Posts Tagged ‘1975’

On December 11, 1974, Neil Young entered a Nashville studio with new songs in mind. Fellow travelers Ben Keith (pedal steel) and Tim Drummond (bass) were on hand, as was the Band’s Levon Helm (drums) and, presumably, kindred spirit Emmylou Harris (though she may have overdubbed her harmonies later). After a few days, the sessions – with drummer Karl T. Himmel taking over for Helm after three songs – relocated to Neil’s Broken Arrow Ranch and then to L.A. Soon enough, after resurrecting two songs recorded over the summer, a new album was born…but, until now, never released.

It’s a story most older fans know, of course, as Neil told it in a 1975 interview with Cameron Crowe: At the last minute, he shelved the ready-to-roll Homegrown and released instead “the most liquid album” he ever made, Tonight’s the Night: “I had a playback party for Homegrown for me and about 10 friends. We were out of our minds. We all listened to the album and Tonight’s the Night happened to be on the same reel. So we listened to that too, just for laughs. No comparison.”

“A lot of people would probably say that [Homegrown] is better,” he went on to explain. “I know the first time I listened back on Tonight’s the Night it was the most out-of-tune thing I’d ever heard. Everyone’s off-key. I couldn’t hack it. But by listening to those two albums back to back at the party, I started to see the weaknesses in Homegrown. I took Tonight’s the Night because of its overall strength in performance and feeling. The theme may be a little depressing, but the general feeling is much more elevating than Homegrown.” 

He also says, “I’m sure parts of Homegrown will surface on other albums of mine. There’s some beautiful stuff that Emmylou Harris sings harmony on. I don’t know. That record might be more what people would rather hear from me now, but it was just a very down album. It was the darker side to Harvest. A lot of the songs had to do with me breaking up with my old lady. It was a little too personal…it scared me.”

Forty-five years later, on the Neil Young Archives, he expanded on why he left the album locked away: “It’s the sad side of a love affair. The damage done. The heartache. I just couldn’t listen to it. I wanted to move on. So I kept it to myself, hidden away in the vault, on the shelf, in the back of my mind…but I should have shared it. It’s actually beautiful. That’s why I made it in the first place. Sometimes life hurts. You know what I mean.”

“Separate Ways” leads off the album and finds him ruminating on his relationship with Carrie Snodgress. He’s sad it’s over, but doesn’t wish away what they had: “We go our separate ways/Lookin’ for better days/Sharing our little boy/Who grew from joy back then…”

“Vacancy,” recorded a month later at the Broken Arrow Ranch, finds him in a less forgiving mood – he casts his lover as a pod person, just about: “I look in your eyes and I don’t know what’s there/You poison me with that long vacant stare/You dress like her and she walks in your words/You frown at me and then you smile at her…”

“Star of Bethlehem,” which was eventually released on American Stars & Bars, circles round to the top, thematically speaking: “Ain’t it hard when you wake up in the morning/And you find out that those other days are gone/All you have is memories of happiness lingering on…”

In between, surprisingly, not all songs excavate love gone wrong. The title track – known to many via American Stars ’n Bars, celebrates homegrown dope; “Florida” does too, in that it’s stoned patter that hopes for profundity but comes across as pablum; “We Don’t Smoke It No More,” recorded on New Year’s Eve, is a bluesy jam; and the delicate “Little Wing” is absolutely gorgeous.

Through the years, some tracks – some re-cut, others not – surfaced on other albums – “Homegrown” and “Star of Bethlehem” on American Stars ’n Bars, “Love Is a Rose” on Decade, “Little Wing” on Hawks & Doves, and “White Line” on Ragged Glory. Recorded during the same sessions, “The Old Homestead” wound up on Hawks & Doves while “Deep Forbidden Lake” landed on Decade; and, recorded the same day as “Love Is a Rose,” the CSN-laden “Through My Sails” closed Zuma.

Listening to Homegrown, one thing is obvious: It’s no match for the ache and gravitas that is Tonight’s the Night. That’s not a knock, mind you; few albums are. But it’s also not as great as some critics – who’ve obviously gone mad after months of lockdown – seem to think. Rolling Stone calls it an “unearthed masterpiece” in a track-by-track analysis while Variety dubs it “one of the best albums from his 1970s golden era.” It’s neither. Rolling Stone’s main review by Angie Martoccio gets a little closer to the truth, though the four-and-a-half stars it’s awarded is one star too many. To my ears, it’s a solid set that – aside from “Florida” – is quite a treat, though it is sometimes bleak due to the heartache that fuels the songs.  

If it had been released in place of Tonight’s the Night, would much have changed? TTN was more of an artistic than commercial success, after all, peaking at only No. 25 on the Billboard charts. While Homegrown – which features a friendlier, Harvest-like sound – isn’t an artistic equal to TTN, my hunch is it would have done better when it comes to sales, as some tracks are more radio-friendly, but doubt it would have done much to change the arc of Neil’s career.

That said, Homegrown’s all right with me… it’s Neil. It’s new (mostly). Some may be disappointed at first, due to the hype that preceded its release, but to those I’d say give it a few listens. The potency creeps up on you.

(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.)

By now, every fan should know the story behind Tonight’s the Night, but since some may not, here it is: Following the tragic deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, who both overdosed on heroin, Neil gathered a group of like-minded souls (Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and Crazy Horse’s Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina) he dubbed the Santa Monica Flyers at Studio Instrument Rentals in Santa Monica, and set out to eulogize his late friends.

As Neil explained in a recent post to the Neil Young Archives, “We played starting at midnight, through the night, and drove home just before dawn to our hotel every night for a month. Visitors came by late at night. One of these nights we practically nailed the whole album, and that is what we wanted to do…keep it real. We drank tequila and smoked weed. Teenagers, don’t do what we did. We didn’t fix the mistakes. The whole album and why we made it and I wrote those songs was all a mistake. It won’t be repeated again. Some say it’s the best thing we ever did.”

In my estimation, Neil and band tapped into and channeled the collective unconscious, crafting a set that is guaranteed, no matter how often one hears it, to send shivers up the spine. Decades ago, for my old website, I wrote: Neil’s eulogy to fallen comrades Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry, this album is his most intense—and one of his best, too. In addition to the harrowing title song, it includes the equally haunting “Borrowed Tune,” a song with a stolen melody that best sums Neil’s strengths even as it wallows in admitted “weaknesses” [i.e., drugs and booze]. (A+)

This is how much I treasure it: Through the years, I’ve purchased it on vinyl, cassette, CD, high-resolution FLAC, and the 2016 vinyl reissue. (Truth be told, however, nowadays I usually stream it – and all other Neil stuff – via his Archives site.) 

Here are a few highlights:

Although recorded in 1973, the album was held back until 1975. Reprise apparently didn’t think it would make a great followup to Time Fades Away. As I’ve noted in other posts, great art doesn’t necessarily equate with great sales, and this would be a good example of just that – although a critically acclaimed album, it never rose higher than No. 25 on the Billboard charts.

A purported acetate of the original Tonight’s the Night did surface years ago, but – honestly – this is the version to crank up. Play it if you got it. (And if you don’t have it, get it!)

Side I:

Side II:

 

As I’ve written before, my journey into music fandom began in earnest on a spring day in 1978 when, a few months shy of turning 13, I saw a TV commercial for the new Wings LP, London Town. “With a Little Luck” hooked me.

I soon bought the 45, and then the album, and then began sorting through the Wings back catalog, and – a year later – did what any self-respecting fan would do: joined the fan club. Or, as it was called in this case, the Wings Fun Club. I became a member just in time to receive the first-ever all-color Club Sandwich, which was the name of the group’s quarterly newsletter, and began an on-and-off correspondence with Sue Cavanaugh, who oversaw the Fun Club. I’d write her with questions large and small about the band – and a month or two later the answers would arrive in my mailbox, generally written on the back of a postcard or, as in the example to the right, Wings stationary. (The question: Why was “Call Me Back Again,” one of my favorites by Wings at the time, left out of the Wings Over the World TV special.) She also sent me loads of blank postcards…and, in late 1979, two concert programs, one from ’72 and the other from ’75, both of which I’ve shared below.

The 1972 program includes one page of photos (the cover) twice. The 1975 program was a fold-out, so a two-page photo appears split; it also features an inscription from (I believe) Denny Laine: “USA Continent for ’80.”

1972:

 

1975:

Life unfurls like a flag on a windy day. Though it may seem that the cloth never ripples the same way twice, over time certain patterns can be discerned. For example, just like last year about this time, one of my first self-appointed chores of 2017 consisted of digging through the dusty virtual bins of Amazon in search of the perfect CDs to send my niece for her birthday. “Perfect” takes on a double meaning in this context – perfect for her and perfect, overall.

As last year, I used Amazon’s free gift tags to include short notes about each album.

dusty_memphis1) Dusty Springfield – “I Can’t Make It Alone” (from Dusty in Memphis, 1969). I wrote: “Although it didn’t sell well in 1969, this album is now considered a classic. It blends pop and soul in a way that no one had before; and Dusty’s vocals are wondrous.” I’d add: Make that a stone-cold classic; and luscious in addition to wondrous. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 89 on its 2012 list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time; I rank it higher – possibly Top 10. It smolders, yearns and burns, and sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did when I first heard it in the early 1980s.

emmylou_pieces2) Emmylou Harris – “For No One” (from Pieces of the Sky, 1975). I wrote: “Although she’s rarely topped the charts, Emmylou is an integral artist within the modern history of country music. This, her second try at a debut, explains why.” I’d add: Emmylou embraced and made her own the expansive “Cosmic American Music” vision of Gram Parsons, her musical mentor, who passed away in September 1973, on this classic from 1975. In essence, she helped forge the foundation that generations of female country and folk performers, including Taylor Swift and First Aid Kit, have built upon since.

harriet3) Harriet – “Broken for You” (from her eponymous debut, 2016). I wrote: “I discovered this gem on Christmas. Although the songs conjure the Carpenters and pop music of the 1970s, Harriet is a relatively new 20-something singer from London. It should make you smile.” I’d add: This set certainly makes me smile, at least. If I’d been aware of it when I created my Albums of the Year list in early December, I would have ranked it No. 3. It’s everything that’s good about pop music.

rumer_soms4) Rumer – “Aretha.” (from Seasons of My Soul, 2010). I wrote: “This is an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics & melodies that wrap themselves around the heart. Among its themes: love, longing, loss & acceptance. It’s magic.” I’d add: I borrowed part of that from my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch, since moved here; I’ve also written about it here and here. I rank it among my Top Albums of All Time, which I plan to share at some point later in the year.

rumer_vinyl5) Rumer – “This Girl’s in Love With You” (from This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook, 2016). I wrote: “Burt Bacharach is a legendary songwriter who, with collaborators such as Hal David, crafted some of the world’s greatest songs. This set from Rumer was my Album of the Year for 2016.” For more, see my Album(s) of the Year, 2016 and Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow posts. (By the way, that’s Bacharach singing at the start.)