Neil Young's new album Peace Trail released on December 12th. Pre-order here
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Sunday, March 26, 2017

1977 Review: Neil Young - AMERICAN STARS 'N' BARS

Neil Young's American Stars 'N Bars - 1977
(Back cover)

As Neil Young's 2017 sabbatical continues, we've been plowing deep into the Thrasher's Wheat Archives Vaults.

Here's a look back at Neil Young's 1977 album American Stars 'N Bars by PAUL NELSON, originally published in Rolling Stone on Aug 11, 1977:

Right now, I think it would be just about impossible to overrate Neil Young.

In the last few years he has web the most avant-garde styles to the corniest of archetypes-and deliberately ignored the public's penchant for pasteurized product by rampantly (im)perfecting Bob Dylan's crude but spontaneous recording technique. Seething with psychic dynamite, his raw and passionate electric-guitar playing boasts a tactility and uniqueness unmatched by any guitarist since Jimi Hendrix. Young has written songs as sensitive and beautifulas any by the most fragile and aesthetic singer/songwriter, yet he has played life-and-death rock & roll with the delirious ferociousness of the Rolling Stones at their most sordid and seedy. Of course, he has been misunderstood too quickly.

Since After the Gold Rush (1970) and Harvest (1972), many erstwhile admirers have filed strong charges of morbid self-indulgence and drugged-out incomprehensiveness against the later LPs. In The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Janet Maslin wrote: "With On the Beach, 1974, Tonight's the Night and Zuma, both from 1975, Young's progressively more rudimentary music did little more than reiterate the murkiness of his lyrics. His renunciation of artifice was so absolute it left him no room for either drama or tension." In the New York Times, John Rockwell, in a highly favorable review, characterized Young as "the quintessential hippie-cowboy loner, a hopeless romantic struggling to build bridges out from himself to women and through them to cosmic archetypes of the past and of myth." Well, no.

Unless one understands the "On the Beach"/"Motion Pictures"/"Ambulance Blues" trilogy from On the Beach (and "Don't Be Denied" from Time Fades Away), one simply cannot write intelligently about Neil Young. But when one understands these songs, one begins to perceive the exciting possibility that perhaps Young is rock & roll's first (and only?) postromantic. That he knows something that we don't, but should. Indeed, I suspect that Young took one of the longest journeys without maps on record, never even slowed up at the point of no return, but somehow got back anyway, a better man with all senses intact. When nearly overwhelmed by marital difficulties and the death of friends, he apparently looked into himself and managed an instinctive or willed act of Jungian purification that put him somewhat safely on the far side of paradise, if not paradox. I'm not saying he's happy, but who the hell is happy? For Young, being a postromantic probably means he still loves the war, but knows exactly how and where to invest his combat pay-he may lose it, but never hopelessly.

Romanticism is a foreign country; they do things differently there. It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Too homicidal. Having gotten through the more self-destructive aspects of romanticism, Neil Young certainly takes full advantage of his revisiting privileges, pointing out the highlights and contradictions of his itinerary to all who will listen.

Perhaps only a man who has known the answers can really see both sides of the questions. At any rate, Young's Mona Lisa smile from the barroom floor on the curious American Stars 'n Bars isn't so much arrogant ("If you can't cut it/Don't pick up the knife") as it is inclusive ("I know that all things pass/Let's try to make this last"). So inclusive, in fact, that the album can almost be taken as a sampler, but not a summation, of Young's various styles from After the Gold Rush and Harvest (much of the country rock) through On the Beach (the incredible "Will to Love") to Zuma ("Like a Hurricane" is a worthy successor to "Cortez the Killer" as a guitar showcase), with a lot of overlap within the songs.

If one can divide American Stars 'n Bars into major and minor Neil Young, I think that it breaks down this way: "The Old Country Waltz," "Saddle Up the Palomino," "Hey Babe," "Bite the Bullet" and "Homegrown" are excellent examples of country rock at its most pleasant and muscular. While these songs abstain from cloyingness and retain the artist's characteristic idiosyncrasies (Young is nothing if not quirky), they lack the necessary resonance to stand up to the LP's four masterpieces.

In "Hold Back the Tears" and "Star of Bethlehem," two songs about how it feels when you've just been left and didn't want to be, a corrosive view of love metamorphoses into hopefulness ("Hold back the tears and keep on trying/Just around the next corner may be waiting your true love"), with a final metaphor equating the inevitability of the quest for a meaningful relationship with the apotheosis of the religious experience.

Which leads right into the shining "Will to Love," a song that flies into the face of reason by flaunting the seemingly ridiculous-the thoughts of the singer as a salmon swimming upstream-in order to gain the truly sublime. And it works. (When was the last time you heard something like this on record?) Starting with a typical Young epigram ("It has often been my dream/To live with one who wasn't there"), the song moves from the manic to the depressive (the two lines about "a fire in the night") to a combination of both ("Now my fins are in the air/And my belly's scraping on the rocks") before homing in on the universal plight ("I remember the ocean from where I came/Just one of millions all the same ...") and promise (". . . but somewhere someone calls my name").

If Young's triumph is that he will never lose the way to love, his need to locate that special someone can certainly cause tribulations. "Like a Hurricane," with its gale-force guitar playing, is a perfect either/or,
neither/nor description of a modern-day Gatsby caught between the tangible idea of transcendental love and the intangible reality of it. Everything is "hazy," "foggy," lit by "moonbeam" and "the light from star to star."

I am just a dreamer
But you are just a dream
And you could have been anyone to me
Before that moment you touched my lips
That perfect feeling when time just slips
Away between us and our foggy trip

The first three lines imply that the singer's need to invent someone to love may be far greater than the someone he finds. One can infer from the last three lines that the feeling gained from the creation and the chance taken is undoubtedly worth it, no matter what the cost. Is there a happy ending? I don't think so. "I want to love you/But I'm getting blown away," Young sings. It's like Key Largo with feedback.

Although he may be circling in a peculiar and seemingly haphazard manner (some claim he has as many as nine unreleased albums), Neil Young has a very good chance to be the most important American rock & roll artist in the Seventies.

Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and others must be considered, of course, but I don't know anyone who goes after the essences with as much daring as Young. I don't know anyone who finds them like he does either.

(Posted: Aug 11, 1977)
For more, see American Stars 'N Bars - Neil Young Albums In Order and American Stars-n-Bars Shines in Spain.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Neil Young's "On The Beach": The Images Behind The Album Cover

"The Drought" & "On The Beach"

Recently, we posted on Neil Young's Decade: The Images Behind The Album Cover , which brought on a discussion of the various fonts used on Neil Young's album cover art. (Thanks Mr Tew!)

Neil Young's "On The Beach" album cover is considered to be one of his most creative and intriguing designs in his vast catalog. Is that a rocket ship in the sand? Who drank the can of Coors? What's with the newspaper headline? And the cheesy floral-print matching the tawdry beach-furniture, printed on the INTERIOR of the cover sleeve? How cool was that?!

You've been invited by a guest (with his back to you) to sit at a table on the beach where the ocean vista is obscured from view. We're only permitted to hear the waves roaring but we can't see it.

While it would seem that many of Neil Young's album covers have a rather tossed off feel, that's certainly not the case with the elaborate "On The Beach". For example, the "Living With War" cover is literally stenciled letters on a brown paper bag. In contrast, "On The Beach" album is meticulously designed right down to the inside of the album jacket matching the pattern of the inside of the umbrella on the cover.

"On The Beach" -- the final link of Neil Young's Ditch Trilogy -- is considered by many fans to be one of his best and their most favorite of all Neil Young album covers and artwork. Designed by Gary Burden, photographed by Bob Seideman, and graphic lettering by Rick Griffin, the cover is quite enigmatic with a Cadillac car fin jutting from the sand like a crashed rocket being buried by time. A shoeless Neil stares out into the ocean near a forlorn potted palm. A jaunty yellow beach umbrella matches Neil's jacket. The yellow theme is even continued with a Coors beer can on the table. Inside the album, things become even more crpytic with the album's liner notes. Fans have poured over Rusty Kershaw's strange handwritten note for clues and meaning often to no avail. Apparently, the recording sessions' heavy use of Honey Slides took a toll ... possibly to the creative sides' benefit?


But probably the most significant item on the cover is the newspaper's headline "Senator Buckley Calls for Nixon to Resign". (Young and Nixon have had a bitter and strange relationship over the years. From "Ohio" 's lyrics "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming" to "Campaigner's" lines "Even Richard Nixon has got soul", Neil has never made a secret of his feelings towards U.S. President Richard Nixon.)

Gary Burden
Apple Presentation
(Click photo to enlarge)

In an exclusive interview on Human with Gary Burden of R.Twerk & Co., the artist, art director, and designer talks about his journey along the Human Highway. Here's an interesting snippet:
Q: Besides the archives, a favorite Neil album design of yours?

Gary Burden: My favorite album cover that I have made, ever, is Neil Young’s “On the Beach.” This cover is loaded with information! From the styles of clothing and objects to the Coors can to the headline of the newspaper of the day of the photo shoot.

My final “gift” to the viewer/consumer was printing the tacky floral designs inside the sleeve.

That one blew the mind of the record company. Not in a good way!
(Complete interview on Human with Gary Burden.)

Which brings us to the rather fascinating article ON THE BEACH – Dali, Ballard, Neil Young and Cadillac Ranch | THE END OF BEING by James Reich.

The article brings together a series of unlikely events in 1974 between surrealist artist Salvador Dali, author J. G. Ballard, and musician Neil Young.

If you're unfamiliar with the post-nuclear apocalypse vision of Nevil Shute’s 1958 novel On The Beach (filmed by Stanley Kramer in 1959), than the article will help place Young's album in some perspective.

Ballard's followup novel The Drought was released in paperback in 1974 with David Pelham's cover art of the tail end of a yellow Cadillac part-submerged into the desert.

Salvador Dali - "Persistence of Memory"

James Reich analyzes the connections between the surrealism of Dali, Pelham & Griffin:
Uncannily, Pelham’s yellow Cadillac in the sand resurfaces in July 1974 in psychedelic poster artist Rick Griffin’s cover art for Neil Young’s album On The Beach.

Psychedelic art, even in a generalized sense, is indebted to surrealism, and this image makes specific use of its currency. The image and angle of the Cadillac tail in Griffin’s surreal photograph are strikingly close to Pelham’s illustration, and this is also the work that further binds Pelham’s work to Ballard’s fascination with Dali's The Persistence of Memory.

The melting watches and the dead tree of Dali’s 1931 painting are represented by the forlorn angle of a fringed beach umbrella over the disarray of a cocktail table that Young has abandoned to contemplate oblivion at the limit of the beach. The orange flowers printed on the fabric of the beach furniture, their particular shade and shape allude to Dali’s closed watch, swarmed with ants. The windblown newspaper wrapped about the base of the umbrella (headline calling for the resignation of Richard Nixon which would occur the following month) again marks the end of chronology. Dali’s Catalonian cliffs (absent from Pelham’s image for The Drought) are referenced in the indistinct coastline visible on the right of the record sleeve photograph.

Neil Young’s ragged hair replaces the pubic eyelashes of Dali’s abortive creature on the beach. Alienation and holocaust pervade the album from Young’s solitary abandonment during a radio interview in the title track, to the Manson Family allusions and autogeddon of Revolution Blues: “I got the revolution blues, I see bloody fountains, and ten million dune buggies comin’ down the mountains. 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.”
Check out ON THE BEACH – Dali, Ballard, Neil Young and Cadillac Ranch | THE END OF BEING by James Reich. (Thanks Roel!)

Art by Rick Griffin from Official "On The Beach" Songbook
So how "surreal" is "On the Beach"? Is it the irrational arrangement or disconnection of objects, notes, and subject matter? As others have pointed out, sometimes the most beautiful melodies in the world emerges from the loneliness, rejection and despair. Neil's muse inspires beauty which can also be evil and conniving and tempting -- exactly as Rick Griffin's art demonstrates, i.e., that muse can be very destructive making the "experience" surreal.

Anyone recall the 1959 film "On The Beach"?

Poster for film "On The Beach"

With Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Tony Perkins in starring roles and direction by Stanley Kramer, the film is based on Nevil Shute's 1957 novel on the aftermath of nuclear war.

Fascinating how the film and album have similar trajectories. On the album, Neil Young sings as if he's devising his exit plan the entire time because he knows the destructive nature of the muse which is anlagous to the theme of the novel and film. And this post apocalyptic world view was presaged by "After The Goldrush" -- but that's another story.

The vibe of the album is bleakly dark ("Burn outs stub their toes on garbage pails/ Waitresses are cryin' in the rain"), resigned ("Though my problems are meaningless/ That don't make 'em go away"), sometimes apocalyptic ("The world is turning/ I hope it don't turn away", and the Manson line: "But I hate them worse than lepers/ And I'll kill them in their cars".) Neil's psyche in music and lyrics reveals a man going through transformation via his art.

Rare "On The Beach" Image with Neil facing camera
More on Neil Young On The Beach reviews.

ps - Thanks for inspiration Father John Misty: "I think someone should start a website where they do modern-day music writing – the intersectional-virtue-warrior style of music writing – about old albums. With Neil Young's On The Beach it would be, “Oh, great. Another white man singing about how tough it is to be white.” "

pss - sooner or later it all gets surreal... or ... promise of the surREAL ...

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Here's the last call for the latest Thrasher's Wheat contest.

Uncut is publishing an updated version of its "Ultimate Music Guide: Neil Young "as a one-off 'bookazine'. And thanks to the good folks at UNCUT, we have a copy here at TW to giveaway in a contest. Full details here.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Neil Young's Decade: The Images Behind The Album Cover

Uncropped Image for Neil Young's Decade
by Tom Wilkes
(Click photo to enlarge)

As we reported earlier this week, Neil Young’s Decade album -- long out of print -- will be re-released on Record Store Day, April 22.

As evidenced by the comments here on Thrasher's Wheat, Neil Young’s Decade album is much beloved by longtime fans and -- for many -- served as the gateway album to Neil's musical catalog.

Now what about that cover image?

Designed by Tom Wilkes, he served as the art director, album cover designer, and photographer for the Decade album, as well as, other Neil Young albums such as “Harvest”.

And who is in the image on the cover behind the guitar case? The long time story has been that it was Neil's girlfriend Carrie Snodgrass out in the desert. However, upon closer look below, it does not appear to be Carrie at all.

Alternate Image for Neil Young's Decade
by Tom Wilkes
(Click photo to enlarge)

Upon doing a little more research, from "Shakey" by Jimmy McDonough: "The packaging was great - wry notes on each song handwritten by Young himself, and a cover photo obscure even by Young's standards - the girlfriend of art director Tom Wilkes standing out in the desert, balancing a well-traveled guitar case on her back."

From Mr Music Head (Thanks Mother Nature on the Run!):
Tom Wilkes was an art director, album cover designer, and photographer who blazed a graphic trail throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, creating high concept visual statements that have become iconic cultural artifacts. A graduate of Art Center, he got his start pinstriping hot rods and motorcycles in the 50s before opening his own design studio in Long Beach and moving into record company work with an album for The Coasters. His covers include “Flowers” and “Beggars’ Banquet” for the Stones, the stairwell albums for the Beatles, “All Things Must Pass” and “Living In The Material World” for George Harrison, “Harvest” and “Decade” for Neil Young, the whiteface album for Ike & Tina Turner, and many, many more.

In 1967, as art director for the Monterey Pop Festival, Tom was given a painting by The Beatles, a work that has since become known as “The Dead Sea Scroll Of Rock And Roll.” In the late-70s, he became friends with John and Toni Lilly who introduced him to the concept of dolphin intelligence. After several profound encounters, Tom created Project Interspeak and spent the rest of his life trying to mount a global concert on behalf of the dolphin nation…with the Beatles’ artwork a possible funding source.

He lived a highly adventurous life filled with wild times and beautiful women, and is celebrated in the memory of those who knew him as one of the great rebellious spirits, and artists, of his time.

Alternate Image for Neil Young's Decade
by Tom Wilkes
(Click photo to enlarge)

David Fricke, a senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine said of Wilkes work that:
"He was able to capture a certain essence of what was on the record and the person who made it.

"You look at something like Neil Young's 'Harvest,' the texture of the cover and that very simple, almost antique lettering, and you get a feel of what Neil was trying to do in that record, the honesty and the grit and the deep Americana of what that record represents now."

Tom Wilkes: 1939 - 2009

R.I.P. Tom. We've always admired your work.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Neil Young’s Decade To Be Re-Released on Record Store Day, April 22

Neil Young Vinyl Shopping - April 16, 2011*
Plan9 Music, Richmond, Virginia
Photo by Emaleigh Franzak

As you may recall, Neil Young showed his support of Vinyl & Independent Record Stores back in 2011, on International Record Day.

Now comes word that Neil Young’s Decade album -- long out of print -- will be re-released on Record Store Day, April 22. This will be a 3-LP, Black Vinyl Set and limited to 5,000 copies. The remastered release will also contain two Henry Diltz photo reproductions.

So just how important is Neil Young’s 1977 Decade album? From "How Neil Young’s Decade Changed My Life" | Harp Magazine by Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon:
"I can't remember the first Neil Young song I ever heard, but I remember the first album I owned: Decade. I had that, and then Live Rust. My earliest memories of these albums are of sleepy days inside, getting high, sitting in my room next to the turntable. I'd stare transfixed into the blurry, psychedelic photos of Live Rust, and look for deeper meaning in the handwritten notes of Decade's foldout. I loved music--Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd--but Neil Young was closer down to earth. I'd lose myself in these albums--in the 'burned out basement' of "After the Gold Rush," in the sentimental themes of "I Am a Child" and "Sugar Mountain." The guitar solos from "Cortez the Killer" and "Down by the River" were drawn out and hypnotic and seeped into my pores like a narcotic that has never left my system."

More on Neil Young's influences on other artists.

Also, see REVIEW: Decade - Neil Young Albums In Order.

(*NOTE, check the album in the front bin. Cosmic coincidence? Or simply synchronicity...)

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Rick James and Neil Young: Drawn and Recorded

As everyone knows, there is a very interesting history between Neil Young and Rick James.

And if you are not up to speed on the incredible back story of Neil Young and Rick James, then you are in luck because an edition of Spotify's series "Drawn & Recorded" tackles the subject as only an animation series could possibly do.

Producer T-Bone Burnett, along with illustrator Drew Christie and TV producer Bill Flanagan, tell the tragic story of the band "The Mynah Birds", back in Toronto in 1966 where Neil Young played together with the future funk legend known as "Superfreak" Rick James.

For more details on this arrangement, also see Rick James, Neil Young and The Mynah Birds.

Keepin' jive alive in T.O.

(Thanks Rusted Moon!)

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Neil Young FAQ:
Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker
"an indispensable reference"

Paul McCartney and Neil Young


"You can make a difference
If you really a try"

John Lennon and Neil Young

"hailed by fans as a wonderful read"

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:
The Supergroup of the 20th Century

Director Jonathan Demme's Exquisite film "Heart of Gold"

eddie & neil
Eddie Vedder and Neil Young

Revisiting The Significance of
The Buffalo Springfield

"The revolution will not be televised"
... it will be blogged, streamed,
tweeted, shared and liked
The Embarrassment of Mainstream Media

Turn Off Your TV

2014 Neil Young Year in Review:
Yes, Only Love Can Break (& Fix) Your Heart

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain and Neil Young

Neil Young's Feedback:
An Acquired Taste?

Young Neil: The Sugar Mountain Years
by Rustie Sharry "Keepin' Jive Alive in T.O." Wilson

"the definitive source of Neil Young's formative childhood years in Canada"

neil & joni
Joni Mitchell & Neil Young

europe 1987.jpg

Bob and Neil

So Who Really Was "The Godfather of Grunge"?

Four Dead in Ohio
kent state
So What Really Happened at Kent State?


dissent is not treason
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism

Rockin' In The Free World

Sing Truth to Power

Emmylou Harris and Neil Young

Wilco and Neil Young


Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young


Elton John and Neil Young

Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young

Neil Young Nation -
"The definitive Neil Young fan book"

What does the song mean?

Random Neil Young Link of the Moment
I'm Proud to Be A Union Man


When Neil Young is Playing,
You Shut the Fuck Up

Class War:
They Started It and We'll Finish It...

A battle raged on the open page...
No Fear, No Surrender. Courage

"What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees?"

"I've Got The Revolution Blues"

Willie Nelson & Neil Young
Willie Nelson for Nobel Peace Prize

John Mellencamp:
Why Willie Deserves a Nobel


Love and Only Love

"Thinking about what a friend had said,
I was hoping it was a lie"

We're All On
A Journey Through the Past

Neil Young's Moon Songs
Tell Us The F'n TRUTH
(we can handle it... try us)

Does Anything Else Really Matter?

"Nobody's free until everybody's free."
~~ Fannie Lou Hamer

Here Comes "The Big Shift"

Maybe everything you think you know is wrong? NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS
"It's all illusion anyway."

Propaganda = Mind Control
Guess what?
"Symbols Rule the World, not Words or Laws."
Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge
Be The Rain, Be The Change

the truth will set you free
This Machine Kills Fascists

war is not the answer
yet we are
Still Living With War

"greed is NOT good"
Occupy the Music

Hey Big Brother!
Stop Spying On Us!
Civic Duty Is Not Terrorism

The Achilles Heel
Orwell (and Grandpa) Was Right
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”
~~ Bob Marley

The Essence of "The Doubters"

Yes, There's Definitely A Hole in The Sky

Even Though The Music Died 50+ Years Ago
Open Up the "Tired Eyes" & Wake up!
"consciousness is near"
What's So Funny About
Peace, Love, & Understanding & Music?




(Between the lines of age)

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

~~ John & Paul