Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
Putting together this reimagined discography has been more difficult thatn I imagined, but more fulfilling to suss out. This is my third, and I think final, attempt at the second album in the discography. Unlike the first album, which sprawled over Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and Youg's solo work, this album is 100% Neil Young. It contains both his most successful period, and then his darkest period. I've shrunk four of his solo albums into an album that I love. I haven't changed the tracks much since my first draft, but the order has had to be rejumbled as the first draft didn't quite click for me, and the second draft seemed wonderful when I was mixing it but when I listened to it the next day it sounded awful.
This collection sounds, to me, like the prototype for Tom Petty's late 80s and 90s work, as well as the best Ani Difranco albums. They're not fully acoustic, but most of them sound like they were originally played on an acoustic guitar and then slowly expanded into fuller sounds. The songs are all pretty short, and they're catchy. When there are background harmonies, they sound sometimes fun, occasionally haunting, but always necessary, and not the result of overproduction.
The crux of this album is, of course, Harvest, which is the strongest popular Young album of the era. Personally, if I had to choose a full actual 1970s album by Young to listen to, it would be Tonight's The Night, but I understand why Harvest is more popular. What I don't understand are the people who told me I would enjoy After The Gold Rush. Even the "classic hits" on that album just sound off to me. Politically, I definitely fall on the Neil Young side of the Neil Young/Lynyrd Skynyrd divide (Which actually lasted only about a year before Young and Lynyrd reached an agreement that "Southern Man" is politically well-intentioned but kind of a garbage song. "Sweet Home Alabama" slaps) but musically I just don't enjoy the production or the lyrics from After The Gold Rush.
I don't know for sure, because, again, I'm learning what I like about Young as I make this discography, but I *think* this will probably be my favorite of the Neil Young albums, with the possible exception of his mid-90s output. It just Sounds like the mid-90s rock that I listened to in high school, even though it was made in the early and mid-70s.
The kick of the drum, the harmonica, the laid back vocals. Out On The Weekend could have been the first track of Tom Petty's Wildflowers, my favorite Petty album. It's got the country twang in moderation, over the soft acoustic rock. It's just a summer day drinking lemonade (or beer, should you choose) on a porch. Not your porch. The porch of someone you enjoy spending time with, but also enjoy time away from. This is a breezy conversation before you get up to shake hands, maybe hug, and then leave.
Old Man is one of Young's first super hits. Linda Rondstadt and James Taylor (who also plays bajo on the track) are his background vocalists for a catchy, navel-gazing song. This is one of those songs that I don't know if I like it because it's got a really catchy melody or because I've heard it in the background of movies, TV shows, and playing on the radio when I was younger, many times. I couldn't have told you that I even knew this song until I was putting the album together and thought "How do I know all the lyrics to this song?" I also enjoy how it
flows directly into Tonight's The Night, which embodies everything I love about Southern rock. As with Young's best work, the harmonies, provided in this track by The Santa Monica Flyers, are exquisite, the bassline is a touch too ferocious for the soft vocals, but somehow it works. The raggedy piano coming in is divine and makes me wish I was at a piano bar in Memphis. Young's lead vocals waiver back and forth toward the microphone and he plays around like he's at an open mic, not at a recording studio. I was completely unfamiliar with this song (or anything from the album it comes from) when I started this project, and it's now one of my absolute favorite Young tracks.
One of Young's absolute classic hits is Heart Of Gold. The soaring harmonica, the kick drum, the ... you know what ... everything I said about the first track, it's like that, only up another couple of notches. Its association with Zaphod Beeblebrox and infinite improbability also makes me love it even more than the harmonica riffs. And once again, we have Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor in the background.
Borrowed Tune is a sweet piano ballad that just sounds like every mid-90s ballad, but it arrived twenty years early. Hearing it now makes me want to listen to his contribution to the Philadelphia soundtrack. I think it's a thousand times better than "Lady Jane", the terribly clanky Rolling Stones song it borrows the melody from.
If you like a good, moody song played on a Wurlitzer, then hoo buddy, See The Sky About To Rain was written for you. I could see an instrumental version being in pretty much any 1990s Indie film. It could almost have come from REM's Automatic For The People.
Motion Pictures on the other hand, sounds like a slightly countrified version of pre-Kid A Radiohead. A B-side of OK Computer at least. If I'd encountered it, I definitely would have been listening to this song with the lights out in high school, being sad for the sake of being sad. I think much of this album appeals to me because it sounds like the type of music I might have put on when I was feeling down as a teenager/early twenty-something, but I would have felt better after the album is over. There's a real hope to these moody downers.
While I'm comparing Young's 70s output to the 90s work it inspired, Don't Let It Bring You Down is a Screaming Trees masterpiece released out of time. I bet this one more than one of Anthony Bourdain's mixtapes in the 80s and 90s.
Getting back to the piano rag with the scorching Southern guitar, Speakin' Out has The Most 70s lyrics I've heard in a long time. This is a stoned hippie jam with a 70s piano undertone that's polite enough to cut itself off after about five minutes.
Albuquerque gave me the most trouble with this album. I couldn't figure out where to put it. This is the dirty track on a quiet Tom Petty album. Or so I thought. It's really only the opening bass crunch that made it so hard to place. So I buried it in the mix as the outro of "Speakin' Out" fades into it. The song ascends into something between a Southern Rock jam and a Progressive Rock jam. The chorus is almost alien, as it just doesn't seem to fit over the melody, even though it's just echoing the guitar pattern.
I let New Mama cut through the ending for another straightforward acoustic song that could have been a Crosby Stills Nash And Young song. I let it fully play out to its gorgeous ending before
Lookout Joe lopes onto the album. This is definitely a late-album sing-along tune. It feels like a moment about to end. It's a fun Stray Gators song.
The penultimate song brings us back to harmonicaland, with Young lamenting about how he's not joining in his friends who are out having fun. Although, as we've heard throughout the album, his friends' fun is killing them while Oh Lonesome Me is sitting sadly, but alive, at home.
Closing out the album is another absolute classic, the song from which this reimagined album takes its name, The Needle And The Damage Done was a song I'd seen/heard referenced dozens of times before ever hearing the actual song. It was the name of a Nirvana bootleg I owned. It's a gorgeous song about loss, and it allows us to fade out with some audience applause, as it's from a live performance.