Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP

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“Fourteen junkies, too weak to work…” – Neil Young, “Time Fades Away”

There are certain albums that for various reasons have taken on a certain “mystique” over the years. In most cases it’s albums that don’t get released. Prince had “The Black Album,” an album that was supposedly so perverse it couldn’t be released… we have to save the children from such sex talk in music (cue the PMRC). Years after the rumor of the album, Prince finally released it and it was, to be generous, meh. Ryan Adams’ record company rejected “Love Is Hell” because they thought it was a downer so he released “Rock N Roll” instead. The fact that his record company rejected “Love Is Hell” brought so much interest in this supposedly “dark” album, that the record company finally released it. It’s an ok Ryan Adams LP… I mean, dark is kind of his thing. You’ll never find Ryan Adams being played at a party here at the B&V house, that’s for sure. One could describe Ryan’s music as, “Music to Overdose to.”

Usually albums only carry this kind of heavy mystique if someone dies during or shortly after the albums release. “Blackstar” by David Bowie and “You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen will always carry a little more weight because they can be read as an artistic farewell to the world and to their fans. Jimi Hendrix’ last recordings are always heralded as people wonder, what might have been. People point to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s final song on his final album, “Riviera Paradise” as a signal that he was headed into an all new creative direction that would have changed music and guitar as we know it… had he not passed away in that tragic helicopter crash. It’s like a painter whose paintings become more valuable after they’ve died. I’m surprised more rock stars don’t fake their death more often but that makes me sound like an agent hustling for coins.

Of all the artists around, other than maybe Bob Dylan, Neil Young has more than his share of “mysterious,” unreleased albums. “Chrome Dreams” is an oft bootlegged, amazing record that Neil chose not to release in 1977. It would have been as big as “Harvest” in my opinion, which may be why Neil chose not to put it out. That “fame thing” never worked out too well for Neil. He said in the liner notes of “Decade” that “Harvest” found him in the middle of the road and very popular so he chose to steer into the ditch, “It was a rougher ride, but you meet more interesting people there” (I believe is the direct quote). He’s put out most of the songs on other albums, but taken as a whole “Chrome Dreams” would have stood with some of his best work.

Of all of Neil Young’s unreleased and released albums, the one that always had the most intrigue for me, for some reason, was “Time Fades Away.” Part of the problem was you simply couldn’t find the record. I could never get my hands on it. After the initial release, Neil refused to release it on vinyl or any other format so copies of the album were really hard to find. Neil basically disavowed the record. My college roommate Drew was the only guy I know who could have been capable of even finding a copy such were his “completist” tendencies, but I don’t think even he had a copy. It was like you had to “know a guy” to even hear the thing, which I never did.

The backstory alone is enough to draw a rock and roll obsessive like me in… Neil Young, fresh from his twin triumphs of “After the Gold Rush,” and the even bigger success of “Harvest” was set to go on tour. It’s hard to overstate how popular Neil Young became after “Harvest.” I heard a story once, that Dylan heard “Heart of Gold” on the radio and thought it was one of his songs. When he realized it was Neil Young, he felt ripped off and wrote “Forever Young” as some sort of angry, “you ripped me off, you dick” kind of a song. Who knows if that’s true. Anyway, Neil gathered members of his “Harvest” band, the Stray Gators, and invited Danny Whitten from one of his other backing bands, Crazy Horse to New York to rehearse. Unfortunately Danny Whitten, a very talented guitarist and songwriter in his own right, was addicted to heroin. He’d already been kicked out of Crazy Horse, who were working on their own without Neil, because of his drug addictions. Whitten just couldn’t “hack it” at the rehearsals. He was taking a lot of Valium to help him kick the heroin habit and it was just destroying his timing. Finally Neil had to tell Danny he was fired and gave him $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That very night, the night Neil Young fired Danny Whitten, Danny was found dead from mixing alcohol and $50 worth of Valium. Enter…. guilt and despair.

So after releasing his biggest album, with thousands of adoring fans waiting to hear the soft rock troubadour of “Harvest” come out and sing “Heart of Gold,” Neil plugs in his electric guitar and attempted to conquer his demons. Oh, and he brought along the 8-track mobile recording machine to document the whole thing. At the time, one of his band members turned him onto tequila. Ah, tequila. As I used to say in my younger days, the authorities knew which drug to legalize. When I drink tequila, which I rarely do, if I drink too much of it, I’m either going to fight you or fuck you, and quite possibly, both at the same time. Add tequila to a depressed, fragile mental state like Neil Young was in and God knows what can happen. Apparently the fans were not impressed. Part of the problem with concert audiences is that it’s hard to play new, unheard music for a crowd. They want to hear the hits, songs they’re familiar with. This was especially true in 1973 when the crowds were not that sophisticated.

At long last, I discovered this “lost” live album on iTunes. I had always heard that the music on this album was all loud, screaming guitar. It was going to be all noise like “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black).” That is not exactly the case. The band did not get along well and Neil’s vocals were so fried he brought in Crosby and Nash to help sing harmonies, although, this wasn’t an album big on harmony. I will say, this is a very, very good Neil Young album, although I prefer the even darker music found on “Tonight’s the Night.” One might see this as a companion piece to “Tonight’s the Night” and “On The Beach” which are some of Neil’s darker works.

The album starts off with the raucous title track, which is one of the best here but I’ve always liked my Neil Young a little ragged. “Yonder Stands the Sinner” is another ragged rocker that jumps out at me and it’s followed by the great song “L.A.” (“city in the smog…”). But interspersed with those rockers are a couple of delicate, beautiful piano ballads, “Journey Through The Past” and “Love In Mind.” I never expected this kind of balladry from a guy on tequila. The crowd claps politely at the end of “Love In Mind” but you kind of feel they’re not thrilled.

The centerpiece of the album for me, is the beginning of what would be side 2 for you vinyl enthusiasts, “Don’t Be Denied.” It’s a a better autobiography than Neil’s book “Shakey.”It’s a long, mid tempo song about Neil’s love of and dedication to music. It tells his life story from being a bullied kid at school, to forming a band. It’s one of his best songs and coincidentally was recently covered beautifully by Norah Jones. It’s really the only hopeful bit of light in an otherwise dark album.

After the ballad, “The Bridge,” another lovely piano and harmonica song, Neil and the band launch into the epic, eight-minute “Last Dance.” I really like the ragged guitar riff in this song. Although, it’s so bleak that it wouldn’t have been out of place on “Tonight’s the Night.” At the end of the song, Neil just howls, “no, no, no…” When Neil sings, “Wake up, it’s time to go to work,” it’s with an utter lack of enthusiasm.

“Time Fades Away” is a portrait of an artist who is really suffering. And by sharing that pain with us through his art, he let’s we who are also suffering know we are not alone. That’s the power of an album like this. And powerful is the word I would use to describe this record. For anybody out there who likes to explore the musical backwaters of an artist’s catalog, like I do, this is must have music. Although, I wouldn’t recommend putting this on at Christmas… not a lot of Yule time joy here….

It’s a dark ride, folks. Stick together and take care of each other. Cheers!

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LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”

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Long before BourbonAndVinyl, long before I collected hundreds of albums and CDs, long before my music obsession, there was my brother’s stereo… I had an old black-and-white TV in my room, and a clock radio but I only turned the clock radio on if I was listening to the Royals or the Chiefs. I never listened to music. I was a sports guy, not a music guy. My brother, who I’ve mentioned in these very pages as the polar opposite of me, didn’t have a TV but he did have a stereo. It was one of those turntable/tape deck/receiver all in one jobs. I couldn’t understand what he was doing spending all of his spare money on those albums, it made no sense to me. Be careful what you make fun of, it eventually takes you over.

I would walk by his closed door on the way to my own room and I’d hear all these… sounds… coming from his room. What the hell was going on in there. More often than not those “sounds” were the Beatles. They say you can tell a lot about a person by which Beatle they favor… My brother was a George guy. I’m more of a John guy. I’ll let Beatle-0logists decipher the meaning of that. Maybe if our family dentist had dosed my brother and I with LSD like John and George, we’d have been closer as kids, but that time has passed. I eventually knocked on the closed door and after being admitted entrance to my brother’s inner sanctum, plopped down on the floor to listen to these Beatles he was so fond of. It took the Stones to put out “Some Girls” to completely turn me onto music, but my brother’s vast Beatles LP collection certainly pushed me onto that path. Its odd that on so many things my younger brother led the way…

Like I was to eventually become, my brother was nothing if not a completist. He’d buy a greatest hits album if it had an unreleased single on it even if he owned all the other tunes already. One of the albums he seemed to play a lot was the Beatles’ “Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” It sounded like a bunch of girls screaming like a cat in a blender to me but my brother loved that record. I remember the liner notes, printed on the back of the album sleeve. George Martin, who had been asked to put the album together in 1977, long after the Beatles’ break up, wrote the essay printed on the back. If I recall correctly, he said he was only convinced to put the Live LP together after his granddaughter (or maybe it was his daughter) had asked him if the Beatles had been “as big as” or “as exciting as the Bay City Rollers.” I’d say he proved the point. Game, set and match to Mr. Martin.

I sort of forgot about “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” until I got to college. One of my roommates, Drew would sit and listen to that album and laugh his ass off when the Beatles would speak between songs. It was so obvious they were mocking the entire Beatlemania thing. Before “Hard Days Night” John Lennon says, “we made two movies, one in color and one in black and white…” He sounds like a game show host. That was after my conversion to “music junkie” and it was the first time I gave that album a serious listen.

The Beatles famously quit touring in 1966. After that they became studio wizards. The breadth and depth of the music they recorded is amazing. Every album seemed to create two or three sub genre’s of music. It’s easy to think of them as composers like Mozart or Bach and it’s sometimes easy to forget that they were a working band, since after ’66 they only played live once on the roof of the Apple offices in London for the “Let It Be” album. That’s why this document of them as a touring, live band is so important.

In anticipation of hearing this album again, I started listening to the “Live at the BBC” album. It’s a great document of what was, what we tend to forget, a great band. It’s like they’ve turned the BBC studios into their own Hamburg club. They play a lot of their own music, but so many great covers that they never got around to recording and releasing in the studio. The only thing the “BBC” album leaves out is a studio audience. There’s nobody to react to the performances except the jolly BBC DJ. It’s a bit of a sterile live experience. Still, it’s a pleasure to hear these guys playing live together.

Which all leads me to the newly remastered “Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” I kept wondering if they’d ever get around to releasing this album. With every new remastered version, box set, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was always left out. I can’t confirm this without flying to Houston and having my brother put the old vinyl on the stereo, but it sounds like they’ve boosted the music up in the mix and turned down the screaming fans. Have no doubt about it, this is a great album. It’s so fun to actually put some flesh and blood on the legends. Taken with the “BBC” live album it helps round out a fuller picture of the Beatles. You see those old films of them performing at stadiums in the 60s and its a little like watching old-timey films of baseball players one hundred years ago. A crude document of history being made.

“Hollywood Bowl” is a fun, fun listen. The chemistry of the Beatles on stage is just amazing. You have to remember with the crude equipment they were using, they likely couldn’t even hear each other. It’s kind of hard to play as a band if you can’t hear the other guys. They bash away with a hearty gusto. I have to say, Ringo takes a lot of shit for not being a very good drummer, but he’s really bashing away on this record. Paul McCartney’s bass sounds like Flea. He lays down the most amazing bass lines. How these guys harmonize with all the screaming is just a miracle.

I love that they open with “Twist And Shout,” as if the rabid teenage girls at the Hollywood Bowl weren’t frothy enough, they start with one of their biggest jams. They play a lot of their early, classic hits, up through “Help!” but its great to hear them tear through some of those older cover tunes that they’d probably been playing since Hamburg: “Long Tall Sally,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and even “Roll Over Beethoven.” They even let Ringo have a turn at the mic with “Boys.” Despite all the harrowing stories of their touring, it does sound like they’re having a good time on stage.

“Ticket to Ride,” “Things We Said Today,” and “She’s a Woman” all near the front of the album are a toss up for my favorite. These guys could do no wrong with a song. They add four additional “bonus” tracks that weren’t on the original vinyl LP at the end. They’re all very good songs and for those of us who know the original album, it’s almost like they’ve come back for an encore.

This is not only a great album, and a definite recommended buy from B&V, I would go so far as to say this is essential listening, not only for Beatles fans, but for fans of rock and roll in general.

Play this one loud. And as Ringo would probably say, Peace and Love, people. Cheers!

Spotlight: Springsteen’s Archival Live Releases

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My obsession with bootleg recordings is well documented on BourbonAndVinyl. I can still remember going back up to college my junior year. When I arrived, my friend and one of my future roommates, Drew arrived triumphantly holding a shoe box full of newly minted cassette tapes (yes cassettes, it was a long time ago, I also had a mullet). He announced that he had found the “motherlode” of Springsteen live bootlegs and it was his advice that we listen to all 10 cassettes, one after the another, immediately. After quickly mixing several large pitchers of vodka and Rose’s lime juice, aka the dreaded Kamikazes, we hunkered down. This was during the week prior to school starting and there were numerous parties around campus, chock full of drunken, new female co-eds in need of male upper class-men “guidance”. But were we joining in the fray? No, we were listening to some of the greatest live recordings ever laid down. I can still remember the excitement I felt hearing Springsteen and the E Street Band on those ’75 and ’78 bootlegs, at their prime strength. The music was spectacular, as was the Kamikaze inspired hangover. I now know what death tastes like, it tastes like Rose’s lime juice and Popov (Idaho’s finest vodka).

A year ago or so, I heard that Springsteen, much like Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was releasing select concert recordings on the 2014 tour as MP3 downloads. Pearl Jam has been doing this for years. When they started, I went a little overboard and bought say, four or five of them, immediately. Patience and discipline is in short supply at BourbonAndVinyl. Springsteen went on to release every single show on the 2014 tour which was made extra special by the presence of guitarist Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, The Nightwatchman). The E Street Band already had 3 guitarists including Bruce, but hey, you can never have too many guitars. I actually bought the 1-29-14 show from Capetown, South Africa. I showed a bit more restraint than the Pearl Jam situation.

Shortly after the 2014 shows were released, Springsteen released the E Street Band’s first show ever at the historic Apollo Theater from March 2012. It was a great show, broadcast live on XM/Sirius Radio. The penultimate moment was Springsteen calling for a moment of silence for his fallen comrade-in-arms Clarence Clemons, during the song “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. It was at the moment in the song when Bruce sings, “…the change was made up town and the Big Man joined the band…” If that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, you’re not human and you’re certainly not a fan of Springsteen’s.

Shortly after that, Bruce announced he’d be releasing “archival” recordings of select concerts from the past. I felt that old, pre Kamikaze excitement return. I felt like a junior in college and my roomie Drew had just showed up with a shoebox full of cassettes. Now, here at BourbonAndVinyl, I try to keep a very close eye on new releases from veteran acts. I scour magazines and social media but even I missed a few of these archival releases. Like the post on the Dylan Official Bootleg Series, I thought I’d compile a quick run down of these live releases. I believe, these live releases constitute as important a set of recordings as Dylan’s Bootleg Series. All of these have been remixed for MP3 or CD release.

Full disclosure – I do not own all of these. Again, the restraint thing took over. The wife would have thought I’d gone crazy. This is more of an attempt to chronicle and shine a spotlight on these recordings, in case you’ve missed them. I must say, the ones I own, sound fantastic.

1975 – Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA – The 75 tour in support of Born To Run. I have this tour, uh, somewhat covered with other recordings, acquired in a shoebox my junior year in college. Ahem. Anyway, this is a great show from Philly. I love that “Mountain of Love” is on here, a great cover tune Bruce was still doing in those days.

1978 – The Agora, Cleveland, Ohio. This was the tour in support of Darkness On the Edge of Town. This was described by Rolling Stone magazine as Bruce’s greatest live album. This tour is where the legend was born. This show opens with a cover of “Summertime Blues”. Listen and prepare to understand the myth.

1980 – Nassau Veterans Colesium, Uniondale, NY. This tour was in support of The River, which was my first Springsteen album. He came to my hometown on this tour and my buddy, unbeknownst to me, had 2 tickets. He took somebody else because he didn’t think I was into Springsteen. I should say, ex-buddy. It was described in the paper as “the concert of the year” and it was only February. So, naturally I had to have this concert. It’s also very special as it was a New Year’s Eve show on Bruce’s home turf. This is a mind-blowing show. My bootleg experience had never covered this tour, which I consider as important as 78.

1984 – Bryndon Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, NJ. The Born In the USA Tour. What a show this was. This was the tour I first saw Springsteen. If the bootlegs had made me a convert, this tour made me a disciple. If you listen to all of these shows in chronological order, you get a sense that this show is the culmination of something. He built this live show from 75 forward, adding new material, dropping old stuff. It all starts to makes sense why he completely changed directions after this tour.

1988 – LA Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA. The Tunnel of Love Tour. This is where the Boss, perhaps freaked out by the mega-fame he’d faced after Born In the USA, decided to try and reinvent himself and the band. He changed where they stood on stage, the set list, and the approach to the shows. I never heard much about this tour, but I love the setlist. I remember hearing they played the Amnesty International shows with Sting and others at the end of the tour which marked a decidedly political turn for Bruce. This one is on my shopping list.

2005 – Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio. Devils and Dust Tour. I just found out about this show over the weekend. I purchased it immediately. This is the first recording I’ve heard of Bruce solo – no E Street Band, no band at all – just him and an acoustic guitar, harmonica, piano and what sounds like an electric piano. I love this show. Its quickly slipping into high rotation. He opens up with an obscure gem he did for a movie soundtrack, “Lift Me Up” and the set list meanders from there. Someone in the crowd interrupts Bruce as he’s leading into a tune and yells out a request, “Growing Up”. Bruce just says, “Nah, I’m not playing that one tonight…” Play what you want Boss, the deeper you go into the catalog the better. This does feature a ton of the Devils and Dust LP, so be prepared.

So there it is folks, a quick recap of Bruce’s archival Live releases. Check it out, maybe you’ll like one… or maybe like me on the Pearl Jam bender, you’ll buy them all. You can’t go wrong with any of the releases listed here.

Cheers!