First Impressions: Citizen Kane Jr. Blues by Neil Young

In the wee hours of May 16, 1974, following turns by Ry Cooder and Leon Redbone, Neil Young ambled onto the stage at the famed Bottom Line club in New York City with an acoustic guitar and borrowed harmonica, and performed an 11-song set that was captured for posterity by an audience member on a cassette recorder.

“I’d like to start with a quiet song,” Neil intones before launching into the first song, which he calls “Citizen Kane Jr. Blues”—aka “Pushed It Over the End” before it was so named. For those unfamiliar with it, there’s a reason: He performed it during that summer’s CSNY tour before mothballing it. In the years since, it surfaced as a bonus disc on a 1981 box set released in Italy, the 2014 CSNY 1974 live compilation and Neil’s mammoth Archives II set from 2020—as well as a slew of bootlegs. (I.e. all releases geared to the hardcore.) It’s a spellbinding song supposedly inspired by Patti Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.

At the time, for those not up on their Neil lore, he was in something of a holding pattern. He’d finished recording the On the Beach album the month before, but it wouldn’t hit stores until mid-July, not long after the stadium-sized CSNY reunion tour kicked off. He had no solo tour dates lined up, either. So why not see how the songs worked in front of a relatively small—and, no doubt, woozy—audience? Thus, the hour-long set features four songs from the forthcoming LP, including the (thus far) only known live rendition of “Motion Pictures,” as well as a bevy of other unreleased gems. Several, including “Pushed It Over the End,” “Long May You Run” and “Pardon My Heart,” were new; others, such as “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Roll Another Number (for the Road),” had been kicking around for a while. In fact, the only songs the audience likely knew that night: Deja Vu’s “Helpless” and the traditional folk song “Greensleeves.”

It’s a spellbinding set punctuated by clinking glasses, a creaking door, ill-timed coughs, occasional background chatter, plus a drunken someone shouting for a country song—in the last instance, Neil responds with a “novelty tune,” “Roll Another Number.” It’s the stuff of an audience recording, in other words, and—as a result—includes omnipresent tape hiss. Casual fans should get a kick out of it, while us lifers should enjoy it all the more—in large part because it’s long been a part of our unofficial collections.

Myself, way back in the old fogey days known as the 1990s, I stumbled upon a CD bootleg of the Bottom Line show at one of my favorite independent record stores. It was a bootleg of a bootleg, however, and sported the title of Roll Another Number. As was my wont, I reviewed it on the original Old Grey Cat website

“On the eve of CSNY’s 1974 stadium tour, Neil performed this solo set at the Bottom Line. It’s ironic that this is more readily available than On the Beach, which is represented by four songs (‘Ambulance Blues,’ ‘Revolution Blues,’ ‘On the Beach’ and ‘Motion Pictures’). Also includes ‘Pushed It Over the End’—and ‘Greensleeves.’ Really! Neil himself is rather talkative. Among other items imparted to the audience is the recipe for the tasty ‘delicacy’ known as ‘honey slides.’ The sound itself isn’t great, due to hiss, etc., but it’s more than listenable.” (Quick aside: On the Beach wasn’t released on CD until the early 2000s.)

Listening to Neil’s “official bootleg” version of Citizen Kane Jr. Blues, which features slightly tweaked sound, I’m amazed that I didn’t include it in my Best of the Unofficial Canon roundup in 1999. The ambience of the Bottom Line bleeds into the proceedings in a way that makes the recording a true slice of audio verité. We’ve all been at shows where folks shout out and chatter incessantly, after all, and sat in rooms where the noise from the bar interrupted some songs, with little to none of the unwanted sounds interfering with our enjoyment. Which is to say, if you close your eyes, you’ll swear you’re in the room. There’s not much more one can ask from a concert recording than that.

Unlike unofficial releases, this show can easily be had from pretty much everywhere—including the Neil Young Archives. Give it a go.

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