There’s been a few times when I’ve started pulling together some thoughts for an ICA only to come to a grinding halt on the basis that I don’t have anything like enough knowledge, allied to the fact I don’t actually own enough of a back catalogue to do it justice.
Neil Young is probably just about the best example of this. I don’t own many of his albums, but I do know a fair number of his songs from being in the company of many people over the years who are devotees. I really do like a lot of his material, and was particularly blown away back in the early 90s by his MTV Unplugged performance and subsequent album. He was always on the list of ‘must go see him before it gets too late’ and, as it turned out, I got lucky in March 2008 when he played a show at the Edinburgh Playhouse. The only downside was that he played such a long set (breaking every curfew imaginable) that I missed the final two songs of the second set, as well as the encore, having to race and catch the final train of the evening back to Glasgow at 11.30pm. Here’s the set list from a memorable evening:-
Set 1 (Solo Acoustic):
From Hank to Hendrix
A Man Needs a Maid
After the Gold Rush
Mellow My Mind
Love Art Blues
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
Heart of Gold
Set 2 (Full Band Electric):
Dirty Old Man
Down by the River
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
Too Far Gone
Oh Lonesome Me
No Hidden Path
Swiss Adam, recently offered up this very fine post on Neil Young in which he speculated how he could narrow things down to just ten songs for an ICA. His initial list had 24 songs on it…..which only goes to demonstrate how hard a task it is. What it did do, however, was prompt me into action, but to make it as easy as possible for me, I’ve decided it will be an ICA solely consisting of songs aired that night in Edinburgh, but in doing so, I know that this is very much an ICA with room for improvement…..
Yup, I’ve got a bootleg of the Edinburgh gig. Spread over two CDs and running to 160 minutes all told. The original version is on the 1992 album Harvest Moon, and while I’ll never really claim this is one of his ten greatest or best songs, it’ll always be important as being the first song I ever heard him sing when I was in the audience.
I spent a lot of time in the Student Union of Strathclyde University between September 1981 and May 1985. The Games Hall on the first floor had a few full-sized snooker tables, some pool tables and arcade games, all slightly cheaper than their equivalent elsewhere in the city centre. It also had a jukebox that sounded as if hadn’t been updated in years, mainly as it was the domain of the few hippies still hanging around with that distinct smell of weed and patchouli oil. Neil Young always seemed to be getting played, particularly this song, which I also recall as being a huge favourite of buskers going back to when I was a kid. From the 1972 album, Harvest.
This ICA has just been a wee too quiet thus far, hasn’t it?
Ragged Glory, released in 1990 was when Neil Young and Crazy Horse went back to the heavy rock sound they had last toyed with in the mid 70s. The emergence of grunge owed a big debt to Neil Young, a fact acknowledged throughout the remainder of the decade by Pearl Jam, both in terms of them playing live with him and covering Fuckin’ Up on many an occasion. This version is from the 1991 live album, Weld.
4. Mr Soul
If I wasn’t restricting myself to the songs aired in Edinburgh, then it’s almost certain that in compiling the ICA, I’d have put the Buffalo Springfield era to one side. From the 1966 album Buffalo Springfield Again, it’s been a staple of the live sets over the years, but with Young opting to adopt different styles and offer different interpretations of one of his best-loved songs.
Another that I became familiar with as I attempted, without success, to pot more than three balls in a row on the snooker table in the student union. I had absolutely no idea that it was a cover version, as it just sounded so in tune with the other songs on After The Gold Rush, released in 1970. The bootleg from the Edinburgh gig reveals that this was one of the best received songs of the entire evening.
Another from the album Harvest, the biggest selling album in the USA in 1972 despite it being given a less than favourable review by the critics at the time of its release, perhaps influenced by the fact that a couple of songs made use of the London Symphony Orchestra to much surprise, and dare I say it, horror. This particular love song was the one which attracted much of the flak, especially as it had a simple arrangement when played live, with just Young and his piano, but I think it’s fair to say it has stood the test of time.
Nine minute long tracks aren’t usually my bag, especially when there’s a bit of noodling involved. This is very much an example of a song I’d have shunned for many years, as it took me a ridiculously long time to become appreciative of any sort of country rock and its variants. I wouldn’t have heard this until 2005 or thereabouts when I picked up a cheap copy of the 2xCD compilation Decades, described on the sleeve as ‘The Very Best of Neil Young 1966-1976 that covers not just the solo work and the Crazy Horse albums, but also some Buffalo Springfield as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Originally released on the 1969 album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, recorded with Crazy Horse.
‘It’s better to burn out than fade away’, a line made (in)famous for being part of Kurt Cobain‘s suicide note, originally penned by Neil Young in the late 70s as part of the lyric to the closing track on Rust Never Sleeps, a part live, part studio album released in 1979. This was the first album that I became familiar with, thanks to a tape of it being part of the rotation in the 5th Year school common room, and while it didn’t fully appeal to my post punk/new wave sensibilities, it didn’t offend them. Indeed, I was surprised to learn that Neil Young was a rocker as I had assumed, on the basis of the songs of his that were most played on the radio (ie, Heart of Gold), that he was a folkie/hippy.
This, above all else, is the song I most associate with the Student Union Games Hall. The line about getting high is the one which stuck most in my head back in those days, that and the ending seeming to be something out of a sci-fi movie soundtrack. It didn’t occur to me that I was listening to a plea for the planet, one that probably resonates even more than 50 years after it was written.
The ICA started with the first song from that Edinburgh show I was lucky enough to get good seats for – about 12 rows back, centre-left in the stalls; the photo at the top is not my actual ticket, but a photo of one I found on t’internet. I thought it would be a nice touch to close it off with the final song in the encore….not that I heard it as my train was probably a good 20 minutes out of the city, racing through the darkness back to Glasgow. This version, including the faded-out applause, is just under six minutes in length, while the original, shorter take can be found on the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere mentioned above.
So, there you have it. A lazy stab at a Neil Young ICA as it would have been too difficult to cut his 55-year career down into his ten best or most significant songs. Anyone out there fancy the challenge?