end. In comparison to the cynical “War of Man”, the next song “One Of These Days” could not be more different in tone, although similar in overall quality as a song. It is a song of gratitude and appreciation of friends and acquaintances, set to a moderate Nashville beat with more great melodies and harmonies.
The album next thins a bit with the all-to-soft piano and orchestral ballad “Such a Woman” and the frivolous “Old King”, which is only finds salvation with the fine banjo picking by Young. However, the album does end strong with the return to the solid, Nashville-influenced accessibility in “Dreamin’ Man” and the ten minute, live acoustic closer “Natural Beauty”. This last song is a gentle, minor-key folk song which uses nature as an allegory for love.
Harvest Moon was Young’s 21st overall album and, although it was highly reflective, it was far from his last. In fact, just this month (June 2012) Young released his 34th overall album, a collection of traditional standards called Americana, which he recorded along with Crazy Horse. It may seem absurd to suggest that Young may still be around making music in yet another 20 years, when he’ll be age 86. But we wouldn’t bet against it.
Review This is the video to go with the “Weld” CD. It has the same songs as the 2 CD-set except the classic “Like A Hurricane” and “Farmer John” – it does have an interesting introduction featuring the infamous Roadas (roadies dressed as Jawas) as Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner is played.
All the music is electric and justifies why Neil is called the godfather of grunge by many people. There is a lot of juicy distortion.
The album features many classic Neil tunes such as “Hey Hey My My”, “Welfare Mothers”, “Cortez The Killer”, “Powderfinger”, “Tonight’s The Night” and “Roll another Number for The Road”. There are also newer classics such as the ultimate rendition of “Rockin’ In The Free World” (forget Pearl Jam’s!)
Obviously the music sounds better from a CD-quality recording than a VHS tape.
It’s very enjoyable to watch Neil and the Horse play, especially on his rampaging solos and thrashing of his guitar.
My only complaint is that the camera focuses too much on the audience and there are some real freaks in there!
Review Man, this one is frustrating. Director Bernard Shakey, who did such terrific work on the “Rust Never Sleeps” and “Live In A Rusted Out Garage” video concerts, really lets us down on this one.
Rather than focusing on Neil and Crazy Horse, the cameras spend far too much time zeroing in on the concertgoers. Yeah, we know that everyone in the crowd knows all the words to all the songs, but to endlessly have to watch them lip synch the words through the better part of this concert is annoying.
We do get to see some fairly hot babes during “Cinnamon Girl,” but the rest of time we get to spend a lot of cring-inducing time viewing average Joes playing air guitar/drums, pumping their fists into the air and singing along with Neil’s songs.
Make no mistake, the band is terrific…Crazy Horse may never have sounded better than on this tour. And they’re a lot of fun to watch…that is, when the cameras feature the band, which is where they should have stayed.
The five stars is for the music and performance of the band.
As a footnote: The album/CD mix for Weld and the Laser Disc (which is what I’m reviewing, transferred to DVD) mixes are markedly different. Neil and Billy Talbot messed with the album mix, adding overdubs and such, after producer David Briggs was satisfied with the finished product. The album/CD resulted in a muddy, bass-heavy mix and bore a “produced by Neil Young and Billy Talbot” credit. The Laser Disc version retains the far-superior David Briggs mixes and production credit goes to David Briggs. Neil Young, in hindsight, has stated the “real” Weld is the Laser Disc.
‘The Complex Sessions’ is a VHS-EP featuring four songs drawn from Neil Young’s 1994 ‘Sleeps With Angels’ CD release together with Crazy Horse. Those four songs are arguably the choice moments from the ‘Sleeps With Angels’ album. The recordings are made in my favorite format: nothing but the band, a recording studio (in this case the Complex Studios in Los Angeles), and several camera’s as the only audience.
The album ‘Sleeps With Angels’ was critically acclaimed and garnered sentimental accoutrements due to the connection between Young and the recently departed Kurt Cobain. That connection may be popularly overstated as Young and Cobain never actually met, but Cobain did reference Young’s lyric “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” in his suicide note, and interestingly Young was trying to contact Cobain out of concern for his well-being the very week that Cobain took his own life.
Young has added to the intrigue by being especially tight-lipped regarding their ethereal connection, but in a 2002 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald he stated, “I like to think that I possibly could have done something… It’s just too bad I didn’t get a shot”. While the title track from the ‘Sleeps With Angels’ album is often attributed to memorializing Cobain’s death, it’s tempting to view many other tracks from the disc as having a connection as well. The first three songs from this VHS-EP are prime candidates.
Neil opens with the acoustic ‘My Heart’. The filming is limited to a close-up of Neil delivering the vocals and playing tack piano, while Crazy Horse can be heard backing up with bass marimba, vibes, and drums. The whole song alludes easily to the Cobain tragedy with lyrics such as “…in the night sky a star is falling down…”, and “…when life is hanging in the breeze, I don’t know what love can do”. It’s a soft, gentle, beautiful number, and a faithful rendition.
‘Prime of Life’ follows, picking up the rock theme which anchors the remaining tracks. The chorus, “Are you feeling alright, not feeling too bad myself, are you feeling alright my friend?”, again seem to allude to Young’s attempt to reach out as mentor, muse, and friend to Cobain. The coup de gras, ‘Change Your Mind’ follows, offering “the magic touch”, “supporting you”, “protecting you”, “soothing you” and “embracing you”… perhaps everything Cobain needed, and perhaps what Young might have enabled him to find. Even the concept of “change you mind” seems so fundamental as the answer Cobain needed. The song itself offers extended instrumental passages that seem to descend into non-existence (at one point rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro reduces his “strumming” to a massage of the six metal strings with his palm), only to come back to life again and again, and awakening to the hopeful chorus. There seems to be a message there… but as with many Young songs, you just never know.
The final track, what Neil might call “some more trash for ya” (as he referred to the encore ‘Roll Another Number’ on the Weld video), the rambunctious indictment of consumerism, ‘Piece Of Crap’. It’s an odd, but fun way to top off this short series of performances, seemingly out-of-place with the exception of extending the evolving intensity of both sound and tempo over the four tracks to its ultimate heights.
Young first began performing ‘Change Your Mind’ while on tour with Booker T. & the MG’s in late 1993, but only three public performances of all four tracks with Crazy Horse (at Farm Aid and the two Bridge School Benefit Concerts) preceded these recordings. That’s probably just enough “rehearsing” to get everything tight without losing the edge that only fresh can deliver. Jonathan Demme receives many kudo’s for the filming and production, but I find the relative absence of close-ups of Ralph Molina (drums), Sampedro, and bassist Billy Talbot a bit disconcerting. All in all, a four star effort, essential for true Young fans, and a great one-time viewing for everyone else. Available only on VHS at the time of this writing.
Review As revealed in this new biography, Neil Young is a twentieth century original, a man who rose from obscurity based on nothing less than serendipitous happenstance, a remarkable talent as a musician, singer, and songwriter, and his enduring will to be true to his own inner voice. His story is nothing less than remarkable, given the quicksilver nature of fame and fortune in the rock and roll music business, for Young has truly done it all his way.
He has a fabled lack of concern for consequences, for example, and has changed course in the midst of tours, recording sessions, and life a number of times, and allowed terrific carnage to concur in the wake of his leaving. As fellow Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young group member commented, “Neil is not what one would call a `team player'”. No, indeed he isn’t. And the wreckage he sometimes leaves behind him has been the stuff of legend.
Yet in the midst of all of this carnage and destruction, he has been fabulously successful, and in this penetrating and somewhat discursive biography written by a veteran rock and roll journalist allowed unique access to Young, the artist is revealed to be an iconoclastic, idealistic, and impetuous soul, one in constant search for unique opportunities for his own personal artistic expression. He tends to deal in extremes, not only in his music, but in his wider personal life as well, and has, for example, bought old wrecked 1950 something Cadillacs for $400, only to spend tens of thousands of dollars to have them scrupulously, painfully, and quite expensively restored to pristine condition.
And he brings this aspect of doing things to the ultimate degree to almost every aspect of his life. Yet where it shows most clearly and most fatefully is in his recording output, which is both prodigious and varied. He has jettisoned friends and colleagues in search of something creatively different, has dared to off on obscure tangents, and has returned to writing, playing and singing that is artistically fresh, honest, and approachable.
Young’s life reflects this devotion to introspective aloofness, and although he is happily married with children, he has left a lot of emotional detritus on the floor in the area of his life as well. Colleagues and peers such as Paul Simon and James Taylor speak of him in glowing and affectionate terms, and even Bob Dylan is an outspoken admirer of Neil’s creative abilities. Yet all of his friends, band members, and associates recognize that the singular degree to which Neil Young has lived his life is in many ways cruelly and unnecessarily selfish, as though all that mattered to Young was his pursuit of his artistic expression and his idiosyncratic interests.
In fact, Young admits as much, and yet is unapologetic. So while one can easily admire the singular creative force he embodies, one is leery of anyone so inner-directed and so single-mindedly devoted to his pursuit of art that he sometimes seems to carelessly disregard all those humans who so meaningfully contribute to his ability to do what he does. Yet he is also sometimes described as generous, thoughtful, and exteremely loyal to friends and aquaintenances.
Thus, there is no question but that Neil Young is an enigmatic, complicated, and often tortured individual, and he certainly is a uniquely talented and gifted artist, musician, and singer. His life has been neither easy nor uncomplicated, and one has to admire the energy and determination he brings to his craft, his continued work, and to his life. He is a searcher, someone who, after all this success and recognition, seems still devoted to the pursuit of what Mark Twain referred to as `the territory ahead’, out where few other humans have tread, and where Neil may get to breathe in the intoxicating aromas of original art. This is a fascinating, absorbing, and very informative book written with Young’s cooperation and blessing, and one that incorporates interviews with hundreds of Young’s friends, family, and colleagues as well as centering on many hours of interviews with Young himself. Long may he run! Enjoy.
Review “Shakey” is one of the finest biographies that I have read. Author Jimmy McDonough is a tireless researcher and an excellent writer, in tune with the times in which Neil Young, his subject, has lived through and, in some respects, helped to shape.
The book thankfully offers chronological balance between the various stages in Young’s life, from his youth in Winnipeg and rural Ontario, to his adolescence in North Toronto (in, as it happens, the very neighbourhood in which I experienced my adolescence), to his emigration to California. McDonough deserves credit for going to all of the places, both large and small, that Young inhabited, interviewing family members, neighbours and friends.
Another great aspect of the book is the material one learns about many other artists in and around Young’s life; not only are there great insights into the likely characters such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, but one also learns a good deal about Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and the numerous musicians, managers, producers and assorted hangers-on that Neil has attracted.
Embedded throughout each chapter are excerpts of a conversation between McDonough and Young. The author does a skillfull job of encouraging Young to look back on various events in his life, often getting Young to confess to mistakes and errors in judgment. The role of this conversation is two-fold: first, McDonough performs a precarious, intriguing balancing act of serving as Young’s dispassionate biographer, and as a friend in whom Young can feel comfortable confiding; second, the conversation reveals the full human side of Neil Young, warts and all, as he sees things today.
I’ve seen Neil Young in concert three times – with the Shocking Pinks in the 1980’s, and, so far in this decade, with Crazy Horse (Greendale) and as CSNY (Freedom of Speech). To me, Young and his work are as original and vital as ever, and this view is corroborated by many well-known artists quoted in “Shakey”.
To be sure, Young has had a bumpy road to travel, what with his parents splitting up when he was still living at home, his bouts with polio and epilepsy, and his challenges raising his two sons, both of whom are quite disabled. While Young has been, in many respects, a victim of the circumstances just described, he has been, either despite this or perhaps because of this, far from an angel himself: he has been a very tough, demanding guy to work with, to live with, or to just be around. Young has been described as a loner, mercurial, driven by his work to the point of distraction, inaccessible. Yet, as one of his cohorts has indicated, “magic things happen when you’re around Neil”.
“Shakey” does justice to the story of Neil Young, a versatile, brilliant, principled artist. While it is unfortunate that many in his midst have been hurt by his at times uncaring and insensitive ways, presumably they chose to have a relationship with him and, as such, were in a position to take the good with the bad.
For a Neil Young music fan, “Shakey” is an excellent resource. In addition, this book is also a valuable exposition of the spirit, mechanics and orientation of Young as an artist, someone intent on achieving specific end results. In other words, this book can be entertaining, informative and instructive; I certainly found it to be that way.