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Friday, March 26, 2021

Notes on Neil Young Album "Young Shakespeare" - A Telegram from the Scotsman

Young Shakespeare by Neil Young 

FROM: The "Inextinguishable Scotsman"

TO: Thrasher — my notes on "Young Shakespeare" are below. Thanks, and see you at TW!



Neil was right.

Young Shakespeare *is* markedly different to the more famous Massey Hall album from the same tour in 1971.

At least part of this is down to production differences. Massey Hall is a more punchy and polished-sounding recording. It's very upfront...a classic David Briggs mix. Whereas Young Shakespeare sounds more like a well-worn bootleg — soft and hazy and dream-like.

Massey Hall has a cutting edge where Young Shakespeare floats on the breeze. And where Massey Hall is intense, Young Shakespeare is often more relaxed; aloof and distant, at times.

Now, I've been listening to Young Shakespeare via streaming on NYA. But I think this is the sort of album that should really be played on a proper record player on a snowy winter's evening.

There's a warmth to the inviting, crackly analog sound (and the performance) that really feels like a "journey through the past". This music isn't coming to you, in 2021: you're going back to it.

As for me, I wasn't even around in 1971. But I feel like I was, listening to this record.

We're travelling back before social media, back before the internet. Before mobile phones and blogs and instant messaging. Back when Neil hadn't written Like A Hurricane, and the World Trade Center's twin towers were still being built.

It's overwhelming, thinking of all the things still to come. Some good, some horrific.

Here's a question for you, out of curiosity:

Does 1971 feel like it was a very long time ago? Or the opposite: does it feel like it was yesterday?

For me, it feels like a different world entirely.

Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time you never knew? This record proves the answer is "yes".

Young Shakespeare isn't all warmth and cosiness. Certainly, Neil's spoken song-intro about heroin addicts (before The Needle And The Damage Done) should send a shiver down your spine:

"The ones I know, aren't dead yet."

Of course, at the same time this music was innocently dancing between the walls of the Shakespeare Theatre (a venue that, in my imagination, has velvet seats and friendly, uniformed staff), Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten was still living his life.

Tuscaloosa, meanwhile (a half-dead and borderline-depressing concert album from 1973), was recorded only about 10 weeks or so after Danny died from an overdose. And you don't have to listen to more than 30 seconds of the first track of Tuscaloosa to hear the difference in Neil's mental health.

The highlights of Young Shakespeare? For me, two tracks stand out.

A Man Needs A Maid is the first. It feels like the hard-hitting centerpiece, and the multi-layered piano arrangement shifts the record into a 3D experience. I love Neil's spoken song intro, too, where he sounds totally relaxed whilst enthusing to the audience.

The other stand-out track is Down By The River.

In its greatest electric performances (e.g. Bronco Bowl 1989), this song often attacks the listener like a cleaver-wielding maniac. Here, it seduces you down to the river before hiding your body inside a hollowed-out tree stump.

You'll listen to this version and find yourself haunted by it, days later.

Yes, it's true: there is a lot of violence in the world. There's horrific violence even in that non-vegan hamburger you just ate — for God's sake.

And there's even violence in the innocent world of 1971. Even within the safe space of the Shakespeare Theatre that we've temporarily found ourselves huddled together in.

We can't stay here forever. Sooner or later, we need to get back to 2021. I feel a bit sad as I write these words. And I sense you are feeling it, too.

I think Down By The River is a fitting end to this record. A powerful place to stop — on a (chilling) high.

But there's one more song, Sugar Mountain, which attempts to restore some cheer via a crowd sing-along. Neil is both relaxed and funny, here. But he's also just too "inward" to make this sort of thing work.

Of course, that's unfair: it probably *did* work well, live in the venue.

But I'm not in the venue! I'm here in 2021.

Or am I?

Listening to this record, it's hard to be sure. That's what I keep coming back to as I write this column. Time doesn't seem to matter too much. I've been writing now for a half-hour. Or is it an hour? Am I in 1971 or 2021? I've lost track.

Young Shakespeare has that sort of hypnotic effect. Hypnotic and magical.

Can a record be melancholy, cheerful, nostalgic, intense, tragic and relaxed — all at the same time? Give Young Shakespeare a few listens before sharing with me your answer.



FROM: Thrasher

TO: The "Inextinguishable Scotsman" 

Most excellent, sir.  Thanks for sharing your "notes"! 

We have given YS a spin or 2 and have watched the video films.  It still really stuns us all these years later how one man w/ an acoustic guitar could quell a large rowdy audience back in those turbulent times with new, unheard songs.  

It always struck as sheer bravery.  No band. No props. No effects.

So melancholy, cheerful, nostalgic, intense, tragic and relaxed?  All of the above, like water-washed diamonds on that rusted beach.

What is that they say about critics and sitting alone? Well, you're definitely much better than us for what you've shown.

Glad you're here Scotsman. As Meta Rocker would say:  om shanti

More on "Young Shakespeare" Album by Neil Young - Preview Track + Video: "Tell Me Why".

Young Shakespeare Deluxe (CD, LP & DVD) 
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At 3/26/2021 08:58:00 AM, Blogger Harm said...

I couldn't agree more with my fellow European (even though he's no longer in the EU). Young Shakespeare touched me on a whole other level than Massey Hall did. Many goosebump moments along the way (A Man Needs a Maid > Heart of Gold, Journey Through the Past, Don't Let it Bring You Down and Down by the River are presented in their definitive live acoustic versions here). The sound quality detracts a little (it's a bit noisier than Massey Hall) and there is a slightly out of tune string on Needle, but all in all, an essential release. Too bad Sugar Mountain is cut short on the DVD (maybe they ran out of video and didn't want to use the image of a tape recorder again).

At 3/26/2021 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Intriguing and sharp as usual. What I recall of 1971 was, however, not so innocent. There may be thick irony in that sentence, I am not sure, but a less ironic reading seems to fit better with the overall sense and meaning of the thoughts presented. My brother had his head cracked open by a Chicago police officer a few years earlier, riots and a bomb at University of Wisconsin Madison (Madison, Berkeley, Cambridge!). Nixon committing- along with his other knuckle draggers- horrific war crimes (Cambodia). United States Culture in a mid-stage of total unravel? More violence and unrest from civil rights. Kennedy brothers and MLK shot down. I will stop. Nixon was a causal impetus for Trump, the denial of law as the rule of law. Nothing here is a "criticism"- just thinking. The past almost always feels better than the present and it then beckons sentimentality, which is not good.

At 3/26/2021 10:03:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

50 years old, leaves me thinking why on earth wait till now to issue this ? Fans at the time in their mid 20s are now approaching 80 ! Seems madness that his fan base at the time have missed out on many years of listening to this - same goes for archives 2. Perhaps Neil was thinking some of the fans might have forgotten they've already bought 2 of these from the box!

At 3/26/2021 10:56:00 AM, Blogger NYBD11-12 said...

1971 feels both long ago and just past. I remember it as a year of optimism: US troops began withdrawal from Vietnam. Nixon low in the polls. He opened the door to China, an action his younger self would have called "communist appeasement."

Music book: "Never a dull moment; 1971 The year rock exploded."
Political book: "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI"

Great Music: John Lennon, Imagine; Marvin Gaye, What's going on; Who's Next; Stones, Sticky Fingers; Stewart, Every Picture; Janis, Pearl; Joni, Blue; Carole King, Tapestry; Sly, There's A Riot; Zep, Zep IV; Faces, A Nod.

Ali v. Frazier
Concert for Bangladesh--1st all-star $ raising concert; 50% of Beatles played it

Most important: I got After the Gold Rush and 4 Way Street, which began my life long Neil obsession. With 4 Way, mostly the Neil songs esp. On The Way Home).

Also bought The Guess Greatest Hits. the yin and yang of Canadian rock.

At 3/26/2021 03:30:00 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Beg to kindly differ with the Scotsman that the transcendent version of "Down By The River" was played each night maybe the entire tour leading up to the first Farm Aid. That version with Hargus "Pig" Robbins is just out of this world. Might not come across with the audience tapes out there but in person it was out of this world in a good way. Even when Neil was at the Country Music Hall Of Fame he mentioned that particular version with Hargus that he clearly is holding back for some reason.

At 3/26/2021 03:50:00 PM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Jim: no difference of opinion! I adore many of the electric versions (including the ones bafflingly-unreleased from 1985). Just saying that the acoustic versions have a different feel to 'em.


At 3/26/2021 04:06:00 PM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Ab: wise insights (as always). I wasn't really being ironic - but I was aware that the 1971 I was describing was a illusion. As "real" as the town of Greendale, or the Shocking Pinks in Solo Trans.

I'm a fan of Laurel and Hardy, and their films make me feel a certain way about the 1920s and 1930s that surely only has a fragile connection to "reality". Of course, we all know what was brewing in the wider world at the same time Stan and Oliver were making their innocent films. no disrespect intented with my whitewashing of 1971, to yourself or anybody else.


At 3/26/2021 05:17:00 PM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

NYBD: fascinating, thanks for sharing. Will have a look at the links.


At 3/26/2021 07:54:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

It would be so enjoyable to sit down and talk. Thanks Scotsman. I am also a L&H fan and I understand what you were doing. I have spent too much time chasing "reality." And, in general, failing.

At 3/26/2021 09:16:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

A singer/ songwriter and his songs, just getting acquainted. A gracious audience who came not just to see, but to really listen to his music. The subtle guitar techniques that only tend to arrive during a live performance. The relaxed banter between songs from a man completely at ease with who he is in that moment. A set of songs filled with our human experiences, performed by a young man who was just scratching the surface of his wonderful gift.

January 22, 1971, I was only fourteen years old and already a big Neil Young fan. The year was filled with more growing pains throughout America, and somehow Neil was able to tap into the vibes of the times. After The Gold Rush was getting heavy rotation on my turntable and I was at the early stages of experiencing teenage love with my first girlfriend. I had no idea just how important Neil Young’s music was going to be in my life at that particular moment, but once Harvest came out, I knew I was in for the long haul. Decades later we are all gifted with the opportunity to finally hear Neil Young performing at the Shakespeare Theatre over 50 years after the fact.

What a joy that Neil has been generous enough to dump such a huge load of lost music on us in such a short amount of time. So far 2021 is shaping up to be an incredible year for us NY fans, and this remarkable release is just the tip of the iceberg. I definitely agree with Scotsman that this is the sort of album that “should really be played on a proper record player on a snowy winter's evening”. Such a pure live recording that just draws you in, and doesn’t let go until it’s over. The highlights are numerous and the quality of his guitar work is both brilliant and subtle. Ohio is a real stunner, as is Down by the River. I love the medley of A Man Needs a Maid / Heart of Gold and Journey Through the Past is perfection. The ebb and flow of his song choices creates such a moving listening experience, I’m just stunned that this record has been hidden away for so long.

Neil has said that he prefers this performance over Massey Hall, and I agree completely. Massey Hall was extraordinary and Young Shakespeare is transcendent. After three listens in a row I can safely say that this is my favorite live Neil recording from the early 70’s. I have yet to watch the DVD, as I prefer to work backwards for sound quality. Vinyl first, then DVD, then CD. Looking forward to seeing the film as I’ve resisted the temptation to watch or listen to this release on NYA before release day.

Thanks to Scotsman for his inspiring assessment and to Thrashers for creating a space for all of us to share our thoughts.

Peace 🙏

At 3/26/2021 10:24:00 PM, Blogger wsanjose01 said...

i love how he becomes T Bone. Very near the Bluenotes guy really. hes all in and its fun to watch.

At 3/26/2021 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Art Carey said...

metaphorical material: the Shakespeare Theatre fell on hard times in the late 20th century and sat pretty much abandoned for many years as several attempts to revitalize it failed miserably. Eventually the place burned to the ground.

At 3/27/2021 12:10:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

My wife and I have been enjoying Young Shakespeare very much. We are both Neil Young fans, tho she is not obsessed as I am. So many good reviews and comments. I love Massey Hall and I am not yet ready to commit to loving one over the other. I will say tho that one answer to "Why hasn't Neil released this for over 50 years?" Neil Young was not the owner of a Record Company. His record company probably would not have allowed him to release this live album at the time at all. Neil couldn't just decide to release his entire catalogue at some point on a whim or under careful consideration. And his stubborn insistence that New material beats out old material kept him hungry as an artist. We are all fanatics; of COURSE we wanted it sooner. But, it unfolded in a different way. Now here we are in the years of Covid, and guess what. These treasures, these audio nuggets are making a big difference in our lives. If we already had the albums for 20 OR 30 years or whatever, we would not be enjoying the current feeding frenzy that we are. I was 2 years and 2 months old when Neil recorded Young Shakespeare and it took me another 18 years to get exposed to his Art and get drawn in. What a great pleasure it has been so far! Thanks Neil! Alan in Seattle

At 3/27/2021 12:52:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3/27/2021 01:45:00 AM, Blogger Thomas said...

Can’t wait to hear Young Shakespeare on vinyl when it arrives at my door - great to read everyone’s thoughts
I’m digesting the rust bucket record, return to greendale and archives vol2

But i urge you all to GO TO THE NYA PAGE NOW - Neil has posted a massive update on forthcoming releases - it’s out of this world!!!

At 3/27/2021 06:13:00 AM, Blogger Phil said...

Yes, go to NYA front page !!! More information about Archives Vol 3 (we never had so many detail about Vol 2 before its release. So I'm really confident about Vol 3 release in 2022). Toast, Noise And Flowers and Bootlegs (only on vinyl?) before end 2021...

No information about Alchemy which was announced for end october in a previous message...

Anyway, so exciting.

At 3/27/2021 12:47:00 PM, Blogger mrtew said...

Truly amazing singing and playing. Maybe my favourite Neil Young album yet. At least now that I'm done editing it. His ramblings should have been separate tracks like on Massey Hall and Riverboat etc so they can just be deleted from your iTunes or playlist or whatever. They're great once or twice but you can't really enjoy the record over and over listening to him running down his own songs as being "new" or "old" or "lame". He completely ruined the best version of Sugar Mountain by talking through it like a drunk kid at the Ontario fairgrounds free concert. Shut up dude, he's singing my favourite song. I cut it into three separate tracks and it's beautiful. Definitely wouldn't want the record on vinyl... might be cool on DVD though like the Helpless video - concert footage with old footage breaking it up visually.

At 3/27/2021 01:05:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@ Alan :
You are absolutely correct that this release was actually meant to be released now, and not back when it was recorded.
Your statement " these audio nuggets are making a big difference in our lives" is spot on. This is when we needed it come out, and along with all the Fireside Sessions, Neil has given us a reason for hope during a time when we needed it most. Everything happens for a reason, and as Neil writes to us today, the pandemic has allowed him to stop and reevaluate his legacy. And we are the lucky recipience of the mother load that is coming our way in the coming months.

Thanks for your clear observations.


At 3/27/2021 06:12:00 PM, Blogger Hbheel said...

I love Tuscaloosa though.....anything but half dead and depressing!!!!

At 3/28/2021 05:36:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3/28/2021 05:52:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...


I think Tuscaloosa is a frightening album...because it sounds like Neil is starting to get pulled into a black hole.

More than a few other newly-famous artists, of course, have got to the same place and never come back again. And as Neil sings on the funeral-style Tuscaloosa version of Don't Be Denied: "all that glitters is not gold".

At the same time Neil was playing Tuscaloosa, Elvis Presley had very recently "live streamed" his Aloha From Hawaii gig to adoring audiences around the world.

Elvis looked good and sounded powerful in Hawaii. But there was a distant look to his eyes...a sense of detachment to the performances.

The stress of being Elvis Presley was relentless. He'd be dead a little over 4 years later.

I think, on tour in early 1973, there were warning signs flashing for Neil Young. He'd just lost his right-hand man, Danny Whitten...and felt like he too was starting to break up. Rock 'n' roll (and associated substance abuse) has a habit of killing its participants.

So I see Tuscaloosa as Neil's zombie album — the dark side of "life on the road". The product of a man numbed by grief and ground-down by the unprecedented stress of his first mega-tour.

It's grim and mostly tuneless, I think. I don't think the songs are exactly full of life.

Sure, Neil sings Heart Of Gold and Old Man and Harvest. But is his heart in them? I'm not sure his heart is even on the stage.

Now, that's one side of the story.

But like Time Fades Away, is Tuscaloosa a powerful documentary of the 1973 tour? Definitely!

But watching newly-famous artists start to break down in public isn't as rewarding as listening to them create genuinely-moving, vividly-alive music. Music that flows from the heart with true warmth and connection.

And for the latter, we need to move on a few months to "Roxy"!


At 3/28/2021 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Hbheel said...

Well I guess I missed that.....I thought it was a great album....would have loved to have been there for those electric songs from don't be denied to lookout Joe. Never thought of it like that....thanks....Only Neil could answer that hahaha!!!!!!

At 3/28/2021 01:43:00 PM, Blogger Kevin D. said...

Another great article by Scotsman and having just listened to my copy of "Young Shakespeare" here are some additional thoughts to feed the conversation;

To me as I listened to this latest PS release I could not help but think about other concerts held during this time and so with the help of "Ghosts On The Road" and copies of "Cellar Door, Carnegie Hall (coming soon?, Massey Hall, Music Hall Boston (day before Shakespeare), Shakespeare, Dorothy Chandler, BBC Show and the Royal Festival Hall" show which really closes out what has proven to be an truly fantastic tour and time for Neil and fans alike.

I am not so sure you can single out one show over another and they all have their moments and if nothing else show the fast progression Neil was making with his songs. For example how the segued AMNAM/HOG morphed into two separate songs and then in the case of HOG to guitar and harmonica. Brilliant stuff IMHO.

I agree with Scotsman assertion that Shakespeare is looser the Massey Hall, which is interesting since the Boston show is a little more confrontational between Neil and the audience. Which brings me to the Royal Festival Hall show which to me is one of the best shows of this tour/time. Neil is in fine form and the UK audience quite and respective which I think really helps Neil get in the zone. The set list also has matured and grown to include additions such as Harvest and The Bridge. Simply stunning stuff.

That brings me to the video of Shakespeare which I did not reach out for in this case. I find it interested that back when Massey Hall was released you could get the CD/DVD combo for a acceptable price rather than a separate purchase or the deluxe bundle. Like others have said what format to purchase is an individual choice and I will leave it at that. I only mention it here since according to Ghosts On The Road questions were asked about the DVD included with Massey Hall being "similar" to the Shakespeare footage. I would just say the video of performances of this tour are worth seeking out and well worth watching. The Massey Hall video for me will do just fine and hence I did not spurge for the Shakespeare shoe.

Which lastly brings me the the BBC In Concert footage and performance. I was lucky to be able to view this when it was rebroadcast on VHI Classics a while back and also having the famous TMOQ record that went with with it. While short I think this is my favorite footage with an attentive audience and I have always like BBC music production values be it In Concert or the Old Grey Whistle Test back in the day.

So in closing an abundance of riches and I wish I had been old enough to experience these show in the flesh. In the meantime with all these available releases again like Scotsman mentions enjoy the trip back in time.

Kevin D. in Morro Bay

At 3/28/2021 05:39:00 PM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Excellent points Kevin — and thank you.

I need to go back and listen to the Royal Festival Hall gig, which I only listened to once a long time ago.

But the BBC gig is an old favourite of mine — one of the first Neil performances I ever saw. At the time I was mainly a fan of Neil's electric music, and it was hard to believe it was the same guy who I'd heard playing with 90s Crazy Horse.

(...and yes, the Massey Hall footage on the DVD is actually sourced from the Shakespeare gig.)


At 3/28/2021 05:46:00 PM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Hbheel: Don't Be Denied, New Mama...I think those are my favourites from Tuscaloosa. Neil seems more into the electric tracks, with the exception of Alabama.

...I'm not trying to be the "enjoyment police" stopping you from liking the album — just adding some context that may or may not be interesting. I like it as well, as a documentary of the tour...but I do think it's a fairly dark album featuring a disenchanted Neil Young.



At 3/29/2021 12:17:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Tuscaloosa is a pretty bad album overall in my listen through & I was done...but I understand why Neil released it

At 3/29/2021 02:44:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Thanks! I appreciate your comments and your Neil Young topic writing is great. Thanks to all of your for your commentary. Alan in Seattle

At 3/29/2021 03:33:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Tuscaloosa is a valuable relic. Our Hero, the Artist, is tired, burned out. Vietnam, Heroin deaths, and God knows what else weighs on him. He is not excited to be playing these songs, not anywhere near the level we have come to expect from him. I love TFA. There are fantastic classic songs on it. This is an uncomfortable tour to behold. No wonder Neil didn’t want to revisit it. But I am glad to have it, as a Neil Young-ologist. Further analysis is warranted. I prefer TFA. -Alan

At 3/29/2021 06:00:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

@Alan : I agree, Tuscaloosa is a valuable relic for sure. I have always thought that Time Fades Away was one of the best live albums Neil has ever released, but I can understand his feelings about that tour and how he relates to it on a personal level. Times were tough and he wasn’t in a healthy place at the time. It must be uncomfortable for an artist to be so exposed emotionally, but I feel the experience helped him in the long run as a performer, and made him stronger as a person. As a fellow Neil Young-ologist I appreciate the opportunity to hear Tuscaloosa and it certainly lends more perspective on his journey. I applaud his courage in sharing his experience of a difficult time with us.
He is a fearless artist to be sure.

Peace 🙏

At 3/31/2021 07:27:00 AM, Blogger G-Man said...

Sadly once again Greedy Hand UK have failed to deliver. I ordered and paid for "Young Shakespeare" CD + DVD back in February. Sadly 5 days after the release I have not received my goods. This happened with Archives Vol II and I was prepared to give Greedy Hand the benefit of the doubt, but now I see a totally failed business model with no customer care whatsoever, so long as they have your money!!!! I did receive the hi-res downloads on the day of release, but as I hate listening on my computer, I still await my hard copies.


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Guess what?
"Symbols Rule the World, not Words or Laws."
... and symbolism will be their downfall...

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge
Be The Rain, Be The Change

the truth will set you free
This Machine Kills Fascists

"Children of Destiny" - THE Part of THE Solution

(Frame from Official Music Video)

war is not the answer
yet we are
Still Living With War

"greed is NOT good"
Hey Big Brother!
Stop Spying On Us!
Civic Duty Is Not Terrorism

The Achilles Heel
Orwell (and Grandpa) Was Right
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”
~~ Bob Marley

The Essence of "The Doubters"

Yes, There's Definitely A Hole in The Sky

Even Though The Music Died 50+ Years Ago
Open Up the "Tired Eyes" & Wake up!
"consciousness is near"
What's So Funny About
Peace, Love, & Understanding & Music?


Show Me A Sign

"Who is John Galt?"
To ask the question is to know the answer

"Whosoever shall give up his liberty for a temporary security
deserves neither liberty nor safety."

~~ Benjamin Franklin


(Between the lines of age)

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

~~ John & Paul

the zen of neil
the power of rust
the karma of the wheat