Archive for the ‘1973’ Category

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Following the success of the Harvest album and “Heart of Gold” single in 1972, Neil seemed sure to ascend to superstardom then and there. But, for reasons I partially covered on ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live, it wasn’t to be – just yet. The self-mythologizing Journey Through the Past movie and soundtrack in late ‘72, and the ramshackle arena tour that followed in early ’73, left the MOR fans he’d just won over scratching their heads. And after those same fans plopped the rough-around-the-edges Time Fades Away LP, released on October 15, 1973, on their turntables? They probably didn’t buy another Neil album until he released the polished Harvest Moon some 20 years later, if at all.

Their loss.

Time Fades Away features eight “new” songs, and is relatively short at 35 minutes. (I put new in quotes because, although seven songs are drawn from the ’73 tour, “Love in Mind” dates to early ’71.) While the album lacks the polished sheen, and practiced precision, of Harvest, it packs a punch that, in some respects, is more powerful. It’s his primal-scream moment. It’s raw, ragged, and emotive. What else can be said about “Yonder Stands the Sinner” and the apocalyptic-themed “L.A.”?

Or the potent “Don’t Be Denied?”

Another high point: the nostalgic “Journey Through the Past.”

Both rate among his greatest songs – and among his most unknown. One reason: Most of the million-plus folks who bought the LP, cassette or 8-track tape in the early ‘70s likely listened to it once, maybe twice, and then moved on. It was too raw, too ragged. Another: His memories of the tour colored his opinion of the music. He didn’t include any TFA material on the Decade anthology, for example. And, after the music industry transitioned to shiny platters in the 1980s, he refused to reissue it on CD until 2017, when compact discs were all but anachronisms – and then only as part of a box set with Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach and Zuma.

No matter. It’s a great set. Shaky? Yes. If you go back to ’73, the odds seemed stacked against him – unknown songs performed in front of large audiences that would rather hear the known, and a backing band that’s not hitting on all cylinders. He pushes himself to the edge, time and again, and never falls into the abyss. It’s powerful stuff.

Anyway, I bought it on cassette about a decade after its release, on November 14, 1983, when I was a freshman in college. I played it to death that winter, and for the next few years. I even played “Journey Through the Past” on my old radio show, as the station had the LP in its massive library. Life being what it is, and like many other music fans, I eventually moved from analog to the aforementioned shiny platters. (It helped that I worked in a CD store for a time, and got an employee discount. My collection grew, and grew, and grew.) Fast forward a few decades and, perhaps as a Christmas gift to devoted fans, in late 2014 Neil released the album as a high-resolution FLAC download on his Pono store. While I haven’t played it to death in the years since – as my blog shows, I have a myriad of music interests – I’ve played it a lot.

It’s an essential. (And it’s also available to be streamed over at the Neil Young Archives.)

Side 1: 

  1. Time Fades Away
  2. Journey Through the Past
  3. Yonder Stands the Sinner
  4. L.A.
  5. Love in Mind

Side 2:

  1. Don’t Be Denied
  2. The Bridge
  3. Last Dance

In November 1972, Neil Young was gearing to go on the road for what should have been a celebratory tour – Harvest, his studio set from February, had hit No. 1 on the album charts and “Heart of Gold,” its first single, went to No. 1, as well. And it wasn’t just any tour, but his first non-CSNY headlining arena tour.

The band he built to support him included Ben Keith, Jack Nitzche, Tim Drummond and Kenny Buttrey, and was to have also included Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who’d provided incendiary backing on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and the tours that preceded and followed that essential LP. “Backing” is a bit of a misnomer, however. At their zenith, their guitars intertwined to the point that they seemed and sounded almost as if they were one; and Whitten’s vocals provided a warm bed for Neil’s oft-reedy lead.

Danny was a junkie, however, and it quickly became apparent during rehearsals that he couldn’t keep up with the rest of the band. Neil sent him packing, reportedly giving him $50 and a plane ticket home. As Neil told Cameron Crowe in 1975, “He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. ‘It’s not happening, man. You’re not together enough.’ He just said, ‘I’ve got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?’ And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he’d ODed. That blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible.”

As documented by the Time Fades Away album, and a myriad of unofficial recordings, the tour that followed wasn’t Neil’s best. Some performances were good if not great, of course, but by and large most shows were perfunctory, if not pallid, affairs. It wasn’t just that he was grieving a friend. He blamed himself for what happened: if he hadn’t fired him, maybe Whitten would’ve lived. That guilt – misplaced though it was – weighed on him. (The reality is that the only person responsible for Danny’s death was Danny.) Fast-forward to June 1973, when another cohort – CSNY roadie Bruce Berry – died from a heroin overdose.

A few months later, Neil gathered a group of like-minded souls, aka the Santa Monica Flyers (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina), at Studio Instrument Rentals, aka SIR, which was owned by Bruce’s brother Ken, and set out to eulogize his late friends while simultaneously exorcising his grief and guilt. Neil recalled in the Times-Contrarian, “We had nine songs and played them twice a night for a long time until we thought we had them.” Those tracks formed the heart of what became Neil’s most intense album, Tonight’s the Night, which was released in 1975. As he also told Crowe, “If you’re gonna put a record on at 11:00 in the morning, don’t put on Tonight’s the Night. Put on the Doobie Brothers.”

Which leads to ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live. Neil explains in the liner notes that “We had finished recording and decided to celebrate with a gig at a new club opening on the Sunset Strip, the ROXY. We went there and recorded for a few nights, opening the ROXY. We really knew the Tonight’s the Night songs after playing them for a month, so we just played them again, the album, top to bottom, two sets a night for a few days. We had a great time.” 

ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live isn’t as intense as the Tonight’s the Night acetate or the 1975 album that many fans, including me, know like the back of our hands. It’s still a wake, still celebratory and sad at once, and still loose – but not quite as loose. (The tequila likely wasn’t flowing as freely.) “The faster you drink, the better we play,” quips someone – Nils Lofgren, maybe? – just prior to the band introductions, but it’s a misdirection. The band reaches for and hits every note and chord it’s supposed to, and does so with practiced precision.

One example: The opening “Tonight’s the Night.”

Another: “Speakin’ Out,” which features a great guitar solo from Nils Logren. The song is about seeking solace in the arms of another, and in a new life: “I’ve been a searcher/I’ve been a fool/But I’ve been a long time coming to you/I’m hoping for your love to carry me through/You’re holding my baby and I’m holding you/and it’s alright.”

“Albuquerque” is another highlight. The performance is less woozy and more meticulous than the TTN rendition, but no less powerful. Neil explains in the intro that he wrote it while on the Time Fades Away tour: “I’ve been flyin’/down the road/and I’ve been starvin’ to be alone/and independent from the scene/I’ve known.”

If you listened to any of those (official) YouTube clips, you’ll have heard the stellar audio of the recording. As someone who whiled away more time than I care to recall listening to umpteenth-generation tapes and audience recordings of shows from the Tonight’s the Night tour (including some that this set is drawn from) – wow. It’s astonishing how crystal clear everything is.

The set’s power also comes from Neil and the Santa Monica Flyers performing for an audience. At SIR, in a sense, they turned some songs into seances. But at the ROXY, they’re no longer trying to contact the dead. Instead, they’re doing what Neil sings about in “Speakin’ Out” – connecting with others. Sharing one’s grief helps to lessen one’s grief, oddly.

Anyway, if you’re a hardcore Neil fan, ROXY: Tonight’s the Night Live is a no-brainer. If you’re a casual fan who maybe found the boozy atmospherics of the Tonight’s the Night album a tad off-putting…give this one a go on Apple Music or Spotify, or even YouTube. It’s not as boozy, or woozy. It’s less a wake, now that I think about it, and more an acceptance of life in all its many facets – the good, the bad, and the in-betweens.

In preparation for my forthcoming review of Neil’s latest archival release, Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live, I’ve been digging through my own archives with a few reviews from the original Old Grey Cat website. (For the first entry, go here.) This one is for a bootleg CD called Sunset Strip on a label called Rough Kut Trax – and an appropriate label name it is. As I explain in the review below, the sound is decidedly rough…

(The review itself dates from sometime in the late ’90s. I can’t narrow it down any more than that, unfortunately – the files themselves are dated from when I archived the website in 2005, not when I wrote them.)

Track List: 9/22/1973: Tonight’s the Night, Mellow My Mind, World on a String, Speakin’ Out, Albuquerque, New Mama, Roll Another Number, Tired Eyes, Tonight’s the Night, The Losing End 3/17/1973: Tell Me Why, L.A., Lookout Joe, Don’t Be Denied, Yonder Stands the Sinner, Last Dance

The Review: “Don’t fuck around. Get drunk…I’m actually staying very straight for this show because I don’t want to get too loose, you know.” In a nutshell, that’s 1973, one of the – if not the – decisive years in Neil’s career. Neil definitely had a yin-yang thang going…sloppy renditions of great songs, right? Maybe. Maybe not. In fact, the Old Grey Cat is of the opinion that the “sloppy” playing actually reinforces the songs. It’s part of a larger whole. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye, in other words, and in this instance that means “mood.”

Taken from what’s said to be the late show on Sept. 22, 1973, the third night of a four-night, eight-show run at the then-brand spanking new Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, it presents Neil’s “Miami Beach” vision in its nascence, he and the Santa Monica Flyers performing a solid and oft-inspiring set that, like Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die, is stronger than the Tonight’s the Night acetate found on the Broken Arrow boot. One high: Nils Lofgren’s solo on “Speakin’ Out.” Another: the mellow “New Mama,” which is part and parcel of the yin-yang theme that permeates the entire Tonight’s the Night acetate, tour and eventual album. Life and death go hand-in-hand, you know.

Unfortunately, as a CD, Sunset Strip does suffer from some serious flaws. First and foremost, the sound is not what most neophytes would term acceptable. At times, the music crackles and threatens to break up – well, it does break up but, still, it’s listenable…maybe only for someone like me who thrives on Tonight’s the Night-tour sets, though. Let’s put it this way: I’ve heard much worse recordings from that tour and enjoyed them, too. Another major flaw: You know the sound some cassette players make when you fast-forward a tape? That squeaky, squished sound that radiates from the speakers like a high-pitched wheeze? You’ll hear that between some of the songs. Neil’s patter isn’t presented in its entirety, in other words, thus stealing from the impact of the performance. In fact, the choppy and incompetent editing is what most mars the CD.

As far as the bonus material, it’s taken from the Time Fades Away tour – March 17, 1973 in Seattle, to be exact, which featured the debut of “Yonder Stands the Sinner.” The performance here of that classic should be familiar, as it’s the same performance which was used for the Time Fades Away album. Soundwise, there is an improvement – but not a drastic one.

This disc is really for those seeking to complement other boots that document the same era. 

Grade: (C+)

My thoughts circa tonight (4/26/2018): I’m either a tad generous above regarding sound quality or my standards have substantially increased. I plugged the CD into the CD player and…wow. Just wow. The sound is absolutely atrocious.

I woke this morning to find an email from Neil Young (actually, Warner Brothers) in my inbox encouraging me to download Neil’s latest archival release, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live. The set, for those unaware, captures Neil and the Santa Monica Flyers in performance at the now-legendary Roxy Theatre in L.A. in 1973. They were the first band to play in the hallowed hall, though this set isn’t entirely the first show – it features material recorded from September 20th through the 23rd.

It’s a remarkable set, well worth the purchase (though it can be streamed over at the Neil Young Archives for free at the moment).

Of course, I like to contemplate, cogitate and ruminate before offering a review. So I thought, instead, I’d reach into my own digital archives while I give the set a few more listens. Back in the day (aka the late ‘90s to mid-‘00s), I should explain for newcomers, I oversaw a website also called The Old Grey Cat. The original aim was to create an online encyclopedia of my and Diane’s favorites – and we each had sections and features on many artists, and even – via live365.com, which at the time offered dirt-cheap plans – a radio show, of sorts. But the primarily focus of the endeavor quickly became my “Unofficial Neil Young Pages,” which delved into the world of bootleg CDs.

So, without further adieu, here’s a group review of three bootlegs that capture Neil in performance back in 1973 that I wrote in 1997. (Wow. Where did the time go?) The images are circa ’97, too. (As I note in my Da Boot flashback, Neil Young: The Best of the Unofficial Canon, I never listen to bootlegs nowadays.)

***********

Lonely Weekend: On the Way Home, Tell Me Why, L.A., Journey Through the Past, Borrowed Tune, Out on the Weekend, Harvest, Old Man, Heart of Gold, Lonely Weekend, New Mama, Alabama, Last Dance, Don’t Be Denied, Cinnamon Girl, Lookout Joe, Southern Man

Last Dance: Cripple Creek Ferry, Here We Are In the Years, L.A., Soldier, Out on the Weekend, Old Man, Heart of Gold, The Loner, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Time Fades Away, New Mama, Alabama, Don’t Be Denied, Cinnamon Girl, Lookout Joe, Southern Man, Last Dance, Are You Ready for the Country?

Broken Arrow: (BBC Sessions:) Out on the Weekend, Old Man, Journey Through the Past, Heart of Gold, Don’t Let Me Bring You Down, A Man Needs a Maid, Love in Mind, Dance, Dance, Dance (Tonight’s the Night acetate:) Tonight’s the Night, Mellow My Mind, Roll Another Number, Tired Eyes, Speakin’ Out, Walk On, For the Turnstiles, Bad Fog of Loneliness, New Mama, Winterlong, Borrowed Tune, Traces

Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die: Tonight’s the Night, Mellow My Mind, World on a String, Speakin’ Out, Albuquerque, New Mama, Roll Another Number, Tired Eyes, Tonight’s the Night, Flying on the Ground Is Wrong, Human Highway, Helpless, Don’t Be Denied

In retrospect, 1973 may well be one of the most important years in Neil’s artistic development. Following Danny Whitten’s overdose death in November ’72, which occurred after Neil sent him home from rehearsals for the upcoming tour, a shaken Neil regrouped with The Stray Gators, and launched a three-month tour that was deemed ramshackle by the rock press and many fans enchanted with the mega-hit Harvest LP. The sets were generally short – 75 minutes or so – and the songs themselves were unkempt, fraying at the edges. By tour’s end, with Neil’s voice by then ravaged, David Crosby and Graham Nash flew in to provide assistance – the result of which can be heard on the live album which resulted from that tour, Time Fades Away. Neil has always characterized that album as an “honest” album – it documented “where he was at” at the time. It also contains stark, powerful songs that speak universal truths about the human condition. They’re plaintive, raw, the kind of material that isn’t readily accessible. Time Fades Away itself is part of the three-album arc that includes Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach, and is an important chapter in Neil’s evolution. That it hasn’t been released on CD as yet is a shame.

Lonely Weekend and Last Dance document two nights from what became the “Time Fades Away” tour. Six days separate Neil’s maiden Maple Leaf Garden concert in Toronto (1/15/73) and the appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, on Jan. 21st in 1973. Lonely Weekend‘s set-list includes “Journey Through the Past” coupled with “Borrowed Tune,” and an electric set that rocks: “Alabama,” “Last Dance,” “Don’t Be Denied,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Lookout Joe” and “Southern Man” cap the night in fine form. Last Dance continues the pace unabated, adding in such live rarities as “Cripple Creek Ferry,” “Here We Are in the Years” and “Soldier.” The not-so-rare “The Loner” is another treat; Neil and the Stray Gators’ “cook,” to use an aged expression.

Both boots suffer the same relative flaw, however – they’re audience tapes and, as a result, the sonics are a bit flat. That said, they’re actually above average as far as audience tapes go and more than listenable. One’s no better than the other, but neither is worse, either.

1973 didn’t end with those shows, of course. By early summer he’d regrouped with CSN to record an album tentatively named Human Highway. The project collapsed soon thereafter due to ego conflicts (for a hint of what might have been, check out Winterland Reunion) and by August Neil was back working with the surviving members of Crazy Horse and Nils Lofgren, who sat in on guitar. Remember, too, that Bruce Berry (a CSNY roadie) died that year from smack. When Neil and the guys gathered at the recording studio, they’d drink tequila until the mood was right – and then stare into the abyss.

Or something to that effect. The acetate for the Tonight’s the Night Neil originally planned to release – but shelved instead – has come to light in recent years. Mine is titled Broken Arrow (not to be confused with the 1996 studio album of the same name) and comes coupled with an acoustic BBC performance from 1971. The first thing to understand is that it’s not the same album as the Tonight’s the Night released in 1975. Check out the lineup for starters: “Tonight’s the Night,” “Mellow My Mind,” “Roll Another Number,” “Tired Eyes,” “Speakin’ Out,” “Walk On,” “For the Turnstiles,” “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” “New Mama,” “Winterlong,” “Borrowed Tune” and “Traces.” It’s interesting, not necessarily weaker than the released version’s but – to me -nowhere near as intense. Maybe it’s the lack of “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown” and the second “Tonight’s the Night,” the fact that the second half of this set, save for “Borrowed Tune,” isn’t really connected to the tragedies of 1973 per se. They’re good songs, don’t get me wrong, and Neil and the band do bring them all justice – “Bad Fog” and “Winterlong” both chug along rather nicely in the arrangements here, and “Traces” is one of the best unreleased tracks in Neil’s arsenal. At the same time, the songs also steal from the overall impact of the album’s overt theme concerning willful and not so willful self-destruction.

As a CD recording of an 25-year-old acetate (a vinyl test-pressing), there’s plenty of pops, crackles and hiss here. In other words, the sound isn’t very good. Of the three CDs reviewed here, it’s the one I’d least recommend to casual or new fans but the one I’d first suggest to fanatics.

Following that recording session, Neil did what he seems to do on a frequent basis: He hit the road. But if the concerts in the early part of the year were deemed “ramshackle,” these shows were–well, damned weird. “Welcome to Miami Beach,” he’d proclaim between songs. The songs, of course, were from the – at the time – unreleased Tonight’s the Night. As Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die, which documents the November 3rd Manchester, England show, shows, he’d launch into the new material with…controlled abandon. It’s interesting to listen to; for one, unlike the acetate, the song cycle is much more in tune with the official product, with only “Borrowed Tune,” “C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” and “Lookout Joe” missing, and the other songs, while presented in a slightly different order, having the impact that acetate does not. The show also lays doubt to Neil’s alleged lack of coherence. Listened to from a distance of 24 years, and minus the visuals, he sounds in full control of both his faculties and his art–even when he’s heckled from the audience! “It’s great to be a rock ‘n’ roll star,” he says leading up to an intense rendition of “Don’t Be Denied.”

Don’t be denied, indeed. All four: A.

[More on Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die can be found on Neil Young: The Best of the Unofficial Canon.]

********

And one more, also from ’73 – my take on the aforementioned Winterland Reunion.

The songs: Helplessly Hoping, Wooden Ships, Blackbird, As I Come of Age, Roll Another Number, Human Highway, New Mama, So It Goes, Prison Song, Long Time Gone, Change Partners (bonus:) Down by the River

1973: It was a bad year, a sad year, a year for the history books. “The pall of the Watergate is upon us,” reflected Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmum in an address to the American Bar Association that August. So true. America, it seemed, was fraying at the seams. Not only was there the Watergate matter, but there was an economic crisis, an energy crisis–and, to bring the crises closer to home, an aborted CSNY reunion.

The foursome had come together on Maui in Hawaii, recording a bevy of songs (“Human Highway,” “Pardon My Heart,” “And So It Goes,” “Prison Song” and “Homeward Through the Haze,” among others) before … yep. The same-old, same-old ego-conflicts arose. “It would have been the best album we ever made,” Crosby told writer Johnny Rogan.

Winterland Reunion, then, is a hint of what could have been. On October 4th, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young convened on stage following a Manassas concert. What a show! On the surface, the all-acoustic performance is a ragged affair, but the undertow is strong enough to pull you in. “There’s no preparation. You’re getting it as it comes,” explains Nash before Stills launches  into the night’s closing song, “Change Partners.”

In short: What a show!

One highlight is Neil’s “Human Highway,” during which he and Stephen trade off verses. Other highlights: “Wooden Ships,” “Blackbird,” “As I Come of Age”…uh, wait. Let’s do it another way: See the track listing up above? Those are the highlights! Really. Soundwise, this is superb, with its only drawback being inexplicable one- or two-second drop-outs during a few of the songs.

The electric “Down by the River” – from The Music Scene in 1969–is another revelation, yet another example of the foursome at the peak of their powers. (A)