Make no mistake. This record is the boiled down essence of genius. I guess I like it more than Neil Young does. But if you take Mr. Young’s analysis of his own work too seriously you’d think he was a failure. This is the guy who’s been working on a comprehensive box-set treatment of his entire catalog since I was in junior high school. I guess he’s got an inferiority complex. That’s his problem. This record is awesome.
Neil’s eponymous album is nearly perfect in every way. It’s the perfect transition record between Buffalo Springfield and the Crazy Horse years (it also happens to be the only album between the two). It’s heavy on careful song craft and mixing in a way that’s similar to what cutting a single for Buffalo Springfield must have been like. Sure, it’s overdub city. But, Neil plays all the overdubs to his advantage. Who can argue with layers and layers of Neil? Other than Neil? There’s some anger and emotional purging on this record that would become more prominent on his next album with Crazy Horse (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere). A whole lot of longing too. This guy can paint a lonely sound picture like no other.
Not too many guys are bold enough to start their solo career with an instrumental. Neil does just that with The Emperor of Wyoming. Gutsy. It sounds like it was written for a movie that plays in Neil’s mind. The Loner is next. That’s Neil. If I Could Have Her Tonight covers the longing angle pretty nicely as does the next cut, I’ve Been Waiting For You. Man, that song is so great I can listen to it over and over. The Old Laughing Lady is a tune that sounds like it should accompany a slide show about some lady you feel like you met years back. String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill is another instrumental and it was written by Neil’s friend Jack Nitzsche. Here We Are In The Years is about a bunch of life happening all around you stuff and What Did You Do To My Life is a haunting story of a woman splitting on Neil. Sorry, man. I’ve Loved Her So Long has some sweetly singing female backup vocals. Insanely great.
Which brings me to this. The last cut on the album. The Last Trip To Tulsa. Fantastic. Epic. Cinematic. But what does it mean? I couldn’t tell you and I’ve heard it a hundred and nine times. To me, it’s the kind of thing I dream about when I have a fever. Maybe it’s that way for Neil too. It’s Neil’s second installment in a series of songs which build strange image upon image throughout a long song very carefully crafted to make you feel something intense even when you can’t possibly understand what’s happening in it. The first Neil Young song like that? In my opinion it’s Broken Arrow by Buffalo Springfield (written by Neil). Bizarre in it’s vision and hideously awesome.
For weirdos only: Take a look at the photo of the reissue LP above. It’s missing Neil’s name on the cover (the sticker doesn’t count, Chachi). Just like the first pressing of Neil’s solo debut. That album came out on Neil’s birthday - November 12, 1968 - and sounded muddy enough that he quickly remixed it and re-released it early 1969 along with a new cover that proudly displays his name. The reissue I bought a couple years ago sounds awesome. You audiophile geeks probably already know how awesome it sounds. Blacker blacks. More transparency. Wider soundstage. Hahaha. And if you listen very carefully to I’ve Been Waiting For You, it confirms something I’ve long suspected. Neil needs a mint.