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Saturday, September 02, 2017

REVIEW: Neil Young's Hitchhiker | American Songwriter

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From a review of Neil Young's upcoming Hitchhiker in American Songwriter by Hal Horowitz: (Thanks HtH!)
“Ready Briggs?”

We’ll presume the inaudible answer of Neil Young’s question to producer David Briggs on August 11, 1976 was in the affirmative. Young then unloaded ten tunes played solo acoustic to an audience of one. Who wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on the wall for that?

Whether these recordings were meant to be an album that never materialized (until now), or well-recorded demos (more likely), it’s still revelatory to hear Young unspool these gems in the intimate confines of this studio session. While eight have appeared in different versions spooned out on releases ranging from 1976’s American Stars And Bars, Rust Never Sleeps from 1979 (three tracks), Decade (the Nixon diatribe “Campaigner”) and one even as late as 2010’s Le Noise, there is an intimacy and rawness to these performances that is riveting and subtly powerful. Two are officially previously unreleased.

Young was coming off a trilogy of exceptional work with On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night and Zuma (we’ll skip ’76’s Stills-Young band well-meaning misstep), so creatively he was near the top of his game. These unplugged, live-in-the-studio renderings of songs such as “Powderfinger,” “Pocahontas” and “Human Highway,” the latter making its debut on ’78’s Comes A Time before reappearing on 2016’s Earth, find Young wrapping his reedy yet decisive voice around compositions many would consider some of his finest.

The two unreleased selections are well worth hearing, even if they aren’t lost classics. On the percussive strum of “Hawaii,” Young slides into falsetto for the title word, yet it seems to be an unfinished story of a friend looking to him for assistance. With “Give Me Strength,” Young recounts a romance gone sour with hurt and pain, mirrored by his distinctive high lonesome harmonica. It, like the rest of these diamonds in the rough, is a real find for long time fans.
More on Neil Young's New Album "Hitchhiker":

"Hitchhiker" is now available on vinyl and CD to pre-order on

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At 9/03/2017 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Soldier Steve said...

Human Highway was also released in '97 on Year Of The Horse from the '96 bridge school show.So it appears on Comes A Time,Year Of The Horse,Earth,and now Hitchhiker.

At 9/03/2017 05:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/04/2017 07:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Off-Topic, naturally)

I just came across this youtube video of Cortez The Killer from 2014, and I think you would all enjoy watching it. It's with the Billy-less version of Crazy Horse (so, not really Crazy Horse, but still a powerful band with another great bass player). And I'm sure some of you here were in the audience that night and will enjoy hearing this again. It's great to see Rick Rosas in action, though unfortunately in one of his last live performances with Neil.

In particular, check out the guitar solos between 9:00 and the end of the song (the last 4 minutes or so). This is when the song really takes off. And it features some of the very best guitar playing I have heard from Neil in the last 5 years.

And in 2014, Neil had already started to cover up his own musicianship with "extra stuff" (in this case, not orchestras or choirs or extra guitarists or record booths, but backing vocals wailing away over his lead guitar). Now, I generally liked the backing singers on this tour, but in this case the song really takes off when they let Neil play the lead part unaccompanied.

It's often that way. For me, Neil has never been a stereotypical jamming guitarist, trading licks or contributing to an intricate collage of sound; he sounds best when he's playing a old-school solo, the centre of attention. With the band being the rock-solid foundation for his instrumentals, a furnace for him to rise out of.

This is what Neil Young does. With nothing there to cover up his playing, he's given a choice for the song to either pathetically collapse or to head for the stars. Be great or be gone, as David Briggs said. And nine times out of ten, this "do or die" tension is the catalyst for the song to ignite into something truly awe-inspiring. Just listen to the blend of serene beauty and ugly viciousness in his guitar playing, the instinctive and dynamic interplay between Ralph's drumming and Neil's guitar, with the raw chest-pumping power of Poncho's guitar driving the song along.

For a few years now, Neil has struggled with Cortez. The versions with the Electric Band in 2007/2008 tended to fall a bit flat. On the Alchemy tour with the Horse, the arrangement never really came together. It was almost as if the band had somehow forgotten how to play the song, everyone on a different page to each other. And the rare POTR versions in 2015 seemed to go on forever without Neil's playing ever really igniting; treading water. Without either Poncho on guitar or Ralph on drums, the chemical reaction doesn't happen, the test tube doesn't explode (which is what we all wanted to witness in chemistry class, wasn't it?). The magic doesn't happen.

But here in 2014, it all came together. Neil's guitar playing takes us to the moon and back, and the story of Cortez chills us to the bone. And on an emotional rollercoaster like Cortez, what more could you possibly ask for?


At 9/04/2017 08:17:00 AM, Blogger TOM said...

Jones Beach
Final Encore

At 9/04/2017 08:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TOM: neither of the 2015 versions are particularly impressive to my ears, especially compared to the versions from the previous year. Neil noodles around, seems to be enjoying himself, but it never seems to really go anywhere musically, doesn't cut to the heart of the song. Whereas the 2014 version almost draws blood with the intense ferocity of its guitar playing.

The 2015 version is nice enough overall and a great song to finish on, but the 2014 take (typically of Crazy Horse) really captures the essence of the song in a very intense way. It's the hardcore version of the two.


At 9/04/2017 09:24:00 AM, Blogger Doug Snyder said...

Hello to all. I appreciate all the observations of Neil's work. He has certainly provided a great deal of material for us all to ponder and enjoy. I would make one or two observations of my own in response to Mr. Horowitz's comment that Neil's Stills/Young project was a misstep.. (Young was coming off a trilogy of exceptional work with On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night and Zuma (we’ll skip ’76’s Stills-Young band well-meaning misstep).
I would guess that he may be referring to the idea that his work with Stephen for this album was of a different nature that the previous Ditch Trilogy; that is certainly exceptional in my opinion as well.. At the same time though.. I would suggest that the Stills/Young work was also excellent and would not classify it as a "misstep" by Mr. Young by any means..) If anyone has proven that their musical offerings are to the point and calculated (varying as they obviously are;) it would be Neil. The other point I would make is that I did see Neil and Stephen perform as the Stills/Young Band in the summer of '76 in Rochester, NY. It was sublime. Yes, it was a "different" sound for Neil at that point, but different in a wonderful way. Thank you for your consideration!

At 9/04/2017 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Syscrusher said...


I've never heard this discussed before so here goes. This is off the top of my head so I'm may have some of the details wrong and haven't checked my references.
For years I had always believed that Neil Young had written the song 'Sugar Mountain' on his 19th birthday in Fort William, ON. (I think there was even a detail to that story involving Steve Stills at the Victoria Hotel?).
Now I know this date and location is referenced in John Robertson's 'A Visual Documentary', but I think the story was originally told by John Einarson, probably in his book 'The Canadian Years'.
This had long been one of my most used NY factoids over the years.
Now, it seems that that information was incorrect all along. Though I wonder how such a story could come to be?
In one of Neil's recent memoirs he tells the story of writing 'Sugar Mountain' on his 20th birthday while staying at Joni Mitchell's place in Detroit. That's November 12, 1965 by the way. This story of course makes more sense given the lyrics of the song, and given Joni's close connection to it. She wrote 'The Circle Game' about 'Sugar Mountain' well before 'Sugar Mountain' had ever been released.
So has anyone else noticed these conflicting stories? Is there anyone who always New the real story? If so where did you first here it? Anything to add? Or subtract?

At 9/04/2017 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Just wanted to say that I got to see the Stills/Young tour opener at Pine Knob as a fan and as I left was thinking that must have been what it was like to see the Buffalo Springfield in their prime. Why don't we have an official soundboard of the BS at this late date, too? Did Bill Graham really screw up that badly or is Elliott hiding something for later?

Steve Stills and Neil Young both did something that hadn't really been done before at the outdoor amphitheater, that was the first of its kind in the country, run by the Nederlanders in NYC. Both Stills and Young did their call and response lead guitar playing on the very edge of the stage way in front of the band. At times their toes were over the edge of the stage and I was concerned they were each so into their playing that they were going to fall into the audience, honestly.

The mid-show acoustic portion was intense but the electric stuff was way over the top and they just were flying musically on fire.

Now, I know it all fell apart in, I think, Greensboro, North Carolina with the "eat a peach" thing but just outside Detroit for the opener they almost couldn't have been better. I went to both nights it was so good but had tinnitus for the rest of the week. Pretty sure they went overtime on the opening night just as Stills had done with Manassas there in 1972. It was rumored to be $1000 per minute and for the Manassas show Stills did the entire first side of the debut album in overtime after 10:30 PM. The audience knew that he was paying through the nose to play for them and the energy was over the top as was the opener of the Stills/Young tour.

Honestly, it is a shame that tour blew up because if it had kept pace with the debut, or mercy gotten better, it would have been an epic tour still talked about to this day. For my blood that tour was not a misstep at all.

Just saying...I would not be surprised if these shows were the same length only the call and response electric lead playing was longer on the second night. It was so long ago I just can't remember. Sure hope some soundboards of that tour surface this year on the archives webpage since this is right in the pocket time wise for the Archives II project.

1976-06-23, Pine Knob Music Theatre, Clarkston, Michigan, USA
w/ The Stills-Young Band
Love The One You're With / The Loner / Long May You Run / For What It's Worth / Old Man / Black Queen / Southern Man / On The Way Home / Know You Got To Run / Heart Of Gold / Crossroads / Word Game / Everybody's Talkin' / Ohio / Buyin' Time / Evening Coconut / Let It Shine / Make Love To You / Cowgirl In The Sand / The Treasure

1976-06-24, Pine Knob Music Theatre, Clarkston, Michigan, USA
w/ The Stills-Young Band
Love The One You're With / The Loner / Long May You Run / For What It's Worth / Helpless / Black Queen / Southern Man / On The Way Home / Buyin' Time / Evening Coconut / Let It Shine / Make Love To You / Cowgirl In The Sand / The Treasure

At 9/04/2017 03:06:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

I'd love to hear a Stills/Young official tour comp. There are a number of solo gems I would love to hear in full official NYAPS so sonic glory.
Specifiacally; a solo piano Ocean Girl, a solo acoustic Like A Hurricane, Campaigner the day he wrote it, and a solo version of Bite The Bullet that was also likely very new.

As for the album, it's unfortunate that Stills had lost it, his songs sound like cheesy porn music With interesting lyrics. So to avoid looking like a total deuche Neil contributed what were, other than Long May You Run, likely the 4 lightest weight tunes he had. And they're still all great! LMYR arguably being the least interesting version of that song available.

The Hitchhiker album was recorded only about three weeks after the whole 'eatba peach' thing...

At 9/04/2017 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

@syscrusher: Which recent memoir are you referring to re Sugar Mountain being written in 1965? There's nothing like that in WHP or Special Deluxe (and Shakey is quite clear about the 1964 version).

At 9/04/2017 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Only thing I'm finding along those lines is the much-discussed Joni intro to Circle Game at a Paris Theatre show in 1976 - it obviously doesn't add up chronologically, and has been generally dismissed as confusion on her part:

"In 1965 I was up in Canada and there was a friend of mine up there who, uh, had just left a rock 'n roll band in Winnipeg, Manitoba near where I come from on the prairies to become a folk singer a la Bob Dylan who was his hero at that time and uh at the same time that there were breaks in his life and he was going in a new and exciting direction, he had just newly turned 21 and that meant that in Winnipeg, he was no longer allowed into his favorite haunt which was kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you're over 21 you couldn't get back in there anymore, so he was really feeling terrible because his girlfriends, everybody that he wanted to hang out with, his band could still go there, you know. So, one of the things that drove him to become a folk singer was that he couldn't play in this club anymore, 'cause he was over the hill. ... It was called 'Oh to live on Sugar Mountain' and it was a lament for his lost youth."

At 9/04/2017 07:53:00 PM, Blogger TOM said...

Was there that night at Jones Beach and that version with Neil wailing "Lost my way" repeatedly was pretty intense...

Different than CH, for sure

At 9/04/2017 07:56:00 PM, Blogger TOM said...


Joe Walsh opened for Manassas that night at Pine Knob in '72 and Stills brought him out for slide guitar on "Down the Road"
Just the two of them as I recall...

At 9/04/2017 08:01:00 PM, Blogger TOM said...

Joni and James Taylor bootleg
Brilliant record...
must've listened to that a1000 times..

At 9/04/2017 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Hmm. Sorry Babbo, I should've checked my references before I posted. Checked WHP and SD and perhaps you're right, I wish those books had indexes. But now I have no idea where I read this. This may take some time for me to figure out. I'll get back to you vou.
Thanks for that great story from Joni.

At 9/05/2017 12:44:00 PM, Blogger joe lookout said...

hi folks!

quick question: do you think the first verse of the song 'Hitchhiker is dedicated to David Briggs?


At 9/08/2017 08:42:00 AM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

So I found the information after some scouring. It's the Sugar Mountain rap on Live at The Riverboat. Straight outa the man's lips. This is very important and conflicting information that I've never heard discussed before.

I don't see how Neil's memory could be wrong so soon after the events. I was thinking maybe he confused it with The Old Laughing Lady but he tells that story 3 months earlier in at the Canterbury House, about writing The Old Laughing Lady in Detroit on a Napkin.
I don't have a blu-Ray player at the moment and so don't have access to the full Riverboat rap. Is anyone able to pull up a transcript?

At 9/08/2017 08:44:00 AM, Blogger Syscrusher said...

Very well could be.


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