Neil Young is a BIG part of why I love music. Listening to and collecting his work, and seeing his remarkable performances, became a template for how I would approach musical genius. Now, with the impending release of his second Archive set that will cover his most vibrant, creative and turbulent period, I give a preview of what will be on the ten-disc release, and also reflect what makes “Shaky” Neil so vital and why this brief period of his massive catalog is so extraordinary.
As always, thanks you so much for joining me in the MPOMY Escape Pod!
Reissues vs. New Music
Let’s hear it for the old guys who kicked our asses when we were younger! Sure, new music by Bruce Springsteen and Buddy Guy and Neil Young and Steve Hackett and David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler (all my heroes!) just doesn’t hold a candle tho their prior work. It’s fucking understandable. I mean that’s a pretty high bar. And I give the new stuff a chance, but it just lacks the urgency and immediacy of what we got when these artists were young and hungry.
There are exceptions. Bob Dylan’s latest material knocks me out just as much as his old stuff. No lie. Lindsey Buckingham too. The music is so simple, but it seems to never sound derivative. It’s never a question of recapturing that old glory. It’s always looking forward.
So you want to look back to your glory days? I’m a huge fan of the archive, the official bootleg. The unalloyed “hot ticket,” warts and all. This is how I became nuts about music. I learned from a cousin who would go to see Peter Gabriel on multiple nights, even if the show was largely the same both nights. That inspired me to start collecting bootleg recordings, so I could analyze the difference between Pink Floyd playing “Careful with that Axe, Eugene” on a Friday in August to them playing the same song on the following Saturday. I put up with a lot LOW fidelity enjoying those fan-made recordings.
As a fan of old Genesis, I did NOT want to hear them play watered down version of their old songs as they got into their dotage. And the new music, while much of it was quite good, was in no way anywhere near the calibre of what they created previously.
So, for me , the answer is the Archive release. And so many of my favorite rock artists have done it so well, including Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, King Crimson, (NOT Genesis BOO!) and even Neil Young.
Take a look at what’s on the box set
-four terrific years of music making
-lots of stuff we’ve never heard before
Tuscaloosa, AL; Feb 1973
-four months after Danny Whitten died.
— concert sounds good — pretty together
— Time Fades Away seems to straddle both periods — The Tonight’s the Night content, which is darker. It’s almost like an unraveling is happening in real time, in front of an audience. The drummer had to be replace, Neil had trouble with his voice, Crosby and Nash had to come and kind of bail him out at the end of the tour.
When that tour ends, Neil assembles the Santa Monica Fliers, which is basically a combination of the Stray Gators (Harvest band) and Crazy Horse, but with young Niles Lofgren replacing Danny Whitten.
This is such an amazing period of music, and the whole thing is problematized by the fact that we have to look BACK on it. No one but the people on the record and the people in the audience really got to see this play out in sequence. As ever, the music industry was fraught with peril and the result was an album of stunning importance (Bitches Brew level importance) was not released until almost two years later. Remember that his entire TEN DISC box set only covers four years. So, that two years is an eternity.
Reprise (record company) decision not to release the record looks pretty bad in retrospect. And when it was finally released in June of 1975, it didn’t serve up the success of Harvest and was seen as a failure.
Neil Young definitely didn’t see it that way. He ha to fight to get the record released and once he succeeded in that, Young began one of the most productive and successful periods of his career. As a result of Tonight’s the Night, Young crystalized the second incarnation of Crazy Horse — Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro. That band changed music forever under Neil’s guidance, starting in earnest with Rust Never Sleeps.
But in terms of transformational songwriting, in both music and lyric, Tonight’s the Night cannot be touched. It is without question the finest Neil Young record. The rawness of the emotion, the sincerity and directness of the guitar and piano and everything else you hear on that record is mind-blowing. It can be a hard listen, depending on your mood, but there is an unmatched richness and texture to everything in there, and I swear you don’t need to know about all the backstory to understand just how good the record is. You just have to listen to it.
But now we get this detailed insight into the music that came before and after that pivotal moment. That’s really the moment that made Neil Young the legend. It was the dawn of a second act that had such a monstrous and profound impact on me. Made me want to play guitar, made me a music freak.
So let’s see what all is gonna be on this thing.