Y – is for Neil Young – The Confusing Eighties – Reactor to ragged Glory

Thursday 23rd November

During the Eighties Neil released many albums but no two were anything like it’s predecessor or in fact anything else in his catalogue.  ‘Reactor’ was a straight rock album but with touches of synthesiser. ‘Trans’ was electronic and most of his vocals were sung through a vocoder;; Neil later defended this saying his mentally handicapped son Ben like this voice.  Actually; I really like this record, especially ‘Transformer Man’.  Neil had changed record companies and his new label Geffen, though originally agreeing to allow Neil complete artistic freedom demanded a hit rock’n’roll album.  Neil fell out with them and offered a country record which they rejected, so he gave them ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ a 50’s style rockabilly record, which Geffen and most of his fans hated. He explained the inspiration for the album in 1995, saying that “there was very little depth to the material obviously. They were all ‘surface’ songs but see, there was a time when music was like that, when all pop stars were like that. And it was good music, really good music….Plus it was a way of further destroying what I’d already set up. Without doing that, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now. If I build something up, I have to systematically tear it right down before people decide, ‘Oh that’s how we can define him.'”

And that explains a lot about Neil.  But he also seemed to be searching for new sounds, new ways of portraying his songs.  His country album emerged next as ‘Old Ways’ and again bombed with his fans, despite having beautiful songs on it.  ‘Landing on Water’ was a synth heavy album that sounded just like many MOR rock bands of the Eighties. ‘Life’ was back with Crazy Horse and one of his best records in years, familiar territory with a punch – only to be followed by ‘This Note’s for You’, almost a 50’s jazz crooner album.  He ended this difficult decade with two ‘classic’ Neil Young albums ‘Freedom’ and ‘Ragged Glory’.  Back on form again these were big hits for him.  I also have maybe the best Neil Young record ever t00 – a Bootleg of a concert in 1986 with Crazy Horse – it is incredible.

But though I, like most of his fans was confused by Neil’s ever changing moods during the 80’s  – listening again now – the songs are as brilliant as ever.  Brilliant tunes on every record, and slowly I am beginning to really like them.  A bit like Bowie and Dylan, he has never been afraid to follow his muse and lose fans along the way.  It was never about ‘fame’ and ‘fortune’ – it was always about the music.