Tag Archives: Neil Young

Song(s) of the Day: Desert Trip Edition

There have been plenty of jokes about Desert Trip being called “Oldchella”. And while all the acts are certainly older, let’s not forget that they are rock royalty and all of them in some way or another have contributed to some of the greatest albums and songs ever made. So, today’s Song of the Day is a six-pack of awesomeness in honor of Desert Trip.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face” – The Beatles 

I’m not particularly fond of McCartney’s solo works, so I’m cheating a bit here and going with The Beatles. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is probably one of my favorite Beatles’ songs and in my opinion it’s severely under-rated. It’s got one of McCartney’s best melodies and chord progressions.

“One of These Days” – Pink Floyd

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note I wrote about this song several months ago. “One of These Days” is Pink Floyd at their best: dark, mysterious and menacing all at once. As with most classic Floyd, David Gilmour conjures up some wild sounds with his guitar, but the real highlight is the double-tracked bass played both Gilmour and Roger Waters.

“Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” – Neil Young

For me, Neil Young is the weakest link in Desert Trip’s line up. He’s an old curmudgeon like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison but without the catalogue to really back it up. That said, he does have some great songs and the country-rock of  “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” would have been the best song he ever wrote, if he hadn’t recorded “Rocking in the Free World”.

“Long Live Rock” – The Who

One of the things that a lot of people often forget about The Who’s music is that they actually have a lot of funny songs. That side of them went to the wayside, when Pete Townshend decided to write “important” musical pieces. “Long Live Rock” is one of the few examples where The Who marry the muscular rock they forged in the ’70s, with the witticism of their early days. Best line: “We were the first band to vomit in the bar.”

“19th Nervous Breakdown” – The Rolling Stones

One of Keith Richards’ classic riffs – and lord know he’s got a shitload of them. But there’s something about the intro that just pulls you in and pummels you over the head. And Jagger is at his frantic best, barely able to keep up with Richards and Charlie Watts’ steady drumming. “19th Nervous Breakdown” is also somewhat famous for inspiring Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to pick up the guitar and for that we should all be thankful.

“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” – Bob Dylan

I get chills every time I listen to this song. On this monumental track, Dylan takes on society as a whole and takes down everyone within earshot. The most disturbing part about it, is that it seems to grow more pertinent with each passing year. There are tons of memorable lines, but for me the best is, “it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to.”

 

Song of the Week: “Rockin’ in the Free World” – Neil Young

I go back and forth about Neil Young. A big part of me wants to love him because he’s so contrary and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. It’s easy to see why so many musicians look up to him in that respect. I also feel like I should like his stuff with Crazy Horse a lot more than I do. A good chunk of that material is sheer noise and feedback, something I also love. Even though I like quite a few of his songs, too often though, I just find Young bland to really get into him.  But the songs I do like, I absolutely love.

“Rockin’ in the Free World” is a good case in point. It’s got the biting guitar that Young is known for and is a tight, focused song. I’m sure I’m not alone, and that’s probably one of the reasons it has remained one of his best known songs and has remained an enduring classic.

As a teenager, I used to wonder why this song never achieved a “Born in the U.S.A.” level of misinterpretation. Both songs have a sing-along chorus that sounds patriotic, while the rest of the song is anything but. Perhaps it’s because “Born in the U.S.A.” is much more tailored to a pop audience, while “Rockin’ in the Free World” is raw and aggressive right from the start.

“Born in the U.S.A.” is definitely a dark song lyrically, but unless you listen to the acoustic version the stark lyrics don’t really come through. With “Rockin in the Free World”, Young’s images of the kid “who will never go to school, never to fall in love, never get to be cool” is hard to ignore.

Over the past 15 years, “Rockin’ in the Free World” has become Pearl Jam’s song just as much as Young’s. The group routinely plays it as the next to last song during their concerts. Pearl Jam’s version isn’t drastically different than Young’s. Other than playing it faster and Vedder singing the chorus in a lower key, they mostly stick to the original source.

In 2011 while on tour in Canada, Young surprised Pearl Jam by appearing on stage mid-way through the song. The result is perhaps the definitive version of the song.

 

Song of the Week: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” – Neil Young

 

It’s often said that Neil Young has two wildly different personalities and musical styles.  There’s the chaotic guitar Young who practically invented grunge and is seen as hero for many artists of that genre. Then there’s the acoustic Young, who wrote the country-tinged Harvest and is perhaps best known for “Heart of Gold” (much to his own chagrin.)

The title track of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (the first album he cut with the hard-rocking Crazy Horses) seems to be one of the few examples where Young managed to combine both styles together.

On the surface the song has a laid-back and country feel that perfectly suits Young’s desire to settle down for an easier life. What should really be an acoustic song has moments of Young’s trade-mark wild guitar breaks.  But even with those moments, the song never reaches full-lift into full rocks mode. Even as Young thrashes away for a few moments, it’s still grounded in the cornfields and open air he longs for.  What really makes the song is Young’s “la la la” background vocals. It’s the song most convincing moment, and it makes you want to travel with him.  A perfect song as summer is beginning to fade, with Autumn just around the corner.

 

 

Friday News Round-Up: Neil Young, Don Cornelius & More

  • Neil Young has been all over the new this week. On Saturday, Neil Young posted a 38 minute (!) video of him jamming with Crazy Horse.  Looks like Young is prepping to take The Horse out on the road this year. If you’re a fan of Young, this is a God-send.  Throughout the jam, they play bits of “Fuckin’ Up”, and a crazy version of “Cortez the Killer”.  Check out the video on Young’s site.  While at the Slamdance Film Festival, Young confirmed that he has two albums with Crazy Horse in the works – one is already finished (tentatively titled Americana), and that they are recording another one at the moment.  Elsewhere, Young also said that Steve Jobs listened to vinyl at home, and he was in talks with Jobs to create a superior sound-file that would capture the sound of vinyl on portable devices. I hope that someone at Apple takes a serious look into this.  I love my iPod and the convince of MP3s, but there’s no denying that the sound quality is inferior.
  • Soul Train creator Don Cornelius died on Wednesday of an apparent suicide at the age of 75. Cornelius hosted the highly influential show from 1971 to 1993.  The show is credited with exposing with many different soul and R&B artists to wider audiences.  RIP Cornelius and as always, “peace love and soul.”
  • Jack White has announced that he is putting out a solo album on April 23, entitled Blunderbuss.  While I’m sure this will be pretty good and interesting, aren’t The White Stripes CDs essentially Jack White solo albums anyway?
  • Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward may not be touring with the band later this year after all.  Ward states that he won’t be involved unless there’s a contact that “reflects some dignity and respect toward me as an original member of the band.”  This is a major set-back for the band, especially since Tony Iommi was recently diagnosed with cancer.  That’s the irony of being in a big band: You start off being anti-establishment and then as you become bigger the business end of things get in the way of rocking.

10 Essential Albums to Listen to in Autumn (Part One)

Autumn is my favorite time of the year.  And like every season there are so many records that perfectly capture the feeling and aura of the cool days and chilly nights.  Here’s just a few of my favorites.  Part Two coming soon.

R.E.M. – Automatic for the People

With an album that whose song titles include “Try Not to Breathe” and “Everybody Hurts” you know you’re in for a somber affair. But on Automatic, R.E.M.’s melancholia is backed by lush, acoustic arrangements and numerous strings courtesy of John Paul Jones. Death and tragedy is definitely on Michael Stipe’s mind. This is especially evident  on  “Sweetness Follows”, when he opens with the question: “Ready to bury your father and your mother?” ” The final two songs – the gorgeous “Nightswimming” and uplifting “Find the River” – offer a bit of hope, even if darkness seems to be all around.

Ryan Adams – Jacksonville City Nights

Ryan Adams has made an entire career out of trying different styles, but Jacksonville City Nights is the one album of his where he has managed to keep one persona throughout an entire album. In this case, it’s classic country. It’s an album designed for sipping whiskey on a cool autumn night. For all the introspection throughout, the songs themselves are warm and inviting and Adams’ has never been better especially on songs as “The End”, “The Hardest Part” and “Peaceful Valley”.

Neil Young – Harvest Moon

On Harvest Moon, Young seems to be looking back. Indeed, the album is seen by many as a sequel to his smash, Harvest.  The album retains much of that album’s acoustic, folk and country elements. “From Hank to Hendrix” uses both musicians and former lovers to reflect on the passage of time.  The title track is one of Young’s most endearing songs and seem perfect for a night by the fire. And just to prove that he’s still got some spark in him, offers a hilarious (and blue-grass inspired) ode to his hound-dog on “Old King”.

Death Cab For Cutie – Plans

Plans brought the band new-found fame but’s it certainly like R.E.M. they still kept their integrity for their major label debut. Sure, the sound is a little fuller and warmer than Transatlanticism, but that actually works in Death Cab’s favor on Plans.  Plans is full of ballads and the inward gaze Death Cab is known for, particularly “Different Names for the Same Thing” and “Your Heart is an Empty Room”.  The album is probably best known for the all-acoustic “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, which seems to have since become a perennial favorite for open-mic nights.

Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours

Frank Sinatra gets lot of airplay at Starbucks, but when was the last time they played anything off of this album? For those familiar with Sinatra’s wide-eyed romance songs, In the Wee Small Hours is anything but. It’s a slow, jazzy and sad album file with songs of heartbreak and loss.  With the exception of “In The Week Small Hours of the Morning”, the album is mostly standards, but Sinatra sings each songs like a broken man. There’s an element of truth to that – prior to the recording Sinatra had separated from Ava Gardner.

 

 

 

What’s Your Favorite Album Of The Year So Far?

Since it’s now June and we are officially about half-way through 2011, I’d thought I’d take a look at some of the albums that have been released so far.  For me, so far the best album is a tie between Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues and My Morning Jacket’s Circuital.  What do you think?  Any good ones I missed?  (And I’m not counting Gaga just for the record.)

 

The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 9. Green Day

In the summer of 2004, I read an article that was previewing what would become American Idiot. It stated that Green Day were working on a rock opera about the state of the nation.  One song, the article said, was about 10 minutes long and would contain multiple sections.  At the time, it seemed quite ridiculous.  Green Day, was after all a band that sang about masturbating and smoking weed.  And who knows, maybethey sang about doing both of those activities at the same time.  Green Day were a good band, a fun band.   Billie Joe Armstrong might have borrowed Joe Strummer’s snarl (and occasionally the accent), St. Joe he was not.  During a drunken night, I told one of my friends about the alleged 10 minute song I read about in the article.  “Shut the fuck up, Matt,” He told me with a bit of disdain.  “Next, ever speak of this again.”  Afterall, who would want to listen to Green Day’s thought on the state of the nation?

As it turned out, Green Day would prove the skeptics wrong. American Idiot, would end up becoming one of the defining albums of the era in part because many of its song were protests against the War In Iraq.  While there plenty of artists making statements and complaining about the war, they seemed to be few and far between.  And it wasn’t just the Dixie Chicks who got some shit.  Dozens of fans walked on  a Pearl Jam concert in 2003 when Eddie Vedder sang the anti-Bush song, “Bushleaguer”.  If artists were speaking out against the war, they certainly weren’t doing it on the radio.  Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief didn’t receive much play, Neil Young’s Greendale only spoke to his devoted fans, and Conor Oberst was too much of a niche artist at the time to make any impact.  But when “American Idiot” came blaring on the radio in the summer of 2004, it suddenly became clear that Green Day were no longer trying to be The Clash.  They were The Clash for this generation.  When Armstrong suggested that ” Everybody do the propaganda and sing along to the age of paranoia” it was a rallying cry to wake people up.  And if the lyrics didn’t cover that ground, the sonic assault of the song was just as arresting.

While many of the songs are a protest agains the War in Iraq, making no pretense about the band’s stance, it’s also much more than that.   In a decade where everything seemed to teeter out of control from every direction.  “Hey can you hear the hysteria?” Armstrong asks. But then he takes it one step further – “The subliminal mind-fuck, America.”   Somehow Green Day managed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist – a fusion of anger and disillusionment.  It was an era where many seemed destined to “fall in love or fall in debt” .

Of course, Armstrong’s instincts and intentions would mean as much if the songs on American Idiot weren’t good.  The aforementioned 10 minute song, “Jesus of Suburbia” combined punk and elements of prog-rock.  Amazingly the 5 pieces of the songs fit together perfectly, and the result became of the band’s best songs.  “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with that weird feed-back loop managed to be the successful song on the album.  The band managed to cover a lot of ground, without missing a step.  The lyrics may have the focal point of the album, but their content also never got in the way of a good rock song.  Which American Idiot was full off.

American Idiot brought back some of the spirit of the 60s and 70s – when music actually meant something, that it could be a catalyst for change.  If a group that previously known for being dumbass stoners ends up releasing the album that best sums up what it was like to live in the mid 2000s, I’m not sure whether Green Day deserve even more credit than they already have, or if I should point a shameful finger at others for not stepping up.

(And for those who might suggest I’m only basing this off of one album, The Sex Pistols only had one album as well.)

Fall Songs: “Moondance” – Van Morrison

This week’s theme might, as week might as well be moon, since yesterday I reflected upon Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”, and today I’m going to take a deeper look at Van Morrison’s “Moondance”.

A friend of mine commented on yesterday’s post that “Harvest Moon” was a classic; on it’s way to becoming a standard.  I don’t entirely disagree, but I feel that “Moondance” has already been a standard – and with the exception of “Brown Eyed Girl” – the song that is most associated with Van Morrison.

Morrison’s music has sometimes been described as “Celtic Soul” – and “Moodance” is probably the epitome of that description.  The music swings and sways like jazz.  Morrison croons, but the flute that plays underneath him gives the song a Celtic feel – linking the song musically with the lyrics.  There’s no other song like – and it’s almost like it doesn’t quite belong in this world.  And yet, just as Morrison takes his love to the forest “Neath the cover of the October skies” – it feels entirely familiar.

Like “Harvest Moon”, the lyrics of “Moondance” centers on autumn.  For Morrison, autumn is a magical time – “and all the night’s magic seems to whisper and hush”.  The “leaves on the trees are falling to the sounds of breezes that blow”.  If Neil Young was interested in taking his companion out into the countryside to get away from the world, Morrison is taking his love into another world.

At the beginning of the song, Morrison is full on romantic.  The drums and the piano slide in as Morrison hooks the listener in: “Well it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance, with the stars up above your eyes, fantabulous night for a romance.”   It would be hard to resist lines like that.  By the time Morrison arrives at the second chorus, his love has given into his romantic gestures.  Most of “Moondance” is romantic and full of sincerity, but when Morrison tells his love that she trembles every time he touches her, there’s almost a hint of sexual menace in the delivery.  But the listener has no time to consider, because after the chorus there’s an extended jam, and then Morrison goes on full scat at the end of the song before delivering the final “my love” as the music ends abruptly.

 

Fall Songs: Harvest Moon – Neil Young

Due to popular demand (by that I mean 4 people) today I’m going to take a closer look at “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young.  What is it about this song that people become so attached to it?  I’ve known people who absolutely hate Neil Young, but absolutely love this song. 

If there was ever a song that captured the mood of Autumn, “Harvest Moon” would be high on the list.  The melody is gorgeous, and Young’s soulful vocals are wistful, laid-back, and sincere.  While I’m sure Neil Young spent a lot of time on the song, it sounds like it was made up on the back of a horse-drawn carriage through a pumpkin patch as the sun sets in mid-October.  Knees are over the side of the carriage, and a bottle of hard-cider is passed back and forth. 

Harvest Moon was released in October 1992 – very fitting for the mood of the album – but Young began recording the album a year earlier in September 1991.  Whether Young knew this or not, 1991 had the prestige of having a “Super Harvest Moon”.   A regular harvest moon occurs when the moon is full closes to the Autumnal Equinox.  A “Super Harvest Moon” occurs when the moon is full exactly on the night of the Autumnal Equinox.  2010 was also a “Super Harvest Moon” year – occuring on Septmber 23rd. 

For many, the appearance of a Harvest Moon clearly suggests the transition from summer into fall.  Sometimes, the moon can even appear red as a a Harvest Moon, much like the color the leaves will soon be turning.  Musically, “Harvest Moon” is gentle just the crisp autumn air.  But, it also catches the change that comes with a Harvest Moon and the Autumnal Equinox.  It’s unclear whether bad-blood has occurred between Young and the woman whom he is speaking to.  But one thing is clear – he’s letting it go.  “Just like children sleeping, we could dream this night away,” He suggests, and whisks her off to the country-side to the Harvest Moon. 

Once they flee to the country-side, Young is no longer the only person speaking.  “We know where the music’s playin’ let’s go out and feel the night”.   Clearly, his companion isn’t just coming with him – she’s a wiilling particpating at this point.  And would could a be a deal-maker, “Because I’m still in love with you” – Young delivers the line such affection.  The listener is left waiting for a response, but Young continues it up, “I want to see you dance again”.  It’s clear that he just wants his companion to be happy, and when he follows up with “I’m still in love with you, on this harvest moon” – you know that he would he happy, even if just for a moment, under the Harvest Moon everything was where it was supposed to be. 

 Neil Young – “Harvest Moon”:

Pearl Jam covering “Harvest Moon”:

Musings on Neil Young

I have a love-hate relationship with Neil Young.  I have a lot of respect for him, because like a lot of artists from that era he follows his own convictions – rarely straying from the path.  But unlike Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, Young’s career to me is remarkably inconsistent. Harvest, After the Gold Rush, Live Rust are all fantastic.  Harvest Moon, is the great middle-aged romantic album – the perfect soundtrack for summer turning into fall.

But when it all comes down to it – Neil Young has made an entire career based out of the two sides of Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home. He’s switched between introspective acoustic folk, and guitar-freak sludge.  Even though some may rank Young as a great guitar player, I tend to prefer his softer-side –  this is where he really comes alive.   It’s not coincidence that the more popular version of “Hey Hey My My” is the acoustic version and not the electric.