Neil Young 1945–
Canadian songwriter and musician.
Neil Young has been a major force in rock and roll since the debut of the Buffalo Springfield in 1966. Before that he had toured small clubs in Canada as a folk singer. With Springfield, Young emerged as an imaginative lyricist and guitar player. After the break up of the Buffalo Springfield, Young began preparing for a solo career. In 1969, he released Neil Young, which disappointed those who knew his work from the Buffalo Springfield days. Young then met a group of musicians known as the Rockets. Renamed Crazy Horse, they played with Young on his next album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Although better than the first album, it was not very successful commercially. Young then joined Crosby, Stills & Nash, at Stephen Stills's request. Young's music, basically a different style from CS&N's, added a new dimension to their sound.
After the Goldrush was released in 1970, and is generally conceded to be Young's finest work. Suggested by many reviewers for album of the year, After the Goldrush was rock and roll with a touch of folk music and poetic lyrics. With the works after this album, however, Young's popularity and commercial success suffered a definite drop. Young ventured into filmmaking with his retrospective Journey through the Past. The sound-track, released under the same title, was somewhat more successful than the film. Tonight's the Night is a starkly depressing album, expressing Young's bitterness over the drug-induced deaths of two friends and coworkers.
Yet there were still many strong Young followers. As Young expressed it: "Somehow, by doing what I wanted to do, I manage to give people what they don't want to hear and they still come back." Young's music is influenced by his own experiences, and because his lyrics often mirror his life and career, many of his followers picture him as a melancholy loner. Young feels the phrase, "rust never sleeps," the title of his latest movie effort, reflects his whole career—always being beyond the latest release, trying to keep a good thing from going bad. For Neil Young, constant change and keeping one step ahead of his public is the essence of his work.
Buffalo Springfield … is a lovely, moving experience. You have to be into it, however; chances are you won't even like it on first hearing. All the songs seem to sound alike…. There are certain samenesses in the Springfield's material, and if you hear them on one of their rare off nights, you'll be quite bored. But what the Springfield does is rise above these samenesses, employing beautiful changes and continually fresh approaches within their particular framework. The more you listen to this album and become familiar with it, the more you'll see in each song. (pp. 47-8)
But the album, despite it all, is beautiful. Every track on it will entrance you, at one time or another. "Clancy" will probably be first—both melody and lyric hit very hard, and once the rhythm changes and the phrasing sink in, you're done for. The objectivity of the song is heartbreaking: "Who should be sleeping that's writing this song/Wishin' and a-hopin' he weren't so damn wrong?" Straightforwardness—with a sort of implied understatement—is characteristic of the Springfield. (p. 48)
"Flying on the Ground" is the song that knocks me out the most just now. It's an unassuming little love song that walks all around the edges of rock's oldest clichés and comes away quietly fresh. (p. 49)
[Neil is a talented songwriter] quite apart from writing for a specific group—[his] songs would surely be recorded, though not...
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In several respects [Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere] falls short of [Neil Young]. Young's new material is a little disappointing…. [The] lyricism of the first album can only be found in faint traces here. But despite its shortcomings, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere offers ample rewards.
The most interesting tracks on the album are "Running Dry" and "Cowgirl in the Sand."… The lyrics [of "Running Dry"] are a bit over-dramatic, but the music and vocal manage to transcend them, creating the feeling of a dimly understood tragedy.
On "Cowgirl in the Sand" everything works. The lyrics are quietly accusative.
Bruce Miroff, "Records: 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1969; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 39, August 9, 1969, p. 36.
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Neil Young's "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" was far and away the standout of the otherwise undistinguished first album from the late Buffalo Springfield, and through "Broken Arrow" to "The Old Laughing Lady" one has watched the growth of a very individual talent….
I'm certain that Neil Young will continue to knock more and more people out with his unique songs of despair and alienation—and, once in every while, happiness.
Richard Williams, "Stills and Young," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), January 10, 1970, p. 5.∗
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[Buffalo Springfield] produced some of the most distinctive and thoroughly enjoyable sounds to come out of [the West Coast rock revolution of 1966/7]….
[The] Springfield used subtlety, understatement and clean, tight playing as their stock in trade….
Perhaps they were ahead of their time….
Starting with their name, with its echoes of the Old West, they retained a simple, down-home flavour throughout their work—even in songs using unusual structures, time signatures and orchestral arrangements, like their epics "Broken Arrow," "Expecting To Fly" and "The Hour Of Not Quite Rain."…
Neil Young was the voice of the loner. His songs tell of love, loneliness, regret and despair….
The group also managed to tell a few truths about America in songs like "Mr. Soul" and "Broken Arrow." But the message is firmly in their music—not strung around their necks like a millstone like so many groups….
Alan Lewis, "Personal Opinion," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), January 17. 1970, p. 7.
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Neil Young … joined Crosby, Stills and Nash just about the time when their first album was completed…. Young has added a dark side to the group's sound, which partially accounts for the dramatic transition of their music from the first to the second album, Déjà Vu…. (pp. 71, 79)
Déjà Vu … varies a great deal in texture as compared with the first album, and there is an undercurrent of conflict which runs sporadically through the songs, breaking them apart, hurling them against one another, giving the album a sense of being jarred, startled, and, in parts, unsettled….
Neil Young's songs are alone and disturbing, fascinatingly introverted, and more imposing than the music Crosby, Stills and Nash made without him….
"Country Girl" is a three-part medley through the life and times of Neil Young. The album closes with "Everybody, I Love You," a searing rock and roll explosion, the harmonies gushing, the band working hard, the song swirling and crashing to an end in itself. (p. 79)
Ellen Sander, "Friends and Neighbors Alive, Alive-O," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1970 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 53, No. 17, April 25, 1970, pp. 71, 79.
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["After the Gold Rush"] stands up to listening better than it does to criticism….
Certainly, "After The Gold Rush" has its faults … the album is too much a collection of separate and distinct songs to make it acceptable to those who demand some kind of linking thread to run through a record.
Stylistically it lies somewhere between the first and second albums: the arranged tightness of the first is mingled with part of the jamming spirit of the second, and in some cases the result is an ideal blend…. There are … two remarkable beautiful pop songs, a stately minuet called "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "When You Dance I Can Really Love," which is a really happy song—unusual for Neil. Then again, "Don't Let It Bring You Down" may be the best cut of all, a song with the most typical Young minor cadences and trembling vocal line. The album ends with "Cripple Creek Ferry," a perfect fragment like some nostalgic memento. Myself, I play this album all the time.
Richard Williams, "Imperfect, Irresistible Neil Young," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), October 24, 1970, p. 19.
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If [After the Goldrush] had been anybody's album but Neil Young's, it would have been an achievement. Indeed, it may seem to be an achievement to that unfortunate majority who know Neil Young only from his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and not from the Buffalo Springfield or from his two previous solo albums. After The Goldrush is pleasant enough, but it lacks intensity and genius….
[It is] the first Neil Young album to be anything less than brilliant….
Neil Young could be the most underrated, overlooked, and unjustly ignored record in rock and roll. It is overproduced, overarranged, and grossly overdone, yet for all its excesses, it nevertheless contains some of the most subtle, most perceptive, and most inventive songwriting in contemporary music. As composer, Neil Young revealed himself to be extraordinarily original and daring, and odd rhythm shifts and offbeat phrasing abound. Similarly, the lyrics are at once incisive, stirring, and profound. It was an album that summed up the directions Neil had attempted in his former work. (p. 62)
Joining Crosby, Stills, and Nash was both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to Neil Young…. The result of the merger on the Déjà Vu album is that Neil Young once again emerges as the hero of the day, saving an amiable album from cuteness, by the addition of three moving and powerful cuts, Helpless,...
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The Mona Lisa has nothing on Neil Young. Enigmatic is probably too precise a word for a man whose songs defy any attempt to pin him down.
He is all things to all men….
He is also one of Rock's greatest songwriters, wrapping up small nuggets of truth and pain and beauty in melodies which have the haunting simplicity of songs half-remembered from childhood and lyrics which, like the best songs of Dylan and Lennon, can be interpreted on many different levels.
It is the elusiveness, the mysteriousness, of many of Young's songs which makes them so precious. Because they are not explicit, each listener can interpret them in a way which is meaningful to him or her. Listening to the songs on ["Harvest"], I find it impossible to set down on paper what many of them are really about. Yet meaning is there, to be divined instinctively.
A few of the songs, superficially at least, are more explicit than others….
The other songs are harder to pin down. They tell of joy, sorrow, love, old age, half-described incidents and meetings—all expressed in oblique, fragmented lyrics which create an indefinable atmosphere of regret and nostalgia for a simpler, happier way of life which probably never existed.
Alan Lewis, "Young at Heart," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), February 19, 1972, p. 23.
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On the basis of the vast inferiority relative to his altogether spectacular Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere of the two albums he's made since teaming up with Crosby, Etc. (and thus insuring that he'd never again want for an audience), it can only be concluded that Neil Young is not one of those folks whom superstardom becomes artistically.
Harvest … finds Neil Young invoking most of the L.A. variety of superstardom's weariest cliches in an attempt to obscure his inability to do a good imitation of his earlier self….
[On Harvest] Neil's lyrics dominate the listener's attention far more than befit them. Neil's verbal resources have always been limited, but before now he's nearly always managed to come up with enough strong, evocative lines both to keep the listener's attention away from the banality of those by which they're surrounded and to supply the listener with a vivid enough impression of what a song is about to prevent his becoming frustrated by its seemingly deliberate obscurity and skeletal incompleteness….
Here, with the music making little impression, the words stand or fall on their own, ultimately falling as a result of their extremely low incidence of inspiration and high incidence of rhyme-scheme-forced silliness. A couple are even slightly offensive—"The Needle And The Damage Done," is glib, even cute, and displays little real commitment to its subject,...
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Let the buyer beware: "Journey Through The Past" is not The New Neil Young Album in any meaningful sense.
It's a ragbag collection of old Buffalo Springfield and CSNY 'live' cuts, and tapes from the "Harvest" session, seemingly salvaged from the cutting-room floor, all stitched together with snatches of conversation, a bit of community singing, a few sound effects, and a speech, courtesy of President Nixon. There's only one new song.
The justification for all this is that it forms the soundtrack of Young's autobiographical film of the same name. As a souvenir of the film, maybe the album stands up…. But taken on its own merits, this album is messy and frustrating, and hardly a worthy account of the musical past of one of our most interesting artists.
It's sad that two of the most satisfying tracks are not by Young at all….
The album doesn't tell us much that we don't already know about Young…. It simply underlines the themes that have already emerged in his songs, especially his despair at straight America and his blood-and-fire vision of The South (the album cover, with its Ku Klux Klan riders, echoes the words of "Southern Man" and "Alabama").
You could argue that this album is as mysterious, incomplete and inexplicit as the songs of the man himself. If so, you may dig it. Personally I think it smacks of self indulgence and laziness. Young has never...
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The title of Young's newest record, Journey Through the Past, suggests a selection of tracks from the various phases of Young's career. Unfortunately, the album instead pawns itself off as a film soundtrack, although whether the existence of any film could justify the existence of this record is questionable….
It's sad but true that the best stuff on Journey is by the Buffalo Springfield….
[Some] six minutes of Buffalo Springfield songs and the approximately three minutes of "Soldier" are all that might conceivably edify the purchaser of Journey Through the Past. It is outrageous that this album was ever released. It is frankly exploitive of a faithful audience that deserves better from one of its favored performers. There have been many moments in his career when Young has produced some fine rock. Journey Through the Past contains virtually none of those moments. It is the nadir of Neil Young's recording activity.
Jim Miller, "Records: 'Journey Through the Past'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1973; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 129, March 1, 1973, p. 68.
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[The title track which opens "Time Fades Away" is Young's] own approximation of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues."…
It's interested more with the sound of the lyrics and their rhythm than the content, and is taken at a fast clip.
The first two lines will give you an idea: "Thirteen junkies too weak to work; One sells diamonds for what they're worth." Glib, but it's got heat. "Journey Through The Past" is another title song, but from his movie.
It catches him in one of his more lachrymose writing moods, when the combination of his plaintive voice and funeral atmosphere becomes too much….
"Don't you wish that I could be here too?" he sings on "L.A.," which he describes as "city in the smog" in the chorus. Its overbearing seriousness makes it novelettish and a little risible….
["Love On My Mind"] is muted, short and balladic. It's pretty and possibly because of its length, it escapes being maudlin.
Side Two begins with the best song of the album, "Don't Be Denied."…
This is very directly autobiographical, going over incidents in his childhood….
The song is, in fact, an odyssey of his experiences, with a philosophy contained in the line "all the glitter is not gold"—a cliche but obviously meant. The song transcends its personal implications because its broad message has been the experience of many...
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[Of] all the talents that came together … to form [the Buffalo Springfield], Neil Young is the only one who I believe has come close to artistry in his subsequent writing and performances….
Young's music is simple, and many of his lyrics share this simplicity…. [He] is capable of turning out songs that are ice-clear reflections of the times we're living in and the way young people see them. Most of the songs are very personal affairs, but when Young does attempt a political song, he is likely to come up strong, with a number like "Ohio," on the killing of four students at Kent State University. "Ohio," with its anger and powerful musical stance, is one of the best of the political songs of recent years. Since "Ohio," Young has attempted two other politically oriented songs, "Alabama" and "Southern Man," but neither of these has matched its intensity.
Perhaps the best songs Young has ever written can be found on [Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere] and Neil Young. Here one can find love songs that bite, and long ambiguous Dylanesque statements, some of which hit the mark. The music is prime rock-and-roll on both albums, and the pounding sound adds to the lyrics.
Neil Young contains a few more complex songs like "The Loner" and "Last Trip to Tulsa." "Tulsa" is a long affair, half surrealism, half a sort of road smarts. Each verse is a little more ambiguous than the last; the...
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Time Fades Away has its virtues when taken on its own terms and not as the latest major work of a major artist. Here, Young seems to have consciously avoided the sober sense of importance that accompanied After the Gold Rush and Harvest…. For whatever reason, he's made a startlingly unorthodox album….
More than any of his earlier works, this record shows Young's reticence about being a public figure.
Young's privateness has always been at the heart of his writing and performing, right alongside his staunch moral sense. These two elements have been both his prime virtues and his main flaws. Both elements are evident in this new material, with uneven but sometimes positive results.
There is an overbearing sense of self-righteousness in the title song, with its images of nervous junkies strung out on the street. But it's saved by a sharply ironic chorus….
Young's is a pain-dominated, rather Old Testament sensibility, and nowhere is all this more obvious than in "L.A." Young's self-righteousness becomes absolute, and he depicts himself as some neo-Israelite prophet warning the unhearing masses of the inevitable apocalypse. Young's blanket condemnations, "Southern Man" and "Alabama" included, are as simplistic as they are venomous, but their fire makes them compelling nonetheless….
The best song on the album is "Don't Be Denied," which...
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Since his days with Buffalo Springfield, the shifts in Neil Young's preoccupations have presented a barometer of a generation's attitudes toward itself, reflecting the dissolution of political idealism and, beyond that, the end of the romance of youth itself. Even in such early ballads as "Sugar Mountain" and "I Am a Child," Young gently warned against living with the illusion of perpetual youth, while his childlike vocals tantalized us with the possibility. The pain of facing adult reality at an age and in an era that encouraged prolonged adolescent fantasy comprised the underlying theme of Young's first three solo albums, a trilogy that culminated in After the Gold Rush, perhaps the quintessential turn-of-the-decade album by a folk-rock soloist.
Whereas Bob Dylan's music formed the aesthetic spearhead of generational rage and moral fervor in the mid-Sixties, Young's subsequently expressed, with equal credibility, the accompanying guilt, self-doubt and paranoia, especially in its obsession with time and age. (pp. 98-9)
On The Beach is Neil Young's best album since After the Gold Rush. Though a studio album, its sound is raw and spare….
The hard-edged sound of On The Beach is a contributing factor to its greatness, since the album poses aesthetic and political questions too serious to be treated prettily. Through various opposed personae, Young evokes primary social and...
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On the Beach is so uneven in both concept and delivery that it is more than just disappointing, it is, in many ways, disgraceful. For an artist as stimulating as Young to have lost his way musically for so long is enough reason to believe that he may just not "have it" anymore.
To be sure, there are a few moments of brilliance, even on such a sorry recording. When Young launches into "See the Sky About to Rain," visions of the old talent are readily in evidence. (p. 76)
But a song such as "Walk On" easily upsets this fluid feel. An indictment against those who criticize Young for his lifestyle, "Walk On" is its own tomb-builder. Vaguely disguised in a commercial, uptempo framework, the tune is vapid and totally without any real musical identity.
"Revolution Blues" attempts to recreate the kind of song that Young used to write and perform so well. It has all the trappings of "Southern Man" and "Alabama" … but the riffs are tired, having been worked to the point of boredom for so long. His words, always much clearer in this context, are filled with both realistic images and Dylanesque depictions of sociological distress, but even as a song in the old mold "Revolution Blues" fails because it seems strangely undeveloped, as if Young had greater expectations and was forced to prune it down to the point where it loses whatever cutting edge it might once have possessed. (pp. 76-7)
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Tonight's the Night is Neil Young's third washout album in a row…. (p. 62)
[Tonight's the Night was conceived] as one long dirge in memory of Bruce Berry, a member of his road crew, and Danny Whitten, a musician with Young's original backing band, Crazy Horse (both of whom apparently died of drug overdoses)….
[In] the realm of thematic coherence, consider this wail from "Borrowed Tune" …: "I'm singing this borrowed tune/I took from the Rolling Stones/Alone in this empty room/Too wasted to write my own…." Young recently told Cameron Crowe of Rolling Stone that Tonight's the Night was "the most liquid album I've ever made…. You almost need a life preserver to get through that one," which accounts for the meandering of most of his material….
Young seems to have been quite in earnest when he set out to make a miserable album about feeling miserable. And he has succeeded, beyond his wildest nightmares….
And yet [Tonight's the Night] deserves to be suffered through—just like Time Fades Away … and On The Beach … before it. For although Young has never been all that articulate, he has an impressive gift for letting his raw feelings come through; this may be an ugly album, but its emotional purity makes it as arresting as it is painful. Like Young's Journey Through the Past film, it's easy to laugh at and easy to...
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The successes [on Tonight's the Night]—the ironic "Tired Eyes," the deceptively sweet "Albuquerque," the thunderous "Lookout Joe" and the two versions of the title song—are Young's best music since Gold Rush. Lofgren's guitar and piano are forceful and direct, Ralph Molina's drumming apt on both the rockers and the weepers (the latter driven by Ben Keith's steel guitar). Young's playing, on piano, harp and guitar, is simple but constantly charged.
Still, the album shares with On the Beach a fully developed sense of despair: The stargazer of "Helpless" finds no solace here. The music has a feeling of offhand, first-take crudity matched recently only by Blood on the Tracks, almost as though Young wanted us to miss its ultimate majesty in order to emphasize its ragged edge of desolation….
More than any of Young's earlier songs and albums—even the despondent On the Beach and the mordant, rancorous Time Fades Away—Tonight's the Night is preoccupied with death and disaster…. The characters of the songs are shell-shocked, losers, wasted, insane, homeless—except for the ones who are already corpses. The happiest man in any of them, the father in "New Mama," acknowledges that he's "living in a dreamland."…
Young is simultaneously terrified by this pernicious landscape and fascinated by the disgust and lust it evokes. The only resolution seems to be...
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[Tonight's the Night] is an album of resolute drugginess and obsession with death…. But mostly, it is about Neil Young and his nightride into devastation.
The atmosphere Young creates is that of a solitary figure riding through this album like a bad luck John Wesley Harding: a rootless, drug saturated hippie, cruising the west in search of the ultimate burnout….
This is not the work of a detached, millionaire pop star. Young has assimilated the collective unconscious of the knife wielding, gun toting, dope burning street people who populate western towns like Boulder or Santa Fe, the acid casualties of the counter-culture who'll call you brother but kill you for some spare change. Perhaps it's the life Neil's been living all along….
In On the Beach …, Neil Young came to grips with the Southern California of Charles Manson, the horror of the Dune Buggy Night. But the terror of Tonight's the Night is more immediate; the worst lies just around the corner. It's the difference between mass murder and private murder. To escape his own violent impulses, the drifter keeps moving, a compulsive seeker who finds nothing but disillusionment. (p. 64)
Tonight's the Night is so dark, so personal, so filled with needles that go bump in the night, that one can only wonder how long Neil Young could survive if he didn't have a time warp to give his natural life a...
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Neil Young's ninth solo album, Zuma, is by far the best album he's made; it's the most cohesive (but not the most obvious) concept album I've ever encountered; and despite its depths, Zuma is so listenable that it should become Young's first hit album since Harvest….
If Tonight's The Night was bleakly, spookily black, Zuma—Young's "morning" album—is hardly suffused with sunlight and flowers. Apparently, tempered gloom is the brightest this love- and death-haunted epileptic genius can manage these days. But if, as a stubbornly solitary Young proclaims in "Drive Back," he wants to "wake up with no one around," in "Lookin' for a Love" he's still holding on to some hope of finding that magical life- and self-affirming lover who can make him "live and make the best of what I see." Young doesn't shrink from the paradox, he embraces it like the lover he imagines….
Young is struggling to get a grip on himself, to "burn off the fog" and see what went wrong with his loves and his dreams. Out of these agonized, bitter and painfully frank confessions he manages to reach both a new, honest lovingness and—even more importantly—the revelation … that neither his wings nor his woman can carry him away. For Young this insight holds both terror and liberation.
For this struggle, Young wheels out all his familiar heavy artillery: prominent are his recurring metaphors of...
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Ever since Time Fades Away, Neil Young has been expressing himself with a personally spontaneous and haphazard simplicity. He abandoned structure and perfection for a looseness induced by senses that were dulled in order to ease the pain.
At least we can thank him for offering insights into emotionally vulnerable times. The mournful moments were allowed to sound as painful as they were, undisguised by musical perfection—which never really sooths the pain (viz. Joni Mitchell) but merely represses or identifies with it. The bumps, the wrong turns and the loosely recorded music of the last three albums captured the feeling of moments before they passed. Songs were raw because messages were raw.
On Zuma Young recovers from his unstructured sorrow, as promised on "Motion Pictures"—"I'm deep inside myself, but I'll get out somehow." His catharsis has apparently wrought some salvation. If you found struggling beauty in Young's past of desperation, Zuma is a thoroughly rewarding recovery….
Kris Nicholson, "Capsuie Reviews: 'Zuma'," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1976 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), April, 1976, p. 76.
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If "Long May You Run" is about anything at all, it is the concern of friendship.
Appropriately, therefore, the tenor of this record is mellow and reflective, especially on the first side, although there is nothing beyond the title song that is actually nostalgic. The mood is that of old pals, long since gone different ways but still mutually respectful, winding down in each other's congenial company…. For Young,… "Long May You Run" will surely not be credited with the "significance" of his last four scabrous, if often melodramatic, albums, and I confess I'm not altogether sorry about that. Since "Time Fades Away," his records, particularly "Tonight's The Night," have included remarkable, if painful, illuminations about the pop star process and its man-traps, and have been astonishing in their bitter fatalism, but as one big "statement" has quickly followed another, I've often sought to escape the bludgeoning blows in his first three albums, where Young's craftsmanlike abilities were more to the fore.
It's some relief, indeed, to turn from the rough musicianship of this later body of albums to "Long May You Run," where, except for the heavy-handed "Fontainebleau" and the rather flatly sung "Let It Shine," he sings and performs quite sweetly even.
[On] this album he's more self-contained than he's been for a long time. His three songs on the first side—("Long May You Run," "Midnight On The Bay"...
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Long May You Run is like an old World's Finest comic book: the team-up of Superman and Batman always drained each of his most interesting characteristics. Like Superman, Stephen Stills is a rather muscular lunkhead of a personality; Neil Young's Batman is less heroic—shadowy and darkly mortal. The music on Long May You Run is a collection of each man's puffier and less autobiographical new material….
For both, this is a less personal project, and the straightforwardness such objectivity provokes makes the album very accessible. Less a series of inner explorations than of California observations, Long May You Run includes a diatribe about a hotel, "Fountainebleau," proof that Neil Young can be entertainingly misanthropic about almost anything….
Both authors are plagued by bloated images and occasional simple-mindedness….
Long May You Run represents a holding action for Young (nothing nearly as potent as any song on either Zuma or Tonight's the Night)…. It's not an important record, but it's certainly interesting.
Ken Tucker, "Records: 'Long May You Run'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1976; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 224, October 21, 1976, p. 107.
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["American Stars 'N' Bars"] might not entirely reflect Young's present state of mind, but the emotional polaroids, so distinctively developed here, offer a fascinating series of portraits that capture various aspects of the author's complex personality and his contradictory attitudes to women, love and its defeats and cruel disappointments.
These are the predominant concerns of the songs included here, nearly all of which are marked by a melancholic despair and resignation, made tolerable by the weary humour and stubborn resilience that Young invariably introduces.
Allan Jones, "Young Man of Melancholia," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), June 18, 1977, p. 18.
(The entire section is 99 words.)
Neil Young's category has often been "painful-listening," but most of American Stars 'n Bars has the kind of easy-beat accessibility that could readily roll across this summer's Mellow Sounds radio. If nasty Neil sounds a trifle lobotomized compared to his dirges on Zuma and On The Beach, at least the relaxation shows up as gracefulness rather than torpor….
Following the simplistic, Buffalo-Springfieldy "Hey Babe" is this record's tour de force: "Hold Back The Tears." The song is Neil's answer to Karla Bonoff's kind of despair…. The feel is almost Norteño—mournful South Texas honkytonk—and the cut encapsulates the droning passion the whole side partakes of: "Two lyin' fools and four cryin' eyes … crazy love must surely have this pain."
Fred Schruers, "Tame James & Unreal Neil," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1977 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), August, 1977, p. 66.∗
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Unless one understands the "On the Beach"/"Motion Pictures"/"Ambulance Blues" trilogy from On the Beach (and "Don't Be Denied" from Time Fades Away), one simply cannot write intelligently about Neil Young. But when one understands these songs, one begins to perceive the exciting possibility that perhaps Young is rock & roll's first (and only?) postromantic. That he knows something that we don't, but should….
For Young, being a postromantic probably means he still loves the war, but knows exactly how and where to invest his combat pay—he may lose it, but never hopelessly….
[American Stars 'n Bars] can almost be taken as a sampler, but not a summation, of Young's various styles from After the Gold Rush and Harvest (much of it country rock) through On the Beach (the incredible "Will to Love") to Zuma ("Like a Hurricane" is a worthy successor to "Cortez the Killer" as a guitar showcase), with a lot of overlap within the songs….
If one can divide American Stars 'n Bars into major and minor Neil Young, I think that it breaks down this way: "The Old Country Waltz," "Saddle Up the Palomino," "Hey Babe," "Bite the Bullet" and "Homegrown" are excellent examples of country rock at its most pleasant and muscular. While these songs abstain from cloyingness and retain the artist's characteristic idiosyncrasies (Young is nothing if not quirky),...
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Let's make one thing immediately clear, amigo: "Decade" is certainly no mercenary enterprise intended to exploit the dedication of Neil Young's audience. The apparently indulgent and extravagant design of this triple album retrospective is powerfully justified by the impressive authority and diversity of its contents, and the invaluably comprehensive account of Young's artistic development and maturity into one of rock's most individual and arresting performers that it so generously and lucidly offers.
The compilation follows a vaguely chronological course through Young's career, from the precocious adventures of his work with Buffalo Springfield—"Mr. Soul," "Broken Arrow" and, especially, the immaculately conceived "Expecting To Fly," remain startlingly fresh and vivid—through his stirring alliance with the robust, bar-room rock of Crazy Horse and beyond the mellow pastures of "After the Goldrush" and "Harvest."…
The selections from [the earlier] albums are discriminating and calculated to reflect the consistent pertinence of Young's emotional perceptions….
Similarly, the albums illustrate Young's determined pursuit of integrity….
Curiously, though, there is no reference to Young's seminal masterpiece, "Time Fades Away", one of the most extreme performances ever captured on vinyl….
Of the five previously unissued tracks, "Down To The Wire", recorded...
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That heart of gold he's searching for—that heart of gold I'm searching for—that h. of g. you're looking for—it's not some other person. It's me—it's you—it's Neil Young—it's the heart of gold inside. The untapped vein. I know it's here somewhere.
For me to like a record it has to scratch the back of my brain (never mind the front, I can reach that myself)—it has to touch my heart—and it has to move my blood. That's all.
I like this record….
For me to like a record it has to speak to me, personally, from inside, in such a way as no mere hunk of plastic can, sweat of human brow is not enough, you got to speak for me, you got to speak for me stuff I can't verbalize myself, "it's these expressions I never give," you got to give them for me to call yourself an artist, you got to give them with me, nothing less will do….
Neil Young has learned a lot about love since we saw him last…. (p. 60)
[Harvest is] just a record about how hard it is to love. Hard because of who I am, not who everyone else is. "See the lonely boy, out on the weekend …" It ain't a plea for sex. It's a plea for salvation.
A plea to the gods. Women or men can't save us now. (Can't even imagine the perfect mate any more, now that you've met her—him—and run away.) We must save ourselves.
But it's all...
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A 1988 undergraduate seminar—American Rock Romanticism 202. The midterm exam question: "Music historian Antoine Ferrand describes the music of Neil Young as 'a body of work that tells us more than we'd like to know about the feelings of despair, betrayal and helplessness that characterized a segment of America during the 1970's.' Using Decade as your primary source, discuss how Young's music over his first ten year period supports or refutes Ferrand's assertion. Be specific (quotes, titles)."
It's that kind of album. Like a Faulkner anthology. And it turns out that Neil Young is a figure to be seriously reckoned with (how else?; he is the most humorless of major rock artists). Decade probably shouldn't have been necessary to convince us of that, but here it is, and it states its case for Young as a Significant Talent with thoroughness and minimal special pleading….
There is little joy in the Neil Young represented on Decade. "I could be happy the rest of my life with a Cinnamon Girl." Couldn't we all? What he finds instead is that love is a thorned rose, unpickable. With the best of intentions, the purest and wildest of dreams, simple desires, what's confronted is confusion and longing, loneliness and violence. "Some get strong, some get strange." "I want to love you but I'm getting blown away." "I've been a miner for a heart of gold." Death on the mainline, where "tonight's the night" isn't...
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Neil remains the only Sixties artist nobody calls burnt-out or irrelevant.
"Decade," his remarkably comprehensive new greatest-hits collection, demonstrates that what many of us mistook for profound change over time was nothing of the sort, but simply a case of our inability to see the total artist, rather than just the facets, as the years went by. There's something here for almost everybody…. If you missed it on "Zuma," "Decade" contains what is in my opinion Neil's masterpiece, Cortez the Killer, a mysterious, almost epic song that evokes visions of ancient empires and raises startling questions about male/female relationships.
All in all, this is a superb overview of the work of an artist who at his best makes most of his contemporaries sound faintly puerile by comparison, and at his worst is still an endearing foul-up.
Steve Simels, "Popular Discs and Tapes: 'Decade'," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1978 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 40, No. 3, March, 1978, p. 127.
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Neil Young [is] the thirty-one-year-old loner who for more than 10 years has danced unflinchingly along the edge of that greatest of all precipices, Romance. Young is a romantic whose narcissistic mortification cuts so deep that his music—as evidenced by his latest release, the triple-disc retrospective, Decade—is among the most passionate in rock….
He's a committed malcontent approaching middle age, as indeed the whole rock form is, pressured to abandon the obsessions he has struggled with for so long.
Clearly, Young is a haunted dreamer who finds the world disappointing. In the early Seventies, he was given to overtly political statements …, but his most consuming grievance has been with women, the source of his most powerful illusions and frustrations. Young's creative history is a study in stubborn temperament at war with reality….
He also displayed a knack for reflective lyrics that stand up better than most of the stoned wisdom of the era.
While other countercultural rockers protested their social and political disorientation, Young protested loneliness at the peak of the "free love" eruption, expressing feelings of displacement with dreamy, abstract images….
They were consciousness-stretching lyrics that fit the adventurousness of the times, balancing his emotional commitments between this world and the next. (p. 40)
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Comes a Time is Neil Young's gentlest record since After the Gold Rush….
At first listening, the simplicity of the music makes Comes a Time seem wimped-out. It's not. Usually, Neil Young is most compelling for his musical excess…. Comes a Time, though, stands on its songs, not on the sound; Young has substituted a lyrical chaos for the musical one. What keeps you listening is not so much what's here, but what's left out of the half-realized sentences and shifting imagery.
Comes a Time was originally called Human Highway—a much better title for an album so concerned with passages of life and the ties that bind. Young seems to be a traveller on some two-lane umbilical cord; one direction carries him back through the womb to the beginning of time "when fire filled the air"; the other leads him to the uncertainty of love and permanency of fatherhood. Young's most successful songs create the feeling of connection through disconnection, using jump-cut images that flow with all the linear logic of a child's show and tell. "Look Out for My Love," a beautifully scary song about the helplessness of passion, starts out with an ominous warning ("There's a heart that burns / There's an open mind / Look out for my love") and ends with a wrenching word-picture that communicates the ache of longing without referring to it at all ("Hydraulic wipers pumping / Till the window glistens /...
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Unlike all of Young's work since "Tonight's the Night," "Comes a Time" has a consistent theme that is stated, mused over, and partially resolved over the course of its two sides. The theme concerns his dealings with women and considers the ways relationships can be worked out, nourished, or abandoned. In song after song, Young, oftburned in the romantic fires, considers whether he ought to entrust his love to the woman in question, and every tune comes up with a different wrinkle.
The surprise of this album, given the relentless self-absorption Young has shown on recent records, is how generous he is with all his partners. (p. 136)
Certainly, while this record is as quiet as "Harvest," it never lapses into that album's serene vapidity. Neil Young has reached a point in his creative abilities where even his calm questioning is capable of being dramatically unsettling. (p. 142)
Ken Tucker, "Records: 'Comes a Time'," in High Fidelity (copyright © by ABC Leisure Magazines, Inc.; all rights reserved; excerpted by permission), Vol. 28, No. 9, September, 1978, pp. 136, 142.
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Decade, while being eventful in that it did once and for all establish [Neil Young] as a Major Artist of impressive proportions, also illustrated the fact that his is a vision as consistent as it is clear; he will sing about how it feels to live in this strange and risky world, where friends still die and politics of oppression still operate and love is always hard to live with, and he will do it with none of rock's usual obfuscation or frivolity until they come to take him away.
New-album-wise (Comes a Time), this translates into serious songs about love, a theme with which he was so obviously occupied as one part of a couple at the time the album was made…. It's a smooth job, one of his calmer efforts … but still quietly passionate, a bit of a sleeper.
Side one involves a lot of committing to love in the form of coupledom despite existential doubt and a penchant for travel, etc. "Look Out for My Love" … is a lovely image song about such things. It serves to remind you that its writer knows the often contradictory virtues of image power (evocation) and image clarity (effective conveyance of message); that is, he keeps the little boogers under his control, and in rock & roll that's rare. Otherwise, "Comes a Time" and "Lotta Love" are both very catchy indeed, simple and seductive, and "Peace of Mind" states a major life problem with great precision.
On side two, we're off on...
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[For] all Young's Californian convolutions, "Comes A Time" has the romantic innocence of those Sixties folk clubs where I used to sigh over the cool young men who, like Bob Dylan, rooted their personal anguish in the Human Condition, and suggested a life in which, instead of having to go back to school the next day, you could just travel on forever—breaking a heart here, having a heart broken there. Hitching down the highway, lonely city streets, distant mountains, rough seas—all Young's images merging in smoke.
Simon Frith, "Only a Folkie Can Break Your Heart," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), October 14, 1978, p. 19.
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Young is always trying to catch up with himself, to keep pace with his own prolific, quixotic imagination. His albums are often attempts to document his changing moods and perspectives, to offer his latest idea of himself to the world. Thus the fractured chronology of his output, as he constantly reassesses his stocks of material and revises the content of scheduled releases….
["Rust Never Sleeps"] deals most blatantly with Young's obsessive restlessness, the constant need to change, to remain mobile. "It's better to burn out than it is to rust"….
The general mood is reflective; the songs, however, are not all especially memorable. "Sail Away" is only vaguely realised. Young stresses the desire for escape over an ordinary melody. The lyric is bland, predictable. "Thrasher" shares the same preoccupation. The melody is again familiar. The lyric is distressingly verbose.
Young has never revealed a provocative or assured talent for metaphor; his best songs have been direct, emotionally explicit statements. He has a gift for atmosphere and an ability to draw together oblique, moving images (as on "Ambulance Blues," say), but his sense of involved poetry is negligible. Here his diluted Dylanesque rambling is merely embarrassing. When he sings about "the aimless blade of science" and "the windy halls of friendship" I hope only that he was writing with his tongue in his cheek, not his head up his arse....
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For anyone still passionately in love with rock & roll, Neil Young has made a record that defines the territory. Defines it, expands it, explodes it. Burns it to the ground.
Rust Never Sleeps tells me more about my life, my country and rock & roll than any music I've heard in years. Like a newfound friend or lover pledging honesty and eager to share whatever might be important, it's both a sampler and a synopsis—of everything: the rocks and the trees, and the shadows between the rocks and the trees. If Young's lyrics provide strength and hope, they issue warnings and offer condolences, too. "Rust never sleeps" is probably the perfect epitaph for most of us, but it can also serve as a call to action. (p. 72)
[We're] dealing with omniscience, not irony, here. Too often, irony is the last cheap refuge for those clever assholes who confuse hooks with heart, who can't find the center of anything because their edges are so fashionably fucked up, who are just too cool to care or commiserate. Neil Young doesn't have these problems. Because he actually knows who he is and what he stands for, because he seems to have earned his insights, because his idiosyncratic and skillful music is marked by wisdom as well as a wide-ranging intelligence, Young comes right out and says something—without rant, rhetoric, easy moral lessons or any of the newest production dildos. (pp. 72-3)
For my money, Neil...
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Young's songs often come down to a single moment, a gesture that crystallizes and then breaks the tension, because they depend so much on the vagaries of mood. This undoubtedly is one of the things that Young has found so attractive about folk—the sense it often conveys of being a found music, with tone and atmosphere almost everything. A song could be whipped up on the spot, like a talking blues, and what mattered was not the proper convergence of theme and metaphor, but comic timing. If you were good, the process of making up the song—how long you paused to fit the right word into the rhyme—was as important as the completed song itself. A half-finished verse, a redundant refrain, was valued if it hit the moment. Young has always loved those kinds of throwaways; long after they became passé even in folk circles, he has persisted in dotting his albums with such songs as "Love in Mind," "Till the Morning Comes," and "Crippled Creek Ferry," one- to two-minute fragments that end in ellipsis.
Their open-endedness is the source of their power. The repetition of "till the morning comes" takes on the obsessive double-edge of a domestic quarrel: the impatient threat and the imploring request of a lover who has drawn the line, but secretly wants to see it crossed. The sudden fadeout of "Crippled Creek Ferry" (it's over before the credits roll) leaves us hanging—which is exactly its point. Young doesn't put much stock in resolutions. He...
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History is evidently much on Young's mind—the fact that it's the tenth anniversary of Woodstock matters a great deal to him. He first made his legend as an elegist for the Sixties, and one reason why his oeuvre during the long period of willful obscurantism that followed Harvest (1972) didn't loom as large as it should have was that he hadn't found another theme of commensurate scope. For Young, 1979 represents the end of another epoch, and this seems to have spurred him into action. What he's trying to do on Live Rust is to set himself up as a rock & roll Tiresias, sounding warnings for the future, and to somehow tie his songs of the last ten years into a vast and singular history of the times. Live Rust covers almost every aspect of Young's career, and it's all been arranged and presented as a sprawling epic of disillusion and loss. It's rock & roll as emotional superspectacle—wildly ambitious and wildly successful….
By following "Sugar Mountain" and "I Am a Child" with "After the Gold Rush," Young equates the real childhood in the first two numbers with the symbolic childhood of the Sixties. "Comes a Time," though it's out of chronological order, dovetails perfectly into this sequence, because it's the artist's answer song, eight years later, to "After the Gold Rush"—conciliatory where the other is absolute, stoically mature where the other alternates between youthful idyll and equally...
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It's awfully hard to improve on what Steve Simels once said about Neil Young: he may be a bozo, but he's a great bozo. Young has come to mean so much more to many of us than the sum of his talents. Most of the negative stuff said about him is said affectionately…. He's not a great singer or a great guitarist, and he probably isn't even a great songwriter—although he does have a good, strong, healthy, dependable voice as a writer—but there's an extra ingredient that can transcend this technical-prowess stuff, and Young has it. Nobody can quite describe this quality—one can circle around it by saying Young has style and soul, which is true but not the whole truth—but it is easy to recognize. It comes shining through "Live Rust," which has the unpretentious air of a "typical" concert … by a band on the road, an unfussy approach that's hard to get in two-record live albums. It has a sense of proportion, and it works both as a well-balanced album and as a retrospective by one of the few hippie musicians who haven't sold out.
Noel Coppage, "Popular Discs and Tapes: 'Live Rust'" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Stereo Review, Vol. 44, No. 4, April, 1980, p. 107.
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