Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps

As we had stayed in County Cork long past our expected return, I was developing a serious hankering for Moroccan cuisine. My mother was smart enough to know that sooner or later we would miss eating the food we normally eat at home, so she wisely packed the pot and all the ingredients for chicken tajine and surprised us with my favorite meal one night last week.

The food and the wine put us all in a convivial mood, and though my father was just about to ruin the occasion by starting a conversation about American politics, the three women at the table groaned in perfect harmony and asked him to select another topic.

“Okay, how about this? Best guitar album ever.”

“Dad, you know damn well I don’t do ‘best of’ crap. Make it “‘favorites’ and I’ll play.”

Maman immediately named The Indispensable Django Reinhardt and Alicia quickly followed with The Art of Segovia. Dad seemed baffled by their selections.

“I was thinking ‘rock guitar,'” he said sheepishly.

“Nobody’s stopping you. What’s your pick?”

“Tough one. I’ll have to go with Are You Experienced? because of its influence. Your turn.”

Although I was the one who insisted on “favorites,” the truth is my favorites change depending on my mood. Sometimes my favorite Beatles song is “A Hard Day’s Night,” tomorrow it might be “Norwegian Wood” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” next week. Had it not been for a certain coincidence, I might have spent hours trying to answer the “favorite guitar album” question.

As luck would have it, I had recently immersed myself in an album where the guitars evoked a wide range of emotions beyond the usual thrills. I loved the sounds created by those guitars on every single track.

Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young and Crazy Horse,” I finally replied.


It’s too bad that Harvest remains Neil Young’s best-selling album and is still referred to as his “signature” work. That’s the kind of thinking that drives the Grammies and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—your “best” work is the one that brought in the most dough and improved the industry’s profit margins. Fortunately for posterity, Neil Young experienced something of an epiphany when “Heart of Gold” hit the top of the charts, as recorded in the liner notes for the compilation album Decade: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”

A rough ride indeed. The interlude following Harvest was a chaotic period when albums were recorded and temporarily shelved, when Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and CSNY roadie Bruce Berry died from drug overdoses, when Neil and Carrie Snodgress decided to go their separate ways and when the lightness of Harvest gave way to the darkness of the “ditch trilogy.” Neil Young seemed to be going out of his way to give the people what they didn’t want in an earnest attempt to redefine himself as anything but a successful rock star. Neil’s comments on Time Fades Away in the Decade liner notes speak volumes about his post-Harvest artistic intent:

Time Fades Away. No songs from this album are included here. It was recorded on my biggest tour ever, 65 [sic] shows in 90 days. Money hassles among everyone concerned ruined this tour and record for me but I released it anyway so you folks could see what could happen if you lose it for a while. I was becoming more interested in an audio verite approach than satisfying the public demands for a repetition of Harvest.

Sometimes artists go through phases when they feel the overwhelming urge to blow things up and start all over. Depending on your source, Picasso went through anywhere from seven to eighteen periods of deconstruction and revival. Freaked out by the massive success of OK Computer, Thom Yorke suffered a nervous breakdown and went into isolation. When he finally reconnected with his Radiohead mates, he announced that he wanted to abandon the guitar-heavy arrangements that had brought them worldwide acclaim.

Kid A was Radiohead’s blow-up moment; Neil Young’s was the “ditch trilogy”. Both u-turns initially baffled their respective audiences; both are now revered by critics and fans alike.

The significance of the “ditch trilogy” is that Neil Young decided he was going to do things his way or not at all, expectations be damned. In the years between the trilogy and Rust Never Sleeps, he rebuilt Crazy Horse, recorded an album with Stephen Stills (and abandoned him mid-tour), appeared in The Last Waltz, pieced together an album of previously recorded work, then released the lovely acoustic folk album Comes a Time featuring vocal duets with Nicolette Larson. By this time, fans had learned not to anticipate what Neil was going to do next and began to embrace his stubborn artistry.

Neil had experimented with introducing new songs on a live album with Time Fades Away, an approach successfully employed by the Grateful Dead in Europe ’72. What he failed to take into account was that his fan base had little in common with Deadheads, who expected the Dead to experiment with new stuff and re-interpret classic songs in unexpected ways. Fans showed up at Neil’s concerts wanting to hear Harvest, the cherished hits from After the Gold Rush and maybe a CSNY tune or two, not a flood of unfamiliar songs poorly played by the cobbled-together Stray Gators. Figuring that in the intervening six years he had managed to rid the fan base of nostalgic expectations, he gave it another shot with Rust Never Sleeps, mixing seven live performances with two studio tracks, placing the acoustic performances on side one and the electric pieces on side two.

This time it worked like a charm. Rust Never Sleeps appeared at the top or near the top of “Best Album of the Year” lists and returned Neil Young to the Top 10. The commercial acceptance was nice, but the artistic achievement was even more impressive. Rust Never Sleeps was one of those increasingly rare events where chart success aligned with artistry.


The first three songs were recorded live at The Boarding House in San Francisco in May 1978. I’d never heard of the joint until I started researching this album, so I asked my father about it. “We didn’t go there much, as it was kind of out of the way. We were in Europe when Neil did his thing, but I remember seeing Dan Hicks and a very young Robin Williams there. For a long time it was a place for the smaller theatre companies, then it switched over to comedy, jazz and folk until it burned down in the 80’s.”

With a sly grin on his face, my dad ended his soliloquy with, “You might want to look it up on a map.”

Always a sucker for a mystery, I obtained the address, looked it up on Apple Maps and found the spot on Bush Street in Lower Nob Hill. I didn’t see much of interest other than the location was a couple of blocks down from Grace Cathedral but when my eyes drifted a couple of blocks to the west, I felt a surge of excitement when I saw St. Francis Memorial Hospital.

I can now say I was born two-and-one-half blocks from where Neil Young did his acoustic set for Rest Never Sleeps. My first claim to fame!

Side One: The Acoustic Side

“My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”: What I love most about the live acoustic numbers is the complete absence of guitar pretentiousness. The sound that emerges from Neil’s guitar is the sound you would hear in a campfire sing-a-long or a song-trading session among good friends in someone’s living room. There’s something about the simple combination of guitar and vocalist that has the potential to create an intimate bond between performer and listener if the performer puts his heart and soul into the song, and it’s obvious that even with the post-production dampening of audience reaction that the crowd at The Boarding House was hanging on Neil’s every strum, arpeggio and word.

I’ll take the magic fingers of a great acoustic guitarist over AI any day.

The audience reaction is most noticeable during the immortal first verse:

My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It’s better to burn out than to fade away
My my, hey hey

Here Neil plays the role of songwriter-as-assembler, lifting a line from a Danny and the Juniors hit and ethically borrowing the key line “It’s better to burnout than to fade away” from former bandmate Jeff Blackburn, who received co-writer credit. That line sent John Lennon into crazy rant mode, bitching about Sid Vicious (who isn’t even mentioned in the song) and implying that Neil Young was nothing more than a death worshipper. The songwriter responded with more class than I could ever muster:

“The rock’n’roll spirit is not survival. Of course the people who play rock’n’roll should survive. But the essence of the rock’n’roll spirit to me, is that it’s better to burn out really bright than to sort of decay off into infinity. Even though if you look at it in a mature way, you’ll think, “well, yes … you should decay off into infinity, and keep going along”. Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t look that far ahead. Rock ‘n’ roll is right now. What’s happening right this second. Is it bright? Or is it dim because it’s waiting for tomorrow – that’s what people want to know. And that’s why I say that.”

The line gained even more notoriety when Kurt Cobain included it in his suicide note. When asked about it in a 2005 interview with Time, Neil again responded thoughtfully, echoing similar feelings regarding fame and artistic control that he had struggled with:

The fact that he left the lyrics to my song right there with him when he killed himself left a profound feeling on me, but I don’t think he was saying I have to kill myself because I don’t want to fade away. I don’t think he was interpreting the song in a negative way. It’s a song about artistic survival, and I think he had a problem with the fact that he thought he was selling out, and he didn’t know how to stop it. He was forced to do tours when he didn’t want to, forced into all kinds of stuff. I was trying to get a hold of him – because I had heard some of the things he was doing to himself – just to tell him it’s OK not to tour, it’s OK not to do these things, just take control of your life and make your music. Or, hey, don’t make music. But as soon as you feel like you’re out there pretending, you’re fucked.

The line is not repeated in the electric version on side two, as Neil chose to use rougher guitars to emphasize the rust metaphor that gave the album its title. The fundamental difference between the two is that the acoustic version takes on a certain mournful color when Neil sings about the relatively recent passing of one of his most revered heroes:

The King is gone but he’s not forgotten
This is the story of a Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out than it is to rust
The King is gone but he’s not forgotten

I was surprised to hear appreciative hoots from the crowd at the mention of Johnny Rotten, as many Baby Boomers thought the whole punk thing was a bunch of crap. Neil was open-minded enough to appreciate the jolt of energy that punk provided and perceptive enough to recognize Elvis Presley as the original punk.

One last thing: Neil adds a touch of diversity to the mix with two harmonica solos. The first is so-so, but the solo on the fade is heartfelt heat.

“Thrasher”: Without Neil’s commentary on the song, the lyrics will seem like gibberish, so let’s clear that up tout suite: “‘Thrasher’ was pretty much me writing about my experiences with Crosby, Stills & Nash in the mid-’70s.” I always thought he was an odd fit for that band, but no matter how often he pissed them off, they welcomed him back into the fold more than a few times. I fully admit that I loathe CSN, so I shall refrain from cheering in response to Neil’s zingers and simply observe that the song confirms my suspicions that he really was a duck out of water:

They had the best selection
They were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed
Nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting

So I got bored and left them there
They were just dead weight to me
Better down the road without that load

On the plus side, I adore the clean, bright tones of Neil’s guitar and his ability to deliver the vocals free of undue emotion. In the end, he concluded that he had “his own road left to hoe.”

“Ride My Llama”: According to co-producer David Briggs, Neil wrote this “extraterrestrial folk song” about meeting a man from Mars and riding a llama from Peru to Texarkana in about twenty minutes. Before you jump to the conclusion that this bit of whimsy is low-quality album filler, Briggs insisted that Neil wrote “Pocahontas” in about twenty minutes as well. “Ride My Llama” hardly qualifies as a masterpiece, but it does demonstrate the remarkable breadth of Neil Young’s creative mind.

I was able to locate a bootleg version recorded at The Boarding House, and it’s pretty obvious from listening to the bootleg and the original version that eventually appeared on 2017’s Hitchhiker that “Ride My Llama” received a healthy dose of overdubs in the studio. The two most obvious additions are the delightful thumb-finger plucks and the ethereal background vocals. Before you cry “FAKE!” allow me to point out that the vast majority of live albums are subject to more than a few touch-ups, whether you’re talking about Live at Leeds or Get Your Ya-Yas-Out. Even the Grateful Dead agreed to overdubs for Europe 72, as Jerry Garcia’s vocals were frequently a half-step off.

“Pocahontas“: The last two tracks on side one were recorded entirely in the studio, but “Pocahontas” had been recorded years before in the same session that yielded “Ride My Llama” and “Powderfinger,” all of which reached the light of day on Hitchhiker. The version that appears on Rust Never Sleeps was subject to overdubs; the Hitchhiker take is the true “original recording.” Though I have a slight preference for the original and Neil’s unadulterated vocal, the sheer evocative power of the song comes through in both takes.

Neil Young had expressed empathy for Native Americans as far back as “Broken Arrow,” but in “Pocahontas” his language is more direct, filled with searing imagery of the sheer brutality inherent in “Indian Removal” policies:

Aurora Borealis
The icy sky at night
Paddles cut the water
In a long and hurried flight
From the white man to the fields of green
And the homeland we’ve never seen

They killed us in our teepees
And they cut our women down
They might have left some babies
Cryin’ on the ground
But the fire sticks and the wagons come
And the night falls on the setting sun

Both the United States and Canada embraced racist policies of assimilation and forced removal, but the implementation of those policies in the United States was far more sadistic. In the Wikipedia article on The Trail of Tears, the author notes that “The relocated peoples suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route to their newly designated Indian reserve. Thousands died from disease before reaching their destinations or shortly after. Some historians have said that the event constituted a genocide, although this label has been rejected by others and remains a matter of debate.” It’s only a matter of debate in the United States, a nation whose history includes a constitutional embrace of slavery, court-sanctioned segregation, the internment of innocent Japanese citizens, the never-ending attempts to deny minorities simple justice and voting rights, and the disturbing emergence of the racist, anti-immigrant MAGA cult. The “land of the free” has always been infested with a stubborn strain of white supremacist racism.

In the third verse, Neil changes time and narrator to expand the scope of the song and illustrate the long-term impact of cultural destruction. The image of the man who has lost all connection to his cherished traditions is painted in stark, ugly colors:

They massacred the buffalo
Kitty corner from the bank
Taxis run across my feet
And my eyes have turned to blanks
In my little box at the top of the stairs
With my Indian rug and a pipe to share

Verse four was idiotically interpreted by Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone as Neil finding “an amusing new way to tackle his romanticized fantasies of the Indians.” Only a guy with a really bad case of white privilege could come up with such unmitigated bullshit. My take is that the trapper wanted to become one with Pocahontas to fully understand her loss, and the reference to the sexual act should be interpreted as a sacred melding of souls, not an opportunity to get his rocks off:

I wish a was a trapper
I would give a thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the mornin’ on the fields of green
In the homeland we’ve never seen

The closing “Marlon Brando” verse may seem somewhat superfluous if you haven’t heard Brando’s message to the Academy when he declined the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Godfather: “The motion picture community has been as responsible as any,” Brando wrote, “for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil.” Naturally, the message seriously pissed off John Wayne, which only proves that Brando was right to use the opportunity to piss off the people who deserved it.

“Sail Away”: Neil brings Nicolette Larson back for an encore in this gentle acoustic number celebrating the need to always have an escape route from daily life. The acoustic guitar counterpoints are bright and lovely, imbuing the song with an irresistible but hardly cloying sweetness. The two voices meld together beautifully, making for a nice farewell to the acoustic side. My favorite verse is a scarcely disguised affirmation of Neil’s choice to move out of the mainstream and into a space with “more interesting people”:

See the losers in the best bars
Meet the winners in the dives
Where the people are the real stars
All the rest of their lives

Side Two: The Electric Side

“Powderfinger”: After the dreamy beauty of “Sail Away,” I think Neil made the right call to open the electric side with an arrangement that eases the listener into the change of soundscape rather than something that blasts eardrums. At first, the distorted guitars are barely noticeable, but over the course of the first verse the guitars begin to assert themselves in baby steps, eventually leading to the thrilling punctuation of the main riff, a beautifully designed electric guitar duet featuring Neil and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro of the rebuilt Crazy Horse.

The guitars are sinuous, sexy and hotter than a bitch in heat—just the way I like ’em. I love the way the two guitarists complement each other, trading licks and rhythmic support so seamlessly that I suspect they engaged in a Vulcan Mind Meld just before the performance. And I’m absolutely knocked out by Neil’s two solos, especially the second when he climbs up the fretboard and delivers a series of searing, soaring guitar riffs. The guitars are so compelling that I often find myself shutting out the lyrics and focusing entirely on the interplay.

That said, the lyrics are equally compelling, despite the surrounding mystery. From Songfacts:

There’s no small controversy over the meaning of this song. Some think it is set during the Civil War, with the attackers being Union soldiers. Others say that the “White Boat” is actually a Coast Guard Cutter, and the family being attacked are involved in drug running or operating an illegal distillation business.

Young himself might not know. He wrote two other songs around this time that were also filled with imagery from early America: “The Old Homestead” and “Captain Kennedy.” He told the New Musical Express: “Those songs are like a landscape, I don’t think with those songs – I get myself to a certain place, open up and they just come to me.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that the setting doesn’t matter and debating whether or not the attack depicted in the song was initiated by Union soldiers, Confederates or the DEA is nothing more than a distraction. The real story is about a young man who is forced to respond to an unexpected attack without guidance, help or much in the way of experience.

As the gunboat approaches, the kid is smart enough to realize that “it don’t look like they’re here to deliver the mail,” but that’s about it:

Daddy’s gone and my brother’s out hunting in the mountains
Big John’s been drinking since the river took Emmy-Lou
So the powers that be left me here to do the thinkin’
And I just turned twenty-two
I was wondering what to do
And the closer they got
The more those feelings grew

His instincts tell him to defend himself, and holding the ultimate phallic symbol gives him some confidence (“Daddy’s rifle in my hand felt reassuring”). As soon as he utters that line, images of red shirts from the original Star Trek pop into my head and I know the kid just made the last mistake he’d make during his too-brief lifetime:

But when the first shot hit the dock I saw it coming
Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why
Then I saw black
And my face splashed in the sky

Neil allows him to write his own regret-filled epitaph, another life cut short by gun violence:

Shelter me from the powder and the finger
Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger
Just think of me as one you’d never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love
I know I’ll miss her

This song moves me in so many different ways that I can hardly identify all the emotions I feel when listening to it. I suppose my parting wish is that all of us receive shelter from the powder and the finger, as human lives are too precious to waste in senseless, pointless violence.

“Welfare Mothers”: I’m not entirely sure where Neil was coming from when he wrote this song and I’ve read a raft of conflicting interpretations. Some say the song honors women abandoned by heartless men who fail to pay child support; others argue that women who have been through tough times would of course make better lovers because their experience has given them a certain maturity; and a few argue that it’s another example of Neil Young’s “lack of lyrical sophistication.” I firmly believe that if there’s one group in our society in need of a reputational upgrade, it would be the welfare mothers who have long suffered from poverty, right-wing attacks and charges of sluttery.

My reluctance to make a call on the lyrics has to do with things Neil said in an interview with Melody Maker in 1985. Out of the blue (pun intended) he had become a supporter of Ronald Reagan and started spouting all kinds of disgusting right-wing bullshit. “You go to a supermarket and you see a faggot behind the fuckin’ cash register, you don’t want him to handle your potatoes” was bad enough, but not an uncommon response during the paranoiac height of the AIDS epidemic. In regards to people on welfare, he said, “Stop being supported by the government and get out and work. You have to make the weak stand up on one leg, or half a leg, whatever they’ve got.”

I’ll take a hard pass on the lyrics and focus on the music. “Welfare Mothers” is essentially a high-energy pre-grunge work featuring enthusiastically performed call-and-response lines from Neil and the entire Crazy Horse trio. The guitar sounds are so beautifully fucking nasty that they stand as undeniable proof of Neil’s influence on many grunge band guitarists.

“Sedan Delivery”: Neil and the boys cross the line between grunge and punk with distortion-riddled guitars over a rhythmic arrangement that flips between punk bash at relatively high speeds and a half-time interlude somewhere between soulful hard rock and grunge. Drummer Ralph Molina does a fabulous job driving the beat during the fast parts and throwing in a mix of fills that alternate between the majestic and gradual collapse in the slower section.

The music conveys a certain seediness that is also reflected in the main character—he’s on uppers during the fast parts when he’s trying to make a buck and downers on the slow parts as he considers his essentially shitty existence. The first verse serves as kind of a blueprint for the remaining verses:

(Fast): Last night, I was cool at the pool hall
Held the table for eleven games
Nothing was easier than the first seven
I beat a woman with varicose veins

(Slow): She stopped to see herself in the mirror
Fix her hair and hide her veins
And she lost the game

Next he heads for the dentist to have a few meth-corroded teeth pulled, admits to a strange fascination with Caesar and Cleopatra that results in an increase in testosterone levels and finally gets around to telling us about his “job.”

I’m making another delivery
Of chemicals and sacred roots
I’ll hold what you have to give me
But I’ll use what I have to use

I bet he will! In the end we find out that he took the sedan delivery job (describing the method of drug distribution, not the delivery of your brand new Buick) in part due to the ongoing recession, but something tells me that this guy couldn’t get a real job anywhere in the known world:

I’m sleepin’ in every hallway
I just can’t accept the stares
I’m using too many covers
I’m warm now so I don’t care
I’m thinkin’ of no one in my mind
Sedan delivery is a job I know I’ll keep
It sure was hard to find
Hard to find, hard to find a job

I feel bad about his homelessness but shit, this is a guy that takes advantage of older ladies with varicose veins so he can feed his drug habit, so he bears significant responsibility for being down on his luck. “Sedan Driver” is one of Neil’s best character sketches, painfully true and set to music that enhances the narrative.

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”: Rust Never Sleeps goes full circle with a semi-reprise of the opening number with a modified title. This take is much darker than the acoustic version with heavy distortion and a chord pattern punctuated with two sets of three dissonant variations of the F chord. The sound is somewhere between metal, grunge and punk and I hear echoes of Black Sabbath in that dissonant chord attack. The shift to the more melodic third lines with the C-Em-Em7-Am-F chord pattern tempers the roughness a bit, but this piece is a no-doubt-about-it rock ‘n’ roll mini-orgy.

The most significant change in the lyrics is found in the third verse, where Neil took a suggestion from Mark Motherbaugh of Devo and used the Rust-Oleum slogan “Rust Never Sleeps” as a playful equivalent to “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”

The King is gone but he’s not forgotten
Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?
It’s better to burn out ’cause rust never sleeps
The King is gone but he’s not forgotten

The mournful coloring of the acoustic version is completely banished in favor of an affirmative musical statement that shouts “You’re goddamn right rock ‘n’ roll will never die.” Neil’s decision to transform the line about Johnny Rotten into a question may indicate some ambivalence regarding the punk singer’s odds of leaving a lasting impression on the music scene in comparison to Elvis; on the other hand, it might indicate he sensed that the Sex Pistols would indeed burn out and die pretty quickly.


Super dickhead misogynist and former board member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Jann Wenner declared that rock ‘n’ roll was dead a few years ago, in large part because he wasn’t making any money trying to peddle rock music to the declining population of Baby Boomers. As was so often the case, he was completely full of shit. As reported by CNBC, the Beatles remain on top of the streaming charts and lo and behold, the 18 to 24 age group accounts for thirty percent of that massive number.

The media keeps telling us that two cherished aspects of world culture are on their last legs: democracy and rock ‘n’ roll. That perception is based on declining participation in the voting process in some countries and diminishing sales of rock ‘n’ roll music.

The media is also full of shit. Most of the people living in democracies want to stay that way, but they’re sick and tired of having to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Most of the people I know are equally disgusted with the current popular music scene and its embrace of empty music for the masses, but the Big 4 have essentially blocked the paths of many artists who might be able to revitalize the music scene if given the chance to do so.

The continuing cross-generational fascination with the Beatles, Stones, Elvis and other rock greats tells me that rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to die. We just need more people like Neil Young who are willing to kick the rust off and embrace the never-say-die spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.

32 responses

  1. BART, how did you not know to tell ‘our hero’ that Billy Strings covers ‘Thick as a Brick’?. Lovely for a few minutes then steep drop to String Cheese quality.

  2. RE: ‘Welfare Mothers’ – for me the giveaway line is ‘Dee-vorc-eee’, which back in the 70s was a jokey way of signifying to men a no-hassle, no-commitment rendezvous. I prefer to think Neil was mocking the whole post-sexual revolution BS that left women in as inequitable a position as before, but maybe I’m projecting.

    1. I think you’re onto something there. When my father bought his first fixer-upper in the 70s and turned a big house into upstairs and downstairs flats, he rented the downstairs flat to what people today refer to as “a cougar,” a divorcee or unfaithful spouse who trolls the bars looking for younger guys to slip it to her. On weekends she’d bring the boys home late at night, turn up her stereo full blast and release earth-shattering pleasure screams that annoyed the crap out of couple who lived in the upper flat. The female part of the couple was a strict Catholic and she was even more upset that none of the boys were repeat customers—they were just using her. Dad never evicted a tenant no matter how bad it got, but the situation sort of resolved itself when her ex-hubby stopped paying alimony and she moved out-of-state. I’d say she had a pretty limited view of “liberation.”

  3. Brilliant choices 👌. I couldn’t agree more with your review of a wonderful album and mention of another great album, Kid A. It would be exciting to see a Neil Young /Lukas Nelson band and Crazy Horse band concert. Thanks for the complete review.

  4. I really enjoyed this article. I grew up playing this album more than most. This album is why I learned to play guitar. I have been in bands since the mid 80’s.My childhood friend and I have traded licks on Powderfinger more than any other song. Many of the acoustic songs are in my campfire repertoire. I knew quite a bit about these songs, but your insite opened my eyes on some things I didn’t. Nice pick! Thank you.

    1. Thank you! I’m happy to hear from someone who truly appreciates the guitar contributions—they blew me away.

  5. Great review as always! Your insights and explanations of the lyrics-based albums are so wonderful that I wonder if I can see some ARC poems and lyrics in my lifetime.

  6. Best guitar album. I don’t really think of music that way, and a lot of my favorite guitar players are understated and are most skilled at supporting songs or blending into an ensemble, but I can think of some albums where the guitars are prominent throughout and are just fantastic. Here are the ones I came up with:

    Dire Straits–self-titled
    Bruce Cockburn–Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws
    The Rolling Stones–Sticky Fingers
    Television–Marquee Moon

    1. I like your list! My version would be anything that Dave Davies or Brian May played on, The Stone Roses (melodic guitar charming soundscape), Double Nickels On The Dime (impossible kick-ass riffs) and a collection of songs by Japanese ACG musicians, who are some of the most creative mainstream artists today.

    2. If you haven’t heard Television’s 1992 reunion lp, then give that a listen as well. Not as intense as MM, but captures Verlaine in an almost swinging mood and the guitars are front and centre. If you liked ‘Dragon’s Jaws’, check out Cockburn’s ‘Further Adventures of’, but I like most of Cockburn’s records until the late 80s.

      1. Yeah, that self-titled 1992 Television album would be a good choice for this list as well. I thought about it. And I like all of Cockburn’s stuff up through Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws. He started to lose me when he became more political.

    3. If I hadn’t been caught off guard by Dad’s challenge and listening to Neil Young, both Sticky Fingers and Marquee Moon would have come to mind, along with several Richard Thompson efforts. .

      1. Where to begin with Richard Thompson? I am mainly a fan of the four good albums he did with Linda Thompson (not the two mediocre ones), so it would be one of those for me–probably Shoot Out The Lights. The guitars on “Walking On A Wire” and the title song are jaw-dropping. A song from a different album that has a similar effect on me is “Hokey Pokey,” where his guitar is emotionally mirroring what Linda is singing, in a back-and-forth conversation. It’s kind of a teasing performance because the guitar comes and goes–very much by design, I think.

  7. After reading through all the comments you added in the past day or so since I refreshed your site, I’d like to thank you for your thoughtfulness and honesty in responding to all the long and rambling comments that I and my fellow readers posted, and just in general for how much work you put into making this a treasure trove for the small crowd of music obsessives that have stumbled upon it. A couple quick notes: I don’t know how I forgot about your Pearl Jam review given that I’ve read it multiple times and nearly commented on it but haven’t found the time to. I was hoping that Billy Strings could be a good gateway artist for bluegrass given how much he overlaps with psychedelic rock and provides a great education for the listener on genre traditions through various covers but also pushes the genre forward into more arena-ready crossover territory. However, I respect your commitment to reviewing only the music you feel confident in your knowledge of, and I won’t push it at all since you gave him a fair chance and explained your disinterest succinctly. I’m slightly intrigued to find out all that you’ve cut from the site through the years, but really, I don’t care that much about most modern indie, which I don’t dislike as an idea but have never had much of an interest in investigating, especially not when so much of the music you and the other independent online reviewers I follow is new to me but decades old to everyone else. Have a great week! I’m excited for whatever’s coming next, known (Bowie and the Dead) and unknown alike. Keep on truckin’!

  8. What’s happening November 5th? And could you respond in some way to the question I posed about the untapped potential of numerous musical artists who are being prevented from leading the current dire musical scene out of its morass?

    1. I did respond but it looks like the threads got crossed. “November 5” was a reply to Bart informing him of the date of my upcoming review regarding the Grateful Dead’s Europe 72. Response to untapped potential: “I did contemporary reviews of new artists from 2011 to 2016 but gave it up because a.) I didn’t have the juice to help them and b.) opening the door to independent artists meant I had to weed through a lot of amateurish stuff to find the real gems. It’s all about “influence,” and to hit the lowest level of “Influencer,” you have to to have 3000 followers; after twelve years, I have a little more than 600 subscribers. I get 200K visitors a year, but the big guns get tens of millions of followers, so if people are looking for reviews of new music, they’re always going to head over to Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, not here. I would very much like to do something to highlight promising artists because I know they’re out there (I still receive queries from promising indie artists asking me to do reviews but I don’t want to go there because haven’t figured out a way to do it successfully without creating an unmanageable workload). I’m running a secret experiment right now to plug a very talented artist, so we’ll see how that works out. I’m also tinkering with a piece on Beatlemania that may lead to some fresh ideas on how to get past the big label monopoly.” I’ll add that some of the more promising new artists I’ve heard are at the nascent stage of development similar to where the Beatles were in the Cavern days but they haven’t found their Brian Epstein and George Martin yet to help shape their ideas and develop that potential—and under the current big label system, there aren’t a lot A&R people out there beating the bushes for rock bands. The compositional talent you mentioned arose during a unique and wonderful era where bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys, Kinks, Stones, Bowie etc. competed with each other to make BETTER music, similar to the postwar jazz scene. I admit that re-creating that dynamic is a long shot in the current environment, but hey, in 1963 everyone thought rock ‘n’ roll was dead, and the interest shown by Gen Z in the Beatles suggests that some musicians from that generation might want to take a shot at musical excellence. I live in hope.

      1. I admire your effort and perseverance in the face of so many obstacles but, sorry, I remain sceptical. I’ve heard a lot of newer artists, mainly via the free CD’s that come with the top two music magazines as well as the radio, not to mention my Fitness Club’s soundtrack (yikes, worse than dire, which is why I spend all my time splashing around in the pool and jacuzzi where silence reigns!) I’ve yet to hear the suspicion of anything that sounds remotely innovative or inspired. Either the Muses have flown to new pastures or we’ve simply run out of notes. But here’s wishing you the best of luck, and feel free to send anything you find my way.

      2. Fully understandable. Bart commented on my lack of 21st century reviews but thirty-six were deleted in my 2016 cleanup—all indie bands whose second effort fell far short on of the promise of the first.

  9. Thanks for following up on my reply, Bart, and even more kudos for being a young fan of Neil Young. Not that he really needs more fans, but that situates you firmly among the younger generation who will resist the present submission to artificial tinkering in popular music. It was probably always inevitable that it would come to this, I for one am not very surprised; only flabergasted that, given the rare richness of the last few decades of the stuff that anyone brought up on it would choose to prefer Auto-tune and vapid tunes & lyrics of the kind we are currently swamped with. But there are wider, deeper reasons for that which I don’t have time to go into.

    On the surface, what is clearly happening is that younger musicians are very simply incapable of following in the footsteps of composers and musicians who since the 1960’s have raised the musical bar sky high. Who today would dare to compete with the Beatles or David Bowie, for example? Mission impossible., simple as that. Which is why I’m curious to know who it is people have in mind when they say that there are musical artists “out there” who are being held down by the now Big 3 — artists presumably able, Beatles-like, to lead us on a new musical journey. And, sorry, the few you cite don’t sound like possible contenders. I would guess, finally, that popular music is moving far away from the building blocks that have shaped it in the last few decades, towards a more somber and stripped-down music fit for a society in free-fall. We’d best no longer waste time pining for anything more.

  10. I put Harvest right up there with After The Gold Rush, Tonight’s The Night, and Rust Never Sleeps. Maybe not quite as good as those others, but close enough for me to have no problem with anyone saying it is Neil Young’s best album. It’s got plenty of quirky Neil Young moments, although “There’s A World” drags it down a bit.

    I always enjoy your deep dives into the lyrics of whatever album you are reviewing. People often miss the point when they try to figure out a very specific thing that lyrics are referring to. They make the song seem a lot smaller and less interesting than it actually is. I did not know (although I shouldn’t be surprised) that people have tried to figure out a real-life situation for “Powderfinger,” which to me is so obviously NOT intended to be based on a real-life situation. About the most specific thing you can say about it is that it is American.

    Even when a song actually IS about a specific thing, like “Thrasher” being about Crosby, Stills and Nash (I’d never heard that before), it often works better as a metaphor or a more general statement. “Thrasher” is about moving on with one’s life and leaving the past behind, although not without some sadness. What a brilliant, unique song.

    “Pocahontas” has the same sort of epic feel as “Thrasher.” I hadn’t heard that story about Marlon Brando. It’s great to have that context, although the lyric always worked for me anyway. I never thought of the line about sleeping with Pocahontas as being sexual. Okay, adults usually have sex when they sleep with each other, but Neil is obviously going for something more in that lyric.

    “Ride My Llama” is silly on a surface level but somehow perfectly complements the rest of the material on the album. Rhyming “llama” with “Texarkana” is pretty great, especially because it requires “llama” to be pronounced with the North American short A sound. The first line of the song, “Remember the Alamo when help was on its way” is a foreshadowing of what is going to happen in “Powderfinger.”

    In spite of its dual nature, the album holds together very well both sonically and thematically, with enough rough edges to leave it open to interpretation. This was probably Neil’s best album and the last really original one he made–or I guess I should say the last original one that was any good.

  11. Excellent review, especially like your sensitivity to Powderfinger, one of his very finest works. But am more interested in your comment, oft repeated, that the best artists of today are being blocked by “the Big 4.” Can you tell me WHO exactly they are so we can go and listen to them, perhaps help give them a lift upward? I’m a bit sceptical when I hear this, believe the new generations have simply lost the musical muse and moved on to other less purely musical genres. Surprise me!

    1. I could be wrong, but I remember reading in a previous post that the “Big 4” are the record labels that have a near-monopoly on popular music today.

    2. I first posted a reply, still stuck in the moderation queue, that clarified who the “Big 4” were, but I now realize you were asking who the great artists of today are, not who the Big 4 are. I don’t listen to a lot of new music even though I’m a teenager right now, someone who is supposed to connect most with the current era, but modern pop does nothing for me. However, I have discovered a couple artists that have managed to be fairly successful in non-pop genres these days who I believe are truly talented. The field of modern bluegrass is very fertile these days, with my favorite artists being the ridiculously talented guitarist Billy Strings (who I’ve seen live three times) and the thoughtful and uplifting songwriter Molly Tuttle (whose picking skills are also fantastic). I have also discovered an intriguing scene in West African guitar rock, the field originated by the great Ali Farka Touré but now populated by artists like the mysterious and prolific collective Tinariwen, the guitar hero and indie favorite Mdou Moctar (probably the most accessible to classic rock fans, and my original favorite from the genre), and the all-female (a very radical proposition in a region where music was historically exclusively a male domain) band Les Filles de Illighadad. Another artist from outside the Anglosphere that I seriously enjoy is the Norwegian folk group Wardruna, who pull off an incredibly effective mystical atmosphere that is truly powerful, especially live (they put on a mesmerizing show). I was also once a fan of electronic music, a very widespread genre these days, but apart from a few more experimental 70s and 90s artists, I no longer care for the genre much, so I can’t tell you who’s good today in that area.

      1. I’d like to expand upon Billy Strings just a tad, for this site’s meager 21st Century category could definitely benefit from the addition of this super talented yet humble bluegrass star, and he’s playing in Paris (at La Gigale) on November 14, so if you want to see what his reputation as an incredible live performer (his studio albums are great and review-worthy, but not his ideal setting) is all about, this is your chance, ARC. I’d suggest a review of his album Home, which won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album (perhaps the only category where the Recording Academy can be said to have any shred of credibility) and just barely meets the three-year requirement, having come out in 2019. It’s probably his best album (the 2021 follow-up Renewal is close, but it’s a little less satisfying, and it doesn’t meet the three-year rule), and I think it’s quite accessible and enjoyable to the open-minded classic rock fan, due to the presence of several songs where Strings goes to the electric and seriously rocks out (he played in a metal band as a teenager, covers classic rock regularly, and tours with pedals that can make his acoustic guitar sound convincingly like a distorted electric). It’s full of great songs filled with memorable hooks, the amazing interplay that makes the best bluegrass bands so great, and high-quality lyrics that range from political commentary to portraits of broken, downtrodden lives (a very real experience for him, growing up in poor rural Michigan and witnessing his parents’ descent into meth addiction, which both have since recovered from – his stepdad, who taught Billy guitar originally, recorded an album of bluegrass standards with him last year) to love songs and breakup songs that express in fun yet sincere ways the various stages of relationships. Anyway, hope you’ll give him a chance! If you want to see for yourself what his live reputation is all about, there’s some good videos in a playlist on his Youtube channel that I’ll link below, but most of his live material resides on the jam-band streaming service, which I paid $10 per month to have access to, and also features paid audio downloads of his shows, and I don’t want to make you download that. Only if you’re so into him (and Dead and Company, and Widespread Panic, and Pearl Jam, et cetera, which I bet you aren’t) that you cant resist unlimited access to every concert he’s performed since 2017 will it be the right move for you to pay for Nugs. You’re fine without it.
        Here’s the Youtube playlist I mentioned – the only complete shows on there are from festivals, including the 2021 and 2022 editions of his now-annual Renewal bluegrass festival in stunning Buena Vista, Colorado, which is about an hour away from Denver, where I live, but I had to give away my tickets to the festival this year because a conflict came up, so I’m hoping I can go next year. Anyway, Nugs streams set openers for free on Youtube, so there’s a lot of individual songs on the playlist as well, and feel free to browse around: Enjoy!

      2. Thanks for the recommendation—I’ll check it out but I have to warn you that I have zero interest or affection for bluegrass music, so I would likely disqualify myself from writing a full review. I avoid reviews of bluegrass, metal, hip-hop and rap because I’ve never been able to connect with those genres, making my opinion completely worthless. I did listen to a couple of the set openers on YouTube and he’s certainly an extraordinarily talented musician, but I’m skeptical about my ability to review bluegrass without screwing it up. p.s. I wrote a glowing review of Pearl Jam’s Ten.

    3. Update: apparently the EU caved and let Sony swallow up EMI, so it’s now the Big 3. I did contemporary reviews of new artists from 2011 to 2016 but gave it up because a.) I didn’t have the juice to help them and b.) opening the door to independent artists meant I had to weed through a lot of amateurish stuff to find the real gems. It’s all about “influence,” and to hit the lowest level. of “Influencer,” you have to to have 3000 followers; after twelve years, I have a little more than 600 subscribers. I get 200K visitors a year, but the big guns get tens of millions of followers, so if people are looking for reviews of new music, they’re always going to head over to Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, not here. I would very much like to do something to highlight promising artists because I know they’re out there but haven’t figured out a way to pull it off without burying me in extra work. I’m running a secret experiment right now to plug a very talented artist, so we’ll see how that works out. I’m also tinkering with a piece on Beatlemania that may lead to some fresh ideas on how to get past the big label monopoly. Stay tuned!

  12. Though I haven’t listened to him much beyond a few big hits that were in regular rotation on my parents’ playlists during my childhood (my parents weren’t huge music obsessives like I was, so most of my music taste has been shaped through independent exploration in the past few years, but they did have pretty good taste), Neil has been on my mind lately, and I’m glad this review popped up to give me an excuse to dive a little deeper. The reason he’s been on my mind is a little silly, but hear me out. Last Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Neil’s sit-in with Phish (confession time: I’m a Phish fan, and I must ask where they fall on your beet spectrum) during a Farm Aid benefit concert. The guitar-hero synergy between Neil and Trey Anastasio, and Phish’s adept skills at providing an amazingly dynamic backdrop for their nonstop but refreshingly varied and complementary soloing, all shone in a twenty-minute jam on the lyrically problematic but musically open-ended Down by the River: Anyway, as for this album, both parts of My My Hey Hey were in regular rotation when I was younger, but I don’t think I’ve heard the rest of the album, so I’ll have to check it out.
    By the way, the multiple mentions of Europe ’72 compel me to believe that you’re preparing to review that album. Will my intuition fail me, or are you truly circling back around to the band that my dad and I both claim as our favorite, the good ol’ Grateful Dead?

    1. Mark your calendar for November 5!

      1. I’m conflicted. I “like” Neil Young but pretty much never “feel” like listening to him. And when I say, pretty much never, I kind of mean never. Not sure why but there you have it. That said, I do own most of his output.

        Saw him live here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where, for those not aware, he formed his first band(s) and ultimately left for LA in the hearse that was noticed by Stephen Stills (I think) at a traffic light – then went on to jam together and then rock history was made.

        So, saw him live and, it was decent but nothing to really excite me. Totally believe he is a genius and his lyrics are exceptional, as are many of the melodies he crafts. I’ll be listening to some early Crazy Horse and Powderfinger (with a new ear. I had assumed it was the US civil war and the Union was steaming up the river).

        Not sure where my reply went off course but I came here to note the following, “I have a little more than 600 subscribers.” Absolutely shocked and appalled at that. The amount of time, effort and thought you put into each and every review is astounding. Can’t think of any other critic who is this deeply engaged in the subject matter. Can’t say enough about how glad I am that I am one of your 600!

        Thanks again for all your work.

      2. That’s a nice comment to wake up to! Thank you for your appreciation of my work. The funny thing is, I earn my daily bread through marketing and I know exactly how to increase my followers but it would involve commercializing the site (commercially-oriented sites are taken more seriously by the search engines) and I will never do that. The very thought of adding advertisements to the site makes me sick to my stomach. This is a labor of love and a wonderful learning experience for me and I want to keep it that way.

      3. Awesome! Looking forward to it. Just in case you need any more help finding info about the Dead (I know you’ve written about how great it is that there’s so much knowledge out there), there’s a pair of blogs run by the same dedicated fan that are about as thorough and scholarly as an unofficial Deadhead’s blog can be. One features general essays about various Dead topics, and the other is a compilation of sources the author uses in his research, such as interviews and news articles. Hope you find them helpful, informative, and rabbit-hole-esque, as I do:,

      4. Thank you! One of the things I love about writing Dead reviews is the easily accessible, intelligent information about the band. whether it’s from UC Santa Cruz or blogs like the one you mentioned. Dead fans aren’t like other fans who engage in idol worship; they’re intelligent people who write thoughtful commentary to share with the community. This will be my fourth Dead review and I’m really looking forward to it because I always learn something new.

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