Neil Young Discography Part Seven - After The Gold Rush (1970)
I've decided that after this part of my Neil Young discography series, i'll probably be tackling 2 albums per post. This will mean that there will be a little less detail, but it also means that you'll get twice as much music each time and that i'll get through his massive discography a tiny bit quicker!
After the huge success of CSNY's Deja Vu, all four members released strong solo albums. Neil's was definitely his best album yet, and probably also his strongest solo album overall. Most fans that I know prefer it to his commercial peak with Harvest, and although there are definitely songs and albums that can compete, I don't think any of them really match it's pure consistent magic. As with his previous solo record, all of the songs were recorded in a very quick fashion with the minimum of overdubs and instrumental complications, lending the album a very pure and intimate setting that reflects the albums lyrics extremely well. The album peaked at #8 on the Billboard chart; with its two singles (Only Love Can Break Your Heart and When You Dance I Can Really Love) making it to numbers #33 and #93 on the singles chart.
The albums players included Crazy Horse (on two songs), and also new Young collaborator Nils Logren (then of Grin, later of the E Street Band) and old collaborator Stills doing some vocals. Production is again of course from David Briggs, and the cover photo was taken by the legender Joel Bernstein.
Tell Me Why is an absolutely beautiful acoustic intro, which really sets it off on a suitably quiet and intimate (there's that word again, but then not many other words describe Neil's music better) tone. Neil's vocals are very sweet and strong, intense without sounding shrill, and the guitars are beautifully recorded in a very live and jangly fashion. The title track is a total classic, and it's hard to really write anything original about it. Maybe Neil's defining song written on piano, it features some his very best lyrics, such as I was lying in a burnt out basement, with the full moon in my eye, to me it somehow seems to foreshadow the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry and Neil's subsequent 'Ditch Trilogy' of more sombre albums that would occur a few years later. A few of the lines (the more ecological and space-related ones) could almost seem a little too hippieish, but the intensity behind the performance is so obvious that this doesn't really happen. Near-perfection.
Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a suitably great country ballad, not one of the album's best, but featuring a very very nice addictive chorus that propelled the song into the upper reaches of the American charts, making it the first of Neil's solo songs to do so. The chorus might not really say anything new, but it says it so well that Neil can be forgiven.
Southern Man. Oh lordy. One of the albums obvious highlights. Maybe a tiny bit shortsighted in it's lack of ambiguity or perspective in its examination of the South in the 60s, it makes up for that with such an amazing performance and sense of composition that it came to be one of the most loved and played songs of the period. The bass line is fantastic, Neil's vocals are superb, and oh god those guitar breaks. Pure manna. That's Danny Whitten from the horse playing guitar by the way, although the rest of the band are absent from the track, which also features some nice piano work from Lofgren, who at this stage was still very much an amateur on that instrument. The sense of doom and damnation throughout is palpable, and as I said Neil's sense of anger almost justifies the slightly senseless condemnation of every American southerner. Fucking FANTASTIC.
Til' The Morning Comes is another country ballad, again very nice but not a highlight. Luckily however it's only 80 seconds long, so it can be forgiven. Silly Neil. Oh, Lonesome Me however is maybe the best country based song on the record, very reminiscent of Gram Parsons to my ears. The recording sounds very natural an off the cuff, it's certainly almost completely live if not totally live. Features maybe some of Neil's best vocal melodies on the record.
Don't Let It Bring You Down is another of my favourites. The bass line is again fantastic, provided by CSNY's touring bassist Greg Reeves. The vocal melodies are top notch, and the lyrics are again extremely forthright, sensitive and just so much more interesting than most of Neil's contemporaries. They may not always make sense (Come on down to the river of sight, And you can really understand anyone?), but that helps to make things a lot more ambiguous, you realise you're listening to someone who writes about his life rather than 'a songwriter' who's writing strictly for an audience. Which is of course the way it should be with this sort of music.
Birds is stunningly achingly beautiful in every single way. Oh lordy. The vocal harmonies are just so damn amazing I can't describe how utterly wonderful they are. So I won't even try. Okay? We'll just agree to love it forever, right?
Next up we have the two Crazy Horse songs on the album, the first of which is When You Dance I Can Really Love. A great song, but this isn't really the definitive performance. The bass is maybe a little high in the mix, and the piano playing here really does highlight Lofgren's inadequacy. It's strange really how he could get things so right in certain songs on the record but so bad on this one! Far too plinky plonky for my liking. Stop hitting that fucking note Nils! Thankfully the songs is so GOOD and ROCKING and PASISONATE that I can see past these surface difficulties (the Horse harmonizing with Neil are so GOOD on here), but for the definitive version you really need to hear the performance on Live Rust. It's the veritable shizzle.
I Believe In You is pretty stark and quiet for the Horse, and works far better than even maybe they would have expected. Most of that is of course down to how wonderful the song is. Probably Neil's best love song on Rush, the vocal harmonies are again perfectly perfect. The Stones, The Who, The Beatles, can all get fucked if they think they ever did anything as beautiful as Neil and the Horse in full flight. Cripple Creek Ferry is a rather silly ending to the album, but it lets you down on a nice mellow note that kind of sets the stage for Harvest. Inessential but fun.
So there we are. If you don't own this record, you probably don't like music, or you may just not have a soul. If so, listen to these songs, and get one, pesky fool!
Neil Young - Southern Man
Neil Young - Birds
Neil Young - I Believe In You