Saturday, February 17, 2007

Neil Young Discography Part Four - Neil Young (1969)

Good EEEEVENING! OKAY! Game time. Even before the final Buffalo Springfield album had been posthumously compiled, Neil was already recording his debut album, mostly with the assistance of Jack Nitzsche, who had worked with in the past on songs like Broken Arrow. It was co-produced by Nitzsche and David Briggs. Briggs would become Neil's producer for the majority of his career to follow, most recently working on 1994's Sleeps With Angels shortly before his death in 1995. On this album then we find a strange mixture of Nitzsche's very bombastic, orchestrated arrangements, and Briggs more naturalistic, folksy sound. Neil would eventually chose the Briggs style over the Nitzsche one, and indeed since this album was released he has referred to it as 'the overdubs album.' Regardless of that, I feel that it's still a very fine album, and only underrated in the face of the trilogy of classics that would follow it.

It's a little known fact that the version most people have heard of this album is not the same as the version originally released. In fact Neil Young first came out in November 1968 with a slightly different cover, but due to Neil's disatisfaction with it, it was slightly remixed, remastered and re-released in January 1969. That version has never been released on CD and i'm afraid I haven't heard it, and so can't tell you whether it's more or less overdubby than the version we all know. The people playing on the record vary from song to song, but we do get some famous names, including Buffalo Springfield some-times bassist Jim Messina, and the incomparable Ry Cooder, as well as a ton of backing singers and other crazy folks.

The Emperor Of Wyoming starts things off in a rather laid back country mood, with some nice instrumental flourishes but alas, no vocals yet. It's a goodish mood setter but otherwise slightly forgettable. Luckily it's soon over and we get into our first track proper, which is The Loner. It's a pretty rocking intro and the first outing of a track that would continue to be played in Neil's live sets for quite a while, appearing on Four Way Street live with Crosby, Stills & Nash, on the later Decade compilation and on the classic Live Rust. It ties some pretty nice fuzzed up riffing with one of the better lyrics on the album, as well as some very fitting orchestrational additions from Nitzsche that work rather well, not being too flashy or getting in the way.

If I Could Have Her Tonight is a slower track, ballad-like without being too drippy, and although it works quite well, for me it never really reaches any peaks as such. Again Nitzsche and Briggs make things sound very clear and clean, and very commercial, but part of me does wish for a little of the more organic sound that would later feature on the Crazy Horse recordings. Oooh! I forgot that this one has a really nice middle eight with a repetition of the title, which is probably the best bit of the song by far. And after two minutes 22 seconds, it's gone. I've Been Waiting For You is by FAR my favourite song on the record. The production is wonderful (love those Aaah's!), the lyric is sublime, and really it's no wonder that it's been covered a number of times (the best and most famous at the moment probably being David Bowie's version, which was released as a single). It also features what is by far the best solo on the record, which works SO well with the piano in the background, and I've always thought it was a shame that Neil never released a version of this with the Horse (if anyone's got one, live or otherwise, I'd love to hear it!). PERFECT.

The Old Laughing Lady is the other really well known song from this record, later featuring on Decade and being revived for Neil's MTV Unplugged cd. I liiiike it, but never really thought it deserved the attention that its sometimes given. What I would say is that the version here doesn't sound as good as the MTV version. The female soul-lite backing singers in the end section don't really fit with the acousticy mood (although I have to say they do sound VERY Twilight Singers, which is a good thing!), and to be honest neither do Nitzsche's instrumental additions throughout most of the song. It also goes on a tiny bit too long (don't shoot me Rusties).

Excerpt from Whiskey Boot Hill is a short instrumental segue that I believe was composed by Jack Nitzsche. Nice enough, a good moodsetter, but only a minute long and so a bit inconsequential. Which is exactly what Here We Are In The Years is NOT. Another of my favourite songs from the record, perhaps due to its simplicity compared to the rest, it's very simple and seems to foreshadow the sound of Harvest. An ode to the simple LOOOYFE, it's lyrically a bit awkward (that line about Hogs, oh DEAR), but it just kind of works. A lot. Especially the line 'can't relate to the slower things', which is sublime. It also reminds me of Blur circa their self-titled record for some reason. I like this song more every time I hear it. What Did You Do To My Life? is another of the songs i've uploaded below, and again it shows why this record is so undervalued and unknown by a lot of more casual Neil fans. It's a little overproduced, but I just like that chorus so MUCH it hurts. It's a mixture of that dirty fuzz guitar, the ethereal backing vocal and that ace off kilter melody. Oh and how the last word of each line kind of stutters along. I love that too. LOTS.

Unfortunately, the last two songs on the record aren't quite so great. I've Loved Her So Long is a slowish ballad completely swamped in unnecessary overdubs, backing singers and orchestration. I have a feeling I would love it if it wasn't so covered in shite. Now i'm not a Nitzsche hater, on the contrary I love the guy, but I just wish him and Neil had held back a little and perhaps used some clearer judgement over how and where they should put his stuff in. See also: There's A World. But more on that later! The Last Trip To Tulsa finishes things off in a rather long way. In fact I ALWAYS forget how bloody long it is. Nine and a half minutes! It's a multi-section folky/strummy progressive hard rock singer/songwriter epic odd workout which makes little lyrical sense and has as many lows as highs. Stupid hippies. Actually forget the hard rock bit. It's more a very long start stop hippie strumathon with not much really going on despite a lot of bluster. Kind of a bad way to end your debut album to be honest.

So overall? It's a good album, but could have been a near-great one given some more sensible production choices. Luckily, the next album i'll be looking at is near PERFECTION. Anyway, here's a couple of songs for you. Hope you like em!

Neil Young - I've Been Waiting For You
Neil Young - What Did You Do To My Life


Blogger haahnster said...

Nicely done! Now, I'll have to go back and read your Buffalo Springfield reviews.

I beg to differ on the last track...I think it's classic. It might be the one song in Neil's entire catalog that is least like any other of his songs. It's clearly Dylanesque, and yet, to me, defines perfectly how Neil is, was, and always will be so much more than a mere Dylan clone. If the length of the track bothers you, you should hear the AMAZING electric version I have from a Stray Gators show in '73. He gets through the entire song in about 4 and a half minutes, and in that wonderful, Time Fades Away-ish style!

I completely agree on "The Old Laughing Lady." The solo-acoustic versions he performs live have always been WAY better than this over-produced version, IMHO!

Also, re: the "original" mix, here is a quote sent to me (sorry, I do not have the entire article)...
In fact, only three of the 10 tracks were remixed ("I've Been Waiting For You", "Here We Are In The Years" and "What Did You Do To My Life") in conjunction with the LP remastering.

Hopefully, that's reliable info.

Keep on rockin'

5:42 pm, February 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard those original mixes, and the only one I can really tell a difference on is HWAITY. And it's a BIG difference. The new mix is much better, with an overbearing organ being taken out.
Also, seek out a 2001 Crazy Horse show from Europe or Japan. They did I've Been Waiting For You most every night I think and it rocked.

9:48 pm, February 20, 2007  
Blogger Quinn said...

I have heard both versions of Neil's first album and I seem to recall that in the first version, Here We Are in the Years does not have the background orchestration that it does in the second version.

1:25 am, February 27, 2007  
Blogger Michael said...

The original mix of "What Did You Do To My Life" is a million times better than the remix -- Neil elected to leave out some really cool guitar harmony parts for some reason. Also, the remix of "If I Could Have Her Tonight" suffers from the burying of some glorious hand-tremelo chords on the tag-out.

While "Here We Are In The Years" is an improvement, I have always felt unsettled with this album due to the tampering. I really wish I had never heard that original version because I have never been able to get it out of my mind and the remix just doesn't seem complete to me.

6:55 am, January 01, 2010  

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