Monday 11 December 2017

Neil Young: Live/Compilation/Archive/Crazy Horse Albums Part One 1968-1972

You can buy 'Here We Are In The Years - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Neil Young' in e-book form by clicking here

"Sugar Mountain - Live At Canterbury House 1968"

(Archives Release 00)

(Reprise, Recorded November 1968 Released December 2008)

Emcee Intro*/On The Way Home/Songwriting Rap*/Mr Soul/Recording Rap*/Expecting To Fly/The Last Trip To Tulsa/Bookstore Rap*/The Loner/I Use To...Rap*/Birds/Speech (Including snatches of Winterlong and Out Of My Mind)*/Out Of My Mind/If I Could Have Her Tonight/Classical Gas Rap*/Sugar Mountain Intro*/Sugar Mountain/I've Been Waiting For You/Songs Rap*/Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing/Tuning Rap*/The Old Laughing Lady/Broken Arrow
iTunes Bonus Tracks: I Am A Child/#1 Hit Record Rap*

* = Spoken Word

"Does anyone want me to do anything? Songs I mean? This is kind of an impromptu Sunday night thing - and ifg it wasn't impromptu before then we're starting a new policy right here!"

How apt: Neil spends his first minute of one of his very first solo shows post-Springfield being underestimated in Michigan, with the emcee's shock announcement that he didn't think anyone was going to turn up at all! ('You obviously knew something we didn't' he tells the laughing crowd, which is a pretty fair metaphor for the rest of Neil's career!)The concert is named after the one performance from this show that fans have always known about (‘Sugar Mountain’, one of Neil’s earliest songs written on his 19th birthday in 1964 and re-released many times over the years on B-sides and as part of the excellent ’Decade’ retrospective in 1977) and yet the rest of the set doesn't sound much like the way we always imagined it: ‘Sugar Mountain’ is sombre, tight and together; the rest of this gig is sprawling, unrehearsed and featuring moments of genius right next to fumbling mistakes. This ‘gig’ doesn’t sound like some grand entrance of a future superstar – instead it’s an intimate, rambling gig where a self-deprecating Neil speaks to the audience at length in between each number and even – for the first and probably last time - takes requests (his response to being asked to play ‘Out Of My Mind’, saying ‘I didn’t think anyone out here would ever have heard of that song’, is priceless!) All that speech rather gets in the way of the music at times (the CD is split quite evenly between chat and music) and Neil’s interactions with audiences down the years has always been, erm, unusual although he surpasses himself here with his stoned five minute ‘rap’ about being fired from a  bookshop for taking mushrooms, a detail that has absolutely nothing to do with ‘The Loner’, the song he plays next or his comments about buying up cars with all his band money - 'Can you imagine me driving a Bentley?' - and his discussion about letting his hair 'grow and grow and grow' in a variety of funny voices.  Suddenly, though, in the middle of all the stoned humour we get a nugget of gold as Neil interrupts himself thirty seconds into 'Mr Soul' to explain to the audience how he feels writing is like being a 'radio', turned in to getting ideas from any direction and always being open to new thoughts, explaining that he must have had a button turned 'on' the day he wrote this song as it only took him about five minutes whereas other songs can take years.

At its best this concert is the perfect souvenir of its times, capturing Neil on the verge of leaving the Springfield (with almost all of Neil's songs for the band in the set) and at the point when he hasn’t yet decided to make his debut eponymous album an over-produced epic. A majority of that first record (even the monkeynuts ten minute ramble ‘Last Trip To Tulsa’) sounds much better here, with minor gems like ‘If I Could Have Her Tonight’ and ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ flowering in their new home (although you miss the heart-tugging strings on ‘The Old Laughing Lady’). Unusually for Neil there are no unreleased songs here, although an early version of ‘Birds’ (two full years before its appearance on ‘After The Goldrush’) sounds very different and ‘Winterlong’ (unreleased till 1977) is heard in frustratingly shortened form. There are three album highlights, though, all originally from the same album (the AAA classic ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’): ‘Mr Soul is darker, lighter and yet somehow more intense in acoustic form; the exotic beauty ‘Expecting To Fly’ is every bit as fragile and pretty even with Neil’s simple acoustic guitar part subbing for a full-blown orchestra and most impressively of all sound collage ‘Broken Arrow’ is turned from some garish psychedelic soundscape epic into a clever and heartfelt Dylanesque song about denial and the spaces between people. The Neil Young Archives is a very up and down collection at its best and ‘Sugar Mountain’ is another live set that’s variable, to say the least, but it’s probably the best of the early releases in terms of offering historical importance, great music with arrangements quite new to anything out before and getting to the real heart and soul of what makes Neil Young tick. You might want to keep the skip button handy for the monologues, but even they have a certain charm (once or twice - I doubt Neil's plea that 'everything I tell up here is the truth though!) and overall ‘Sugar Mountain’ is an excellent purchase and a quite brilliant gig by a talented young songwriter. Strange maybe, but don't change - and Neil didn't. 

"The Rockets" (Crazy Horse)

(White Whale, '1968')

Hole In My Pocket/Won't You Say You'll Stay?/Mr Chips/It's A Mistake/Let Me Go//Try My Patience/I Won't Always Be Around/Pill's Blues/Stretch Your Skin/Eraser

"Tell me that, even if you don't want the world, you'll never leave me"

This is Crazy Horse back when they were cowboys (or country fans anyway) rather than Indians! As a card-carrying fan of the first Crazy Horse album in 1971 - the only one they made under that name with original star Danny Whitten - I knew I had to own this obscure poor-selling rarely-seen album, recorded the year before Neil had even met them. I spent many years and a small fortune trying to get hold of it and it's one of my prized possessions, even if - like many an artist's early work - it doesn't hold a candle to what will come later. In fact it's not what I expected at all. Though Danny is the dominant force he's nearly matched song for song by Leon and George Whitsell, the band's original rhythm guitarists (Danny was on lead) who passed on Neil's later invitation to work with them (though George will be Danny's 'replacement' of sorts at the end of 1971), while musically the most recognisable sound here comes from Bobby Notkoff's violin (he won't stay the course either, though he will guest on 'Running Dry' on the 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' album). Goodness knows why Neil heard the rough heavy simplistic sound he'd heard in his head from this record and the band's period live stage shows because this album doesn't sound anything like the future Horse at all. Instead of mind-numbing rock and roll many of the best songs here are pop or country, with The Rockets revealing their early influences as the doo-wop group 'Danny and The Memories' too.

They certainly don't sound like a garage band - this six piece could really play and technically this bunch of teens and early-twenty-somethings perform better than any future Horse line-up. It's the songs that aren't quite there yet but even then many are cute and charming, either going for pretty pop or working their own rather lighter brand of rock and roll or psychedelia. Danny is a star already on lead vocal, singing with full power on 'Let Me Go', with a melancholic wistfulness on 'Won't You Say You'll Stay' and with utter bare-faced cheek on 'Mr Chips', all three album highlights. The songs are often sadder and slower than you expect, with the deep beautiful sadness of the later album already here even before Danny realises his grasp of life is slipping. However unlike the 1971 effort, which was basically Danny supported by Nils Lofgren and the occasional cooking jam session, 'The Rockets' is a real band effort and all six men pull together, with Billy and Ralph concocting their first song between them (and their last until 1978!) and the Whitsell Brothers are highly impressive too. This record might not be a masterpiece - too many songs are simple derivative numbers - but if there's a word for this record then it's 'cute' (a word surely never used about Crazy Horse ever again!) with its falsetto harmonies, teenage romance lyrics and good time pop, at least at the time Danny isn't baring his soul. I mean just look at the cover - the joke amongst fans was that Crazy Horse had a 'quasi-criminal' look but this bunch look like the sort of boy next doors you'd feel safe leaving your children with (note that Danny, so much taller than the rest of the band, squats down so he's the same height as the others). What changed? Clearly something only Neil could hear and it's nothing short of a tragedy that the Horse never returned to their original plan of recording these Rockets albums alongside their work for Young in a CSNY-style capacity. Sadly sec, drugs and rock and roll will put an end to that dream long before time - this is a band with real potential (arguably every Horse album - almost all made with different line-ups - show potential but the band never stay together long enough to fulfil it)...

The CD re-issue on White Whale in 2006 (sadly the only official one to date and that didn't exactly hang around long) is well worth getting if you're a fan even if the band don't sound much like Crazy Horse, with some superlative sleevenotes which make good use of interviews with all the surviving band members and Danny's sister Brenda, who as well as providing the rare photos of her brother in his teens offers this moving testimony to her brother: 'I want to take the time to thank every one of you who play, listen to and buy Danny's music. Without you he is dead. But with you, as long as you can hear him sing, he is alive. Long live Danny!'

Danny's 'Hole In My Pocket' sums up Crazy Horse's dichotomy even before the 1971 album. A sad song about poverty and loss that's performed as if it's the happiest song in the world, it's kind of the opposite of the later album (written when Danny was happy and recorded when he was dying and miserable). 'I had a coin, but I lost it, you captured my heart but you took it' sings Danny as the rest of the band try to cheer him up and only Bobby's violin captures the sad mood of the track.

The album's gem is the violin-drenched ballad 'Won't You Say You'll Stay' which is Danny's song but performed superbly by everyone. Just listen to Ralph's heavy shrug of a drumbeat, Bobby's scratchy violin and the band's superb harmonies as Danny sings about life being pointless when you're on your own 'with no one to face it for'. In retrospect you can already tell that Danny isn't long for this world, even back in the days before he could dream of affording drugs. You can tell this is where Neil got his idea for future song 'Running Dry' from as both songs have the same mood - this 'original' is just as good, if not better.

'Mr Chips' may have cost The Rockets fame and fortune in their own right. Danny's wickedly cruel song about a bald-headed miser who only cares for money was in all likelihood one of those very 1960s 'story' songs where the greedy never prosper and wasn't based on anyone in particular - but singing this song to the bald-headed miser and record label boss Ahmet Ertegun at an audition for Atlantic records probably wasn't a good idea (just think, Crazy Horse could have been on the same label as CSNY!) He turned them down flat.

Billy and Ralph's only collaboration 'It's A Mistake' is the song that sounds most like the country/folk-rock of the Horse albums to come post-Whitten. Ralph has a really lovely falsetto and sings well with some 'ooh la la's behind him and the song is ok, forgettable but sweet and enthusiastic as the narrator falls in love and pledges his everything.

Though credited to Danny, 'Let Me Go' sounds more like a band jam. It's certainly the most Horse-like thing here with a repetitive riff that gets quite hypnotic by the end and Danny's rhythm bouncing off Bobby's violin in a blood-curdling duel. The lyrics about entrapment are highly fitting while Notkoff's violin is having hysterics by the end in the way Young's guitar jams will end in the future.

Leon wrote the rather forgettable 'Try My Patience', a jaunty Stones-style song about a girl who never appreciates the love he tries to give her. Again this album tries to perform in a happy-go-lucky way but the very real sadness shows through in this track. Leon's vocal is a little raw, but his burst of guitar notes is pretty great!

Leon also wrote the pop ballad 'I Won't Always Be Around' which is sung with full harmony. However the retro 1950s feel of the song means the Horse sound more like The Association than CSNY.

'Pill's Blues' is trying so hard to be rebellious and controversial - the way Crazy Horse will just by blinking later on in their career. But this song by George tries a little too hard with the crazy sound effects, the atonal jamming and the lyrics about taking drugs just to survive (though the song does include a fine opening couplet, 'Woke up in the morning and couldn't find my mind!') To be honest it just sounds like a bunch of teens pretending they're being edgy and cool and borrowing the riff from 'Little Red Rooster' while they're doing it. Plus it's sad to hear a song about drugs this early on in the career of a band who'll forever be haunted by them, with Danny's bluesy bluster of a guitar solo proving that he oh so knows where this coming from.

Leon's 'Stretch Your Skin' is slightly clumsy, sounding the way Bob Dylan would if he ever went on tour backed by Love. The disparate parts never quite form into a song while the surreal lyrics never quite come together.

Leon also gets the last word with 'Eraser', an R and B pastiche that sounds as if it's being performed in an echoey swimming pool. This is the Rockets idea of psychedelia without having access to any psychedelic instruments, so they break a song down to its constituent parts and play randomly on guitar, bass, drum, banjo and violin in search of a jam that never quite materialises. This is a strange way to end an album, even for Crazy Horse!

Still, even if the second side isn't anywhere near as great as the Danny-led first and even if the whole LP totals around twenty-seven minutes (short even in the vinyl age!), 'The Rockets' is an album that deserves one hell of a lot more attention than it ever gets. This is an important historical document, featuring the debut recordings by two of the men who'll play on some of the best-selling recordings of all time, plus their talented bandmate who would surely have been a huge star in his own right had life gone a different way, while the Whitsell brothers and Bobby Notkoff are all three fine musicians. More than just being historically significant, though, this is musically great too with two songs as great as anything in Young's canon and a couple more not far behind. The future Horse might not be crazy quite yet, but you can tell that this is already a band with a really bright future and someone sometime was surely going to snap them up; few listening to this record would have realised it would be Neil in search of a rock and roll band though. 

"Live At The Toronto Riverboat 1969"

(Archives Release 01)

(Reprise, Recorded February 1969 Released June 2009)

Emcee Intro-Sugar Mountain Intro*/Sugar Mountain/Incredible Doctor Rap*/The Old Laughing Lady/Audience Observation-Dope Song-Band Names Rap*/Flying On The Ground Is Wrong/On The Way Home Intro*/On The Way Home/Set Break-Emcee Intro*/I've Loved Her So Long/Allen-A-Dale-Rap*/I Am A Child/1956 Bubblegum Disaster*/The Last Trip To Tulsa/Words Rap*/Broken Arrow/Turn The Lights Down Rap*/Whiskey Boot Hill/Expecting To Fly Intro*/Expecting To Fly

* = Spoken Word

"He put his hand right inside me!...Some people come to the show - or whatever this is - and sit back and goes 'this is pretty cool man' and they just sit there and they don't do anything and then the artist starts to cry and kind of shrivels up and...everybody's supposed to write a dope song, right?'

The second earliest Neil Young show is impressively different to 'Sugar Mountain' recorded a few months before. Though the record wasn't a big seller it's clearly boosted Neil's confidence a lot and he sounds a lot more comfortable at this Canadian home-coming gig, with Crazy Horse rehearsals already going well back home. Oddly for Neil he doesn't preview any songs from 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' but more typically neither does he sing many tracks from the debut album he's meant to be plugging! (Though 'Old Laughing Lady' sounds rather lovely shorn of orchestration and a gorgeous 'I've Loved Her So Long' beats the record hands down, even if 'Trip To Tulsa' still sounds weird). Instead Neil's on a nostalgia kick, performing no less than five Buffalo Springfield songs (more than he used to perform regularly as a member of the band!) and not just the simple ones either - 'Expecting To Fly' sounds lovely with just fragile Neil and his ethereal guitar playing and 'Broken Arrow' is a brave stab at a song that's surely impossible to reproduce on stage. This might be because his special guest for the night is Springfield bass player Bruce Palmer, back with Neil after a two year gap for this gig only - sadly it's the last time the two old friends will work together until 'Trans' in 1982 (though you can't exactly hear him that well on this otherwise crystal clear CD, which is a shame). The only then-unreleased material is 'Country Girl', or at least the opening 'Whiskey Boot Hill' section of it, which tails off just on the 'too young to leave...' line but already sounds like a stunner. The highlight, however, is a breathless rendition of 'Sugar Mountain' that's performed with real energy and excitement compared to the more famous version from Canterbury House which cried bitter tears. Throughout the show Neil is in a good place, with Crazy Horse about to break big and songs pouring out of him. Neil has never sounded happier or seemed more charismatic than here at this classic gig.

More interesting still than the music, though, is the chat which takes up almost as much of the CD as the music. Whatever Neil's on I want some because he's clearly in a mellow frame of mind across this concert, greeting the audience like old friends and chatting away like they know each other intimately. Every song comes with some elaborate introduction - often ones that have nothing to do with the song whatsoever - as Neil discusses writing 'Sugar Mountain' at the same time Joni Mitchell was writing 'The Circle Game' and how turning 20 'seems an awfully long time ago' (Neil is still only 23!); Neil complains about '700% interest on pills that mess you up worse than what you went in with anyway - that's the incredible American system' before talking about having one of his feet getting bent while stuck on a doctor's table (though Neil doesn't mention the polio hat weakened his left side); next Neil's onto the daft names used by rock bands and how stupid they are (erm, yeah sure 'Buffalo Springfield' is an obvious name for a group!) before plugging 'The Guess Who's cover of 'Flying On The Ground Is Wrong'; following that 'On The Way Home' is revealed as a song about 'leaving friends' which is a nice way of describing the band he couldn't wait to leave less than a year ago; next Neil rambles about a 'mind slip' as he tries to remember 'I Am A Child' ('There's only about six songs here anyway - it's in D minor if anyone wants to play along!') and a very stoned rap where he gets cross that none of the Canadian audience know who  Alan-A-Dale of the English Robin Hood legends is (he's the rooster in the Disney version!); after that Neil makes up a verse about 'the bad pod' in '1956', the rather dated place nearby ('It took me three years to write that!') and replaces the words to 'I've Loved Her So Long' with a tale of wrapping his dog in bubblegum (you had to be there I think!); up next Neil jokes about 'being a blues band - all by myself!' and ponders over the semantics of whether the word 'request' is groovy or not (pity the person who asked him to sing 'Broken Arrow'!) before exploding 'ah, you don't care about that sort of thing, why am I even talking about it? Some of you must think about things like that - or you wouldn't be there!'; He says he hasn't performed 'Whiskey Boot Hill' 'in about two years' and is clearly nervous about playing it, getting ratty about the lights; finally Neil also admits to being nervous of playing 'Expecting To Fly' ('I've been uptight for two weeks because I've only ever played it for myself because you know I had that group thing - and now I'm so relaxed I can hardly play!')

Overall, 'Riverboat' is a fascinating gig and one of the very best in the 'Archive' series, adding to our knowledge of not just the songs (which all sound different as played here, even the songs that were already solo and acoustic to begin with) but the man himself. Neil might be playing to a small audience but he's already got them in the palm of his hand and thinking big, content to tease them with titbits from his past delivered as if he's the most important star ever while revelling in the fact that he knows what's coming next and they don't. Maybe the Star of Bethlehem really was a star after all. Highly recommended. 

"Live At The Filmore East"

(Archives Release 02)

(Reprise, Recorded March 1970 Released November 2006)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/Winterlong/Down By The River/Wonderin'/(C'Mon Baby Let's Go) Downtown/Cowgirl In The Sand

"This much madness is too much sorrow"

Of all the releases in the 'Archive' series this was the one I was looking forward to most: Crazy Horse, with Danny Whitten in his prime, on a rare charge through what turned out to be their one and only full tour on a setlist heavy on numbers from 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' with a few unreleased classics thrown in. I wouldn't say the result is bad by any means (unlike some of Neil's future bands this is one that's perfectly suited to his strengths and even when Neil is flagging Danny's right there to catch him), but this show doesn't live up to that billing. The Horse are a bit over-laden here, tripping over themselves too often while Neil doesn't sound comfortable at all. At their best, as on 'Nowhere' and a few songs off 'Goldrush', this band could actually dance like no other - switching gears, tempos and ideas wherever the whim could take them, but too much of this record sounds the same - loud and heavy. There's no subtlety here with every song played at near enough the same pace with near enough the same middling amount of passion and the same loud but crude sound. The two monster jams from 'Nowhere' sound a pale shadow of both the album versions and what CSNY were doing in concert around this same time ('River' being a little too slow and 'Cowgirl' a little too fast), 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' itself sounds suitably lost and an early airing for 'Winterlong' lacks the beauty of the finished product. Only two tracks excel - a charming country-rock version of 'Wonderin' a full thirteen years before its release on 'Everybody's Rockin' and it sounds so much better here played at a faster lick with Danny's charming backing vocals; plus the version of 'Downtown' already released on 'Tonight's The Night' heard back in context, with Danny shining once again. If this was a new band or Crazy Horse had never made any records with Whitten this would have been a revelation - as it is this was the end of quite a gruelling and busy period (with Neil on back to back tours with CSNY) - we probably just caught the Horse on an off night. It's a shame too that this CD wasn't a double set featuring the full show - Neil opened with an equally long electric set and a rather ragged 'Cinnamon Girl' was given the chop to fit even this electric set onto one CD. Maybe - dare I say it - there'll be a 'deluxe archive series' one day?! Though listed as '02' this was actually the first release in the 'archive' series and rather set the tone for most of what's to follow: all rather good, but not quite as interesting or as un-missable as it looks. 

"Live At The Cellar Door"

(Archives Release 2.5)

(Reprise, Recorded November-December 1970, Released December 2013)

Tell Me Why/Only Love Can Break Your Heart/After The Gold Rush/Expecting To Fly/Bad Fog Of Loneliness/Old Man/Birds/Don't Let It Bring You Down/See The Sky About To Rain/Cinnamon Girl/I Am A Child/Down By The River/Flying On The Ground Is Wrong

"I caught you knocking at the Cellar Door, I love you baby can I have some more?"

Clearly released as an afterthought (this show is the first of the period archive sets not be released as part of the big fat box and the 'volume 2.5' suggests Neil didn't include this show in his original plans for the series), 'Cellar Door' was also clearly recorded on a home tape recorder rather than anything 'proper' and suffers from more hiss and distortion than any of the other releases in the series so far. For all that though, it's another fascinating listen as Neil returns to playing solo shows in the wake of 'After The Goldrush' and reluctantly leaving the pace and noise of Crazy Horse and then CSNY behind for something more languid and impersonal. Neil sounds relieved in a sense though, going back to old friends and chucking in a good half of the 'Goldrush' album with only two returns to Crazy Horse' on fun acoustic takes of 'Down By The River' and 'Cinnamon Girl' (on piano!) Unlike the other shows in the series this one isn't a full set but a compilation taken from six separate gigs at the famous Washington DC venue (itself name-checked in 'The Needle and The Damage Done' from 'Harvest' in 1972). In a sense it's like hearing Neil's solo spot in the '4 Way Street' era CSNY gigs but stretched out to an hour, with almost all the songs in the setlists fan favourites performed on that tour at some stage. The exceptions are surprise returns to the Springfield days with a pretty 'Expecting To Fly' (this time transferred to piano where it works even better than it did on guitar) and a mournful 'Flying On The Ground Is Wrong' prefaced by Neil making weird Stockhausen style sound effects on the strings of his piano and chuckling to himself. Interestingly none of Neil's CSNY compositions are performed - not even 'Ohio', at the time still his highest profile song by far, as if Neil is trying to distance himself from the quartet's super-stardom.

There are also lovely previews of three songs that hadn't been released at all at the time: a slower and more doddery but still beautiful 'Old Man' (two years before 'Harvest'), a confident 'See The Sky About To Rain' (three years before The Byrds reunion cover and four before Neil's own take of it for 'On The Beach') and the unreleased-till-Archives 'Bad Fog Of Loneliness' that's sung with more hope and vigour than usual. In fact this is a very upbeat set all round, despite the gorgeous melancholy of songs like 'Birds' and the paranoia of 'Don't Let It Bring You Down'. Overall this is another strong set with several strong performances, but it is perhaps less revealing than the other three solo shows in the series ('Canterbury House' 'The Riverboat' and 'Massey Hall') with less chances taken and far less chatting in between the songs (the best quip comes at the end when Neil talks about having a nine-foot Steinway written into his contract 'to prove my eccentricity' and that he thinks he'd better play it!) Neil's still clearly riding a career peak though, with some fine vocals and guitar work and many of his career best songs already in the setlist. 

"Live At Massey Hall"

(Archives Release 03)

(Reprise, Recorded January 1971 Released March 2007)

On The Way Home/Tell Me Why/Old Man/Journey Through The Past/Helpless/Love In Mind/A Man Needs A Man-Heart Of Gold/Cowgirl In The Sand/Don't Let It Bring You Down/There's A World/Bad Fog Of Loneliness/The Needle and the Damage Done/Ohio/See The Sky About To Rain/Down By The River/Dance Dance Dance/I Am A Child

"Singing some of these songs has been like living them as well as singing them..."

This double album set, planned by producer David Briggs as the follow-up to ‘After The Goldrush’ instead of ‘Harvest’, might not be the best 'Archives' release in terms of interest or rarity value but it does capture Neil at his absolute peak. here, at a (near enough) home-coming gig in Toronto in January 1971 everything is working for Neil: he's now got a fanbase thanks to CSNY, a band he can rely on in Crazy Horse and the perfect backroom team in David Briggs and Elliot Roberts while the songs are pouring out of him at a rate of knots. Neil is on fine form, revelling in the new attention his solo career is getting and his piano playing, especially, is a revelation here – poetic and complex rather than the simple chords he often plays in later concerts. Though to the modern fan this setlists looks like most Neil concerts from the 1970s, it's a shock to realise that so much of this album was made up of just-released classics from 'Goldrush' - with lots more classics from 'Harvest' (not out for another year yet) given their first public airing.

It's not just the then-new songs that make this set special though as Neil performs some great versions of the 'oldies' too, many of them sounding refreshingly different to the originals (such as the opening  ‘On The Way Home’, a poppy ballad on album and a ragged harmony piece on ‘Four Way Street’ heard at its best here, plus a fiery acoustic version of the career highlight ‘Ohio’). 'Love In Mind' sounds rather fine here too, with a more elaborate arrangement and more confident vocals than the version released two years later on 'Time Fades Away', though an early 'Journey Thru The Past' doesn't fare quite so well. Proof of Neil's prolificness comes with 'See The Sky About To Rain', performed three years before 'On The Beach' though this song too sounds slightly undercooked here. There is one entirely unreleased song here (at least when the set first came out - a studio take appears on the full 'Archives' box set) - ‘Bad Fog Of Loneliness’ a song unreleased in studio form till the Archives box set and its a winning mix of vulnerability and Dylan-like stream of consciousness (it sounds better here than it did in the studio, too), along with the poppy ‘Dance Dance Dance’ given to Crazy Horse which isn’t exactly one of Neil’s better songs (he’ll re-write it as ‘Love Is A Rose’ for ‘Deacade’ in 1977).

 The highlight though is a fascinating medley of ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ and ‘Heart Of Gold’ back at the time when it was a brand new heartfelt song and Neil was still very much in love with second wife Carrie, admitting that the line ‘I fell in love with the actress’ is true. Though the version on 'Harvest' is a little artificial, smothered with strings and all sorts of things to the point where the message got lost, this simple piano arrangement is devastatingly direct and poignant, with Neil singing the much more moving line 'a man feels afraid' instead of 'a man needs a maid'and clearly going through a very turbulent period in his life. A half-finished 'Heart Of Gold' is, for now, a positive sounding coda full of hope and empathy rather than the slightly annoying singalong it will become - the two shouldn't work as a pairing on paper but in fact this may be the single most revealing moment of any of the 'Archives' releases so far. 'There's A World' too sounds like a really pretty song without the weight of the Harvest arrangement. Not everything here works – many of the ‘Goldrush’ songs sound far too similar to the record and this bigger show doesn't feature the same cute informality and between song patter Neil brought to his gigs in 1968 and 1969 and that's  understandable but a shame (one audience tends to sound like another on audio). There are perhaps less surprises than on the 'Riverboat' and 'Sugar Mountain' sets from earlier - and perhaps the later 'Treasure' and 'Blue Note Cafe' sets as well. All in all, though, Neil deserved to get his first American #1 since ‘Harvest’ with this long awaited record and it's another must-have live release. David Briggs was right again. 

Please note the 'Crazy Horse' album from 1971 has already been reviewed and can be viewed here:

Crazy Horse "Loose"

(Reprise, January 1972)

Hit and Run/Try/One Thing I Love/Move/All Alone Now/All The Little Things//Fair Weather Friend/You Won't Miss Me/Going Home/I Don't Believe It/Kind Of Woman/One Sided Love/And She Won't Even Blow Smoke In My Direction

"Times will tell what they know, knowing nothing at all..."

Though less than a year separates them, there's a world of difference between the first two Crazy Horse albums - and none of it is for the better. Danny Whitten was still alive until November 1972 but he was clearly in no fit shape to make music with the band he'd founded, while Jack Nietzsche had gone back to working with Phil Spector, Nils Lofgren was busy with his own band 'Grin' and Neil had turned his back on them all, heartbroken from Danny's state of health. The duo did the only thing they could do in the circumstances and contacted their old mates from the days when they were 'The Rockets'. Original guitarist George Whitsell jumped at the chance to rejoin his old band, though he couldn't persuade his brother Leon or Bobby Notkoff to join him. Instead George recommended some other pals - singer John Blanton and fellow guitarist George LeRoy. Though this line-up was heavily criticised at the time by fans, actually this new look Crazy Horse sound rather good with some natty harmonies between all five members and if they'd have been a new band they'd have fared quite well; unfortunately the natural leanings of the new group were towards country music and not their old raw wild rock and roll style at all. The group also badly miss Danny, not just as a guitarist and singer to add a bit of earth to the songs, but particularly as a songwriter - though the new writers come up with a few good ideas between them, they don't have Danny's raw power or emotional pain. Perhaps the biggest fault with 'Loose' is, ironically, that it isn't loose enough and feels far too tidy for something Crazy Horse made (in fact it's more like CSNY for the most part, though nothing like as good) - which is also a problem all their future albums would suffer from. However, short of finding another Danny Whitten or Neil Young (and both men are decidedly one-offs) there was simply nothing else to be down and though this second album is often boring, frequently toothless and a huge comedown after the brilliant heights of the debut album, it was as good as it ever could have been in the circumstances. There's a tale that Neil likes dividing his backing bands (and the ones he loves from afar) into either pretty 'Beatles' or raucous 'Stones' - here the most Rolling Stones of all his bands release their most Beatles album and for once on this site that's not a compliment.

'Hit and Run' is a Blanton song that sets the tone, being a mid-tempo rocker that never really finds a groove. It's pleasant enough though and sounds very like what Nils was up to on his rather under-par first album for 'Grin' out this same year.

Whitsell's 'Try' is a slow swamp blues that features some lovely leRoy guitar but otherwise isn't much to write home about, played slow to really get across the feeling of misery that the song intends but ending up sadly rather dull and boring.

LeRoy wrote next track 'One Thing I Love' and it's one of the best songs here, a sweet country-rock lament that wouldn't have been out of place on a Gram Parsons album. The mood is upbeat, the song is catchy, the acoustic guitar chords and piano work really well and the harmonies are gorgeous - it's just a shame about the clichéd country-loving lyrics!

'Move' started out life as the guitar jam 'Scratchy', as heard as a bonus track on the 'Complete Reprise Recordings' set. The song sounds rather better in basic form without being turned into yet another clichéd country-rock number, but the riff is good fun and writer/singer Whitsell sounds nicely husky on the raw vocals. Of all the songs on the album this was the one that could have slotted in best on the debut album.

Whitsell also wrote the bouncy 'All Alone Now' which could have been a hit single in different circumstances. A rare Crazy Horse song about being blissfully in love, this song is unusually sweet and innocent but works rather well if you're not expecting any great art.

'All The Little Things' is a LeRoy song that's angrier and more emotional than most, held together by some stinging Young-like guitar by the author and a slightly less convincing lead vocal which sounds more like Barry Manilow. The song is another one that's played too slow to hold interest, but the harmonies are nice again.

LeRoy's 'Fair Weather Friend' is another album highlight, with a catchy harmony-drenched chorus that sounds like The Eagles, only better. The lyrics about missing someone who should be there sound very much like a lament for Whitten, even though the writer never met his guitarist predecessor.

More country-rock hoe-downs for Whitsell's truly dreadful 'think I wanna die 'cause I told a lieeeee!' rhyming song 'You Won't Miss Me'. Not with songs like that around I won't!

LeRoy's 'Going Home' is his weakest song on the album, starting off like The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life' but ending up more like The Rutles. The song drifts around without really going anywhere - which is ironic given that it's a song about having seen a lot of the world but still wanting to return to your roots.

The raucous 'I Don't Believe It' at last adds a bit of fun into this serious album as Whitsell sings with raw power about feeling a relationship is going wrong, before some blissful CSNY style harmonies come in to sort things out.

Blanton's up next with 'Kind Of Woman' which kind of sounds like Buffalo Springfield's 'Kind Woman' - slow but sexy and sung with real pathos and feeling. The song needs an extra something to keep it interesting, but the opening is lovely indeed and proves that even post-Whitten Crazy Horse could really play and sing.

The noise of rock and roll is back for the groovy 'One Sided Love', which nails a Whitten-style beat to angry lyrics about betrayal and features some terrific stinging Young-like guitar from LeRoy. The words aren't up to much, but the tune is a good 'un.

Whitsell then ends the album with a brief 90 second instrumental country lament 'And She Won't Even Blow Smoke In My Direction', whose title takes longer to read than the track does to listen to. This sounds like a demo full of promise rather than being a decent song in its own right and country isn't the Horse's best fitting genre despite their 'Western' name and image, but it's pleasant enough.

In all, 'Loose' is an overlooked album. Had the Crazy Horse debut not been fabulous, had it not featured Danny Whitten at a writing peak struggling to hang on to life in the recording and had this set been released under a different name then 'Loose' sounds like a semi-promising debut by a country-rock band who occasionally lapsed into rock and roll. Whitsell and Blanton are fine writers, Whitsell, Ralph and Billy are fine singers and LeRoy is a great guitarist - but somehow this band never quite clicks together and you can tell on occasion that the band have met in the studio rather than through years and decades of constant gigging. Nobody comes close to filling Whitten's shoes, but then nobody ever could and 'Loose' does well to throw off the spectre of their absent member as much as they do, with only a couple of songs that hark back to the sound of that first LP. This is really a different band and shouldn't be judged on the same merits, with Crazy Horse fans discouraged from buying it and general music fans loosely encouraged to buy it, if that makes sense. Sadly by the time Crazy Horse regroup later in the year only Billy, Ralph and LeRoy will still be in the band and neither Whitsell nor Blanton will be heard of again - a terrible waste based on their promising cameo here. 

Crazy Horse "At Crooked Lake"

(Epic, October 1972)

Rock and Roll Band/Love Is Gone/We Ride/Outside Looking In/Don't Keep Me Burning/Vehicle/Your Song/Lady Soul/Don't Look Back/85 El Pasos

"I wilsl turn all my tears into a lonely melody"

Crazy Horse's fourth album (including 'The Rockets' debut) finds them going through their fourth line-up change and by now the band are sounding distinctly fed-up. Sounding more like their Young-backing selves than they ever did on 'Loose', all the country and folk elements have been dropped for harder edged rock - but the inspiration levels aren't even as strong as they were on the predecessor, while clearly this album doesn't come anywhere close to the Danny Whitten era. While George LeRoy stayed for another record (and still does some mighty fine Young impressions), old friend George Whitsell and new friend John Blanton have quit (though Bobby Notkoff returns for one track), to be replaced by brothers Michael and Rick Curtis. The CSN fans amongst you will know their name - they were the cult duo who cut several songs through to the 1980s including one promising song about sea and marriage named 'Seveb League Boots' which Stephen Stills re-wrote to become the trio's 1982 and standout single hit 'Southern Cross'. Sadly, this album rather sums them up: everything has promise, but nothing is quite tied together and they needed a Stills or a Whitten to bash their songs into shape, while promising songwriter LeRoy is reduced to just three (while Billy and Ralph still don't write anything). The result is another uninspired passing time album that doesn't sound much like Crazy Horse albums feel like they 'should' sound - but like 'Loose' this set isn't as bad as everybody always says. Had Crazy Horse changed their name at the same time they changed record label (moving over to Epic) then they might have had a chance as a promising new band making a strong-ish debut; compared to their reputation though this album is another record that falls short. Oh and in case you were wondering, Crooked Lake is a real place in Polk County, Florida, near where the Horse recorded this album - they felt it summed them up quite nicely!

'Rock 'n' Roll Band' sounds like the Horse should - a fiery simple rocker that feels as if it's running slightly slow - but also slightly uninspired with a 'la la la la' chorus that Neil or Danny would never have written (well, barring 'Lotta Love' anyway) and nonsense lyrics about what a good time they're having singing in a band. Bland but inoffensive. Unknown songwriter Sydney Jordan wrote one of the few Crazy Horse covers in their lifetime.

The Curtis Brothers wrote the pretty but pretty sleepy ballad 'Love Is Gone'. This track sounds like The Eagles right down to the Eagles metaphors, but it's superior to that band's average thankfully.

'We Ride' is one of the album's better songs, written to a catchy Cat Stevens riff and with slight country overtones. The Curtis' lyrics are rather good too, with lines about hoping for the future and saying that human beings are at the beginning of our spiritual evolution so of course we're going to make mistakes but that doesn't mean we can't be 'free' one day. You have to be charmed with a song that contains the line 'subways of emotion'!

LeRoy goes pure country for 'Outside Lookin' In', which features guest pedal steel from Flying Burrito Brother 'Sneaky' Pete Klienow. This song is sweet but not up to LeRoy's work on 'Loose'.

'Don't Keep Me Burnin' is slow ploddy rock and roll and the most Crazy Horse-style song here, though in truth it's more like Creedence Clearwater Revival. 'Go ahead' sneers Mike Curtis as he urges his girl to make a decision and to stop leave him hanging.

'Vehicle' is another album highlight, quite unlike anything else the Horse ever did. The track starts off with some ear-catching backwards guitar loops and has some even trippier lyrics about mankind being microbes passing through the universe or something. The Curtis Brothers and Billy's busy bass may well be the only musicians on this track. Very weird, but in a good way.

LeRoy's charming 'Your Song' is way better than the famous Elton John disgrace of the same name. Speaking to a girlfriend, LeRoy tells her that her flame keeps him burning and that she allows him to stay 'high' without resorting to a drug. Simple, but sweet and remember 'it's half the care that gets you there!'

The Curtis Brothers are back for 'Lady Soul', a slow charging gritty rocker that's more roll than soul, with some great charging Leroy guitar and some oddly under-par drumming from Ralph (this sounds like a rehearsal take to me). One of the lesser album tracks it has to be said.

'Don't Look Back' is pretty weak too - it's the sort of thing new bands write in their first week together and then wisely discard. Nice guitar solo though!

Crazy Horse albums tend to end on something weird and LeRoy's '85 El Paso's keeps up the tradition. LeRoy gets the giggles as he sings this country music pastiche about being heartbroken but still in love and coming back to El Paso 85 times in the hope of putting a love affair right. This track sounds like an outtake and the band clearly don't know the song well, but it's still good fun.

Sadly that's the last we'll hear of LeRoy - and almost the last heard of the Curtis Brothers, who dropped out of the music business after this (George Whitsell, meanwhile, 'retired' and became a driver for a local school for disabled children, while John Blanton seems to have vanissed completely). That's a shame because, again. 'Crooked Lake' shows promise considering this band have never played together before and most of the songs and most of the performances are good most of the time. You'd never call this album a pioneering work in the way that Danny Whitten-era Horse were though and you can see why this album became yet another flop record that didn't sell well even to Neil Young fans. By the time the Horse are re-born another seven years, tragedy and yet another new line-up will have befallen them and the Horse will sound entirely different again!

"Journey Through The Past" (Film Soundtrack)

(Reprise, November 1972)

For What It's Worth-Mr Soul (Buffalo Springfield)/Rock 'n' Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)/Find The Cost Of Freedom (CSNY)/Ohio (CSNY)/Southern Man/Are You Ready For The Country?/Let Me Call You Sweetheart*/Alabama//Words (Between The Lines Of Age)/Relativity Invitation*/Handel's Messiah*/King Of Kings*/Soldier/Let's Go Away For A While*

* = Music Used In The Film Not Featuring Neil Young

"You can't deliver! - I wonder why?"

I'm really glad I don't live in Neil Young's head sometimes (not that mine makes an awful lot more sense!) 'Journey Through The Past' was how Neil chose to spend his 'Harvest' money - a surreal indulgent clip-fest of Springfield, CSNY and solo moments interspersed with moments taken from his own dreams and given a soundtrack mixing Handel's Messiah and The Beach Boys. Nobody hardly got to see the film but several people did buy this pricey double-album soundtrack set based on Neil's reputation and star status, which came a full six months earlier. Most fans hated it, Neil's new sudden casual fans in the wake of 'Goldrush' and 'Harvest' all left thinking he'd left the plot and even those of us who like bits of it are left scratching our heads over what exactly to make of other parts. To be fair, that's the point: Neil didn't tell anyone at the time but he was very messed up in the head at the time this album came out. Danny Whitten died the very same month the album was released and in retrospect this album seems like an early attempt at the 'Doom Trilogy', with Neil so sick of show business and how it sucks people in that he's determined to punish his audience for being sucked in by fame - for being sucked in by him. No other artist of this era would ever have been brave - or stupid - enough to release a full side-long rambling version of 'Words (Between The Lines Of Age)' (the song generally voted the least popular of this most popular of eras), some tinny soundtracks literally taken off TV shows or a whole side that doesn't feature Neil at all. It's that bravery that makes and breaks this album, as it tries your patience over and over again, only to come out of it with a new understanding of where Neil's head is at (sort of - I still don't understand what the Ku Klux Klan on horseback is all about) and a couple of good performances. Most notable of these is 'Soldier', a brooding piano attack on religion that really deserved a much better home (note that this is a different mix to the one on 'Decade' and runs slightly longer too), while the otherwise unreleased live recording of CSNY performing 'Ohio' and 'Find The Cost Of Freedom' (a song Neil didn't even write!) are worth owning too. By and large, though, this is a litmus paper test for fans: if you can survive this one you can survive anything - except maybe 'Time Fades Away' up next... The film was included on the end of the 'Archives' box set, for those who hadn't already suffered enough! Oh and where is the autobiogrphical title track, which would have made a perfect addition to the album (but was instead left for 'Time Fades Away')?

Neil didn't write 'For What It's Worth' but as Buffalo Springfield's most famous moment it had to be here anyway via the famous clip of the band on Hollywood Palace.

Neil has great fun miming to the record of 'Mr Soul' from the same show - but you can't tell that on the soundtrack album, just the film. Using a TV soundtrack of a band miming to a studio record seems pointless.

I think the take of 'Rock and Roll Woman' - which Neil didn't write either by the way - comes from a show known as 'Popendity'. Either way it's just the record again with some chat and some distinctly muddy sound.

CSNY are up next with a brittle 'Ohio' from a show at the Fillmore East on June 6th 1970. This version lacks the power and clarity of the '4 Way Street' one but it's still worth hearing as an example of one of CSNY's greatest tracks back when it was brand new and the pain was clearly still very real.

'Find The Cost Of Freedom' - which allows Stills to get more songs on the record than Young so far - doesn't fare quite so well and loses the spooky defiance of either the studio original or '4 Way Street'. No versions of this superb song are ever bad though and this is worth hearing too if you're a CSNY fanatic.

'Southern Man' is from the same show and would be a fine performance had it not been chopped about quite so much. reduced to seven minutes this doesn't have a chance of the power of the '4 Way Street' take at double the length.

'Are You Ready For The Country?' is a rehearsal take for 'Harvest' that's performed to pretty much the same arrangement but everybody is still clearly learning their parts and they don't play with quite the same finesse as the finished version.

Weirdly the next feature doesn't include Neil at all, as an un-credited female chorus and an un-credited announcer tell us the next song is going to be 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart'. Is it Timi Yuro? She had the hit with this song in 1962 but as I can't track down that version (and frankly I never want to hear this Godawful tune again anyway) I'm not sure!

'Alabama' is more interesting than most, as we hear both a 'Stray Gators' take of the backing track and Crosby and Stills discussing how to sing the backing vocals with Neil (somewhere along the line Croz was persuaded to drop the emphasis on the 'wind-ows' line which he's adamant about singing here). You also get to hear their verdicts on the new Stones documentary film of Altamont 'Gimme Shelter' (predictably Crosby: 'I hated it!' Young: 'I loved it!')

Side three is a full sixteen minutes of 'Words (Between The Lines Of Age)'. It felt longer. Much longer. Believe it or not we don't even get the bulk of the song, just the endless jamming section and the finale which comes as a surprise when Neil starts singing for the first time.

Neil speaks to some Christian worshippers for 'Relativity Invitation' in which human beings impact on one another's thoughts 'like dominoes' and turn people 'on' to stuff. Neil sounds less convinced by the 'Jesus' bit  but likes the thought of ideas impacting others as that fits in so well with his own musical career ('I can dig that!') Quite why this minute snippet of dialogue is on the album is anyone's guess, but it makes a good segue with...

'Handel's Messiah' as performed by The Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation. I can't get a handle on it and why this overblown bit of baroque is here myself. Is Neil laughing at the followers or joining in?

Miklos Rozsa's 'King Of Kings' is better, but still very out of place and feature the same performers who must have been very surprised when their royalty fee came through!

Next up is 'Soldier', Neil's sly commentary on what he sees as Christian hypocrisy recorded with icy chills in front of a roaring fire (which is miked up louder than the performance itself!) 'I don't believe you!' cackles Young as he reflects on Biblical readings about walking on a river and wonders why a young crusading soldier fighting in the name of Jesus has such a light shining in his eyes when Jesus was all about peace. Neil's piano playing is gorgeous here and there's a bit more that was edited out of the mix heard on 'Decade' (where not surprisingly this became the only one of the album's songs to make the cut). One of Young's most overlooked songs, more than likely because of the weird surroundings, this has a strength and direction missing from the rest of the work.

The album then closes with weirdo Beach Boys instrumental 'Let's Go Away For A While' from 'Pet Sounds. Though it closely resembles Neil's work with Jack Nietzsche it has no place on this album - the same album's 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' would have been a more suitable choice!

Overall, then, 'Journey Thru The Past' is a journey through a nightmare - on the film but even more so on the soundtrack we keep hearing bands going over and over the same bits, interminable jams without any sense of context and a load of classical works that are no substitute for Neil at his best. But then by the end of 1972 Neil wasn't at his best and that's kind of the whole point: Neil's lost confidence in his band, in his life and in his music and is searching for something which the 'Jesus freaks' and his own weird subconscious can't provide. He'll only find it via the Doom Trilogy and the sense of desperation, hopelessness and realism of those albums, but Neil hasn't quite made that realisation yet. Cryptic, fragmented and metaphorical 'Journey' shares nothing with those album's sense of living in the moment but it very much points towards the darker music to come. In that sense it will tell you as much as any of the better known Young albums out there; in practice it's an hour of dodgy TV soundtracks and Handel's messiah interrupted by false starts, jam sessions and one pretty decent song. 

A now complete list of Neil Young and related articles at Alan’s Album Archives:

'Neil Young' (1968)

'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' (1969)

‘After The Goldrush’ (1970)

'Harvest' (1972)

'Time Fades Away' (1973)

'On The Beach' (1974)

'Zuma' (1975)

'American Stars 'n' Bars' (1977)

'Comes A Time' (1978)

'Rust Never Sleeps' (1979)

'Hawks and Doves' (1980)

'RelAclTor' (1981)

'Trans' (1982)

'Everybody's Rockin' (1983)

'Old Ways' (1985)

‘Landing On Water’ (1986)

‘This Note’s For You’ (1988)

'Freedom' (1988)

'Ragged Glory' (1990)

'Weld' (1991)

'Harvest Moon' (1992)

'Sleeps With Angels' (1993)

'Mirror Ball' (1995)

‘Silver and Gold’ (2000)

‘Are You Passionate?’ (2002)

'Greendale' (2003)

‘Prairie Wind’(2005)

‘Living With War’ (2006)

‘Chrome Dreams II’ (2007)

'Fork In The Road' (2009)

'Le Noise' (2011)

'A Treasure' (1986/2012)

'Storytone' (2014)

'The Monsanto Years' (2015)

Live/Compilation/Crazy Horse Albums Part One 1968-1972

Live/Compilation/Crazy Horse Albums Part Two 1977-2016

Surviving TV Clips 1970-2016

Neil Essay: Will To Love – Spiritualism and The Unseen In Neil’s Music

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