Neil Young's Resume
Buffalo Springfield - Though they only stayed together for a couple of albums, Buffalo Springfield, which included Stephen Stills, left an indelible mark on Rock music. They're best remembered for the tense hit "For What It's Worth." However, that song was easily eclipsed by Young's "Mr. Soul" which sounded like a bridge between "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - CSN had produced a successful album (it sold well) but it was pretty bland. Stills asked Young if he'd play on the second album and if he'd mind playing for free. When Young balked, it was decided to invite him to join. He provided an edge whether the other three wanted it or not. When four Kent State college kids protesting the Vietnam War were gunned down by National Guardsmen an outraged, Young wrote and CSN&Y recorded "Ohio," one of the most scathing anti-war songs of the era.
Stills/Young Band - The one-off project had some great tracks including one of Young's all time best, "Long May You Run," which was about his first car and an old girlfriend.
Crazy Horse - In the '70s Young discovered and hired Crazy Horse, an unknown but great group (that included guitarist Danny Whitten) as his backing band. The highlights included "Cinnamon Girl," one of the best riff-Rockers ever recorded. Young got back with Crazy Horse in '90 and produced "Ragged Glory." The CD is pure guitar driven Rock. "Country Home," "White Line" and "Love To Burn" are the incredible tracks on stunning CD. Four years later, Young and Crazy Horse recorded the haunting, Kurt Cobain inspired, "Sleeps With Angels" CD. Having not worked with the full Crazy Horse line-up since '96 ("Broken Arrow"), Young released not one but two albums with the band. "Americana" was a collection of Folk standards given the Garage Rock treatment. "Psychedelic Pill" was in the same vein but with original material.
Solo - Young's solo work has encompassed Country, Big Band Rock, and retro-Rock. His biggest commercial successes include the acoustic-Country influenced "After The Gold Rush" ('70), featuring the critical "Southern Man" (which was later referenced in Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" where there's the line "hope Neil Young will remember, southern man don't need him around any how") and "Harvest" ('72), featuring hits "Heart Of Gold" and "Old Man."
When the time comes to write the summation of Young's career there is a very good chance that the writer will start with Young's solo career rather than the litany of incredible bands he's been in. The reason is simple, Young is one of the few solo performers who remained vital, vibrant and challenging for four decades. Sure, he's had missteps but he's also created many more classics.
One of the great things about a long-lasting career is the opportunity to work with just about anybody and everybody and engage in projects that mere mortals would never be allowed. In '02, Young teamed with the legendary Soul/Rock outfit Booker T. & the MGs and Crazy Horse to create the intimate "Are You Passionate" CD. The following year, Young ventured to "Greendale," an audio play/song cycle that featured earthy storytelling with hard edged songs. In '05, he returned to his lean "Harvest" sound for "Prairie Wind."
Next, Young was the focus of Jonathan Demme's film Neil Young: Heart Of Gold. Young, certainly no stranger to the concert documentary, had made Journey Through The Past ('73), Rust Never Sleeps ('79) and Greendale ('03), among others. The critically acclaimed Heart Of Gold, filmed at Nashville's legendary Ryman Auditorium, included both newer and classic songs, as well as behind the scenes commentary.
Young has managed to keep his anti-establishment stance intact, especially with songs like the title track from his '88 CD "This Note's For You" which blasts Rock's commercialization. Just a year later he produced the incredible "Freedom" CD that began with an acoustic version of "Rockin' In The Free World" and ended with a hard-edged electric version. The song satirized the "kinder gentler" mode of then-President Bush. All this, plus ragged, raw performances earned Young the title "godfather of Grunge."
Though he retained his credibility, after both "Greendale" and "Prairie Wind," it appeared Young had lost or at least give up his ability to create blistering Rock. Perhaps it was time to settle into comfortable old age, as a venerable legend. Not Neil Young.
A little over thirty years after Kent State, the U.S. was again involved in a questionable war. At least the U.S. went into Vietnam with good intentions, whereas, the war in Iraq was seemingly designed to do little more than topple an unfriendly dictator, who had outlived his usefulness, generate huge profits for favored corporations and business interests and turn the oil rich country into a client state. But like Vietnam, everything disintegrated.
The highly charged, and politically confrontational, "Living With War" was released in '06. Young took on the establishment, and their multitude of lies, to create a brilliant album that will only sound better as the years pass.
A mere 36 years after it was recorded "Live At Massey Hall," an album documenting Young's '71 solo acoustic concert in Toronto, was released. "This is the album that should have come out between "After the Gold Rush" and "Harvest," said Young.
Dreams, especially chrome ones, die-hard and abandoned projects have a way of resurfacing. That was the back story to Young's '07 album, "Chrome Dreams II." "Chrome Dreams " was an effort Young scrapped in '77. The title even showed up on a couple bootlegs. Young resurrected the concept after three decades saying, "(the album has) different types of songs working together to form a feeling." The ten-track effort had new material along with three older compositions. The Chrome Dreams Continental Tour got going in Boise, ID, just days before the album was released.
Various retailers offered bonus CDs that featured tracks from "The Riverboat," a not-yet-released live CD culled from a series of '69 solo concerts Young played in Toronto. The songs on the bonus discs varied, depending on the outlet.
In keeping with Young's progressive nature, he addressed the '08 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. Young told the audience that his experimental, energy-efficient LincVolt car was an example of what independent automotive innovation can accomplish. "Guys in garages around the world have come together, and this is one of the results." Young followed that appearance with an extensive open letter that detailed his plan to turn America's roads into a system that supports self-charging electric vehicles. Young argued that these cars would keep the auto industry going (good luck with that one), enhance national security (because the need for foreign oil would be greatly reduced or eliminated), and help put an end to global warming. "The culture must change," wrote Young. "We need visionary people now."
To back up his statement, Young released "Fork In The Road" in '09. The album sang the praises of emerging technologies.
Later in the year he issued the massive compilation (100 tracks) "Neil Young Archives - Vol. 1 (1963-1972)." The set contained songs Young recorded with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Still Nash & Young, Crazy Horse and Stray Gators. - much of it previously unreleased.
The outpouring of archived material had become commonplace by the time "Dreamin' Man Live '92," a compilation of concerts arrived. The "Harvest Moon" era set featured "From Hank To Hendrix" and the title track. "Harvest Moon" was seen as a sequel to the '72 album, "Harvest." And many of the musicians who played on "Harvest" returned for "Harvest Moon."
On 01/22/10, Young played "Long May You Run" to help close out The Tonight Show with Conan O' Brien. That same evening, he also performed the Hank Williams song "Alone And Forsaken" with the Dave Matthews Band on the Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief.
Hey, Hey, My, My... As happens in Rock, even rebels receive tributes. Young was named 2010 MusiCares Person of the Year for his accomplishments in both music and philanthropy (Farm Aid and the Bridge School benefit concerts). "I'm honored so much," said Young. " I forgot how many songs I've written and I saw so many of them, [but] I just want you to know I'm working on a new album."
The next day, Young took home his first Grammy Award for best art direction on a boxed or special limited edition package - "Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 (1963-1972)." The honor was shared with art directors Gary Burden and Jenice Heo. With all due respect to the Grammys, Young has a few more important credits that should be recognized.
"Le Noise" was released on CD, vinyl and iTunes in '10. Young and producer Daniel Lanois recorded the album in an L.A. mansion earlier in the year. "We cut a couple of solo acoustic songs, but the rest is very electric," said Lanois "There's no band, but I got in there with my sonics. There's nothing else out there like it."
Two years later, Young and Crazy Horse produced "Americana." It was their first album together since 03's "Greendale" and the first with the full Crazy Horse line-up of Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro since '96's "Broken Arrow." The '12 set was comprised of Garage versions of classic American folk songs.
Young and Crazy Horse issued "Psychedelic Pill" later in the year. Though the title indicated a return to the late '60s, and the handful of extended jams reflected that, the album was actually a potent shot of their no frills, pre-psychedelic Garage Rock.
1968 Neil Young
1969 Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
1970 After The Gold Rush
1974 On The Beach
1975 Tonight's the Night
1976 Long May You Run (Stills/Young Band)
1977 American Stars 'N Bars
1978 Comes A Time
1980 Hawks & Doves
1983 Everybody's Rockin'
1985 Old Ways
1986 Landing On Water
1988 This Note's For You
1990 Ragged Glory
1992 Harvest Moon
1994 Sleeps With Angels
1995 Mirror Ball
1996 Broken Arrow
2000 Silver & Gold
2002 Are You Passionate?
2005 Prairie Wind
2006 Living With War
2006 Living With War: "In the Beginning"
2007 Chrome Dreams II
2009 Fork In The Road
2010 Le Noise
2012 Psychedelic Pill
Car songs are inexorably linked to Rock n' Roll. Arguably, the first Rock n' Roll song was about a car; Ike Turner's (yes, of Ike and Tina fame) "Rocket 88." America's love affair with wheels continued unabated through the '60s as the Beach Boys made it one of their enduring passions. But by the environmentally conscious '70s, Detroit's hold on the American imagination waned. Bruce Springsteen's vehicle of choice to seek the American dream (or flee from it) was a motorcycle. But even Springsteen took time to sing about the virtues of riding in the back of a "Pink Cadillac." Punk was never too concerned with autos. The subway (in both London and NY) was the mode of travel. Grunge was about any wheels that rolled. The passion was gone.
Throughout his career Neil Young has used the auto as a metaphor for better times or a fond memory but with "Fork In The Road" he's gone the extra mile. Only these songs are about a fuel efficient hybrid - LincVolt battery powered vehicle.
The natural assumption is that Young would fuel his ode to the future of transportation with "Harvest Moon" sounds, lilting optimism, lush backing vocals and pastoral arrangements. Not so. The songs are infused with Godfather of Grunge guitars and Young's unique unhinged vocals. "Fuel Line," Johnny Magic" and the cruisin' boogie number "Get Behind The Wheel" are perfect road songs. But not every track revolves around cars. "Just Sing The Song" focuses on the moment and not clouding it with political connotations while the closing title track is a laundry list of things that bug ol' Neil - bailouts and financial experts among them. And railing against life's injustices is where Young has always found his strongest voice.
Young may forever dispel the notion that Canadians are forgiving and tolerant of the colossal mistakes made by their neighbors to the south. Over the course of his career, Young has bashed Southern folks ("Southern Man"), the slaughter at Kent State and the Nixon administration's handling of the Vietnam War ("Ohio"), Bush 41's "1,000 points of light" ("Rockin' In The Free World") and Bush 43's invented war in Iraq and related follies on his album, "Living With War."
At the time of "Living With War's" release, in '06, George W. Bush had secured for himself the dubious honor of being one of the worst presidents in American history. There were a couple wars, domestic spying, endless corruption, massive federal debt, an artificially inflated and mean spirited economy and a fractured social structure. Whether Bush is eventually be viewed as the worst, by both liberals and conservatives, will likely be measured in the amount of time it takes the U.S. to dig out from under the mess.
"Living With War" doesn't have a "Rockin' In The Free World" but it has a pair of songs nearly as good. "Shock And Awe" ("history is a cruel judge of overconfidence") and "Lookin' For A Leader" (who "may be a woman or a black man after all"). Enter Barack Obama, almost on cue.
The album opens with the somber "After The Garden" that sets the tone. The title track, "Families" and "Flags Of Freedom" tell moralistic stories without being preachy. Wanton consumerism is slashed on "Restless Consumer" ("we don't need people pitching" all the junk and lies Americans are tricked into buying).
The song that got drew immediate attention was the catchy "Let's Impeach The President." It has a sing-a-long nature as if all the united voices could end the catastrophe. The truth is, with the exception of Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Sully Erna, every name Rocker endorsed Bush's opponent in '00 and '04. Either Rock musicians don't have much influence, the Rock audience isn't big enough to sway elections or they don't vote. Whatever the reason, where's the urgency? "Let's Impeach The President" should have been a kick-out, no holds barred track.
The album ends with a big choir version of "America The Beautiful." Young concludes on an upbeat note of hope. The message is clear, despite the mess, this still a great place to be if only we can keep the levers of power out of the hands cheap shot con artists.
"Prairie Wind" is a gentle Country influenced album. There are wistful references to where buffalo used to roam and Elvis (who died in '77) singing gospel. It's funny what resonates with Young and it's kinda interesting. It ain't "Harvest" or "Harvest Moon" ('92) but it's good.
The story goes that when Young finished "Chrome Dreams" in the late '70s he played the album for fellow Canadian musician Joni Mitchell. She didn't like it. In her opinion, it was all over the board. That's Young's career in a nutshell! Regardless, the project was shelved. But three decades later, Neil is still Neil. Country laments ("Beautiful Bluebird"), vintage Young ("No Hidden Path") and the ragged glory ("Spirit Road") comprise "Chrome Dreams II." On "Ordinary People," Young even takes Dylan's multi-verse song structure for an extended spin with horns.
Young pre-dates both Punk and Grunge but it's obvious both have left a mark on his musical soul. When news arrived that "Le Noise" was an album centered around Neil and his guitar, with some "adornments," it sounded like a snooze. Guess again.
There are loops, backing vocals - provided by Young - and a second guitar here and there, but "Le Noise" brilliantly employs its sparse, lean and often noisy arrangements to deliver complete and fully realized songs. "Walk With Me," "Sign Of Love" and "Rumblin'" are reminiscent of Young's work with Crazy Horse, but without the band. How'd he come up with that?
Young and Crazy Horse doing an album of traditional and Folk songs sounds like a missed opportunity. They should be kickin' down the doors not pulling out the acoustic guitars and harmonica around the campfire.
Turns out, "Americana" is a unique opportunity. Young and Crazy Horse may have invented a new genre - Folk Grunge. In anybody else's hands this could be a joke or a disaster. From "Gallows Pole" to "God Save The Queen" (yes, the British National Anthem - imagine the outrage if Young had recorded a Grunge version of the "Star Spangled Banner." He'd probably get deported.), Young sings with authority and the sincerity of an early '90's Grunge legend. Crazy Horse's amped intensity matches Young right down the line.
The only flaw is a rendition of The Silhouettes '50's classic "Get A Job." It just doesn't fit the concept - too new and too pop. Even so, who wouldn't love a flaw so good?
A lot was made of the extended jams on "Psychedelic Pill," Young's 35th studio album. Are Young & Crazy Horse going the jam band route? Actually, only three tracks; "Driftin' Back," "Ramada Inn" and "Walk Like A Giant," roll past the ten-minute mark. Though the songs seem to unfold and unravel concurrently, they're worth the trip.
However, it's the remaining Garage Rock tracks that are the real treasures.
Young gives the title track an airy whish that is vintage late '60s though the alternate version is a better, more Garage take. He is probably the only singer who can turn his hometown into a political statement. "Born In Ontario" has a live and let live message with a call to make a contribution, even a small one, to society. Going back to the Rolling Stones and their initial impact, Young reflects on his Rock n' Roll adventure and "walking with the devil" down a "Twisted Road." For those who have a weakness for the "Harvest Moon" Young, there's "For The Love Of Man." Crazy Horse's natural chemistry with ol' Neil gives these songs their power and appeal.
Taking a long look at Young's career, protest singer is just one of many hats the eclectic musician has worn. Like any artist with a thirty-plus year career Young has several high points. Everyone loves "Harvest" and "After The Gold Rush" because they blend Young's acoustic and Rock sensibilities. But a better option is to go straight to "Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere" (with Crazy Horse) containing the fierce "Tonight's The Night." Then jump to the live "Rust Never Sleeps" ("Live Rust" is also excellent). '89 release "Freedom" with "Rockin' In The Free World" is another great set. If you're still on board pick up "Harvest" and "After The Gold Rush."
"Decade" is a prime collection encapsulating Young's early career. As for everything else, and there's a lot, Young generally comes through with memorable songs on just about every venture except for his misguided forays into electronic music and Rockabilly. The "Stills-Young" venture "Long May You Run" should have been better but Young's title track and the inescapable "Fontainebleau" are the stand outs.
While Young's laid-back Country side is appealing, his Folk-Rock, with its moral underpinnings, is more engaging. Of course, when Young puts down the acoustic guitar and plugs in, he's at his best.