Monday, November 12, 2012
Neil Young: Beneath The Rust
A few weeks ago I saw Neil Young & Crazy Horse at The Hollywood Bowl. I consider myself a fan of Young however much to my chagrin I was only familiar with his greatest hits. It was no surprise to me that he only played only a few of his mainstream hits, "Cinnamon Girl," "The Needle & The Damage Done," and "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)." However, the rest of his set was comprised of songs from his newest Crazy Horse record Psychedelic Pill and a bunch of songs from his enormous back catalogue. With thirty eight studio records it seems like a daunting task but I decided to listen to every single record, and every single song the entire way through. Here's what I've found. Neil Young is unlike any other artist I've ever listened to. He has some game-changing records, some pretty good ones and some records that should be rounded up and destroyed. Neil is a man who made initial success as a solo artist with some folk and rock songs that help defined a generation and has been trying to shed commercial success ever since. He is a man who does whatever he wants. After a streak of highly successful albums he made his music more challenging and went experimental. In the 80s he toyed around with being a rockabilly singer, a jazz man, and even tried his hand at proto-synth rock. Eventually he settled on being the Neil you see today; a dirty old man in flannel who practically paved the way for Grunge. Regardless on every Neil Young record there are a few tracks that have gone undeservedly unnoticed (except for Landing On Water, that record isn't on Spotify for the benefit of everyone). So enjoy this three hour Neil Young deep cut mix below and check out the ten songs I have highlighted. After I post this I'm probably going to give Neil a rest for awhile, thirty-eight records takes a long time to go through.
This song has such a funky vibe tonight to it that I always felt it would be a great opening number for a Crazy Horse show. The title track of this album, "Tonight's The Night" sounds like Neil's beckoning call to a mischievous evening. This album and the even greater On The Beach are the best examples of great Neil Young records that unfortunately buried in the mix.
On The Beach is a record that Neil himself isn't a fan of for some reason, so naturally it's my favorite Young album. In fact this record wasn't even released on CD until 2003, it has maintained a cult favorite among fans. My personal favorite on this album has to be "For The Turnstiles" I have a theory that if you give a Neil Young a banjo he's going to give you back a great song. This simple folk track is the most backwoods thing he has ever done and it's a shame Neil hasn't explored this vein any more because this kind of music pairs quite nicely with his voice.
Yes, even on the legendary Harvest there's a song that needs more recognition. The album's closer "Words" is like a summary of all the themes that were explored musically throughout the entire record. Driven by piano it paints a lush landscape that reaches it's pinnacle with an impressive guitar part.
I feel that many people skip this brash romper of a song on Zuma mainly due to the fact that the succeeding track is "Cortez The Killer" which is arguably the best thing Neil has ever recorded.
1982's Trans features many synth-laden tracks that probably sounded dated five minutes after they were released. It's low point in Neil's discography however Neil happened to retool the track "Transformer Man" for his Unplugged album and revealed to us a breezy and quite lovely track. It's just a shame that the original version of this song was ruined by studio production.
Broken Arrow, Neil's twenty-fourth record and his seventh with Crazy Horse opens with a trio of jam songs. Most notably the album's opener "Big Time." It hardly has any redeeming lyrical qualities or any sort of hooks but Neil's guitar work on this song is some of his strongest. The rest of what follows this song is hardly memorable however.
Ragged Glory was a rallying cry for Neil's relevance entering the 1990s. It captures the spirit of grunge music about as well as any Nirvana record. It's a balls to the wall in your face rock record, each song has a driving force of purpose behind it that makes it such an enjoyable listen. "Fuckin' Up" is not a song that will be played on the radio any time in the future, but Neil still loves playing it during shows and the crowd absolutely eats this one up.
While the song "Harvest Moon" may feature some of the prettiest vocals he's ever recorded, I will also have to argue that "War of Man" is a lush beautiful song that deserves more attention that it has received in the past.
So many of Neil Young's songs are either about history, nature or the two together. Such is the case with "Down By The River" or "Cortez The Killer." On 1979's Rust Never Sleeps the swift simple acoustics of "Pocahontas" tell a tale of being alive during her time and what a joy it must have been. It's a vividly imaginative folk song that is great to sing along to.
Finally, I would like to touch upon his newest release, this year's Psychedelic Pill. I wasn't so sure about this record when it first came out however after doing this research, I feel that this album is a bright spot for him when compared to some of his biggest blunders. Pill features some of his longest songs, including "Drifting Back" a rambling stoner jam that clocks in just shy of a half hour. The best song on the album is the monster closer "Walk Like A Giant" which is as gargantuan as its' title. This may be one of the best straight up rock songs released this year.
Happy Birthday Neil and long live Crazy Horse!
Click Here For A Three Hour Neil Young Spotify Playlist