Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Neil Young - Journey Through the Past and Decade

Got in late Monday so I skipped doing a post, but that's okay. My plan was to go over some compilations this week before moving on, and these two can be covered together.

Neil Young's first attempt to anthologise his own work resulted in the 1972 film Journey Through the Past and its accompanying soundtrack album. The film was poorly reviewed and lost to history (if you can find a copy you're one up on me). The album, however, while also poorly reviewed, continues to haunt the world's used record bins to this day.

I acquired a copy recently and was surprised to find just how bad it really is. The packaging, while attractively designed, offers little in the way of liner notes, so I have no idea who's playing on most of the tracks. As for the music, it's mostly a hodgepodge of live tracks, rehearsals and studio outtakes. There's a lengthy version of "Alabama" in which the band stops halfway through to discuss the backing vocal arrangement. There's an interminable version of "Words" that takes up the entirety of side three and ends abruptly after fifteen-odd minutes of aimless guitar noodling, as though the band simply got tired and stopped playing.

The record itself is also an object lesson in the danger of buying mail-order used vinyl. The seller was upfront about the record's deteriorating condition, but still managed to understate it a bit; side four is physically caked with debris, and quite literally unplayable. No matter; nothing I could actually hear is worth posting. One song here, "Soldier", turns up on Decade, none on Greatest Hits.

Incidentally, I posted a video a couple weeks back of the Springfield on some TV show playing "For What It's Worth" and "Mr. Soul". That same performance appears here and, presumably, in the movie as well. I know it's the same one because the album opens with audio of the show's host making the same lame joke.

Moving ahead five years, Young responded to his first real creative rut by assembling Decade, a triple-LP career retrospective with a generous helping of standout tracks from each of his albums and a few previously unreleased cuts sprinkled throughout for good measure. You can quibble about some of the individual song selections (indeed, that's been the whole point of these last couple months of posts), but the overall quality is undeniable. This set was my first exposure to Young back in high school, and remains highly recommended as an introduction to his music. I think it remains one of the best compilations ever released by any single artist.

Since my aim here has been to post tracks that don't appear on Decade or other comps, I can't really post anything, right? Besides, I don't have this on vinyl; it's on CD. I considered replacing it just to post a few of the rarities (you can find it for $10 without looking too hard), but decided it wasn't really worth it. Instead, I'll post some covers of some of the rarities.

Of the 35 tracks on Decade, seven don't appear on any of the albums I've covered here thus far. One of them, CSNY's "Ohio", appears on that band's first best-of album, So Far, leaving six actual rarities.

  • "Down To the Wire", a demo recorded with an early line-up of Buffalo Springfield. Young sounds hesitant and the arrangement is a bit haphazard, but it's decent.

  • "Sugar Mountain" is a touching acoustic song about fading youth that Young claims to have written on his nineteenth birthday. The song continues to appear in Young's solo set lists and remains one of his best-loved classics.

  • "Winterlong" had been kicking around for years, turning up in Crazy Horse set lists as early as 1970. It's three minutes of pure pop heaven, and would have fit perfectly on Zuma. I've posted the Pixies fairly straightforward version of the song from The Bridge because Black Francis and Kim Deal's vocal harmonies fit the song so perfectly.

  • "Deep Forbidden Lake" is a simple acoustic meditation. Pleasant but undistinguished.

  • "Love Is a Rose" is a simple and beautiful love song, another real lost classic. It was also a big hit for Linda Ronstadt, whose version I've posted here.

  • "Campaigner" is another solo acoustic number, famous for its line about a mystical place "where even Richard Nixon has got soul."

Buy Journey Through the Past... on vinyl.

Buy Decade... on vinyl.

Buy The Bridge... on vinyl.

Buy Linda Ronstadt's Greatest Hits... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Linda Ronstadt - "Love Is a Rose"

Not from vinyl: Pixies - "Winterlong"

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