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10 Deep Cuts From The Neil Young Archives

10 Deep Cuts From The Neil Young Archives

Last weekend, Neil Young unveiled his best defense yet in the ongoing war against poor quality streaming audio with the launch of his sprawling Archives

The website might look like some kind of retro-futuristic filing cabinet Doc Brown might have been working on between 1955 and 1985, something that SPIN’s Winston Cook-Wilson brilliantly compared to the old Carmen Sandiego PC game in his report on the site.

However, when you click that old-timey toggle up at the top of the page, you are immediately thrust into a wormhole of optimal digital audio that allows you to switch between 320kbs or Young’s custom Xstream audio plugin, his most direct retaliation in combating the fidelity-compromising practices of corporate streaming services.

“Today all music suffers from low quality audio throughout the distribution chain. It starts with big tech companies like Apple,” he writes on the Archives site. “Apple Music controls the audio quality that is served to the masses and chooses to not make high quality available, reducing audio quality to between 5% and 20% of the master I made in the studio in all cases.”

For the most part, the offering represents the lion’s share of Neil Young’s recorded studio and concert output spanning the entirety of his career from the early ’60s to the present day, including his work in The Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And until June 30, 2018, when it will switch to a paid subscription service, the whole shebang is available entirely for free.

Not all of it has been uploaded to the site yet, but there are plenty of earmarks with titles in the Neil Young wine cellar that fans have been waiting literal decades to officially surface or return after years in out-of-print obscurity.

Here are ten particular selections which should make even the staunchest analog admirer of Neil’s get right with the Internet.

1. Mynah Birds, “It’s My Time”/”Go On and Cry” (1966) — It’s a bit of a mind-blower when you learn that Neil Young and Bruce Palmer were in a band with Rick James that was signed to Motown before forming Buffalo Springfield. But then you discover a sole seven-inch emerged from this particular formation of the short-lived Mynah Birds and you immediately wish they recorded much more than two songs together. “It’s My Time” and “Go On and Cry” first returned from pop’s lost history in 2007 as part of a discontinued box set The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 6, which fetches upwards of $920 on Amazon if you’re looking for the actual physical product (where it’s nestled deep in the mix of Disc 2). But for now, it will only cost a few moments of your time to log in to hear one of rock’s coolest curiosities.

2. Homegrown (1975) — Originally Young’s album for ’75 but shelved in favor of the 1973-recorded Tonight’s The Night, the country-flavored Homegrown has been one of the great “Holy Grails” of unreleased Neil since word got out about its existence. Cut in December of ’74 in Nashville with Levon Helm, Young mentioned in Jimmy McDonough’s 2003 biography Shakey that he considered this record as being the missing link between Harvest and Harvest Moon. Some of the songs would end up elsewhere, such as “Star of Bethlehem” coming out on 1977’s American Stars ‘n Bars and “Little Wing” and “This Old Homestead” appearing on 1980’s Hawks & Doves; not to mention “White Line” making its official debut years later on 1990’s Ragged Glory and the appearance of “Give Me Strength” on the 2017 archival release Hitchhiker. But to listen to Homegrown in its intended sequence with such deep Neil gems as “Love-Art Blues”, “Mexico” and “Homefires” in the cut, is — to paraphrase the LP’s electrified ode to illegal gardening and title track — the way it should be.

3. Chrome Dreams (1977) — In terms of a cache of tracks, Chrome Dreams has almost entirely been released on other collections. But to hear these 12 songs in their intended sequence — the squall of “Like A Hurricane” segueing into the calm of “Too Far Gone” on side A, or the pairing of “Captain Kennedy” and “Stringman” on side B — makes it perhaps the one unreleased Neil album that would’ve immediately been considered his masterpiece of the 1970s had it been officially issued. It’s great to declare that sentiment now on a concrete level given its future appearance in the Archives. We can only hope there are plans for a physical release of this guy, to boot. 

4. Oceanside-Countryside (1978) — A lot of people had problems with Young’s use of orchestration on more recent works like Storytone and The Visitor. Maybe it’s because both instances simply pale in comparison to the stuff he did with the Gone with the Wind Orchestra during the ’77 recording sessions in Nashville –portions of which would wind up on Comes A Time — which Young described in his 2012 book Waging Heavy Peace as “the country wall of sound”. Nearly impossible to find online, the little piece of digital masking tape with Oceanside-Countryside on it is undoubtedly one of the most enticing earmarks on the website, primarily because the placement of a version of “Field of Opportunity” that appears beneath the album title on the timeline, driving speculation it could be from those Nashville sessions with Helm. Hopefully more clues to the mystery behind this most elusive Neil studio LP will appear in the coming months.

5. Solo Trans (1984) — Neil Young’s Geffen years have been a period in his career that’s been misread and misconstrued for far too long. Solo Trans is the visual document that perhaps best conveyed the message Young was trying put out there with his 1982 synthesizer excursion Trans. Originally released for a very limited time on Laserdisc, the show — filmed live at the Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio and directed by the great Hal Ashby — would start off with Neil performing solo renditions of such favorites as “Helpless”, “Old Man” and “Ohio” before transforming the show into a full-blown sock hop complete with cheerleaders (including Young’s ex-wife Pegi) used to introduce his rockabilly group The Shocking Pinks. It is a pretty strange movie that was also supposed to double as this sort of pisstake on the young MTV. And what’s cool is that not only is the film available on the Archives, but the audio soundtrack has been bookmarked for inclusion as well.

6. In a Rusted Out Garage (1986) — In studio, 1986 saw Neil Young continue to delve into his new wave trip with the weirdly endearing Landing On Water. But on the road, the guitarist and Crazy Horse infused the old man’s synth dreams with their trademark electric dirge to create arguably the loudest and rowdiest tour on which they’ve ever embarked; complete with a home garage stage set and a cameo from the late, great comedian Sam Kinison as both Young’s annoyed neighbor and, via a giant telephone prop, his mom. Culled from a crystalline FM broadcast from The Cow Palace in Brisbane, CA, In A Rusted Out Garage was a document of the final night of the tour, and the Horse dove into it like gangbusters, setting fire to such key tracks from Crazy Horse’s then-forthcoming 1987 LP Life such as “Mideast Vacation” and “Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, roughing up the synth stuff like “Sample and Hold” from Trans and Landing On Water’s “Violent Side” and delivering maximum impact versions of such old warhorses as “Like A Hurricane” and “Powderfinger”. Some people say In A Rusted Out Garage is the best Neil Young live album there’s ever been. To revisit it in XStream will certainly make the case for that argument even stronger.

7. Eldorado EP (1989) — After landing off the bucking bronco that was those Geffen years for most of the ’80s, Young closed the decade out in style with the release of his best album of the Reagan era, Freedom. It was a record that signaled his return to his classic sound. For the good people of Japan and Australia, however, that taste of old school Neil arrived earlier in the form of this five-song EP, previewing three crucial Freedom cuts (“Don’t Cry”, “On Broadway” and the title track) and rounded out by a pair of deep tunes in the fuzzed-out rave-up “Cocaine Eyes” and “Heavy Love”, a song that can arguably be construed as the most direct link to Young’s influence on Pearl Jam. For fans of the grunge rebirth of Neil Young, the Eldorado EP is a most welcome addition to these archives.   

8. Arc (1991) — For a limited time, Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s 1991 live LP Weld came paired with a third disc in the form of this 35-minute-long “compilation composition” that stemmed from a scrapped film Young had made about his 1987 Crazy Horse tour called Muddy Track, which was comprised of the beginnings and conclusions of different songs the group played in  concert during that time [no word on whether or not this movie will ever appear on the Archives at press time]. Arc is that very concept on steroids, pieced together at the suggestion of Thurston Moore, who was opening for Crazy Horse on this tour with Sonic Youth. This is Neil’s Metal Machine Music, and a wild trip through the wilderness of freeform feedback rock.

9. Toast (2001) — The way Neil Young described Toast, the lost Crazy Horse album the band recorded in the winter of 2001, during a December 2008 interview with Rolling Stone, it sounded as though they were going for a heavier, headier extension of the direction they were traveling with 1994’s Sleeps With Angels.  “It’s a mind blowing record,” he professed to writer Andy Greene. “And I don’t think it’s a commercial record, but it’s great rock and roll, very moody, kind of jazzy. It was recorded in the same place where Coltrane was recorded, so there’s a lot of heavy stuff in there. All of the live ambience for everything was all recorded, so the whole thing has got a massive sound about it.” This is another one nearly impossible to find on the Internet, which will make its eventual inclusion on the Neil Young Archives a most anticipated one indeed.

10. Alchemy (2012) — This was intended to be the third installment of the Rust trilogy that began in 1979 with the concert film Rust Never Sleeps and the two live albums that accompanied it (Live Rust and Rust Never Sleeps) and continued in 1991 with the most excellent Arc/Weld. Recorded during the group’s 2012 tour in support of their underrated double LP Psychedelic Pill, this final chapter of the Rust saga finds our heroes grizzled with age but no less potent as performers than they were in ’78 and ’90. And if you’ve caught their performance at the Austin City Limits Festival on YouTube, the boys were transmuting into their golden years fine enough to anticipate how the official concert album of this tour will hold up against its predecessors in the only live trilogy in rock ‘n’ roll that matters.

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