Thursday, September 20, 2007

Classic Bootleg Series Vol. 20: Neil Young - Chrome Dreams

If you need to come back, come back strong, I always say.

First off, my sincere thanks to all of you who expressed sympathy and offered music after my recent burglary experience. I never dreamed that TTT readers would respond the way they did to my misfortune, and it is no exaggeration to say that I was profoundly touched by the reaction and encouragement. So thanks, a million times -- as we say down south, y'all are the best. And once I get my musical bearings, I may take a few of you, especially you Atlanta locals, up on your generous offers. Special thanks, too, to my good buddy Rich, who carried the torch admirably during my 3-week hiatus. Rich, I'm prepared to shoulder some extra weight for a while to make it up to you. Thank you for being patient.

Second -- and as I was just about to say when I was so rudely interrupted -- it's about time for some classic Neil Young. Neil's been in the news in recent weeks after announcing that he will release a new album, Chrome Dreams II, on October 23. "Chrome Dreams Two?" many of you may have asked. "When was there ever a Chrome Dreams One?" And the answer is, there wasn't, because Neil's original Chrome Dreams is one of those great lost albums, from the further reaches of rock history, that never saw the light of day, except to boot collectors. The detailed liner notes from this particular version (the "Rust Edition", which draws from the very best sources) tell the tale better than I ever could:

Neil Young was on a creative high in 1975. By the end of the summer, Zuma was finished, though still not released. Yet Neil carried on recording his new songs. Sometimes he recorded solo and sometimes with Crazy Horse.

Lots of these songs would remain unheard by the public until quite a while later, but by late '75, Neil had already written and recorded versions of such future classics as "Like A Hurricane", "Powderfinger", "Sedan Delivery", "Pocahontas" and "Ride By Llama". He carried on recording in 1976. More great songs were put down on tape, such as "Will To Love", "Stringman" and "Campaigner".

Some of us may feel that the Long May You Run album with Stephen Stills robbed us of the natural successor to Zuma, but Stills always suspected that Neil was holding back his best stuff for his solo album. That solo album was a work in progress throughout this period. Titles were reported in the press: Ride My Llama, In My Neighborhood, American Stars 'N' Bars, Chrome Dreams.

When American Stars 'N' Bars was released in 1977, Neil had scrapped most of the material he'd been recording since late '75, replacing much of it with a series of rough hewn cowboy songs. Fun stuff to be sure, but had Neil committed the latest in a series of difficult to explain career suicides? Who else, except maybe Bob Dylan, would sit on a stash of such quality songs and not let the public hear them?

Tracks 1 to 12 of this compilation are thought to be the unreleased Chrome Dreams album, readied for release weeks before Neil recorded those country hoedowns and rethought his strategy. Some of these song titles will be more than familiar to you, but the actual performances may surprise you.

"Powderfinger" is performed as an unadorned solo acoustic song. "Sedan Delivery", a second song destined for Rust Never Sleeps, is presented in its pre-punked-up arrangement and, in many people's opinion, sounds all the better for that. You'll also find the definitive "Stringman", a song not given an official airing until Neil's Unplugged set, heard here in a 1976 live performance enhanced by subtle yet beautiful studio vocal and guitar overdubs. "Hold Back The Tears" is another solo performance, longer and more ghostly than its later remake for American Stars 'N' Bars. "Pocahontas" is the same performance as the one that made Rust Never Sleeps, but in its original "naked mix". "Too Far Gone" wouldn't be officially released until the Freedom album in 1989, yet here's a version from 14 years earlier, with Poncho Sampedro adding a tasty mandolin part.

The other six songs from the album were released unchanged on the albums American Stars 'N' Bars, Comes A Time and Hawks And Doves, yet you may still be able to pick out slight differences in the mixes. "Homegrown", for one, would seem to have a little more fire in the guitars. Have a listen and see what you think.

We've also chosen a select batch of bonus cuts to give you a further taste of just how creative Neil was during this fertile period. If the version of "White Line" (here retitled "River Of Pride", maybe because Neil forgot to sing the actual "white line" lyric) didn't make the Chrome Dreams shortlist, then its continued circulation among collectors is something of a mystery. Maybe it was pressed onto acetate as a possible contender for Decade, which Neil was also preparing at this time. Whatever the truth, it's a stupendous version of the song, recorded in 1975 with a loose and joyful Crazy Horse. Neil's remake for Ragged Glory in 1990 may have been fine, but it doesn't quite capture the spirit of this earlier version. "Campaigner" did make Decade, but not before losing one of its verses. You can hear the full-length version here.

Three live cuts follow. "No One Seems To Know" is an aching piano ballad that Neil once described as Part 2 of "A Man Needs A Maid". It's first class, but remains unreleased. "Give Me Strength" dates from an earlier, ill-fated album called Homegrown (an album that would have also featured "Star Of Bethlehem", the oldest cut in this collection) and is another lost classic. "Peace Of Mind" is heard as an electric rock song played with the Horse, and very different from the version Neil released on Comes A Time. And, as a nod to Zuma, we close with Crosby Stills Nash & Young. "Human Highway" was recording during the Stills-Young sessions in 1976. The song was always meant to be a CSNY track, but Neil had run out of patience by the Comes A Time LP.

Now you can have a glimpse of what might have been, which, come to think of it, is also true of the whole collection.

- Jules Gray (May 20, 2004)


Front cover
Inside cover
Back insert

01 Pocahontas
02 Will To Love
03 Star Of Bethlehem
04 Like A Hurricane
05 Too Far Gone
06 Hold Back The Tears
07 Homegrown
08 Captain Kennedy
09 Stringman
10 Sedan Delivery
11 Powderfinger
12 Look Out For My Love

Bonus Tracks:

13 River Of Pride (a/k/a "White Line", Unreleased Studio Version, 27 NOV 75)
14 Campaigner (Unedited, Unreleased Studio Version, Summer 1976)
15 No One Seems To Know (Live, Tokyo, Japan, 10 Mar 76)
16 Give Me Strength (Live, Chicago, IL, 15 Nov 76)
17 Peace Of Mind (Live, Chicago, IL, 15 Nov 76)
18 Human Highway (CSNY, Unreleased Studio Version, April 76)