Neil Young Discography Parts Fourteen & Fifteen - Zuma (1975), The Stills-Young Band: Long May You Run (1976)
So after the ditch trilogy, Neil reformed Crazy Horse with the help of new guitarist Frank Sampedro, and released an album that was both more professional and generally a lot more positive. It's probably one of his most fun records, and shows that the new lineup chemistry obviously worked just as well as the old Horse did. Which shows that you can teach an old...horse...new... sorry.
We start off with the short and snappy Don't Cry No Tears, an old song Neil wrote in high school. It's a nice plodding rocker, lyrically a sort of re-write of Birds from Gold Rush, but with a little more attitude. The vocal harmonies aren't too high in the mix, which makes me think maybe they didn't want to offend Danny Whitten fans by trying to show off how good the new Horse lineup was in their very first song? Who knows. Danger Bird comes next, and is treeemendous. There's a nice moody slow intro, some drunken sounding country drumming, and the sort of bluesy shambles style that harks back to On The Beach a little. A nice out of tune verse melody launches into an equally slow, but lovely, chorus, portentious sounding and epic. The guitar tones here really are great, and the band comes together perfectly, showing how damn lucky Neil was to find Sampedro and get the chemistry right again. It's also got the record's first really nice solo; and it's worth nothing that although this record is more polished than its predecessors, it's still live sounding and organic. The band don't sound like they're trying to impress and show off, they sound natural as hell, as if they'd been doing it forever.
Pardon My Heart is a pleasant enough country number in a Harvest styley, originally cut for Neil's Homegrown record, which was recorded just afterwards and shared a lot of the style of that more successful album (it was dumped in favour of Tonight's The Night). Have to say it doesn't really stand out from some of that era's other songs in this style, but the backing vocal harmonies are very nice. There's also a pleasant electric solo which contrasts quite nicely with the otherwise acoustic nature of the piece. Lookin' For A Love was the single released in some places, and i'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was one of the only songs that sounded vaguely Heart Of Gold-like to the record company? The verses are just odd and kind of forgettable, but the chorus is indeed nice and anthemicy, and really comes into its own in the second part (the 'I hope I treat her kind' lyric), and then there's a post-chorus solo that's sweet as hell. It's kind of a toss-off, but a goodun at that.
Barstool Blues really reminds me of another song...and at the moment it's killing me trying to think which one it is. Another Neil song that is! Fuck. It's so obvious but for the life of me I can't grab it out of my skull. So yeh, it's a mid-tempo one, nice and ploddy as all the good Horse songs are. I think it's that little post chorus lick that reminds me of other songs, i'm sure Neil's used it about 200 times. The solo on this one is grrrrreat. Clearly a first take toss-off as all great Neil solo's are, and should be. Stupid Girl is one of Neil's few diss tracks, and i've always found it maybe a little tooooo ploddy. If you're gonna be angry, at least put some more ballsyness into it! Thankfully there's some prize guitar action at around the one minute thirty mark that makes it worth the listen.
Drive Back however is a total shitkicking stomp of a song, maybe my favourite on the record after...the next song. Anyway Drive is AMAZING. I love love love that pre-chorus section with the guitar strikes and the piano vamps. My my my that's good. And then the chorus is so simple, and direct, and pure GOOD. It's also relatively short too, so you don't get worn with it. DAMN. Check out that guitar tone at the 1:45 mark. Mmmm. Okay so next of course is the biggie, the song that the album is known for, and that if we're all honest really makes the album. Cortez The Killer is a Neil classic, one of this greatest guitar epics, and just pure musical joy for its 7 and a half minutes. Yes the lyrics are a bit hippie, but the performance is just so sincere that you can look past it. It's the same for a lot of people, I mean I despise Joan Baez's music, but she at least put enough passion into her singing to not make me despise her. Cortez is unremittingly melancholic, it's loose and sloppy and yet never puts a foot wrong. It would of course go on to feature as one of the highlights of Live Rust a few years later, and Neil fans who haven't heard it should also check out the cover version by Built To Spill, which quite fittingly given their huge debt to Neil, stretches it out to a wonderful 20 minutes. It's also the only song that I truly enjoyed on the one occasion that I saw Neil, and which goes down as my most hated and disappointed live show i've ever seen. But more on that in another post, curious readers. It's not a happy story. But anyway that night he played a beautiful 10 minute acoustic version of it that was almost unrecognisable at first, but then connected up into more familiar sections of the solo and...wow... it was almost worth the awfulness of the rest of the show, just to hear that. Finally, Zuma finished up with Through My Sails, which is actually a CSNY song, the only song to leak out from a 1974 session for a proposed album called Human Highway (they would take until 1988 to release another CSNY song together!). It's actually really nice, and thankfully short, so it acts as a sort of coda to Cortez, to bring us back down a little. A fitting end to a fine album.
Neil Young - Drive Back
Neil Young - Cortez the Killer
This LP was one of the only collaborations between just Neil and Stephen Stills, and it wasn't quite the success they were after. Unable to sort things out with 'C' and 'N', Stills thought that him and Neil would probably do okay. They finished up this LP, but then halfway through the accompanying tour, amongst reported tales of drug use and unprofessionalism on Stills part, Neil dropped out (he turned his tour bus around and drove to Nashville apparently) and Stephen had to carry on by himself. But, I hear you scream, how's that record? How could a collaboration between these two mighty hipsters not be the acest of all things? Quite easily, it seems.
We start off with the title track, and it's eeeeasily the best thing on here. The record is split into five neil songs and four stephen ones, and they don't honestly sound much like collaborations. Having the songs alternate between them (a la Double Fantasy) also shows off how crappy Stills could be at times. So yes, Long May has a lovely melody to it, and is very memorable, but in the end it is kind of just a love song about a car. So you know, not one you stick on a mixtape. And this is the best thing on the record. Thankfully it's got some nice harmonies and doesn't show off one of the worst things about the album...which is....overproduction. Just as he and his took the edges off of the CSN and CSNY records, I suspect half of the slickness of this record must be down to Stills, because Neil clearly didn't give a shit about sounding professional by this point. Stills first song is Make Love To You, and it's layered up with slick organs and little jazzy chords a la John Martyn...but lacks anything really interesting about it. It's smarmy and Phil Collinsy. 'Yes i'm gonna make love to you, and it will take all night' Well if that doesn't excite you with its exciting promise ladies, I don't know what will! You bad man Stephen.
Midnight On The Bay is a Neil song, and it's not half bad really, despite the Eaglesy atmosphere. Lyrically facile, but melodically nice. The guitar solos add very little, they're there to fill time really. It's kind of skippable, despite some okay harp action. Neeeext it's Black Coral by Stevie boy, and again its got 20 layers of 80s AOR sheen to it. And it wasn't even the 80s! Crazy! And fucking bongos too. And almost five minutes long. Ocean Girl is just not a good Neil song at all. Where the hell did this stuff come from? Maybe it would work in a quieter arrangement, but with the wonderful Stills-Young Band pushing out lashings of organ and percussion on it it starts to sound...like one of the Stills numbers. And then some bizarre women sing out of tune. It's about the Caribbean by the way. And eating bananas? With a girl? God this is hard work. Let It Shine is another Neil song, and it actually sounds like one. It's rollicking and has a nice shuffley sound to it, and hey! he sounds drunk. Good. But he also sounds like he's not putting too much effort in, which is kind of a shame. Maybe he could tell even before the tour began that it had been a half hearted effort? As in...when he was recording the songs! As Neil has chucked away album after album of great outtakes, its funny that he decided to let out some relatively shoddy stuff like this. Note: all of these songs are too long. Stills next gives us (herpes) the song 12-8 Blues (All The Same), and it is indeed...a blues song. Some okay Neil guitar work, I guess. Fontainebleau is Neil's last song, and he actually turns out that Zuma guitar for a bit. And hey, the chorus sounds all Horsey. Yees this one is kind of worth the effort. There's some tension, and some excitement, and some interest being inspired. I mean, some of the Stills-Young band guys ended up doing the Manassas record with Stills, which is a damn fine album, so i've no idea why this turned out to be so all-over-the-shop. There's still no need for all those bongos though. We finish up with Stills' Guardian Angel, which is his only song of interest, mostly due to some nice dynamics and a little interesting piano work. Still, way too long and too Michael Bolton. And that's the end. This album was 5 minutes longer than Zuma, and it felt like two hours longer. Mark Prindle review ending required: This album isn't so much Still-Young, as STILL BORN!!!11! I love Mark Prindle.
Neil Young - Long May You Run
Neil Young - Fontainebleau