AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #311: NEIL YOUNG (2)

A GUEST POSTING by WALTER

JC writes…..

As the opening line of the piece indicates, this should have appeared weeks ago.  It got lost somewhere along the line, but thankfully, after a quick exchange of emails between Glasgow and Stuttgart, it was all sorted out.  Here’s Walter, the sage of the consistently excellent and very diverse, A Few Good Times In My Life.

Hi Jim

Inspired by the post of Adam a few days ago and your post last week I decided to realize another ICA of Neil Young over the weekend. And I have to say that it was a difficult work. Not only to select ten songs from an over 40 years old career, it was also a hard work not to name the same songs you did. But finally it should be my ICA and I think it is legitimate to name some songs of your choice in my selection. On the other hand, I thought about to select songs from his pre-solo career with Buffalo Springfield or CSN&Y. But finally I decided to take the songs from the days of his early recordings in the late 60’s to his 1990 classic Ragged Glory. I think I don’t have to say much about Mr. Young so let’s start:

1. Powderfinger (from Rust Never Sleeps, 1979)

The first song on the electric side of Rust Never Sleeps shows how to combine a story about the death of a young Indian with his electric guitar. Neil recorded this song a few years previous as a solo version and handed it to Ronnie Van Zant, but he couldn’t record it because he died in an airplane crash in 1977. The lyrics at the end of the song will never be forgotten:

Just think of me as one you never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love; I know I’ll miss her

2. Cinnamon Girl (from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1969)

On his second album, he left the folk road and chose that heavy sound he got famous for. This song has one of those classic riffs many other artists would die for. But it was not only the sound that makes this song so special, it was also the arrangement of Neil Young’s and Danny Whitten‘s vocals that I could name nearly perfect.

3. Sugar Mountain (from Live at Carnegie Hall, 1970)

Originally released as flip-side of Cinnamon Girl and The Loner, it is one of those songs he recorded many times during his history. I like this version because it shows Neil while he was obviously in good health and in a good mood making conversations with the audience and starting the song solo a second time.

4. Winterlong (from Decade a sampler of his early years)

This song is a rarity and as far as I know never released on one of his albums before, and showing me that many of his unreleased songs from this decade were better that many of regular released songs by other artists. Black Francis once said about Winterlong

“I thought about it a lot. There’s some kind of commitment to trying to find the ultimate performance of it. I certainly love the arrangement of the song. There’s not really a chorus in the song, but it sounds like a really chorus-y song. It has very classic/traditional kind of chord shapes in it, like ’50s rock, but it has a much more nuanced arrangement than you would think, kind of like a Roy Orbison song or something like that.”

5. Tonight’s The Night (from Tonight’s The Night, 1973)

Written after the deaths of Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, he wrote a song while he struggled about their deaths from drug overdoses. The death of the companions certainly contributed to Young’s publication of the dark, depressed masterpieces in the following years.

6. Cortez The Killer (from Zuma, 1975)

This song is the highlight of this album and probably one of the best live songs of all times, and describes the brutality of Hernán Cortez, the Spanish conqueror of the Aztec Empire. Neil Young shows his very own sight of the history and how Cortez destroyed a high class culture because the Aztecs were peaceful and representing a sort of utopian non-violent society. And this is another great song about peace and love.

7. Too Far Gone (from Freedom, 1993)

Just another great song about a lost love, representing the other side of him. It is not easy to put great feelings in a few verses. And this one is simply superb.

8. Revolution Blues (from On The Beach, 1974)

A song with references to Charles Manson and his family who met Young in the days when he also lived in Topanga Canyon. You can discuss if it is necessary to write a song inspired by Manson or not, but probably one reason might be because it was a depressive day Neil had to go through. Anyway, assisted by The Band’s rhythm section and David Crosby on guitar he made one of his greatest songs ever.

9. Fuckin’ Up (from Ragged Glory)

With this album, he returned into the sound he explored in the days of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Zuma. It was an album I didn’t expected from him, and he shows (especially in this song) that he wasn’t to old to show some grunge and garage bands how to play guitar dominated music.

10. My My, Hey Hey / Out Of The Blue (from Rust Never Sleeps, 1979)

For me the better version than the electric one Into The Black and perfect to finish this ICA. A lot of things I like is in this song. And the lyrics are epic.

The king is gone but he’s not forgotten
Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?
It’s better to burn out ’cause rust never sleeps
The king is gone but he’s not forgotten.

Walter

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #303: NEIL YOUNG

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
Ambulance Blues
Sad Movies
A Man Needs a Maid
Try
Harvest
After the Gold Rush
Mellow My Mind
Love Art Blues
Don’t Let It Bring You Down
Heart of Gold
Old Man

Set 2 (Full Band Electric):

Mr. Soul
Dirty Old Man
Spirit Road
Down by the River
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
Too Far Gone
Oh Lonesome Me
The Believer
Powderfinger
No Hidden Path

Encore:

Fuckin’ Up
Cinnamon Girl

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…..

SIDE A

1. From Hank To Hendrix (Live, Edinburgh 3 March 2008)

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.

2. Heart Of Gold

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.

3. Fuckin’ Up (live)

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.

5. Oh, Lonesome Me

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.

SIDE B

1. A Man Needs A Maid

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.

2. Down By The River

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.

3. Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)

‘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.

4. After The Gold Rush

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.

5. Cinnamon Girl (Live, Edinburgh 3 March 2008)

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?

JC

 

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

R-442025-1113995818.jpg
Mercury Rev
were, for quite a long time throughout the 90s, one of those bands who got a fair bit of critical acclaim in the music papers and magazines but who were often quite difficult to track down on radio. They were, to all intent and purposes, the perfect definition of a cult band.

Between 1991 and 1997, they churned out 3 LPs and 9 EPs/singles, none of which sold all that well in the UK. Back home in the USofA, they were even more unheralded, with the soft and high-pitched vocal style of Jonathan Donahue often being cited as the thing that most held them back at a time when rock with a slightly harder edge was in vogue.

But in 1998, the release of the LP Deserter’s Songs very briefly put the band firmly in the spotlight. It was a record seemingly not all that different in sound, mood and tone from 1995 work See You On The Other Side, but it just seemed to capture the hearts and minds of many music fans, including the staff at the NME who made it #1 LP of 1998.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the band until then but when I finally did it wasn’t down to the things being written about them. Instead, it was the power of television…..

This was the time when I first got satellite TV, and one of its initial attractions was the ability to surf across the music channels trying to find new and edgy music or videos that I would like, and for a while a lovely promo for a song called Goddess On A Hiway was on heavy rotation.

Come Xmas 1998, and it was the usual requests from friends and relatives about what was on my list to Santa in terms of music and books, and given the critical acclaim afforded to the album, I did add Deserter’s Songs and it subsequently was wrapped in glittery paper come 25th December.

It was, and remains, an LP that I don’t quite get what all the fuss was about, albeit it was pleasant enough in a non-offensive way. My favourite track on it was subsequently released as a single in January 1999 and in reaching #26, became the band’s first bona fide hit:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp

What is most interesting however from the CD single that I picked up for 99p a few weeks later after it had disappeared out of the charts is that the band and/or their label persuaded The Chemical Brothers to make a remix of the song which is near unrecognisable :-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp (Chemical Brothers remix)

The CD single also contained a really rootsy track which was in fact a live version of a Neil Young song that had originally been recorded for an XFM session in November 1998:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Vampire Blues (live)

Mercury Rev, The Chemical Brothers and Neil Young.  Three acts that you wouldn’t expect in one blog post far less on a CD single in the bargain bin.