Monday, 20 November 2017

Neil Young: Non-Album Recordings Part One 1963-1974



Non-Album Recordings Part #1: 1963-1965 (The Squires)

The Squires were in many ways your typical school-band, complete with primitive just-learning-instrument performances and a drum-head complete with the band name written out in block letters using sticky tape. Formed as a trio in late 1962 by friends Neil Young, Ken Koblun and a variety of quickly-passing drummers, the band's staple diet was exactly the sort of thing every other band of the era were playing (Shadows covers and similar instrumentals, complete with dance moves!) before The Squires moved on to what every other band of the era just after it was playing (Beatles covers and similar songs, with Neil's vocal debut on a cover of 'It Won't Be Long' taking place in November 1963 just after 'With The Beatles' was released and thus making them one of the first bands from their half of the globe to take an interest in the fab four). However The Squires came with a few differences. For one thing, music wasn't a hobby - Neil and Ken were obsessed with the idea of making music their career, to the point where they were both routinely told off for the band taking up too much of their study-time (the line in future Young classic about 'sitting on the steps at school and dreaming of being stars' is absolutely about this period in his life). What's more they could really play - The Squires seem to have found it easier than most Canadian school bands to get gigs up and down the country and the band had enough of a following to actually make a record - admittedly one released on a local label in hometown of Winnipeg that sold at tops 300 copies (of which around ten still exist - it's one of the rarest AAA records of all time, remember me if you find one in your attic!) but hey that's more than most school-bands ever managed. They also had in Neil a writer who was already crafting songs that, whilst still a little on the generic side, could certainly hold their own with all the other moon, croon and Juning going on in 1962.  Neil is adamant that the band recorded around twenty songs' worth - easily enough for a full LP - between 1963 and 1965 (including [  ] 'Ain't It The Truth', revived as a 'Bluenotes' song  in 1988), but The Squires only ever released the one single and an additional four tracks from Neil's archives (released, suitably, on 'Archives Volume One') are all we've heard in the years since. That's a shame because, on their basis, this early band had a lot of talent.
 [1] 'Aurora' - that's the cry at the end of this otherwise instrumental song which is clearly inspired by Dick Dale as well as The Shadows and wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early Beach Boys album. Neil's got the surf guitar style down well, as his young fingers slowly find a way to reflect both the genre and his own already-vibrant and thoughtful ringing tone. You'd be able to recognise this as Neil's work easily, even if the surroundings are very different. Kudos to the drummer Ken Smyth too, whose absolutely on the money on this recording every bit as much as Neil. The closing announcer voice is Bob Bradburn, radio DJ and friend of session producer Harry Taylor. Released as the B-side of the single sometime in late 1963 (specific dates are sketchy). A then-eighteen-year-old Neil, worried about copyright, mailed home his chord changes so as to have 'proof' of the date via the stamp - it was left, unopened, in his collection for years until he finally got round to opening it up again in 2009 during publicity for the 'Archives' box set (as you can see as an 'easter egg'). Note the name too, which may be an early obsession with the 'aurora borealis', the multi-coloured lights seen in the night sky around the poles and also referred to in the opening line of 1979 song 'Pocahontas', a track not a million miles away from this one (well musically not geographically, given that this song is set in Native America!) And why yes, I have just spent the last hour randomly saying 'aurora!' in response to everything - it's kind of compulsory after hearing this song... Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

The B-side was better and more original than A-side [2] 'The Sultan' and so might be seen as the earliest example (the only example?) of Neil being told what to do by a record label. Opening with a banged gong, this is a much more Shadows-style number that sounds very much like 'Apache' only not quite as good. Ken Koblun's bass runs are fun though and the gong adds a great deal of drama. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

Recorded a few months later in April 1964 but never released, [3] 'I Wonder' marks Neil's debut as a vocalist on a session intended to win a new contract with London Records which never materialised. It's understandably a little shaky but double-tracking even in this primitive early years is a blessing and the song is actually quite a cooking Beatles number via a Chuck Berry style riff. The lyrics are surprisingly grown-up too, as Neil does his best to be philosophical about a break-up and feeling ready to move on, playing a glorious 'shrug of the shoulders' style solo to ram his point home. The backing band aren't quite as tight, with a sluggish tempo that doesn't quite suit the bounce of the song, but even here listen to how Neil gets the two Kens to play simple and slow, just like the future Crazy Horse. In fact this song did kind of become a Crazy Horse song, with Neil later reviving the main melody for 'Don't Cry No Tears', a track from 1975's 'Zuma'. A not-that-different alternate version additionally appears as an unlisted bonus tra
ck at the end of the first CD of 'Archives'. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

Sounding like a cross between The Shadows, early Beach Boys and nothing ever heard before, [4] 'Mustang' from April 1964 again  is a gruff instrumental that seems to point towards Neil's early obsession with cars. There's a fun set of chord changes that really feels fast and urgent, while the perfomance by brief Squire, rhythm guitarist Allan Bates, is particularly strong and The Shadows would have been pleased to have this in their set even if it feels a little bit passé by 1964 standards. Sadly nobody shouts 'Mustang!' at the end the way they once did 'Aurora!' even though the song feels a little as if it needs something extra by the end. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

[5] 'I'll Love You Forever', a track taped in November 1964, is fascinating - Neil's first straightforward love song and he won't write another until as late as his 'family' album 'Comes A Time' in 1978! A nineteen-year-old Neil sounds terrific on a slow doo-wop weepie about being deeply in love and grateful to the fates for getting him together with his dream girl, already sounding so sad and vulnerable even when he's singing a lyric that's meant to be happy. Yes, admittedly, the only original thing about this track is the return of the dreaded gong and a most unexpected thunderclap sound effect towards the end of the record added for no apparent reason, but for a young band in an era when every band sounded like (though not always as 
good) this is still commendable stuff. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

Just as interesting is the lop-sided lyric to [6] 'I'm A Man And I Can't Cry', an early Neil protest song about the pressures of being macho when your heart is breaking recorded a fraction after the other tracks here in 1965. Later songs would suggest it's more character than gender that leaves Neil feeling so reserved and reluctant to weep. Sadly this is the weakest of the six songs, with a re-write of The Four Seasons' 'Big Girls Don't Cry' set to a timid doo-wop backing that sounds rather like them too. The harmonies aren't up to Crazy Horse standards, never mind CSNY, but nevertheless The Squires still sound like a band to watch on all six of these tracks. A full CD release for all 22 Squires songs one day (perhaps as part of the 'Archives' series) would be top of many Neil Young fans' Christmas lists - though given that these songs took 46 years to see the light of day properly we probably shouldn't hold our collective breath just yet. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)
                                                                   
Non-Album Recordings Part #2: 1964 (Neil and Comrie Smith)

Neil's next trio of released recordings were all made with childhood friend and mentor, guitarist Comrie Smith. The pair were friends during Neil's short stay in Toronto where the two hatched plans to make a band together before The Squires - only one of the Young family's periodic house moves put an end to that. However the two friends stayed in touch and Comrie was interested to hear what The Squires were up to, with the pair taping one of their jamming session get-togethers in 1964 which was kept safe in Neil's already-growing archives. These tapes reveal that The Shadows thing was just a passing trend - these songs are very much in the blues mode and show that Neil was already a big fan of Bob Dylan. The performances are strong and sturdy - pretty inventive actually for originals in the blues medium - and reveal that Young may actually have peaked as a harmonica player before his teens!

'Just remember to feel it!' is Neil's advice to his pal before the track starts and the two friends put up quite a blues stomp, with Neil even laughing at his spot-on parody of a blues guitar solo in the middle. [7] 'Hello Lonely Woman' is an exciting uptempo blues that features Neil acting cool and trying to ask a woman (not a girl, notice!) out for a 'bite to eat'. Neil slips in that she 'looks like Heaven' and that 'you need me - like the river needs...rain' (already subverting the usual cliché of the 'sea'!) Neil's harmonica solo while Comrie picks up the main chunky rhythm is particularly impressive -how come Neil learnt to 'un-play' this instrument so quickly?! Terrific - give this duo a record deal now! Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

[8] 'Casting Me Away From You' sounds like The Byrds, which is funny given  that Neil will come to fame playing with one of them. He also seems to have written both 'Grease Lightning' from the 1980s musical 'Grease' and his own future middle aged re-write 'Leavin' The Top 40 Behind' (abandoned along with the rest of the first version of 'Old Ways' in 1983). Comrie struggles to keep up with Neil here, with the duo getting slightly out of step by the end of the song, but his harmonies sound rather good with a gruff falsetto not a million miles away from Neil's own. As for the theme, it's a song about gradually realising that a special relationship is coming to an end - a theme Neil will write about in much more detail on future albums. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

[9] 'There Goes My Babe' seems to have been one of Neil's favourites of his early compositions, re-recording it in similar demo form for Buffalo Springfield (that version was released on the box set named after the band in 2000). This version is more timid and less rehearsed, but it's still a good 'un with Neil performing with the most folkie influence so far as he struggles to understand why his girl's moving on - the answer is either that he pushed too hard, she's too young or that it was never meant to be. 'The price of love is dear' he concludes - he'll be thinking the same across most of his career too.  Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

Non-Album Recordings Part #3: 1965

[10] 'Run Around Babe' was a second song re-recorded in demo form for Buffalo Springfield's consideration and included on their mammoth box set. It seems strange that Neil should have returned to this song as it's a cut under the rest of his early songs, with a simple strummed acoustic backing and a lyric about a girl who wants to be 'free'. Neil figures he can't possibly be doing anything wrong so it must be her and her need for freedom, though it's unclear whether this is a clever twist on the 'misguided narrator' storytelling device and showing off his ego or whether Neil was just being a typical nineteen-year-old. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

This bit of future-telling is quite eerie. Reading like an early version of 'The Old Laughing Lady', [11] 'The Ballad Of Peggy Grover' has Neil repeating over and over about someone close to him called 'Peggy' moving on and how 'the word just wore the Peg down'. Neil's third and longest lasting wife will be named Pegi and this acoustic song is very much in the style of tracks Neil will go on to write for her such as 'Unknown L:egend' and 'From hank To Hendrix'. This is also a slightly less than convincing song recalling 'Don't Pity Me Babe' and 'I Wonder' from Neil's past and looking ahead to 'Don't Cry No Tears' in his future. An additional verse, cut from the 'Archives' set, includes additional blues busking with a verse that runs 'Can't ride my broom no more 'cause my landlady has taken to sweeping the floor, I guess I'll go back to my place!' Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

Neil sounds old before his time as he moans about the cost of work and the high price of rents long before he was experiencing either. [12] 'The Rent Is Always Due' is a good song though and an early example of the more Dylan-inspired metaphor that will come to fruition on the similar 'Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing' and remain a part of his natural songwriting voice for some time to come. Later verses refer to being forgotten despite doing lots of hard work and an odd reference to 'cloudy men who take the place' of the workers - an early vision of the sci-fi horror heard on 'Lost In Space' et al? Neil finds solution by 'sticking your blue jeans on and picking up your guitar. That's sticking it to 'the man'! Oddly the broom is back for another verse, it's 'straw painted with gold' - was Neil writing these songs instead of doing his chores? Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

Neil reckons [13] 'Extra Extra' lasts 'about three minutes' - he's close as the song makes 2:40. The melody is clearly derived from The Beatles' 'She Loves You' (it's the 'pride can hurt you too - apologise to her' bit) but the lyric is stronger, with Neil a newspaper seller noticing the unhappiness of all his customers of every age and their criticism of politics. Along the way an old man loses his friends, his first wife ('the backbone of his life'), his second wife and that 'when it falls, it falls all over you!' This song sounds like a teenage Neil wondering if his life is going to turn out to be the dead-end and disappointment of the people he sees around him - or whether he's going to break free somehow. Half-silly,, half-sombre, this repetitive song has its moments and a nice gritty vocal without the self-consciousness of some of the earlier recordings. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One' (2009)

Non-Album Recordings Part #3: 1966 (The Mynah Birds)

With The Squires having met a premature end Neil became a folkie for a while and touring America for the first time before hooking up with an already established band named The Mynah Birds. Neil got into the band through his friendship with bassist Bruce Palmer and would later return the favour by insisting Bruce came with him into Buffalo Springfield even though the pair had only known each other a few months. As originally intended the Birds were all about their lead singer Ricky Matthews, who later became a big star in his own right in the 1970s as Ricky James. Before Neil joined the band had already released a flop single, 'The Mynah Bird Hop', on record label Columbia in the summer of 1965. By the time the Toronto-based band made it into the studio again though, for this one-off audition for the famous Detroit label (who on earth managed to get them that gig?!) Motown Records they're playing almost as many instrumentals as they are vocal songs and James is no longer the star. Especially because the band had already had a falling out with their manager over mis-appropriated funds and  fired him, with the result that in return their manager dobbed on their errant lead singer too who kept a low profile at the time and only sings on one track. Recorded in January 1966 mere weeks after Neil has joined the group, this is the rockiest Young has been yet in his career and the band are both louder and more rock and roll than The Squires (in an interesting aside in his biography 'Shakey' Neil talks about how he could divide any band up into clean-cut 'Beatles' or subversive Stones', telling biographer Jimmy McDonnagh that The Squires and CSNY are the former and The Mynah Birds, Springfield and Crazy Horse are the latter). Neil is already playing some fine guitar, although arguably Bruce's fat bass sounds even better and The Mynah Birds sounds like they could have had a strong career had the fall-out from James' draft-dodging not caused the break-up of the original band (who reformed with a new guitar, bassist and singer to fulfil Motown's contractual obligations of touring but never made another record). Sadly licensing issues and the lack of input from Young meant that none of these recordings appeared on 'Archives' and the one and only single featuring Neil is now another of the rarest AAA records around. It's a bootlegger's favourite though so can be tracked down if you really want to hear it and don't mind how and as it is, technically, an official release (albeit a quickly withdrawn, poor selling one) we've given the one and only Young-era single a proper entry here. Bootlegs usually contain four additional songs too which still haven't been given an official release yet: the nicely soulful 'I'll Wait Forever' (which sounds like Otis Redding backed by The Stones while Neil plays like Gram Parsons), the nicely psychedelic instrumental 'Masquerade' which features some interesting noises from Neil's Animals-style guitar, slightly drippy organ-drenched instrumental 'Fantasy' (which sounds more like an unfinished backing track) and the Yardbirds style howler 'I've Got You In My Soul' in which Neil nails a Brian Jones style guitar-gulp down pat. A full release of all the Mynah Birds songs on something official one day is a must - these tracks are far too good to lie abandoned in the Motown vaults. Mynah these recordings may be, but they're a major stepping stone from The Squires to the Springfield and all too often overlooked.

Barely anybody got to hear [10] 'It's My Time' either, though we're giving it a full entry here as a briefly-released single that was pulled from the shops due to the fuss over the draft-dodging singer. James doesn't even appear on this instrumental A-side though, which is dominated by Bruce's fat walking bass, Hammond organ from John Goatsby and Neil's nicely surf style guitar. The result sounds naggingly like something else, with shades of future Young instrumentals such as the first take at CSNY epic song 'Country Girl' (still named 'Whiskey Boot Hill' o the Buffalo Springfield box set) and Crazy Horse ballad 'Round and Round'. The song is credited to the 'core' band but as new members neither Bruce nor Neil get a writing credit. Find it on: Good luck tracking this one down dear readers!

B-side [11] 'Go On and Cry' is far more interesting, a slow power ballad with James proving why the band went to such great (and illegal) lengths to keep him in the band. Soulful and sweet, this lovely track (again without a credit to Neil or Bruce) interestingly returns to the idea of being strong enough to cope with breakup but not so strong you don't feel it and 'cry'. The narrator is depressed but in a suddenly surging middle eight still believes he can put things right if only he can regain his girl's 'trust' and 'stand by her side'. Neil  doesn't seem to have been allowed to sing as part of the mass back-up vocals (the world wasn't quite ready for his voice on an official single just yet) but that's clearly him playing the sturdy folk-rock guitar which pines away across the whole song, for once the stable middle in a band that's going mad. All in all pretty darn great! Find it on: You'll be lucky!  

Non-Album Recordings Part #4: 1968

Even though we're on page thirty-something, [13] 'Sugar Mountain' is where it all began for Neil, thought to be his first song and written in 1965 (on the eve of his 20th birthday in November that year) and an apt choice for release on the flip of his debut single in 1968. A wordy, lengthy ballad about growing up, somehow it made more sense of all those early Springfield songs when it finally came out: 'Expecting To Fly' and 'I Am A Child' especially'. Neil clearly doesn't want to grow up, he yearns to live on 'Sugar Mountain' for the rest of his life, 'with the barkers and the coloured balloons', but he's warned 'you can't be 20 on sugar mountain' and already things are conspiring against him to make him grow up though he thinks he's leaving it 'too soon'. Over the course of the song he smokes his first cigarette, tries to make a pretty girl 'smile' and finally 'leaving home because you want to be alone'. The first verse even hints that Neil had to be pushed into this stage: that the colourful carnival is another stage in life, perhaps the teenage one, that Neil only joined because 'all your friends are there' and it was too lonely being left behind. Anyone whose ever resented growing up and felt that they, too, aren't much good at it will resonate with this song, which while occasionally clumsy (the chorus is longwinded and repeated an awful lot) is terrifically poignant and emotional. The final line of the song is the best, much quoted by Young fans as summing so much about our favourite guitarist: 'Ain't it funny how it feels when you're finding out it's real?' Much loved by both singer and fans, Neil has re-issued this song many times, given it pride of place on his 'Decade' and 'Archives' sets and 'Sugar Mountain' is just about the only song from the 1960s to still get a regular part in all of Neil's setlists down the years (he even started the infamous 'Rust' tour of 1979 with it). While Neil has arguably written better songs it's not hard to see why - or why Neil was sufficiently intrigued with his own growing style to write more; 'Sugar Mountain' is a clever song, like all the best children's pieces light on the surface but hinting at dark shadows inside. Recorded live at Canterbury House during Neil's first ever solo gig (the rest of the concert is released as part of his 'Archives' series) this original is arguably his best performance of it though: wistful, thoughtful and lost while the crowd are remarkably quiet. Oh to have been there to hear Sugar Mountain, back before the barkers and the coloured tour t-shirts when he was a promising talent rather than a hot property, ah but Neil is leaving there too soon starting with his very first LP...Find it on: 'Decade' (1977), the box set 'Archives' (2009) and as part of 'Live At Canterbury House 1968' (2008)

Non-Album Recordings Part #4: 1970

Recorded during the early sessions for 'Goldrush' back when it was still a Crazy Horse album,  [42] 'Everybody's Alone' is a promising early take that has Neil in unusually happy mood during his time with Carrie and doing his usual trick of making even his happy feelings come out as sadness ('I want you to know I love you so much I can hardly stand it!') Crazy Horse do Neil proud with a sad and sombre melancholic feel around which Neil dances, full of the joys of Springtime. It's an arresting combination even if in retrospect you can tell Danny and by association Billy and Ralph are struggling a little to keep up. Lyrically this track needs a few alterations but melodically there's a great set of ringing chords that really stand out and all in all this is one of Neil's best poppy numbers. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One 1964-73' (2009)

Similarly bright and cheerful and un-Young like, the country hoe-down [43] 'Dance Dance Dance' was first intended for 'Goldrush' and then given to Crazy Horse to re-record for their first LP (though most UK fans know it as the unexpected finale to the 'BBC In Concert' show Neil performed to promote 'Harvest'). All three versions never quite get this light-hearted song right and all three sound too heavy (though the solo live version comes closest): this is a song about wild abandon but Danny's problems means it all comes over weighty, slow and solemn. Neil sings full of love for Carrie, their romance touched 'with rainbows' as he watches his elder lover get lost in the music and make him forget the way love used to be ('Used to think a cloud was a nightmare'). A sweet song in which Neil nervously courts his partner's love and delights in watching her delight, this silly but sweet song deserves to be much better known. Find Neil's version on 'Archives Volume One 1964-73' (2009)

Extracted from a live show Crazy Horse performed in late 1970, [44] 'It Might Have Been' is a sweet cover of a song Neil confesses used to be his favourite during his dancing days but that for the life of him he can't remember who wrote or recorded it ('We'll find out when we record it' he adds, 'people usually find out that sort of thing when money gets involved!') As it happens Crazy Horse never released this song, which is so far outside their usual rock and roll stomp they barely sound like the same band, with Jack Nietszche getting very carried away on the piano. Actually the song is officially credited to 'Anonymous', being an old English folk song based on a quote by the writer John Greenleaf Whittier ('The saddest words of tongue or pen are these four words: it might have been'). Neil is having a ball on a song that could have been another 'Oh! Lonesome Me' but you sense the Horse' hearts aren't in this sudden switch to mainstream ballad. Neil will revive this song during his 1984-85 tour with The International Harvesters and a more polished but slightly less interesting live recording can be heard on the archive release 'A Treasure' (2011). Find Crazy Horse's version on 'Archives Volume One 1964-73' (2009)

Non-Album Recordings Part #5: 1972

Perhaps missing from 'Harvest' because it's opening lick sounded so much like 'The Needle and The Damage Done', [45] 'Bad Fog Of Loneliness' is one of Neil's greatest originally-unreleased songs. A tearful early goodbye song to Carrie, this track finds Neil in two minds about staying or going and the 'fog' extends to the chorus where he sighs 'So long baby I am gone, so much pain to go through' before following it up with 'Come back baby, I was wrong...' Neil will still be in two minds about what to do for the next couple of years and it will result in some of his greatest songs. 'Fog' is pretty close to being one of Neil's greatest as over a catchy backing he opens his heart, speaks about how much he'll overlook and forget because he so desires a 'caress' from his lover and invites a whole chorus of old friends including a guesting James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt to sing him out of trouble. The song needs another verse as it stands and ends a little suddenly, but Neil's rarely sounded better and Ben Keith's typically beautiful pedal steel has rarely sounded more apt. Much under-rated, this would have made for a better track than a good half of what came out on 'Harvest'. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One 1964-73' (2009)

The one new song included on 'Journey Through The Past', [56] 'Soldier'is something of a missed mini masterpiece. Performed on piano like many of Neil's period songs, this one feels heavier and more solemn. The main target is not the military but Christianity, as Neil tries to get into the head of a crusader spreading religion to the rest of the world. Seeing his eyes 'shine like the sun', Neil wonders what the soldier sees that he doesn't. A second verse sees Jesus walking on the river through the soldier's eyes but Neil breaks off to cackle that this is a myth, that 'I don't believe you' and 'you can't deliver'. Neil wonders aloud again why so many grown men believe in what he sees as fairy-tales, putting in another 'I Wonder Why' for good measure. Neil was obsessed with religion at the time (next album 'Time Fades Away' features even more tracks on similar subjects) but 'Soldier'; is one of his best with a mournfulness to the clever piano part that makes this more than just an angry rant and a weariness that's suitable for a subject matter of multiple centuries of religious warfare and perscution. Neil recorded the song in front of a roaring fire, which can only really be heard at the beginning and end of the 'Journey Through The Past' mix (also recycled on 'Archives') but typically was turned up to make the track hard to hear on the more commercial best-seller compilation 'Decade' (where a few seconds of piano playing were lopped off too). Find it on: 'Journey Thu The Past' (1972 film soundtrack), 'Decade' (1977) and 'Archives Volume One 1964-73' (2009)

One of the rarest of 1970s Neil Young releases, [57] 'War Song' was Neil's last political statement for some ten years, a final dig at Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal that has 'CSNY' written all over it. With the band in disarray, only Graham Nash answered the call to help out and got co-billing with Neil (the B-side being yet another re-release for Neil's solo performance 'Sugar Mountain'). By now the fire in the belly of 'Ohio' has slowed to a dignified waddle, the out and out war between generations reduced to a wary disrespect of Nixon and hope that after an ugly period America will finally have a leader worthy of its constitution. Neil was inspired to write the track following the attempted assassination attempt on Alabama Governor George Wallace which left him paralysed from the waist down in 1972 (assassin Arthur Bremer settled for Wallace though his real target was Nixon) and, in typical see-sawing political manner, reversed the feeling of them-against-us he'd once had on 'Ohio', wanting peace whatever candidate is in charge. Rather ignored on release, nowadays lyrics like 'there's a man says he can' out you more in mind of Obama (president between 2008-2016 when most fans got to hear this song as the finale of the 'Archives' box set in 2009) and mentioned in song by Neil long before most people had noticed him with the line 'maybe it's Obama, but he thinks that he's too young' on 'Lookin' For A Leader'). 'Surely', the song wearily cries, 'the Vietnam war will end now that we know Nixon was a crook and we  singer-songwriters won't have to waste our time on this anymore?' A song that misses out on the great CSNY irony (the worse the world gets and the more there is to complain about, the 'better' and more alive their songs), this poorly publicised and rather ignored track sounds as if it's been made out of duty rather than hope, a last message from public cryer Neil Young before he throws down his church bell for good. However, like all the best political protest songs, 'War Song' is clever and vague enough to be relatable in any era and like 'Ohio' has stood the test of time remarkably well. A subtle performance and mix, bordering on non-descript (Nash is hard to hear despite his co-billing), suggests that Neil doesn't really want us to hear it - but he should; 'War Song' is one of the more under-rated moments in his canon, an 'I told you so' sung without glee or need for revenge, just sadness and weariness wanting this whole political mess to be over. Neil wasn't to know, on Nixon's re-election that year, that Watergate would have him out of office within the next couple of years. Find it on: 'Archives Volume One 1964-1973' (2009)

Non-Album Recordings Part #6: 1973

Written in 1969 along with the 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' batch of songs but not recorded until 1973,  [67] 'Winterlong' is an interesting outtake in that it's performed with the same raw anger and gusto as 'Walk On' from 'On The Beach' (recorded the exact same day) but the song itself is clearly lighter in tone and naturally a rather jolly sort of affair by Young standards. Neil may well have been taking a leaf out of Crazy Horse's book here and the way Danny Whitten handled singing songs he wrote when he was happy and recorded when he was dying on their first album (Neil first performed it live with the Whitten-era Crazy Horse too). Both music and lyrics work, though they're pulling in very different directions as Neil sings about the wait through a lonely winter to meet the person whose going to keep him warm forever by the summer, with the impatient stomp of a toddler (like 'Walk On', Neil's 'old black' guitar has never been so liberally spiked with feedback). It's almost as if Neil is imagining his perfect love - and telling her to get a move on! Ben Keith's pedal steel melancholy and Neil's upbeat bravado falsetto harmonies also make for a fascinating combination on a song that can't tell if it's about to break into a big grin or burst into tears. This song wouldn't really have fitted the generally down mood of 'On The Beach' but it would have sounded good on 'Homegrown' or 'Zuma' - instead it became one of the highlights of the impressive batch of unreleased material on 'Decade'. Find it on: 'Deacde' (1977)

Non-Album Recordings Part #7: 1974

Even though we still have two parts of the 'doom trilogy' to come, [68] 'Deep Forbidden Lake' was described by Neil as 'hopefully the end of a long dark period which started with Time Fades Away' in his sleevenotes to 1977 compilation 'Decade'. By anyone else's standards this country-tinged ballad would be harrowing: a lake of deep forbidden secrets stretches behind a weary traveller, changed forever by the struggles he's been through, still struggling to reach the 'coast' viewed foggily in the distance. However the narrator is clearly coming back the other side, past the point where he's reached the bottom and even though the trees are moulting he still gapes at them awe, surprised to see anything with leaves at all after the darkness and emptiness he's just seen. Cleverly the rest of the world going about their 'normal' everyday business slowly comes into view on this song, as the narrator gazes at his past: the deep lake of life that claimed the life of Danny Whitten and nearly his own is also a place of mirth, of merriment: rowers float across it, birds swoop down to it, trees overhang it. It's as if Neil has just zoomed back from a close-up on one dark part of his life and is now reconciling himself with how much beauty the world has to offer, a beauty he simply hasn't noticed recently in his grief and sadness. While still battered, bashed and bruised by life, the narrator is now ready to move on from the dark side of his life, a picture memorably conjured up by a poetic lyric and a melody that looks towards the future 'Star Of Bethlehem', a weary sigh that by itself is sad but in the context of the period is itself a happier song than the boozy emotional wake of 'Tonight's The Night' or the frightening mad world of 'On The Beach'. Typically, Neil chose not to release one of his better songs of the period (one that would have fitted onto the happier-but-not-too-happy record 'Zuma' in 1975), keeping it in the vaults until the release on 'Decade' in 1977, by which time the deep forbidden lake was disappearing fast in the rear view mirror, a mere memory now that a wife and baby were on the way. Find it on: 'Decade' (1977)

More proof that Neil was feeling happier about life, albeit still hurting, came with the slight but charming [96] 'Love Is A Rose' - another song originally intended for the 'Homegrown' album and revived on 1977's 'Decade'. More from the head than from the heart, this clever song extends the rose metaphor across several verses as Neil reflects on both the sweetness of his early days of being in love with Carrie and the last days when it went sour. Love looks good in the far horizon, but if you 'pick' the bud too early you get thorns, while Neil slyly adds that all romances should remain as friends, that 'you lose your love when you say the word 'mine'. This won't stop him getting married again to third wife Pegi almost as soon as 'Decade' is out in the shops however! The song's rhyming scheme is pretty tricky (it's ABAB, not AABB like 99.9% of rock and roll songs), although Neil seems to have lost his way after the memorable first verse (which rhymes 'pick it' 'vine' 'missed it' and 'mine') and settles for the decidedly underwhelming 'Pick me up 'cause my feet are draggin', give me a lift and I'll pay your wagon'. Hmm. However this track's quiet folky heart and sly, self-deprecating humour works well set against the heavier songs tucked away at the end of 'Decade' and bootlegs suggest this song would have sounded mighty fine on 'Homegrown' too. Find it on: 'Decade' (1977)


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