My introduction to Neil Young was at the age of ten when the first Buffalo Springfield LP was released, in December 1966, to an unsuspecting legion of future fans of at least three artists and many configurations of bands. Since my only source of information was a guitar-playing older cousin from “up north.” He was always up to date on all the great bands of the day – the first song I learned on guitar, around the same time, was “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground. It was a must with only two chords and subject matter that was definitely taboo in
rural Alabama. I am pretty sure that the next song was “For What It’s Worth” from the aforementioned debut. When I heard the full LP, I was taken by the lyrics to the Neil Young songs sung by Richie Furay. Even at ten, I could not understand why Neil did not sing all of songs. I did not think too hard about it since I loved Richie’s voice and songs. I could tell he was the George Harrison of the group even though the only two magazines with information about the Springfield and any other “cool” bands was Hit Parader and 16 Magazine. Saving lunch money or doing chores was the only way to buy music then so every purchase was a well thought out endeavor. Buffalo Springfield not only had great music on each of their three releases but the covers were damned good to boot.
It was Hit Parader that announced the breakup of the Springfield and formation of Crosby, Stills and Nash – with singer/songwriters from two of my other fave bands, The Hollies and The Byrds. I completely missed Neil’s first solo record due to lack of airplay – “underground” FM radio was still a couple of years away and their were no obvious hits to be played by WVOK-Birmingham which had the most eclectic tastes followed by WGAD in Gadsden, my hometown area station. By the time of Neil’s second LP and the first with Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, I, along with three friends had formed a band either Unclaimed Freight or Anvil, depending on the week. Even though we could barely play, our song selection was cool even to this day – four songs from Everybody Knows…, a couple of songs by Cream and Iron Butterfly and a generous helping of Allman Brothers from their first two LPs.
After the Goldrush was a sign that the music our parent’s liked, folk and country, was actually not to bad with Neil’s Don Gibson cover, “Tell Me Why,” and his own “Cripple Creek Ferry.” By this time, we were immersed in every note on CSN, Déjà vu, Neil’s solo records, early Poco and especially the live double disc, Four Way Street. We could have been labeled a Neil Young “tribute” act if the term had been invented in the early seventies. In later years, I blamed my sloppy guitar style and screeching vocal styling on Neil, everyone else wanted to be Stephen – I was happy with Neil.
Harvest came along and changed our little world again. That is the first record I can remember that was required listening/ownership by every kid in Sardis High School grades 6-12. The jocks and cheerleaders, the marching band and even our parents found something to love on this record. The only two songs we did not play in our band were “There’s A World” and “A Man Needs A Maid.” I imagine that bands from Maine to Alaska had that in common. The “Harvest” pop and folk fans were put off by Neil’s next release, the soundtrack to Journey Through the Past. My friends and I took it for what it was, a soundtrack to a film, especially with only one new number, the haunting, “Soldier.” The next record, the supposed follow-up to Harvest, the live Time Fades Away certainly chased the “Heart of Gold”/”Old Man” crowd away, many for good, but was a gift to us die-hards. It was so biographical and, at times, painful, I remember playing it all the way through several times in a row with the lights off while imagining I was at the shows where the songs were recorded. It is still among my Neil top five. I loved the “ditch trilogy” starting with Time Fades Away followed by Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach and still feel the same to this day. 1975’s Zuma found Neil back with “The Horse” and a nearly flawless record. The records that followed were all really good up through Ragged Glory even though the one’s that stood out, at least to me, included Rust Never Sleeps and Freedom. I even liked the ones with Neil giving the finger to David Geffen. At least Neil was experimenting and always gave us a couple of signature tracks per release. His live shows were always great – even during the “Trans” and “Everybody’s Rockin’” tours.
I was at the legendary Beacon Theater shows in NYC when Neil debuted the material for his, “return to Harvest” record, Harvest Moon. While I was not part of the near riots by the so-called fans, I was not enamored of the material previewed live or on the record that followed. It was then that I stopped listening or caring. I still loved enough of Neil’s material to consider myself a life-long follower but he was placed with Bob Seger, Tom Petty, Mellencamp and Springsteen, in my mind, as “over-it” artists. Granted, many friends tried to win me back but I had the attitude that, “when I have On the Beach, Time Fades Away, and Zuma, why would I want Mirror Ball, Sleeps With Angels, or Greendale?”
After reading some positive previews of his return, once again, to Crazy Horse, Americana released earlier this year, I decided to give it a try. Were the critics listening to the same record that I had? What drugs were they on? I had to place Americana up there with Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. It was OK in my book to give the finger to David Geffen but this time Neil was sticking it to me. Thank God, I only streamed it instead of plopping down 15 bucks for this loser.
And then it happened…
One of my favorite sites for downloading live shows featured the August 5th & 6th shows Neil and Crazy Horse did at Red Rocks in Colorado. For some reason, the fact that the shows featured new music, at least to me, and only one song was played from Americana (and only one night) appealed to me. I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble Café at Union Square when I listen to the first night start to finish. I had headphones on – cranked up – and I know I must have offended people around me when, from to time, I let go with a "Holy Shit!” The shows were recorded so well to be worthy of a live CD set but it was the material that caused me to listen to every note and scroll back to make sure I caught the lyrics.
Thanks to Josh and Melinda here at BlindedBySound and a kind promotion guru at Warner Bros., I was able to get a preview copy and have not listened to anything else (except Rodriguez!) in the last several days. I hope you folks who, like me, gave up on Neil a while back will give this a try - well worth your recession era bucks. I want to take each track and write about it’s importance in the Neil Young canon of music but had to give you my long – and long-winded – background of my obsession with a true artist for nearly five decades.