Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"How far you goin' back?" "WAY back" "And we go a little somethin' like this" "Hit it!"

NEIL YOUNG (1969) is the self-titled, solo debut which was released in January of 1969 (although I've also seen Nov'68 listed as the release date). The album had been written and recorded in 1968, almost immediately after the break-up of Buffalo Springfield. There seems to be a bit of a Buffalo Springfield hangover, or maybe it's just Jack Nitzsche's ever-ambitious (over-) production. Oops, this is starting to sound more negative than I mean for it to be.

You see, I can't truly duplicate the experience of writing about this album as a debut. It was not the first thing I'd heard by Neil Young. I knew his '70s hits, and owned EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, AFTER THE GOLD RUSH, and HARVEST before I bought this one. So, for a Rolling Stone review from 1969, click here.

Let's take a quick run through the songs:

Side 1 opens with "The Emperor of Wyoming", which is a fairly crisp, country-rock instrumental. Next is "The Loner", which is the true Neil classic from this album. This song is strong lyrically, and fundamentally a rocker, but there's a hint of over-production here. Check out LIVE RUST for an excellent, stripped-down version.

"If I Could Have Her Tonight" and "I've Been Waiting For You" both seem to have a similar theme, dealing with wanting and needing, but ultimately not attaining, love. The former is more mellow and country-influenced, while the latter's stinging guitars make me wonder if Neil is actually stalking this poor girl.

Side 1 ends with "The Old Laughing Lady", which is slow, mellow, and lyrically interesting. However, it's a bit pretentious in the arrangement. Thank God there's no Graeme Edge-style, cheesy poem at the end, or this could almost be mistaken for the Moody Blues!

Side 2 opens with "String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill", which was written by Jack Nitzsche (or, "King of the Unnecessary Strings", as I like to call him). This song is a one-minute-long string piece that really shouldn't be here. I'm guessing Jack bought Neil a beer to let him inlude it.

Next is "Here We Are in the Years", which has a beautiful piano intro, followed by Neil extolling the virtues of country life ("What a pity/That the people from the city/Can't relate to the slower things/That the country brings"). "What Did You Do to My Life" finds Neil being dumped ("It isn't fair that I should wake up at dawn and not find you there").

"I've Loved Her So Long", like "Old Laughing Lady", was produced by Jack Nitzsche. This one has a veritable women's choir of backing vocalists (yuck). I'd love to hear a demo of Neil doing this song by himself on acoustic guitar.

The album closes with "The Last Trip to Tulsa", which clocks in at a fairly massive 9:25. Finally, all the bullsh-t is stripped away. It's Neil and his acoustic guitar, telling the listener(s) about a crazy dream. This is not a long, Crazy Horse guitar work-out. This is a sparse tune, but with wild lyrics that keep it interesting. Neil as solo, acoustic storyteller. This is the real highlight of the album for me.

Bottom line: This is a solid solo debut (probably like 3 out of 5 stars, if I did that kind of rating). "The Loner" is a classic that Neil has performed live throughout his long career. "The Last Trip to Tulsa" is a GREAT listen. What detracts from the album as a whole are the distractions of over-production (strings, etc.). From a historical perspective, the best thing about this album is how Neil followed it. By ripping through a rough-edged, guitar-driven rocker of an album (EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE), Neil bucked the "more production is better" trend of the times. It was a trend that could have stifled his career. I'd like to think we're all better people because of the direction he chose!

Monday, January 30, 2006

It was twenty years ago, today...

Actually, HARVEST MOON (1992) was released almost 14 years ago. However, at the time of its release, it had been 20 years since HARVEST (1972). One might call this a long-awaited sequel.

Actually, HARVEST MOON is a much more consistent album. While HARVEST is certainly a collection of good and great songs, it's also all over the map stylistically. HARVEST MOON is country-influenced Neil, start to finish. This is music you could put on for almost any audience. It's just a cool, mellow album.

The songs are all Neil originals:

  1. Unknown Legend (4:32)
  2. From Hank to Hendrix (5:12)
  3. You and Me (3:45)
  4. Harvest Moon (5:03)
  5. War of Man (5:41)
  6. One of These Days (4:55)
  7. Such a Woman (4:36)
  8. Old King (2:57)
  9. Dreamin' Man (4:36)
  10. Natural Beauty (10:22)

"Old King" is so country, it's actually about Neil's dead dog! The lyrics of this song tend towards the maudlin side, but the uptempo music helps to offset, and even out the mood.

"Unknown Legend", "From Hank to Hendrix", and the title track are all latter day Neil classics. "You and Me" is a beautiful tune, with Neil on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Nicolette Larson on backing vocals. Absolute mellow perfection, it even gives a nod to HARVEST's "Old Man" ("Old man sittin' there/Touch of Grey, but he don't care/When he hears his children call"). Neil lodges a mild, anti-war protest with "War of Man" ("No one wins/It's a war of man"). Neil looks back in "One of These Days" ("I never tried/To burn any bridges/Though I know I let some/Good things go"), which he wrote back in 1987.

Jack Nitzsche brings in the orchestra for "Such a Woman". I could do without the strings, frankly. I think Nitzsche's arrangement pushes this one to the brink of elevator-musicdom. Luckily, Neil's harmonica break in the middle helps the song snap back to reality.

"Dreamin' Man" and "Natural Beauty" were both written in 1989, with the latter being a live recording from Portland, Oregon in 1990. Neil saved them for just the right time, as they fit the mood and tone of HARVEST MOON perfectly. In fact, they help the album to finish just as strongly as it began.

Bottom line: Very good album. Some say it's "great", and it might be. If not, it's definitely knocking on the door of greatness.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Home, Home on the Range

This is not technically a Neil Young album. However, the original pieces included are Neil's, and I don't have much time today.

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (1980) is a movie about the life of Hunter S. Thompson, with Bill Murray in the lead role. The movie has its problems, to be sure. I'm not going to lay much of the blame on Bill Murray. I'll just leave it at that.

As far as the soundtrack goes, it's a decent collection of late '60s tunes by some major artists, some movie dialogue, Bill Murray shrieking through a version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", and Neil's originals.

Neil's compositions are actually all arrangements of "Home on the Range", all but one are instrumentals, many with orchestra accompaniment. Here's the line-up:

Side 1:
Buffalo Stomp - Neil Young with the Wild Bill Band of Strings
Ode to Wild Bill #1 - Neil Young
All Along the Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - Bill Murray
Ode to Wild Bill #2 - Neil Young
Papa Was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
Home, Home on the Range - Neil Young
Side 2:
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 - Neil Young
Keep on Chooglin' - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Ode to Wild Bill #4 - Neil Young
Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix
Buffalo Stomp Refrain - Neil Young with the Wild Bill Band of Strings

Before you kill yourselves trying to find it, I'll let you know that all of Neil's contributions only total to approximately 10 minutes.

Bottom line: I'm totally glad I have this (It was a GREAT gift from a close friend). And, if you ever get the chance to hear Neil's "Home, Home on the Range" you defintely should. That said, I'd make sure you get some of his more essential releases first.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The 1st Neil Young Album I Remember Being New

I remember when AMERICAN STARS 'N BARS (1977) was new. I was seven years old, and riding in the back seat of my dad's car with "Like a Hurricane" blaring through the speakers. My dad didn't have the album, mind you. It was just the local FM radio station of choice (and they've long since changed formats anyway). In any event, what a classic song...

Side I
was recorded in April 1977, and is credited to "Neil Young, Crazy Horse & The Bullets": Neil on Vocals, Acoustic Guitar & Electric Guitar; Nicolette Larson & Linda Ronstadt on Vocals; Carole Mayedo on Violin; Ben Keith on Steel Guitar; Frank Sampedro on Acoustic Guitar & Electric Guitar; Billy Talbot on Bass; Ralph Molina on Drums.

The first four songs are country fare. "The Old Country Waltz" sounds and feels like old country (not sure about the "Waltz" part). "Saddle Up the Palomino", which Neil co-wrote with Tim Drummond and Bobby Charles, has a bit more of a rock edge. But, it's still country, with a story line about "sleeping with another man's wife". "Hey Babe" is as country as country gets, and damn if Neil doesn't sound great doing it ("I know that all things pass/Let's try to make this last"). "Hold Back the Tears" is a bit twangy for my tastes, but certainly not a bad song. "Bite the Bullet" closes out the side with a rocker that kicks some ass.

Side II is credited to "Neil Young & Crazy Horse", and is a collection of previously unreleased Neil compostions, recorded at various times. "Star of Bethlehem" (Nov.'74) is a country tune featuring Neil on Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica & Vocals; Emmylou Harris on Vocals; Ben Keith on Dobro & Vocals; Tim Drummond on Bass; Karl Himmel on Drums. Mellow and sweet. "Will to Love" (May'76) is a 100% Neil solo effort, and seems to anticipate future songs like "Pocahontas" and "Ride My Llama", though this one is longer and slower. "Like a Hurricane" (Nov'75) is Neil, Frank, Billy & Ralph jamming for 8+ minutes of guitar-twisting glory. It just doesn't get much better than this ("That perfect feeling/When time just slips"). "Homegrown" (Nov'75) is the same line-up as "Hurricane", and ends the album on an upbeat, chunky note, with a wink and a smile.

Bottom-line: It's a keeper. "Like a Hurricane" endures as a true rock classic. Only Neil would have that song "in the can" for almost 2 years before releasing it! There are some other really good songs to discover here as well.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Why I'm Glad I Never Sold My Record Collection

TIME FADES AWAY (1973) is a PRIME example of why I'm glad I never sold my old records. Even though I might go a decade or two between listens, when I do pull out a gem, it's a beautiful thing.

Now, this is a rough-cut gem, certainly not a fully-polished stone. However, I think it's a gem none-the-less. As far as I can tell, it's the earliest example of Neil releasing a new album of previously unreleased songs that were recorded live in concert (see also RUST NEVER SLEEPS). In fact, it might be the earliest example of anyone doing such a thing. What a way to follow up the multi-platinum-selling, genre-crossing, mega-hit HARVEST! Neil being Neil, to be sure.

The album starts with the title track. I can't decide if it sounds more like southern rock or a Dylanesque rocker with "The Band". Either way, it's uptempo, and I like it!

"Journey Thru the Past" follows. This one was actually recorded in 1971, and features Neil alone at the piano for what sounds for all the world like "After the Gold Rush", Part 2. This one is not as imaginative lyrically, but feels at least as personal.

"Yonder Stands the Sinner" is edgy musically, but Neil's vocal performance seems somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

"LA" sounds like a musical cousin of "Ohio" or "Alabama" at first, though the emergence of the piano takes it in a slightly different direction, and the vocals take a "Mr. Soul" type of turn. Lyrics such as "uptight city in the smog" certainly sound like an indictment of the city.

"Love In Mind", also recorded in 1971, is a mellow, piano-based tune.

"Don't Be Denied", to me, is the ultimate highlight of this album. It's a solid rocker (not particularly fast, but solid), and check out these lyrics. Sounds like Neil baring his soul, if you ask me.

"The Bridge" is another Neil solo effort on piano, harmonica and vocals. Neil continues to open his soul to ask if love lost can be rebuilt. I suppose it remained to be seen.

"Last Dance" closes the album. It's an extended jam with some fairly angry vocals, and very stinging guitars. Sure, it's a bit overindulgent (i.e., too long, perhaps), but that was just a sign of the times, my man.

Bottom line: I really liked re-discovering this one, but good luck finding it. The album was out of print for YEARS before vinyl LPs all but disappeared as a medium. As far as I know, this one has never been released on CD.

PS - The ultimate bonus: I had completely forgotten the amazing insert included with the record. It folds out to nearly 3 ft. by 4 ft., and includes lyrics, the line-up of musicians by song, and other liner notes. Too cool. (Damn, I miss albums.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Godfather, Part IV...Neil's RAGGED GLORY

OK, so there's absolutely no known connection between Neil Young and the Godfather trilogy (although, shouldn't it really have just been a two-ogy, 'cause Part III isn't that great?). In any event, Neil has been dubbed the "Godfather of Grunge". To the extent that nickname has any meaning, this is the album that cemented it.

Recorded somewhat hurriedly, in fine Crazy Horse fashion, in a barn on Neil's ranch, RAGGED GLORY hit the stores on October 11, 1990, just as the Seattle bands were gearing up to take over the charts. Of course, outside of some occasional heavy guitar feedback, this album really bears little resemblance to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, or Soundgarden (or Mudhoney or Screaming Trees, etc.). However, it did represent the first time in years that Neil had recorded two commercially successful albums in a row (see also the 1989 release FREEDOM).

RAGGED GLORY is largely a feel-good album, with a mostly upbeat Neil jamming and singing with what sounds like the sonic equivalent of a boyish grin. (Contrast this to the young man's angst of a Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, etc.) This mood is especially evident on the winkingly nostalgic "Mansion on the Hill" and the rockin' cover version of "Farmer John".

Of course, the album is not without some dark lyrics. Witness, from "Love to Burn", "In the valley of hearts/There's a house full of broken windows/And the lovers inside just quarrel all the time/Why'd you ruin my life?/Where you takin' my kid?/And they hold each other saying/How did it come to this?"

However, by and large, it's Neil just working out some aggression with his Crazy Horse pals. There are even a few extended jam sessions ("Country Home" at 7 minutes, "Over and Over" at 8 1/2, and "Love to Burn" & "Love and Only Love" both at 10 minutes each) in the tradition of "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand". Although, again, there's a more lighthearted mood, as opposed to the relative bleakness of those classics from EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE (1969).

Neil ends with a message song on the environment, "Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)", which implores us to "Respect Mother Earth/And her giving ways/Or trade away/Our children's days."

Bottom line: You know I'm lovin' it. I even have the added benefit of reflecting on the fun I was having in college at the time this album was released. Regardless of where you were in 1990, however, this is a solid album.

PS - Check out the CD-single for "Mansion on the Hill" (if you can find it) for a cool bonus track, "Don't Spook the Horse", which is more or less a tongue-in-cheek sequel to "Cowgirl in the Sand", I suppose. In any event, it's a fun tune. "If you want to go riding/In the tall green grass/Try to not spook the horse/If you want to pet/That old hound dog/Make sure he ain't rolled in shit" etc.

Monday, January 23, 2006

One more football note

To quote the Beatles, "I read the news today. Oh boy..."

C'mon, Buffalo.

To quote one of John McEnroe's many tennis court tirades, "You CANNOT be SERIOUS"

Honestly, the Bills would be better off hiring the bobblehead pictured here. Of course, as I am not a Buffalo fan, I suppose I don't care. Go ahead. Bury your franchise even deeper. Good luck winning with this guy.

I hope you're em-BEAR-assed

Sorry, I had to take a brief timeout from the Neil project, as I was in bed sick all weekend. I did muster the energy to watch NFL play-off action yesterday, and I have the following to say:

ATTENTION: Bears Coaching Staff

Please see photo for results associated with actually making defensive adjustments against Steve Smith of the Panthers. (You know, instead of pigheadedly assuming you should be able to stop him with whomever happened to be in the spot across the line from him.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Neil knocks down the Berlin Wall

With the release of FREEDOM (1989), Neil emerged from nearly a decade of relative obscurity. Not that his albums from the '80s are all throwaways. In fact, some have been previously featured in posts on this very blog. However, the many abrupt style changes from any one of Neil's albums to the next in this decade certainly succeeded in shrinking his audience. (Not that we needed the fair-weather hangers-on anyway...)

Thus it was, on the 10th anniversary of RUST NEVER SLEEPS, that Neil gave a nod to that classic's format by bookending FREEDOM in a similar fashion. In this case, it was with acoustic and electric versions of one song, "Rockin' in the Free World". Here was a song that captured the mood of its time and place like nothing else Neil had released during the '80s. Although, as has been noted elsewhere, its popularity was largely propelled by many people's inability to pay attention to lyrics beyond the chorus itself. In any event, the Berlin Wall came down, and Neil came smashing through (figuratively speaking, of course)! Ann Coulter gives Reagan all the credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, completely ignoring Neil's contributions. No wonder people think she's extreme!

The remaining tracks on FREEDOM also showcase Neil's amazing songwriting abilities. "Crime in the City (Sixty to Zero Part I)" is nearly 9 minutes in length and touches on so many things it's hard to summarize. Just listen when you get the chance! (haahnster note: features our old friend Ben Keith, of Stray Gators fame, on Alto Sax).

"Don't Cry" is quite a fine example of a song only Neil would write, offering reassuring words to a woman whose heart he's in the middle of breaking, while the most incredible crashing, bellowing guitar sounds wail through the air.

"Hangin' on a Limb" is a really pretty song, featuring good old Linda Ronstadt's backing vocals. "Eldorado" tells a great story, accompanied by mariachi sounds and cool, bluesy electric guitar by Neil. "The Ways of Love" features Linda again, and Ben Keith on pedal steel guitar. "Someday" is absolutely beautiful, with great keyboard work by Frank "Poncho" Sampedro and alto sax by Ben Keith. This is followed by the album's one cover song, which is Neil making "On Broadway" his own, in a big way. "Wrecking Ball" opens with the lyric "My life's an open book", which introduces a series of three seemingly autobiographical tunes ("Wrecking Ball", "No More" and "Too Far Gone").

What an absolutely stellar album!!!

Click here for Rolling Stone magazine's 5-Star review.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Conflicting thoughts on HARVEST

HARVEST (1972) is an all-time Neil classic, correct? I always thought so. Lord knows, it's spawned countless pale imitations by lesser talents. But, you can't hold that against Neil, can you? I certainly don't.

Check out this link for the original Rolling Stone magazine review from March 1972, which is quite negative. Again, RS is not the divine word of a higher power. I just think it's interesting to read contrary opinions...and then subject them to scorn and ridicule.

"On the basis of the vast inferiority relative
to his altogether spectacular Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere...it can only be concluded that Neil Young is not one of those folks whom superstardom becomes artistically."

Interesting. And, on the basis of the vast inferiority of the orange relative to the apple...blah blah blah. This guy was already put off by Neil's ever-changing musical styles, and it was only 1972!!!
"Witness, in fact, that he's all but abdicated his position as an authoritative rock-and-roller for the stereotypical laid-back country-comforted troubadour role, seldom playing electric guitar at all any more..."

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever heard an artist accused of the sin of choosing an acoustic guitar over an electric guitar for a certain selection of songs. Rumour has it that the reviewer was later given an opportunity to invest in MTV's Unplugged, but declined on similar grounds.

"Neil's Nashville backing band, the Stray Gators, pale miserably in comparison to the memory of Crazy Horse, of whose style they do a flaccid imitation on such tracks as 'Out On The Weekend,' 'Harvest,' and 'Heart of Gold.'"

OK, now I'm completely convinced that this guy didn't know sh-t about Neil Young. How could anyone be so stupid as to misconstrue the songs listed above as flaccid imitations of Crazy Horse? I'm afraid I have to return to the apple/orange analogy. Is the orange a flaccid imitation of the apple? Oh, wait, maybe the two are just different. (Some go so far as to say the two are different by design!)

"'The Needle And The Damage Done,' is glib, even cute, and displays little real commitment to its subject"

Now, the gloves are off. As I stated in my LIVE RUST post, "If you don't like this song, there is something horribly, awfully wrong with you." But, why would I fight this battle? I'll let the lyrics stand on their own:

I caught you knockin'
at my cellar door
I love you, baby,
can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done.

I hit the city and
I lost my band
I watched the needle
take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song
because I love the man
I know that some
of you don't understand
to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle
and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's
like a settin' sun.

What's "glib, even cute" about that? Neil is a guy who lost friends and bandmates to drugs, then wrote about it...glib bastard. I must refer the reviewer to "Old Man" (one of the classic songs from HARVEST), "Doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you."


Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Very Pleasant Surprise, Indeed

I'll come right out and admit that my expectations were very low for EVERYBODY'S ROCKIN' (1983). The album is credited to "Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks", and even a brief glance at the cover photo of Neil, done up all '50s-retro, clues one in to the fact that this is likely to be a "different" album.

What a pleasant surprise! Before you think I'm totally hooked on the Neil kool-aid, let me preface by saying I would never recommend this as an introduction to Neil Young's music. However, if you have any interest at all in '50s music and the roots of rock 'n roll, and/or you are already a Neil fan, then this album can be a very fun listen.

First off, these "Shocking Pinks" are no musical bozos. They include Ben Keith and Tim Drummond, both of the "Stray Gators", the band Neil assembled for HARVEST (1972) and its so-called "sequel", HARVEST MOON (1992). This is most definitely NOT a novelty album, although I'd imagine Neil had a blast making it. This is a salute to our R&B/early rock 'n roll roots. And, Neil sounds GOOD doing it, too.

The song selection is a combination of Neil originals, and cover versions of some all-time classics. On "Payola Blues", Neil sings, "No matter/Where I go/I never hear my record/On the radio". This could easily be applied to TRANS (1982), or even as an easy prediction of the commercial failure of EVERYBODY'S ROCKIN' itself.

Looking at Wikipedia's Neil Young entry, you can see this album described as "rockabilly". I think that's a bit narrow, depending on how detail-oriented you want to be about '50s sound. Hell, "Wonderin'" actually has "do wop" sung repeatedly in the backing vocals. However, on "Cry, Cry, Cry", Neil does sound like a reincarnation of Bill Haley, or perhaps even Buddy Holly. So, call it what you like. It's cool by me.

Side 1
Betty Lou's Got a New Pair of Shoes (3:00), Bobby Freeman, 1958
Rainin' in My Heart (2:12), James Moore/Jerry West, 1961 [haahnster note: James Moore aka "Slim Harpo"]
Payola Blues (3:08), Neil Young/Ben Keith
Wonderin' (2:57), Neil Young
Kinda Fonda Wanda (1:48), Neil Young/Tim Drummond
Side 2
Jellyroll Man (1:57), Neil Young
Bright Lights, Big City (2:16), Jimmy Reed, 1956
Cry, Cry, Cry (2:39), Neil Young
Mystery Train (2:40), Sam Phillips/Herman Parker, Jr., 1953 [haahnster note: Herman Parker, Jr. aka "Junior Parker"]
Everybody's Rockin' (1:55), Neil Young

"The Shocking Pinks"
Neil Young - Piano, guitar, harmonica
Ben "King" Keith - Alto sax, lead guitar [haahnster note: Ben played guitar and steel guitar on HARVEST]
Tim Drummond - Upright bass [haahnster note: Tim played bass on HARVEST]
Karl Himmel - Snare
Larry Byrom - Piano, backing vocals
Anthony Crawford - Backing vocals
Rick Palombi - Backing vocals

Other haahnster notes: "Mystery Train" was most famously covered by Elvis Presley. Neil's version of "Bright Lights, Big City" is relatively true to the original, as opposed to the uptempo, edgier version recorded by Them (featuring Van Morrison) in 1965.

Bottom line: As you can calculate from the times listed above, the whole thing is over in less than half an hour. I'm a busy guy, but I always have at least 30 minutes for Neil Young! And, quite frankly, I listened to the entire album 4 times in a row last night. It was that much fun.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Is this album really 10+ years old???

WOW! It's hard for me to believe 1995 was that long ago. Apparently, "time fades away"...I'm certain I've heard that somewhere before.

Back to the subject at hand: MIRROR BALL (1995).

This is an album I can't believe I lost touch with. After all, it features the songwriting, singing and guitar playing of my all-time favorite artist, backed up by one of my very favorite bands, Pearl Jam.

Playing this CD after so many years, I found myself grinning from ear to ear. This is truly a great album. Click here for a 4-Star review from Rolling Stone magazine (not that a 4-Star review from Rolling Stone guarantees a great album, I just think it's interesting reading).

The opening notes of "Song X" announce that this album is coming straight at you, "Hey Ho/Away we go/We're on the road/To never". Strap in for the ride. "Act of Love" follows with "The fruit of love/Was in the future/Around the corner/And over the hill/The act of love/Was slowly pounding/Slowly pounding/Slowly pounding". On the 3rd track, "I'm the Ocean", Neil has this to say about modern society, "Need distraction/Need romance and candlelight/Need random violence/Need Entertainment Tonight". Have I mentioned lately what a great f-cking songwriter Neil Young is? I thought so.

To me, the guitar work just seems to get better and better throughout the album. By tracks 7 ("What Happened Yesterday"), 9 ("Throw Your Hatred Down"), and 10 ("Scenery") it's blistering. Mike McCready from PJ is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated lead guitarist. And, I'm on record as saying Neil Young's guitar work kicks ass (better even than, dare I say, Crapton himself!). I'd love to know who was playing which solos. But, in the end, who cares? The album rocks and that's ALL that matters.

I suppose I should mention the song "Downtown" is a humorous send-up of left-over hippiedom, in case you don't read the RS review.

Bottom-line: Ladies and Gentlemen, we definitely have ourselves another "keeper". If you don't already have it, get the damned thing ASAP!!!!

PS - I am a HUGE fan of Pearl Jam's companion piece, the 2-song CD single MERKINBALL (1995), which includes "I Got Id" (best PJ song ever, perhaps?) and "The Long Road". Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

RUST NEVER SLEEPS, reviewed better than I could

Click for a professional review of this incredible album. It's not currently on my "re-discovery" list, because it's one of the few I never really lost touch with. Plus, this guy writes a better review than I ever could have...

The greatest live album EVER

And, no, that is NOT a stretch. It is, however, a matter of opinion. Thus, I would gladly entertain contrary views. So, I say again, LIVE RUST (1979) is the greatest live album EVER.

I am lucky enough to have the original, vinyl, double-LP, and it breaks down like this:

Record 1, Side 1 (Acoustic)
"Sugar Mountain" - An amazing version of this great tune, originally recorded in '68 or so (around the time of Neil Young's self-titled debut solo album).
"I Am a Child" - Here, Neil goes back to a tune he wrote for Buffalo Springfield, originally released on their "Last Time Around" LP.
"Comes a Time" - Sparklingly flawless version of this title track to Neil's 1978 album. Many might consider this one of Neil's more Dylanesque tunes ("This old world keeps spinning round/It's a wonder tall trees ain't laying down"). I just call it a great folk-rock (mostly rock) tune, and a Neil classic.
"After the Gold Rush" - A piano appears for this phenomenal version of another title track, this time from Neil's 1970 LP. This is simply a brilliant song, and I don't really think it's open for debate.
"My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" - I'm not sure (too lazy to do the research), but since RUST NEVER SLEEPS barely beat LIVE RUST to record stores in 1979, I'm guessing this version was recorded before the song had actually been released to the public on an LP. No matter, it's a crowd-pleaser!
Record 1, Side 2 (Acoustic/Electric)
"When You Dance I Can Really Love" - Neil and Crazy Horse rock out with this slightly grungier version of a very cool tune from the "After the Gold Rush" LP.
"The Loner" - Neil goes back to his debut solo LP, and again this version is just a bit edgier and nastier (or, it could be my imagination).
"The Needle and the Damage Done" - Just as arresting and chilling as the (also recorded live) version on 1972's "Harvest" LP. If you don't like this song, there is something horribly, awfully wrong with you.
"Lotta Love" - More piano on this uncharacteristically poppy tune, originally released on the "Comes a Time" LP. This one has been covered, so you'll probably be shocked that it's a Neil Young song (yes, he wrote it).
"Sedan Delivery" - Neil leads in with this comment, "Let's play some rock 'n roll!" And then, they do. Comments from "My My, Hey Hey" apply here as well.
Record 2, Side 1 (Electric)
"Powderfinger" - Picks up where "Sedan Delivery" left off. This is a magnificent rock song, also from RUST NEVER SLEEPS.
"Cortez the Killer" - Prototypical Crazy Horse, originally released on 1975's ZUMA.
"Cinnamon Girl" - Wonderfully heavy, chunky version of this absolute Neil classic, originally from 1969's "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" LP.
Record 2, Side 2 (Electric)
"Like a Hurricane" - Originally from 1977's "American Stars 'n Bars" LP. Neil & Co. provide that bit of extra feedback and distortion that makes this a must-have version of an already classic rock song.
"Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" - Also from RUST NEVER SLEEPS, this song is destined to be a highlight whenever and wherever it is played. It is an anthem of epic magnitude. Heavy & chunky, like large-curd cottage cheese or lumpy oatmeal, but with withering, blistering, stinging bursts of guitar pyrotechnics. I'm going on record right here: Please, please, please play this song at my funeral.
"Tonight's the Night" - Yet another title track, this time to one of the albums Neil released in 1975. Many consider the "Tonight's the Night" LP to be Neil's all-time greatest. It's hard to argue. I'd say he's released about 5 or 6 albums that are so close in quality, and so different in style, that it's hard to split hairs and say which is THE best. In any event, this is a great version of a great song from a great album, and a fantastic choice to close out this concert set.

It occurs to me that the 4 songs that are from both RUST NEVER SLEEPS and LIVE RUST could be the same versions; one with, one without the audience track. Again, I'm too lazy to research right now. However, I will do a side-by-side listening soon (tonight, if possible), and report back. If someone knows the answer and wishes to share, please feel free to do so.

In any event, if you do not have LIVE RUST, you should get it. If you are looking for an introduction to classic Neil Young, this is a damned fine choice.

Now, tell me, what live album is better than this?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sand in your crack, and other risks ON THE BEACH

The 3rd installment of the "I heard Mr. Young sing
about her" files.

Current selection: ON THE BEACH (1974)

It turns out, Neil can play some blues and
blues-influenced rock.

Brief tune-by-tune recap:

"Walk On" - Genuine Neil Young classic! Great rock 'n
roll tune. "I hear some people/Been talkin' me
down/Bring up my name/Pass it round/They don't
mention/The happy times/They do their thing/I do
mine"...possibly Neil responding somewhat amicably to
"Sweet Home Alabama"?
"See the Sky About to Rain" - Slower tune in which
Neil reverts a bit to his country influences
"Revolution Blues" - Neil does some rockin' while
singing of gunning people down. David Crosby credited
on rhythm guitar, not that anyone would notice (or
"For the Turnstiles" - GREAT bluesy acoustic jam. Some
darn fine banjo pickin' and angry vocals, both by Neil
"Vampire Blues" - Sounds like some solid 60s/70s
electric blues. Neil plays a little lead guitar that
highlights just how underrated his guitar work is.
"On the Beach" - 7+ minute title track is slow &
bluesy. Once again, Neil plays him some guitar, if I
do say so my damn self. Graham Nash credited on the
"Wurlitzer Piano" (again, far from the highlight; as
always, Neil towers above Crosby, Stills & Nash)
"Motion Pictures" - Slow & soft, but with incredible
slide guitar work by guest Rusty Kershaw. Neil sings,
strums acoustic guitar, and plays harmonica. Damned
fine song in my humble opinion.
"Ambulance Blues" - Nearly 9 minutes, acoustic, and
very interesting lyrically..."You're all just pissin'
in the wind..."

Bottom line: If you don't have it, you should get it.
If you have it, you should keep it!!!

Haahnster reacts to his rediscovery of RE-AC-TOR

The 2nd installment of the "I heard Mr. Young sing
about her" files.

Current selection: RE-AC-TOR (1981)

I regard this as the quintessential "Godfather of
Grunge" record. If records were candy bars, this one
would be a "Chunky".

Brief tune-by-tune recap:

"Opera Star" - delightfully heavy "You were born to
rock/You'll never be an opera star"
"Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze" - an absolute dream of
pure distortion and foot-stomping pleasure
"T-Bone" - 9+ minute workout; Neil's salute to early
80s economic recession. The only lyrics are "Got
mashed potatoes/Ain't got no T-Bone" repeated many,
many times. Sure works for me!
"Get Back On It" - a piano appears in this
straight-ahead rocker "It's too late for General
Custer/Too late for Robert E. Lee/But I'll get back on
the highway/Before it's too late for me"
"Southern Pacific" - Neil represents the working man
and decries forced retirements
"Motor City" - Neil buys American "There's already too
many Datsuns..." (Datsun no longer exists as a
brand...more evidence of Neil's powers)
"Rapid Transit" - Neil "hangs ten" with a grunge twist
"Shots" - Clocking in at over 7 minutes, this one is
an absolute noise-fest. I literally had a movement in
my shorts. This song is in-your-face EXCELLENT!!! It
actually gives "Hey Hey, My My" a run for its money as
the ultimate Neil grunge tune.

Bottom line: This album RULES! I think it has recently
been re-issued in CD format. Do whatever you must.
Your life will be soooo much fuller if this album is a
part of it.

"I heard Mr. Young sing about her"

After dusting off TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT (1975) Monday
evening, and thoroughly enjoying the experience, I
have determined to rediscover my Neil Young
collection, record by record.

I followed up with TRANS (1982). I would imagine that
many would point to this as Neil's worst album. They
would likely be correct. But, that's not to say that
it's not an interesting listening experience. It
starts with "Little Thing Called Love", a Neil
original not to be confused with the Queen song "Crazy
Little Thing Called Love". This is a fairly
straight-ahead rock song with cool slide guitar work.
A sticker on the front of the LP informs me this is
the "Hit Single" included.

Next according to the inner sleeve is a song called
"If You Got Love". However, this song is mysteriously
NOT actually on the album. Last minute editing
decision, perhaps? (And, of course, why bother to

Then, the early-80s attempt at futuristic sound kicks
in, with "Computer Age". Crazy vocal sounds, set to
music that would've fit into a night club scene in the
movie "Scarface", or perhaps the TV show "Miami Vice".
Computer-induced paranoia takes over completely on
"We R in Control" and "Computer Cowboy (aka

The 2nd side begins with a decent tune, "Hold on to
Your Love". This is followed by "Sample and Hold",
which is probably the best representative of the
"RoboNeil"/"Neilinator" sound.

Along comes the ultra-surreal...an electronic, robotic
remake of Neil's Buffalo Springfield classic, "Mr.
Soul". It must be heard to be believed, and I'm not
sure that's a good thing.

The album closes with the 8-minute "Like an Inca",
which would be complete cheese, save for some dueling,
blistering guitars from Neil and friend Nils Lofgren.

Bottom line: I'm glad I listened, but I probably
won't reach for it again soon.


P.S. - I guess I should've looked closer at the back
of the album cover. There's a black sticker with the
following message: This first-edition pressing of Neil
Young's Trans album contains a typographic mistake.
Although it is listed in the line-up on the back of
this record and on the lyric innersleeve, the song "If
You Got Love" is not on the record itself.

(Funny thing, though, is that the song is NOT listed
on the back of the record. However, it is on the
inner sleeve, and not on the record itself. Weirdness abounds.)