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Monday, February 02, 2015

Album Cover of Neil Young's Life on Geffen Records


Life by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
1987

Well here's something that we had forgotten about that's fascinating regarding Neil Young's Life album cover.

Released on Geffen Records in 1987, the relationship between Neil Young and David Geffen was very strained -- to be put it mildly -- while a multi-million dollar lawsuit ensued over a record contract.

Trying to escape the contract with Geffen, Neil must have felt imprisoned. Look closely at the closeup below, on the prison wall.

(Click photo to enlarge)

From book excerpt “Shakey” by Jimmy McDonough (Thanks Gary C.!):
“Young openly attacked the head of his label in the media. Geffen “missed his calling in life,” he told Much Music in 1986. “He should’ve been a dictator in an art colony.” The cover of the next album, Life, would show Young behind bars, the number of records he’d made for Geffen scratched out on the prison wall.

Briggs was brought in three weeks into the tour to pull an album out of the mess. “When they called me, they had already done fifteen shows and it was already in the shitter. Neil was an angry, angry guy—he was in a rage at everybody, and everybody hated him for it.”

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13 Comments:

At 2/02/2015 08:08:00 PM, Blogger timothy fontenot said...

I'm happily stunned by all the consecutive articles on NY's music. Could this be NY'S greatest year in music since '79?

 
At 2/02/2015 08:54:00 PM, Blogger setlistthief said...

That must be what resulted in "Muddy Track." Yeah, Neil's pretty angry in that one. It's ugly.

 
At 2/02/2015 09:36:00 PM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

I can't speak for the rest of the tour, but the Detroit show was outstanding, with no evidence of an angry Neil. The standout was Inca Queen for me. The show also featured one of Neil's more fun stage shows- a fairly realistic depiction of a garage the band was playing in, complete with remote control rats running all over the stage. The lights were also a part of the show, as opposed to just subtle light changes. After the last encore, Neil ran out and pulled down a huge circuit breaker (or pulled out a big plug?), and the house lights went out, as if it was him actually pulling the plug on the whole show. Pretty fun all told.

The album gets short shrift from critics and disenchanted fans alike, but like any Neil album, there are more than enough transcendent moments, e.g. Long Walk Home, When Your Lonely Heart Breaks.

And has a major artist ever skewered the label and its head in as direct a way as "We don't wanna be watered down, takin' orders from record company clowns." (Prisoners Of Rock And Roll)? Not that I can think of. Just think about it for a moment. Your David Geffen, and your assistant walks into your office to play the record your company is about to put out. The juvenile, in your face guitar chords and lyrics come pounding through the sound system, dripping with sarcasm and venom:

People tell us that we play too loud
But they don't know what our music's about
We never listen to the record company man
They try to change us and ruin our band.

That's why we don't wanna be good
That's why we don't wanna be good
(Ohh, ohh, ohh, ohh, ohh) Prisoners of rock and roll.

Would've loved to have been a fly on the wall of that office...

A Friend Of Yours

 
At 2/02/2015 10:29:00 PM, Blogger setlistthief said...

I saw the Miami shows in 1986 and although the memory's a little faded now, I remember them as both being excellent. And I can definitely remember the 2nd night's "Opera Star." The James L. Knight Center nearly caught fire during that one, Neil's guitar was incendiary.

 
At 2/03/2015 09:09:00 AM, Blogger LJB said...

I think the Tour they are talking about Neil being angry was in 1987. The Neil in a Rusted garage was 1986 and relatively happy. The 1987 Tour started as acoustic then it had a 3 song mini-blues set, then a Crazy Horse 3rd set. this is the tour Neil was angry at the world.

 
At 2/03/2015 01:16:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

I recall the tours from both '86 & '87 very fondly. Saw the shows in Baltimore and Columbia, MD and they were as good or better than any other shows I've seen. Crisp guitar, new and old and unreleased songs, good voice and a playful raw energy.

Yes, the Geffen years were to a large degree dark years, but to me, both Landing on Water and Life were/are much better than most people seem to acknowledge. plus, getting sued by his record company gave Neil an artistic credibility that still surrounds him.

More often than not, what Neil and his cohorts consider good/bad music doesn't mesh with mine. I'm in the minority, but at this point, I find NY/CH live shows incredibly boring and painful to watch. Not sure when never-ending, non-melodic noise was considered good music, but it started with the Weld tour to my ears.

They're still capable of great music, but our hero would rather embrace dissonance. In a way, we owe the Geffen years for that "freedom"..

 
At 2/03/2015 02:50:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

The "angry" tour referred to in the "Shakey" excerpt above was the Rusted Out Garage tour of the U.S. in October-December 1986, which led to the "Life" album, followed by the similar (but less elaborately staged), semi-disastrous European tour in April-June 1987 that produced "Muddy Track."

And no, this will not be Neil's greatest year in music since 1979. Not by a long shot.

 
At 2/03/2015 08:20:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

@timothy - Could this be NY'S greatest year in music since '79?

One can hope, but that's a high water mark that'll be very tough to beat. Anything in particular make you feel this is remotely possible? The Nelson Boys maybe???

@setlistthief - Didn't "Muddy Track" come earlier?

@Greg - thanks for memories! Yes, "Inca Queen" was sublime in concert.

Most of the "minor" Neil albums get short shrift from critics and fans it seems. And as time marches on it gets worse and worse. Just look at the reaction to Letter Home and Storytone. It's like the albums didn't even happen.

And no, never has a major artist ever done such a big FU. Except for maybe Surfer Joe & Moe The Sleaze dedicated to record execs Joe Smith & Mo Ostin.


@LJB Thanks for rundown. It's Angry World - Part #1.

@ TopangaDaze - kinda ironic that getting sued by your record company instills artistic credibility.

@ Babbo B. - thanks for chronology. Agree, not by a long shot.

 
At 2/03/2015 11:27:00 PM, Blogger nick said...

If there's one album of Neil's that needs to be remastered, it's Life. My CD sounds lifeless, I hardly ever listen to it even though it has some great songs.

Neil, for the love of god, please release remasters of all your albums from the mid-1970s to at least 1989. The remasters you've released so far sound amazing compared to the flatness of the original CDs. Please don't wait until we're all gone.

 
At 2/04/2015 12:10:00 PM, Blogger James Madigan said...

Hey, The Year of the Horse showcases the 1986 tour for all of it's anger and rage.

 
At 2/04/2015 01:03:00 PM, Blogger setlistthief said...

Sorry to be "that" guy but YOTH was 1996.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_of_the_Horse

 
At 2/04/2015 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Sandy Horne said...

My favorite album cover.

 
At 2/08/2015 05:40:00 PM, Blogger asg said...

and there's the closed circuit broadcast, if you can get it...about three hours long I think...

 

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