Monday 11 December 2017

The Final Review: Crosby, Stills and Nash "After The Storm" (1994)

Available to buy in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young' by clicking here!

Crosby, Stills and Nash “After The Storm” (1994)

Only Waiting For You/Find A Dream/Camera/Unequal Love/Till It Shines/It Won’t Go Away/These Empty Days/In My Life/Street To Lean On/Bad Boyz/After The Storm/Panama

‘There are things I wish I would have said before you rushed out of my life…It will take a million years to fill these empty days” or “I’ve got one last great love in my life and my heart is telling me it might be youuuuu”

Wow. We are here. We are actually here. The moment that I have been building up to across ten years, five youtube videos, four laptops, multiple sleepless nights, endless breakdowns, constant fascinating discussions on social media, one thousand one hundred and ninety nine posts and five hundred and twenty reviews. This, dear readers, is it, the very last review of the very last album missing from the thirty AAA bands we cover at Alan’s Album Archives. Every stone has been unturned, every turn has been stoned, even every one of the flipping thirty Rolling Stone live albums have been dissected across a decade of newsing, viewing, musing, perusing, reviewing and music-ing. At least until Neil Young releases another flipping album as he no doubt will in a fortnight’s time (hopefully he’s giving me a break for a week after the shock announcement of last week’s record ‘The Visitor’!) And what have we learnt in all that time and all those quadzillions of words dear reader? That by and large most bands’ essential releases tend to come at the beginning of their career, when they’re hungry and desperate to make their mark and are true to themselves, before record company interference and pressure causes all bands to buckle under the pressure some time, in some way (whether its band break-ups, line-up changes, nervous breakdowns, drug and drink overdoses or ‘Magical Mystery Tour’). That you can never ever quite count out the impossible (who guessed that I would be able to actually review a physical official copy of ‘The Beach Boys’ ‘Smile’ – actually make that two of them! – as well as comebacks from Cat Stevens, Pink Floyd, The Monkees and The Grateful Dead that I just didn’t see coming). That life is precious and short (we still miss you those who were lost along the way during the making of this website, from the Floyd’s Rick Wright on week three through to Buffalo Springfield’s Dewey Martin, The Kinks’ Pete Quaife, The Monkees’ Davy Jones, Syd Barrett, The Searchers’ Tony Jackson, The Small Faces’ Ian McLagan, The Who’s John Entwistle, Jefferson Airplane’s Signe Andersen, Lindisfarne’s Si Cowe, and the Airplane’s Paul Kantner last year, not to mention Oasis who released what turned out to be their final album weeks after we went online – and we always will). That the world can be crazy and do really dumb things (ten years ago the word ‘Brexit’ sounded like the title of a bad prog rock album and David Cameron could still stand next to a pig without making the world break down in laughter, while would you believe Obama was elected less than a year into the AAA’s reign over the internet and Trump was still seen as an idiot businessman?) That music is the single most glorious, wonderful, fantastical thing you could possibly be doing with or without your clothes on as it teaches us to be kind, to seek the truth, to embrace life and fight injustice with everything we’ve got. That music may well be the best art form there is, allowing us to dance our troubles away with the rhythms while the words tell us something we didn’t know about life – the two together, whether working together or in a battle, is a glorious sound when it’s used right as a good 80% of the records we’ve covered in our decade together demonstrate. That our visiting aliens from Zigorous Three and beyond including Catalunia The Third and Habridan The Seventh are astro-nuts, not to mention a whole role-call of clandusprods, mrasianarts and belobrats down the years. And of course that the Spice Girls are awful!

And also that ‘All Things Must Pass’. Except, for now, this website: aside from hoping to bring you the trickle of releases as they arrive next year and the following year and beyond into the future, we have a whole six months to go before the (hopeful) start of our book series, months in which we can bring you key concerts, key cover versions and an essay dedicated to each and every one of our bands (we even released two of them this year in the quiet period before the Christmas ‘rush’ of, err, two whole albums). Even so, this feels like an end, the moment I have been dreaming of for nine years at least, since I realised that if I was well enough and ambitious enough and mad enough that one day I might end up here with my job of discussing every single one of the studio albums by our chosen bands done one day (with smaller entries for live and solo and compilation records and, well, everything you could ask for really). I wasn’t sure that moment would ever arrive, I’m still not quite sure that it has – but the moment has been prepared for.

I’ve wondered long and hard about what album to put here as a big finale, dear readers and have even been asked on a couple of occasions what might go in this spot. If I’d really known I was going to get this far then I met kept back one of my all-time favourites for this spot (The Beach Boys’ ‘Smile’, The Who’s Quadrophenia’, The Hollies’ ‘Butterfly’, the Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/CSNY crossover that is ‘Blows Against The Empire’). But I used up so many of my favourites for my original list of ‘101 classic or neglected albums everyone must own’ (what a long time ago that seems four hundred reviews ago!) that I didn’t have any left. I do, however, have a very wonderful album which sums up everything I wanted this site to be about and it’s an album that has everything this site has been banging on about since early 2008: passionate love songs, fierce angry politics, sweet reflective moments, raw dangerous passages, lots of old familiar signature moments combined with new places a band have never been to before. It looks back to the past, embraces the present and worries about the future, all frequent themes of many albums on this website. It sees the world with a view of short-term pessimism and long-term optimism, which turns up a lot too (particularly on Kinks LPs). This is an album that has, to quote from one of the very first reviews I ever wrote (the first CSN record) ‘harmonies straight from heaven – and rock credentials straight from hell’. It has the entirely fitting near goodbye message that ‘music is worth all the pain’ (an Alan’s Album Archives motto if ever there was one!) It is dominated by Graham Nash who, thanks to his triple stint in The Hollies and CSNY and solo has dominated this site more than any other figure except one – and Paul McCartney duly turns up to play too thanks to co-writing the album’s Beatles cover ‘In My Life’. And nobody else I know out there, even the most committed CSN fans of the lot even seems to know about or notice it.

That, of course, is where we come in – to rescue wonderful albums that fell through the cracks thanks to a band being out of fashion or an album being hard to buy and tell you lot to go out and buy them! ‘After The Storm’ might not have the daring-do or the free-wheeling wonders of the trio/quartet’s first brace of albums, but other websites out there have talked about those albums endlessly (plus we covered them in our early run of reviews). This reunion album from 1994 though is special: though the band didn’t realise it till record label Atlantic pointed it out and asked the trio to rush-release it, ‘Storm’ came out on the twenty-fifth anniversary of their first LP, the as-ever imaginatively titled ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ in 1969. Though CSN hardly ever looked backwards, they do on this LP and come up with a similar balance of love songs and political angst after a career of leaning towards one or the other (or taking the easy way out and breaking up, nine times out of ten). In the rollercoaster world of CSN most albums tend to be pitched towards one of the trio or another: for much of the 1970s it was Stills, for much of the 1980s it was Nash (apart from ‘American Dream’ where it was very much Young’s show on one of Neil’s rare returns) and more recently it was Crosby who was propping up reunion albums like 2000’s ‘Lookin’ Forward’ with the best songs. But ‘After The Storm’ is the one CSN/Y album that’s more or less equal, where all three men have something to say and are itching to say it, playing their sweetest ballads, their rockiest rock songs and some of their weirdest weird love songs. In this period Crosby is eight years out of prison and at the end of a terrific prolific run of songs made when, free of drugs at last, the songs pour out of him. Stills is recovering from another failed marriage and enjoying the stability of a lifetime with his new wife Kristen, who might not get as many songs written about her as Suite: Judy Blue Eyes Collins, Veronique Sanson or Rita Coolidge but is perhaps the greatest Stills muse of them all. And Nash is enjoying life after a difficult two decades of murdered girlfriends, disintegrating bands and organising nuclear protests to properly take to being a family man in Hawaii. For CSN the past is an inspiration and the future seems golden.

Alas, the present is slightly less savoury. We’re at the stage politically when Bill Clinton is beginning to fade from view, having achieved all he can with a Republican congress blocking his movements and when he’d visibly much rather have been watching The Grateful Dead (jeez a Deadhead in charge of the free world - it all seems so long ago suddenly doesn’t it?) The Monica Lewinsky scandal is about to break, but already there is a feeling in the air that the change promised isn’t quite coming in America. Over in Britain Margaret Thatcher’s successor John Major is trying to cling onto power quietly, but the leader of the opposition Tony Blair is becoming more and more respectable, dogging his every move with youthful vigour and demanding honesty and fairness (wow, this really is a long time ago isn’t it?!) There’s a worldwide recession – the one before this one – to remind us about the evils of capitalism, right on cue five years after the collapsed of communism (when CSN were particularly riding the crest of a wave, being the headline act at the actual fall of the Berlin Wall that night in 1989). The young are out of work, the rich are becoming poor and the poor are starving. The Woodstock generation suddenly feels a lifetime ago and on the 25th anniversary of the concert the exact same month this album came out the point was made even starker with a ‘reunion’ concert. So few acts who played the show in 1969 are available to play thanks to illness, death, imprisonment, band break-ups or the need to stay safe in millionaire tax havens so in the end only Country Joe McDonald, Joe Cocker, John Sebastian, Santana and CSN are available to play. Many things have changed: back in 1969 there were so many millions of kids gathering for the concert that it was registered briefly as ‘the third biggest city’ in America, whilst it caught authorities by surprise as they were so overwhelmed the ticket price got waived and locals and police went in to help as much as they could. In 1994 only a fraction of people turn up and most of them are aged hippies wondering what happened to their mis-spent youth (‘seems more worthwhile every single day’), while everybody was ready this time, with endless breaks in the concert to advertise sponsors, burger vans a-plenty, endless merchandise vans and huge TV deals.

One of those people watching the TV that night was me. I’d been a CSN fan for two years already since discovering ‘Live It Up’ and I’d slowly worked my way backwards to buy as much of the back catalogue as I possibly could (not the rare stuff like ‘Stills Alone’ just yet though, that took another decade of scouring charity shops!) Being British and born in completely and utterly the wrong decade it was my first chance to actually my favourite band perform and I stayed up to a ridiculously long way past my then-bedtime (which would actually feel like going to bed early in my current lifestyle of spoonie illness and insomnia!) I had never actually seen CSN ‘move’ before. Sure they looked old and they sounded rough (even for a fan who loved ‘Four Way Street’) but they were one hell of a lot better than all the modern acts who were on (seriously, Salt and Pepa’s set over-ran so CSN had one less song on our television coverage. I’ve never quite forgiven them yet!) It was a huge event in my life so why wasn’t it in everybody else’s? Nobody was talking about it at school the next day, even the teachers (I’d given up on my Spice Girls loving classmates by then, more or less) and whenever I mentioned Crosby, Stills and Nash people assumed I was talking about a lawyer firm. This was a big deal for me, but I realised to my horror that it was such a tiny thing for everybody else and that the world had moved on from the Woodstock hope and good vibes and the idea that peace and love could be the ‘norm’ for society, not something weird people did at weekends in between office work.

CSN clearly realised it too because ‘After The Storm’ tries so hard to be contemporary. That’s what it really shares with the first album – it holds a mirror up to the world, shows where it went wrong and how it could be better. ‘Find A Dream’ is a gorgeous song that reflects on how much water has gone under the bridge and how crucial it is in an often cruel world to find something to hang on, to ‘find a dream’ whatever that dream may be and however impossible (very Alan’s Album Archives, that!) ‘Till It Shines’ is a song about being true to yourself come what may, that the world is a corrupt and confusing place and anyone who thinks they’ve spotted how it ‘works’ is lying to you. ‘It Won’t Go Away’ attacks the modern media’s reliance on big business and the way it brainwashes people into thinking that life is all miserable.‘Street To Lean On’ and ‘Bad Boyz’ worry about a generation seemingly doomed to be unemployed and castigated for not being lucky enough to be born baby boomers (has there ever been a more up-to-date AAA song than the latter, with its heavy metal crunch and outrage – it out-rocked any actual song any of my friends were listening to by ‘hip’ bands and it made sense too!) The world is a place of stars to reach for – and gutters when you fall over reaching for them. The first CSN album wasn’t an entirely hippie love-fest either (‘Wooden Ships’ is, after all, about the aftermath of a nuclear war while ‘Long Time Gone’ suffers a nervous breakdown after the assassination of Robert Kennedy). However ‘After The Storm’ is kinda darker, a more realistic portrayal of what changes mankind needs to make before we can live in peace and harmony.

Indeed, CSN can’t even live in peace and harmony at home anymore. Following on from the restless heartbreak of ‘Live It Up’ this is an album that’s less about ‘Our House’ and more about ‘your alimony’. We start off in a very happy place with Stills’ brilliant love song ‘Only Waiting For You’ which finds him dating Kristen (the pair will marry in 1996) and aware that ‘I’ve got one last love left in my life – and my heart is telling me it might be youuuuu!’ while dismissing his younger, more restless self-destructive self as a ‘basket case’. Elsewhere though he’s still very much feeling the split with his last wife Pamela: ‘These Empty Days’ wonders about the ‘things I forgot to say as you walked out of my life’ whilst the narrator knows his last difficult days with her are going to haunt him for ‘years’. Crosby is celebrating a fifteenth wedding anniversary he never expected to arrive but is haunted by how easily he nearly lost his life along with wife Jan and how he wished he could stop time ‘like a knife’ right here and now, where he’s happy. Nash has been married to wife Susan for even longer but the unease heard on ‘Live It Up’ is heard ever more on this album worried ballad ‘Unequal Love’. Love was, in 1969, something to be cherished because it was new and exciting and made you feel so alive – in 1994 love is something that keeps you going through your worst times and stops you feeling dead.

Finally Stills takes one last lingering look back to the past as he recalls how he lost his virginity to an older, more experienced girl from ‘Panama’ and how it was his rite of passage into being a ‘man’, as if to remind us how love has shaped him. Even the music recalls the Latin American grooves of Stills’ earlier years and solo albums (though only the ‘Cuban’ finale to ‘Suite: Judy’ had ever made it to a CSN record before now). That’s a typical finale for an album which does indeed have an eye over its shoulder all the way through, not just in a world but in a personal sense, though not always in ways that would be obvious to the casual fan. ‘Camera’ isn’t just about freezing time in the present but a tribute to Crosby’s cinematographer father Floyd (he got a ‘Golden Globe’ for his work on ‘High Noon’). ‘In My Life’ is a fabulous fab four song about revisiting the past (and as such is perfect for this album, being inspired by a walk Lennon took around childhood Liverpool haunts in a rare break from being a Beatle) that itself recalls ‘Blackbird’, one of the most popular songs in CSN’s setlists. It was also one of the first songs they sang together as an ‘audition’ piece for The Beatles’ ‘Apple’ records back in London before they signed to Atlantic for their first LP (they also performed it at both ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Woodstock ‘94’). ‘Street To Lean On’ also recalls Crosby’s years in prison (‘You know you can eat real good when you’re doing time!’)

The result is an album that feels like an ‘ending’. It almost was. Sessions for the album ended early when Crosby was feeling unwell. He got worse on the tour that followed and for the first time reviewers started to be rude about the trio’s harmonies, as opposed to their weight or their fashion sense or anachronisms as usual (ha, as if peace and love is a fashion statement rather than a way of life!) After keeling over Crosby was diagnosed with liver failure in November 1994 and was given emergency treatment. There was a lot of fuss in the press: did a former alcoholic who had openly admitted to taking drugs deserve a second chance at life when so many others lost theirs? But if CSN ever had a mantra it was that all life was worth saving (well, maybe not Bush Jnr or Nixon!) and Crosby had been a model recovering addict since returning from prison in 1987, giving many talks in public that must have been hard to make, attending endless meetings, adopting those he felt were in need and falling off the rails (including then-teenage child actress Drew Barrymore who lived with the Crosbys for a year) and opening up about how awful it was in a best-selling autobiography ‘Long Time Comin’ (still amongst the best AAA reads out there). If ever there was a figure of how to do right after doing wrong then  it was Crosby – and if ever there was an album about doing the same its this one. Alas ‘After The Storm’ was so hideously unfashionable in a world of grunge and heavy metal that it disappeared and Atlantic did the unthinkable, dropping the band boss Ahmet Ertegun had helped put together and who had once been one of their best-selling acts, leaving CSN to disappear from view until Neil returns at the end of 1999. Chalking it up to another reminder to be more careful in the future, Crosby’s blazing creativity will slow down into something more ‘normal’ past this point, when he forms a band with son and friend to make up for the lack of touring which he names ‘CPR’ both for their combined names CSN-style and for the new lease of life he’s been given. Stills and Nash will be even more quiet than that, disappearing into family life and not making any more records until ‘Lookin’ Forward’ released just past the band’s thirtieth anniversary.

‘After The Storm’ was, then, a last chance to look back on a past that had seen the band on Atlantic for an unbroken thirty year run (well unbroken in terms of labels – it was broken up like crazy paving in terms of band bus-ups!) It’s full of pride about what the band achieved back in the day and what they stood for, along with songs about family and first loves. It’s full of worries over the present day and how the world is unfolding, in roughly the opposite direction to the way it had seemed when they’d first got together, full of songs about families both departing and starting. And they look to the future with wonder and hope, dreaming of a time when the mad crazy world we live in is finally working properly and people live together in harmony the way they should have done all along. One of CSN’s most consistent albums, this is also one of their most melodic, most poetic and most courageous albums, branching out into multiple different directions without doing what so many AAA album we’ve criticised in the past have done – far from throwing out the baby with the bathwater, this is an update of an old sound that’s still there, not a replacement for it. This is still audibly CSN from first note to last, but it does sound more relevant than normal, better suited to the times that ignored it and a far better match for what was happening in the world in 1994 than bleeding Spice Girls influences Salt ‘n’ Pepa. It’s one of their very best in fact, severely under-rated and long overdue for a re-issue one day so more fans can get to hear it (Atlantic buried it so much few even knew it was out the first time anyway). But then that’s what Alan’s Album Archives is all about: once the storm of whatever is currently in vogue has long died out and the brainwashing of the media about a particular politician has faded we can better see the world for what it really is and get back to what we should be doing: being kind to one another. I just want to see the love in fans’ eyes for this obscure album after ther storm has passed you and gone. 

The album explodes into glorious technicolour with Stills’ ‘Only Waiting For You’, the single poppiest CSN moment since ‘Marrakesh Express’. The song was written at the last minute when the trio were putting their running order together and realised they didn’t have a strong catchy opener for the album. Given that the last time Nash mentioned this to Stills he had come up with the terrific ‘Carry On’, Graham jokingly mentioned this to Stephen to see if lightning would strike twice twenty-four years on. Stills is a master of deadlines and took to this song with speed, offering it up so CSN could record in one last frenetic session on July 1st (making this effectively the last song any of the band will make for their old ‘home’ at Atlantic). Though clearly written as a deliberately punchy ear-catching opener there is nothing forced about this song though and indeed its hard to imagine the album without it, as the dash of hope an otherwise gloomy record needs. In between writing his songs for the album in a downbeat mood in 1992 and 1993 Stills had shocked himself by falling in love again after meeting Kristen. Anyone whose come to this album after the heartbreak of ‘Live It Up’ and ‘Stills Alone’ will know that this was the last thing Stills was expecting (indeed, I would have laid money on him living in a cave and becoming a hermit after hearing the painful cry of ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough?’) Stills is as shocked as anyone at this rapid twist in fate and fortune and really feels like it’s the real deal this time (your heart will break on the line ‘I’ve got one last great love left in my life and my heart is telling me it might be you’, so fragile and so Stills after admitting to being over-confident just a verse before it!) While I’m not sure I quite buy his claims of being a ‘most reclusive kind of guy’ who ‘usually runs and hides’ around love (not after all those albums chasing Judy, Rita and Veronique!), there’s something delightfully autobiographical and open about this song, perhaps the last song Stills truly wrote from his big wide open heart. He calls his younger self a ‘basket case’, so desperate for love he tried too hard, prepared to woo his ‘best friend’ into being his lover and certain that all those missed opportunities and wasted chances across the rest of his life have been good practice for the love of his life, which he was waiting for all these years and has finally found. It’s such a CSN moment: life was horrific, but now everything is easy ‘cause of you’, hate and guilt and frustration turning into love at a moment’s notice and all you have to do is be ready for it. Admittedly the middle eight sounds rushed, Stills switching to a rudimentary run through the nearest minor chord while playing some gutsy bluesy guitar, but even this works in context The joy of this bouncy ‘Tigger’ song is infectious, marvellously handled by a band firing on all cylinders as their regular backing band in this era (Michael Finnigan, who is unusually subtle on the synths here, and drummer Jody Cortez, with everything else played by Stills in one last great show of being ‘Captain Manyhands’) and some classy CSN harmonies that make them all sound like love-struck teenagers in a way we’ve never quite heard them before. Stills’ lead is delightful too, raw but right on the money and so perfect for this track its clearly still new and fresh and exactly how he’s feeling at the moment he entered the studio. That joy is matched only by the response of the listener who have waited so so very long to hear Stills happy after such an awful time in his love life – and now at last he is. That was the best anniversary present CSN could ever have given us! How this wonderful pop ditty wasn’t the album single I’ll never know…

‘Find A Dream’ is even better. A moody Nash song about failure and throwing in the towel, it’s the perfect accompaniment to the last song. Wonderful moments when you feel on top of the world are rare and there to be cherished. Graham was clearly in a bad mood when he wrote this one: ‘life is uncertain, life is unknown, life is a shot in the dark’. One of Nash’s most poetic and under-rated set of words, its almost haiku like in its symmetry but gloriously written, telling a ‘whole’ story in a clever way (the rhyming couplet – which looks on paper as if it couldn’t possibly rhyme with anything, is the rather natty ‘life is a curtain, always unfolding, life is an amber and a spark’. Things can be extinguished quickly, without warning, a flame that can easily be put out and this equates to both mood and human life. In many ways this song is a call for help, Nash reaching out a hand to anyone listening to this song in trouble with the stark lines ‘don’t be a fool – stay around for a long time!’ It’s his equivalent emotional and evocative phrase counterpart to Neil’s line ‘it’s better to burn out than it is to rust’ – nonsense, says Nash with typical brusqueness, life is precious and valuable and it’s always worth fighting on. ‘Time is a gift, not a loan’ he urges, a gorgeous line that should be printed on a tour t-shirt one day. Looking to give his audience a practical reason why to get through the hard times he urges them ‘try to find a dream’ – a very CSN message because if you can find something to believe in and put your energies into, however small, then the world will be a batter place because of it. The music too is some of Nash’s best, sounding both instantly Nash-like (those gloomy chords, that wistful harmonica break) and something he’d never tried before (it’s all ice-cool detachment, as if singing to us from a distance, while the constant drum pattern that underlines everything is gorgeous, the constant repetition an grind of life that’s deeply unusual for the much more melodic Graham – how much better an album might be the synth-drums of ‘Innocent Eyes’ have been if it had sounded like this?) The recording too is marvellous. Perhaps sensing how out of touch with his usual style this song is and how well it suits the more eroded vocals of his companion, Nash gives the ‘lead’ of this song to Stills to sing and he excels at it, worrying at the song like a dog with a bone and there’s a particularly gorgeous point when he holds the note of most lines long past the point where its comfortable – it ought to sound wrong, but somehow it sounds beautiful (‘not a lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o—an!’, as if all that extra effort will be rewarded and lead into the next line in a continual round of digging yourself out of trouble). There are some exquisite CSN harmonies too when the song gets going, Crosby sinking under the weight of the world and Nash rising with hope all at the same time. Truly beautiful and incredibly haunting, ‘Find A Dream’ is one of the best CSN songs you might not know.

‘Camera’ makes it a pretty stunning one-two-three from each of the trio. Rather than getting sucked into the idea of a glorious present or depressive future, though, Crosby looks back to the past. His father Floyd had become rich through taking pictures and while David never followed his dad’s interests (has there ever been a Crosby selfie, even on his hilarious twitter feed?) he was fascinated by the idea of freezing time in a moment that could be seen as a memory forever. The point seems to be that the images mean nothing without their very human context – they would just be a sea of images and people, not ‘my first birthday party’ or ‘my best friend before he got shot in Vietnam/Iraq’, but that things and people that are important to the narrator can be kept and cherished forever, at a point in time when the narrator wants to remember them. As if to prove the point we open with a seemingly random image, of Crosby on his bike ‘wobbling down the path’ surrounded by laughing children – the face of the future that he ‘teaches’ by being himself in all his eccentric glory, who might remember him by a treasured photograph. In keeping with the album theme Crosby looks both forward and back, looking forward to ‘photographing the future when it finally comes ot call’ and ‘when I am old and lonely’ going through old photos can ‘cover up the clocks’ and make him feel young again. Crosby takes pictures of everything that means anything to him: his ‘lover’s sleeping smile with the starlight on his face’, his father fighting in WW2 while he was a baby ‘in the jungles of South America’ and the children who are captured in their innocence and open-ness because ‘they haven’t learnt to hide’ (or pose). Stills gets a co-credit for the music on this song and may well have suggested this song’s exotic Latin American rhythms after reading that verse of Crosby’s about ‘South America’. The only time Stills worked his musical love into one of his partner’s songs, it’s an inspired move, giving this song a lop-sided rhythm that makes it feel as if time is stopping and starting again and Stills excels himself with an exaggerated flamenco guitar part that catches him so by surprise he even chuckles during the song’s instrumental break in the silence before some terrific drumming from newcomer Tristan Imboden kicks the song off again. Wrapped up with some more delightful harmonies (‘While I r-i-i-i-i-i-i-de’ sounds like Crosby pals Jefferson Airplane singing ‘Watch Her Ride’ from their glorious album ‘After Bathing At Baxters’ in 1967, but with pleasure not pain) this is another stunning album moment, nicely handled.

Usually the first song recorded at a CSN album session rather set the tone, but album single ‘Unequal Love’ recorded back in January feels separate from the album somewhere. An overly emotional tale of heartbreak, on the one hand it’s the latest in a long line of sensitive Nash ballads and on the other it’s not like any other Nash love song at all. Nash has always known what he wants and what to get, whether he was chasing first wife Rose Eccles, muse Joni Mitchell, doomed lover Amy Gossage, wife Susan or current partner Amy Grantham. But here, for one time only, he sounds unsure. ‘Did you ever stay too long with a lover who was over you?’ he sighs, comparing a romance slowly falling apart with the line that the niggle started as a ‘whisper on the wind’ getting louder with every breath. Though his love life was as turbulent as Stills’, Nash was a far more eager and optimistic participant, but here he admits that ‘there are many many reasons not to play ‘the game’ at all’. He sighs that not all love is meant to be, that sometimes one partner will pull more than the other and that the ‘pressure of this can break them. A second verse tries to put a typical plaster over this (‘They’ll tear the arrow from your heart, it’s you they love, it’s not just anybody!’) and it’s the perfect moment for some spine-tingling harmonies to arrive with Stills on particularly great form again. The melody too is pretty sumptuous, with its rises and falls and long great sighs and fittingly feels like the narrator is sleepwalking, hypnotised into walking on despite his instincts (especially the harmonica break which starts off simple and short then keeps going until Nash collapses, having all but run out of breath, for Stills’ shimmering guitar to take over). The performance, though, feels a bit rushed and over-weighted on a song that sounds better when Nash is singing it alone (as he does on a live version on his ‘Reflections’ box set) and it’s a measure of how strong this album is that this lovely song isn’t quite up to the first three.

‘Till It Shines’ finds Crosby in a bluesy mood as he returns to his favourite chords from ‘Long Time Gone’ and plays them on guitar instead of Stills playing them on an organ. It’s a provocative track, trying to shake an unknown someone awake and make them see what’s really going on and it’s a very Crosby concept, sharing its title with the chant ‘How Does It Shine?’ from the ‘Crosby*Nash’ CD of 2004. Unlike many Crosby songs, though, this track keeps its target close to its chest and seems to be more about human ignorance in general than anyone specific. ‘What does it take to getcha to admit it?’ he purrs over the funky opening, before later adding that the people he seems around him who seem to know so much ought to be ‘as confused as me’, seeking information about how the world works when Crosby knows there are no real answers. The best verse comes in the middle when Crosby laughs at people who are reaching for something, anything, to make their life better and to start having fun, be it a good job, savings, women, families, retirement. ‘It’s a piece of empty paper!’ he snaps, ‘it’s a piece of empty pie, it’s a vision of illusion that will surely pass you by!’ Unfortunately, while this song reads like a great song the melody so insists on slapping the liostener around the face with its awkward and unusually ugly feel that it doesn’t really suit this band or the performance they give. Stills is having fun roaring his head off on guitar (has he ever played so many guitar parts on a CSN album before?), but this is his territory not Crosby’s and David’s vocal can’t match it. Still there’s a nice rush of energy during the middle eight that seems to find all the answers, gaining momentum and energy with a pulsing organ chord, even though it’s the passage of the song when Crosby admits that he’s clueless (‘Don’t know what to tell you, haven’t got a clue…’).

One of the forgotten album highlights ‘It Won’t Go Away’ is exactly what CSN should have been doing on their 25th anniversary. One of the biggest developments between 1969 and 1994 was the rise of the way politics was reported, with American media split between left and right wing networks all giving their own ‘spin’ on news events and 24 hour news channels that enabled you to see events unfold near real time. Stills had clearly been watching Fox News a lot as he spits venom on this kick-ass song about crooked politicians and ‘media honeys’ using their ‘TV choice’. CSN always used their voice for the disaffected and unheard and they do superbly here, Stills angrily turning on those who say that the youngsters are all lazy and that its all the fault of ‘people of colour’. Stills sees the media as trying to turn Americans against each other, ‘keeping us afraid of each other’ and the fact that so many of the reporters claim to ‘speak for me’. ‘One of us surely is a fool’ Stills scoffs, as the Government-affiliated networks spread lies and un-truths while assuming their audience are too thick to see through it and Stills sounds outraged as he concludes ‘you know that he thinks that its me!’ A storming guitar solo releases the tension before another glorious verse about those with ‘evil intent trying to confuse and control the minds of the innocent’. This time, though, instead of going where we went before Stills and Nash suddenly burst into instant falsetto harmonies on the line ‘good people have got to speak up!’, as if offering us a ‘new’ way of listening to each other. The pair are clearly having great fun on this vocal and they’re on top form (just listen to the way Nash mirrors the way Stills sings ‘inent-uh’, as if he knows his partner so well he guessed he was going to do this – Stills can’t stop grinning for the rest of the verse despite his anger). Performed with a terrific stinging contemporary feel (think superior period heavy metal), this is CSN doing what they always did so well – speaking up for disaffected youths – but the glory of this song is that they’re sticking up for ‘my’ generation (near enough) rather than merely their own. The whole theme of the song, anyway, is that corruption is always there with every generation and ‘won’t go away’, though the song retains the CSN hope that there are enough of ‘us’ to maybe one day overthrow the chains of ‘them’. ‘Don’t you dare turn away!’ CSN snarl, a sentiment I wish they’d given us more often in their later years. The younger rebellious selves of ‘Long Time Gone’ and ‘Ohio’ era would have been very proud of what their older selves grew into on this track, one of the best songs of their ‘reunion’ albums (which is pretty much all of them!)

‘After The Storm’ is a rare album of solidarity, with CSN making an album because they wanted to work with each other again (unlike ‘Daylight Again’ started without Crosby and ‘Live It Up’ started without Stills). This can be heard on the rare co-write ‘These Empty Days’ which feels as if it started life as a Nash song (the melody of the verses is pure Nash, folky Hollies in its lonely walk through Dylanesque chords but whilst wearing glittery pop shoes) before Crosby adopted it with his own ideas (the middle eight, which seems to run ‘backwards’, is very much like his usual work). The pair then hand the song over to Stills to sing lead on and he excels on a song that ended up very much like his own work too, despairing over another impending divorce. ‘I can’t deal with it!’ he pleads on his own in between some typical CSN harmonies, but the main theme of the song is more detached and poetic than usual. The narrator recalls how a relationship fell apart, how the decisions he made within the last few hours have haunted him for years and in a clever line ‘how it will take a million years to fill these empty days’ (that sounds like  Crosby line to me!) What this song lacks is a performance as strong as the song, as CSN struggle with such a pot pourri of styles all flung together that veers from folk to blues to pop with each new flurry of words. It’s also a little too ‘tidy’ for an album that’s generally so emotional and CSN are perhaps a little too far gone to nail this song’s tricky precision with the pure beauty of their earlier work. This is still a lovely song, floating like a butterfly compared to many of the other songs that sting like a bee.

Stills had recorded his version of Beatles classic ‘In My Life’ for his ‘Stills Alone’ album in 1994. His solo version brings out the weary sense of loss and pain well, but it lacks the uplifting twist in Lennon’s lyrics and the pure beauty of one of McCartney’s greatest sleepwalking melodies (yes, this is one of the few songs they wrote 50:50). The song is perfect for a CSN sugar-coating though and this re-make is a triumph, recalling their stately but stunning arrangement on ‘Blackbird’ a quarter century earlier. I think I prefer this cover though, which is a much more natural CSN song somehow, despite being less of a ‘protest’ song. The song’s tale of how things from years gone by will always live with you and that your memories can stay even if the places around you change, it’s perfect for this album of changing times and recalls ‘Camera’ in its ability to freeze time and stop and start it again. More vulnerable than the Beatles arrangement and losing the awful mock baroque George Martin piano solo of the original (that really didn’t fit), this version is less immediate than The Beatles’ arrangement and loses out on the tempo which is quite painfully slow but wins out on the harmonies and the weary sense of loss in the vocals, plus Nash’s sweet harmonica part which is one of his best. That’s Stephen’s son Christopher - the baby on ‘To Mama From Christopher And The Old Man’ back on ‘Stills’ in 1975 – making his first recorded appearance on any CD. He’s quite a big star in his own right these days. Curse the fact that we never got to the end of the ‘covers’ project CSN were planning in 2012 before they split if it sounded anything like as good as this.

For once on a CSN album Crosby doesn’t get any ballads to sing. Instead his third and final song is another demented rocker ‘Street To Lean On’ being another of this album’s comment about modern-day living. Coming on like a slowed down ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ Crosby points to how messed up life is and how topsy turvy it seems. The first verse has a homeless ‘bag lady’ whom the police are tired of arresting for doing nothing wrong than be unfortunate and unlucky – they urge her to come along with them because she’d be better off in prison, fed and clothed and with a roof over her head. In a second verse there’s a street gang the police are afraid of catching and who know the law just enough to get away with being re-arrested ‘nineteen times this month’. A third verse has a ‘fat lady with a wig on’ moaning about the young who are hungry and desperate – they lunge for her purse containing money she would barely notice, but it would be a lifesaver to them. She’s buying antiques to look pretty in her big house, but like many CSN songs the future is the ‘children’ and they’re being treated abominably, the world no longer investing in them. A final verse then lays the finger of blame at the politician who will ‘promise you anything’ but simply pockets the money and runs in practice, with no one to hold his policies to account. They’re the one set of people who could do something about all of this injustice, but they’re too busy making the most out of the system themselves. Crosby’s wicked grin has great fun on one of his most sarcastic tracks and it’s a great foil for Stills’ oh-so-straightforward howl of pain on guitar. The song both reads and sounds wonderful, with another terrific band performance that also features a terrific guest acoustic part from Crosby friend Michael Hedges. However the song needs a better chorus, especially on a song that insists on repeating it so much: even 522 reviews in I’ve never had a song using the word ‘galleria’ (a mammoth shopping centre) before. The theme of the song is a good one though: the kids and homeless have nothing but the trust they get from each other (and ‘the gutter when they fall’), while the rich and the politically savvy can afford to be in it for themselves.

A second rocker in a row has Stills doing what Crosby has just been saying but with even more muscle and contemporary beats. ‘Bad Boyz’ is about prejudice again, the idea that the young are a bad lot who have brought their current status of unemployment and petty criminal acts on themselves. Stills, though, can see beyond the image of what people insist on telling him and can see that they’re ‘unlucky’ much more than they’re ‘bad’. ‘Has anyone ever tried to figure out just why they got so bitter and hard?’ he asks, wondering how ‘we’re gonna explain life to them’ when it’s all so fucked up and stacked against them. He again blames the news for spreading hatred, for pitting one side against another in an endless war instead of bringing people together. ‘Deserted and abandoned, they do the best they can’ is Stills’ passionate argument as he points out the hypocrisy of rich elder folks complaining when they ‘can’t speak to their neighbour’. This is, though, a song that is much more about feeling than intelligent arguments and Stills’ guitar solo is sublime, so loud and high and mighty and yet so full of pain and suffering too. Ethan Johns doubles on rhythm guitar and drums and both are superb, the whole song adding up to a glorious burst of noise. For once the only thing that doesn’t quite work are the vocals, with Crosby, Nash and (I think?) Michael Finnigan drowning out Stills on his own song. I sense this is one he might have been better keeping for a solo album where his aging vocals might have suited it rather better. It is, though, a terrific moment of clarity amidst the madness and again it’s so good to hearing someone from the baby boomer generation sticking up for ‘us’.

One of the reasons I wanted to end my run of (almost – curse you for releasing another album at the last minute Neil!) interrupted reviews with this album was title song ‘After The Storm’. It’s the perfect finale, so perfect that I have it listed as one of the songs to be played at my funeral. This is, you see, a song about what life is really about, bringing words of comfort after crisis and reasons to carry on, even after something very very sad has happened. Nash has never talked about why he wrote it and I’ve often wondered: his parents were long dead by this time – maybe he was thinking about his murdered girlfriend Amy on the twentieth anniversary of her death? Nash, though, is through mourning and is always moving on, the way humans do, old enough to realise the rollercoaster of emotions that is life and the thought that after storm clouds sunshine and rainbows will always come. And even death isn’t final:  the melodies he had in his head during a relationship are ‘still lingering on’ and so are the memories. ‘So sad’ he sighs, but he has to continue living his life without the sadness getting him down and he then imagines his own death, asking to see the love in the eyes of those who loved him, not the tears. A middle eight isn’t quite as strong, returning to Nash’s age-old theme of being true to yourself and that life ‘doesn’t work if you pretend’ but even that is twisted in a golden sudden shift back to the major key that his own story is proof – he couldn’t do things alone and needed to be true for himself and his friends. Along the way this music finds room to make us feel better by telling us that pain is an inevitable part of life, but that it is so worth it – because to miss something that breaks your heart you have to have really loved it in the first place. ‘How come I have to explain?’ he asks, adding that music, people and children are ‘worth all the pain’. In a way this is the CSN theme song for their big finale on Atlantic: all those arguments, all those battles, all that in-fighting were all worth it for those three things which, more than any other three words, define what makes CSN special. The melody too is glorious, solemn and beautiful, yet fragile and ready to break. Wrapped up in a gorgeous folky arrangement that makes it sound like a traditional song, Nash’s stiff-upper-lip vocal is superb, quivering in all the right places, while once again Stills is superb behind him. The high falsetto vocal is by Stephen’s daughter Jennifer making her only appearance on any of her dad’s related recordings and its terrific, hanging in the air like a ghost and perfectly fitting for a song that’s partly about family. Don’t mourn Alan’s Album Archives (even with six months of articles still to go!) We just want to see the love in your eyes – and yes even writing 522 reviews it was well worth all the pain!  This song is superb and one of my very favourite pieces of music by anybody, saying inside three and a half minutes what so many bands struggle to say in an entire career.

That song is the perfect end – but CSN never do things the traditional way and instead throw this website a curveball encore. ‘Panama’ is a song unlike any we’ve reviewed in - what - six hundred thousand songs is it now? Until Stills gets round to writing his autobiography (He’s the only member of CSNY who hasn’t yet) I’ll never know for sure just how close this song is to the ‘truth’. It ‘sounds’ real though, which is the part that matters and it would help explain an awful lot about his love of Latin American sounds. This song recalls how he lost his virginity aged fifteen to an older woman who turned him into a man in ‘Panama’ but not as tacky or as heavy-metal based as that makes it sound.  My guess is that Stills was dating a lady who was originally from there in one of the many endless American states the Stills family were forever moving to. ‘I was not a child, I was not yet a man’ he recalls as the song bubbles over with lust and curiosity, his journey as a visitor to this foreign land a decent metaphor for his growing love life. He sets off into the dark and unknown and she follows him there, disguised by ‘leaves and dust’. Unsure of what to do or where to go they make love in the jungle as he falls under the ‘spell’ of this exotic land until Stills suddenly bursts into life on a yell of ‘Yo Soy Panamo’ (‘I am Panama!’) Sounding not unlike the Ricky Martin songs all my ignorant classmates were getting into but a million times better, Stills often pours his heart out the most on his ‘Spanish’ songs and so it proves here with another terrific band performance that’s full of life and energy and more than a little danger. Once again CSN feel a little adrift here on a song that might have suited Stills better alone but the guitar mix between father and son Stephen and Christopher is a thrilling last throw of the dice in the Atlantic CSN canon.

The end result is an album that’s way better than it has any right to be for a band celebrating their silver anniversary. If not quite CSN’s best or most groundbreaking record, in many ways it’s their most consistent and satisfying, absent from our original ‘core 101 albums everyone should listen to’ list more because it was already swamped with CSN records than any loss as an album. It should have been the start of a whole new era, proving in the 1960s-friendly 1990s that there was still very much a future for this band but that they understood the changes that had taken place since 1969 too – that the youngsters hadn’t failed to become hippies through lack of trying and that finding their way out of the ‘devil’s garden’ to become ‘stardust’ was ever harder as the decades went on, with even more corruption and a whole lot more brainwashing going on. CSN had never been more unified or equal, with the excellent cover logo (by Stills and Nash, developed by graphic artists Kate Nook and Rand Wetherwax) summing up this album well: every letter ‘belongs’ together, wrapping their limbs around each other in a golden hug, the bright light in the sky while the storm rages behind them. Stills, especially, is on top form for this album. He was almost always inspired when he was first in love and so it proves here, as his longest lasting marriage inspires him to provide some of his gutsiest vocals and some terrific guitar work, while Nash is uncharacteristically deep on this record and Crosby is uncharacteristically feisty. The result is an album that any band we cover would have been proud to have had in their canon in any era and it should have been a huge success. Instead Atlantic buried it, Crosby getting sick rather kyboshed the tour and the rise and rise of Neil Young in this period (with ‘Sleeps With Angels’ on the back of ‘Harvest Moon’) eclipsing this album commercially, if not necessarily critically. The band split, again, releasing no new music between them at all until Crosby’s first album with CPR four years later (and even that was only ever released in America). What a waste: they had so much more to give and indeed still do (especially in these Trump years of division – we need their blend of hope and harmony more than ever before).

After the storm has passed you and gone, though, it’s easier to tell which albums have true worth even if no one noticed them at the time. ‘After The Storm’ is exactly the sort of album Alan’s Album Archives lived and breathed for across ten years of Spice Girls, in-jokes, weird youtube videos, confusing April Fool’s Day issues (don’t worry, still one more of those to go next year!) and some truly glorious life-changing music. You may not have read it all – heck, I don’t think even I’ve read it all and I wrote it – but these billions of pages, thousands of posts and ten years of near-constant writing all pretty much add up to what this album is trying to say: that life is hard but it does get better, that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear – especially from politicians, that it is better to love than hate, that ‘time is the final currency’ and precious to quote the CPR song most like this album and that life is easier when you ‘find a dream’. ‘After The Storm’ is a microcosm of everything we ever had to tell you and everything I’ve learnt while writing this website and the thirty books that will hopefully follow it. Thankyou for being there, dear reader, through the good, the bad, the ugly and the Spice Girls jokes, my life will never be quite the same without you to write to every week. Good job I still have all the music to listen to on repeat, eh? Hopefully you do too. We’ll be back with our third essay (on Belle and Sebastian) next week and polish off our run of Neil Young articles and then be back with our annual review of the year before mopping up some extra bits and pieces in the new year. In a very real sense, though, what Alan’s Album Archives was put to do ends right here. And when I got to the end I needed a friend - and that friend was you, however many of these reviews you read across the last decade. Hopefully you’ll remember us with a song in your heart rather than the pain in your ear-drums, the smile we put on your lips as you found something new rather than the strain we caused to your eye-sight, with laughter in your voice rather than an outward groan at a really bad pun and with love in your eyes, now that Alan’s Album Archives has passed you and gone.

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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