Archival Release: Neil Young, 1989’s ‘El Dorado – EP’ Originally Only Released In Japan & Australia

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I just saw that Neil Young has recently released a curious artifact from his vaunted Archives. It looks like he finally released the Eldorado EP. I guess I should say “re-released” the EP. It was originally released in April of 1989 but only in a limited release and only in Japan and Australia. One has to wonder if Young was touring that part of the world at the time and needed to get something out for the fans to buy. I don’t know why he would have held the EP back from general release, but hey, it’s Neil Young. I don’t know if the recent decision to release Eldorado was tied to Record Store Day but I suspect it was. For years I’ve been hearing about El Dorado in hushed and reverent tones. People talk about it on music forums like it’s a well known part of the canon. While I’d heard of it, I’d never actually heard it – which I’m sure it was heavily bootlegged – or even knew what tracks were on it. I just knew that there was some overlap between the EP Eldorado released in April of 1989 and Neil’s great comeback LP Freedom which was released in October of 1989.

Thinking back on 1989 I realize for those of us who came of rock n roll age in the late 70s, the 80s were a tough time to become a Neil Young fan. I won’t say it was easy to become a Neil Young fan in the 70s but it was certainly easier. If you were 10 or 15 years older than I was, it would have been a natural thing to get on Neil’s bandwagon. He had the rock pedigree – he’d been a founding member of the Buffalo Springfield, launched a solo career, teamed up with his on-again/off-again backing band Crazy Horse and then joined Crosby Stills & Nash to become CSNY. In the early 70s he released some of his most popular, accessible work like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush and Harvest. While the Ditch Trilogy (Time Fades Away, On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night) may not have been as commercially successful as his earlier solo stuff those albums are still counted amongst his greatest works. If you were a fan you likely dug those albums.

If you started listening to rock n roll in the late 70s or early 80s, you started listening to what was then current. It was harder to get on Neil’s bandwagon at that point. Comes A Time was a great album but you didn’t hear a lot of mellow Neil on the radio in my hometown. You were probably under the impression that “Lotta Love” was a Nicolette Larson song. You might occasionally hear “Like A Hurricane” or “Cortez The Killer” on the radio but Neil never caught my attention. I heard the common complaints, “his music is a bummer,” or “he can’t sing” (much like I used to hear about Dylan). Sadly, I probably fell into that trap. I’ll admit, Young’s album most influenced by punk, Rust Never Sleeps did catch my ear. I really dug “Powderfinger” and “Pocahontas” even if I couldn’t always follow the lyrics. “Hey Hey, My My” was a guitar freakout that I liked. I remember Billy Joel on 20/20 at the time complaining that his songwriting was too complex and he played “Hey Hey, My My” on the piano as an example of something simple yet catchy. I don’t know if he was making fun of Neil but knowing Billy, probably. While at that point, still in high school, I began to think more highly of Neil, I still wasn’t on the bandwagon. It was hard in the late 70s or early 80s to jump on that bandwagon despite Rust Never Sleeps and the accompanying concert movie that always seemed to be at the midnight movies with Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same playing in the next theater.

His next few albums, Hawks And Doves and Re*ac*tor both slipped by without me noticing. The years when I was graduating high school and going off to college – years of great musical expansion in terms of my collection and awareness – the bottom dropped out for Neil. Trans was (and remains for me) unlistenable, Everybody’s Rockin’ was a rockabilly album and Old Ways was gasp, country. Not a good time to jump on anybody’s bandwagon. Although I remember an ex roommate dropping by a party I was having at my parents house after he’d been to see Neil on the Everybody’s Rockin’ tour and he raved. Still I was unmoved.

Then a very fortunate thing happened for me. I met a guy named Drew who turned me onto a bunch of great music that included Neil Young. Before I knew it I owned Decade a three LP greatest hit retrospective that I believe set the stage for the box set cottage industry. In college I became very backwards focused. Rather than just listening to what was current, I began to dig deeper into the back catalogs of bands I liked. It was the 80s but I was focused on bands from the 60s and the 70s. I knew more about the Faces and Led Zeppelin than I did about Motley Crue or Def Leppard. They were fine bands who ironically I discovered 10 or 15 years after their heyday. Since college, I’m always busy looking in the rearview mirror instead of at what is current. I’ll probably be bragging about listening to Cage The Elephant in like a decade. I went from lukewarm on Neil to very into him. I devoured his back catalog but wanted something more, something current. Around this time he released Landing On Water. I bought it used and quickly sold it back to them. I began to consign Neil to the annals of history in terms of being a viable act.

But as Neil often does, there began to be signs of life. I’m one of the few people who really dug his reunion LP with Crazy Horse in 1987 Life. Yes, I’m that guy at the all night party back then urging someone to put on “Inca Queen.” It was after that album he left Geffen Records who had sued him for “purposely making un-commercial music,” and re joined Reprise (a label founded by Sinatra by the way). His first LP for Reprise was a blues genre exercise, complete with a horn section, This Notes For You. I loved that record and I know I’m the only one who did. That album came out in 1988 and it seems Neil was finally done with genre exercises and pissing off his record company. He was ready to record a real album. A real Neil Young album.

It’s hard to overstate what a great comeback 1989’s Freedom was for Neil Young. It was certainly the best album he’d done since Rust Never Sleeps. The album was book ended with an acoustic and electric version of a song (just like Rust) “Rockin’ In The Free World.” The electric version is one of his greatest songs. It was eclectic but this time in a good way. “Crime In The City” and “Someday” – both great songs – were left overs from This Notes For You complete with horns. “Crime In The City” is a great, gritty epic track. “Someday” is an oddly worded hopeful track. “Too Far Gone” was a beautiful ballad that dated back to his aborted LP Chrome Dreams in the 70s. The album is a combination of rockers and quieter acoustic numbers. Linda Ronstadt shows up to sing harmony on “Hangin’ On A Limb” a track about a seemingly doomed love affair and “The Ways of Love” another beautiful acoustic track. This is not only one of Neil’s best albums, it’s one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.

Which all leads me to this previously limited release EP, Eldorado. It came out six months prior and was perhaps meant to be a teaser for the upcoming Freedom. It’s credited to Neil & “the Restless,” Chad Cromwell on drums and Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas. I’m delighted to see it finally released, but then I’m a completest. Two of the five songs, “On Broadway” a cover song and the title track of the EP, “Eldorado” were both put on Freedom exactly as they are here. There is a third track, “Don’t Cry” that ended up on Freedom as well, albeit edited. “Don’t Cry” was always a creepy, harrowing breakup song to me. It’s about a guy who helps his girlfriend pack her stuff and take it to the car. “Don’t cry my sweet girl, nothing I say is written in stone.” The narrator is hedging his bets. The thing that made this song feel somewhat menacing was Neil’s freak out guitar work. He’s singing in a reassuring manner but pounding out notes on the guitar. It’s all very dissonant. It’s a great song but man what he does to his guitar strings should be illegal. Apparently at the insistence of Niko Bolas who produced Freedom and Frank Sampedro, Neil’s erstwhile guitarist in Crazy Horse, Neil agreed to edit out about 45 seconds of his guitar fury on the song. So the version on Freedom is slightly different than what you find on Eldorado.

Why the interest in Eldorado if three of it’s five songs are repeated (basically) the same on Freedom? There are two tracks that didn’t make Freedom and have never been released before. Again, I’m a completest but I really like these two unearthed tracks. The first track on the EP is the unreleased “Cocaine Eyes” and it’s just a great, lost Neil Young rock song. It’s an anti drug song but unlike “The Needle And The Damage Done” this song rawks. “Ain’t a day goes by, I don’t burn a little bit of my soul.” I think its about overcoming an addiction to coke, but then it’s vague enough to make you wonder if the guy actually got past cocaine. “You lost the race once again, my old friend.” Maybe he’s talking to Crosby? The guitar solo at the end is a slashing, classic Young solo. The other previously unreleased track is “Heavy Love.” It’s another great galloping rocker of a song. “Inside your head I’m singing, inside your heart I dig for more.” The song ends with a loud crash of drums or what may be Neil pounding on the strings. It just sounds like something is exploding…  If I’d have heard either of these songs – prior to hearing and loving Freedom – I’d have probably been ready to proclaim that Neil was back!

I will warn you before you run out and buy this EP, it will probably be included in Neil’s supposedly upcoming Archives III. Before Archvies I came out I bought several of Neil’s live LPs that ended up in the box set. I was pissed about that. I figured why get the box, I own half of it already? While I did purchase a few of the discs that were included in Archives II, at least this time I went in with my eyes open. I would definitely recommend everyone check out the two newly released tracks and if you haven’t done so, for the love of all that is holy, please pick up Freedom at your earliest opportunity. Trust me.

Cheers!