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Record Store Day: Neil Young – Official Release Series Volume 2

December 14, 2014

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This was number one on my Record Store Day (Black Friday 2014) wish list. Neil has been withholding Time Fades Away since it was first released in 1973.  Never reissued and never released on CD.  I have never heard it.  Last April’s Record Store Day he toyed with us by having this set on the RSD list only to have it pulled at the last minute.  It was not on the first Black Friday list this year, but then it magically appeared.  I was skeptical.  And even it was really going to be released I figured it would be scarce with only 3000 copies allocated to 750 participating indie record stores.  I had low expectations.

Our family has started a new tradition of spending Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago where my son lives.  I got up early Black Friday and stood outside Reckless Records on Broadway for a couple of hours.  I was tenth in line!  My odds were looking up.  When they finally opened up and I got up to the counter I was disappointed to learn they did not have a copy and they could not even verify if they even got one.  Shit – I was shafted.

I picked up about half of my list and most of my daughter’s list and hustled over to Dave’s Records (NO CD’s!! Never had ‘em!! Never Will!! ) just a few blocks away (with a one hour later opening time the Reckless).  I was about 20th in line.  Dave opened early (which was nice because I was freezing). My wife could see they had a copy – so there was hope. I waited nervously for my turn making small talk with the others in the queue.  When I finally go to the counter and asked Dave reached over and handed it to me like Santa hanging a kid a candy cane. My family cheered as did my queue-mates.  The joys of Record Store Day (the only buzz kill was the $160 price tag).

Dave had the rest of the items on my and my daughter’s list – I could have slept in and not froze my ass off if I had just gone to Dave’s in the first place.  The store is tiny, but has an outstanding inventory (better then stores 10 times its size).  Dave must have some serious clout in the indie record store industry because his RSD inventory was amazing.  I stopped back later in the day to pick up a 7″ I had forgotten and he still had one last Neil box!

So does the box live up to the hype?  Yes. The first release series represents some of the easiest vinyl you can crate dig – those first albums where big sellers.  Great albums, but so many of the songs have been worn out on Classic Rock radio that they no longer amaze me.  This second batch of the series is a hipper and less popular section of Neil’s career.  It it includes the so called “Ditch Trilogy:”  three LPs that were consecutive commercial failures, as contrasted with the more middle-of-the-road pop and mega success of Harvest.  A point where Neil officially stopped giving a shit that he was a rock star and let his freak flag fly and examine the seamy side of the counter culture.

Official Release Series Volume 2 is audiophile reissues of 4 Neil Young albums (Time Fades Away, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night and Zuma) on 180 gram audiophile vinyl remastered from the original recordings at Bernie Grundman Mastering.  Historically accurate artwork by Neil’s art director Gary Burden.  The pressings are top notch and the audio quality is stunning.  The album art is authentic short of the bar code and reissue logo.

 

NY Time Facdes

Time Fades Away (1973)- Neil has a lot of oddities in his catalog and this is right up there: a live album of all new material.  Why on earth he found this album an embarrassment is a mystery. The band was the Stray Gators – the band behind Neil’s most pop album Harvest, but this is mostly-anti Harvest.  More rust than gold – and that is a good thing.  Neil told an interviewer 15 years after the fact:

That Time Fades Away was “the worst record I ever made – but as a documentary of what was happening to me, it was a great record. I was onstage and I was playing all these songs that nobody had heard before, recording them, and I didn’t have the right band. It was just an uncomfortable tour. I felt like a product, and I had this band of all-star musicians that couldn’t even look at each other.”

The album sounds great – I can’t imagine how good it would have been if the band had been in a groove.

Side One: The first and titular track has a great party feel to it.  “Journey Through The Past” would not sound out of place on After The Gold Rush.”  Basically Neil at the piano. “Yonder Stands The Sinner” is that great sloppy Neil Young sound that borders on honkytonk  punk.  “LA” has the Harvest sound without the shine.  “Love In Mind” is contemplative Neil at the piano and would not sound outplace on a Carole King album.

Side Two: “Don’t Be Denied” sounds like a great Neil and Crazy Horse song but without the growl of the Horse. “The Bridge” is back to contemplative Neil and piano and harmonica.  Again that After The Gold Rush feel.  “The Last Dance” is classic grunge Neil – big guitar riffs, face-melting solos and shouted harmonies.  There is a reason the Seattle sound sees Neil as their godfather.

Overall the album has a brilliantly slacker feel.  It is a skill to sound exquisitely bored and profound at the same time.

NY OTB

On The Beach (1974)- I am a little more familiar with this album because I picked up the 2003 HDCD encoded remastered version when it came out (kind of big deal at the time as it had been out of print since the original 1974 release).

The opening track, “Walk On,” has a bright bouncy feel, with a bit of menace.  “See The Sky About To Rain” has nice alt-country feel mixing Wurlitzer piano and steel guitar.  “Revolution Blues” sounds as menacing as its subject (Charles Manson).  It features a classic snarling Neil electric lead guitar and a very groovy Rick Danko bass riff.  “For The Turnstiles” would have been a amazing CSNY song, but instead it a simple duet with long time Neil sideman Ben Keith – which makes it even cooler.  The side closes with “Vampire Blues” a serpentine jam poking fun at the oil industry (“sucking blood from the earth”).  The song features some of the coolest sounds on the album.

Side two opens with the titular track – which is long jangly and reflective jam (“I need a crowd of people, I can’t face them day to day”).  If Cobain could have written a track like this he may not have offed himself.  “Motion Pictures” is heartbreak: “I am deep inside myself, but I will get out somehow.”  The album ends with “Ambulance Blues” a acoustic slow burning reflection on Neil’s place in pop culture at that point in time (“you are all just pissin’ the wind”. Musically it is inspired by one of Neil’s guitar heroes: Bert Jansch.

Overall this is beautifully bleak album that soaks in quite desperation with a wry wink. This is an album that requires repeated listens to appreciate – take the time you will be rewarded.  I was too young and ignorant to experience this album at the time, but it must have been a shocking counter punch to its studio predecessor Harvest.

 

NY THN

Tonight’s The Night (1975) If On The Beach was bleak, Tonight’s The Night is even bleaker: a portrait of a burnt out and wasted rock star.  The hippie has been reincarnated into a a coke snorting degenerate wallowing in the tragic loss of good friends to rock and roll excess.  Yet Neil somehow makes his quite desperation noble and transcendent: the zen of deprivation.

There are a lot of Neil Young fans that consider this a masterpiece, but it does not do it for me.  But it is authentic.  Neil cut open a vein and bled all over this record.  This is Neil’s “Exile On Main Street.”  Drugs are all fun and games until people start dying.

Young set the standard for slackers to come  – the elegant stumble; the brilliant mistake.  Neil somehow makes senseless death funky.  Weird shit. Not one of my favorite Neil Young albums, but I get why true fans dig it.

 

NY ZUMA

Zuma (1975) This the album in this collection that I am most familiar with. It is one of my favorite Neil Young albums. This album foreshadows the masterpiece Rust Never Sleeps that would follow Zuma in a few years.

It starts out with the jangly “Don’t Cry No Tears.” Which segues into “Danger Bird” which would not be out of place on an early Radiohead album. Neil and Crazy Horse play wonderfully lethargic distorted metal riffs throughout the song. I get so blissed out when Neil young lets “Old Black” out of its cage. Neil juxtapositions “Danger Bird” with the mellow folk rock of “Pardon My Heart.” “Lookin’ For Love” is a nice country rock shuffle that echoes back to Harvest. It has some great lyrics including:

Looking’ for a love
that’s right for me
I don’t know how long
it’s going to be
But I hope I treat her kind
And don’t mess with her mind
When she starts to see
the darker side of me.

“Barstool Blues” is classic Neil and Crazy Horse. Sloppy slacker bitter rock and roll with plenty of snarl. “Stupid Girl” is not mysogenistic, it is just a guy pissed at his ex-lover. “Drive Back” has ACDC swagger with Beatles’ pop sensibility.

“Cortez The Killer” is my favorite cut on the LP. It’s groove, the slow grinding lugubrious jam, is the sound that hooked me on Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Heavy Metal on red wine and Quaaludes. I absolutely love when Neil does this kind of shit. The LP ends on gentle song “Through My Sails” that is basically a CSN&Y song.

Zuma is classic eclectic Neil Young.  For you crated diggers out there this is the easiest of the 4 LPs to find.  I also declare that Zuma has the best cover art of any Neil Young album.

 

In summary this 4 LP set represents the end of end of 60s idealism and the introduction of mid-70s nihilism.  Young lays the ground work for punk.  I would be seriously moved by Neil Young a few years later by Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust.  These albums foreshadow that greatness.  This was a dark period for Young, but the great artist he was (and is), he mined that darkness to create something so ugly it was beautiful.

 

 

 

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3 Comments
  1. All great albums. Can’t believe you’d never heard “Time Fades Away” before. I wore that album OUT.

    • I am little embarrassed I made it this far in life without having heard “Time Fades Away.” But that is the joy of being a music fan – you never run out of new (even it is old) stuff to listen to.

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