Friday, July 15, 2016

Thinking about What a Friend Had Said

(I put this post off last week because of the shootings in Dallas; yesterday, someone drove a truck into a crowd in Nice, on Bastille day. How long, how long... Well, Neil Young started out in the middle of chaos, and has always addressed it directly, so he's going up. What can you do?)

For this month's band of the month, let us go north of the border, and Neil Young. I've mentioned this a couple other times, but when I started writing this, I was amazed to see how few of his records I actually have on the computer. It's one of the artifacts of FM radio in the late 70s and 80s: these classic rock bands who got played to death - 4 or 5 songs from their best 4, 5, 6 records - to the point that you forget what you have and don't have. I had to go on to iTunes to get Southern Man on the computer just now - I've never noticed I didn't have it...

That's all right. The broader point is that old Neil has been at it a very long time, all of it solid, great swatches of it magnificent - I have not kept up for most of that career, dipping in and out of the new releases, and picking off the old classics when I can. Like Dylan, like Bowie, like Prince even, I haven't done justice to his career. A bunch of records, some of which I have listened to obsessively at times (a friend in college had Live Rust, and we went through that a few times, beginning to end, as I have since) - a bunch of songs on the radio - but a vast catalogue I have barely touched. So - well, we're into that stage of this series, I am afraid...

It is all right. He does have an impressive body of work. It's interesting, of course - being split into a couple fairly distinct streams: the hard rockers - the country rock - with a handful of songs that slide around the edges, like After the Gold Rush - folk, I suppose, but, really - hymns, right? that is basically a hymn... though even the rockers sometimes are basically hymns - the Unplugged version of Like a Hurricane comes to mind - sounding as natural on a pump organ as Rock of Ages does. They are all fairly simple, straightforward songs - always lyrically compelling, of course - and always played and sung with conviction. He bites into his songs, singing or paying - milking everything he can get from his voice and guitar. He isn't exactly a great singer - but he knows exactly how to use his voice to serve the songs. And as a guitarist, he can get as much from as little as anyone. That droned guitar solo on Cinnamon Girl, the album version especially, is as simple and as powerful as it gets. And I can listen to his epics all day - Like a Hurricane, Cowgirl in the Sand - he's always rewarding.

And finally - I have to say, he writes songs that inspire people. He's been endlessly influential, and inspired some really outstanding covers, from all across the rock spectrum. He's one of the greats.

All right - songs: Top 10:

1. After the Gold Rush
2. Like a Hurricane
3. Cinnamon Girl
4. The Needle of the Damage Done
5. Cowgirl in the Sand
6. Sedan Delivery
7. Ohio
8. Hey Hey My My
9. Heart of Gold
10. Southern Man

Video? Start before the beginning - Buffalo Springfield, miming back in the 60s:

Audio only of Cinnamon Girl, live, 1970, featuring the magnificent Danny Whitten behind Young:

The Needle and the Damage Done, on the Johnny Cash show:

Like a Hurricane, Live Rust:

And Southern Man, with CSN, in 2000:

And 3 songs from last year - After the Gold Rush, Hey Hey My My, and Helpless:

Perhaps a cover or two - starting with the pride of New Jersey, juicing up Sedan Delivery:

And Built to Spill, a band that seems built on the ghosts of Neil Young guitar anthems, doing Cowgirl in the Sand:

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