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Saturday, November 05, 2016

Bob Lefsetz: Neil Young On Spotify

So Neil Young has signed on with Spotify.

And what might this mean for PONO music?

Well, here's a take on this from the ever irascible Bob Lefsetz. Over the years, we've paid attention to Bob Lefsetz,fwiw. As folks may know, Lefsetz is quite an opinionated music business guy making all sorts of accurate and inaccurate prognostications.

For example, here's Lefsetz on Neil Young's interview on Howard Stern Show at "He was definitely not like anybody else".

And here's Bob Lefsetz on Neil Young's music being available now on Spotify:
Bob Lefsetz: Neil Young On Spotify

They all come back to the garden.

Let this be a lesson to those holding out, the streaming deniers, this is now, this is happening, get on the gravy train or be left behind.

It always happens.

Do you remember when acts wouldn't let their albums be released on CD? Hell, you still can't get that Buckingham/Nicks LP, the one on Polydor, with "Crying In The Night," it's arguably better than anything the duo has done since.


Everybody's so busy bitching about bread but when someone comes up with a fan-friendly way to make more they avoid it.

Pono was not fan-friendly. Its Toblerone box fit in no pocket and most people could not hear the difference. Hell, I A/B'ed it with Deezer Elite and my friends said the latter sounded better, there you have it. As for me... My house is loaded with stereo equipment but my listening device of choice right now is my cylindrical Amazon Echo speaker. Funny what we'll put up with in the name of convenience. I can't wait until Sonos goes voice-activated and my zones come alive.

I've been demonstrating the power of streaming services and Sonos for years, people didn't believe it existed, that the history of recorded music was at your fingertips. People still don't know how streaming works, seemingly every day someone e-mails me that they don't want to pay for data, what happens if they're out of cell range, when the truth is you can download thousands of tracks to your device and do it via wi-fi, but people don't want solutions, the early adopters start to rave and eventually it trickles down to the stuck in the mud Luddites.

Like those who lined up to embrace Pono.

First and foremost... Neil Young does not have 10,000 hours in device development, he doesn't know how to market electronic equipment. Why does everybody believe they can do everything? The truth is most people heard "Heart Of Gold" on systems so lame the Echo is probably superior in sound quality. Why penalize your fans? And, if you want to embrace higher quality audio, why not laud Deezer Elite? And Tidal? And implore Spotify and Apple and Amazon to offer a higher res option? You make much more progress inside the system, just ask the recently departed Tom Hayden. Then again, he never truly realized compromise was the key to forward movement.

Like Clayton Christensen says... The disruptive service starts off with low quality and then gets good enough to topple the standard. That's how MP3s beat CDs. It's how streaming is beating files. Get on board, it only gets better.

As for Neil... He gets tons of press but no sales, little listenership. What he needs to do is come out with one transformative track and then he could be king once again. Never mind "Ohio," which was written, recorded, pressed and shipped mere days after the Kent State tragedy, but there's the whole "Rust Never Sleeps" LP, which made him a hero amongst the grunge set, gave his career new legs. Neil, forget the albums, forget the concepts, just give us one good track, it's the streaming way, you were the breakout star of Oldchella, let the wind carry your new music into our consciousness.

No one is bigger than the system, you either join in or are left behind.

And speaking of Oldchella, I was stunned how many people didn't know that Neil was still this good, and that he even hit one over the fence in this century, with "Greendale," I loved that, both the album and tour, although the movie is irrelevant.

So, in honor of Neil making the move I'm gonna give you a playlist.

We're gonna start off with "Emperor Of Wyoming," from his solo debut. You won't even know it's him, this is a gem. And from the same record, arguably his best, I'm gonna include "I've Been Waiting For You," FOR SUCH A LONG TIME, it's my favorite of Neil's work, and "The Loner" and "The Last Trip To Tulsa"... The last...if you're under fifty you've probably never heard it, and you should, to see how artists used to test limits.

And from the second album I'm gonna include "Down By The River," its highlight. This was the solo record I bought first, I used to play this song on the guitar. Oh, what the hell, I'll include "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" too.

And from the third LP, the commercial breakthrough, "After The Gold Rush," I'll start with "Southern Man," so you know what Ronnie Van Zant was reacting to. And then my personal favorite, "Don't Let It Bring You Down," the rocking "When You Dance, I Can Really Love," and the two snippets, ""Till The Morning Comes," which I used to play with my freshman roommate, he on trombone, me on guitar, and "Cripple Creek Ferry."

"After The Gold Rush" is better than "Harvest," but the latter was the high point of Neil's career, it made him a dorm room staple. My favorite was "Are You Ready For The Country?," but I'll include "Heart Of Gold," "Old Man," "Alabama" and "A Man Needs A Maid," the last to show you how sensibilities have changed, and to demonstrate the earnestness once evidenced in music.

Unfortunately I don't see "Time Fades Away" on Spotify, the live album wherein Neil went on tour and all those expecting to hear country ditties, soft music, were barraged with rock and roll, previously unreleased material. Neil intentionally destroyed his career, to give himself artistic freedom, can you imagine anyone doing that today?

"Walk On" from "On The Beach," the 1974 album released right after I graduated from college, when Neil was finally free and could do whatever he wanted and only the hard core cared.

And then we come to "Tonight's The Night"...

"Bruce Berry was a working man
He used to load that Econoline van"

He was a roadie, he was Jan Berry's brother, of Jan and Dean fame. Neil had experienced too much death and wrote about it.

"Zuma" is not on Spotify, so you can't hear its highlight "Cortez The Killer," but as a special treat I'm gonna include Gov't Mule's version, which is special in its own way, if you know the original it will put a smile on your face.

But 1977's "American Stars 'N Bars" is up, so I'll include its legendary highlight, "Like A Hurricane."

And that brings us to 1978's "Comes A Time," wherein Neil tried to recapture the magic and go back to that country/"Harvest" sound, even though the looky-loos did not come back to him. I'm including the title cut, "Lotta Love," a hit for the dearly departed Nicolette Larson, and my personal favorite, "Look Out For My Love." Also, I'm going to include the even better cover of "Look Out For My Love" by Linda Ronstadt from her 1980 "New Wave" album "Mad Love."

And then comes "Rust Never Sleeps," with "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" and "Powderfinger." And if you care, and you should, be sure to check out the double live album "Live Rust," the soundtrack to one of the great rock movies of all time, which was distributed with surround sound before that was de rigueur.

I'm gonna skip "Hawks & Doves" and "Re-ac-tor," but I am including "Sample And Hold" from "Trans," am I the only one who liked this album? Then again, I loved Kraftwerk's "Computer World."

Now we're gonna jump to "This Note's For You." Neil had this one right, with his anti-commercialism, the clip won MTV's Video of the Year award, despite getting scant airplay from the music video channel, and to show how little that award means, no one remembers he won it, but people do remember Neil stood up against selling out.

And then Neil tried to recapture the "Harvest" magic with "Harvest Moon," but Don Henley had it right, you can never go back, the tracks were not as magical, but I'm gonna include "You And Me" nonetheless, it's haunting.

And that brings us to "Greendale." Of course I skipped a bunch, not that they're worthless, although they do tend to run together, even though I own them all and played them. Anyway, "Greendale"'s got a story, but I'm gonna put the songs in order of accessibility, "Sun Green," "Double E" and "Devil's Sidewalk."

And there you have it, we're bringing Neil Young's music back alive, most people did not own it, most people didn't own much, but now it's accessible, now his legend can shine on, as it deserves to do.

Visit the archive:
More of Bob Lefsetz on The Significance of The Buffalo Springfield Reunion: The Lefsetz Letter .

Also, see PRESS RELEASE: PONO Launch @ SXSW by Neil Young.

Labels: ,


At 11/05/2016 07:22:00 PM, Blogger Christian said...

Did Trump write this drivel?

At 11/05/2016 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Carter said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/06/2016 01:37:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Neil wants the royalties. I bet it took Roberts and Reprise hounding him relentlessly from the moment he decided to pull his music from all of the streaming services, but I had a feeling he'd give in soon enough. Maybe he gave Pono a date by which it needed to be successful, or maybe he just woke up and realized the whole things was doomed. Doesn't matter.

You can either make no money from streaming services, or you can make some money. I don't think anyone is under the illusion that Neil is so well off he can afford not to care about his career as a business, and writing off that streaming revenue in the name of a half-assed, outdated MP3 player nobody wanted and some indemonstrable notion of "audio quality" was very bad business indeed. Hope Neil didn't take too much of a bath on Pono, because I'm sure it's headed to bankruptcy or sale shortly.

Stick with the collectible vinyl and box sets, Neil. There's a whole lot of material and the nostalgia to sell it. Fans are absolutely ready to pull the trigger on another $150 Archives collection, but not on some boondoggled iPod. The whole Pono experiment simply reeked of a fundamental misunderstanding of the consumer technology market, digital music, and the mainstream disinterest in high fidelity audio (the benefits of which in our age are, at best, marginal).

At 11/06/2016 03:11:00 AM, Blogger Harm said...

Finally! Ever since I have a spotify subscription I just don't download music illegally anymore. Was such a pity, cause through spotify I discovered a bunch of music that I now own physically or intend to buy. Also; I can now finally have a listen to Earth and revisit Monsanto Years, which didn't go down well the first time. Next up: Peace Trail!

At 11/06/2016 05:23:00 AM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Not just Spotify, he's back on all the streaming services - Apple Music, Deezer, etc. (And Earth, the album that was "too long for iTunes," is now being sold there as individual tracks.)

At 11/06/2016 09:14:00 AM, Blogger Pocahontas said...

Bingo Unknown. He needs the royalties.

At 11/06/2016 09:25:00 AM, Blogger adrianfish said...

@ Christian you couldnt be more right

its sub prime DRIVEL......any article that omits (even if to critique) Freedom / Ragged Glory / SWA is frankly a waste of precious minutes in ones life

not news and by the time you have come to my view im sorry but you might have already lost the 3 mins of your life you wont get back from such dross

the key that counts is just how fab the recorded version Peace Trail sounds.....very exciting

At 11/06/2016 09:34:00 AM, Blogger Hbheel said...

I would still love to listen to a PONO system.....I bet it does sound tremendously better!!!!

At 11/06/2016 09:41:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/06/2016 09:54:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Anyone dissing the Pono Player obviously has never listened to one and should be summarily dismissed as a troll. In its price range there is nothing that compares to it for audio quality. Those of us who are owners and have supported the music store and the Pono blog are hoping for its return. The presence of Neil's work on Spotify and other sites speaks to the improvement of sound quality over the years. He never said he would never use them, he said he wanted the sound to improve before he did. And it has.

At 11/06/2016 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...

I think the royalties are literally fractions of pennies ... in other words the 'numbers add up to nothin', the impetus might be to stay available to his fan base and potentially new fans who are migrating to these services, with the point being that he can be top of mind and get paid when he plays live ... the other thought is that Neil's newer output is way more message driven than its ever been ('i'e gone are the obscure lyrics, the new songs hit you over the head with messages of corporate greed, the ills of Monsanto, big oil, ect..) ... that's Neil saying to hell with being commercial I'm going to use my celebrity to protest the ills of society even to my financial detriment ... the problem is that if he's not on the streaming services his message won't be heard by anyone but old fans who don't need to hear that message ... as an aside Lefsetz almost begs Neil for another hit to jumpstart his career, when it seems like Neil's far more content indefinitely driving in the ditch, the point being Neil's output isn't commercially motivated, to the contrary, and neither is this decision to re-stream ... returning to the streaming services is about recapturing today's megaphone to get his message out, and the realization that just as he's willing to compromise the obscure lyrics we all know and love, so too getting his message across is more important than his proclivity to insist that his music he heard only on an audiophile formats ...

At 11/06/2016 02:16:00 PM, Blogger Arthur said...

It seems Neil's career is taking on an uncanny, metaphorical
similarity to the film....

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".

At 11/06/2016 05:24:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

@PJ S: Neil pulled his music off all the streaming services except Tidal (which offers a lossless option) in July 2015, coomplaining about sound quality. Both then and now, Spotify streams at 160 kbps Ogg Vorbis for standard service, 320 for premium, while Apple Music uses 256 kbps AAC. Nothing has changed.

At 11/06/2016 05:48:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

@Babbo - I didn't think 320kbps was available back then. My mistake. Guess he just wants exposure...

At 11/07/2016 12:31:00 PM, Blogger romat73 said...

I appreciate Bob's comments/overview & 1970s perpective, but I gotta agree with another comment here...
HOW does he gloss over "Freedom", "Raged Glory" ...."Weld" ..?
the only thing he noticed/remembers from the early 90's is some of "Harvest Moon"???
Maybe he bought the cds, but he was not paying attention to Neil.

At 11/07/2016 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Andy said...

A lot of negativity here! Perhaps it is best not to question Neil's motives and focus on the positive. I'm happy that Neil is back on Spotify and the rest. A factor I feel people are overlooking is that having the music on streaming makes it available to all sorts of people who might not otherwise listen. Young people in particular. Streaming is the way of the future and cutting yourself off from it means fewer people are going to become converts to the church of Neil!

No question the audio quality on Spotify is lower, but the good news is if you care about such things, an investment in a good digital analog converter will bring the music quality to a level where you probably won't be able to tell the difference. I don't question that vinyl sounds better than any digital file. But do you really think that many 13-year-olds have high quality turntables in their bedrooms?

As for the comment "What he needs to do is come out with one transformative track and then he could be king once again" . . . easier said that done! "All he needs to do is write another Heart Of Gold! What is so hard about that?!?!?" Sort of an arrogant sentiment. Plus, Neil has put out a lot of quality material in the last decade or so. Maybe the author needs to listen to "After The Garden," "Walk With Me," or "Ramada Inn" again. No question, some material is weaker than past glories, but I'd rather Neil be prolific and put out a big body of interesting material than put out albums infrequently with just the knockouts.

At 11/07/2016 09:04:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

At 11/14/2016 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Lars said...

Just wanted to add that Zuma apprared on Spotify after that piece was written. But not only that: Time Fades Away! That is a pretty big deal right?


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