Monday, 23 January 2017
Neil Young "Everybody's Rockin'" (1983)
Neil Young "Everybody's Rockin'" (1983)
Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes/Rainin' In My Heart/Payola Blues/Wonderin'/Kinda Fonda Wanda//Jellyroll Man/Bright Lights Big City/Cry Cry Cry/Mystery Train/Everybody's Rockin'
'When I was a young boy back in '83, I went out and bought me this here LP, it cost me around a buck a minute, and the Neil Young sound was barely in it, the LP hit the charts like a ton of bricks, with Neil on the cover with his hair all slicked, didn't make a lot of money which gave Geffen a fit and included absolutely nothing in the way of kicks, people wondered what the hell was going on and complained to Neil but the kid had already got gone...'
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting between Neil and record company when Geffen heard the 'rock and roll' album they'd asked for and Young had been recording with glee. The first year between artist and label had been a complex and difficult one, with Geffen rejecting the first album Neil submitted to them ('Island In The Sun') and having a fit when Neil presented an ambitious second ('Trans') before rejecting a third (the country-tinged 'Old Ways', a project revived in 1984). David Geffen, a longstanding friend of Neil's took him aside and asked for a 'rock' album for the following year, meaning that what they really wanted was a 'Crazy Horse' style rock album in the line of 'Rust Never Sleeps' or the track 'Like A Hurricane'. Neil though didn't think of that sound as rock and roll and wasn't used to being told which of the many muses juggling in his head to follow, so half-seriously, half-mischievously, recorded a 'rockabilly' album instead. Because to Neil that's what rock and roll was: it was a 1950s world full of slicked back hair and pink jackets (as demonstrated on the hilarious front cover - never has Neil got so deeply into character than here as the 'leader' of a fictitious 1950s band named 'The Shocking Pinks'), doo-wop harmonies and saxophone solos and lyrics about girlfriends trying on shoes, payola and jellyroll. Geffen, who'd been told that yes absolutely this was a 'rock' album, must have had a fit while Young probably felt like a kid handing in his homework knowing that he'd spent the summer break making ugly sketches of the teacher. Against all odds, Neil was allowed to put it out, the record label perhaps thinking that at least the singer was using his actual voice this time instead of a vocoder. So was the joke on them or on Neil - or just on the fans like us who had to buy the flipping thing? And somebody is surely laughing, even if it's only the saxophone squeal at the end of the final song.
The general consensus amongst fans was that this album - recorded within a couple of hours, so legend has it, on April Fool's Day 1983 which might be a clue - was a kind of extended joke. Neil bashed out ten songs (six originals, four favourite cover songs) as quickly as possible and handed them over while smirking that he'd caught Geffen out. But that's to reckon without taking into account just how deeply Neil goes into character sometimes. Neil later described this period as 'like being in a movie' and that he drew on his rock and roll loving uncle in his depiction of the leader of a fading 1950s band who still thought they were hip idols when they were clearly past it. Neil, after all, wanted to escape from being Neil Young for a bit. While his son Ben wasn't getting quite as much full-on care as he had been across 1980 and 1981, Neil still had plenty of reason to want to 'escape' from the difficulties of being a dad to a son with cerebral palsy. The last tour he'd been on, with the Transband, had been the most difficult in a decade with a combination of musicians from Neil's past who never quite gelled and a bass player in Buffalo Springfield's Bruce Palmer who found it hard to keep pace after fifteen or so years away. Neil had to be given 'shots' by a doctor to keep going through the final dates - he wasn't going through that again. Things were better in the olden days when at least people were open about being exploited...
This fleeting thought took hold at the end of that tour when Neil sent an SOS call to an old school-friend named Alex Reid and the pair reminisced about the 1950s bands they used to watch and watching Alan Freed on TV before he was disgraced (it was discovered the DJ would only play new bands for payment, the subject matter of 'Payola Blues'; this is the 'Alex' who gets the rare album dedication from Neil, alongside wife Pegi). The 1950s were in vogue in the era too - think 'Grease', if you must - and in another decade of style over substance and home comforts the era came with extra appeal. After all bitty glamorous pop lovelies who didn't write their own songs: that's what the world needed in 1983 and what the average record-buyer bought in droves. In a way Neil was just pointing out the current cycle for what would sell wasn't new and had been done before, pointing out to Geffen that he understood the stupidity of pandering to a marketplace that kept changing it's mind what it wanted. Rock and roll covers were plentiful too, with such legends as John Lennon and David Bowie making their own in the years before this and Paul McCartney recording two in later life. For Neil, slowly feeling his way back into music after years away, the songs he used to listen to in his early years must have also been of some comfort to him. The rock and roll setting also enabled to sing about empty-headed teenage ideas without getting funny looks or having anyone asking why he wasn't writing from the heart anymore, because nobody did on those kind of LPs back then (instead most people were giving him looks for having the idea in the first place - and Neil was a lot more used to that). If fans got the 'joke' about what he was delivering to his record label then that was ok too. As ever, though, Neil took things too far, refusing to release a pure covers album or make this a single or an EP but a full blown LP. On the other hand though he didn't take things far enough. 'Everybody's Rockin' didn't just feature vaguely retro songs it was designed to be exactly like an album from the 1950s, right down to the short playing time of 24:55 (barely worth getting up to change over if you own the LP version!) This album has gone down in history as the one not only Geffen had problems with but fans too - actually our biggest problem is more that there's so little on offer here, not what that something is.
'Everybody's Rockin' is, after all, not intended to be substantial. It's a palette-cleanser from a writer who feels written out but wants to record something anyway and deliberately lighter in tone and retrospective and 'cosy' in mood to make up for the heavier, more pioneering album just released. It's a typical Young tug of war about veering to the other extreme from the one he's just offered us and a technique that he's followed for much of his career. Heard individually and in that context, it's a lot of fun. Neil once sang about the end of the Aztec empire, wrote perhaps the most painful obsessive song about love ever written ('Like A Hurricane') and still had room left over for the nervous breakdown in sound 'Dangerbird'. On this album he's singing about the fact his girlfriend has bought a new pair of shoes as if it's on a similar level of importance. Elsewhere 'Wonderin' finally finds a proper home for a sweet but insubstantial song that's been kicking around since the early 1970s but would have been trampled and overshadowed on any album before this. 'Cry Cry Cry' is such a good and spot-on 1950s pastiche (early Elvis songs especially) that I've just had to check that it isn't in fact an oldie but a whole new Young song (interestingly 'Try Not To Cry' is one of three original songs Paul McCartney added to his nearest album 'Run Devil Run' in 1999 which sounds similarly of the period; I never knew the 1950s was such a sad time). The title song is the one track here that acknowledges the 1980s but takes back the years anyway with a tale of the then-president Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy 'bopping on the White House lawn' the way they would have done had they taken office in the 1950s when he was a young actor. Then there's the one note of sourness and darkness as Neil spoofs up what the 1950s was really about - money - for a decade who are becoming just as obsessed about it as the wickedly funny 'Payola Blues' sports backing singers intoning 'cash-a-wadda-wadda' throughout the song.
And then there's the rest. Neil is not a natural interpreter and has yet to match the sheer amount of cover songs on this album except on 'pure' cover records like 'Americana' and 'A Letter Home' (and they aren't even as substantial as this record is). All his covers of Jimmy Reed, Elvis and Bobby Freeman songs do is make you want to listen to the originals, by someone who knows how to sing them. Neil just sounds like a karaoke night at the local 1950s pub - and not a particularly good night either. As for 'Jellyroll Man', it sounds like it took longer to sing than it did to write and may well have the silliest chorus in the Neil Young canon (basically the title repeated over and over...and over some more). Neil treats his voice to period echo, which helps with the period sound but makes him sound even further away from 'us' and reality than the vocoders on 'Trans' and that's a problem because for this album to work we need to believe that the tracks that are meant to be spoken to 'us' (like 'Payola Blues' especially) really do come from the heart. Instead they just sound like a man who thinks he can get away with anything and doesn't care if he can't - that's Geffen's problem, not his.
What I'd have loved to have seen is the 'Everybody's Rockin' we have here as merely the backbone for a bigger LP Neil would have returned to after the tour was out the way. There were a number of songs introduced to the setlist in 1983 that would have made this a far more productive and fulfilling experience for artist, fan and record company all round without Neil having to compromise on his ideals or give way to his stubborn-ness at giving Geffen what he thought they wanted. Two of them are the highlights of the Geffen compilation 'Lucky Thirteen' released in 1987: 'Get Gone' lasts for a fifth of the album running time in fact, a wise-cracking 'story song' about the 'story of The Shocking Pinks' that goes from failing exams to getting spotted by a big-time promoter to dying the ultimate 1950s rock star death in a plane crash. Then there's a couple of songs revived from the Squires days when Neil really was a teenager dreaming of the big-time and his band getting discovered in just the sort of way The Shocking Pinks were (fictitiously), 'Ain't That The Truth?' and 'Don't Take Your Love Away From Me'. Having been written at a time when the 1950s had only just become the 1960s, they sound like far more convincing period songs than anything the 38-year-old Neil can come up with in 1983. Add these three songs to the running order, throw in another couple of covers as well (personally I'd have loved to have heard Neil revive his first ever performed vocal, on The Beatles' 'It Won't Be Long', while Young surely has the voice and passion for a deeper 1950s writer like Arthur Alexander or The Bryant Brothers at their most substantial more than he does as a failed Elvis singer).The trouble with 'Everybody's Rockin' is that not everything rocks and when an album only lasts half the length an album of the day normally does you really do need everything to be rocking or at any rate rolling. Unlike Betty, Neil just doesn't try on enough pairs of shoes across the making of this album and it shows.
As a result many fans are content to ignore this album and pretend it doesn't exist. That's understandable but would be a shame. Forget what Neil's doing up front if you need to and concentrate on the backing, with The Shocking Pinks one of the best-drilled of Neil's 1980s bands, lighter on their feet than both the International Harvesters and the 'Landing On Water' rhythm section. The poor band were actually hired to work on a 'country' album and had most likely never played any rockabilly in their life, so it's impressive to report just how good they sound (even if everything is lost in a production echo that can only be a 1980s creation). That goes double for Anthony Crawford, a singer who'll pop up on many an album in the future and who grew especially close to co-backing singer Pegi Young (appearing on all of Neil's wife's solo albums too), while this album's co-singer Rick Palombi deserved a second more 'normal' Young album to strut his stuff. Larry Byrom does a fair Jerry Lee Lewis pastiche across the record. With a focus Neil lacks as a singer and a bright-as-a-button tone, he's what prevents this album from being pure pastiche and parody. Tim Drummond, usually the star bass player on Neil's saddest and weirdest songs, has fun trying to swing. Ben Keith, always prepared to go as far out as Neil does, even learnt to play the alto saxophone to appear on this album, performing with a quite different approach to the melancholy he brings to the pedal-steel. He also played an ordinary guitar, for the first time ('What I want is someone who sounds like they can't play and they're just learning' Neil said in the studio at the start of the sessions - 'Hey, Ben, you don't play, you're perfect!') Karl Himmel also throws in some sturdy drumming that would have gone down nicely at the Cavern or Casbah Clubs back in the Merseybeat days. Neil is the one who sounds the most out of place, which is a bit of a nerve given that this album is his idea, but even he manages to find a way of adapting his traditional guitar playing to a more streamlined, precise and 1950s approach, particularly on 'Mystery Train', the only song that sounds as if Neil had a rehearsal first.
The result is an album only a fan could love (and even then not many) and a record label like Geffen were designed to hate, so no wonder everyone jumped up and down on it when it came out. Neil, already confusing most people after the more heartfelt 'Trans' in 1982, was never going to win anybody over with this album and it was savaged, leaving the singer to comment on his reviewers 'Do they think I'm stupid? Of course I know this record wasn't the greatest thing I ever made - that was the whole point!' One magazine, early in the life of CDs, called this 'the worst sounding album of the year' when it was issued in the mid 1980s, which only suggests they hadn't heard the original LP (the production of this record is by far its worst feature, making every track sound the same and robbing it of any life; typically Neil used a hybrid of obsolete 1950s and cutting edge 1980s technology that wasn't designed to fit together; even more typically this is one of the few Young CDs that hasn't been re-released or re-mixed down the years). All of this is true: 'Everybody's Rockin' sounds dreadful, is often all too clearly recorded in a single sessions without the recourse of rehearsals and never quite loses it's 'less piss off the record company' status and grow into a full album of its own violation. However, the nadir of Young's catalogue? When that catalogue includes such what-the?' moments as 'Chrome Dreams II' 'Fork In The Road' and flipping 'Greendale'? Nope, nope, nope. 'Everybody's Rockin' works because it doesn't take itself seriously, from the cover to the contents and it's best moments are either hilariously funny or impressively forthright. You'd have to be a real grump not to appreciate the pretty soft-shoe-shuffle of 'Wonderin' or 'Kinda Fonda Wanda' and 'Payola Blues' has a sting in the tail only a triple Scorpion like Neil could write (it's the most shocking song by the Shocking Pinks, that's for sure - and any band with a pun-worthy name like that can't be bad). Given that it was more or less written on the spot (to entertain Pegi and annoy Geffen in equal measure) and recorded even quicker than that, it ought to be far worse than it is. Instead Neil's half-vision is almost rescued by his backing band and his instinct for songwriting, with the only part of the album that sounds truly rushed is the mixing. I just wish there was more to it - more songs, more running time, more recording sessions and a lot more thinking going on. Oh and less Elvis covers, that would definitely be a good thing. Clearly not every fan is going to rock to this album and it's not the place to start your Neil Young collection. But surely the only one who can really hate this likeable collection of rock and roll covers, standards and soundalikes is Geffen and that, after all, was the whole point.
'Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes' is Neil Young doing Bobby Freeman doing Jerry Lee Lewis and the result comes out sounding more like a gorilla let loose in a shoe shop. Neil isn't built for 1950s rock (this single was a #37 hit in 1958) and that's never better shown than here where he lacks the lightness of a touch for a song that goes 'ooo-wa-ooo' for hours on end. You'd never claim the original was exactly classy and it's a confusing song anyway: why is the narrator telling us his girlfriend got a new pair of shoes? Is he pleased because he bought them for her? Is he horrified because he had to wait an eternity while she tried them all on? And why does she end the song escaping the attentions of first an undertaker and then a guy at a party who both think she should be wearing 'studebakers'? (Neil probably decided to do this song just because he could name an ancient make of horse-and-wagon coach. You can bet your own shoes Neil would have owned one of these had he lived even a few decades earlier than he was). At least the original had a certain joy and exuberance however which was the whole pont of the song, not what shoes Betty Lou was a-woo-wearing. Without that same joy this version has nothing to (shoe) lace the song together, though that said the band are having a great time behind Neil with the 'Red Hill Boys' providing some glamour in the backing vocals and Ben Keith shocking everyone with a saxophone solo that's halfway competent, more 'Yakkety Yak' than falling flat. 'Betty Lou's Got A New Pair Of Shoes' is, after all, rather fitting for a song choice that seems to be designed for no other reason than Neil keeping his band on their toes.
Even the band sound lost on the interminable cover of 'Rainin' In My Heart' though, a hit for blue singer Slim Harpo in 1961 (not a very obvious choice, but The Rolling Stones do a few of his songs too; he may have got the title from the Buddy Holly song out in 1959). Considering that the mood of most of this album is upbeat and 'fun' and daft and silly, this slow weepie always sounded out of place. At least Neil's gone to town on the arrangement, however, turning this song from a pure blues into more of a Fats Domino/Elvis hybrid. Neil almost nails the vocal, with a little boy lost vocal we're so used to from other vocals across his career, but the mood of the song is false and the plastering of echo makes even this vocal sound insincere, especially the 'spoken word' part. And this is a hard lyric to make sincere at the best of times: Neil's sad, his girl's left him, it's as if it's raining but the sun will come out if his lover agrees to come back to him. yeah because that always works in songs like this one. Even Neil's brushed-off harmonica playing seems out of place here, wild and yet somehow flat. You have to feel for the poor piano too, which is really taking a pounding here on this simple 12 bar blues (the sort of thing 10cc would normally be parodying) and the 2:12 it takes to hear this song often feels like an eternity. Every 1950s cliche under the sun wrapped up in one forgettable cover, the best you can say about this song is that at least we can hear the words, unlike most of the noisy 'Americana' or muffled 'A Letter Home'.
'Payola Blues' is much more like it, as Neil manages to do several things at once on a multi-layered song. On one level it's a parody of just how easy it was to get a song on the radio in the 1950s: you just handed a lot of money over to the DJ! On another it's a protest that the same thing is happening in 1983 with MTV stations more interested in big budget music videos and 'grooming' people into becoming celebrities whether they can do anything or not (Neil could never get any of his videos seen until much later in the decade - he made two for this album which are about his best, with a re-appearance of that pink jacket from the cover in there too). The opening lyrics turn on Alan Freed who was caught up in a payola scandal in 1959 that ended his career (unfairly really - everyone was doing it, but as the least 'helpful' member of a committee set up to investigate it he became the 'fall-guy'); many people felt particularly bitter because Freed seemed much more 'one of them' than the elder DJs and he went out of his way to be 'fair', refusing to play soppy white cover versions of songs that were hits and digging out the African-American recordings originals, for instance. The fact that he'd taken money seemed to go against all of the rock and roll spirit he'd ever shown. On another level, though, this song is another dig at Geffen, giving Neil a chance to air his latest grievance, that 'if a man is making music they ought to let his records play' and that 'no matter where I go I never hear my record on the radio'. Neil has a 'great new record' a 'new manager' and a 'new label' but still he can't 'get through' to his audience because the promotion men have made the decision that it won't 'sell' and have blocked it - something that makes more sense of this album somehow, as if Neil is still hurting over the poor advertising budget for 'Trans' and the abandoned first version of 'Old Ways' (why bother crafting genius when a record won't sell anyway - why not rattle it off in a couple of hours?) With all this going on both Neil and the band sound more committed than normal, turning in a great performance that sees Neil actually singing from the heart for once while 'The red Hill Boys' get to chant cash-a-waddah-waddah with a straight face. Sounding like a cross between 'Great Balls of Fire' and 'Blueberry Hill' this is nevertheless the one moment here that truly sounds like pure Neil, hinting at the commercial-taunting song 'This Note's For You' to come. Neil makes a stand here that he'll always be 'real', whatever else he is - even if that statement is made rather less empowering given that he sings it to us while wearing that suit and singing to a derivative melody and arrangement.
'Wonderin' is perhaps the best song on the album though, a sweet song that was originally written for 'Homegrown' in 1974 and signified Neil's slight upturn of hope during the period in between wives number two and three. Neil manages to get in a pun on the title as his body wanders lost round a neighbourhood and his mind wanders somewhere else, wondering is his 'baby' will ever come home and whether things will stay the same as they are - or is it now time to move on? A second verse adds that Neil has been 'talking' all night long as well, distracting himself to keep his 'heart from sadness', which sounds like a very un-Neil thing to do but works in context, this narrator choosing to do anything he can but admit defeat and that he is going to have to move on with his life. The original version of this song ends on a hopeful note, with some sweet uplifting harmonies adding unity and brotherly love as they whisper 'knowing that I need you to save me' over and over'. Though simple, bordering on stupid, there's a sweetness and lightness of touch to the original that makes it one of the better songs that 'got away'. Sadly the 1983 rockabilly version loses touch with all these things, adding some heavy handed touches such as some 'woo-wah talk talk' backing vocals and a drum that sounds as heavy as the metal thrash that's soon to be unleashed on 1986 Young album 'Landing On Water' (and yet which sounds even more out of place here in the middle of a 1950s record). It's as if Neil realised his record was running short and looked through his bag of unreleased songs for one that was deliberately simple and sounded like it might fit - but the trouble is it doesn't. This song may be simple but it's also heartfelt, the sound of a man not that sure where the next roll of the dice of life will take him and unable to think about anything else until the matter of his love life and where he's living is settled. Neil seems to have belatedly realised that here, adding a vocal that's big on emotion and low on laughs, which just makes him sound more incongruous in this party atmosphere than ever, successfully remembering what it felt like in the year before he met future wife Pegi (the fact that this album is partly dedicated to her - and not many of Young's albums are compared to other composers - suggests that Neil realises just how 'lucky' he got with that roll of the dice and that he wouldn't have changed it for anything, even with all the extra problems he's experienced since that his 1974 self wouldn't have been expecting). This song is too good to waste in the middle of a rock and roll covers album, but at least it adds a belated sense of realness and drama to the album which otherwise would have been pure frosting.
Talking of which 'Kinda Fonda Wanda' is the reason why the 1950s had to change into the 1960s and music had to get away from empty-headed songs that meant nothing. Neil is having a ball, writing a silly lyric that does the old 1950s trick of name-checking every girl with every rhyming character flaw he can think of, apparently to amuse his wife and school-friend while out on the road more than anything else. Neil knows a lot of 'Lou's - this one's Mary Lou, not Betty Lou though, while he also dated a whole range of musical heroines: Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly), Barbara Ann (The Beach Boys), Donna (10cc), Short Fat Fannie (Little Richard via Larry Williams), Skinny Minnie (Bill Haley and The Comets) and Runaround Sue (Dion), which in the real world shows that Neil owns a lot of rock and roll records and in the song world shows that his narrator has probably had more sex than any other character in any other Neil Young song. He ends up settling for Wanda, who he's kinda fond of, but never tells us why, preferring instead to point out the other girls' flaws compared to hers. A silly song that should be a lot of fun, it's a shame that Neil continues to sing in such an edgy serious monotone, the way he did on Betty Lou kicking her heels: this is a song that needs to either think it's the wittiest thing ever composed or so straight-laced it's even more hilarious; instead this song is kinda in the middle with the backing singers getting the better of Neil until he finally gives up on the last verse and simply sings 'twiddlydeedee!' while the Redhill Bills don't miss a beat and just sing 'Fonda Wanda' the way they always do. Is it just my ears or did Neil 'steal' this song from an unlike and not actually very 1950s source too - it's the entire melody of Linda McCartney's equally 50s-decorated song 'Cook Of The House' from 'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' in 1986 only instead of listing ingredients it lists girls instead. For all its flaws though, this is exactly what Neil should be writing for this kind of flimsy album (if not necessarily the way he should have been recording it) and I'm still kinda fonda it myself.
I'm less sure about 'Jellyroll Man', which seems like a joke too far. While the backing singers intone 'rock rock' and 'right now right now', Neil returns to one of his favourite themes of addiction, heard previously on anti-drug songs 'The Needle And The Damage Done' and later on 'No More'. Here, though, this obsessed narrator loves jellyroll - basically swiss roll if you're not American, with jam in the middle. He probably means sex, with 'jellyroll' heard in many a blues song as a sticky euphemism that's about as close to the real thing as musicians could get at the start of the 20th century. The glorious harmonica solo that Neil plays - clearly the highlight of the song - hints at some desperate need that will never be satisfied like all the best blues songs do too. However even for this album this is Neil running on empty. All we learn across two verses and a mangled, over-repeated chorus is that when you feel the need for something you have to satisfy your cravings 'right now', whatever the cost. That might explain why Neil ran through so many girls before settling on Kinda Fonda Wanda but this song doesn't tell us whether the narrator thinks this is a good or bad thing, whether he's boasting like he would in a Rolling Stones song or guilty about it the way Neil will later on albums like 'Are You Passionate?' and 'Storytone'. Of course this song is meant to be a comedy and not a confessional - and yet, once again, it doesn't raise even the slightest bit of laughter and Neil could have made it so much funnier if he'd wanted to.
Neil was a big Jimmy Reed fan growing up and it's inevitable one of his songs would end up on this record somewhere. However 'Bright Lights Big City' is sung with all the reverence of a drunken pub singer. What with the assault on a bootleg-audio version of 'Baby What You Want Me To Do?' on 'Broken Arrow' the Reed cover songs in the Young back catalogue begin to look like sabotage. The song should suit Neil, being a sleepy blues propped up by a heavy backbeat, the kind of thing he performed with Crazy Horse all the time. The melancholy of the lyrics which seduced his girl into running away and checking out the big time in the city is also a theme we've heard a lot from Neil in everything from 'Country Girl' to 'Here We Are In The Years'. However Neil doesn't sound at all comfortable here, almost yawning his way through the song even though once again the backing band are at least trying to do him proud, with some particularly natty drum rolls going on in the background. The 1961 original is one of Reed's better recordings, smoky and low-key and shadows, but Neil's version ironically ruins the effect by having too many 'bright lights' glaring at us. Along with 'Raining In My Heart' the lowest ebb of the album.
'Cry Cry Cry' is better, with a wailing - in both senses of the word - melody and a quick-stepping riff that sounds like the most authentic 1950s moment on the album even though Neil wrote it especially for this album. Which is interesting because this soggy tale about having too many feelings spilling over to keep them all in couldn't be less like the average 1950s macho type of male narrator forcing himself to be strong. Neil really goes for it too with a 'boo hoo hoo' chorus that really does feel sorry for itself while simultaneously trying to rock his blues away. Neil's Carl Perkins style guitar is amongst his best on the album, electrifying a song that shouldn't sound anywhere near this good being so simple once again. Neil sounds more committed here than he does for most of the album, perhaps because this is another song aimed at Geffen which has been only slightly re-written to disguise the fact. With the record label not interested in the music he wants to make and more interested in artists who can bring in the big bucks, Neil sighs that he's 'tired of standing in this line' and sighs that 'somewhere there's a rainbow for me' but it isn't 'here', perhaps dreaming of the day already when he can go back to Reprise. Though the song steals it's melody wholesale this time from Eddie Cochran's 'twenty Flight Rock'. this still manages to be one of the more original songs on the album and throws in an extra something many of the other songs this album lack.
Everybody has covered Elvis' 'Mystery Train'. Everybody. Even I'll probably get round to issuing my own version one day and I can't flipping sing. Neil's at his best on this album when he's digging out the more obscure side of 1950s Americana and he's clearly no Elvis, so this song was always going to struggle, especially the anodyne production which sucks even the little excitement Neil tries to give it out of the recording booth like a vacuum cleaner with ADHD. There's a good performance in here somewhere though, with Neil doubling up on chunky acoustic rattle and quirky fierce electric which is actually a pretty good impression of the quick-stepping beat of the original. Full marks too to Karl Himmel's clever variations on the original's simple snare part. However the echo makes this whole song sound less like a train and more like someone drowning in an echoey bathtub, while the poor backing singers get lumbered with having to sound like a train whistle when you can tell they're straining at the leash to join in too. The production on this albums is bad everywhere, but this is the one classic-in-the-making it renders truly unlistenable and it's such a shame as there's clearly something good going on in here somewhere. Alas what that is remains a 'mystery' to the end.
We end with a final Young original, the title track, which while sounding as 1950s as every other song on the album (basically a boogie woogie version of 'Heartbreak Hotel') is the one track here that gives away it's young age. Imagining the 1950s youth all grown up, Neil fast-forwards to the time when they're not just middle-aged as they are now but Grandparents. Seeing the Reagan family (who Neil always seemed unduly fond of) as his ultimate example, Neil even pictures them bopping in the white house - which is more something you'd find the Obamas doing to be honest. The idea seems to be that the people who bop together stay together, that the 1950s value system taught the right things and that all the teenage hoodlums brought up on rock will still have the energy to stay alive into a ripe old age. It's a tribute to an era after an album that hasn't really taken the 1950s that seriously or that kindly up till now. However it's delivered by a man who, despite only being in his late thirties himself, sounds prematurely old and grumpy, Neil sliding over the notes and more or less barking them out rather than singing them. Neil's just too stationary on a song that demands he be light on his feet and boogie the night away, sounding instead as if he's got his slippers on in front of the fire. The rest of the band fare better, mainly thanks to the 'Redhill Boys' reviving their arrangement from 'Kinda Fonda Wanda' in the background and Ben Keith's impressive sax break and just about give this song the oomph it needs. Even so, this song is far from a classic and 'Everybody's Rockin' could do with rocking out some more to be honest, especially the writer/singer who seems to be refusing to take his own advice here.
Overall, then, 'Everybody's Rockin' is a sham of an LP made in a hurry to collect some dosh from a record label that didn't want to give it and to make Geffen think twice about messing around with someone as stubborn as Neil. That seems to be where plans for this album began and end which is a shame - had Neil kept to his quirky ideas and written a few extra songs on the lines of 'Get Gone' this could have been a fun semi-serious, semi-comedic album in the line of John Entwistle's affectionate but silly 1950s rock and roll solo albums of the 1970s. The trouble is there isn't enough of 'Everybody's Rockin' to get our teeth into and the serious moments are few and far between while the silly moments aren't as silly and funny as they might have been. The result is an album that fails everybody, making Neil rather than his label look like a cheapskate, making his fanbase question his sanity and making his record label even more determined to make Neil tow the line next time around (it's this album, not the equally idiosyncratic other album being made for Geffen, that force their hand into suing their artist for 'not making music that sounds like Neil Young!') However, much more than that it's the album that loses out: another twenty minutes of decent new songs, a remix job that drops the embarrassing echo and longer time to rehearse and record than a mere two hours and 'Everybody's Rockin' might yet have been a great LP: Neil proves he has a feel for the genre as a writer if not always as a singer while his band work miracles with the material they've been provided with at times. It's certainly far from being the worst Neil Young album, as so many fans like to think, simply because there are too many moments in this album that work to dismiss it. However at a mere 25 minutes, with four boring cover songs and only half the originals catching fire, you still have to put this record down as more of a 'failure' than a 'success' and you thank your lucky stars that Neil didn't respond to his least-selling album (since 'Journey Thru The Past' at least) and his most hated review the typical Neil Young way by releasing another four albums like this and killing off his career completely! You really don't need to own this album if you're a casual fan. And if you do own it, you won't play it much - it's too tiring to keep getting up and changing the CD over for one thing (doubly so if you own the LP). There are times when you'll feel like slinging it out the window. But there's a certain spark about this LP, the dry humour of 'Kinda Fonda Wanda', the full=-on sarcastic humour of 'Payola Blues' and the sweetness of 'Wonderin' that means that even at his worst Neil can't quite bring himself to ruin a whole LP. For that he's going to need Crazy Horse, a soap opera and an occasional car ride to write his songs in.