My Record Collection 218

Neil Young The Long Walk Home  and still walking, though I have sadly failed to keep up with him of late; I mean just how many Neil Young CDs do I need – ask Julia, hahaha.  First up is 1994’s Sleeps With Angels, apparently for Kurt Cobain, who in his suicide note quoted ‘Better to burn out than to fade away’ from a Neil song.   Anyway, the album – credited to Neil and Crazy Horse again – is a bit of a curates egg – good in places – but it leaves you thinking it could have been better.  Should have left out the awful shouty ‘Piece Of Crap’ – and ‘best song is probably ‘Safeway Cart’ which I con’t quite understand.  I also like ‘TransAm’ and ‘Drive By’ but not much else.  1995 – and Neil teamed up with some members of Pearl Jam for Mirror Ball; though I’m not sure what they brought to the proceedings.  The record sound pretty much like most of his 90’s stuff to my ears.  The album was recorded ‘Live in the Studio’ and has a raw unfinished sound, which Neil was apparently aiming for.  Still, it’s not his greatest album by a long chalk – just a bit boring really.  The only song I could remember when the CD ended was ‘Act Of Love’.  Better was the following year’s Broken Arrow – with Crazy Horse again.   Although even here the first three songs sound like one long unrehearsed jam, which maybe they were.  I like ‘Slipaway’, ‘This Town’ and ‘Music Arcade’ – but the album is just average really.  Then for the first time since the late 60’s – a break of four years during which he did one album with CSN but no solo stuff.  However normal service was resumed in 2000 with the release of Silver and Gold.   A return to an acoustic solo set this time with no heavy rock numbers at all.  A very nice album, getting back to his best but the songs seem a bit hesitant.  Best are ‘Good To See You’, ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’ and ‘Silver and Gold’.   In 2002 he teamed up, not only with Crazy Horse but a handful of numbers with Booker T. and the M.G,s, legendary soul band, Are You Passionate.  I’m not sure the results proved that different; Neil’s rather heavy sound permeates – still, some good songs – ‘Mr. Disappointment’. Differently’ and ‘When I Hold You In My Arms’ are excellent – as are most of the songs actually.    The following year saw a strange Neil album – Greendale.  This was a ‘rock opera’, or rather a story put to music of a fictional California town involving a family, a shooting and a siege.  The story never interested me really, and it s quite hard to follow anyway – but I really like the Crazy Horse music, which is mostly a chugging beat with only a few guitar breaks.  The whole album is essentially one long track so hard to pick a fave song – ‘Carmichael’ and ‘Double E’ seem the best to me.   Back to a more conventional song cycle with Neil’s next 2005’s Prairie Wind, which was dedicated to his father who died just after the album’s release.  It was also written just before Neil had surgery for a minor aneurism, and deals to a degree with thoughts of his mortality.  Apparently the songs were written in the order they appear, and just before or during recording; played by Nashville session men the record is pretty good and feels immediate.  It seems amazing to me that Neil can just write songs of this quality at the drop of a seeming hat.  Best are – the title  track, ‘The Painter’ and ‘He Was The King’ (about Elvis) and the mawkish ‘When God Made Me’.  A return to a more angry and political album with Living With War (2006).  In fact, a complete critique of George  W. Bush and the war in Iraq.  I don’t like this album very much, while agreeing with the sentiment – in general, Politics and Music are uneasy bedfellows.  Saying that opener ‘After The Garden’ is okay.  Chrome Dreams 2 followed in 2007 (apparently, there was an aborted original Chrome Dreams album, which may appear at some point in the future).  It is a brilliant album, almost every song a ‘classic Neil song, and a wide variety of sounds from the pure country of ‘Beautiful Bluebird’ to the hard rolling rock shrieking guitar of the 18 minute long ‘Ordinary People’, with a couple of horn-based songs in there too; and a rather mawkish final song with a children’s choir – but, as we have come to accept, there is no pinning down Neil Young.  My favourite track in an exceptional album is ‘No Hidden Path’.  Ever the contrarian Neil followed this classic album with Fork In The Road – which got such bad reviews that I didn’t buy it at all – a first for me.  But I was intrigued by his next 2010’s Le Noise (a sort of pun on Neil’s choice of producer Daniel Lanois {see L}).  Neil was the only performer and his guitar sound, occasional acoustic but mostly electric was manipulated and dubbed by Lanois, live, as Neil was playing with only a very few overdubs.  What to make of this?  In some ways it is just a lot of noise, but then again it is quite brilliant too.   Very bass heavy, though Neil was not playing a bass that is how the guitar sound to me.  Best songs are ‘Love And War’, ‘Hitchhiker’ and ‘Peaceful Valley Boulevard’.  Neil has not used Lanois as producer since this album.  Americana in  2011 saw Neil reunited with Crazy Horse for an album of ‘American Standards and Folk Songs’ – a bit of a strange one really, and poor by Neil’s high standards. No favourites and rarely played.  Much better was 2012’s Psychadelic Pill, again with Crazy Horse – and is really a series of extended jams – but very enjoyable just the same.  At times it feels as if Neil really isn’t trying that hard, letting his genius shine through despite this, and anyway us fans still keep buying – oh well.  Best tracks on a very long album are ‘Driftin Back’, ‘For The Love Of Man’ and ‘Ramada Inn’ – an enjoyable if overlong ride into vintage Neil.  Another diversion in 2014 with A Letter Home.  Jack White had a vintage 1947 Voice- O-Gram early recording straight to vinyl booth, and Neil recorded 12 ‘folk songs’ by various artists including Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot and Willie Nelson.  Well, what do you say?  An interesting experiment but ultimately pointless.  Although the recording is raw and the songs are not by Neil, there is an authenticity and almost charm to the record.  Best are ‘Girl From The North Country’, ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘Reason To Believe’ – but that is maybe because I know and love the originals so much.  Storytone followed in 2014, and this is the last new album of Neil’s I have bought.  It has 2 versions of each of the 10 songs; one with a slight orchestral backing and a solo acoustic CD.  The songs deal with sadness at the break-up of his 34 year marriage to Pegi, and his burgeoning romance with Daryl Hannah.  Lovely sad and happy songs of love and Neil’s renewed interest in the environment.  Almost his best since ‘Harvest Moon’; best songs are ‘Plastic Flowers’, ‘Say Hello To Chicago’ and ‘Tumbleweed’.  A lovely album.  I don’t know why I stopped – maybe poor reviews or just that after 34 studio albums and countless live ones I thought it was time.  However Neil had released a few more live albums in this time. Unplugged emerged in 1993, and despite Neil’s aversion to MTV he recorded a brilliant set (not quite unplugged, but near enough) showcasing his career.   Big seller with best track –  a new organ version of ‘Like A Hurricane’.  Year Of The Horse was a soundtrack of live performances featured in a 1997 docu-film of a tour with Crazy Horse. Great performances, as you would expect.  Nothing new this time but still a great live album.   Road Rocks Volume 1 came out in 2000 (so far no volume 2) – subtitled ‘Family & Friends’ – it features his then wife Pegi and Chrissie Hinds.  An okay live album, only remarkable for one new songs ‘Fool For Your Love’ (mediocre) and a blistering version of Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ (the Jimi Hendrix version.  Then, of course there is the one single Greatest Hits, released in 2004 with tracks voted on by his fan club.  Of course, it is great.  Neil is ever the contrarian, and unlike almost all of his Sixties compatriots he has only this one hits collection – and continues to record and release albums almost yearly, as well as many, many live concerts.  He is almost unstoppable, and a force of nature.  I stopped collecting him a few years ago, but may still buy the occasional one now and then.  I am trying to stop buying CDs as I still have about 50 un-played and waiting.  Such is life.

My Record Collection 217

Neil Young trying on different styles – Neil has always been contrary, or as he would insist – he follows the muse, wherever that might take him.  Like Dylan and Bowie he has never been afraid of new directions or of losing his fans.  Like me though, most of them (us) stick with him.  1978 saw a very quiet album Comes A Time – almost acoustic, and bar one song ‘Motorcycle Mama’ not rock at all – simply gentle almost unaffected songs.  Best are ‘Look Out For My Love’, ‘lotta Love’ and ‘Four Strong Winds’.  I’ve never loved, but quite like, this album.  Next year saw another collaboration with Crazy Horse – the quite brilliant Rust Never Sleeps.   Strangely this is billed as with Crazy Horse – but over half the album is Neil playing guitar and singing solo.  It is only on the last four songs that the band kicks in.  Best songs are ‘Pocahontas’, ‘Sedan Delivery’ and ‘Hey Hey, My My’.   A live album followed Live Rust – which was almost a resume of Neil’s career to date.  Excellent stuff – acoustic for first few songs then electric; best was ‘Cortez The Killer’.   Hawks and Doves was next in 1980.  And a pretty good if quiet album,  Neil seeming to occasionally release an almost solo album after a big band one.  Fave songs are ‘Little wing’, ‘Captain Kennedy’ and ‘Coming Apart At Every Nail’.    The underwhelming Re Act Or came out in ’81.  This seemed a rushed album, no care given to the singing or recording. The songs seem meaningless too, one even about his car and another about a T-bone.  Boring really; the only decent track is the last one ‘Shots’.    Neil then left Reprise and signed for five albums with Geffen.  His first on this new label was another huge change in direction.  His son Ben was suffering from Cerebral Palsy and Neil tried various music styles to help him.  Apparently he liked Neil’s voice sung through a vocoder and with back up synths.  Inspired by Kratfwerk and other early electronica Neil released a whole album of electronic music Trans in 1982.  Although this mystified many fans I loved the record, especially the tracks ‘Computer Age’, ‘Sample and Hold’ and ‘Transformer Man’.  It seems that Neil was as brilliant at this stuff as he was with mire conventional music.  Strangely he has never returned to this style.  In fact, in a complete reversal, his next offering was an early rock and roll style…called Everybody’s Rocking…this was, in my opinion, his worst record to date.  Even the songs disappoint, and you can’t help but feel that Neil was taking the piss.  Apparently he had already recorded a very ‘country’ album, which Geffen rejected, demanding ‘Rock and Roll’ – which was what he got, but not in the ‘real’ Neil Young style.  This was part of Neil’s mission to set up and then destroy people’s perception of him.  After this ‘disaster’ he was allowed to release the country album Old Ways in 1985, recorded in ’83.  In fact, Geffen had started to sue Neil for recording poor quality records.  But guess what?  It was brilliant, maybe because Neil re-recorded some of the songs in an even more country style.   Yes, it is sentimental with lots of fiddle and slide guitar but somehow it really works.  Best tracks are  ‘The Wayward Wind’, ‘Once An Angel’ and best of all ‘Bound For Glory’.  Great stuff, I love the whole record.  He toured the album, and it was released in 2011 (see later).  But at the same time Neil was trying to record a more ‘Neil’ sounding album, and Landing On Water came out in 1986 – but unfortunately the production was very ‘eighties’, lots of gated drum sounds and a dense heavy mix.  The songs were better but not great; best were ‘Violent Side’, ‘Hippie Dream’ and ‘Bad News Beat’.  Neil toured this album with Crazy Horse, and recorded most  – venues, adding overdubs back in the studio.  An album Life came out in 1987, and was all new songs.     Best was opener ‘MidEast Vacation’, ‘Inca Queen’ and ‘When Your Lonely Heart Breaks’.  These were some of the strongest songs and performances from neil in a while; sounds like he Neil was having a ball.    Neil returned to Reprise Records after his tumultuous five years with Geffen.  The first result of this was however, a return to a more erratic style – This Notes For You 1988 was a strange album, and a new identity – Neil and The Blue Notes.  A strange bluesy, almost jazzy sound with lots of horns and in my opinion some underwhelming songs. Oh well, so not my favourite – but the title track is okay.  But in 1989 Neil returned to his best form with Freedom; apparently he had made a ‘contractual’ album with CSN and was pissed off by the experience.  Whatever the reason this was his best selection of songs in a long time.  And a great sound – very heavy and grungy on loud tracks, which became his signature sound after this, and beautifully gentle slow songs.  Hard to pick best songs really, opener ‘Rockin In The Free World’ became a live favourite. I particularly like ‘Someday’, ‘On Broadway’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’ which Emmylou Harris made a great version of (see H).   1990 saw Neil coming successfully out of the somewhat confused and confusing eighties, where incidentally a lot of artists floundered, and finding both his audience and his identity again.  Another great album soon emerged – Ragged Glory (with Crazy Horse).  Neil tried a new technique; the band played the same set of songs, just once, each day for a couple of weeks – then went and listened to them, choosing the best from each session and simply leaving them untouched for the album.  In this way they had a spontaneous and almost live feel to the studio sessions.  It seems to have worked as this is a superb album.  A couple of long tracks ‘Love To Burn’ and ‘Love And Only Love’ and a couple of pretty heavy  songs ‘Farmer John’ and ‘Fuckin Up’ which were pure Rock and Roll, and my favourites ‘Mansion on The Hill’ and ‘Earth Anthem’.  A great grungy garage album that knocked the socks off most new bands coming along.  We end this review of Neil’s albums with the sublime Harvest Moon (1992) which tried and was successful at recreating the sound and feel of ‘After The Goldrush’ and ‘Harvest’ – his early Seventies Classics.   Using many of the musicians who played over 20 years earlier and possibly his gentlest bunch of songs Neil reverted to mostly acoustic guitar, mouth organ and piano and recording on analogue equipment he succeeded and this was his biggest selling record in years.  Almost every song is a winner but the first four songs ‘Unknown Legend’, ‘From Hank To Hendrix’, ‘You and Me’ and ‘Harvest Moon’ itself are my favourites.  Reviewing this I couldn’t help but play these four a few more times.  A wonderful achievement.  One greatest hits album emerged from this second period (14 years in fact) – the Geffen years, although commercially a disaster resulted in that record company releasing Lucky Thirteen in ’93.  A nice compilation, especially the Trans and Old Ways tracks but I like all of it better than the somewhat muddled records they are culled from.  I have several live albums from this time too.  First is A Treasure (released in 2011 – but from the ’84-85 tour) is credited to The International Harvesters (mostly Nashville Session Men)and is a pure country trip which followed his Old Ways album.  I love it, especially ‘Amber jean’, ‘It Might Have Been’ and ‘Let your Fingers Do The Talking’ and of course a great version of ‘Bound for Glory’.  A superb live album.   Next is a bootleg of a live radio broadcast from 1986 called Cow Palace (nice names Americans have for some of their venues).  A brilliant concert, with songs from Neil’s entire career to date.  Hard to pick a favourite as they are all well-known and just roll along.   Almost as good is an official 1989 release of Neil, again with Crazy Horse – Weld.  Pretty much a classic Neil live set, with the exception of a slow rendition of Dylan’s ‘Bowin In The Wind’.  Last live album from this period is 1992’s Dreamin’ Man. Which is just Neil solo and acoustic playing songs from Harvest Moon.  Delightful, but nothing new.

My Record Collection 216

Neil YoungThe First decade – A Canadian singer-songwriter par excellence; in fact, one of the very best.  His only fault may be the sheer volume of his recordings.  I tried for several years to keep up with them but stopped a few years ago.  He started off in Canada in a band called Buffalo Springfield (see B); I have bought their albums but despite Stephen Stills in the band I wasn’t very impressed.  We start with Neil’s debut – Neil Young (1969). Although recorded in ’68, it was remixed and re-released the following year. A pretty good first album but a bit patchy really; Neil still finding his feet.  Best songs ‘The Loner’, ‘The Old Laughing Lady’ and ‘Last Trip To Tulsa’.  Later that same year he teamed up with his long-term occasional backing band Crazy Horse, and recorded the classic album Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere.   And what an album it was, fantastic songs and a great sound.  Many fans, including myself believe that this and the two albums following were his greatest period – though that really is a hard judgement call.  The album starts with ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and barely pauses in brilliance after that.  My Favourites are ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’.  Apparently these three tracks were written in one single day when Neil was suffering from a fever of 103 F.  What that tells you I am not sure.  A year later saw the release of what I consider his very best record – After The Gold Rush.  This was the first album I bought of his after seeing him on BBC Sight and Sound.  I was hooked after the first song and have been ever since.  Hard to be sensible about this record as I know it off by heart having worn out the original record, and the cassette and now the CD.    Impossible to choose favourite tracks as they are all great.  But ‘Cripple Creek Ferry’, ‘Southern man’ and ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ have a special place in my heart.  Neil almost repeated this Masterpiece with 1972’s Harvest.  Using the same crew of session players the album is rated by some as his very best.  Two tracks were recorded with the LSO, and Crosby Stills and Nash sung backing vocals on a couple of songs. Neil at this time was precariously combining his successful solo career with albums and live appearances with CS and N (see C) with whom he has had a tempestuous relationship over the years.   Anyway, another glorious album which includes his only hit single ‘Heart Of Gold’, but my favourites are ‘Out On The Weekend’, ‘Words’ and ‘Old Man’.  One predictable thing about Neil is that just when you think he has a winning formula he changes it.  His next album was Time Fades Away (1973) – an album of his late ’72 tour of America.   But of course, Neil being Neil, he didn’t record any numbers from his two immensely popular recent albums but released a completely new set of songs.  For years Neil hated the tour and the record and it was only released on CD in 2017.  I don’t rate it much either.  The songs are okay, but the band seem unrehearsed and were apparently under the heavy influence of drink and drugs and Neil argued with them the whole tour.  As a document of Neil failing it is at least interesting.   I think only ‘Don’t be Denied’ has subsequently been studio recorded, but ‘Journey Through The Past’ was the title of a film of Neil’s documenting his early history.  A soundtrack album is pretty well unfindable and it still isn’t on CD.    Disillusioned by this experience and by the success of his ‘soft’ albums Goldrush and Harvest, Neil recorded a trilogy of what he called ‘Ditch’ albums, where the mood was more ‘what the fuck’ than seeking perfection and adulation.  First to be released was 1974’s On The Beach, which was recorded after his next album but released before it.  I have always loved this album – it is gentle in parts and angry and desolate at times too.  Best songs are ‘Walk On’, ‘For The Turnstiles’ and ‘Ambulance Blues.   Recorded before this but released late in 1975 was Tonight’s the Night.  A desolate strung out album, recorded practically live.  Band member Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry had both died of heroin overdoses and this had devastated Neil (he had already released ‘The Needle and The Damage Done’ on ‘Harvest) and he expressed it with this bunch of songs.  Not for everyone I must admit, and I have grown to like it  and accept it for what it is – and in fact really like some of the songs -the title song and ‘Roll Another Number’ and especially ‘Tired Eyes’.  An experience.  Neil returned to a more conventional approach to album making with his next Zuma (1976).  An excellent album this time, recorded with his old mates Crazy Horse with whom Neil seems to have a more relaxed and flowing style.  These were apparently very productive sessions, with several songs held over to be re-recorded for later albums.  My favourite tracks are ‘Danger Brid’, ‘Looking For A Love’ and the fabulous ‘Cortez The Killer’.  Later in ’76 Neil recorded an album with his old bandmate from Buffalo Springfield Long May You Run – billed as by the Stills Young band.  Sharing songwriting and singing the album never really works; even Neil’s songs disappoint.  A pity – the only track of any note is the title track itself.    1977 saw another brilliant Neil album, American Stars And Bars (and his best album cover) technically his eight solo studio album.  It is quite a country sounding album, with opener ‘Old Country Waltz’ a very traditional Country music melody and instrumentation.  Seven of the nine tracks feature Crazy Horse and are quite loose, and sound like early takes – no worse for that.  Emmy Lou Harris sings vocals on ‘Star of Bethlehem’, one of his gentlest melodies. Two long tracks – the confessional ‘Will To Love’ and the stupendous ‘Like A Hurricane’ – one of his very best ever songs.  Wow.  A retrospective of Neil’s 10 year recordings arrived late in 1977 – Decade, a mammoth 35 track, 3 album and later 2 disc collection; from Buffalo Springfield, CSYN and solo recordings, with a handful of rarities thrown in.  A nice look back; mostly stuff I really liked anyway.  Best rarities – the CSNY single ‘Ohio’, and also ‘Helpless’.   I also have 3 live Neil Young Archive releases from this first decade.   The first, a solo recording from 1968 Sugar Mountain; pre-fame and mostly Buffalo Springfield and first album songs sung very tentatively; lots of between songs nervous chatting.  No real surprises, two unreleased songs ‘Out Of My Mind’ (not brilliant) and the famous ‘Sugar Mountain’, which he was singing in concert but to my memory never recorded in the studio.  Next is a 1970 concert with Crazy Horse; just one new song ‘Wondering’, and an early version of ‘Winterlong’ which wasn’t released for several years as a studio song.  Finally I hace a 1971 solo effort.  Three years on and Neil is now famous and far more confident in concert.  A couple of unrecorded songs in this set are ‘Bad Fog Of Loneliness’ and ‘Dance Dance Dance’ – neither of which are great.