Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Banned In Spain, Underrated EVERYWHERE

Apparently, they hold their explorers, or at least Cortez, in very high regard in Spain. "Cortez The Killer" was enough to get ZUMA (1975) banned there. Now, as for why I never heard any of these songs growing up in the U.S., I have no idea, and frankly it pisses me off to no end. I listened to FM radio quite a bit in the last 1/2 of the '70s. I heard "Cinnamon Girl", but never "Barstool Blues". I heard "Southern Man", but never "Danger Bird". Hell, I don't even remember hearing Cortez!

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. The good news is that Frank "Poncho" Sampedro played rhythm guitar, allowing for a new formation of Crazy Horse. Long live the Horse! Neil appeared to be emerging from the "ditch", not that there was much wrong with that trilogy (TIME FADES AWAY, TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, ON THE BEACH), of which T.T.N. had just been released earlier in 1975. In any event, the songs:

Side I: Don't Cry No Tears (2:34), Danger Bird (6:54), Pardon My Heart (3:49), Lookin' For A Love (3:17), Barstool Blues (3:02); Side II: Stupid Girl (3:13), Drive Back (3:32), Cortez The Killer (7:29), Through My Sails (2:41)

This album just has a really cool feel to it. "Don't Cry No Tears" kicks things off as a relatively laid-back, but solid rocker with a bit of country spirit (alt-country, anyone?). Next is "Danger Bird". From the beginning (incredible controlled-feedback intro.), this is a virtuoso performance of pure, distorted glory. This is definitely a candidate for the "most overlooked" Neil song award. It probably doesn't help that Neil left it off DECADE, but this should be a huge "classic rock" radio song (I mean, for chrissakes, as many times as I heard "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd...awww f-ck it). Interesting lyric: "I know we should be free/But freedom's just a prison to me".

Neil follows with "Pardon My Heart", a great, quiet, acoustic song ("You brought it all on/No, no, no/I don't believe this song"). Next up is "Lookin' For A Love", which is similar in spirit to "Don't Cry No Tears" and includes these cool lyrics, "But I hope I treat her kind/And don't mess with her mind/When she starts to see/The darker side of me".

"Barstool Blues" closes out the 1st side. It's still got the distorted, alt-country feel, and with some serious EDGE in the vocal delivery by Neil. Let me say this, I started college in the late '80s. So, I cannot even begin to count the number of "college radio" or "alternative" bands that sounded exactly like "Barstool Blues". It boggles the mind. Now, Neil leaving this one off DECADE is an absolute sin. I nominate this song for "most overlooked" as well. Should I make a "most influential" category too?

Side II opens with "Stupid Girl" (not the Stones song), which is more brilliant guitar distortion. "Drive Back" is a ROCKER with blistering bursts of guitar solo. Then we get the famous "Cortez The Killer", which Neil deemed DECADE-worthy, and also later played on LIVE RUST, etc. Even this one didn't get FM play where I grew up (maybe they were honoring Spain's ban in Central Illinois). "Cortez..." has great imagery (lyrical, and with the guitar sound) and gives us a glimpse into Neil's fascination with "Indians" (and explorers, for that matter). The album closes with a CSNY formation on "Through My Sails", a nice, mellow tune.

I think it's interesting to look at ZUMA almost as a "sequel" to EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE. One was the 1st album Neil did with Crazy Horse. The other is basically the 1st album with the "new" Crazy Horse. They each have two guitar "epics", although "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" are in the 9 to 10 minute range, whereas "Danger Bird" and "Cortez The Killer" are in the 7 minute range. There seems to be a natural progression. EKTIN seemed to have two distinct types of songs: hard rockers ("Cinnamon Girl" and the two "epics"), and more country-influenced tunes, with the title track being the closest thing to a mix of the two. ZUMA, however, seems to blend the two sounds together into one uniquely-Neil creation of country attitude (ranging from laid-back to full of invective) and heavy guitar feedback & distortion.

Bottom line: This is a GREAT album. It's not just "good" or "very good". It's "great". It's one of Neil's most underrated in my opinion. There's no reason why ZUMA shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath with Neil/Crazy Horse classics such as EKTIN, RUST NEVER SLEEPS, and LIVE RUST.


Blogger Thrasher said...

Great review! And what radio station were you listening to?
So is the cover by the same Mazzeo that did the Greendale cover? For some reason, one is Sandy and the other is James Mazzeo?
Keep on rockin'

7:38 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

No idea on Mazzeo, but the covers of ZUMA and GREENDALE are cool-lookin', aren't they?

I always figured the mostly white with black sketching and lettering on the ZUMA cover was meant to stand in opposition to the mostly black with white lettering on the TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT cover. As if to signal, "Hey, I'm breaking out of my 'dark period'."

Oh, that radio station is gone now (or changed formats). It was "Rock 106" (actually 105.7) in Peoria, IL. They were album-rock all the way. In the late '70s/early '80s, H.O.G., Old Man, Ohio, Southern Man, Cin Girl, L.A.H., Hey Hey, My My were all fairly heavily in the rotation. Never anything from ZUMA though, which is partly why I didn't discover it until college.

8:17 AM, March 16, 2006  

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