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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Making of Neil Young's "Will To Love"

We learn so much from our dear readers (and super Neil knowledgeable, at that) here at Thrasher's Wheat.

What starts off as an off hand observation can turn into a full blown analysis -- or something like that.

As Neil Young's 2017 sabbatical continues, we've been plowing deep into the Thrasher's Wheat Archives Vaults. For example, we recently posted a 1977 Review: Neil Young - AMERICAN STARS 'N' BARS. The album contains the absolutely sublime "Will To Love".

In the post comments, RichieC noted that "Will To Love" was recorded in the studio. To which we replied saying: "Hey, wasn't "Will To Love" recorded by a fireplace which you can actually hear in the background?

As is often the case in life, we're both right and wrong.

To which RichieC replied:


As far as the recording of "Will To Love" goes, according to Neil in an excerpt from the Shakey biography, Neil recorded himself by the fireplace playing the song on his acoustic (supposedly on a crappy boom box!).

Then Neil and Briggs ended up in a studio, and for one crazy session, Neil overdubbed himself playing all kinds on instruments (bass, electric guitar, vibes, even drums).

So what you hear on the album is a combo of Neil by the fireplace and odd goings on in the studio.

Since the song was never played live, it's possible that Neil's recording of it may have been the ONLY time he ever played the song! Quite amazing when you hear what a jewel of a song it is........
Acoustic FeedBack then said...
Will To Love was not recorded on a boom box, but a home recording 4-track cassette system.
So Tired said...
The original cassette was transferred to a 16 track reel and overdubbed at Indigo.

Neil Young and CSN tried to complete Will To Love at Criteria Studios, Miami before the Indigo treatment. To which extent no one knows, but a few of Will To Love tapes are included in the list of the Atlantic masters from those sessions.
Thanks folks! You learn many, many things every day, one of which is that nobody is right if everybody is wrong ... FWIW ... unless everybody is right if nobody is wrong???

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At 3/28/2017 06:45:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

It should be noted too that the Will To Love overdubs with Briggs were recorded the very same night as Neil wrote and recorded the song in front of the fireplace. And Neil has in fact stated that it is the only time he's ever played the song, he didn't think he could play the song again. From Shakey as well I believe.

I was also wondering if that real cool picture you posted a few days ago of the coolest fireplace I've ever seen, was in fact THE fireplace?

At 3/28/2017 06:54:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Sorry Thrasher, I was just reading backwards and see you wondered the same thing already. Cheers to that.

At 3/28/2017 11:01:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

You also hear a fire crackling during "Soldier". I know in the Journey Through The Past movie, you see Neil playing the song, it's been so long since I've seen the movie, I forget if he's playing piano near a fireplace or not.

Neil seems like the type to keep his fireplace crackling all the time, just so he could play some nice music by the warm fire.

At 3/29/2017 05:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syscrusher: As Andrea notes in the previous thread, after cutting the basic Will To Love track on a cassette recorder, Neil flew to meet CSN with the intention of recording the song with them.

The story goes that Crosby told Neil to stick with his solo version; arrangements then began for the sessions at Indigo where Neil did all the creative overdubbing we hear on the finished record. Though as far as I know it's true that the overdubs were all done on the same night, though not the same night as the writing and basic track recording.


At 3/29/2017 05:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me the biggest loss of the modern "first take/quick as possible" era hasn't been the performances; on the contrary, the performances on albums like Chrome Dreams II and Fork In The Road are generally pretty good-to-great. I believe capturing the first few takes is a good idea and can save a lot of mis-used time and effort. But what (sometimes***) works for recording does not (always) work for songwriting. And to my ears, It's the songwriting that has been the weakest link in recent years.

I'd hazard a guess that Neil thinks that the first brief draft captures the essence of the song. He remembers the successes like Will To Love and forgets all the others that required something more. To me, there's often the sense nowadays of a good song lurking around the corner but never quite being discovered; he stops writing too soon, before it reveals itself, and the essence also escapes.

Neil memorably uses the analog of the tricky challenge of catching rabbits (a.k.a songs) coming out of rabbit holes. Recently I feel he has tended to give up too soon, settle for less, before the big rabbits even show themselves. Though I realise I'm starting to sound like someone who is taking a few mind-altering substances myself. :-)


***Here are some examples of songs that took time and effort to grow from either their first take and/or first draft into something truly exciting:

Heart Of Gold
Sedan Delivery
Like A Hurricane
Rockin' In The Free World
Act Of Love
Goin' Home

That's just a few. And the titles speak for themselves.

"I know that treasure takes it's time".

At 3/29/2017 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

'Will To Love' is pretty boring - lasts far too long. The album is also a bit of a mess, of course it contains the stone cold classic 'Hurricane' but it's a hotch potch of a record best summed up by the cover.

At 3/29/2017 01:23:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

I love this album, for me it's kind of the album I'm always hoping he'll make again, the country rock part of it especially. The music that in my mind Neil rock, as in two styles of music melded into one, not the country rock most bands play which was really just rock bands playing country music.
I think it was mentioned in the other thread that this album is a mixed bag, but aren't all of Neil's 70's albums mixed bags? That was kind of his thing in the 70's, he says because he was always focused on recording the songs.
But one thing to keep in mind when looking at his albums is that, from what I can tell anyway, he was creating sides of music rather than full albums. With ASNB side one being one of the more cohesive sides of music he had made up until that point. A rare instance, I believe, where every song on that side came from the same session.
Perhaps Neil would have done well to release more EP's?...
Side 2 is obviously incredible too but it doesn't have that cohesive album thing going on. It's a mixed bag, which I do appreciate as well, look how well it worked on After The Goldrush and side 1 of On The Beach.
But did Neil purposely dilute albums like Briggs suggests happened with Tonight's The Night? I think I've heard him speak about harbouring some insecurities towards album making. Now I'm not suggesting anything is wrong with anything NY did in the 70's, just thinking out load really, but I do feel Neil's greatest skill is with the song. I did have a lot of fun one time coming up with an alternate history of Neil Young. If given full access to all of Neils songs could one come up with a more legendary set of albums?

At 3/29/2017 05:25:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

"Will to Love" is in many ways a striking song. To me it offers differing levels of enjoyment (or disappointment) depending on mood, atmosphere, sound system, time of day and whether alone or with other people.

Under my optimal listening circumstances: alone, at night, with headphones, while in a relaxed but unresolved moment in time, "will to Love" is endlessly fascinating and inspirational--pure magic!

Under my less than ideal listening circumstances: with a crowd of people (even just a few friends), during daylight hours, in an unfocused sound environment and primarily as background music, it's quite disappointing and even a little embarrassing!

I consider it one of my favorite Neil songs and it exemplifies to me why I'm such a Neil Young fan. At its best, his music is JUST FOR ME--speaking to me at those moments when the truth can't be shared or found with others.

"Will to Love" has a depth and casual simplicity to it that really only shines in those special private moments when your full attention and subconscious willingly give way to the journey...

It's a very personal song to me and one of the few Neil songs I feel can be considered amongst both his best and worst works (quite validly) depending on your expectations and willingness to truly listen.

"Take my advice
Don't listen to me"

At 3/30/2017 12:23:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


Excellent post, right on the mark. It's funny, the other night when Thrasher's first post about Stars-n-Bars came up, I listened to "Will To Love" on headphones alone in the dark. It just happened to be the birthday of the girl in my life who was the dreaded "one who got away". The song absolutely crushed me, hitting me in a way it never had before. By the end, I had tears rolling down my face. The next day, I listened to it again on headphones, this time during the day on a crowded bus, and the feeling was nowhere near the same. Though I didn't find the song to be "disappointing or embarrassing", which I think was a bit harsh on your account. It's a good song, no matter what.

This happens with me a lot with music, especially with great lyricists like Neil. I've heard some Grateful Dead songs hundreds of times, but then all of a sudden, I'll hear one on a certain day where suddenly a whole new different meaning and emotion comes to me, like I've finally truly "understood" the song. Same thing happens with Dylan songs as well, especially as I get older.

One of the great things about music, I guess.......

At 3/30/2017 07:38:00 AM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Yes I feel the same way Topanga about Neil's music being so personal. In fact I find Will To Love such a personal song that I think I've only played it to one person ever and that was on a camping trip where I introduced it as my favourite song. We both sat and listened to the whole song, which was great, but still almost no reaction from my friend to the song at all.

At 3/30/2017 09:06:00 AM, Blogger Acoustic FeedBack said...

One more piece of tidbit about this song. The night of the recording of the overdubs, the instruments were ordered from and set up by Studio Instrument Rentals. And we all know the connection there, right?

At 3/30/2017 12:11:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Syscrusher - good question on THE fireplace. Our hunch is that is the same. However, we need to go back re-watch JTTP film. As we recall, there was some sawdust furnace in a scene. Maybe we're mixing up images here?

@ RichieC - good point on "Soldier". Maybe that's the mixup w/ images mentioned above?

Well now that it's Spring here in the Northern hemisphere we can try and re-visit next winter and be season appropriate. But for those in the Southern hemisphere, enjoy the crackling!

@ Scotsman - "The story goes that Crosby told Neil to stick with his solo version".

Is that from Shakey?

That makes sense about "first take/quick as possible" approach. The Muse used to work that way but no longer does.

Good list. "I know that treasure takes it's time".

@ Syscrusher - good question on album "dilution". Seems like so much always comes back to Briggs. And, yes, it is about the songs, less so the album cohesiveness.

It really comes down to how folks really listen to music. In isolated chapters (songs) or as whole books (albums).

@ TopangaD. - And isn't that why Neil's music connects so deeply with so many for so long? That very personal relationship which you speak? The music has a soul which just can't seem to be ever manufactured as hard as some many try.

true genius only comes from one place... the heart.

Way too many brains and tech in the studios these days. Furthermore, the core of the song recorded by the fireplace in the middle of the night. maybe that's where the magic lies....

RichieC. - now that really says it all about that special personal connection which can come flooding back like a monsoon.

As you say, one of the great things about music.

@ Acoustic FeedBack - do we all know the connection? Is Tonight The Night? or Tomorrow?

At 3/30/2017 01:49:00 PM, Blogger Acoustic FeedBack said...

No you got it, I was referring to Bruce Berry's brother Ken.

At 3/31/2017 01:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I held up a banner at a 1999 show in Houston asking him to play it. He only smiled. After the show at the meet and greet I got up the nerve an asked him why he never plays it and he simply said "that is fucking personal".

At 9/19/2017 11:58:00 AM, Blogger 'Sota boy said...

No fair making up words, though we DO use a similar phrase in English...hodgepodge, which is my guess as to what you are groping for.

At 6/28/2020 01:43:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

When you involve yourself in as a humanbeing it's very easy to see the he relationship we with Neil perception of nature and and world this is probably the most beautiful song ever written. Neil is a gift for us to cherish. His songs give me me the will to I live!!

At 8/21/2020 07:17:00 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Anyone know the date Will To Love was recorded?

At 12/25/2020 02:16:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Cant agree that Will to love is boring.Its a timeless beautiful masterpiece and still sounds as good as when I first listened to it nearly 50 years ago

At 1/08/2022 01:04:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This song is a gift I truly think who writes like this. Its a beautiful song and gets to the core of our being.


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