Reassessing Neil Young's Life on Geffen Records
Recently here on Thrasher's Wheat, we have been re-visiting and reassessing some of Neil Young's 1980's releases on Geffen Records, such as, TRANS: A Little Bit of Essential Neil Young and "Landing on Water" by Neil Young: Incredibly Underrated. And lots of fascinating observations by our dear TW readers in post comments.
Neil Young's Life (1987) is another overlooked album with many transcendent moments such as, "Long Walk Home" and "When Your Lonely Heart Breaks."
As you may recall, David Geffen in the 1980's filed a $3 million lawsuit against Neil Young for violating his contract by recording ‘unrepresentative’ albums. In other words, Neil Young wasn’t making Neil Young music."The truth is I fought with him because I wanted him to do better work,'' Mr. Geffen explained afterward. ''I was taking too much of a fatherly role in his life.'' Only David Geffen could describe a lawsuit against one of his trophy clients as an excess of paternalism. Described by friends, peers and adversaries as “passionate,” “neurotic” and “giftedly non-diplomatic", Geffen has been a highly polarizing figure in the Entertainment industry.
(For more on David Geffen and Neil Young, see FULL VIDEO: Inventing David Geffen | American Masters | PBS).
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.So what other musician has so directly challenged his label and owner so openly with lyrics like: "We don't wanna be watered down, takin' orders from record company clowns." (Prisoners Of Rock And Roll)?
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.”
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.
In 2004 Rustie, Mike "Expecting 2 Fly" Cordova posted a series of articles on his experience listening to all of Neil Young's albums in chronological order. Here is one in the series. For a complete listing, see Albums in Order reviews.
Date: Sun, 28 Nov 2004 14:51:36 -0800 (PST)(For more of Expecting To Fly's reviews, see the Albums in Order series.)
From: Mike Cordova
Subject: Albums in order: Life
In the fall of 1986, I had the opportunity to attend one of the shows in the Rusted Out Garage tour; in fact I saw the show that was broadcast live over pay-per-view television and on audio through participating radio stations. I had a heads-up about the audio broadcast and I was successfully able to set up my hi-fi vcr to record the audio portion of the concert while I attended the show. I had good copies of several new or unreleased songs several months before the album in which they appear would be released. I liked the new songs and anticipated the release of the next album; the first with Crazy Horse since re-ac-tor.
The basic tracks on several of the songs were recorded live in concert on the ROG tour, then various overdubs were added in the studio, a technique Neil had used for Rust Never Sleeps. I found that for the most part, I liked the raw live versions I had from my radio recording much better than the final album tracks. Take Around The World, for example: I thought it was a good rockin’ tune live. The added spoken parts found on the album (not in my concert recording), you know the part that goes “hey, what’s that you’ve got on…” was IMHO superfluous and actually detracted from the effectiveness of the song for me. I do like most of the album overall though. Mideast Vacation is somewhat disturbing; “I was Rambo in the disco, I was shootin’ to the beat” creates an image that really bothers my peace and love sensibilities. A throwaway tune on the album, Prisoners Of Rock And Roll, has for some reason become a Neil Young and Crazy Horse staple. I’d rather see them perform Inca Queen or Around The World myself, but no one ever asks my opinion about Neil setlists… I didn’t know it at the time of release, but a couple of the songs were from a while before Life was released. Cryin’ Eyes dates back to 1977 when it was performed with the Ducks. While visiting the Rock Hall Of Fame in 1997 with a bunch of fellow crazy Rusties, I saw a lyric sheet for Long Walk Home that was dated in the early 70’s. Filling out the album was We Never Danced, a song Neil wrote for the movie Made In Heaven; the track was a collaboration with Jack Nitszche. I believe it had been quite some time since Neil had worked with him. I always liked this track, especially since the one in the movie features a female singer instead of Neil.
Life was Neil’s fifth and last album of all-original music for Geffen records. The difficult relationship had come to an end. Check out the cover of the album and see Neil behind bars with the number 5 in hash marks visible. I think Neil was very glad to get back to Reprise and away from Geffen. I don’t know what Neil thinks of this album, but I very much enjoyed listening to Life today.
Mike - Expecting To Fly
Here's another review from TW Archives, via the FUNHouse! Reviews:
LIFEFor more, see Neil Young Discography.
1987 - Geffen GHS 24154
Mideast Vacation / Long Walk Home / Around the World / Inca Queen / Too Lonely / Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll / Cryin' Eyes / When Your Lonely Heart Breaks / We Never Danced
by Gary A. Lucero
Life is Neil's last official recording with Geffen. It was released in 1987, with much of it recorded live during the Landing on Water tour. Although not as reliant on keyboards for its sound as Landing on Water, Life shares a certain feeling with its predecessor. Many of the songs, like "Mideast Vacation," "Around the World," "Too Lonely," "Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll," and "Cryin' Eyes," are rockers. They're fairly hard, and have some great guitar work.
The remaining songs, "Long Walk Home," "Inca Queen," "When Your Lonely Heart Breaks," and "We Never Danced," are slow, melodic numbers. Most of the songs are about war, the Incas, rock, or love. One interesting thing is that the song "We Never Danced" was used as the basis for the movie "Made in Heaven," which stars Timothy Hutton and Kelli McGillis. Neil Young has a cameo role in the film as a truck driver. "We Never Danced" was unfortunately not sung by Neil in "Made in Heaven," but was used to good effect none the less.
As with Landing on Water, Life was not appreciated very much by Neil Young fans at the time of its release. Rolling Stone magazine said that Freedom, which came out two years later, was more a "life" album than Life
was. I disagree; real life is love, war, hate, rock-and-roll, etc., and that's what the album Life is about. Long may you run.