Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
So far, my reimagined discographies have been catalogs of some of my favorite artists. People I've listened to since high school, or, in the case of The Weeknd, since I first heard their music. I'd listened to their albums repeatedly, and had a pretty good handle as to which songs would flow into which other songs, what shared a key, or a beat, or which syncopation would make a cool transition. While I was working on the Pearl Jam discography, there were several tracks that they made with Neil Young. I *think* I like Neil Young. I like what I've heard from him, but I'm far from an expert. He comes from the time period where my dad was really into music, but my dad is more Motown and the Beatles than Righteous Brothers and Buffalo Springfield. Also, when I was in middle school one of the classic rock stations had an ad that swung at the other classic rock station, playing snippets of Neil Young, America, and Simon and Garfunkel while a voice said something akin to "Some classic rock stations think these songs rock. Not us, we only play Real Rock And Roll not your dad's wuss rock." And then they'd play Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" or Nelson's "After The Rain". I wondered if the DJs were making fun of the idea of Testosterock, but then I never did hear Neil Young, America, or Simon and Garfunkel on that station. But so much Rush.
I keep meaning to give the Young discography a focused listening but I've never gotten around to it.
That ended Saturday. I had all of the albums already on my harddrive, including his work with Crosby Stills and Nash, and Buffalo Springfield. It was just a matter of sitting down and absorbing it.
I'm still not at an expert. This is going to be a discography for people, like me, who want to know more Neil Young music, but are okay with not listening to all of the over fifty albums that he's been a part of. I had to really skip around his early discography because I really don't enjoy the soft rock of that period. Whether it's the lingering effect of that radio ad from the early 90s or that it's the sort of music from the soundtracks to a million terrible movies. The three Buffalo Springfield albums made me wonder if I even liked music anymore. But there were at least two tracks from each album that I really enjoyed. This first album is what I've cobbled together from them.
I am going to skip a ton of "classic tracks" and hits. I'm sorry. If you're already a Neil Young fan, you know them, and don't need me to tell you what's good and what's not. This is for the people who feel like they should know more about Neil Young but aren't 100% sure that they need to.
The Beatles weren't the only group making experimental rock and changing the game, but they were so successful at their endeavors that any time I hear a 1960s band being creative with production or string overdubs, I think of it as being Beatlesque. Expecting To Fly is a Buffalo Springfield song that feels like it would fit right into a White Album B-sides collection. It's fake fade out then resurgence of strings before it properly dissipates is like a symphonic easy listening "Helter Skelter". I think it's a pretty good intro track, even though it is Not Indicative of the rest of the album's sound.
Crunching out of that track is Neil Young's greatest achievement. Ohio. Not appearing on an official album until it the Greatest Hits collections started, Young recorded this with Crosby Stills Nash And Young when the Kent State shooting was fresh. I tend not to enjoy protest songs, as they usually have sentimentality or else a false call for a revolution that they're not prepared to be involved with. I didn't know anything about the Kent State shooting when I first heard this song. But it made me ask questions. The guitar is way to hard for the vocals (and it's not really that hard) but you can feel that, at least in Young's vocals, he's more interested in the urgency and sincerity of the lyrics than the harmonies.
Keeping with the CSNY era, but with more a of a focus on the harmonies, we get Deja Vu. Young is only on guitar and background vocals here but that was one of his main roles in his early career. He was only the occasional frontman, often for Stephen Stills (in both Buffalo Springfield and CSNY). I'm not going to put many non-Young fronted songs on this album, but I enjoy this one, and it is fun to hear Young slightly further down in the mix.
The Last Trip To Tulsa is the first pure Neil Young song on this album. Stephen Stills isn't anywhere on this track. Just Young and his guitar, when he's at his most intimate best. I do have a hard time hearing this and not thinking of Jimmy Fallon cosplaying as Neil Young in the early 2010s. But this is classic Bob Dylan style singer songwriting. There's a distinct narrative focus rather than verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. He even goes meta with talking about being a folk singer, which is the most folk singery thing folk singers do. Also, like several Dylan tunes of the 1960s, it could be cut in half and be a much more interesting song. But folk singers tend to be novelists compared to pop singers' flash fiction. The quality of recording makes this feel like a particularly good open mic performance rather than an album track but this contributes to the authenticity that Young seemed to always strive for.
We move from guitar to the piano but we keep the ballady storytelling as Here We Are In The Years builds us back into a full band (though it is from Young's first solo album). It almost feels like a Carole King song, and the paino pushes us right into the next track,
Our House. This is one of the few CSNY songs that I'm very familiar with, although I did not know it was a CSNY track until I listened to their first album this weekend. I put it on because it was so familiar and catchy, if very cheesy, and didn't notice until I was writing this paragraph that Neil Young is completely absent on this track. No vocals, no guitar. He sat this Graham Nash song out. Oops. I really enjoy Young but I guess, if I'm going to subscribe to his authenticity, I should include at least one song from this period that feels like a snub. I promise that all future albums will contain Neil on every track. This song is catchy but it ain't "Ohio".
Returning to the focus of Neil, is The Loner. This was Young's first solo single. It doesn't have the breathiness of some the other Young vocals so it feels more in-step with the guitar here. This is a more relaxed song than "Ohio" both in its writing and performance but it's clearly the same artist.
Neil Young and his contemporaries are often credited with creating the Southern Rock genre. Not country but adjacent to the already existing country scene but with more of a Rock focus. I Am A Childis a pretty good indicator of that style. It's a Buffalo Springfield track with Young on lead vocals, and a twang to the guitar, and a bit of country sounding harmonica.
And while we're on Buffalo Springfield, you can not have an album with any Buffalo Springfield and not have For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey, What's That Sound) on it. Young isn't on vocals here, but his echoey guitar is what makes this track a classic. Those two reverberating notes make up for the fact that whatever is happening in this song ain't exactly clear.
The guitar intensifies as Young retakes the vocal spotlight in the Buffalo Springfield track Mr Soul. I believe it's illegal to even make an imaginary Neil Young album that doesn't have a song where he talks about how dissatisfied he is with the music industry. It would be like me working a shift in a comic book store without complaining about the kind of people who buy comic books. I haven't included every Neil Young Buffalo Springfield song, as some of them are ... not his best work. But this one is head nodding good. I even let it fully fade out.
Cinnamon Girl is another crunchy guitar riff song. This is the first song on this album with Crazy Horse as the backing band. Young's tenor is such a weird contrast to the guitar on this track (as is often the case with his earlier, electric guitar focused songs) but I love that disparity enough that I'm including this song, despite its really forgettable This Is About A Girl lyrics.
I say that, and then immediately include another song about a girl. This time it's a Country Girl, and it's a ballad instead of a rocker. It's got Crosby, Stills, and Nash on backing vocals and other instruments but it's definitely a Neil Young song. It doesn't have the narrative focus of his solo work. It's more about evoking a feeling than telling a story, but I like it as a bit of an echo of the opening track, even though it's a completely different band (except, well, Young and Stills). I find the background vocals get really sour near the end, and I'm not sure whether its intentional. THis is another of the rare songs where I allow it to completely fade out before the next track, though this is more because I couldn't find a track that meshed well with the ending rather than that I thought listeners needed a moment to bask in the ending.
Another CSNY song, Carry On carries us toward the closing track. It's actually the opening track from the first CSNY album, and is made up of two unreleased Buffalo Springfield songs. I'm not sure how much Young is involved in this track. If he is present vocally, he's buried in the mix.
We close out with a solo piece, The Old Laughing Lady. This is along the lines of "Last Trip To Tulsa" as there is a clear narrative to the story, and Young gets his sentimental croon on. It also ends with background vocalists singing the word "Ohio" which feels like a callback to the second track, though it was written a couple of years earlier.
I enjoyed putting this together, but I'll admit that I'm more excited about the next few reimagined albums, as I think Young got better as his career went on, which is rarely the case with musicians who find early success. Next up is the era where he was most popular, and I'm guessing it will result in a much more focused album.