Neil Young Discography Parts Ten & Eleven - Journey Through The Past (1972), Time Fades Away (1973)
In the months following the wake of the release of Harvest and it's huge success, Neil decided that it was time to document his current activities and to cast an eye back on his past. The result was a film and soundtrack that to this day is still pretty much unknown to the majority of Neil fans, and even unseen/heard my some of the bigger ones. Journey Through The Past was a film made up of performances (of Neil solo, CSNY and Buffalo Springfield), tour footage, Song Remains The Same style narrative clips, studio footage and a vast amount of stoned monologues from Neil and pals. I'm not sure if it even got a nationwide release, most reports suggest that it only reached campus cinemas; the majority view being that it was a complete mess. Looking back on it now however, it works rather well. Yes it's sickeningly hippy, and those narrative sequences are awful, but overall Neil turns out to be a pretty sharp editor, creating a film that reflects the zeitgiest and plays out a lot like Jem Cohen's tremendous Fugazi film Instrument in its use of found footage, jump cut and montage. So yes, Journey sank like a stone, is still without a DVD release, and it's soundtrack, a double album released in November 1972, is one of only two Neil albums to still be unreleased on CD. Let's have a listen!
We start with a very fine TV studio recording of the Springfield playing For What It's Worth and Mr Soul, and it's very odd to hear Ed Sullivan style screaming from the audience for a band who wouldn't seem to fit into that cliche. However the annoying thing is that this is a mimed performance, which is something rather unnecessary to have when most Neil fans probably already owned the song; but then I guess it is a soundtrack and it would be unrealistic not to include it. Next up is Rock & Roll Woman, another television performance and yeeees it's a mime job again. Not exactly the band's fault, and the clips of them being presented certainly add to the mood of nostalgia. After that we get some stuff that's worth our money; three CSNY songs recorded at the Fillmore East in 1970. They're beautiful recordings, the guitars picked up really nicely, and the versions of Ohio and Southern Man are both absolutely vicious, with some rather great guitar duelling throughout.
Neeext in line are three GREAT outtakes from the Harvest sessions featuring Neil and the Stray Gators which for me are really the highlights of the record. There's a snappy version of Are You Ready For The Country, followed by a rather annoying dialogue track from the film that we can ignore, and theeen two SUPERB outtakes of Alabama and Words, both notable for different reasons. First up Alabama is very much a work in progress, breaking down half way through for Neil to suggest some vocal melodies. There's also a fade out section near the end with a nice historical soundbite before the song bounces back in to finish. Really interesting and we can only hope more of this sort of thing is unearthed when the Archives come out. Words is notable because it's so long! And so good! 16 minutes of it in fact, drawn out, loping and beautiful. Lordy it's great, in fact it almost makes me think that all the criticisms I have of this record should just be forgotten.
Unforrrrtunately that's all the great stuff over with! Side four is packed with non-Neil rubbish (choirs singing, hippies talking, and, um, a Beach Boys song), with the only Neil represented being the beautiful Soldier, which at this time was unreleased, but which would later be included on Neil's legendary double history album Decade some years later. So overall, not an amazing film or record, faulty in a lot of places, but the good bits are so good that they're both worth searching out. If you want to see some clips from the film, check out this post from your oooonly source for Neil news, Thrashers Wheat.
Neil Young - Alabama (outtake)
Neil Young - Words (outtake)
There's a very famous Neil quote that runs something like; "The success of Harvest and Heart Of Gold had put me right in the middle of the road. So I decided to head for the ditch". Thus begins one of the interesting periods in Neil's history, in which he made an effort to do exactly as he felt, even if it meant not making any money. Now this could be said to be pretty pretentious, as if to say his heart wasn't really in Harvest, but I believe the quote above was made in retrospect, and that at the time a combination of having just made a very mellow album, Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten's continuing descent into heroin addiction and the fact that he was embarking on his largest ever tours and seeing the effect the money men were having on his and CSNY's careers meant that these albums were pretty inevitable. Time Fades is very curious because it's a live album containing only previously unreleased songs, reflecting Neil's quote, "I was becoming more interested in an audio verite approach than satisfying the public demands for a repetion of Harvest." Along with Journey, it's the only Neil album not to have been released on CD, which is something of a tragedy in my opinion; it's probably one of my favourite Neil LPs, extremely pure and moody and intense.
We open with the title track, which soundwise is similar to some of the more rollicking tunes on Gold Rush, but lyrically is quite different, with a far closer focus on touring, drug problems, wasted lives and indeed time fading away. The hopefulness of CSNY's more hippieish songs seems to now be tempered with a feeling of betrayal, of the hippie dream betrayed. It's rather a pissed off/melancholic track, basically. The album as a whole has a very nice sound to it; good instrument definition, and a very strong live feel to it (because everyone knows there are a ton of live albums that sound nothing like a band playing live!). Journey Through The Past is a song that had been in Neil's repertoire for a while by this point, but it fits into this record really well; with references to 'going back to Canada' and as the title says, the past. It's not one of the best songs of the period, but it's still a goodun'. Yonder Stands The Sinner is a very nice Stonesy shuffle with some great guitar work, and a very edgey, unhinged aspect to the vocals. If the Replacements had recorded Hootenanny around in '73, they'd have sounded a bit like this.
LA is a nice song; doesn't start well, but once it hits the chorus it's just great; especially Ben Keith's beautiful lap steel licks. The lyrics are nice too, very snarky. Good stuff. Love In Mind is the album's best ballad and maybe it's best song. Fucking hell it's good. This was always the first song I played to Neil fans who'd never heard it. Luckily it's now available to all and sundry on the recent live album, but I really like this version; it sounds a bit more fragile, and fits the overall tone of the record really well. Short but infinitely sweet! Don't Be Denied is one of the better long songs on the album. It sounds a little unsure of itself; as if it was in its very earliest stages, but the words are pretty much down and they're really what drive the passion in the music. It's a sort of desperate 'I always wanted to be a musician and now i'm here it's all a bit odd' sort of thing, and although I usually find 'a musician's life is so hard' sympathy songs pretty pathetic, the skeletal sound of this one really works. It really sounds like there's no crowd there at all... as if everyone has abandoned Neil in one fell swoop, and so it goes on for quite a while, but that doesn't seem to matter; it works because Neil is carrying on despite the silence.
The Bridge is maybe the most underrated song on the album; lovely harmonica, maybe a little underdeveloped melody-wise, but it has that solitary, scared sound that makes so many of Neil's romantic songs so intense and affecting for folks like us. Now Last Dance, like Denied, is a total fuck you song. Loud and charging and GREAT. Eight minutes of fantasticness. Sad and yet determined, for me it's perfect in just about every way. The piano and lap steel are great additions, and in fact every member of the band contributes a hell of a lot, showing that The Gators could rock live almost as much as the Horse. In conclusion it's an album that i've put on a hundred times and never been bored, an important part of Neil's history, and proof of how personal expression is often best heard when an audience is starting to ignore the person making the noise.
Overall the TFA tour was somewhat of a disaster; crowds wanted Harvest; Neil was drinking far too much, getting pissed off; having sound problems. Mental instability and drunkenness are on the edge of every song, and thats kind of what makes the album so enjoyable. His next studio album would be his darkest yet (how's that for a tease!)
Neil Young - LA (live)
Neil Young - Last Dance (live)