Tag Archives: Neil Young

A Gift of Neil

Neil Young’s 75th birthday was yesterday. Happy birthday, Neil. Sorry I’m late.

It’s weird to think I’ve been loving Neil for almost 30 years now. Like a lot of dudes who went to college in the early 90s I was heavily into the whole sixties counterculture scene. Jann Wenner’s influence over the rock and roll canon was still unquestioned. It felt important for serious music connoisseurs to know all that stuff.

I remember joining the Columbia House cd club one last time during my freshman year and one of my 12 picks was CSN(Y)’s So Far. I liked the Nash songs best. Clearly, I still had a lot to learn.

By my senior year I had graduated to Neil’s Decade, which became the soundtrack to many smoky evenings huddled around my pal George’s Mac putting together our underground newspaper or playing Maelstrom. George was my Neil Young spirit guide, providing guidance on the path to enlightenment.

After college my friends dispersed across the country but we kept in touch via brand new technology called an email listserv as well as sending handwritten letters through the good old U.S. mail. It was still the nineteen-hundreds after all. I was living at home with my mom, working a shitty factory job (English major), when I received a package from George in Toledo. It contained a cassette he compiled, titled The Killer, as something like a companion to Decade, the next step in my Neil education.

It blew my mind and made me realize the depth and intensity of Neil’s body of work.

Over the next several years as my obsession grew I scoured used record bins to fill in the rest of the blanks, eventually acquiring Neil’s complete discography on vinyl. It was so exciting to find an album I hadn’t heard before. New songs! The two holy grails were Time Fades Away and Journey Through the Past. At the same time, Neil was releasing new music (Harvest Moon, Sleeps with Angels, Mirrorball, Broken Arrow) and touring constantly. It was a great time to be a Neil fan.

And I owe it all to George and that mixtape.

Continue reading A Gift of Neil

New Neil Young: Homefires

Video: Neil Young – “Homefires”

Homefires - Neil Young Archives

From Neil Young Archives Volume II, out November 20 on Reprise.

Oh man remember back in the oughts all the angst around the original Archives collection? After originally mentioning the project in the liner notes to Lucky 13 in 1993, he didn’t get serious about it until around 2006 when he started talking about it and trickling out some live shows (Fillmore and Massey). And then in 2007 he posted a fancy landing page and suggested it would be released that September. Then the set got pushed back to February 2008. Then he announced it wouldn’t be released on CD, then it would be. Then it got pushed to early 2009, January, then February, then June, which happened. Finally! Eight CDs and a 160-page book for $72. It was very exciting even if it wasn’t as comprehensive as people thought. There were a bunch of cool, unreleased songs on it.

He’s been giving us hints about Archives II since 2010. And now you can pre-order it. 10 CDs with a 252-page book for $249.98. Inflation!

If the 12 unreleased songs on it are as good as “Homefires” it might well be worth it. But I think I’m going to wait to see if the price comes down. I’m thrifty like that.

New Neil Young: Lookin’ For A Leader 2020

Video: Neil Young – “Lookin’ For A Leader 2020”

Neil Young - Lookin' For A Leader 2020 (Official Music Video)

From The Times EP, due September 18 on Reprise.

A new version of a song originally released during the George W. Bush administration, Neil updates the lyrics for today.

We got our election
But corruption has a chance
We got to have a big win
To regain confidence
America is beautiful
But she has an ugly side
We’re lookin’ for a leader
In this country far and wide

Good old Neil. We know he recently sued the Trump campaign for using his music at his rallies and now he’s calling him out in song.

Just like his big new fence
This president’s going down
America’s moving forward
You can feel it in every town
Scared of his own shadow
Buildin’ walls around our house
He’s hiding in his bunker
Something else to lie about

We’ve given Neil crap over the years for dashing out lyrics without putting much craftsmanship into the effort but sometimes the directness works. This is one of those times.

We don’t need a leader
Building walls around our house
Who don’t know black lives matter
And it’s time to vote him out

Yes it is. Make sure you’re registered. And make sure you cast your ballot. And if you don’t trust the USPS, you can drop off your ballot in person. Find out where. Your place probably has a secure dropbox where you don’t even need to get within six feet of anybody. Do it!

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Continue reading New Neil Young: Lookin’ For A Leader 2020

Music, Politics & Iggy on a Cruise Line

So a question is to what extent does a musician “own” her or his music, not necessarily in a legal sense–which is certainly more than a trivial consideration vis-à-vis the livelihood of people–but in that the music represents, one suspects, though can’t be certain of*, what that person’s beliefs are.

This thought occurred as a result of the law suit filed in the Southern District of New York by Neil Young against the Trump campaign for the campaign’s unauthorized use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk.”

Other musicians who have objected—not all in court—against the use of their material by the Trump campaign over the years include Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Pharrell Williams, Tom Petty (his estate) and The Rolling Stones.

Which brings me back to the original question. Why does an organization like Trump’s campaign think that those musicians in any way represent the thinking, beliefs or social mores of Donald Trump? Aren’t many of these people antithetical to that?

Would, say, the Biden campaign use—unauthorized or otherwise—music from Ted Nugent or Toby Keith?

Music is a fundamental part of our culture. As such it reflects, in many ways, our values.

While one could argue that music has long been co-opted for reasons political and, more substantially, commercial. For example, right now you can hear “Magic” by Pilot in a TV commercial for diabetes drug Ozembic and Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” in a spot for Anoro, which is a COPD medication.

And who can forget the soundtrack for a Royal Caribbean cruise line ad from a few years back: Iggy’s “Lust for Life”? A waterslide? An endless buffet? Umbrella drinks? Sandals, socks, Bermuda shorts and overstuffed swimsuits?

In those cases, of course, the songwriters are undoubtedly being compensated for their work, and it is hard to imagine a political case being made against ads for medications (unless, of course, one is anti “Big Pharma,” which Trump has declared himself to be, so one wonders what pop song his people will roll out for that position—the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”: “And all the politicians making crazy sounds. . . “?).

One interesting aspect of the Neil Young situation is that it wasn’t until January of this year that he became an American citizen. “Rockin’ in the Free World” was released in 1989. “Devil’s Sidewalk” was released in 2003.

Which means that the Trump campaign has been not only music from a man who does not reflect or support the candidate’s ostensible positions, but from a man who was, at the time he released those songs, was a foreigner. And we know how Trump feels about them.

*This is problematic in some regards as let’s face it: many songs are written about fictional situations so it is impossible to say that anyone is making authentic statements in their songs, as it may simply be a reflection of what seems to be relevant in the market at the time of composition.

Continue reading Music, Politics & Iggy on a Cruise Line

New Neil Young video: Peace Trail

Video: Neil Young + Promise Of The Real – “Peace Trail”

Neil Young + Promise Of The Real - Peace Trail (Official Music Video From the Film 'Paradox')

Directed by Daryl Hannah. From the Paradox soundtrack, out now on Reprise.

This is a new version of one of the best songs Neil has written this decade. “Peace Trail” was the title track of his 2016 album recorded with session musicians Jim Keltner and Paul Bushnell. This new version is with his band Promise Of The Real and is featured on the soundtrack of Daryl Hannah’s film, Paradox (available on Netflix).

I have to take good care
When something new is growing

Can’t really tell from this video what the movie’s about but Netflix says, “Neil Young and his band of outlaws sow seeds of strange mischief and musical wonder under Western skies in this dreamlike film by Daryl Hannah.” Looks like it might be a sequel to Grizzly Adams. I think I spotted Ben but where’s old Number Seven?

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New Neil Young video: Almost Always

Video: Neil Young + Promise Of The Real – “Almost Always”

Neil Young + Promise Of The Real - Almost Always (Official Music Video)

Directed by Daryl Hannah. From The Visitor, out now on Reprise.

I love it when Neil goes pretty and acoustic. But he’s still got some bite in his lyrics:

I’m living with a gameshow host
Who has to brag and has to boast
About tearing down the things that I hold dear

I also appreciate the fact that Neil is not ashamed to admit how easily distracted he is:

Can I take a minute to do what’s right
Before that starts me thinking,
Distracting me again?

Think he’ll ever release his Archives Vol. 2?

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New Neil Young video: Already Great

Video: Neil Young + Promise of The Real – “Already Great”

Neil Young + Promise of The Real - Already Great (Official Music Video)

From The Visitor, out now on Reprise.

Seems somewhat appropriate to celebrate Boxing Day with Neil Young.

I’m Canadian by the way
And I love the U.S.A.

Good old Neil. Hasn’t stressed too much about refining his lyrics in a couple decades, has he? That’s okay because the sentiment is righteous and so are the guitars. Willie Nelson’s kid’s band seems to have reinvigorated Neil and inspired him to dig back into his ragged glory.

This sounds like a band. The harmonies in the chorus are straight up CSNY 1974. The chanting, later on, unfortunately, is a little more Greendale or Living with War.

I still wish Neil would spend a little more time on the craftsmanship of his songwriting, but that’s never gonna happen, so at least he’s giving us gnarly guitar tones. Which is more than you can say for most people of his generation.

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New Neil Young video: Hitchhiker

Video: Neil Young – “Hitchhiker”

Neil Young – Hitchhiker (Black Balloon version)

From Hitchhiker, out now on Reprise Records.

This is the second animated video Neil has released to promote Hitchhiker. We already covered the first one, but this album is really holding up as one of the greatest gems from the Neil Young Archives. It’s such an immediate, intimate, intense collection.

The song itself, Neil’s “drug chronicles,” has been fairly legendary among Rusties. He played it live during his 1992 solo acoustic shows, causing fans to speculate about which came first, “Hitchhiker” or 1982’s “Like an Inca,” since they share some lyrics. Neil finally recorded it with Daniel Lanois on the 2010 solo electric album, Le Noise, but not before adding a couple of extra verses.

How many years have come and gone
Like friends and enemies
I tried to leave my past behind
But it’s catching up with me

I don’t know how I’m standing here
Living my life
Thankful for my children
And my faithful wife

“Finishing was important,” Young told American Songwriter in 2010. “The song never could have been done without those verses.” I guess that explains why it sat unreleased for so long despite the fact that it’s awesome.

In that same interview he said, “So I have recordings of ‘Hitchhiker’ from the ’70s but there was never any reason to put it out. I felt like, ‘Whoa, that’s not really a good idea.'” Glad he changed his mind! Finally releasing the Hitchhiker album is one of the best ideas he’s had in decades.

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Continue reading New Neil Young video: Hitchhiker

New Neil Young video: Powderfinger

Video: Neil Young – “Powderfinger”

Neil Young - Powderfinger (video created by Black Balloon)

From Hitchhiker, out now on Reprise Records.

Hitchhiker is an incredible album, and I’m frankly shocked that Neil Young has let it out into the world. In Shakey, Jimmy McDonough revealed that Neil would sometimes hold back the “best” version of a song because it was “too real.” I could argue that these are the best versions of all these songs, and — recorded in one session in 1976 — this recording is as real as it gets. This is peak Neil.

In his memoir Super Deluxe, Neil wrote:

I spent the night there [Indigo Ranch Studios] with David [Briggs] and recorded nine solo acoustic songs, completing a tape I called Hitchhiker.

It was a complete piece, although I was pretty stony on it, and you can hear it in my performances. Dean Stockwell, my friend and a great actor who I later worked on Human Highway as a co-director, was with us that night, sitting in the room with me as I laid down all the songs in a row, pausing only for weed, beer, or coke. Briggs was in the control room, mixing live on his favorite console.

In a recent radio interview, Neil explains why it wasn’t released at the time:

Back then when we played this record for business folks, the reaction was that it was not a real record, but a collection of demos. I was advised to record the songs with a band, but the Hitchhicker versions are the true originals, recorded earlier than any versions you may have ever heard, and I always knew the original album would find its place and surface. That time is now.

I can’t imagine that there’s anything left in the archives as great as this, but I would love to be surprised. So bring it on, Neil! The time is now!

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Great ideas in record label marketing: Free Dirt

It must have been fun to work at Warner/Reprise in 1969. There were so many great groups on their roster: Joni Mitchell, Van Dyke Parks, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead… They were the cool label. Selling those records to all the hip kids must have been a piece of cake.

Or maybe not.

Because when it came time to come up with a campaign to promote Neil Young’s first album with his new band Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, they ended up with a novel idea: free dirt. That’s not a euphemism for anything. You could send in a form and they’d mail you a baggie of dirt from Topanga Canyon. No self-addressed stamped envelope or anything!

“Miss Penny in shipping has demanded tranquilizers, overtime, and an Easter bonus for her boys if they have to bag dirt. But what the hell. Nobody understood Galileo either. Read on.”

Continue reading Great ideas in record label marketing: Free Dirt