This discography analysis is written by contributor JT of Perth, Australia.
1) 'Tell Me Why' - I'd love to tell you all that my opinions of the songs from After the Gold Rush had changed, that I no longer thought of the album as one that was very good yet still overrated by many. But I can't. Really can't. I wish I could tell you that I no longer thought on songs such as 'Tell Me Why' that Neil was maybe straining a little too much, and that although filled with moments of melodic greatness, there's some areas which aren't great. But I can't. 'Tell Me Why' is an alright song I guess. Maybe it's even very good. But I honestly don't really enjoy listening to it that much. As I said in my original review, it "feels like the intro to a song that never arrived." 7.0
2) 'After the Gold Rush' - If anything, my opinion of this song has only decreased over time. And that's a shame, because I was once ready to crown this as the greatest song ever. Boy was I off the mark. Don't get me wrong - there's still parts of me which rate it quite highly, but there's others that just wish Neil would shut the hell up and start playing 'Wrecking Ball' or something. For the first time in this thread, I'm docking points from a song, instead of bumping it up. Now I know this is akin to pissing on some of your loved ones graves, but that's something I'm just going to have to live with. 7.0
3) 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' - I'm really not too sure where my indifference to some of these songs comes from. I actually don't really think it's an indifference, I just think that I'm rating these songs just a little lower than everyone else is. 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' is a song which on record, just clunks along a bit. Live, it gets better - Crazy Horse did some decent versions of the song on their 2001 European Tour, and those kicked ass in comparison. The thing that gets me about this song? It's the communal singalong in the chorus. I hate it. When singing of a broken heart (or singing of a heart which hasn't broken yet), what's communal about it? Your heart breaks... you're on your own, no matter how many people you have around you. Having said all that, the "Someone should call him..." and the "I was always thinking of games..." parts before each chorus are the little things which get me going. So it's not all bad. It's actually quite good for the main part (with a couple of exceptions). 7.5
4) 'Wonderin' (Unreleased Version)' - I guess I just miss Danny Whitten that little bit. You see, we were spoiled. The live version of 'Wonderin' from the Fillmore gig had Danny's great vocals to help the song chug along. But by the time Neil went to record this, he was gone. Not forever, but he was out of the picture at this stage - with Neil fed up with his heroin use. So he recorded it with his After the Gold Rush band of Ralph Molina, Greg Reeves and Nils Lofgren... and it's really freakin' good. It doesn't have the raggedy goodness of Crazy Horse, but the song is far too good to have just been the song we got on Everybody's Rockin'. Hands down the best part of the song is towards the end and the high "knowin' that I need you to save me!" vocals which follow the song to the end. I just wish it were recorded with the Horse, that's all. 8.5
5) 'Don't Let it Bring You Down' - I probably copped more grief over my lack of love for this song than I did for anything else throughout this thread. And guess what? I still really don't think it's that great. It's good, it's pleasant... but I wouldn't worry trying to think of any other compliments. I haven't lost any sleep over it though. It's just one of those things. I'd much rather listen to a hundred other songs before I listen to 'Don't Let it Bring You Down'. 6.5
6) 'Cripple Creek Ferry' - I think I was being a tad harsh on this earlier. Gave it a 5.5 when in reality it's a good point higher. Sorry, song. Didn't mean to disappoint. This review has taken me the length of 'Cripple Creek Ferry' to type. Good job. 6.5
7) 'Southern Man' - Montana's right, you know. I was marking this one down a little bit. But not too much. Where Monty rings true is the whole "I heard screamin' and bullwhips cracking, how long how long?" part. Fuck that's good. The band definitely gets into an unreal groove, however my opinions of the song as a whole are less than what I'd expect for a song with such a lofty reputation. But that doesn't matter. Focus on the stuff you enjoy and everything else becomes enjoyable eventually. I'm more than a few years in, and it's getting there. 7.5
8) 'Till the Morning Comes' - Honestly, how could you not love this song? He's going to love you "til the morning comes... 'til the morning comes! Whoah-oh-oh". It's the "Whoah-oh-oh" part that tips it over the edge, pushes it towards something resembling greatness. And if anyone makes mention of the fact that it's a filler song that only goes for about 14 seconds, then I'll respectfully disagree. It may be slight, it may have the same lyrics repeated over and over again, but who cares? 'T-Bone' has the same lyrics repeated over and over for 9 minutes and the extra length didn't help that song, so maybe Neil was onto a winner from the start. Besides, if you like it but think it's too short, then all you need to do is just hit the repeat button, it makes the song as long as you want. 8.0
9) 'When You Dance I Can Really Love' - Don't feel like writing much about this song. Great groove. The Horse in fine (but not fantastic) form. Still prefer the Year of the Horse version. That's all, move along. 7.5
10) 'Ohio' - The reason 'Ohio' works so well is because it's the most un-CSNY song that CSNY ever did. Their 'protest' songs are shit. There was that one on Looking Forward about some Chinese dude standing in front of the tank and the song literally makes you want to vomit so much that your small intestine comes out of your mouth. But 'Ohio' is different. There's the mystique behind the song about Crosby and Neil seeing the photos of Kent State and writing the song and recording it so quickly that they didn't have time for their collective holier-than-thouness to get it the way of the song. Key to the song? The rocking groove that Barbata and Samuels lay down behind the track. There's the acoustic versions CSNY did around the time and they just turn it into this lovey-dovey singalong and it just blows. This is much better and pretty much the only way you need to hear it. 8.0
11) 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Unreleased Live Version)' - Yeah - so although this is a pretty decent song, CSNY just fucking ruin it. Well, Nash mainly. Sure, he was the one who had the 'best' voice of CSN, but that doesn't mean he has to do his best to sing right over the fucking top of everybody, does it now! Don't get me wrong, I actually don't mind the guy and his first solo album was actually halfway to a very good album, but wow dude... tone down the vocals a tad. He's working on a live CSNY box at the moment, and I've got this feeling it's going to be a massive Nashathon, even on the songs where he was out the back banging Joni Mitchell while Stills took the stage rambling on and on about fucking nothing. But anyway, back to 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart'... I have no idea why this is on this disc. No idea at all. Won't say no to it though - if nothing else, it gives me the chance to rant about Graham Nash - and that can never hurt. 6.0
12) 'Tell Me Why (Unreleased Live Version)' - Oh shit - another CSNY live track. And by that I mean you have to put up with the utterly interminable stage banter. My god, it's horrendous. It's the live music equivalent of 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry', with the canned laughter of an episode of 'According to Jim'. It's painful. Which is a shame, because the rendition isn't actually too bad. There's too much Nash in the higher parts, but you can live with it. I may even say that there was a chance I could have liked this better than the After the Gold Rush version, but with all that 'witty banter', it makes it worse. Not by much, but by a little. 6.0
13) 'Music is Love' - Before I talk about the track itself, can I just mention how much of a surprise to see this on the tracklisting when it was first announced? Chuffed, to say the least. Anyway, back to the song at hand - and it's a keeper. There's this laid back vibe going on that I'm sure Neil remembered when recording later on, especially when he cut 'Will to Love'. Not really a Neil Young song (only a co-write), but a worthy addition to the set. 8.0
14) 'See the Sky About to Rain (Unreleased Live Version)' - Damn, the guy's got some skills on the piano! This version misses Rick Danko and Levon Helm, but then again, any song without those guys is a pity. Well, that's not true, but I'll let the comment stand. Helm's drumming on the studio cut from On The Beach is sublime, plus it's got that wurlizter through it (instead of the piano) which takes a great song and makes it a masterpiece. If nothing else, this shows that Neil's an enigma. I mean, for fuck's sake, he had this song sitting there and didn't do anything with it for four-five years? The dude's insane. But we like it that way. 9.0
DISC RATING: 8.0
MINI VERDICT: You probably wouldn't believe me, but it's actually hard sometimes not loving something as much as you think you should. Or better yet, not loving something as much as you think you're supposed to. It probably sounds as though I hate the songs on After the Gold Rush, but it's not true. I think the album's fantastic and as I said before, it's an album where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. The songs here would be hung on the mantelpiece of other artists, but to Neil Young, they're just one stop along the way. Too much time could be spent dwelling on what I could do to enjoy these songs just that little bit more, but there's another disc to get to.
1) 'Heart of Gold (Unreleased Live Version)' - I've always preferred the live version of 'Heart of Gold' where it's just Neil and himself, strumming and playing the harmonica. It gives the song more punch, gains a bit of soul, and is just a better product. This version here is just about one of the better versions I've heard. Although, honestly, any versions from around this time are bound to sound somewhat similar. Don't count me in the group of those who prefer the 'A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold' version either. Separate the songs, let them breathe on their own. They're better as separate entities, which is why I'm glad this is here. Not that I've always felt that way. If you had told me three years ago that there'd be a live version of 'Heart of Gold' on the Archives, I'd have said something about it being completely unnecessary, just like 'Crocodile Dundee in L.A'. Thankfully, I was wrong (about the song, not the movie). 7.5
2) 'The Needle and the Damage Done' - "I sing the song because I love the man. I know that some of you don't understand".
I think in my original review I said something along the lines of Neil plays this song so much not because he wants to, but because he almost has to. I still think that's the case. And that line tells us why. He's singing for the fallen and those who nearly went the way of others. Quite admirable really. 8.5
3) 'Bad Fog of Loneliness (Unreleased Version)' - How the fuck did this not get on Harvest and 'There's a World' did? That there is some seriously wacky shit. This would have been an awesome Crazy Horse song with Danny Whitten doubling Neil's vocals. Shit out of luck though, 'cos it never happened, so I won't worry about wasting time on something that didn't happen nearly forty years ago. So... does anyone else think that the reason this wasn't on Harvest was because it's a bit too much like 'The Needle and the Damage Done' in a musical sense. I mean, I'm no guitar player, but those opening notes sound familiar. And if that was the reason, then it was good that Neil decided against it being a bad idea in the later years, because then we wouldn't have been given 'Tonight's the Night' (I & II), 'My My, Hey Hey' and 'Hey Hey, My My'... the acoustic and electric 'Rockin' in the Free World'... 'Love to Burn' and 'Love and Only Love' as well as 'Western Hero' and 'Train of Love'. You get what I mean. 1972 Neil maybe thought that two similar songs would ruin an album, later Neil probably thought "fuck it, let's use them both". He should have found that out earlier. 9.0
4) 'Old Man' - I like this song a whole lot more than I think I should. I mean, it's too much of a 'traditional' song. It goes little bit of chorus, verse, chorus, verse. That's too normal, too non-Neil. His best songs are ones where you listen to them and you know that there's only one person who could actually pull that song off, and that's the guy who writes it. Plus, there's the quaint little banjo which should make me scream, there's the backing band which are doing nothing really except plod along to say they're there. But what makes this the song is the voice. Probably one of the more impassioned vocals to this stage of Neil Young's career. However, there is a however. Like 'Heart of Gold', I prefer the solo Neil versions. But apart from that it's actually a fine song. 8.0
5) 'Heart of Gold' - Unlike 'Old Man', there isn't enough here on the studio take to make me groove. It's all a bit vanilla for my liking. I'm not going to stand up and say that I hate the song because it's too commercial, because I can't. I've enjoyed this song immensely over the years, and it's still an easy entry to the guy's career for people you're trying to impress. But it's got too much. Too much restraint on the vocal... to much Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor... too much of a backing band that's seemingly disinterested in the song. And that's too bad. 6.5
6) 'Dance Dance Dance (Unreleased Version)' - I've ragged on Graham Nash quite a bit in this thread. He's an easy target - what with him being the twee British dude from CSN, but the truth of the matter is that I actually kinda like the guy. Some of his music is a bit insufferable ('Marrakesh Express' for example), and he bought into that whole "music can save the world" scene so much that he named one of his songs 'Chicago (We Can Change the World)'. And that kinda irks me. But on the other hand, he always seems up for whatever Neil Young throws at him, and he doesn't seem as though he's one of those guys who feels compelled to say "yes" to him every time. In the interviews I've read, or seen, he's always the one guy who will call Neil Young out for the bullshit artist that he sometimes is. So the guy gets a pass from me on that. Also, I like some of his songs, even the ones that are a bundle of sissyness like 'Simple Man'. Here, it's just him and Neil doing 'Dance Dance Dance', and it's damn fine. It's not as good as the Crazy Horse version (either the one here or on theCrazy Horse album), but was never going to be. Unlike 'Heart of Gold' and 'Old Man', this is one song that benefited from a band. And Nash keeps his vocals to the back. So there's another tick. 7.5
7) 'A Man Needs a Maid (Unreleased Mix)' - I never understood it when people would say this was one of the worst songs on Harvest. Maybe it's just being paired with 'There's a World' because of the strings. And if so, how stupid of someone to be that short-sighted. I just can't ever buy into this being anything less than one of the more remarkable songs Neil Young has written and performed. The lyrics, the melody, the aching strings. This song is perfection, through and through. I've mentioned it before, but when the song goes through the "A while ago somewhere I don't know when, I was watching a movie with a friend" part, it's though a musical Buddha had written the melody himself and passed it on to Neil Young. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong, but you're going to have a hell of a hard time convincing me that I'm wrong. 10.0
8) 'Harvest' - Another song where I'll admit that I was wrong. Well, maybe I wasn't wrong when I wrote my original, maybe my opinions have solidified that little bit more. This song is fantastic, and one of the best two on the album that bears the same name as this track. Not sure why I marked it down before, but it's the complete song. I dig the aching in Neil's voice throughout the track, and I even think the Stray Gators have got it right on the track. This track needs help from a band, but that band can't be too much, too in your face. They sit behind, and just float along with the song. Great stuff. Special props to the steel guitar work of the late, great Ben Keith. He's hardly audible for parts of the track and then he just floats in with these perfect little flourishes that you keep your ears pricked for. Great stuff, and sorry I doubted you slightly last time. 10.0
9) 'Journey Through the Past (Unreleased Version)' - This was completely unexpected. Every version I'd ever heard of this song had been Neil, alone at the piano, playing this song. That's how it was even on Time Fades Away when he had a band at his disposal. It's a great song, but I actually find myself listening to the solo versions more often than this. The Nashville swing that's on the track is interesting, but not essential. Besides, the track loses a bit of its longing with the band behind it. Nothing better than when Neil's behind the piano, almost playing this song just to himself, regardless of whether there's an audience or not. The BBC version of this is my ultimate favourite - not just because of the performance, but the sound quality is spot on. Thankfully, it's been captured for all to enjoy. This is a 9.0, that below is a 10.0.
10) 'Are You Ready For the Country?' - I was a bit snarky with this song before. It's not a favourite and when I saw the title, I thought I was one of those clever movie reviews who use the title of a movie to base their review around. I'm so clever. Anyway. Back to normal. My reasons for disliking this song are few-fold. For starters, it's not a very good song. Secondly, it's banged out and tossed off in a way that Neil Young has never done (or would really ever do). Even the Everybody's Rockin' album, as inessential as it is, was a planned way of moving forward (by looking back). This is just a throwaway song that should have been used as a way to get the band warmed up. It shouldn't have been on the Harvest album. At best, it should've been here, on The Archives, only as what also went on when they were making the album proper. Anyway. There's that. And also - we know there's this band and all - and that Tim Drummond was one of the only white dudes to be in James Brown's band, but he's so under-used here that he might as well have been a cardboard cut-out of Tim Drummond playing the bass. 4.0
11) 'Alabama' - The best thing about this song is the guitar. It's grand. The song itself has always been a bit hit-and-miss with me. The verses are so dull in their first half that by the time the second half of the verse and the chorus come in (and kick ass), you're left to wonder why the first half of each verse is so grossly underwhelming. I know it's a little thing, but when you're invested in the man's music so much, there's certain songs that you just wish with all your might were better than they actually are. There's a masterpiece of a song somewhere here, but for the me, the flaws overwhelm the positives so much that I can't help but be extremely over-critical to the song. Believe me, I know how little my criticisms make sense. I'm complaining and marking down greatly a song where its flaws run for probably 45 seconds out of a four minute song. I know it's crazy. Sometimes opinions don't make sense, like people who think 'Two and a Half men' is (or ever has been) funny. But you stick with your opinions because they're yours and hopefully no one else's. To me, this song could've been so much more. But in the end, it's just another song on an album that I rarely listen to. Harvest has great songs, but it never surprises any more (short of a couple of songs) and never makes me as alive as listening to Rust Never Sleeps, Ragged Glory or Everybody Knows This is Nowhere do. Am I glad that it's Neil's most successful album? Kinda. I'm glad he enjoyed this level of success for what seems like a fleeting moment (especially when compared to the size and longevity of his career), but I'm bummed that it had to be this album which got him to the top. By being his most 'popular' album (or perhaps I should have just said "commercially successful"), it allowed the minor fans and wannabes the chance to dictate to Neil what path the rest of his career should follow. Thank fuck he didn't listen to him, but part of me bristles knowing that at every Neil Young concert, there's going to be that one guy who expects to hear 'Heart of Gold'. Not that this song is 'Heart of Gold'. But I marked it the same so I'm going to run with it. 6.5
12) 'Words (Between the Lines of Age)' - Another song which gets its fair share of abuse, and another song I've constantly defended. Half the time, I'll sit and say that although the Harvest version is good, the Journey Through the Past version is better. But it's not really. The Harvest version gets to the chase, whereas the JTTP version just stops. Don't know why that makes a difference, but I prefer the Harvest version. Kudos for Neil including the other version here. Just his perverse way, I guess. 7.5
13) 'Soldier (Unreleased Mix)' - Fuckin' amazing. Makes me wish some of Tonight's the Night were just Neil crying into his piano. That shit would be out of this world. But this here is what we're talking about and it's close to perfection. Not quite there, but it definitely ranks as one of the more lost Neil Young songs. And that's a shame, as it's daunting, haunting and brilliant. Go listen to it. Go now. 9.0
14) 'War Song' - Consider this a melodic and mildly interesting misfire. Not only in the clunkiness of the song, but also in the person they were supporting. Not saying McGovern was the wrong candidate to back, but by backing him in song like this and then see him fail so miserably in the election must have been a bit of a face palm moment for Young and Nash. Not sure I buy the way the guys put their total faith in the guy, but hey... whatever floats that boat of yours is ok with me. Bit of a letdown to end the box like this, but since it's all chronological, my complaints will have to fall on deaf ears. 6.5
DISC RATING: 8.5
MINI VERDICT: I listen to the songs and I'm a fan. I listen to the songs and I can't understand the public. I mean, why were these songs his most successful while other (greater) albums sold nowhere near as much? I guess if you knew how to predict what the public would buy you'd be outcasts for being a sell-out. So Neil goes and does his own thing and good on him, it pays off for him. I won't pretend to be the world's biggest fan of these songs, but I know how good they are (even if my expectations on them are far too high). I listen to the songs and sometimes that's more than enough.
PACKAGE RATING: 9.0
OVERALL VERDICT: So that's the box. That's what we've been waiting for all these years. It's a remarkable project, however with such a big buildup there's going to be the inevitable letdown. People wanted more unreleased songs, they wanted all the songs from each of his albums. They wanted things that may not have even been recorded. They complained that it included two live albums that they'd already bought. They complained without even hearing the finished product, without even hearing how well the Crazy Horse stuff fit together, without hearing another path Harvest could have taken, without hearing Neil before he knew what kind of singer he wanted to be. They complained, complained and then complained more as though Neil were a dick for not providing what we wanted... all the while not realising he didn't owe us a single fucking thing. This man has given us albums galore over the past forty or so years, each one of them a little different to the previous one, and we ask for more? How fuckin' dare they/we?
Sure, there are things I'd like answered about the set, but I honestly don't think they ever will. And I'm OK with that. There still needs to be a little mystery in all this thing, even though we have here a major artist laying bare his life's work for all of us to enjoy, for all of us to judge him upon. And in that sense he succeeds beyond anyone's wildest dreams. All I'm doing is focusing on the music. I haven't gone into the packaging and the book which came along with it. I haven't gone into the fact that he's the first major artist to embrace Blu-Ray technology and the capabilities that enables. I haven't gone into the multimedia portion of the set, and I haven't reviewed the 'Journey Through the Past' film. And that's where the set's detractors let themselves down. They were focusing on the music, whereas if they'd followed Neil's comments about the box over the years, they'd know that it was never just about the music. It was about a life. And here we have the first part of Neil Young's musical life and I, for one, consider myself fuckin' lucky to be able to be invited into the man's life in such a way.
The Archives Vol. I is a labour of love if ever I saw one. Decades in planning, one day to release. Hardly seems fair does it? But anyway, we've got at least four more Volumes of this to come. Volumes II & III were always going to be my favourites, but for an entree, Volume I is knock-your-socks off good. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another twenty years for the next volume. My mouth waters just at the very thought of it.