Forever NEIL YOUNG
In the time it has taken me between writing my last post on Pimps of Gore and this current post, NEIL YOUNG could have recorded at least two records. Of course, that's if he was keeping the pace he kept while creating his new album, Living With War, which he recorded in a matter of days and released to the world only a few weeks after completing it.
It's pretty rare that musicians make such truly artistic statements these days. Even if they wanted to speak out about the war or the government the way Young has on his new record, they're usually held up by the folks in marketing, or their managers or the people at their record labels. But when Neil Young shows up at your office with 10 blistering, angry and triumphant new songs -- in the wake of his recently released acoustic album and a performance film, no less -- you make the smart move and release them.
Young has been releasing albums on an almost annual basis (sometimes even two or three a year!) since he began his solo career after leaving Buffalo Springfield in the late '60s. While he suffered a brain aneurysm during the recording of last year's Prairie Wind, the near-death experience only seemed to make his work that much more urgent and poignant.
I have only listened to the new album twice, so I won't go into my opinions too deeply beyond the fact that it's great to hear a record where the immediacy of the message and the artist's need to speak out are in such plain view. Living With War is a raw record, but that doesn't mean it lacks songcraft or production value. This is a record about a moment in time, and luckily for us, that time is right now.
Tonight I'm giving you a sneak preview of the new album, along with a handful of my favorite Neil tracks, many of which I feel have been overlooked in the midst of his huge catalogue. Also, enjoy a few vastly different Neil covers as a bonus.
Neil, this note's for you:
"After the Garden" from Living With War: This is the opening track on the new album. I love that even though this record was recorded in a few days, Neil still took the time to employ an entire choir of backing vocalists on almost every song.
"Don't Cry" from Freedom: A goddamned barnburner from the album that got me into Neil Young when I was 12 or 13 years old and saw the video for "Keep on Rockin in the Free World" on MTV. It wasn't until that song that I realized how much this seemingly ancient man really rocked, but "Don't Cry" was the album track that made me realize that this guy was the gateway drug that would lead me into the really hard shit like Sonic Youth and Fugazi. Listen to that guitar explode!
"Helpless" from THE BAND's The Last Waltz: Here Neil performs one of his most heartbreaking songs with the help of The Band and Joni Mitchell. While some people dismiss it, I think The Last Waltz is one of the greatest rock concert movies of all time, for both its flaws and its successes. The movie's greatest effect is putting the viewing audience up on stage with the band, and not just out in the crowd. This microscopic perspective did lead to one hilarious story: While performing with the Band, Neil Young had a chunk of cocaine so large in his nostril that director Martin Scorcese had to delay its release while he used a technique called Rotoscoping (costing Band leader Robbie Robertson thousands of dollars) to remove the evidence behind the drug fueled performance. In the commentary track on the DVD, Robertson calls it "the most expensive cocaine I ever bought."
"Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" from the album of the same name: While this track comes from Neil's second solo album, it was his first record with his now legendary backing band, Crazy Horse. The album featured the hits "Cinnamon Girl" and "Down by the River," but for me, as a kid from Omaha Nebraska, this song really hits close to home. I could listen to this song on a loop for an hour and not get tired of those off kilter guitar stops and those "la-la-la, la-la-la-la's" that follow the great chorus, "I've gotta get away from this day to day running around / Everybody knows, this is nowhere."
"Only Love Can Break Your Heart" from After the Gold Rush: Okay, so Gold Rush isn't exactly overlooked (it's almost unanimously praised as one of Young's best records). "Only Love" was released as a single and made it to #33 on the pop charts in 1970, but you don't hear it on classic rock radio at all these days, and that's a damn shame.
"Lookout Joe" from Tonight's the Night: After the overdoses of two of Young's closest friends, roadie Bruce Berry and Crazy Horse Guitarist Danny Whitten, Neil Young made one of his most painfully honest records to deal with his loss. His record label balked over releasing the album for almost two years. I personally didn't discover Tonight's the Night until a couple of years ago, but I was floored when I heard it, especially "Lookout Joe."
"I'm the Ocean" from Mirrorball: I think it's fairly safe to say that Neil Young experienced a bit of a comeback in the early 1990s because of his friends in Pearl Jam, who acted as his backing band on 1995's Mirrorball. While Pearl Jam don't get in the way of Young's songwriting or sound, you might notice that the rhythm section on this record -- especially Jack Irons on drums -- chugs along a little more buoyantly than on most of Young's albums. Young would go on to return the favor by playing with Pearl Jam on their Merkinball EP, recorded at the same time as this album.
"Only Love Can Break Your Heart" by Saint Etienne
"Down by the River" by Ken Boothe
"Harvest" by The Shins' James Mercer
TRIVIA: Neil Young's full name is Neil Percival Kenneth Robert Ragland Young.