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Friday, December 13, 2019

Neil Young's Album of the Week: 'Are You Passionate?' + Defending AYP?

'Are You Passionate?' by Neil Young w/ Booker T & M.G.’s
NYA Album of the Week

Neil Young's NYA Album of the Week is 'Are You Passionate?'

Along with featuring 'Are You Passionate?' as the NYA AoW, Neil makes a few insightful comments on the album referring to Booker T & M.G.’s as "one of the high points of my musical life to have played with these guys.” Also, referring to earlier Crazy Horse Toast sessions, "The Toast sessions now stand up."

But what about 'Are You Passionate?' with Booker T & M.G.’s? Recorded in the aftermath of 9/11, does the album still stand up 20 years on?

Neil apparently recorded extensively with Crazy Horse (Toast sessions) prior to Booker T & M.G.’s "Are You Passionate?" sessions, resulting in the track "Goin' Home".

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

From a Comment of the Moment in 2016 that 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 I love vinyl myself and in any event, I think a petition to release anything on CD is a little out of date.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 Ian mentioned the alternate track listing on the post-it notes on back cover. Ian found that this re-ordering of tracks makes the album darker and heavier.

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 10th Anniversary of the release of Neil Young’s Are You Passionate? album and 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 12/14/2019 10:56:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Thrasher, and I'm pleased to see NYA spotlighting this album. Sorry I dropped off the radar for while... "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"... but I'm still rockin'. Just yesterday, I was listening to both Colorado and The Visitor, which makes for an interesting double feature. Been digesting Colorado for a while, but that's another post for another time.

As for AYP?, if I'm not mistaken most of the songs and recording predate 9/11. Hindsight has only strengthened my conviction that--leaving all else aside for the moment--Let's Roll unavoidably overshadows the entire album and causes its reputation to suffer in the longer term, particularly among hardcore NY devotees. Unfortunately, the song, which may have been necessary at the time and certainly captures the zeitgeist of the immediate post-9/11 period, is particularly susceptible to extreme interpretations when divorced from its original context. Post-"War on Terror", the lyrics leave one more ambivalent than ever.

"The sky turned a lot of shades of grey as they walked on."

"Let the earth become a rainbow of people, blending all the colors as they choose."

At 12/14/2019 06:29:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Ian - you are THE Metamorphic Rocker for good reason.

always wonderful to hear from those who dropped off the radar due to being busy making other plans. good for you and everyone else who dropped off the radar.

certainly understand taking a break and needing sanctuary. as counter-intuitive as it might seem, TW is our little sanctuary away from it all. getting lost in the music and keeping on rockin'.

funny how our little detours on a journey through the past bring us right to today and this very moment.

somehow the 2002 'Are You Passionate?', 20 years on seems still relevant. we looked at the timeline for AYP and see most tracks recorded in Nov 2001. But you're right they were mostly written pre 9/11, presumably during the Toast sessions.

We listened to Mr Disappointment today for maybe 1st time since the Pegi split. boy, you really hear the song in a different light today, for sure. And then Neil's note about he was living by himself in an apartment in San Francisco at the time is a revelation to us. who knew?

just wow.

sort of like learning in 1989 that TRANS was all about neil trying to communicate with his son Ben. who knew?

"I'm saving the best for last
Let's leave this all in the past
The beauty of loving you
Is what we've both been through

So now it's up to me
To set your spirit free
So you can swing again on our gate

I'd like to shake your hand, Disappointment.
Looks like you win again
But this time might be the last"

At 12/14/2019 07:47:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Neil was not living alone during the recording of "Toast" - from "Special Deluxe":

"In 2001, we were living in San Francisco in an apartment we had found on Green Street. ...
Amber was a budding artist and was in high school. The apartment’s location made it a lot easier for us to drive her, compared to the ranch, which was very remote. City life was exciting to us because it was so easy to find things to do and places to go and it gave us new variety in our lives. Although I missed the ranch, it was a change I could embrace. ...

"Pegi loved the apartment. So did Amber. She had a bedroom filled with her teenage high school things and a metal bedroom set from the thirties that we had found in an antique store. Pegi and I had a lot of fun buying old rugs and furniture, and she really made it feel homey like the ranch. We would visit the ranch on weekends quite often."

However, he also wrote: "Eventually I gave up and abandoned the album. Like my personal life, where I was having some serious problems with my marriage, there was just something missing. I was not happy with it, or maybe I was just generally unhappy." So that's certainly reflected in what became AYP.

At 12/14/2019 08:59:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Babbo - thanks so much on correction. that's a pretty significant error on our part here.

as always, thanks for your insightful contributions -- once again demonstrating that Neil fans/rusties are some of the most knowledgeable and articulate music fans out there.

Obviously, we'd forgotten the SD ref, and were reading between the lines on ny's note.

between ny's comments & the SD clip, AYP?'s complexity and revolution comes into focus after 2 decades.

"I'm taking the blame myself
For livin' my life in a shell
And now I'm breakin' out
But will you still be there?

Let's say that love is blind
Let's say that time is kind
Let's say that it's not over 'til it's over"
~ "Mr. Disappointment" by ny

At 12/14/2019 09:12:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

@Thrasher: No worries, I initially came to the same conclusion that you did based on the NYA posting. Then someone else pointed out the "Special Deluxe" passage, which puts things in context.

At 12/15/2019 06:41:00 AM, Blogger PeterAnthony said...

I fail to see any problem whatsoever with Let's Roll. It was written way before Iraq. The song should be catharsis for everyone depressed by 9/11.

At 12/15/2019 08:44:00 AM, Blogger windsaloft said...

not sure if it's a floater or a sinker, but let's roll is most definitely the turd in the "are you passionate" punchbowl.

At 12/15/2019 10:39:00 AM, Blogger PeterAnthony said...

Care to elaborate why?

At 12/15/2019 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Check out the Nurburgring 2002 TV broadcast for a powerful version of Lets Roll that captures the gut-wrenching horror and despair of 9/11, Neil exorcising a few demons with a particularly brutal guitar solo. It brings me to tears every time I watch it.

The whole show is excellent, essential to watch, but Goin' Home is another highlight.

I thought the Are You Passionate band (with Poncho on guitar) sounded professional but a bit too polite and routine on the studio album. But live in Germany, they revealed themselves to be one of Neil's most exciting bands ever, and the music they created was saturated with feeling. I'm always excited when Sampedro is put into different bands (as well as Crazy Horse) because both he and Neil rise to the occasion.

So the best way to enjoy Are You Passionate is through the live takes, its just unfortunate there aren't more than a handful of them to choose from.


At 12/15/2019 02:11:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Nurburgring 2002 TV broadcast of Lets Roll is a killer. AYP songs definitely become more vivid here.

I actually loved the album even though it did feel a bit disjointed. There are some wonderful songs that seem to belong on a different record. Taken one at a time, they all hold up on their own.


At 12/16/2019 04:43:00 AM, Blogger Bazzzzzzza said...

I am with you on that one Scotzman... i seen them at Brixton in 2002 (2nd time with MGs after my indoctrination of Neil , Glasgow in '93) and what a gig it was, you are right about Poncho as well. He really beefed up the sound that night and let the bigger songs like Goin' Home, Cortez and Down by the River connect into MGs vibe.

It helps that Brixton is one of my favourite venues in London, great layout, always great crowds, great bars around and always a close up and great view.

To be perfectly honest, it was all a little bit away with fairies on the night, so its all a wee bit blurry.

One thing that did hit me was having only listened to AYP a few times with it released a few weeks before the gig, and not being overly impressed. Listening to the CD on my crap hi-fi at the time, made Neil's voice sound thinner than it was on the soul songs and i just didn't have the instant connect.

...but in the big LIVE sound.... Mr Disappointment, Are you Passionate & Two Old friends really jumped out at me and were really strong... i mean really strong... i really enjoyed them in that way... i still didn't get with Lets Roll though. Plus what really rounded the gig out was Sleeps with Angels.... a super weird version !!!! and an encore of Helpless.

Anyway long story short.... that LIVE experience of the AYP album resulted in me returning to it with a really positive connection (except lets roll) over and over... the feeling never let me down. I can see how some didn't take to it, but for me.. its solid gold.

At 12/16/2019 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

In brief AYP is a clunker.

At 12/16/2019 02:00:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

For anyone who may have missed Hometown last year, you will have 11 days to see it on Hearse Theatre starting December 21st. Mistakes and all.


At 12/16/2019 06:00:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

I always thought Are You Passionate?” was a very good album.

Booker T & the MG’s is a hot band, a tight rhythm section. Experts. Live ‘93 with Neil killed it! Neil and BT&MGs deliver here and Neil throws in a strong “from the hip” 9/11 tune and a classic Crazy Horse Native American epic, “I’m Going Home” Lots of great tunes.

You almost hafta be a dick not to like a lot of these songs!

I love it.

Alan In Seattle

Sent from my iPhone

At 12/16/2019 07:39:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Want to thank everyone for insightful contributions. I must check out Scotsman's recommendations. Sounds like it was an amazing tour!

@Baz, I completely concur on the tracks you single out. Those are three of my favorites on the album, and I can imagine how they may have come alive in concert. As for SWA, I understand Booker T. and the MGs were involved with a number of the songs that eventually found their way to that album, as Neil toured with them in '93.

If I recall correctly, Two Old Friends had been aired on a CSN+Y tour shortly prior to AYP. That song, to me, is the cathartic moment of the album, resolving the tension brought to the surface by Let's Roll and the title song (among others).

At 12/16/2019 08:58:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

@Dan Swan, It's disjointed, but I think the disjointedness itself can be fascinating at times, and may even be part of the listening experience. For AYP?, I've previously used the analogy of someone pasting together pages from three different books to explain how the songs bounce off each other. After many (maybe too many) listenings, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

For an album that can sound musically pedestrian at first flush, AYP possesses remarkable depth and scope in its compositions, which wouldn't be the case so much if the songs all had the same topic, mood, and or unified flow. The relationship problems alluded to by Neil come through pretty clearly in the songs, and there is a great deal of brooding and tension between the smooth arrangements polished performances of the MGs.

At 12/16/2019 09:13:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Almost forgot: for anyone who wants that alternate track listing alluded to by Thrasher in the OP:

1. When I hold you in my Arms
2. She's as Healer
3. You're My Girl
4. Differently
5. Be with You
6. Mr. Disappointment
7. Two Old Friends
[8. Gateway of Love--deleted by still show on the album's back cover photo]
9. Goin' Home
10. Let's Roll
11. Are You Passionate?
12. Quit

Hope that one day, when the Toast sessions come out, I can try this with a clean recording of Gateway of Love in its proper place, though I do like the resulting transition between Two Old Friends and Goin' Home, plus it's chilling how, in this sequence, Goin' Home is stopped in its tracks by Let's Roll.

The title track makes a remarkably effective climax to the entire cycle, and Quit is a good wrap-up that appears to have been recorded as a bookend with When I Hold you In My Arms. Because the final running order on the album jostled them around, I'm not sure the connection between these two songs is obvious to casual listeners, but I definitely hear them as sister songs--intended bookends that ended up placed differently when the album was finalized.

At 12/19/2019 07:26:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Part 2:

I saw Neil w/BT & the MGs , LA '93.

It sent chills up and down my spine when I heard them play Down By the River! The hair stood up in my neck. They killed it! Neil meets Stax house band. He did not squander the opportunity! Not every note is perfect, which makes me like it more!

Alan in Seattle

Sent from my iPhone


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