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Friday, June 16, 2023

Comment of the Moment: "Box Car" Outtake by Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse - 1990

Neil Young Archives SEARCH  #outtake 
(See RUSTie Grains Pro Tip #44: Neil Young Archives SEARCH #outtake)
  (Click photo to enlarge)

Without any further ado, we bring you a Comment of the Moment on "Box Car", a newly released outtake by w/ Crazy Horse from 1990 on Neil Young Archives, by the inimitably intrepid -- yet inextinguishable --Scotsman:

But wait, 1st the track in subject below. Listen...

Box Car—the previously-unreleased version from the 1990 sessions with Crazy Horse—is released today.

It’s an absolutely fascinating outtake.

And it’s particularly fascinating for me because I wasn’t sure what to expect. If you’ve heard *other* versions of this “at-home-in-the-shadows” song, then you know exactly what I mean.

Box Car was first performed on the summer tour with the Bluenotes in 1988, before its inclusion on the shelved album ‘Times Square’ a few months later.

(That album exists as a bootleg. But other than Box Car, the whole thing is now officially released anyway — the tracks rationed out to Freedom and Eldorado).

During the same period, Box Car was a staple song of the blisteringly loud “heavy rock” tour with the Restless in January 1989.

On that tour, Box Car was the relative calm in between storms. It had a real cutting edge, but it was also the ”quiet” track of the setlist — making the louder songs appear even more extreme. It was performed on solo electric guitar with bursts of lonesome, perhaps despairing harmonica that mimicked the whistle of the freight train within the song’s lyrics.

It had a a haunting “round the campfire” vibe that was the very definition of spooky. Then Neil would lead into Like a Hurricane and blow the roof off the venue (say, the Bronco Bowl in Dallas, or the Fox Theatre in St Louis).

And then, after 1989, the song disappeared from the limelight (well, as much as this shadowy song was ever really in the limelight). It disappeared for a full 18 years. Its next public appearance would be on Chrome Dreams II, in more of a “showy” band arrangement — with Neil on six string banjo.

But for those who’d already heard the spooky 80s versions, the ‘07 version seemed to have lost the song’s cutting edge.

If the version at the Bronco Bowl back in ‘89 was the soundtrack to a modern day spaghetti western, then the Chrome Dreams II version was more the soundtrack to a Harry Potter spin-off.

Nothing wrong with it, exactly, and it’s a likeable enough banjo-fuelled jaunt. But what’s missing is the song‘s deadly-serious verisimilitude.

When Neil sings “I’m like a snake” on Chrome Dreams II, you get the feeling he‘s just singing a song.

Whereas on the solo ‘89 version, you *believe* him.

Compounding the problem is the then-new verse that Neil tacks onto the end of the ‘07 version. It doesn’t really fit, or paint much of a picture. It feels like what it is: a lyric that’s been added long after the original inspiration has left the room. (A similar story to what happened to Hitchhiker on Le Noise).

Both versions of Box Car (‘89 and ‘07) sound good. But it’s only the ‘89 version that brings to life a vivid spaghetti-noir movie in our imaginations.

And it’s only the ‘89 version that sends a chill down the spine. It’s the real deal.

So! One piece of the puzzle remains. How about the newly released version from 1990, with Crazy Horse?

It feels like exactly what it is — a thrilling 50/50 hybrid of the ’89 solo version with the Ragged Glory “house sound“. It’s also hauntingly embellished with what *sounds like* harmonica overdubs mimicking an accordion (?), or something like that.

Wow! What a combination.

Poncho Sampedro’s guitar is as sparse and organic-sounding as this mystical and elusive song demands. Billy’s bass lends the song an urgent gallop, and Ralph’s drumming keeps the song from falling from the cliff’s edge.

(In music, the cliff edge is the most exciting place to be — but as in real life, we don’t particularly want to fall. Falling isn’t the point.)

Neil sings the song beautifully, and with real guts, too. The full-on “spaghetti western“ guitar sound works well with Crazy Horse, and it’s perhaps surprising we haven’t heard more like this over the years.

Is the Crazy Horse version superior to the solo ‘89 arrangement?

I like it… I like it a lot. But overall, I think not.

Bob Dylan once said: “Sometimes the beat takes the mystery out of the rhythm”. And that’s what happens here, I think.

This is a song that‘s only truly in its element when swathed in mystery. No TV interviews, no bright lights or press releases or letters from the editor or any of that stuff.

It‘s a song that’s at home on the smoky Bronco Bowl stage in the cold and bleak winter (we’ll imagine it was cold and bleak) of 1989 — with grass growing up through the parking lot… or whatever we read about that historic show in the Shakey bio.

The addition of Ralph’s drums is a fascinating experiment, and yes — it adds something to the song. But it also takes something away.

That’s the lesson of this track. The spookiest music has to be handled with kid gloves. Because it’s very easy to shine a light on it and say “oh, that looks better”… not realising that “looking better” isn’t the point. Having the spook is what’s important.

I’m very glad that Neil and Crazy Horse played Box Car, and I’m even more pleased that Neil’s shared it with the rest of us. Because it’s *this* sort of fascinating stuff that I think the Archives is really all about. More, please.

Now, for maximum spook, we need to go back to the theatres and converted bowling alleys from a year previous — where Neil performed this edgy song (from the shadows, of course) alone at the microphone.

PS: the ‘89 version isn’t strictly “solo”, because there’s some wickedly ominous percussion (from Chad Cromwell?).

On top of that, audience-shot videos of the concerts reveal that although we can *hear* harmonica, Neil isn’t the one playing it.

Who is, then? I don’t know. Another mystery — very fitting for this most mysterious song!

Thanks so much Scots!  Haven't checked out latest "Box Car" outtake but vaguely recall this circulating way back in the days that used to be. Eager for a fresh listen on our next opportunity on  Neil Young Archives.

BTW, if folks have not already, check out The Flying Scotzman Soars with Neil Young Writings.

"A close look at two of Neil Young’s most thrilling guitar effects"
by  The Flying Scotzman on Patreon

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At 6/16/2023 01:29:00 PM, Blogger willforestwater said...

He's released this version on his official channel on YouTube, nice for those without a subscription to the archives.

Great version! Love the driving drums!

At 6/16/2023 03:15:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

@ will forest water : Thanks for mentioning that other versions of Box Car are on Neil’s YouTube channel. I just listened to 2 versions I had not heard and was blown away. I like the version on Chrome Dreams 2 but now I can meditate on the attributes of of each version. We are lucky, we get to have it all.

@ Thrasher &
@ flying Scotsman : Thanks for doing what you do! Good writing & analysis.

This summer is looking like the best summer in a long time for Neil Young fans, & live music lovers!

Your brother Alan in Seattle

At 6/17/2023 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

wow, talk about insight! Scotsman, you are right on the money. I find it really intriguing how the song goes from what looks like a banality (but not really, based more on the performance) to quite tense, dark, difficult, and "spooky." after reading the above comment of the moment I went and listened and I had a revelation about Neil. He can turn simple lyrics into menacing or terrifying with his musical comportment (I don't know how else to say it). Scotsman never fails to send me back to something and learn. For this I am really grateful to TW and the whole community. This is a great bunch of people and I wish I could go out west and join the fun. Thanks again Scotsman, I hope to read more of your stuff this summer as time opens up a bit.

At 6/17/2023 04:39:00 PM, Blogger Tomatron said...

So there is an earlier studio version of Boxcar, featuring The Restless? Sounds like a good candidate for the first disc of Vol. 4, or Road of Plenty first, if that’s still in the works as a standalone release.

At 6/18/2023 09:55:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Yet another excellent example of great writing and insightful perspective. Thanks so much Scotsman for sharing your insights and expertise, they are always appreciated and important here.

Looking forward to hearing more bonus material from this period of the Horse.

Peace 🙏

At 6/20/2023 05:50:00 AM, Blogger Paul • Maybe a red man said...

Great article! Thanks a lot!

At 6/20/2023 01:28:00 PM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Hi everybody, and thanks for all your typically gracious comments. And special thanks to Thrasher (as always) for publishing the latest rant.

To everybody and anybody interested, feel free to dive into my writings over at Patreon. Subscribers always super-appreciated, naturally, but there are plenty of free-to-read articles too. I'm giving each one my best shot, so there's no reason to think I'm saving all the good stuff for subs. Bookmark the link below:

The goal is simply to have somewhere to publish my stuff that doesn't necessarily correlate with the latest release or popular talking point. It's better when you are there to engage with it, so thank you everybody who checks it out from time to time.

Dan, Paul, Alan: thank you very much!

Ab: it will be my honour to write for you over the summer, if you can pop over for a look. Thank you.



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