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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Comment of the Moment: Defending Neil Young's 'Are You Passionate?'

Are You Passionate? by Neil Young
(Click photo to enlarge)

The Comment of the Moment posits the case for defending 'Are You Passionate?' from the post Neil Young's "Ditch Quadrilogy" Re-Re-Release Coming by Ian:
On the Beach is my favorite "ditch" record, particularly side 2, and particularly the title song and Motion Pictures).

Also, See the Sky About to Rain is incredibly overlooked in my opinion. Even so, Time Fades Away, which I have a good second hand vinyl LP of, has definite moments for me: Journey Through the Past, The Bridge, and Love in Mind are beautiful acoustic tracks. I've always liked the urgency and attitude of Yonder Stands the Sinner. I do think TFA has attained a mythical/legendary status partly due to its lack of consistent availability over the years, and it's possible that the reputation would be impossible for any album to live up to for some people. Nonetheless I'm glad to hear it's being made more widely available. I love vinyl myself and in any event, I think a petition to release anything on CD is a little out of date. Indeed, Neil may be choosing now to rerelease TFA on formats other than CD because CDs are finally becoming obsolete and he feels that the current formats, including both his Pono system and the resurgent vinyl, are the best showcase for the album.

@Joseph Werefelman: Good point about Le Noise. I'd have thought Fork in the Road would be a much likelier target, recalling the virtual rioting that took shape on this very blog back in 2009.

For most of the less-loved albums, I could point out at least a couple of worthy tracks. I'll probably go to my grave defending Are You Passionate?, which I find a really interesting experiment with soul and Motown sounds. A while ago, I called She's a Healer as soul-grunge, a description I still adhere to, and could point out a handful of others: the title number, Two Old Friends, Mr. Disappointment, Differently, and course, the Crazy Horse interlude Goin' Home, complete with Ralph Molina's impression of Native American battle drums. Add in a couple of highly textured numbers that seem tailor-made for lovemaking (When I Hold You in My Arms, Quit) and Be With You, a shot of soul almost straight out of Sam & Dave territory, with just the right seasoning of gospel to fit an album that I'm sure is partly Neil's ode to the legacy of African American musicians on popular music of the last century, and there's an album that covers an impressive breadth of feelings and themes.

I admit, I wish APY? weren't so overshadowed by Let's Roll. The song was likely an instantaneous response to events (particularly the tragedy of Flight 93) at the time, but understandably leaves mixed impressions years later in a world that is not only post-9/11, but also post-Iraq invasion and still deeply entangled in the Mideast. However, NY's performance of "Imagine" at a 9/11 benefit show, not to mention Greendale and the 2006 CSN+Y Freedom of Speech US tour, should reaffirm that our Neil's heart is in the right place. I like to think that the anguish of Are You Passionate? (the song) and the earnest peace-seeking of Two Old Friends are more nuanced, temperate counterpoints to the bombast and bellicosity of Let's Roll. It could even be that the specter of 9/11, as presented directly through Let's Roll, is part of what gives AYP? (the album) emotional thrust. It shows how harrowing things can get "in a world that never stops turning on you", and lends deep credence to the central, urgent insistence that "We've got hold onto something in this life".

It's really a shame that AYP? is often dismissed as A) Another simple genre exercise and B) A series of repetitive, sappy love songs interrupted by a brief outburst of uncharacteristic flag-waving, when it may actually be one of Neil Young's most emotionally honest and unrestrained albums since the psychological depths of the Ditch era this thread is celebration, while still managing to be a (mostly) entertaining and even fun tribute to the sounds of '60s soul.

Thanks for the memories Ian. Yes, you are passionate.

We recall on the 10th Anniversary of the release of Neil Young’s Are You Passionate? album your mentioining the alternate track listing on the post-it notes on back cover. You found that this re-ordering of tracks makes the album darker and heavier.

Intriguing and we need to try and re-shuffle the tracks sometime on our PONO.

In the critics' game of "Hits & Misses", Are You Passionate? often falls into the category of "Misses". But is it finally time for a re-evaluation, like much of Young's back catalog that is classified as "Misses"?

Over at Ultimate Classic Rock Matthew Wilkening thinks so with the article "Neil Young’s ‘Are You Passionate?’ Turns 10 Years Old".
As the camouflage, rose and romantic portrait on the cover art indicates, the lyrics on many of this album’s 11 songs deal with familiar themes of love and war.

Young had toured with the famous instrumental R&B group [Booker T & the M.G.’s] as his backing band way back in the early ’90s, but it was nearly a decade before they released a record together.

Just in case you’re not clear who he’s working with, Young works musical quotes from the band’s 1969 hit ‘Time is Tight‘ into two tracks on the record — ‘Be With You’ and album opener ‘You’re My Girl.’

The Memphis Soul legends’ tight grooves and inherent professionalism provide an interesting contrast to Young’s untamed guitar on many of the songs, even if his vocals seem oddly polished on a couple of tracks.

More of Ultimate Classic Rock | "Neil Young’s ‘Are You Passionate?’ Turns 10 Years Old" by Matthew Wilkening. Also, see Are You Passionate? by Neil Young:
Albums In Order Review Series by Mike "Expecting 2 Fly" Cordova

As for trivia, the album's title is a homage to The Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967 album "Are You Experienced?". Also, the back cover lists song titles, all of which appear on CD except for "Gateway of Love". Go figure.

Neil Young

Speaking of passion, see The (Dis)-Passion of A Neil Young Fan.

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At 8/20/2016 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Christian said...

I too really liked Are You Passionate? when it came out (other than Let's Roll, which doesn't fit in with the other material and just isn't a very good song). I always loved the riff from the title track, the Crazy Horse rocker Goin' Home, and Quit and Mr. Disappointment have a great feel to them. Too bad too many gave it a perfunctory listen and then wrote it off as another genre experiment.

At 8/20/2016 09:30:00 PM, Blogger onthebeach said...

AYP? was Neil's current album when I began buying his music (I bought it and Decade first) so it will always hold a special place in my heart. I never really thought of similarities between AYP? and the Ditch Trilogy before, but after reading the comment I can see it. Now I think I'll go give it another spin with that in mind! I always find it interesting why Neil leaves off songs listed on the cover or in the liner notes (Gateway of Love, Get Around, If You Got Love, etc) I guess we'll finally hear the studio version of Gateway on Archives 4?

At 8/21/2016 01:14:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

He should've left them all off. It's a stinker of a record.

At 8/21/2016 03:59:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Love discussing the lesser talked about Neil albums, and AYP definitely fits the bill. For the most part, I really liked it. Although I feel the album is thrown off course by "Goin Home", after the intense Crazy Horse stampede, the record limps until "She's A Healer" kinda picks things up.

The first half of the album is pretty much tremendous. "Mr Disappointment" is great in it's brutal honesty, "Quit" and "Differently" are fun, but the highlight is the title track. "Are You Passionate" features some of the best lyrics Neil has written in the last twenty years, the third verse an absolute killer. Hearing Neil's voice crack on the line "Well, I'm right with you" has driven me to tears more than once. Then, after that you get the incredible "Goin Home".

So even though I think the album dips after the Horse song, there is plenty of good stuff to make it an enjoyable, and unique, Neil experience.

At 8/21/2016 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...


'No time for indecision
We've got to make a move
I hope that we're forgiven
For what we gotta do
How this all got started
I will never understand
I hope someone can fly this thing
And get us back to land'


'Shirts in the closet, shoes in the hall
Mama's in the kitchen, baby and all
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
But you're missing

Coffee cups on the counter, jackets on the chair
Papers on the doorstep, you're not there
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
But you're missing

Pictures on the nightstand, TV's on in the den
Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
For you to walk in, for you to walk in
But you're missing, you're missing
You're missing when I shut out the lights
You're missing when I close my eyes
You're missing when I see the sun rise
You're missing

Children are asking if it's alright
Will you be in our arms tonight?

Morning is morning, the evening falls I have
Too much room in my bed, too many phone calls
How's everything, everything?
Everything, everything
You're missing, you're missing

God's drifting in heaven, devil's in the mailbox
I got dust on my shoes, nothing but teardrops'

At 8/21/2016 06:23:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments here. I'm glad to see some positive feelings here about this album, plus a few mentions of Gateway of Love and other unreleased songs. My interest in APY? does leave me enthusiastic for the (hopefully) eventual release of Toast, the unfinished Crazy Horse album that evolved into AYP? and from which Goin' Home originates. AYP? is not a perfect album, and I'm tempted to think part of the challenge is how much ground it's attempting to cover at once, but it's definitely more interesting than I think many initially released. The "many" would have to include me, as this album really did take a while to grow on me. It's not like I got to this point overnight. It's taken several years of knowing there was "something" about the album, but I just couldn't put my finger on it, so I've returned to it on and off for a while and started to appreciate some of the nuanced things about it. And full disclaimer: I'm the same guy who counts Trans and Sleeps with Angels among his all-time NY favorites, and I think Prairie Wind was a little overhyped compared to '00s albums like Silver and Gold or Chrome Dreams II. So my tastes can be a little eccentric.

Actually, there's something unusual about how I listen to AYP?. More than any other NY LP, this one where I'm continually tempted to listen to the tracks in varying orders. I actually settled on an order based on the picture on the back of the album cover, eliminating the unreleased Gateway of Love. The photo has a bunch of cards spread out with the names of all the AYP? tracks plus Gateway of Love. This order is what you get when you read the rows of cards left to right, from the top row to the bottom row (minus Gateway). I imagined the LP side divisions for myself. I think I posted this before, possibly for an AYP? 10th anniversary thread in 2012, but in case anyone is interested, here goes:

Side 1:

1. When I Hold You in my Arms
2. She's a Healer

Side 2:

3. You're My Girl
4. Differently
5. Be with You
6. Mr. Disappointment

Side 3

7. Two Old Friends
8. Goin' Home

Side 4

9. Let's Roll
10. Are You Passionate?
11. Quit (Don't Say You Love Me)

The edges don't quite join up at times, but that almost seems like part of the experience, and I would say the same of the actual sequence used on the CD. A question lots of people, including me, were asking when I first read the back cover photo as an alternate track list, might be Why would you put She's a Healer, a climactic piece, at the front of the album? But for me, the track actually clicked into place as an overture of sorts and tone-setter for the album, with When I Hold You in Arms and Quit actually becoming bookends. Those two songs have a lot in common, and I didn't realize it until I started listening to them as bookends, parts one two of the same story. Both songs seem to capture "passionate" between lovers and are the only songs on the album staged as direct conversation between man and woman, in an intimate environment and dwelling on the longevity of their relationship and its vital importance to them. More superficially, they're both marked by the prominence of female backing vocals and a gentle piano part interlaced with Neil and Pancho's mellow guitar licks. Maybe it's just "all one song", as we like to say far too often.

Over the years, I did actually did come up with a third alternative track list. in case anyone else is as crazy a me, I'll throw it in:

1. Be With You
2. Mr. Disappointment
3. She's a Healer
4. When I Hold You in my Arms
5. Let's Roll
6. Are You Passionate?
7. You're My Girl
8. Differently
9. Two Old Friends
10. Goin' Home
11. Quit

No disrespect or disregard is intended for Neil's original intent and track list. For me, this has just been part of a years-long process of appreciating this album.

At 8/21/2016 08:44:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks to all and Mr Ian for insights.

Once yet again, Neil fans demonstrate that they are some of the most knowledgaebale music aficionados in the universe.

2 points Ian.

#1) Regarding track sequence. Did you see comment on thread? The point was that track sequencing was not necessarily dictated by logic. I.e., the sonic limitations of vinyl were often the primary driver. As in, tracks with reverb and low frequencies were placed on outer (fatter) grooves while high end and treble tracks were placed on inner (thinner) grooves.

Who knew???

#2) 'Are You Passionate?' is a tribute to Jimi & a play on his 'Are You Experienced?' album.

Who knew???

At 8/22/2016 07:21:00 PM, Blogger mrtew said...

I love this album except for Lets Roll and maybe I'm deaf but I don't hear it as a genre deviation at all. It sounds just like Broken Arrow and Greendale and Silver&Gold and even Mirror Ball and Sleeps with Angels to me. They're all amazingly beautiful albums and it was not only a time in NY's life where he was REALLY focusing on music's quality like rarely before or after, both lyrically and even more so with the quality of his voice. During the 90s he started singing low and it sounds so cool and rocking compared to the high voice he is famous for both before and since. Between the rocking guitars and almost punch drunk baritone vocals this album is almost like the 2nd coming of Joy Division more than black gospel to me. Turn up the bass and it sounds just like Ragged Glory!

At 8/24/2016 02:12:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

@Thrasher--Yes, I spotted those posts. Interesting stuff. I've always sensed that album sequence/structure is important to NY (and other artists) and, after years of listening to Neil, I feel like I've picked up on some patterns in the way he arranges the tracks on albums, so I tend to enthuse on the subject any chance I get. I think it's wonderful progress that album sequencing has come to be a matter of artistic intention, not just technical concerns.

@John Tewks--Your comments are interesting, both about AYP?, and especially about Neil's low voice. I particularly noticed the low voice on Without Rings from the SIlver and Gold album, which came right before AYP?. I don't know whether Neil has consistently used a substantial lower tone or register since then, but it shows up every now and then (like Mr. Disappointment on AYP? or Bandit from Greendale. I think part of it is that he has to sing a little lower as he gets older. The live Earth album this summer provides evidence, especially in the recording of After the Goldrush. Where the original studio version of ATGR is one of those songs where Neil goes to the surreal, unearthly part of his upper range, the new live version sounds to me like it's clearly a lower register. But that's different from a conscious change of tone. Without Rings is the strongest example I can think of for Neil intentionally employing a lower vocal tone and it works very well in that case.

About whether AYP? has a strong genre element, yeah, it does sound more like the same old Neil the more I listen to it, especially the heavy guitar tone and just the general subject matter of the lyrics. It's not radically deviation, but I think there's enough of a difference, I think, to to draw attention at least at the surface level and possibly distract some listeners who are interested in a really pure Crazy Horse sound and/or classic NY acoustic folk. As I said above, people will some times get too hung up on what the album sounds like on the surface. And that's especially true where it's perceived that Neil is just doing another genre thing: Trans, Shocking Pinks, International Harvesters, Blue Notes, and on. Yet my experience with many of those genre albums is that Neil takes whatever he's doing and adds his unique pedigree to it. The music and words are usually personal in some ways. In certain cases, like Trans, the entire concept arises from a deeply personal place (for Trans, the struggle to communicate with his disabled son), rather than just being an experiment or capitalizing on some trend. I don't think Neil Young has ever been one to capitalize on trends, as his going back to the country when it was none too fashionable, shows. People should try to look at these "genre" albums a little more deeply, getting beyond the fact that it just sounds a little different, and they might find some of these albums have more going for them than just the superficial.

At 8/26/2016 06:15:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

All good points Ian.

In particular:" People should try to look at these "genre" albums a little more deeply, getting beyond the fact that it just sounds a little different, and they might find some of these albums have more going for them than just the superficial. "

Spot on. Many folks are always saying how Neil's all over the map, inconsistent, genre hopping, etc. As you indicate, if you get deeper into the context on many levels it can all make sense and resonate.

But so many are so tuned into the surface look of things without making the effort involved in the deeper introspection.

At 9/05/2016 04:05:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

One of the small disappointments for me was media-related! I had just bought an HDCD player and Neil's first effort since I had bought it was a CD that was not encoded with that technology l! Oh the ways of Neil!!!!


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