Tag Archives: Neil Young

Rocks In The Attic #738: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Gold’ (1972)

rita#738Our weekly Wednesday night pub quiz had a great question the other night. There’s a round called The List where you have to, erm, list ten of something. It’s either something boring – the ten longest rivers of the world, or the ten countries with the highest population, for example – or it will be something from popular culture. Ten Tintin books, ten films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ten Oscar nominations for Meryl Streep have been my favourites so far.

I’m waiting for the day that the question relates to the James Bond films…

The trick is that you only get points for an unbroken run of answers, so if you get your eighth answer wrong, you would only get seven points (even if answers nine and ten are correct). In other words, the strategy is to put down your dead-certs first, with anything you’re unsure about down at the bottom of the list.

Last weeks’ question was to name any ten of the twenty-two bands that played at the original Woodstock festival in 1969. Now, I could name ten artists who played quite easily, but the question clearly stated ‘bands’ and so it was much, much trickier.

rita#738a
Not only could I not remember some of the more obscure band names, but I also doubted how accurate the answers would be. Would they know, for example, that Hendrix’s band on the day wasn’t the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but the little-known Gypsy Sun & Rainbows? In the end, it turns out the quiz company did know this (they even had Hendrix’s second name when he referred to them as a plain ol’ Band Of Gypsies), but I was so confident that they wouldn’t, that I put it down as my tenth answer.

I got a pitiful six correct:
1. The Who
2. Canned Heat
3. Country Joe & The Fish
4. Jefferson Airplane
5. Santana
6. Ten Years After
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash (INCORRECT)
8. Big Brother & The Holding Company (INCORRECT)
9. The Mamas & The Papas (INCORRECT)
10. Gypsy Sun & Rainbows (CORRECT BUT NOT COUNTED)

rita#738bI did some healthy kicking of myself when the answers were read out. CSN was deemed incorrect because the band had been infiltrated by that Canadian interloper Neil Young by August ’69, Janis Joplin’s backing band at that time was the Kozmic Blues Band (having left Big Brother & The Holding Company the prior year), and the Mamas & the Papas was just plain wrong (I didn’t think they played, but thought that they might have been one of the bands not featured on the film soundtrack due to rights reasons, and more importantly my mother-in-law was adamant).

It’s interesting to look at the full line-up outside of the film and the accompanying soundtrack. It feels almost like bands as big as the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival have been written out of history because of their absence from the film.

rita#738cI wondered if their sets were even filmed, before old friend (and Woodstock expert) Moo sent me the link to the Creedence set on YouTube. It’s a ripper of a set, opening with a blustering version of Born On The Bayou. After the first song ends, John Fogerty looks at the cameraman and asks “Is that thing on now?” before the video cuts off. Much of the rest of the set is audio-only, with the video creeping back intermittently.

Is there a songwriter more overlooked than John Fogerty? His name should share the same breath as Brian Wilson, Lennon and McCartney and Ray Davies, but apart from the Dude, nobody else seems to care.

Hit: Proud Mary

Hidden Gem: Born On The Bayou

Rocks In The Attic #637: Boney M. – ‘Nightflight To Venus’ (1978)

RITA#637When I think about all the great disco groups of the 1970s, I’m not usually thinking about Boney M. To me, great disco was solely an American proposition – K.C. & The Sunshine Band, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Trammps. Even the Manx-born / Australian-bred Bee Gees sounded American during their genre-defining Saturday Night Fever period.

So a foreign-born – and most importantly, a foreign-sounding – disco band like Boney M. never really fit in anywhere. The band hail from the West Germany of the 1970s, with members originally from Jamaica, Aruba and Montserrat. If they had travelled north from the Caribbean, and landed in the USA they might have indeed been a vital part of the American disco scene.

Instead, their music is blighted by an economical, soulless Europop production by Frank Farian – the German producer behind the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal of the 1980s. They’re more Eurovision than Saturday Night Fever; more James Last than Nile Rodgers.

While the more artistically and commercially successful Abba have remained timelessly relevant on the strength of both their songwriting and the production of their material, Boney M. just feel synthetic, a product of the capitalist West Germany. They’re hugely successful however – having sold over 150 million records worldwide, so somebody must have liked them.

Once you look past the big singles – Rasputin, Rivers Of Babylon and Brown Girl In The Ring – this record isn’t too bad. The production-heavy opening track, Nightflight To Venus, gives drummer Keith Forsey a moment to shine on an otherwise dull record in terms of percussion (the rest of the album is very much driven by a straight 4/4 beat, with very little variation).

But it is the record’s final track, a cover of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold, that is the most surprising thing of all – surprising because it’s actually quite interesting in its vocal harmony arrangement. But of course, hearing one of Shakey’s better-known songs covered by a West German / Caribbean disco band has to be heard to be believed.

Hit: Rivers Of Babylon

Hidden Gem: Heart Of Gold

Rocks In The Attic #530: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ (1976)

rita530It’s a shame that the songwriting of Tom Petty hasn’t earned him a personalised adjective like other famous rockers. You could throw a couple of chords together and somebody might say it sounds Dylanesque, or if your song has a melodic walking bassline it could be accused of sounding McCartneyesque. But unfortunately if you write a song that has all the hallmarks of a Heartbreakers song, nobody says that it sounds a bit Petty. Maybe this does happen and all the recording studio bust-ups are over a simple misunderstanding.

I recently had a week off work. I caught a horrible virus from my four-year old, and felt like death for a few days. During that week – and you need that amount of time to set aside – I watched Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour Tom Petty documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been ill, but it was a really great watch regardless.

It’s become de rigueur for an all-encapsulating documentary to be directed by a big-name director. As well as Bogdanovich’s Petty-thon, there’s Scorsese’s doco on George Harrison, and Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam film. Concert films attract big names too – Jonathan Demme’s work with Talking Heads and Neil Young, Scorsese’s Last Waltz with the Band, Wim Wenders foray into Cuban music, Taylor Hackford’s profile of Chuck Berry, Scorsese’s and Hal Ashby’s work with the Stones. The list is endless, and probably driven by the fact that most film directors are big fans of music to begin with.

I can’t make my mind up about Tom Petty. I love his earlier material, like this album and the unequalled  Damn The Torpedoes, but his later work in the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond stray a little too close to the middle of the road for my liking. Maybe I’m just being a little Petty in saying that.

Hit: American Girl

Hidden Gem: Breakdown

Rocks In The Attic #495: Neil Young – ‘Harvest’ (1972)

RITA#495If ever I could pick a perfect album, this is one of the ones I would pick. Yes, it might not be to everybody’s taste, but in terms of a record that has a consistent level of quality songwriting from start to finish, it’s up there with the likes of Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon and Led Zeppelin IV.

I shouldn’t like it either. It’s got both feet firmly steeped in the country tradition, and I’m somewhat allergic to that most inbred of musical genres. It was recorded in Nashville too, so it’s the real deal. Young went down there and recorded the album with a pick-up band, writing out the charts for them using the Nashville number system they would have been very familiar with.

Of all the 33⅓ books I’ve read, the one on Harvest, by Sam Inglis has been my favourite so far. It’s one of the earliest ones in the series – the third one to be published – and is well recommended if you wish to know more about the recording of the record. Some of those 33⅓ books can be a bit hit and miss, but that one seems to stand out from that early bunch of titles.

I probably need a new copy of this record. I picked up a second-hand copy a few years ago that has definitely seen better days. The cover looks like it’s been under somebody’s pillow for 12 months, and there’s a fair bit of surface noise on the actual disc. Either that or Neil Young employed somebody to fry some eggs in the studio as they were recording.

Hit: Heart Of Gold

Hidden Gem: The Needle And The Damage Done

Rocks In The Attic #357: Neil Young – ‘After The Gold Rush’ (1970)

RITA#357Well I heard mister Young sing about her, well I heard ole Neil put her down, well I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.

There isn’t enough sniping between bands these days. It’s fun and reminds you that everybody’s playing in the same pool. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the level of antagonism on something like How Do You Sleep – John Lennon’s poison pen-letter to Paul McCartney. That’s taking it down to a schoolyard level (and anyway, McCartney’s initial snipe – a photograph of two beetles fucking each other on the rear cover of Ram – was far more tasteful).

But if it’s one band having a bit of a dig at another band, I usually love it. The above lyrics from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama showed that the rednecks weren’t too enamoured of Neil Young’s song on this album. As usual, with these sorts of things, it all got blown out of proportion and became widely known that Neil Young and Skynyrd didn’t get on.

The same is almost true of Steely Dan and the Eagles. First of all, the mighty Dan include the lyric ‘Turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening’ in the song Everything You Did, off The Royal Scam. Glenn Frey then returned the compliment by including the line ‘They stab it with their Steely knives’ in Hotel California. Most people think the two bands were at odds, but the Eagles loved Steely Dan and perhaps most importantly Donald Fagen and Walter Becker both had a respect for the Eagles – that’s Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Tim Schmit you can hear singing backing vocals on the Dan’s 1978 single FM (No Static At All).

I was expecting more snipes from Jack White against the Black Key’s Dan Auerbach on 2014’s Lazaretto, but it’s okay. It seems White was more concerned with rubbing his ex-wife’s face in his new-found promiscuity – ‘I got three women, red, blonde, and brunette, it took a digital photograph to pick which one I like’ – on Three Women, his version of Blind Willie McTell’s Blind Women Blues.

Hit: Southern Man

Hidden Gem: Cripple Creek Ferry

Rocks In The Attic #211: Bob Dylan – ‘John Wesley Harding’ (1967)

RITA#211This is fast becoming my second favourite Bob Dylan album – after 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I’m not usually the sort of listener who would favour acoustic guitar over electric, but I think Dylan sounds better here, stepping away from the heady mix of the his last couple of electric albums.

John Wesley Harding is very laid back, with a similar minimalist country feel that Neil Young would later employ on Harvest, and I think that’s what I like best about it.  It’s a very nice album just to listen to, without having to think about deciphering his lyrics. He sounds much more comfortable here, stepping out of the spotlight and away from his duties as the voice of a generation.

George Harrison must have been a fan of side-two opener Dear Landlord – his Old Brown Shoe (b-side to The Ballad Of John And Yoko) borrows more than a little of the progression in Dylan’s song.

Hit: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight

Hidden Gem: I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine

Rocks In The Attic #180: Bob Dylan – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1966)

RITA#180I was listening to Neil Young the other day, and suddenly realised that I’m much more in tune with Young’s brand of folk music. It’s not that I hate Dylan – I’ve recently become a convert (to his earlier material at least) – but his music seems completely devoid of humour. I’m sure if I took the time to decipher some of his lyrics, I’d find plenty of humour, but I really don’t have the time.

Neil Young, in comparison, comes across as more of a dangerous entity – all vague traces of threat and darkness. I sometimes wonder if North America got it wrong putting Dylan into the (unwanted) position as spokesman for the generation – perhaps they should have searched further North, over the border.

I’ve written before about my inability to remember (and in many cases, hear) lyrics. For me the music is far more important – regardless of how much credit is accorded to a songwriter purely for the words written down on paper. I find it much more satisfying to listen out for hidden things in the music – like the fact that Clapton is playing the melody of Blue Moon in the guitar solo of Sunshine Of Your Love, or the way Andy Summers strums chords to symbolise crashing waves in the post-chorus ‘breaks’ of The Police’s Message In A Bottle. This beats a handful of vague verses involving tambourines or the blowing wind any day.

Hit: Blowin’ In The Wind

Hidden Gem: She Belongs To Me