Funhouse Album Reviews
Neil Young News
The cyberzine of degenerate pop culture
vol. 1 - no. 5; October 20, 1994
JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST
TIME FADES AWAY
ON THE BEACH
TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT
1972 - Reprise MS 2032
Out on the Weekend / Harvest / A Man Needs a Maid / Heart of Gold / Are You
Ready for the Country / Old Man / There's a World / Alabama / The Needle
and the Damage _Done / Words
by Jyrki Kimmel
"Think I'll pack it in and buy a pickup / Take it down to L.A."
Those lines begin Neil Young's Harvest, the legendary album that "put (Neil)
in the middle of the road." The image I always get listening to this part is
of driving down I-15 from Nevada to San Bernadino and Los Angeles - but what
could be more inappropriate? Neil has since commented, "It was time to head
for the ditch," after he made this album, but signs of the ditch are already evident here.
The opening tune, "Out on the Weekend," sets the tone for
Harvest's first section, which is comprised of four melancholy songs,
including Neil's one and only number-one hit single, "Heart of Gold." Between
these two are "Harvest" and "A Man Needs a Maid." All of them are clearly MOR
(middle of the road), but they are just another segment of Neil's vast range
of material. However, experiments with the London Symphony Orchestra
distinguish this music from the usual chart-hit mache. "Out on the Weekend"
is the story of someone escaping a broken relationship. The L.A. reference is
a permanent symbol in Neil's work. With this song you can escape anywhere.
"Harvest" is a much more innocent-sounding tune, with folkie references to a
"Did I see you walking with the boys / Though it was not hand in hand"
The "promise of a man" Neil wants to "fill your cup" with is, however, a
powerful reference to responsibility and the final decisions one encounters in
life. "A Man Needs a Maid" is superficially a womanizer's song, but in fact
"a maid" is, literally, a profession. If your heart is pure, you will
understand as there are no hidden meanings here! The use of the London
Symphony Orchestra seems pompous at first, but maybe the Streisand sound in
fact works better here than anywhere else. The song is simply heart breaking.
"Heart of Gold" is a song anyone can relate to, and maybe that's why it went
to number one on the US charts. Neil's simple acoustic playing and piercing
harmonica give it a feeling of utmost importance:
"I'd cross the ocean for a heart of gold"
We all know there's a "fine line" that cannot be defined which makes all the
difference. The first side of the vinyl LP ends with "Are You Ready for the
Country," a healthy reminder of the "ditch" side of Neil. Morbid references
to the hangman, and the haphazard guitar work, flip the album totally to the
other side of midnight.
Side two starts, again, with two songs in the MOR vein, "Old Man" and "There's
a World." "Old Man" features another chilling performance, and James Taylor's
banjo provides a superb touch. Neil's thoughts on the life of a celebrity,
and the fundamental loneliness found in overt publicity, are reflected here:
"Oh, one look at my eyes and you can tell that's true"
"There's a World" is another experimental tune with the London Symphony
Orchestra, complete with kettle drums and all. "Take it in and blow hard" is
Neil's advice to his listener as to the attitude one ought to take in life. A
counterpoint to these is "Alabama," a song altogether too widely labeled,
along with "Southern Man," as a comment on racist attitudes in the Southern
United States. In fact, this is one of Neil's more personal tunes, and has
the ultimate reference to the MOR / ditch dualism:
"Alabama - You got the weight on your shoulders that's breaking your back /
Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track"
The guitar here is perfect "ditch." The subject matter of the next track,
"The Needle and the Damage Done," brings Harvest to the bottom of the ditch.
It is Neil's anti-drug manifesto, performed live on acoustic guitar. However, the tune itself is strictly MOR. Imagine the lyrics of "From Hank to Hendrix"
inserted and you'd get another chart-buster, but talk about junkies and drug
deals may not be appropriate. The last song on the album is also "ditch."
Rhythmically, "Words" is an experiment, but proves its point in a wall of
electric and slide guitar barrages, which is a more than appropriate ending to
this album. Harvest is to the diehard Neil fan like a box of corn flakes;
you know what's there, you've tasted other cereals and maybe prefer more
exotic varieties, but you still have to go back once in a while for the
classic. Trust me, it's all here, as the core of Neil's work has not changed
over time. Neil has since produced albums that have surpassed the material on
Harvest, with respect to both MOR and "ditch," more so than probably anybody
imagined in 1972. Harvest deserves its legendary status, even though it has
been criticized as patchy and not wholly developed conceptually. I would
argue that it is conceptually perfect as a document of Neil's personality.
With its middle-of-the-road attitude and its "ditch" flip side, Harvest
provides both questions and answers concerning "life, the universe, and
Harvest - More Reviews and commentary.
JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST
1972 - Reprise 2XS 6480
For What It's Worth-Mr. Soul / Rock-and-Roll Woman / Find the Cost of
Freedom / Ohio / Southern Man / Are You Ready for the Country / Let Me
Call You Sweetheart / Alabama / Words / Relativity Invitation / Handel's
Messiah / King of Kings / Soldier / Let's Go Away for Awhile
by Steve Vetter (Farmer John)
Journey Through the Past is probably one of Neil Young's most underrated
albums. Released in 1972, as the soundtrack to the movie of the same name and
right after the massive success of Harvest, it was in many fans' eyes a
letdown. In fact Journey Through the Past only offers one new song, and it
is buried on side four between what is, in my opinion, a bunch of crap. The
double album (still not available on CD) starts off with some classic live
recordings of the Buffalo Springfield on old TV shows. Interestingly enough,
you can hear the young girls go wild, just like the did for the Beatles'
appearances. They do "For What It's Worth" and segue into "Mr. Soul."
Following that is a throw away version of "Rock-and-Roll Woman." Closing side
one is a performance of "Find the Cost of Freedom" that runs right into a
version of "Ohio," which sounds very close to the original. Sides two and
three are much better. "Southern Man" begins side two with a long, jam
version in front of an audience. Following it is "Are You Ready For the
Country" (or at least part of it), which segues into a group of teenagers
singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." What comes next is my second-favorite
part of the album. Neil and some of CSN take up a jam of "Alabama," and you
can hear someone in the studio fooling with the mix. The best part of
"Alabama" is Neil saying, "We should do a moving Oooooh..." What I like about
this is that you can hear the creative process between Neil and CSN. You can
also hear an event like this on the bootleg Touch the Clouds. As soon as the
guys figure out what they should play they get right back into the groove.
There is a bizarre section in which the music fades out and Richard Nixon is
heard doing a singalong of "God Bless America," along with Crosby (?) talking
about apple pie. I liked it until Crosby got in there.
The best is yet to come. Once you turn over the record you are treated to a
*full* side of "Words." This is also in practice / jam style and is
wonderful. If you sit back and close your eyes, you almost feel like you are
with Neil and friends just working this out, jamming in the barn. Side four
contains a bizarre sequence with Neil talking to a preacher about "Relativity
Invitation," then there is a really long, irritating section of "Handel's
Messiah." The music and the "King of Kings" theme is pretty interesting, but
the singing is downright annoying. The only new song on this album is
"Soldier," and it begins with an interesting intro not found on the Decade
version. It had been a long time since I listened to this album and that was
a welcome surprise. Concluding the side, and the record, is a song called
"Let's Go Away for Awhile." It sounds lifted straight from the muzak system
at the dentist's office. The only way to describe this album is unusual - the
good stuff is exceptional and the bad stuff is awful. Sides two and three are
the standouts - if you are into jams and cool grooves buy the album and listen
to those two sides. The rest of it (save "Soldier") is throwaway material
that did not translate well from screen to LP (including David Crosby screwing
up part of "Alabama.") Neil has much better albums in his catalog, but
Journey Through the Past should not be overlooked or forgotten. Fortunately,
Neil won't deny fans the opportunity to enjoy it on CD when the reissue comes
More reviews of Neil Young's
Journey Through the Past album soundtrack and film.
TIME FADES AWAY
1973 - Reprise 2151
Time Fades Away / Journey Through the Past / Yonder Stands the Sinner /
L.A. / Love In Mind / Don't Be Denied / The Bridge / Last Dance
by David Skoglund
"My songs are all so long
And my words are all so sad"
- Neil Young
The key to understanding and appreciating Time Fades Away is in knowing the
conditions under which it was recorded. In the fall of 1972, Neil Young put
together a band to tour in support of his Harvest album. He had not been out
for almost two years, since his solo acoustic tour of early 1971. In that
time, both After the Goldrush and Harvest had been huge albums, thereby
creating a demand for live shows. An arena tour was booked for the early part
of 1973, and to no one's surprise tickets sold quickly. The band that Young
had assembled was a combination of the Nashville players from the Harvest
album, and Crazy Horse.
The initial tour lineup featured Young, Ben Keith
(steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass), Kenny Buttrey (drums), Jack Nitzsche
(piano) and Danny Whitten (guitar and vocals). After rehearsals, it was
obvious that Danny Whitten was in no condition to tour, as Whitten was in the
midst of trying to kick a heroin addiction by substituting large quantities of
other drugs in its place. He was fired from the band, and given an airline
ticket home and fifty dollars. A day later Whitten was dead of an overdose,
having used the severance money to buy the drugs that killed him. The start
of the tour was right around the corner, so Young and company made the
difficult decision to continue as planned. In early January, the band took to the road
for a three-month trip that was scheduled to visit over sixty cities.
Audiences were treated to a show that featured an opening solo acoustic set
followed by a rock set from the band. The material was drawn mainly from
After the Goldrush and Harvest, along with a smattering of older songs and a
batch of new songs. Part way into the tour Young's voice began to give out.
Without the vocal support of Whitten, he was forced to carry more of the vocal
chores than ever before. As the strain of the road and the grief of Whitten's
death began to catch up to Young, the shows became more and more ragged and
raw. In addition to everything else, the road crew tried to negotiate for
more money midway through - the temptation of seeing full arenas every night
must have proved too great. A brief break halfway through provided a chance
for Young to regroup; it was obvious that if the tour was to continue,
something needed to be done. Young called up his friends David Crosby and
Graham Nash for help, and they came onboard for the last month of the tour as
backup vocalists and rhythm guitarists. An additional change in the band
lineup was the replacement of drummer Kenny Buttrey with Johnny Barbata, the
CSN&Y tour drummer. Buttrey dropped out during the break because the
atmosphere was too much for him.
The bulk of Time Fades Away was recorded during this last leg of the tour, in
the western United States. Like the live sets, the album features a mix of
understated acoustic work and raw, urgent electric tunes. The new songs
included those that would appear on Time Fades Away, some that would appear on
Tonight's the Night ("Borrowed Tune," "New Mama," and "Look Out Joe") and some
that have yet to appear on any album ("Lonely Weekend" and "Sweet Joni.") The
three acoustic tunes are "Journey Through the Past," "Love In Mind," and "The
Bridge." Two of these songs are older numbers not written for this tour.
"Journey Through the Past" was a staple of the 1971 live performances, and the
version here was recorded during the first part of the 1973 tour, unlike all
the other 1973 material. "Love In Mind" was recorded in Los Angeles in
February of 1971, and is presumably included here to balance the more raw
material. The electric numbers ("Time Fades Away," "Yonder Stands the
Sinner," "LA," "Don't Be Denied," and "Last Dance") have an energy unlike
anything else Young had recorded before. The main reason for this is the
steel guitar playing of Ben Keith, who assumes Whitten's role as the main
musical foil for Young's guitar work. Unlike the Harvest material, in which
Keith mainly provides an atmosphere, his playing is sharp, biting and urgent.
It dramatically complements Young's wrenching, staccato playing, especially on
the album's closer, "Last Dance." This album is an honest document of a very
difficult period in Neil Young's life, both in musical and personal terms.
The descent into darkness continued during the sessions for Tonight's the
Night, which started soon after this album was assembled and mastered. The
safe thing would have been not to release these songs at all and let the tour
diminish into memory. Luckily, Neil Young has never done the safe thing.
Time Fades Away Reviews - Ditch Trilogy - Volume 1
ON THE BEACH
1974 - Reprise 2180
Walk On / See the Sky About to Rain / Revolution Blues / For the Turnstiles /
Vampire Blues / On the Beach / Motion Pictures (for Carrie) / Ambulance Blues
by Sam Tennent
On the Beach is perhaps the most personal record Neil Young will ever make.
It chronicles his emergence from a deep depression, caused in part by the
critical reaction to his post-Harvest artistic output. It is also a statement
of intent, which Young has stuck to throughout his career, that he will make
and release whatever music he feels like, with no compromise to commercial
This was a brave choice to make in 1974, when all of Neil's
musical contemporaries were urging him to make a "real" album - that is, to
hire a bunch of top notch session men and make Harvest II. Neil could have
easily done this. Listening to the material he was writing around this time,
songs like "Traces" and "Separate Ways," Harvest II would have been no
Instead, Neil gave us a look into his REAL feelings and made some
remarkable music. Young had written about the pressures of fame during his
Buffalo Springfield days, with songs like "Out of My Mind" and "Mr Soul,"
however On the Beach sees an older and wiser Young coming to terms with the
pressures, rather than allowing them to overcome him. Almost every song
addresses these themes and gives Young's response. In "Walk On," Young
addresses his critics with the line:
"They go their way, I'll go mine"
thus setting the agenda for the next twenty years of his musical career. In
"Ambulance Blues" he is even more direct:
"All you critics sit alone / You're no better than me for what you've shown"
The title of the LP refers to Young's having "made it," but the songs reflect
the double-edged nature of fame. Perhaps the most revealing line on the
record is on the title track, where Young sings:
"Now I'm livin out here on the beach / But those seagulls are still out
Elsewhere, his feelings about fame are shown to be even more bitter. He says
of the showbiz crowd (in "Motion Pictures"):
"All those people, they think they've got it made / But I wouldn't buy
sell borrow or trade anything I have to be like one of them / I'd rather
start all over again"
The lyrical content of On the Beach has been meticulously examined and
analyzed over the years, whereas the musical content has received relatively
little attention. This is an injustice, because this music is some of the
best that Young has ever produced. In fact, if one examines the critiques of
Young's music throughout his career, there has been relatively little analysis
of the sound quality of the records, as critics tend to concentrate on the
lyrics or musical styles employed. Hence in the eighties Young was accused of
excessive genre hopping by critics who failed to recognize that he has rarely
made two records that sound alike. For example, Neil's first six solo records
sound vastly different from each other.
Side one begins with "Walk On," a bright, up-tempo number, which is propelled
along by a shuffling beat from the Crazy Horse rhythm section, and reflects
the progression suggested in the lyrics. Next, Young chose to include an old
song, "See the Sky About to Rain."
Some reviewers have suggested that it is an attempt at irony on Young's part to include a prime example of his "downer"
songs here, after the sentiments expressed in "Walk On," but it's just a great
song with a magical chord progression change at the last verse and superb
drumming from Levon Helm. It is followed by "Revolution Blues," a song
inspired by Young's meetings with Manson. One can almost hear the 10,000,000
dune buggies coming down the mountain as the song rolls along with the Band's
Levon Helm and Rick Danko in the engine room, and David Crosby supplying manic
The pace then quiets down with "For the Turnstiles," a song
almost in the folk style, with Young singing falsetto accompanied by banjo and
Ben Keith on dobro. What other major artist during the seventies would have
chosen to sing a song that strained their vocal range as much as this?
yet this gives the song its power and makes for compulsive listening. The
first side ends with "Vampire Blues," a jokey, standard twelve-bar blues with
a terrific bubbling guitar solo, which perfectly evokes an image of bubbling
oil being "sucked From the Earth." Here Young addresses one of the common
ecological themes found throughout his body of work.
Side two is a whole different ball game. The mood is somber, almost narcotic.
Young has commented that this record was made mostly under the influence of
"Honey Slides" - a marijuana and honey concoction described by Young onstage
at his Bottom Line show in May 1974. The title track is a beautiful, slow
bluesy song, with a wonderfully understated guitar solo that should come as a
great surprise to those who know Young only through his Ragged Glory period.
This is followed by "Motion Pictures (for Carrie)," a song written on the
road, in which Neil pines for the simplicity of the country life. A
beautiful, meandering chord progression and laid-back harmonica give it a
The last track on the album, "Ambulance Blues," is among
the best five that Young has ever written. As he later admitted, the melody
in the verses is the same as that in Bert Janch's "Needle of Death," a song
that Young has cited as an early influence. However, the musical
implementation is stunning. With breathy harmonica and genuinely spooky
fiddle playing from Rusty Kershaw, the track has a rootless, floating feel,
leaving the lyrics as the focus of the listener's attention.
On the Beach is
special to me, as it was the first Neil Young album that I bought at the time
of its release. I had gotten into Neil's music in early '74, and had acquired
all of his earlier records by the time On the Beach came out. I still
listen to it, twenty years later, more than either After the Goldrush or
Harvest. I guess this is because the record is so musically interesting.
It's full of spontaneous performances and first-take errors, which were left
on because their feel is right. It doesn't have the life produced out of it,
like, dare I say, Harvest Moon or Landing on Water. For me, this was summed
up in my favorite moment on the whole record, in which Neil catches his thumb
/ pick on the bottom E-string during "Ambulance Blues." The note booms out
over the line:
"Where men STUB their toes on garbage pails!"
It's just perfect.
On The Beach
TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT
1975 - Reprise MS 2221
Tonight's the Night / Speakin' Out / World on a String / Borrowed Tune /
Come on Everybody Let's Go Downtown / Mellow My Mind / Roll Another Number /
Albuquerque / New Mama / Lookout Joe / Tired Eyes / Tonight's the Night
by Damon Ogden
Tonight's the Night is like an OD letter - the whole thing is about life,
dope, and death. "I probably feel this album more than anything else I've
ever done," said Neil Young in Rolling Stone (August 14, 1975). I also feel
this album - more than any other Neil Young album, or any album ever -
completely captures the essence of what I believe makes Neil Young such a
great artist: His ability to put his mood, his beliefs, and himself into his
work. Following Neil's work is a roller-coaster ride, and Tonight's the
Night is both the low point and the high point all rolled into one confused,
angry, sad, but brilliant piece. This album is not pretty, and undoubtedly
would not be the first album you're going to pull out for a friend interested
in hearing Neil for the first time, unless maybe you and your friend are
drunk. TTN was inspired by Bruce Berry, a longtime roadie, and Danny Whitten
of Crazy Horse, who both died of drug overdoses. It was recorded over two
years before its release in mid-1975, but was shelved in favor of On the
Beach. In 1975, Neil was playing his next album, Homegrown, for friends and
TTN followed on the reel. Neil decided TTN was better than the
still-unreleased Homegrown, and it was released instead. The album was
sequenced by Elliot Roberts, with three tracks, "Lookout Joe," "Borrowed
Tune," and "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown" (recorded in 1970 with Whitten
signing lead) added to the original nine songs. This album is raw, ragged,
and powerful music. Every listener will have a different experience based
upon their tastes and state of mind at the time of listening. TTN is a must
for any collector of Neil Young albums.
Tonight's The Night - Album Home
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