KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

NEIL YOUNG Part 3 – Blues, Death And Hurricanes

Neil Young Photo (circa 1973)After the huge success of his Harvest LP and the “Heart Of Gold” single, both of which reached #1 on the US Pop charts, Neil Young should have been basking in the glow of superstardom. Instead, recoiling from the notoriety and frustrated by the drug addictions that claimed the lives of his Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten and one of his roadies, he worked through these various emotions on a series of albums that would later earn the nickname “The Ditch Trilogy.” This referred to a comment he made in the liner notes for his 1977 Decade compilation about being in the middle of the road after Harvest, and how “traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.” The first release in this so-called trilogy was Time Fades Away, a live album that’s never been officially released on CD. Since I never found a copy of the vinyl LP, it’s one of only a few Neil Young albums I won’t be able to revisit in this series. Hopefully I’ll stumble on a copy one day.

The next “ditch” album, On The Beach (1974), was actually recorded after its follow-up but released first. Over the years it’s earned a reputation as a dark, moody masterpiece, Neil Young - On The Beachand after playing it a number of times this past week I have to agree with that appraisal. Musically it’s a very enjoyable listen, but with the word “blues” included in three out of eight song titles and lyrics that bemoan the end of ‘60s idealism, the subject matter probably scared off a lot of his fair weather fans. Album opener “Walk On” has a raw, almost unmastered sound that compliments the jazzy rhythm and raucous guitar riff. I love the great walking groove and the way the guitar weaves in & out of the other instruments, as well as the slowdown during the pre-chorus (“Ooh baby that’s hard to change”). “See The Sky About To Rain” is a lovely, tender ballad with vibrato-laden organ and a melancholy country feel. The Band’s Levon Helm adds his inimitable drumming style, notably at “Signals curling on an open plain, rollin’ down the track again…” The lyrics may be downcast, but musically & vocally he’s attempting to release the negativity. “Revolution Blues” once again features Helm on drums with his Band-mate Rick Danko on bass. It’s a driving tune that’s equal parts swampy & funky, with an ominous undertone. Who is he railing against with lyrics like, “I hope you get the connection, ‘cause I can’t take the rejection, I won’t deceive you, I just don’t believe you”? This song also includes a stellar yet understated guitar solo.

[Neil Young – “Revolution Blues”]

“For The Turnstiles” is a musical duet between Neil on dobro and Ben Keith on banjo (who also adds nice tight harmonies). Neil’s vocals are a bit ragged, but most likely that was intentional to convey lyrics like, “You can really learn a lot that way, it will change you in the middle of the day. Though your confidence may be shattered, it doesn’t matter.” “Vampire Blues” is a true blues tune, both musically as well as structurally (where a line is repeated twice at the start of each verse). It’s clearly a commentary on the oil industry (“Well I’m a vampire, babe, sell you twenty barrels worth”) with stinging & emotive guitar playing. It also includes great lines like, “Good times are comin’ but they sure are comin’ slow.”

Neil Young - On The Beach (Gatefold Sleeve)

“On The Beach” is a moody, super slow song with a dark intensity. Over the course of 7 minutes, he’s working through depression with harrowing lines like, “Though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away.” It’s bleak, emotive & powerful, and his single-note-at-a-time guitar solo sounds like BB King on downers. “Motion Pictures (For Carrie)” is the most minor song here, dedicated to his then-girlfriend, actress Carrie Snodgress. It’s a very pretty acoustic guitar song, but it gets lost among the towering tracks that bookend it. Album closer “Ambulance Blues” is the longest song at 9 minutes. It’s acoustic folk with great finger-plucked guitar, and the moody fiddle might have influenced Bob Dylan on his Desire album in 1976. Dylan’s influence on Neil can be heard as well, most notably in his harmonica playing. It features great lines like, “An ambulance can only go so fast, it’s easy to get buried in the past when you try to make a good thing last,” and I think the final verse (“I never knew a man could tell so many lies”) was aimed at then-President Richard Nixon. There may be no radio staples to be found on this album, but it delivers the goods and improves with each successive listen. There’s a reason why every song was worth a mention, while most albums have at least some forgettable filler. This is one of those records that I expect to continue climbing up my list of favorite Neil Young albums over the years.

The final “ditch” album, Tonight’s The Night (1975), was actually recorded two years Neil Young - Tonight's The Nightbefore its release but was held back, probably due to the mostly uncommercial music and subject matter. Like its predecessor, this album has a great reputation among fans & critics, and has continued to grow in stature as the years pass. It’s not as dark and dreary as its reputation might have you believe, but it’s also not always easy listening. “Tonight’s The Night,” which appears in two versions at the start & end of the album, is a haunting meditation on drug addiction and the pain it causes to the addicts and everyone around them. I prefer the first version, which is stark and haunting, with a memorable descending bass line and high harmonies (provided by Ben Keith and Ralph Molina). Dedicated to Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry (the aforementioned roadie who gets name-checked in the song), Neil sounds heartbroken when he sings, “People let me tell you it sent a chill up and down my spine, when I picked up the telephone and heard that he’s died…out on the mainline.” Things pick up a bit on “Speakin’ Out,” a midtempo blues with Neil on piano and Nils Lofgren providing some biting lead guitar (including a solo where Neil rightfully shouts out his name). The lyrics are seemingly simple, but I couldn’t wrap my head around “You’re holding my baby and I’m holding you” or “I’ll be watching my TV and it’ll be watching you.” “Roll Another Number (For The Road)” is a weepy country ballad that conveys the feeling of being at a bar for last call after a long night of drinking. Keith delivers a straight-up country steel guitar solo while Lofgren plays some nice barrelhouse piano. Neil seems to be putting his superstar CSNY days behind him (“I’m not going back to Woodstock for a while”).

“Albuquerque” has a slow, loping rhythm with a lighter touch than the typical Crazy Horse performance (the two surviving band members play throughout the album along with other musicians, so it’s not strictly a Crazy Horse record). I like the balance between the aggressive electric and high-pitched steel guitars. Neil obviously is trying to get away from it all (“I’ll find somewhere where they don’t care who I am”). At just over 2 minutes, “New Mama” is the shortest song, but this simple & upbeat tune with Neil on guitar & vibes and Lofgren on piano (with some tight CSNY-worthy harmonies) gives the feeling of clouds lifting after a bad storm. The a capella chorus at the end is simply gorgeous. “Tired Eyes” is another harrowing song that’s also somehow uplifting. I love how Neil goes from speaking to singing the line “Please take my advice” followed by “Open up the tired eyes.” I think Neil Young Photo (live, circa 1975)The Rolling Stones had this song on their record player when they were writing “Far Away Eyes” a couple of years later.

The songs I’ve already mentioned were the highlights for me, but there’s really not a bad song on the album, and a couple of others deserve a brief mention. “World On A String” has a bit of a bounce to it, as he lets us know that stardom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (“No, the world on a string doesn’t mean a thing, it’s only real in the way that I feel from day to day”). A similar theme pops up in “Borrowed Tune,” with only Neil on piano and harmonica, singing lines like “I’m climbin’ this ladder, my head in the clouds. I hope that it matters, I’m havin’ my doubts.” “Come One Baby Let’s Go Down” was recorded live with Danny Whitten (who co-wrote it with Neil) on vocals. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it; it’s a bouncy rocker with a swinging groove, but featuring such a strong performance from Whitten here was an important statement of what was lost when he died. This record definitely isn’t for everyone, and you really need to be in a particular mood to fully enjoy it, but when that mood strikes it feels like the best thing he’s ever recorded.

With Zuma (1975), Neil seemed to be emerging from his world-weary shell, although the theme of post-breakup blues permeates a number of the songs as his relationship with Neil Young - ZumaCarrie Snodgress had recently ended. This is the first album to feature the revamped lineup of Crazy Horse, which now included rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro. “Don’t Cry No Tears” is a great album opener: a bouncy, Faces-esque melodic country-rock song that introduces the breakup theme as he imagines her with another man (“There’s nothing I can say to make him go away”). Although I had probably heard Neil’s original first, this song initially made an impression on me via a cover version by Scottish band Del Amitri (one of my favorite artists of the last 20 years) on one of their b-sides in the ‘90s. It’s a faithful rendition that’s worth checking out. “Danger Bird” is slow as molasses, and his voice in the chorus sounds like it’s nearly beyond his range. I love the lead guitar figure after the verse (“There you are and here I am”) that moves into the first of two killer guitar solos, as well as the alternating vocals between Neil and the Crazy Horse guys. “Pardon My Heart” features some nice guitar work, alternating between strumming, fingerpicking & an atmospheric lead. There are cool vocals by Ralph Molina & Billy Talbot (“You brought it all on”) as Neil continues to get over the breakup (“It’s a sad communication with little reason to believe, when one isn’t giving and one pretends to receive”).

The centerpiece of the album, and one of the cornerstones of his entire recorded output, is “Cortez The Killer,” a historical song about a 16th century Spanish conquistador who conquered Mexico, which also references Mexican emperor Montezuma (presumably an inspiration for the album title). This is a true epic with perfect dynamics that moves along at a glacial pace, and features incredible guitar solos from Neil. The restraint shown by Crazy Horse is incredible, as the space between notes is just as valuable as the notes themselves. Every musician should play this song at least once to learn the meaning of the phrase “less is more.”

Neil Young Photo (circa 1975)The remainder of the album contains some very enjoyable songs. “Lookin’ For A Love” is a peppy country-ish tune with hints of The Eagles, especially in the chorus (“Lookin’ for a love that’s right for me, I don’t know how long it’s going to be”). “Barstool Blues” has a chiming, Byrds-like sound with fuzzy guitar and deep bass added to the mix. I love his super-straining vocals at “Burn off all the fog and let the sun through to the snow.” The album ends with “Through My Sails,” a simple moody & acoustic Crosby Stills Nash & Young song that features typically great harmonies. Sequenced immediately after “Cortez…” it’s like a peaceful Sunday morning following a crazy Saturday night. Had Zuma merely consisted of “Cortez…” and a bunch of forgettable numbers it would still be an essential purchase, but there are enough excellent songs to make this a great addition to his catalog, even if it doesn’t have the cohesiveness & consistency of the previous two albums.

His next album, American Stars ‘N Bars (1977), is a schizophrenic hodgepodge that includes songs recorded by several different lineups at four sessions between 1974 & 1977. Neil Young - American Stars 'N BarsThe members of Crazy Horse feature prominently, often augmented by other musicians & singers, most notably Linda Ronstadt and 25-year-old newcomer Nicolette Larson (who would have a huge hit with Neil’s “Lotta Love” a year later). “The Old Country Waltz” is exactly as the title suggests. No surprises there, but it’s still an enjoyably sad song (“Well I loved and I lost and I cried, the day that the two of us died”). “Saddle Up The Palomino” combines country & celtic together in a blend that recalls Fairport Convention, especially the guitar riff during the instrumental breaks. “Hey Babe” is a nice upbeat country tune that finds him actually sounding optimistic (“Let’s try to make this last”). There’s a great subtle hook at “Oh, oh, can you see my love shining for you” with those wonderful female vocals. Ronstadt & Larson are also featured in “Hold Back The Tears” with a big memorable chorus (“Hold back the tears that you’ve been cryin’, push off the fears when they come around…just around the corner may be waiting your true love”). “Bite The Bullet” is more ramshackle than the previous songs, which sets it apart. I love those female vocals as they shout out the title after each line of the verse, as well as the silly but fun lyrics (“Carolina queen, she’s like a walking love machine”). It’s nice to hear him loosening up and having a blast.

[Neil Young – “Bite The Bullet”]

“Star Of Bethlehem” is noteworthy as a duet with Emmylou Harris. It wasn’t my favorite song here, but I like the muted production and Neil’s harmonica solo. “Will To Love” is a wonderful new discovery for me. Neil plays and sings everything, so it comes across more as a home demo than a fully-produced track, but that works to its advantage.  His tight Neil Young Photo (circa 1977)multi-tracked vocals, which are tender & soft, create a haunting atmosphere. There are interesting textures throughout, between what sounds like leg smacking, an organ that replicates a vibraphone and the gently picked & tapped acoustic guitar. The lyrics are enigmatic (“I can be like a fire in the night, always warm and giving off light, but there comes a time when I shine too bright”), and various underwater references which equate him with a fish swimming in a sea of love. At over 7 minutes it might be too long for some listeners, but I got hooked (no pun intended). The most famous track from this album is “Like A Hurricane,” a classic Crazy Horse blaring rock song that reminds me of Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” (it must be those soaring guitars). The album ends with a simple, fun ditty: “Homegrown.” At first it comes across as a throwaway song, but the catchy vocals, biting guitars and the stomping blues feel in the last line of each verse won me over. I would consider American Stars ‘N Bars to be at the same level as Zuma, each with one all-time great epic and several other excellent songs.

The most impressive thing about this batch of albums is that there’s really no filler to be found. Even the lesser tracks are all worth hearing and there’s nothing I would skip when revisiting them in the future. It also proved to me that, even though Crazy Horse has a reputation for being this monolithic, sludgy behemoth (which is certainly one side of their personality), they’re also capable of delivering subtle accompaniment to Neil’s most intimate & heartbreaking songs. Throughout this past week I’ve found myself humming more than a dozen of these songs hours after I had played the CDs. It’s always a good sign when songs stick with you and you’re not eager to get them out of your head. I hope I’ll be that lucky with the next set of albums, which I’ll start listening to tomorrow.

81 comments on “NEIL YOUNG Part 3 – Blues, Death And Hurricanes

  1. mikeladano
    February 1, 2013

    Again, I’m learning here! Never heard of that live album (Neil, is this stuff ever going to see a CD release?) and really knew nothing about this period aside from Tonight’s the Night. Had no idea that Stars and Bars was recorded so sporadically. Thanks for the schooling!

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    • I got schooled just as much as you on this. I don’t think there will be many more non-CD surprises in his catalog after this, but who knows what I’ll uncover over the next couple of months.

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      • mikeladano
        February 1, 2013

        I look forward to learning more. This is a fun series.

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      • Thanks Mike. Believe it or not, I’m learning just as much as you, just a few days earlier. I’ve only vaguely known most of these albums in the past.

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      • mikeladano
        February 1, 2013

        And you’re re-discovering stuff from your own library correct?

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      • Yep, that’s the whole basis of my blog. With many thousands of CDs sitting on the shelves, a lot of them only got played once or twice and then filed away. It was finally time to get to know them, and doing that one artist at a time seemed like a good approach. Eventually I might turn my attention to artists I know really well (Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rush, The Who, The Beatles, etc), but it’s more fun for me to learn about the lesser-played artists.

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      • mikeladano
        February 1, 2013

        Yes, I can see that point. Plus, you could always leave Rush to me 😉 I have a pretty decent collection!

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      • We probably have similar Rush collections. I own every officially released studio & live album, and just about all of their live DVDs. I’m guessing you have some alternate pressings, singles, etc., right?

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      • mikeladano
        February 1, 2013

        Singles, bootlegs, stuff like that. Yup! Solo projects too, in fact I’m reviewing Geddy’s in about two weeks.

        But that’s neither here nor there, regarding Neil, I am enjoying this series immensely. Do you have an idea of how many parts this will be?

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      • I’m guessing my Neil Young series will probably take about a dozen posts to complete.

        As for Rush, I may not have any bootlegs (unless you count the semi-official ’74 live CD from a radio broadcast), but I do own Geddy’s solo album, Alex’s “Victor” CD, and Neil’s “Burnin’ For Buddy” CDs (as a drummer I needed to own those). My prize Rush possessions, though, are not music. I have a couple pairs of “Burnin’ For Buddy” drumsticks, a hardbound coffee table book with full-size replicas of every Rush tour program(me), and the big one: a numbered lithograph of the “Feedback” album cover, signed by Hugh Syme and all three band members. Needless to say I got that professionally framed and it has a prominent place on the wall of my music room.

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      • mikeladano
        February 1, 2013

        Wow, you do have some treasures indeed! I like that coffee table book concept.

        I have Neil’s books as well. That 1974 live thing, is that the recent Rush ABC Live thing that was released? I bought that, and I absolutely love that song Garden Road.

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      • I never got Neil’s books since I barely have time to proof-read my own posts and read my monthly music magazines. But if I ever retire and have more free time, those would be at the top of my reading list.

        Yes, I was referring to that ABC Live album. I only heard it twice so far and don’t remember that particular song, but will check it out again soon.

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      • mikeladano
        February 1, 2013

        I first heard Garden Road during the Rush movie. I thought, “What the hell is that song? It rocks, it has lots of Geddy screams, it grooves!” When I saw that ABC Live thing, I had to get it. First of all I’m a collector and second of all, it had Garden Road on it.

        So Rich maybe one day you SHOULD revisit your Rush, just for these hidden gems like that song.

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      • There are too many other under-played artists in my collection that I want to get to first. Plus, there are very few hidden gems for me in the Rush catalog. For the most part I’ll either be listening to songs I know extremely well or getting reacquainted with songs I’m relatively familiar with. I don’t think I would get as much out of it as I will with those other artists. I’d like to read your thoughts on their catalog, though, so hopefully you’ll tackle it sooner or later.

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      • mikeladano
        February 1, 2013

        If I don’t do an entire series on Rush, I definitely will continue to just review things here and there. With Rush, I tend to listen to most of their albums regularly.

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    • Phillip Helbig
      February 1, 2013

      “a hardbound coffee table book with full-size replicas of every Rush tour program(me)”

      So do I. I bought it on the Snakes and Arrows tour at the concert in Mannheim. Since I also bought the Time Machine programme, I have them all. I also have a Signals programme and a Rush 30 programme. I saw them twice on the Signals tour (hadn’t known about them before that), on two consecutive nights, in 1983 I guess, then not again until 2004 and the Rush 30 (I can be glimpsed briefly on the DVD, shot in Frankfurt—I was extremely ill but decided to go to the concert anyway and went into the hospital for a month or so a couple of days later). Since then, I’ve seen them on the Snakes and Arrows tour and theTime Machine tour (also in Frankfurt). In June, I have a ticket for a concert in Cologne, and a week later Iron Maiden in Frankfurt (where they have added a second concert a day later).

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      • Phillip, I seem to remember you mentioning that Rush story once before, but it’s nice to hear it again. Glad you’ve gotten to see them so often. My first Rush show was on the Moving Pictures tour, and then again on the Counterparts tour. Not sure why I haven’t seen them more often, but since they seem to release a live DVD from nearly every tour over the last 10 years, I feel like I’ve experienced their current live shows without having to shell out the money. Would like to catch the current tour, though, since I absolutely love the latest album.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        February 1, 2013

        Where did you get your book of programmes?

        At the Mannheim concert, I also bought all of Peart’s books. As (un)luck would have it, a few months later I was in the hospital again for several weeks and read them (and several other books, and found time to watch music DVDs, which I normally can’t find, though I did buy the special edition (2 CD and 2 DVD) of Celebration Day a couple of days ago).

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      • Sorry to hear about that stay in the hospital, but I’m glad you were able to make some good use of the time there. Hopefully that’ll be the last time, though.

        As for that Rush book of tour programs, I was fortunate to get a free copy from a friend who used to work with me at Atlantic Records. It was a pleasant surprise when I met him at a bar one night and he brought it for me. I also like how the Rush “Replay x 3” DVD set includes smaller reproductions of the tour programs for those three tours. That was a nice touch.

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  2. Lewis Johnston
    February 1, 2013

    This is a great summary of the darkest part of Young’s career, even the title says it all. Time Fades Away certainly gives an indication of what was to come, it features some of the rawest live recordings committed to tape. He certainly was on the edge there, sounding really ragged and edgy. The album featured “The Stray Gators” who backed him in “Harvest”. Quite a departure in style and substance from his biggest hit. It was a conscious decision to reject commercialism. I imagine the record company was keen on a follow up to “Harvest”, they eventually got that in 1992!

    On The Beach was a real test for the Audience and I remember when I first heard it, it was quite a hard slog. Like all good but difficult records it gets under your skin with repeated listens. He certainly was dealing with a lot of depression through these songs, for me one of the central themes of this album is the failure of the “Counterculture” to change the world. This is particularly shown in “Revolution Blues” another lyric that sums this up is “Capsized in excess, if you know what I mean” from his 1986 album “Landing On Water”. On The Beach has certainly grown in status over the years. If Dylan was to make a Neil Young album, I think this would be it. Tonight’s The Night as you point out was recorded earlier than the release date (1975). This is one of the essential albums to have in any collection. It is a fantastic album, very dark and raw and uncompromising but that is what makes it so great. A wonderful elegy for Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. There is a lot of fantastic music on that album, it is rare for an artist to bare their soul so much. Thanks to the “Ditch Trilogy” the audience gets three chances to hear that. Personally I think this is one of the most satisfying periods of Young’s career, even if it did take me a few listens to fully appreciate it for what it represents.

    With the release of “Zuma” and the reunion with “Crazy Horse” it was a signal that things were getting better in the world of Neil Young. Indeed there was the usual sad songs about loneliness etc but they were much more sugar coated. Indeed “Don’t Cry No Tears” is one of the most poppiest songs that Young has ever recorded, one I do find most enjoyable I must admit. Cortez The Killer you correctly regard as the centrepiece of the album. That song is an absolute monster and it most certainly is up there as one of the greatest songs he has ever written, he better play that when I see him in June with the Horse. I am sure he will. Zuma was Young flexing his muscles after a sort of hibernation and he certainly worked out on that album, “Danger Bird” was another good workout for him and the Horse, as I recall Lou Reed was very taken with that song and the guitar work on it. The following album “American Stars And Bars” is a bit of a strange beast indeed culled from several recording sessions. Despite that it is a satisfying listen, a lot of the music on it I describe as “Heavy Country” to those who have not heard it. It did give the listener another one of his great guitar songs in the form of “Like A Hurricane” another monster of a song that is a concert staple, nothing wrong with that either. Even Neil Young knows he has to keep some songs in the setlist. Also the guitar work shows the influence that Hank Marviin of the Shadows has had on his playing something he has said a lot. I am glad you gave “Will To Love” some attention, it often gets lost to listeners due to the catchier songs on the rest of the album.

    This part has been a great read and I am looking forward very much to the next instalment.

    All The Best.

    Lewis.

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    • Lewis, thanks so much for your insightful comment. It’s nice to see that we’re in agreement on most of the music from this era of his career. I hope to get a copy of Time Fades Away one day so I can fully appreciate the Ditch Trilogy (a phrase I was unaware of until you mentioned it last week, so thanks for that as well). I’ll know for sure next week, but wasn’t Comes A Time considered a follow-up to the style of Harvest? Not sure if it had the same commercial success, but he did return to the rootsy, country- and folk-influenced style of that earlier record.

      Didn’t know about Neil’s admiration for Hank Marvin. I’m only vaguely familiar with his music so I can’t really comment, but it’s nice to know about that connection. I’ll keep it in mind when I check out Marvin’s music in the future.

      “Will To Love” was certainly one of the key tracks in this batch of albums, and I may have even undersold how much I loved this song when I wrote about it. I considered including an audio clip in this post, but after “Tonight’s The Night” and “Cortez…” I felt like a more upbeat song was needed, especially for anyone reading about these albums for the first time. They’re not all as downbeat & depressing as their reputations would have us believe.

      I’m really glad you enjoyed this post. I certainly had a great time getting to know all of this wonderful music, including a number of brand new favorites that I had completely overlooked in the past. Looking forward to discussing the next phase of his career soon.

      Best wishes….
      Rich

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      • Lewis Johnston
        February 2, 2013

        I have no doubt that Reprise were delighted when Young submitted “Comes A Time” to them for their consideration. As I recall it sold pretty well. Harvest Moon must have been a dream for Reprise though, the title suggests he is revisiting his most successful period. Also the fact the albums are released 20 years apart would suggest it is kind of a sequel to Harvest.

        All The Best.

        Lewis.

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      • Lewis, that’s a good point about Harvest Moon being even more of a follow-up to Harvest just based on the title. I remember reading lots of positive reviews of that album at the time simply based on the comparison with the original. Harvest Moon is one of the few Neil albums I’ve played a lot since it was released, but it’s been at least 8-10 years since I listened to it so I’m looking forward to hearing it again in a few weeks.
        Best wishes,
        Rich

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  3. Phillip Helbig
    February 1, 2013

    “Neil’s vocals are a bit ragged”

    Aren’t they always a bit ragged?

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    • That’s funny, Phillip. Neil may not have the prettiest voice, but he does have a distinct falsetto and his more “normal” voice complements his songs perfectly. In this case he sounded like he was reaching for notes he was never going to hit, or perhaps he was hitting the bottle too much during recording.

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  4. Heavy Metal Overload
    February 2, 2013

    So glad you picked Cortez the Killer! That is one tune of his that I really enjoy although my first experience of it was Gov’t Mule’s version. It’s cool to hear the original again. Many modern musicians could definitely learn that “less is more” as you say. I also think they could learn to leave the warts in too like Neil does. The imperfections and bum notes can be where great music happens and if the vibe is right that’s the most important thing.

    Being a fan of HM and Classic Rock, there is a tendency(especially with modern bands) to fill spaces and airbrush out imperfections. It’s a bit of a bugbear and I always love to hear looser, natural performances where there is room for all the musicians to be heard.

    Great posts Rich!

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    • HMO, I’m glad we agree about “Cortez…” I had forgotten about Gov’t Mule’s version, so thanks for reminding me. I’ve been meaning to pull out some of their albums for a while…I’m glad you brought them up. You make a great point about modern bands filling in spaces and airbrushing imperfections. Fortunately there are still bands that take the Crazy Horse approach…the ones who aren’t striving for mainstream radio exposure. At least it’s easy enough these days to find those artists. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your insights, which is especially appreciated since I know you’re not a big Neil Young fan.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        February 3, 2013

        That’s right. There are always great bands around if you look. Blogs like yours help people find them! Being mainly into Metal I do hear a lot of bands that are depressingly busy and lifeless but there is always good new stuff out there if you keep digging!

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      • It’s all about keeping an open mind (and open ears). Sometimes I wish my musical tastes were more narrow…it would certainly save me money…but there are too many good artists & genres out there just waiting to be explored. You obviously have much broader tastes that your blog name would suggest.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        February 3, 2013

        Thank you Rich. Metal is my first and biggest love, hence the name. It’s also been a gateway into all sorts of other genres, books and films which is why I went with the name. I liked the thought of a Metal site that still covered other things. In 80s Metal magazines you used to get all sorts of music being covered and I wanted to keep up that tradition! But when I discover new bands or genres it does feel a bit like I’m on a slippery slope… 🙂

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      • Oh yeah…I know all about that slippery slope. Speaking with others who share the same passion (affliction?) helps me to feel better. Haha!

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      • mikeladano
        February 3, 2013

        I think both passion and affliction apply, Rich! Well said. You know you have a problem when you have as many discs as we do!

        I am glad my wife tries to understand my affiction, and tolerates it for what it is. A pretty harmless hobby.

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      • Absolutely, Mike. My wife understands my music obsessions as much as possible, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. Amazingly, I just went over a month without buying any new music, which is the longest I’ve gone in my adult life. I had a lot of things to catch up with from the end of 2012, including the Blue Oyster Cult “Columbia Albums” box set and over 2 years of compilation CDs from Mojo magazine, so I decided to hold off on any new purchases for a while. I knew it wouldn’t last forever, and I already have some goodies in transit. Let the obsession continue into 2013 & beyond!

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 3, 2013

        Most excellent! One needs at least a modest amount of new music after a month drought. It’s not even the lack of unfamiliar music to listen to, it’s the experience of tearing off the wrapper and looking inside.

        Like

      • Of course, our definition of “modest amount” might not be the same as the general public. And I agree, there’s nothing like the excitement of opening up a newly purchased LP or CD.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        February 5, 2013

        Does anyone in this thread have a good definition of the boundary between heavy metal and hard rock? Celtic Frost are heavy metal and Deep Purple are hard rock. I think everyone agrees on that. But what about Black Sabbath? The Scorpions? Or even Iron Maiden?

        Are there hard-rock bands which have a few heavy-metal songs? What about “Free and Easy” by Uriah Heep? How would one classify those?

        What was the first band to have a heavy-metal song? The Kinks? What was the first purely (or at leat mainly) heavy-metal band?

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        You know what Philip? I stopped trying to define hard rock and heavy metal years ago. Now I just class it all as “stuff I like” 😉

        Like

      • Phillip, I have to agree with Mike. I try not to think in terms of genre, other than as descriptive terms to use when discussing music, especially since so many artists cross over various genres throughout their careers, and often on a single album. I remember when my nephew was a pre-teen and he asked me to recommend a metal album. I suggested AC/DC’s Back In Black, but he said “That’s not metal…that’s hard rock.” They’re a perfect example of a band that was considered metal in the late-70s & early-80s, but wouldn’t be described that way now.

        As for the first heavy metal band, I’ll leave that to the experts to decide, although considering the sound that Dave Davies got on those early records, The Kinks would certainly be a nominee. I know a lot of people think of Blue Cheer as the first HM band, but if I had to pick one band that started the genre, Sabbath would get the nod. I still say there’s nothing heavier than the self-titled song on their debut.

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        Yes Rich, I would tend to agree with that assessment. It seems that 1970 was a critical year for “metal” in many respects. Deep Purple In Rock was out that year too, and that was also brutally heavy at times.

        Like

      • As you know I’m a huge Zeppelin fan, and they were referred to as a heavy metal band in their early days. Of course, they covered so much musical ground over their career that “metal” would be one of the last things I would classify them as, but they would have to be in the conversation when deciding where heavy metal originated.

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        Yes, clearly, if only because they influenced every metal band on the planet! Growing up in the 80’s, I never heard one single metal band NOT cite Zep as an influence.

        Like

      • Very true, Mike. In fact, Zeppelin might be the second most influential band of all time, right after The Beatles. Their influence is so wide-ranging, and I would even consider that they influenced punk in that punk musicians rebelled against the stadium rock bands of the ’70s (Zeppelin being the biggest). Some might call that a stretch, but I’m guessing all of the punk legends loved Zeppelin at some point in their lives.

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        Agreed — just look at Steve Jones, or Brian Baker from Minor Threat. Both guys released albums in the 80’s that had Zep influences. Brian Baker in particular with Junkyard.

        Like

      • I’ll take your word for it regarding those specific comparisons, since my punk knowledge/appreciation is limited to mostly the bigger names (and the more melodic side of punk, like Stiff Little Fingers, The Damned & The Buzzcocks). But I’m glad we’re in agreement about the concept…as usual.

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        I always found it funny when punk rockers ended up in hair metal bands in the 80’s. And there were a few of them.

        Of course, by the same token, a lot of hair rockers went pop-punk in the 90’s!

        Like

      • And of course most of the original punk rockers were in long hair rock bands in the early & mid 70s before the safety pins too over. One of the best things about the current musical climate is that you can do almost any kind of music and still maintain your credibility.

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        Yes I think boundaries have dissolved a lot. And I give Neil credit for a part of that. When he toured with Pearl Jam, a lot of kids said, “Oh, OK, not all old music sucks.”

        Like

      • Good point about Neil. Talk about someone with no musical boundaries. That’s why he’s inspired so many musicians. Thanks for bringing the conversation back to the topic at hand. Always nice to have diversions, but at some point you need to steer the ship back in the original direction.

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        Indeed! And Neil has helped widen my perspective too. I love his guitar playing.

        Like

      • I’m sure you’ll agree that Neil is an amazing guitar player who’s not technically great but does something unique with the instrument that sets him apart. In my eyes, that’s as impressive as the most technically proficient guitarists.

        Like

      • mikeladano
        February 5, 2013

        Agreed, totally. Even if he’s not technically proficient, he has a unique sound, feel, and style that you can identify. And he influences a whole bunch of other players. AND he can still play better than me!

        Like

      • He’s just had more practice than you, Mike. I’m sure you’ll bridge the gap eventually.

        Like

  5. Every Record Tells A Story
    February 4, 2013

    I have an mp3 copy of Time Fades Away that I found on a blogger’s site several tears ago who wrote about the album – it’s a terrific and ragged album and the post is probably out there somewhere.
    This is a very satisfying period of Young’s work – there was even the unreleased Chrome Dreams album from ’77 – something I am tempted to write about – just as soon as I have read his bio “Shaky”…

    Like

    • I might seek out the hard-to-find & unreleased Neil Young albums online after I finish revisiting the albums I already own…but since I’ve got 45 of his albums, I should have a pretty broad knowledge of his output by then. I’ll be curious to read your review on the unreleased “Chrome Dreams,” whenever you write that up.

      Like

  6. waynelaw
    February 7, 2013

    You are brave to wade through the stormy period of Neil Young and do an excellent job with a wealth of material. I wish I could devote the time for that immersion type experience with some works by a true artist.
    You mentioned some that I had forgot so thank you for that…so much of that Neil era has this desperation and yearning that just bleeds out of the music.. But …you also highlighted one of my all time favorites. “Cortez the Killer” …it is one of those rare classics that I have played and played and never fails to take me on a journey with it. thanks again for a great article…enjoyed reading it.

    Like

    • Brave, foolish, or somewhere inbetween? I found this era of Neil’s career much more accessible than I had remembered. Your comment about wishing you could devote the time for full immersion into a particular artist or set of albums was something I thought about for years. The problem was that I kept accumulating music and rarely found the time to revisit anything that wasn’t already an established favorite. The main purpose of this blog was to correct that, and I must say it’s been even more enjoyable than I originally expected. Going through complete catalogs of artists, especially one as prolific as Neil Young, takes a lot of time and occasionally gets a bit tedious, but in the end I have a much stronger appreciation for each album as well as the overall catalog. I highly recommend this process if you ever have the time.

      Glad to hear we agree about “Cortez The Killer.” It’s such an epic, and I’m surprised it’s not more widely known or highly regarded.

      Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

      Rich

      Like

      • waynelaw
        February 8, 2013

        My problem is I like everything and switch around to different bands and genres because separating the good stuff from the bad is what I find fascinating…and the more I work on my blog…the more I want to include the whole history of rock music from start to today.

        Like

      • Believe me Wayne, the problem you describe is not unique…it’s all in how we deal with it. I have a very diverse music collection, like most collectors & music obsessives that I know, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than traveling all over the musical map on any given day. I’m also a completist (an affliction I’m always trying to fight against) so with the majority of artists I like, I want to hear everything they’ve officially released. The problem happens when you own 20, 30, even 40 or more albums by a single artist and you realize that there’s only a handful that you know from start-to-finish. With this blog I’m rectifying that situation, one artist at a time. Of course, I continue to buy other music (new artists, reissues and artists that previously flew under my radar), since I would go bonkers if I listened to nothing but one artist for months on end. I can focus a lot of time on that, but I always need other music to stimulate me as well. I’m sure you understand, in the same way that I understand your desire to explore the whole history of rock. As long as we’re having fun doing it, that’s what matters…and I’m having a blast.

        Like

      • waynelaw
        February 8, 2013

        It is different when you share your views on this music with the world…that is what makes it fun. Because so much of it is subjective and can be taken different ways. I love stuff like “when did hard rock turn into metal?” …and ” is rock music finally starting to rebound?”
        There are different answers to these questions and I want to hear them all.

        Like

      • We’re definitely on the same page, Wayne. Although I enjoy sharing my comments on the music I’m listening to, my favorite part is hearing from others and having conversations like this one, which can go off into all kinds of tangents. For me, the writing part of the blog is the most difficult since I’m not a trained writer. Of course it’s the best way to communicate these days and I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of compliments on my writing, which gives me the confidence to continue. I really appreciate you coming by and sharing your thoughts. Also, you’ve been doing a great job at your blog (in case you haven’t heard that yet today).

        Best…
        Rich

        Like

  7. waynelaw
    February 8, 2013

    There is something from this thread asked by Phillip that I have been thinking about in putting a time-line of all rock music together- I go back to Van Halen 1 in 1978 as the first record to change the landscape from Hard Rock to Metal. I know there are other more obscure bands and old favorites that we try to jam in this spot but that first Van Halen record made everyone with a guitar try to play eruption and get their hair done.

    Like

    • Wayne, you may be on to something here. Although this isn’t a topic I usually give much thought to, you’re right that the first Van Halen album was a game-changer. I’m not sure if they were ever considered a metal band, but they certainly influenced nearly every metal band that popped up over the next decade or two. Depending on which bands we’re thinking of, we either need to thank Van Halen or condemn them. Haha.

      Thanks for continuing this thread. If Phillip is still following these comments, I’d love to know what his thoughts are.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        February 8, 2013

        While I’ve thought about what separates hard rock from heavy metal, I’ve never thought of Van Halen in this sense. I think Van Halen’s main contribution is two-fold. First, they had more down-to-Earth lyrics than many hard rock/heavy metal bands of the time. Many or most were about some combination of rainbows and elves (Dio etc), depressing stuff (Sabbath) etc while Van Halen sort of went to the boy-meets-girls themes of early rock and roll. Second, they issued in (without quite making the complete steps themselves) the trend of hair metal, posing, glam metal etc. And, of course, they were American (though the brothers had been born in the Netherlands).

        Like

      • Phillip, you make some excellent points. I especially like your descriptions of the lyrical content. Not that it should matter what the difference is between hard rock & heavy metal, or which bands qualify under each genre, or what their country of origin is. One of the things I love about That Metal Show is how they cover “all things hard rock & heavy metal,” and rarely distinguish between the two.

        Like

  8. waynelaw
    February 8, 2013

    Phillip,
    You make some good points about Van Halen going back to some basics which they did, they also brought back with it an element of fun and ass kicking that was missing in rock music at that time. Remember in 1978 Led Zeppelin was recording that ball breaker called “All of my Love” along with the rest of “In through the Out Door” and Ozzy was being thrown out of Black Sabbath and had yet to find himself a savior in Randy Rhoads which would ignite the madman back on top. Hard rock had done itself in and metal was being birthed right in front of our ears. You can argue that Van Halen may not have been pure metal if you want….but…they kicked it into existence.
    It was this same lull in music that spawned the Clash with their first record in 1977 which split rock music right down the middle…Half going punk and half going metal. That is how I see it and will gladly take any comments.

    And I love this stuff!!

    Wayne at the Cave.

    Like

    • Since Zeppelin remains my all-time favorite band after nearly 35 years, I always feel the need to defend them, especially the unfairly maligned In Through The Out Door. They may not have been the hard rock powerhouse of those early days anymore, but that album features a wide variety of sounds that holds up really well. However, I completely see your point about how the old guard wasn’t bringing the hard rock goods like they used to, and a new breed needed to come in with fresh ideas. To me, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal is really where metal as we know it today took off, but their influences could be traced right back to Zeppelin, Sabbath, Purple, etc. At least we all agree that every one of these bands offered up some amazing music.

      In trying to bring this conversation back to the original subject, Neil Young may not be anything near a metal or hard rock artist, but he got some dirty guitar sounds that would be the envy of any metal guitar player. I’ll discuss one such song in my next post, coming shortly.

      Now back to whatever conversation you want to have. it’s all good. Thanks guys.

      Like

      • waynelaw
        February 8, 2013

        Sorry man…I get carried away…you are right Neil always brings it- I just have a quick Zeppelin story as I was a big fan…I was waiting in line at a ticket outlet to get tickets for the Syracuse carrier dome show when they came to the window and said John Bonham was dead and there was no show…true story and seems surreal now…never got to see them.

        Like

      • No need to apologize. We’re just a bunch of music nuts obsessing over our favorites. Nothing wrong with that. You came a little closer to getting Zeppelin tickets than I did. I was 14 when Bonham died, and as a drummer that day continues to live in infamy for me. Tickets for some shows had already gone on sale, but not the Madison Square Garden shows that I was hoping to see. Had he not died that day, I probably would’ve had Zeppelin tickets in my hands within the following two weeks. It still saddens me that I never got to see them. I’ve seen all three surviving members separately a number of times, but of course that’s not the same.

        Like

  9. Devon Kennedy
    February 10, 2013

    Hey Rich, this is Devon Kennedy – my dad told me about your blog since I really like Neil Young. It was good to read your thoughts about “On The Beach”, because that’s one of my favorite albums I’ve listened to recently. I also really like the energy of “Walk On” and the reflective mood of “See The Sky About To Rain”. As for “Revolution Blues”, I would actually say that the ominousness is more than just an undertone; it’s strangely overt in some lines of the song, which I find makes the song pretty shocking. Like the one about “famous stars” – “I hate them worse than lepers, and I’ll kill them in the car!” And the first time I heard “Ambulance Blues”, I thought it was such a sad song, but I’ve been compelled to listen to it again several times because the lyrics are so evocative and interesting. Great post!

    Like

    • Hi Devon. It’s great to hear from you. Based on some photos I’ve seen your dad post on Facebook, you’re a lot older than the last time I saw you (haha), and I’m glad you’ve become a passionate music fan like your dad (and the rest of his crazy friends). I appreciate you stopping by and reading my thoughts on these Neil Young albums. It looks like our impressions about On The Beach are pretty similar, and you made a great point about the ominous vibe of “Revolution Blues.” I felt it as soon as the song started and, as you pointed out, those lyrics confirm his dark mindset at the time.

      Have you been listening to Neil for a long time? If so, I’m curious to hear which albums you like the most/least. He has quite a catalog to absorb. I own 45 of his albums yet I’m still missing a few. Hopefully we’ll continue to touch base as I work my way through his discography a handful of records at a time. Although I’ve listened to all of them at least once or twice in the past, this is the first time I’m immersing myself in his music and it’s been a revelation.

      Thanks again for joining this discussion.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

      Like

  10. Pingback: KamerTunesBlog Year In Review 2013 | KamerTunesBlog

  11. DanicaPiche
    July 18, 2015

    Wonderful post, Rich! I hadn’t heard of these albums. Sadly, I’m headphone-less at the moment so the listening portion will have to wait. I expect to really enjoy these ones.

    Like

    • Thanks Danica. I hope you’re reunited with your headphones soon so you can enjoy the tunes featured here & any other music you want to hear. I’m glad you enjoyed this post even without the musical accompaniment.

      Like

      • DanicaPiche
        July 19, 2015

        I’m especially looking forward to listening to On The Beach. I still believe that your writing should be in industry journals and magazines and needs no musical accompaniment.

        Like

      • On The Beach is one of those albums that slowly unfolds with each successive listen. I hope it makes a big impact on you. Thanks for the kind words about my writing. Glad my passion for music comes through even without an audio component.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. DanicaPiche
    July 19, 2015

    Swampy, funky and ominous! I’m loving “Revolution Blues”! The songwriting along with Levon Helm and Rick Danko — what an unbeatable combination.

    Thanks, Rich :).

    Like

  13. DanicaPiche
    July 19, 2015

    How is this the first time I’m hearing “Tonight’s The Night”? These are quickly becoming my favorites from one of my favorite artists.

    Like

    • Tonight’s The Night is one of those word-of-mouth albums that gets very little radio exposure (I only ever heard the title track) but, as I wrote in the post, “it feels like the best thing he’s ever recorded” when you listen to it in just the right mood. Sounds like that was the case for you with this song and I hope the same thing happens with the album.

      Liked by 1 person

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