Tuesday, June 21, 2011



These are the first four Neil Young solo albums, reissued on vinyl as part of the ongoing Archives project, and now referred to as numbers 1-4 of the Official Release Series.  You can find all of them on individual CD's or as part of the Archives box, but this is the way they first came out.  There is one major difference though; now you get 180 gram pressings, and thicker, better quality covers.  These babies sound, look and feel better than ever.
For you youngsters, this is the 1968-1972 period for Young, as he was leaving Buffalo Springfield, becoming a superstar with CSNY, and enjoying his most commercial period with Harvest.  While his self-titled debut remains a curiosity, the next three are touchstones in 20th Century popular music, and part of the national DNA in these parts.  In my 2007 survey book The Top 100 Canadian Albums, the 600-plus voters from the country's music world picked Harvest #1, Gold Rush #3, and Nowhere #16.  You can find the blueprint for his entire career in these four records.  There's the acoustic Neil of Heart of Gold and Old Man.  The electric guitar grunge of Cinnamon Girl and Down By The River.  The protest of Southern Man and Alabama.  The environmental concerns of After The Gold Rush, with a touch of sci-fi for good measure.  The country all over Harvest, recorded in Nashville.  As Young said in 1985, when he was baffling critics by touring with a country band but unleashing psychedelic guitar solos, "I've always been like this".
The eponymous first album remains the tough one, and it's also the one most fans don't own.  Young was fleeing the disappointment of the squabbles and drug troubles of Buffalo Springfield, and ran into the arms of Jack Nitzsche, a true L.A. character and one-time arranger for Phil Spector.  The two of them tried to find an advanced sound of orchestral acoustic pop, turned on by the studio creations of Brian Wilson and The Beatles, but as imaginative as Young was, fussy was never his strong suit, and besides, the songwriting wasn't quite up to snuff yet.  The great songs weren't coming in bursts yet, and while The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady as early favourites, the truly bizarre The Last Trip To Tulsa is a mess, a trip only hippies could love.

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere has a couple of clunkers, but also has the amazing trilogy of Cinnamon Girl, Down By The River and Cowgirl In The Sand.  After The Gold Rush and Harvest are pretty close to flawless.  Should you own them on vinyl?  It's a question of preference.  No matter that Neil thinks Blu-Ray is currently the best sound, I still find vinyl the ...what?... richest sound?  Warmest?  Certainly these albums, which I've heard most of my life, sound better than ever, especially the better-recorded Gold Rush and Harvest.  It's going to run you a hundred bucks or more to get all four, but at least three of them are among the must-own if you're buying vinyl again.

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