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Box Set Key: Neil Young, Archives Vol. II (1972-1976)
The ten-Compact Disc follow-up to Vol. I (1963-1972)  offers a great deal of previously-unreleased material, and a great deal of previously-released material. One of the discs we have heard before (and which those remotely interested in this set have bought before), the long-awaited official unveiling of one of Young's two major “Lost Albums,” Homegrown, happened earlier in 2020. Those following the protracted story of the Neil Young Archives could only assume that this significant release would be duplicated in the second box set, indeed that it served as a teaser for it. However, two concert albums, Tuscaloosa and Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live released on their own in 2018 and 2019, respectively, are also included here, a move that has annoyed many. Another live album that the set includes, the much-anticipated Odeon Budokan, has not come out on its own; presumably it will soon enough. Would not Neil Young fans not quite so obsessed with his intricate discography, or merely not inclined to spend so much money, like to have previously-unreleased studio recordings in the form of stand-alone releases just as much, if not more so, as previously-unreleased live recordings?
However... the problem with the previously-released studio tracks is that, as we learned from Vol. I, not only does Young include archival releases released separately in the Archives box sets, but he also interfiles previously-released material (i.e. released decades ago) with the "new to me" material. Putting aside the three aforementioned concert albums, the other seven discs each include at least a few tracks from some of Young's well-known 1970s albums. This tendency on Young's part makes all of his Archives projects strikingly similar to the double L P he released in 1977, Decade. But Decade was sort of a "greatest hits" album. Ten-disc box sets are not "greatest hits." The interfiling of new and old tracks also makes the sets different, if not in overall content then at least in presentation, from the new norm in the music reissue business: box sets based on a single album. In these sets, the previously-released material is obviously comprised of the original album plus some tracks originally released as singles or on compilations; all clearly set off from the previously-unreleased material, such as concert recordings, demos, and out-takes. Young, in contrast, as discussed below (and as if mixing album and archival tracks together was not bad enough!) does not include the entirety of the original albums, which would at least allow the consumer to dispose of old copies. Nearly all of Tonight's the Night, On the Beach, and Zuma (arguably first, second, and third among Young's best albums) are included, but not all.
Another complication with this set became plainly obvious upon the announcement of its tracking order: the chronological stopping point, 1976. This means that the fate of the other Neil Young “Great Lost Album,” Chrome Dreams, has for now been left hanging in the air. An intrepid observer may conclude that the version of Chrome Dreams supposed to be released in 1977 is too finely-edited—and yet, some may say, sloppily-assembled—in other words, too much of a proper Neil Young studio album to be included in the Archives series. That conclusion, as we will see below, does not square with the editorial and curatorial decisions Young has made regarding his Archives, and especially in the inclusion of Homegrown in this box.
Everybody's Alone (1972-1973)
The 13-track first C.D includes ‘Yonder Stands the Sinner’, from Time Fades Away, Young's 1973 concert album that consisted of previously-unreleased songs (an approach he would take again in 1987 for most of the album Life). It also features a live version of ‘Last Trip to Tulsa’ previously released as the B-side track of the ‘Time Fades Away’ single. Otherwise this disc offers distinct content. This new material, though, forms quite the hodgepodge, with seven studio tracks that can hardly be said to come together to form any kind of cohesive whole, joining four live tracks. Those live tracks, like ‘Sinner’ and ‘Tulsa’, come from the 1973 tour that also gave us Time Fades Away (except ‘Love in Mind’, recorded at a Royce Hall concert in January 1971) and the next album in this box, Tuscaloosa. Three of the seven studio tracks were recorded in Los Angeles, November 1972: two of these are early versions of later songs (‘Letter From 'Nam’ became ‘Long Walk Home’ and ‘Monday Morning’ became ‘Last Dance’) while the third is a studio version of the Time Fades Away track ‘The Bridge’. For the other four, Young used a newly-built recording studio at his Broken Arrow Ranch near La Honda, California. These four tracks are the main attractions here. They include a studio version of ‘Time Fades Away’ and two songs never officially heard before: ‘Come Along and Say You Will’ and ‘Goodbye Christians on the Shore’; these three being recorded in December 1972. The studio versions of Time Fades Away songs leave me wanting more. Young initially spoke of what became Tuscaloosa as Time Fades Away II; if only that hypothetical album could have been a complete studio version! On the other hand, ‘Come Along’ and ‘Christians’ have a different feel, suggesting a follow-up to After the Gold Rush that never came to fruition. The fourth of the ranch tracks is a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (C.S.N.Y) version of ‘Human Highway’ recorded in June 1973 during sessions for what was to be, but alas never became, the foursome's second album, as Young instead decamped to Los Angeles to record the bulk of what would become Tonight's the Night. This turn of events is frequently interpreted, and rightly so, as a fork-in-the-road choice that embodied and fostered Young's artistry, defining his place in the Rock-and-Roll pantheon.
This live album probably should have been saved for the box set, given that the material overlaps with Time Fades Away and the previous disc. It stands apart (on one foot? or merely with bad posture?) because all the tracks come from a single concert. An alternate approach, probably just as jumbled but at least more satisfying to the buyer, would have included all of Time Fades Away (except that pesky 1971 track, which could have been included in Archives Vol. I since it comes from a solo tour documented in that set): the first disc is quite short. Either way, now that we have all these additional tracks from the 1973 tour, here's a handy chronological listing of all the released recordings:
February 5th: 11 tracks, all recorded in Tuscaloosa and included on the album of the same name.
February 11th, Cleveland: ‘Journey Through the Past’, track 2 of Time Fades Away
February 18th, Baton Rouge: ‘Last Trip to Tulsa’, B side of the ‘Time Fades Away’ single and track 7 of Everybody's Alone (1972-1973)
March 1st, Oklahoma City: ‘Time Fades Away’ and ‘L A’, tracks 1 and 4, respectively, of Time Fades Away; The Loner, track 8 of Everybody's Alone (1972-1973)
March 11th, Bakersfield: ‘Sweet Joni’, track 9 of Everybody's Alone (1972-1973)
March 17th, Seattle: ‘Yonder Stands the Sinner’, track 3 of Time Fades Away and track 10 of Everybody's Alone (1972-1973)
March 28th, Phoenix: ‘Don't Be Denied’, track 6 of Time Fades Away
March 29th, San Diego: ‘Last Dance’, track 8 of Time Fades Away
April 1st, Sacramento: ‘The Bridge’, track 7 of Time Fades Away; ‘L.A (Story)’ and ‘L.A’, tracks 11 and 12 of Everybody's Alone (1972-1973)
Yet another alternative.... Again, given the relative brevity of Everybody's Alone, one cannot but wonder if there are additional recordings from the 1973 gigs that could have been included, so that the concert material newly made available in 2020 with the box set's release, instead of being only four tracks, one of which, ‘L.A (Story)’, is not a musical performance, could have amounted to more, maybe a short album.
The alternative to that alternative: Tuscaloosa could have stayed a separate release only, perhaps merely a download, certainly not included in the box set. Several of the performances do not compare favorably to those found on Time Fades Away. Young's vocal on ‘Harvest’, especially, borders on the wretched, flattening out the melody; it at least gives us a clue as to why many attendees of the 1973 tour had negative reactions. Without this track, the excessive number of songs from Harvest would have at least not counted against Tuscaloosa's significance.
Tonight's the Night (1973)
The nine tracks from Tonight's the Night  recorded August-September 1973 are found here, plus three previously-unreleased tracks from those sessions. The other three tracks on Tonight's the Night are ‘Lookout Joe’, recorded December 1972 at the ranch (that is, the same sessions that produced the three tracks noted on Everybody's Alone); ‘Borrowed Tune’ (included on Walk On—see below); and ‘Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown’ (the Danny Whitten-sung tune recorded live at the Fillmore East in 1970—another recording from the same night is on the Fillmore East album included in the first Archives). In other words, this is like a reissue of Tonight's the Night with a few bonus tracks added, except that, with the three other tracks subtracted, you cannot listen to the album as it was originally released. And may I add that ‘Lookout Joe’ could have easily been included on Everybody's Alone? Did I mention how short that disc is? One of the three new tracks here is ‘Raised on Robbery’, featuring Joni Mitchell. Another is an alternate, "jam" version of ‘Speakin' Out’ that eases the listener into the material and a new version of ‘Everybody's Alone’, which Young recorded with Crazy Horse in 1969 (included on the first Archives).
Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live (1973)
Alongside Fillmore East  and the Massey Hall concert album that followed it in 2007, this release ranks one of the unmitigated successes of Young's entire Archives project. Sure, Neil Young aficionados wanted more Fillmore material, but of course that is another way of saying that the Fillmore album—all three albums—lived up to the high expectations that fans had for them. In addition to a few other songs and some "raps," Roxy presents a rougher version of the nine Tonight's the Night songs noted above (that is, those recorded August-September 1973) than those we would come to know. More than four decades later (or, of course, on bootlegs in the time between) we hear what the lucky Roxy attendees got to hear, but we do not have the privilege of hearing those nine songs for the first time this way—that special way of growing familiar with a song when one only hears it being performed in person, as its compositional kinks are being worked out. I suppose that one who has never listened to Tonight's the Night could put this disc on before the previous one. Either way, should this album have been included here? For comparison to the studio versions, yes. But that would be assuming that Young is already including previously-released music. Again, though—yes, let us repeat it—the big disappointment of Young's Archives has been the interfiling of previously-released and previously-unreleased material.
Walk On (1973-1974)
Essentially an expanded reissue of On the Beach , sans ‘See the Sky About to Rain’, this C.D includes ‘Winterlong’, from Decade; ‘Borrowed Tune’, from Tonight's the Night; which, with seven tracks from Beach, leaves only three tracks that had not previously been released: ‘Bad Fog of Loneliness’; ‘Traces’; and ‘Greensleeves’, the first and second of which, like ‘Winterlong’ and ‘Borrowed Tune’, come from the earlier Beach sessions, recorded at Young's ranch, while the rendition of ‘Greensleeves’ (which impressively is a rare performance of the tune including lyrics), also recorded at the ranch, comes from May 1974, a month or so after the Sunset Sound sessions that completed Beach. The exclusion of the remaining On the Beach track, ‘See the Sky About to Rain’, also from the Sunset Sound sessions, is inexplicable.
The Old Homestead (1974)
The absolute treasure trove of the set, with sixteen previously-unreleased tracks in addition to the following: a live version of ‘On the Beach’, from the C.S.N.Y 1974 box set documenting the supergroup's arena tour of that year, released in 2014, in supposedly a different mix; ‘The Old Homestead’, from Hawks & Doves; and ‘Deep Forbidden Lake’, from Decade. One of the sixteen unique tracks is another live cut from the C.S.N.Y 1974 tour, but the remaining are studio recordings: eleven from Young's ranch, June and November 1974 (that is, before and after the tour), plus four recorded in December 1974: one at the ranch (the third version of ‘Love/ Art Blues’); one, ‘Changing Highways’, recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago; and two recorded at Quadrofonic Studios in Nasvhille (‘Daughters’ and the second version of ‘Love/ Art Blues’; ‘Deep Forbidden Lake’ and ‘The Old Homestead’ also being recorded at these sessions). This Nashville session also produced tracks that ended up on Homegrown. The overlapping contents of this C.D and Homegrown resolve whatever mystery and confusion still surrounds the latter, which in listeners' minds is naturally not the same as the album finally released. Perhaps the long list of tracks that Jimmy McDonough included in his Young biography, Shakey, as potential tracks for Homegrown inflated the lost album's stature and breadth beyond what it deserved. Documents presented at the Neil Young Archives website, including photographs of the boxes containing the original master tapes, suggest that the 2020 Homegrown could match exactly what Young planned to release in 1975, before he changed plans and released Tonight's the Night instead.
For clarity's sake, a list of the eleven tracks recorded at the ranch in either June or November:
the first version of ‘Love/ Art Blues’
Through My Sails
Pardon My Heart
L A Girls and Ocean Boys
Love Is a Rose [Decade]
the first version of Vacancy
One More Sign
Give Me Strength
Bad News Comes to Town
Yet perhaps the primary feature of Homegrown that suggests it could have been an album released in 1975 is the diversity of the tracks that comprise it. Whatever its reputation as a Country-esque slow-paced affair heavy on acoustic guitar, it is still a Neil Young album, which usually means: cobbled together from multiple sessions and unafraid to make stylistic leaps from track to track. Granted, it is not as diverse in its constituent parts as Harvest. But we cannot but conclude that this disc includes tracks from both 1974 and 1975, adding to the wealth of material solely from 1974 on the previous disc, because Young at the time was refining what tracks would get included on his next album, or had already decided on most of them and was waiting to record the tracks so designated. Homegrown features four tracks recorded at the aforementioned Nashville sessions, one track from the aforementioned June 1974 session at the ranch, a track recorded in London in September, and six tracks recorded December 1974-January 1975 at the ranch or Village Recorders in Los Angeles. Of course, three of these tracks did get released in the ensuing years: ‘Love Is a Rose’, on Decade; ‘Star of Bethlehem’, on American Stars 'n Bars, though the mix is slightly different; and ‘Little Wing’, on Hawks and Doves. Still, Homegrown holds together well. Truly we all missed out by Young not being willing or able to release three albums in 1975 instead of two.
The tracks recorded in December 1974 but included on The Old Homestead:
the second version of Love/ Art Blues
The Old Homestead [Hawks & Doves]
Deep Forbidden Lake [Decade]
the third version of Love/ Art Blues
The tracks recorded in December 1974-January 1975 found on Homegrown:
Star of Bethlehem [American Stars 'n Bars]
We Don't Smoke It No More
the second version of Vacancy
the first version of Kansas
Little Wing [Hawks & Doves]
These ten tracks, plus ‘Love Is a Rose’ and the recording of ‘White Line’ from September, complete the album.
Eight of nine tracks on Zuma are included, leaving out only ‘Through My Sails’, a C.S.N.Y recording from June, 1974. So again we have a sort of expanded reissue of an old album. The bonus tracks, though, prove to be more substantive than the Tonight's the Night and On the Beach extras noted above. A total of eight previously-unreleased tracks, about half an hour in length. Not for nothing are countless Neil Young fans now making alternate or extended versions of Zuma including these tracks.
The eight previously-unreleased tracks:
Ride My Llama
Born to Run
the second version of Kansas
Too Far Gone
No One Seems to Know
Look Out for My Love (1975-1976)
‘Long May You Run’, ‘Let It Shine’ (in supposedly a different mix), and ‘Fontainebleau’, from Long May You Run, ‘Like a Hurricane’, from American Stars 'n Bars, ‘Lotta Love’ and ‘Look Out for My Love’, from Comes a Time.... These are all included. Without these tracks, again we would have a short album, a little over half an hour. Except that, unlike Dume, this album-within-an-album consists of a smattering of material recorded over the course of half a year. What does it offer? Two tracks from the Stills-Young Band sessions: versions of ‘Separate Ways’ and ‘Traces’. And what may come to be definitive versions (for lack of better alternatives) of three tunes from when the Stills-Young sessions briefly turned into another try at a second C S N Y album, which faltered like similar attempts before and after the 1974 tour: ‘Ocean Girl’, ‘Midnight on the Bay’, and another version of ‘Human Highway’. Two solo performances recorded in London, 1976, during the Crazy Horse Japanese-European tour early that year are included: what has commonly been considered the Chrome Dreams version of ‘Stringman’ (the same recording, sans overdubs, is heard on the next disc) plus ‘Mediterranean’. To top it off, live recordings from that tour, included here instead of the next disc for no good reason: namely, solo versions of ‘Mellow My Mind’ and ‘Midnight on the Bay’.
Odeon Budokan (1976)
The shocker of the box set: all ten tracks previously unreleased! The only somewhat-exception comes with the aforementioned ‘Stringman’. As with the Fillmore album, Young fans wanted more. The concerts from the 1976 Crazy Horse tours had won rave reviews, and been romanticized ever since. What we have here, though, suffices to make an exemplary 1970s concert album. Like Massey Hall or Homegrown, this album definitely should have been released contemporaneously.
Speculation about what archival recordings will be released by Neil Young, and in what form, has been common in the decade since the first Archives box. Especially noteworthy for those who make such "wish lists," is that Hitchhiker, a brilliant solo studio album released on its own in 2017, is not included in the second box; since the Odeon Budokan tracks were recorded March, 1976, Hitchhiker in August, 1976, the latter could serve as the first disc of Archives Vol. III, if it ever comes to be. As with Homegrown, the contents of Hitchhiker had been released in part, those parts in bits and pieces, over the years: the same recording of ‘Pocahontas’, but with overdubs and other added sounds, was featured on Rust Never Sleeps; ‘Captain Kennedy’ was included "as is" on Hawks & Doves; and an edit of ‘Campaigner’ was found on Decade. The complication known as Chrome Dreams enters the picture, because the purported tracking order of that mythical beast includes what are now officially the Hitchhiker versions of ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘Powderfinger’; ‘Captain Kennedy’ from Hawks & Doves; ‘Will to Love’ and ‘Like a Hurricane’ from American Stars 'n Bars; what is now officially the Homegrown version of ‘Star of Bethlehem’; and what is now officially the Look Out for My Love version of ‘Stringman’. Chrome Dreams could still have versions of ‘Too Far Gone’, ‘Hold Back the Tears’, and ‘Sedan Delivery’ all to itself, plus an alternate mix of the American Stars 'n Bars version of ‘Homegrown’. But that amounts to less than half an album. However, Young has proven willing to include the same tracks on both an entry in the Special Release Series (of which Homegrown is the third) and an entry in the Official Release Series (in the case of Homegrown, both American Stars 'n Bars and Hawks & Doves). Could another Special Release (say, Chrome Dreams) include tracks already included on a previous Special Release (Hitchhiker)? Why? Why not?
On the other hand, without the duplication of releases (or if at least Tuscaloosa and Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live had remained stand-alone releases), more space could have been created to extend the timeline of this box set through 1980, when the recycling and reinterpreting of supposed Chrome Dreams material reached a temporary conclusion with the aforementioned appearance of ‘Captain Kennedy’. The end date of 1976 cuts off Young's creative work precisely at its peak of prolificacy. That intense period, 1973-1976, compares to Bob Dylan in 1965 and 1966. In the early-middle 1970s, plenty other artists, supported by the tailwinds of a booming industry and recording-technology advances, reached their own peak-plateaus: the seeming ability to create one great album after another, year by year, disrupted not so much by excess (at least not necessarily so) but by success: the running through of ideas, the inevitable slowing with age, and in some cases bands doing all they could do together. The Beatles established this template with the dueling, but usually conjoined, paths of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the years 1965-1971 (from ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’ to Ram and Imagine), matched by the likes of Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Funkadelic-Parliament, Can, and Black Sabbath. Young stands apart, though, in the larger number of brilliant songs composed and a willingness and ability, unmatched even by the numerous post-Folk Revival "singer-songwriter" artists making the rounds, to perform solo, accompanied by acoustic guitar, harmonica, and piano—even as he was increasingly heralded for his discordant electric-guitar stylings that would prove to be deeply influential in the next couple decades.
For all the wonders disclosed by Young's archival operation, this attachment of his to interfiling previously-unreleased material with the previously released borders on the perverse at this point. It keeps the true depths of his output largely unknown to casual listeners. For example, arguably only aficionados care to hear much more of Dylan's "Basement Tapes" material than what was released on the original album in 1975, or more of the Blood on the Tracks material than the five tracks replaced soon before that album's release. But casual, novice, random listeners should hear several of Young's songs that remained undisclosed until the Archives releases. Compared to other artists (with the possible exception of Zappa), his working methods left behind unreleased music that should have at least gotten the attention that, for example, Homegrown's stand-alone release earlier in 2020 did. And yet Young throws this archival material so voluminous and worthy of attention together with familiar music already sold and re-sold countless times in large box sets that include discs released separately in recent years, leading many consumers to the conclusion that they do not need the box sets. After all, look at how much effort and space was needed here to delineate the varied discographical paths of the content found in Archives Vol. II. For a better approach, look again to Dylan. Archival releases like More Blood, More Tracks work in tandem with the original releases; to make any sense out of it, that box set essentially requires that you already have a copy of Blood on the Tracks.
Having said all that, with a flurry of activity on the Archives front since 2018, Young may be having the last laugh. If the future Archives volumes come in short order, he will stand alone among his peers, having outlasted or outdone them all in his longevity, prolificacy, and taking care of his recorded legacy (however haphazardly). Having floundered with his Pono business, a late-to-the-game, vainglorious attempt to challenge Apple Computer in the market for online downloads and portable playback devices, he turned his attention to the new order in the music trade: streaming, not downloading. Hooking up with new technologies already being worked out, he now presents on the Neil Young Archives website a streaming platform vastly superior to the industry norm, both in audio quality and in the presentation of background information about the music. Perhaps for the first time since 1975 (or 1991?), we can say with confidence that the rest of the music industry should act more like Neil Young. Indeed, an important countering argument to my critique of Young's inclusion of previously-released material in the Archives box sets would note that Young now encourages us to listen to music at his website. The physical limitations of an L P or C D do not exist there, and one can quickly traverse from Tonight's the Night (1973), with only nine of the 12 tracks originally featured on the album, to the original release on the streaming interface's timeline and thus listen to the missing three tracks. That's well and good, but then why are those nine tracks repeated in the timeline? In short, Young's streaming service is superior only because the dominant streaming services offer bad audio quality and next-to-nothing discographical and historical information. The bar is low.
–Justin J Kaw, December 2020