Song of the Week – Unknown Legend, Neil Young

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

At the end of 1992, Neil Young released his 19th studio album, Harvest Moon.  After a couple of hard rock albums – Ragged Glory, Arc, and Weld – the folky, acoustic Harvest Moon was a welcome return to the style of earlier fan favorites like Harvest and Comes a Time.

The album’s lead track is “Unknown Legend.” 

The lyrics are often said to be written for his then-wife Pegi.  But quotes from several of his biographies paint a more complex picture.  Pegi may have been one influence but it appears the woman in the song is an amalgam of several subjects.

It’s a beautiful song with touching lyrics about a waitress in a diner who is raising two kids but doesn’t give up her lust for life.  This portrait of a woman is a much more sympathetic treatment of a woman than some of Young’s other songs like the cringe worthy “A Man Needs a Maid.”

She used to work in a diner
Never saw a woman look finer
I used to order just to watch her float across the floor
She grew up in a small town
Never put her roots down
Daddy always kept movin’, so she did too

Somewhere on a desert highway
She rides a Harley-Davidson
Her long blonde hair flyin’ in the wind
She’s been runnin’ half her life
The chrome and steel she rides
Collidin’ with the very air she breathes

The air she breathes

You know it ain’t easy
You got to hold on
She was an unknown legend in her time
Now she’s dressin’ two kids
Lookin’ for a magic kiss
She gets the far-away look in her eyes

Somewhere on a desert highway
She rides a Harley-Davidson
Her long blonde hair flyin’ in the wind
She’s been runnin’ half her life
The chrome and steel she rides
Collidin’ with the very air she breathes
The air she breathes

Linda Ronstadt provides the backing vocals.

In the Jonathan Demme movie, Rachel’s Getting Married (2008), the song is sung a cappella by the groom (Tunde Adebimpe of the band TV on the Radio) in the wedding ceremony scene.  It is lovely.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Let’s Roll, Neil Young; I Can’t See New York, Tori Amos; My City of Ruins, Bruce Springsteen

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Today we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrible terror attack on the United States.  In reaction, many music artists wrote songs about the horrible 9/11 events.

In November 2001, Neil young released “Let’s Roll”, a phrase that was attributed to Todd Beamer, one of the heroes on Flight 93 that crashed in PA.  Todd was heard on a phone uttering the words as he and other passengers took action to take control of the flight to prevent the hijackers from using the plane to crash into its target.

This wasn’t the first time Young quickly released a record in response to a news event.  In 1970, Young wrote “Ohio” after the May 4 shooting of students at Kent State University.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded the song and released it in June 1970.

Tori Amos gave us the haunting “I Can’t See New York.”

Thirteen thousand and holding
In the purring
Of her engines

But I can’t see new York
As I’m, circling down
Through white cloud
Falling out
And I know
His lips are warm
But I can’t seem
To find my way out
My way out I can’t see
Of this hunting ground

Bruce Springsteen devoted an entire album – The Rising (2002) – to songs that addressed the aftermath of events of 9/11 from various perspectives.  This was an ambitious project that only someone with Springsteen’s perception could handle so deftly.  “My City of Ruins” is a hymn in the mold of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”

There’s a blood red circle on the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door’s thrown open, I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregation’s gone
My city of ruins

Now the sweet bells of mercy drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner like scattered leaves
The boarded up windows, the empty streets
While my brother’s down on his knees
My city of ruins

Now there’s tears on the pillow, darling, where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss my soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again
My city’s in ruins

The song’s sadness of the verses change to healing in the final section:

Now with these hands, with these hands
With these hands, with these hands
I pray, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the faith, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for your love, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for your love, Lord (with these hands, with these hands)
I pray for the faith, Lord (with these hands), alright (with these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord (with these hands), come on (with these hands), come on
Come on rise up, come on rise up
Come on rise up, come on rise up

May all we Americans heal together as we mourn on this solemn day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Revolution Blues, Neil Young


Today’s post is on the final release of Neil Young’s Ditch Trilogy – On the Beach.

As you may recall, the first two albums in the trilogy dealt with the heroin overdose deaths of bandmate Danny Whitten and roadie/friend Bruce Berry. But despite preparing for highly anticipated tour with CSNY in 1974 (documented in a boxed set released in mid-2014) things still weren’t looking up in Young’s personal life.

He separated from his wife, actress Carrie Snodgrass, and learned that their son had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He escaped to Malibu and began work on the paranoid sounding On the Beach. He was quoted as describing the album as “probably one of the most depressing records I’ve ever made.” Now that’s saying something, coming from “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” Neil.

For this album, Young asked some friends to help out. Rick Danko and Levon Helm, of The Band, contributed; as did Graham Nash and David Crosby. The album was recorded at LA’s Sunset Sound studio and was fueled by “honey slides” – a concoction of hash cakes soaked in honey. Young’s manager, Elliott Roberts, was quoted as saying honey slides were “way worse than heroin.”

It’s this druggy environment that produced today’s SotW, “Revolution Blues.”

On this track Young is at his most vicious, taking his suspicions of the LA star system he was retreating from to a terrifyingly scary place.

Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars,
But I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars.

Danko and Helm hold down the rhythm on this one, giving the song a little more funk than most of Young’s work.

In a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone’s Cameron Crowe, Young said “You got to keep changing. Shirts, old ladies, whatever. I’d rather keep changing and lose a lot of people along the way. If that’s the price, I’ll pay it. I don’t give a shit if my audience is a hundred or a hundred million. What sells and what I do are two completely different things.”

That just about summarizes his approach to the albums that make up the Ditch Trilogy. Confounding to fans upon their release, but regarded in the highest esteem with the benefit of 40 years hindsight.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Tonight’s the Night, Neil Young


Neil+Young+1973+PhotoLast week’s post was about the first album in Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy” – Time Fades Away. The next is Tonight’s the Night. This may be somewhat confusing to some Young fans because TTN was released after On the Beach, even though it was recorded before. But it makes more sense to deal with them in chronological order in the context of the Ditch Trilogy story.

Part 1 of the this series dropped off with the live album Time Fades Away, recorded on the tour that began right after the heroin overdose death of friend and bandmate Danny Whitten in November 1972. A few months later, in June 1973, tragedy would strike again when Young’s friend and roadie Bruce Berry would also succumb to the drug.

This time Young reacted by pulling together that band to grieve and record. They would hang out at his ranch and play pool and party from early evening until the wee hours of the morning when they would turn their attentions to recording. The resulting TTN is a ragged set of cuts, even by Young’s standards. So the album was finished in just a few days in August 1973 at Studio Instrument Rentals, a rehearsal space owned by Berry’s brother Jan (as in Jan of Jan and Dean).

In Young’s book Waging Heavy Peace, he describes TTN as “a wake of sorts.” He admits the LP was “recorded in audio verite, if you will, while completely intoxicated on Jose Cuervo tequila.”

The SotW has got to be the title song.

You can feel the pain in Young’s voice as he bios the life and death of Berry, especially the way he yowls the lyrics in the final verse.

Bruce Berry was a working man
He used to load that Econoline van.
A sparkle was in his eye
But his life was in his hands

Well, late at night
when the people were gone
He used to pick up my guitar
And sing a song in a shaky voice
That was real as the day was long.

Early in the mornin’
at the break of day
He used to sleep
until the afternoon.
If you never heard him sing
I guess you won’t too soon.

‘Cause people let me tell you
It sent a chill
up and down my spine
When I picked up the telephone
And heard that he’d died
out on the mainline.

The mixing for the sessions was tortured. Ultimately the tapes were put away for two years before they were dusted off and finally released, thanks in part to The Band’s Rick Danko. Danko was previewing a tape of Young’s latest album Homegrown (still unreleased) in early 1975. The TTN recordings were on the same tape. When Danko heard TTN he said “You ought to put THAT out!” So he did, in June 1975.

In Waging Heavy Peace Young also says “The album was risky and real. It was a real mess of a recording, with no respect given to technical issues, although it sounds like God when played loud…”

Turn it up!

I’ll post he final installment of the Ditch Trilogy – On the Beach – next time.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Don’t Be Denied, Neil Young


Between February 1972 and April 1973 Neil Young recorded three of his darkest and most misunderstood albums. Coming off the success of his work with Crosby, Stills and Nash, then his blockbuster country rock album Harvest (1972), he had the music world eating out of his hand. He even had a #1 hit with Harvest’s “Heart of Gold.”

But Young famously wrote in the liner notes to his Decades compilation: “‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.” This quote is responsible for the next three albums – Time Fades Away, Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach – to become known as “The Ditch Trilogy.”

When Time Fades Away was released, fans expecting the follow up to Harvest to contain more material in the singer/songwriter vein were caught by surprise. Was Young intentionally trying to sabotage his own career? Clearly, they weren’t aware of the anguish Young was facing at the time – the first hint of which he tossed out on Harvest’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” – a song that bore his observations of the effects of bandmate Danny Whitten’s heroin addiction.

In fact, Young and his band were rehearsing for a tour to promote Harvest at his ranch south of San Francisco when Whitten’s substance abuse caused him to struggle to learn and play his parts. Though Young tried to help him out, he was finally persuaded it wasn’t going to work out. He gave Whitten $50 bucks and a ticket back to LA. That night Whitten ODed and died. Young felt responsible.

But the tour was about to begin, so Young headed out on the road with no time to grieve. Instead, he dropped the material he was supposed to promote and instead played a set of loud, menacing, new songs that were a better reflection of his mood. That became the live album Time Fades Away.

The signature song from Time Fades Away is “Don’t Be Denied”, penned the day after Whitten died.

Its autobiographical lyrics cover Young’s journey from his father’s abandonment to schoolyard bullying, to rock and roll stardom. But he ruefully concludes:

Well, all that glitters isn’t gold
I know you’ve heard that story told.
And I’m a pauper in a naked disguise
A millionaire through a business man’s eyes.

Part 2 of the trilogy – Tonight’s the Night – is coming next week.

Enjoy… until next week.