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.