Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
As I've previously mentioned, I'm not a Neil Young expert. I'm coming to this discography from ap lace of ignorance. I know those influenced by him more than I know why he influenced them. Yes, I'm familiar with his 70s hits, and his 90s resurgence but I had no idea who he was in the 80s.
There's a reason.
Neil Young went through some shit in the 80s. He was given a contract with "complete artistic freedom" and he took advantage of that. And his albums tanked. Most of them aren't awful, they just aren't traditional Neil Young albums. It's like if U2 went direct from Joshua Tree to Zooropa. It's jarring. So jarring that his label tried to sue him for breach of contract, claiming his 80s output was "musically uncharacteristic of (his) previous albums". They lost. They even apologized for the lawsuit, after the fact.
The albums that make up this reimagined album are Re-ac-tor, Trans, Everybody's Rockin', and Landing On Water. Apart from Everybody's Rockin', none of them are bad albums. They're just neither excellent, nor Neil Youngish. But they're creative, and each of them has at least a couple of good songs. Everybody's Rockin' has one fun song and one good song, but its Hey Remember The 50s Rockabilly Sound was stale forty years ago, and hasn't aged any better.
But there's something charming about the combination of these styles into one eclectic, hard to pin down album.
It's definitely the 80s in NeilYoungland. Check out the synth beats on People On The Street. This ain't your guitar strumming champion of the people. Oh, wait, here comes that reedy voice, and he is trying to get you to help the homeless. Ok, so this is the familiar Neil Young, and while this is the band Crazy Horse, which have played with him before, they sure do sound different. The background vocals on the chorus sound very soft rock/r&b 80s, though I couldn't name a band that they sound precisely like.
We continue with the Computer Age sound. Though this song also has Young's guitar fingerprints alongside the synth chords. I can't decide if the main vocals on this track have been hit with a little echo but the background vocals have absolutely been vocoded to the stratosphere. Why is Neil Young suddenly on vocoder? According to Young, he was having trying to reconcile the fact that his son, who has cerebal palsy, couldn't speak, and so he was toying with making his own communication more complicated.
Touch The Night hits us with some heavy guitar at the beginning before tossing in a boys' choir and synth. But then, there it is, the unmistakable Neil Young vocals that could have come from any point in his discography. This song follows the metaphoric trajectory of "Computer Age", as we've got a bunch of traffic and highways scattered throughout the lyrics of both songs. Apart from the synth touches, this absolutely could have come out of his late 70s output and not confused any of his fans, or his record label.
That's also true of the next song, Ra-pid Tran-sit, which is all guitars. He pitches his voice a bit lower for some of the vocals, and includes a stutter to the beginning of each non-chorus line but it's, otherwise, classic Neil Young, and comes before the Geffen records debacle, but it fits nicely on this album.
Most of the albums that Geffen records didn't like, I quite enjoy. They definitely aren't hits, and I prefer them as background music than albums that I'm going to give my full focus. The exception is 1983's Everybody's Rockin', which is, at its core, a terrible record. A nostalgic for the 1950s "rockabilly" album. I'm glad Young had fun recording it, and touring behind it, but it is a slog to listen to. Wonderin' is one of the two tracks on the album that I don't mind, as it really sounds more like a Neil Young song in the style of the 1950s, rather than Neil Young trying to recreate a 1950s sound. As an anomoly on this eclectic album, I think it's great.
There's a nice little clanging bell that brings us back from the 1950s to the 1970s/80s guitar rock of Southern Pacific. The lyrics, about a rail worker being let go because of his advancing age, is vintage Young.
Like An Inca is just enjoyable Neil Young guitar rock. He doesn't strain his voice up, the way he does on many of his tracks, which gives the song a much more relaxed vibe. Especially with the background vocals.
Writing the descriptions of this album, has me realizing how much I do enjoy his more traditional work to the experimental phase. A majority of the songs on this Musically Uncharacteristic Of (His) Previous Albums, really aren't that uncharacteristic. They're musically satisfying, and include alterations to the 1960s/1970s Neil Young formula, but I don't find them all that jarring. I'm surprised more of them weren't hits for him.
Ok, I know why Kinda Fonda Wanda, another of his 1950s style songs wasn't a hit, but it's a ridiculous and fun song. I've trimmed the second verse off because the lyrics are novelty-style and thematically repetetive, but I enjoy the core joke of the song. Young isn't often known for his sense of humor. But it's clearly there. This is also a nice breather, as it's about a minute and a half, while the previous song was nearly ten minutes long. Twiddly-dee!
I Got A Problem gives us heavy guitars, and a drum beat that would make Phil Collins's heart flutter. This is another song about having problems communicating. Yet the song, itself, from lyrics to the limited instrumentation, is crystal clear in its meaning.
The synth is back for Bad News Beat. So are generic love lyrics. But they're catchy, and very, very, very New Age 80s. You could definitely imagine this as a Cars song with Neil Young on vocals. It's not the same kind of fun as "Kinda Fonda Wonda" but it is light, and just sounds warm, like it could be in the background of a beach montage scene in an 80s action film. Right up until the breakdown, which is remarkably spare.
You can hear Kraftwerk's fingerprints all over We R In Control. Young's conspiracy theorist's wet dream theme song. All the lyrics are vocoded. Instead of a beach scene, this is an all-night scene where you flash across a city stopping at the inordinate amount of sinister looking, suit and sunglassed government employees, spying on the general public with no moral qualms.
We close out the album with a piano nostalgia song. Get Back On It is somewhere on the border of the Everybody's Rockin' album, and Young's 70s output. It does transition to an electric guitar ending, and will bring us into the next evolution of Young's music.
I was inspired to do a reimagined Tom Petty discography by the release of Wildflowers And All The Rest a few weeks ago. Wildflowers has consistently been my favorite Petty album since it came out. Before the new version of the album was released, my own personal mix had the original album, the two new cuts from Greatest Hits and "Walls" from the She's The One Soundtrack. Many of the cuts released from the new album are from the recording sessions for those two albums, as well as the original Wildflowers album. I had debated just making my versoin of Wildflowers and then tacking on a new album's worth of material, but (and it's a big but) the additional songs are great for enhancing the feel of the album, but I don't know how often I'd listen to just the non-album tracks, even if I attached them to the Greatest Hits and She's The One Soundrack songs. So I've integrated them into a double album, which is what Petty originally intended Wildflowers to be.
Unlike most of my reimagined albums, this isn't relentless tracks that flow into each other and crossfade. Petty's music doesn't really lend itself to that. So, unlike the other albums, this you could just take this playlist, listen to it in the same order, and your listening experience would be the same as mine.
Embarrassing aside to start this off: I thought I finished this project a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to upload the post before my computer shut down. No big deal. I came back to the project a few days later and it didn't feel right, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I eventually gave up trying to figure out what was wrong, and appreciated the reimagined album. Then I realized, I think what's missing is the song that led me to buy the album. I mean, sure, I already loved Full Moon Fever and Into The Great Wide Open but I was also starting to expand my musical horizons, and was tossing away artists I'd loved in middle school. Billy Joel, gone. Michael Jackswho? I have no idea where those Mariah Carey CDs even came from. But then I saw the video for You Don't Know How It Feels, and there was something about that drum beat. The relaxed guitar solo near the end. The clearly stoned harmonica. And the other people in the dorm I lived in seemed to also like it. Petty was cool. Ok.
I was living in an all-boys dorm in high school, watching MTV when the video for Mary Jane's Last Dance came on. I wasn't the sort of music fan who bought a Greatest Hits album if I liked a band. I wanted the experience of their albums. But I figured I was going to have to have to buy this particular album if just for this song. That opening riff is one of Petty's absolute best.The background woo-ooo-ooohs are delicious icing on Petty's pot brownie. It's a perfect hint at what Wildflowers was to be, and just sounds crunchier and more fun than anything from Into The Great Wide Open.
If there's a Tom Petty song that sounds like it could have been a part of The Beatles discography, it's Keep Crawling Back To You. It's vaguely orchestral sounding opening with extra flute. The piano's ascension and then camoflauge within the melody is not the sort of expected melding of instruments you get on a Heartbreakers album. I love it.
The title track, Wildflowers is a happy-go-lucky song that sounds like it was written for a guitarist sitting by a campfire, trying to impress everyone with how cool and retro he is. It shouldn't work. It's pretty hokey. But it's also pretty, and the bounciness between verses just makes me want to smile and bop my head like a muppet.
The first of the non-album tracks is There Goes Angela (Dream Away), a straight-forward narrative. It definitely has the breezy acoustic feel of many of the ballads from the original Wildflowers. Petty has a dreamy harmonica solo between verses. It's the sort of song I wouldn't want to hear in a stadium, but would love to hear in a private concert setting with less than fifty people.
It's Good To Be King was one of the reasons that I bought this on cassette. I already owned the album on CD but I was staying with my grandparents for a week or so, and I had record/cassette deck there to transfer my favorite musicals from their collection but no CD player. From the opening piano chords to the haunting background oooooohs and the Hammond organ barely audible during the transition from bridge to chorus. Plus the sincerely delivered lyrics about how great rock stardom is are so hilariously self-effacing. I doubt I picked up on that the first fifty or so times I listened to this, being in the prime of teenage angst as I was. It also has a killer string outro.
How many millions of pop singers and folk singers and rock and roll lyricists have made a song about being sad that includes "the rain". So. So. So so many. There's A Break In The Rain embraces its triteness. Yea, it's another acoustic ballad, this one reprising a lyric from "You Don't Know How It Feels". (This is actually how I realized that I had somehow forgotten the opening track to this disc.)
There's an impassioned piano chord jamming throughout Hungup And Overdue. A halfhearted guitar strums over it. The lyrics float breezily over the song. This is somewhere between The Beatles and The Hives for Lazy Rock. It sounds great, but it sounds effortless, and I don't mean Effortlessly Genius, I mean it sounds like people just happened to be playing instruments and singing these songs when there as a microphone and a sound engineer around. In no way does the song blow my mind, but I like it. It's an open window threatening to scatter papers but never following through.
At one of my previous jobs, we had The Last CD player. Oh, I'm sure they're still making a small amount of CD players somewhere in the world. But in a few hundred years after we've blown ourselves to smithereens, an alien race will find some CD players and try to recreate them. They'll be sort of successful but it will be all kinds of quirky, and they'll get so angry that they'll zap it back into the past, where my boss, in the mid-90s will find it and bring it into the store. It will mainly be used to play James Brown, Bruce Springsteen, and some fantastic funk records. But one day, I will show up, and I'll start making mixes of my favorite songs. I'll give the albums goofy names. And the first track on the first album of family friendly rock and R&B will be Honey Bee by Tom Petty. I know this because, of course, it's already happened. Time travel is complex, yo. This song is pure silly fuzzy blues riff. It sounds more bumble bee than honey bee to me. But what do I know?
"Honey Bee" fades out directly into Climb That Hill, a rarity for this album. This is an inspirational song with a beat and a basic guitar scale exercise that makes me forget the inspiration. Like, okay Tom, we didn't back down already, what else do you want from us? That hill doesn't even look that tall, I'm just not into climbing this morning.
Back in high school again, and my junior year, we were all trying to figure out what Beck was singing in "Loser" because none of our dumb asses spoke Spanish. We loved the song, and some of us went back and bought the two previous Beck albums and were Very Confused. It wasn't electric now music, it was folky indie rock. For the most part, I couldn't get into it, but I did love Asshole. So when I put in the She's The One Soundtrack, and realized that Petty was covering the song, I smiled. He really doesn't do anything exceptionally exciting about it. It definitely sounds like he got stoned and thought "What if I covered this song, but, like, added some piano to it. Would that be funny? Oh shit, I think I'm supposed to turn in that sountrack album, uhhh, I'm short a few tracks. Should I? Hmmm. Hehehe. Yeeea. I'm so subversive."
The most surprising thing about It's Only A Broken Heart is that it took Petty twenty years to write and release it. It's the gentlest of the gentle ballads on this album. You can definitely hear George Harrison on the song. I mean, he's not actually involved in it, other than his incredible influence on this phase of Petty's career. It's gorgeous. I believe "lilting" would probably show up in a professional's review. Spare use of piano. Wire brush on the drums. Acoustic guitar solo that sounds like it came off of Eric Clapton's Unplugged. It was made for soft rock radio.
Walls, on the other hand, crashes out of the She's The One Soundtrack. I adore this song. It's in my top ten Petty songs. Probably much higher than it should be. I love 50s style background woahs, I love the really stupid lyrics. It's the most Mad Hatter Petty since "Don't Come Around Here No More". The picadilly resurgence at the end is gorgeous and unexpected.
More expected is the sad, introspective breakup ballad, Hard On Me. Like the best Petty songs, it's catchy as all hell, even though it's not doing anything terribly original, and isn't as great as the other songs on the album, but it's still so damned catchy.
Closing off the first side is another non-album acoustic ballad. Harry Green, a rare narrative song about someone who isn't one of Petty's exes. It comes to a perfect dwindling close to taper off Disc One.