Thursday, March 02, 2006

Coming in Second on the "Creative Outbursts" List...

By now, if you’ve seen my previous posts on this blog, it should be no surprise that I am a Neil Young fan. Probably the only surprise here is that Neil would ever come in anywhere below the very top of any “best of” list I developed. Alas, I am ranking Neil # 2 in this case. Specifically, I’m looking at the the music he created beginning in early 1969 through some point in late 1975. In terms of album releases, I’m talking about EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE through ZUMA, inclusive.

I still plan on doing detailed posts on most of these albums. In fact, I’ve been saving them deliberately (“best for last”, just like my Mom always taught me). So, I won’t get into a ton of song-by-song description. However, in many cases, just listing the titles themselves will speak volumes.

EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE (May 1969) was comprised of seven Neil originals: “Cinnamon Girl”, the title track, “Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)”, “Down By The River”, “(When You’re On) The Losing End”, “Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)”, and “Cowgirl In The Sand”. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this album laid the foundation for both “grunge” and “alt-country”. Or, at least, it dug the hole into which that foundation was laid. Long live the Horse!

The CSNY album DÉJÀ VU (March 1970) contained Neil’s classic “Helpless”. On May 4, 1970, the National Guard fired into a protesting crowd, killing four students at Kent State. Not long after, Neil wrote, and CSNY recorded and released, the classic single “Ohio”. This was followed by Neil’s AFTER THE GOLD RUSH (September 1970), which contains these classics: “Tell Me Why”, the title track, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Southern Man”, “Till The Morning Comes”, “Oh, Lonesome Me” (Don Gibson), “Don't Let It Bring You Down”, “Birds”, “When You Dance I Can Really Love”, “I Believe In You”, and “Cripple Creek Ferry”. It's obvious that 1970 was an amazing year for Neil.

HARVEST (February 1972) featured Neil in almost every style, although it became a mega-seller based primarily on its more country-rock tunes. The entire line-up was “Out On The Weekend”, “Harvest”, “A Man Needs A Maid”, “Heart Of Gold”, “Are You Ready For The Country”, “Old Man”, “There's A World”, “Alabama”, “The Needle And The Damage Done”, and “Words (Between The Lines Of Age)”. Neil’s lack of willingness to immediately follow this album with anything similar created a vacuum which The Eagles, among others, were all too willing to fill.

Instead, Neil went to work on directing a movie! Somehow, the soundtrack was released well in advance of the movie itself. This was JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST (November 1972), and it contained only one new song, “Soldier”. Neil then made the unprecedented move of releasing an album of previously unreleased material that had been recorded live in concert. The album was TIME FADES AWAY (October 1973), and it includes the title track, “Journey Through The Past”, “Yonder Stands The Sinner”, “L.A.”, “Love In Mind”, “Don't Be Denied”, “The Bridge”, and “Last Dance”. Is it rough, raw, and uneven? Hell yes. But, the songs, especially “Journey Through The Past” and “Don’t Be Denied” stack up pretty well with Neil’s all-time best.

Just in case the mood wasn’t dark (and anti-HARVEST) enough, Neil continued to deal with the deaths of roadie Bruce Berry and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten by recording TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT, though it sat unreleased by Reprise Records. Instead, the next album released was another brilliantly bleak and bluesy affair, ON THE BEACH (July 1974). It contains “Walk On”, “See The Sky About To Rain”, “Revolution Blues”, “For The Turnstiles”, “Vampire Blues”, “On The Beach”, “Motion Pictures (For Carrie)”, and “Ambulance Blues”. What an amazing album!

Apparently, at this point someone at Reprise realized that they might as well release TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT (June 1975), to complete the so-called “Doom Trilogy”. The songs were “Tonight's The Night - Part I”, “Speakin' Out”, “World On A String”, “Borrowed Tune”, “Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown” (Neil Young/Danny Whitten), “Mellow My Mind”, “Roll Another Number (For The Road)”, “Albuquerque”, “New Mama”, “Lookout Joe”, “Tired Eyes”, and “Tonight's The Night - Part II”. To this day, many of Neil’s most dedicated fans consider this his best album. It is a masterpiece of drunken sloppiness, and pure catharsis.

This was followed by ZUMA (November 1975), a guitar masterpiece of controlled feedback and distortion. The songs on this album (“Don't Cry No Tears”, “Danger Bird”, “Pardon My Heart”, “Lookin' For A Love”, “Barstool Blues”, “Stupid Girl”, “Drive Back”, “Cortez The Killer”, and “Through My Sails”) virtually gave birth to innumerable “alternative” bands, albeit after about a 10-year pregnancy.

Rather than try to explain away the whole “Stills-Young Band” thing, I’ll cut it off here. But, keep in mind that we might never know exactly how many unreleased songs were written during this same time period (’69-’75). Three of them ended up on AMERICAN STARS 'N BARS (1977). They were “Star Of Bethlehem” (Nov’74), “Like A Hurricane” and “Homegrown” (both Nov’75). (Yeah, that’s right. Throw in an all-time classic “Like A Hurricane” with everything else I've listed!)

“Little Wing” (not the Hendrix tune) from 1975 and “The Old Homestead” from 1974 both ended up on HAWKS & DOVES (1980). Other songs from this timeframe include “Deep Forbidden Lake”, “Love Is A Rose”, and the amazing “Winterlong”, all three of which ended up on DECADE (1977). And that’s not to mention the never officially released songs, such as “Dance, Dance, Dance”. Oh, yeah, and “Bad Fog Of Loneliness”, which finally saw the light of day on the RED ROCKS LIVE DVD (2000).

So, there you have it, seven classic Neil albums (not including JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST) plus multiple contributions to CSNY, as well as unreleased (or released later) songs galore, all in less than seven years. Now, it’s true that Hendrix fundamentally changed the way people approached playing the electric guitar. His influence is ubiquitous, even to this day. However, the number of imitators spawned by Neil Young, particularly his music of this time period, is staggering. (And I didn’t even extend the time period through 1979 to pick up RUST NEVER SLEEPS, which might well be my favorite, and Neil’s most imitated, album of all.) There’s clearly a reason that Neil was named “Artist of the Decade” for the 1970s (Click here for a cool article recapping Neil's entire decade of the '70s). Thus, I say, from early 1969 through late 1975, Neil Young had the 2nd greatest “creative outburst” in rock music history!


Blogger rabidt said...

Holy Sh@t, Clapton's gonna be #1!!!!

Ok, so that's not going to happen. Enjoyed the slam on "Before You Accuse Me," and the new quote from Hendrix on your profile, which I read as a direct address to Clapton's fanbase. Of course, that's if you read it as him talking about guitar palying. If it's singing he's taking about, the latter half of his comment easily addresses the detractors of the artist who has REALLY got to be #1. But, don't give anything away - I'll wait to see what tomorrow brings. Certainly, there are a few possibilites left, but you can tell which direction I'm leaning.

8:53 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

You and I have spoken on this topic previously (although not going so far as to rank them in any order). Accordingly, I can see that you have successfully predicted my # 1. For anyone that hasn't yet, once I lay it all out there, I think it will become so incredibly obvious that I could not have gone in any other direction. (I've already got the post drafted...reading through the song titles alone is overwhelming!)

Your analysis of the Hendrix quote, as well as my motivation for posting it, is spot-on as well. Here's a similar quote from Neil Young: "First off, nobody cares if you know how to play scales. Nobody gives a shit if you have good technique or not. It's whether you have feelings that you want to express with music, that's what counts, really. When you are able to express yourself and feel good, then you know why you're playing. The technical aspect is absolute hogwash as far as I'm concerned. It bores me to tears. I can't play fast. I don't even know my scales. I know that most of the notes I play aren't where I play them. They're simply not there. So you can play any note you like. I think about it on another level, I don't care about that sort of shit. On the other hand, I appreciate really great guitarists, and I'm very impressed by those metal groups with their scale guitarists. When I see that, I go «Holy shit, that's really something». Satriani and Eddie Van Halen are guitar geniuses. They are incredible musicians, at an amazing level. But it does't really grab me. One note will do." -- Now, how f-cking brilliant is that?! I know it perfectly sums up my feelings about guitar!!!

9:19 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger rabidt said...

Like you say, the #1 is so incredibly obvious, that you really have no choice. They don't call him the "Boss" for nothin'.

Hope you had coffee in hand - was going for spit-take #2.

BTW, the Neil quote is brilliant! "When you are able to express yourself and feel good, then you know why you're playing." That's why we are listening to you, too, Neil. "I think of it on another level." Obviously, and thank God.

10:30 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

I think I've figured it out, as well. #1 has got to be Timbaland from 1999-2003. To wit: Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" in 1999, Missy's "Get Ur Freak On" and Aaliyah's "We Need a Resolution" in 2001, Missy's UNDER CONSTRUCTION and Justin Timberlake's JUSTIFIED in 2002; Bubba Sparxxx's DELIVERANCE and Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" in 2003.

Yup, it's gotta be Timbo.

2:33 PM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

From Wikipedia:
"Timbaland (born Timothy Z. Mosley in Norfolk, Virginia on March 10, 1971) is an African-American hip hop and R&B record producer and rapper, whose style of production and arranging was very influential in both genres of music during and after the mid-1990s. With partner Magoo, he is a member of hip-hop group Timbaland & Magoo.

Timbaland is similar to producers such as Phil Spector, Brian Eno, or Norman Whitfield in that he helped to redefine the sound of an entire genre of music with an immediately recognizable production style. The songs he produces feature unusual arrangements, sounds, and instrumentation, tied together by a trademark sense of rhythm. Like Spector and Whitfield, Timbaland's production sometimes overshadows the credited performer and becomes the actual 'star' of the song. With songwriters Steve 'Static' Garrett and childhood friend Missy Elliott, Timbaland has helped to create some of the most successful songs in modern pop music and urban music, including singles for Aaliyah, Ginuwine, SWV, Total, and 702."

Sounds impressive, indeed. Unfortunately, I already made my pick and have my post drafted, and I'm too lazy to research this guy (whom I have not really heard, to my knowledge) any further. Plus, I always hated Phil Spector, to whom he is compared in the article above.

Actually, that's an interesting point (to me, at least). In "rock" music, which I was not defining to necessarily include rap/hip-hop anyway (my narrow-mindedness, I suppose), I've always HATED situations where the producer dominated. "Over-production" is an ultimate sin in rock music, IMHO.

However, back when I did listen to rap (mid-'80s to early '90s), it WAS the best producers that were at least partners, if not dominant forces. I'm thinking along the lines of Rick Rubin, the Bomb Squad, and the Dust Brothers.

Anyway, sorry to disappoint. But, I think you'll grudgingly accept my choice, once you read the post...

2:57 PM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger Nils Arne said...

Mmmmm Neil Young, great choice. Here's some more songs he wrote between 69-75 that you did not include:

Long May You Run
Captain Kennedy
Lotta Love
Human Highway
Country Home
Ride My Llama
White Line
Sedan Delivery
You And Me
Pushed It Over the End
Love Art Blues
Born to Run
Give Me Strength

If these songs above are taken into consideration Neil is No. 1 on my list.
Here's some other songs that think might have been written in 1975 but most of them probably are from 1976:

Piece of Mind
Will to Love
Too Far Gone
Hold Back the Tears
Look Out For My Love

6:54 AM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger thrasher said...


It seems like this is the post where you tie it all together and it would nice if you linked all your reviews from this post.


5:41 PM, March 25, 2006  
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