Listen To This Eddie is a bi-weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
There are a lot of adjectives that can be used to describe Neil Young. Brilliant. Mercurial. Prolific. Spontaneous. Obsessive. Frustrating. Driven. Those same words can be used to describe Dylan, Springsteen, Bowie, Kanye, or Jay-Z, but the quality really that sets Neil apart from almost every single one of his peers is his ability to walk away. Walk away from anything. Bands. Cars. Personal and romantic relationships. Business ventures. Whole tours. And yes, albums.
While listeners the world over remained justifiably enthralled with Neil’s extensive official canon, filled out by classics like Harvest, Tonight’s The Night, On The Beach, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and After The Gold Rush to cite a few of the more prominent examples, there’s a smaller subset of fans that remains wholly consumed by what the wily Canadian has kept locked in the vaults. Their names are as mysterious as they are enticing: Homegrown, Chrome Dreams, and Oceanside-Countryside. Next month, after 40 years of collecting dust, Neil will mollify this hardest core of his constituency by bringing one of these jewels to light, a wholly acoustic record titled Hitchhiker.
Fueled by a pharmacy’s worth of narcotics, Hitchhiker was recorded in a single night at Indigo Studios in Malibu, California on August 11, 1976. There were only three people present that evening, Young, his longtime producer and collaborator David Briggs, along with the actor and director Dean Stockwell. Young detailed the sessions In his 2014 autobiography Super Deluxe.
“I spent the night there with David and recorded nine solo acoustic songs, completing a tape I called Hitchhiker. It was a complete piece, although I was pretty stony on it, and you can hear it in my performances. Dean Stockwell, my friend and a great actor who I later worked on Human Highway as a co-director, was with us that night, sitting in the room with me as I laid down all the songs in a row, pausing only for weed, beer, or coke. Briggs was in the control room, mixing live on his favorite console.”
Though several tracks recorded that evening ended up on subsequent albums in varying forms — “Human Highway” was added to his 1978 release Comes A Time, while “Powderfinger,” “Ride My Llama” and “Pocahontas” were tacked on to Rust Never Sleeps the year after that, and “Captain Kennedy” was saved for 1980’s Hawks & Doves — this is the first opportunity to hear the album the way it was originally laid down that “stony” evening. Two of the songs “Hawaii” and “Give Me Strength” will get their first official release ever.
Even more incredible than that, it doesn’t seem like Neil is going to lock the vaults back up after issuing Hitchhiker either. After making his fans wait eight years for the follow-up to his 10-disc box set, The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972, just last month, the site NeilYoungArchives.com went live, and it appears that the singer wants to use it as a place to share nearly everything he’s ever recorded.
“I built this as much for myself as for everyone else,” he wrote in an open letter posted to the site. “Every single, recorded track or album I have produced is represented.” He then invites users to, “View all albums currently released and see albums still unreleased and in production just by using the controls to zoom through the years. Unreleased album art is simply penciled in so you can see where unreleased albums will appear on the timeline, once they are completed.”
With all that being said, if everything comes to fruition as Neil has laid it out — and that’s still a huge “if” — we might soon gain access to a whole host of records that his most diehard fans have been dreaming about hearing for practically their entire lives. While it’s impossible to know what exactly Neil actually has in the vaults, here are a couple of key entries that should fill in some pretty critical gaps in his canon.
This is the big one. People have been talking about, speculating about, and wishing to hear Homegrown for over 40 years and more. We almost got it too, if not for a random evening with a bunch of his friends. Back around 1975, Neil was at a party at the Chateau Marmont in LA when he decided to play them his next record Homegrown, a largely acoustic album, similar sonically to his blockbuster 1972 release Harvest. The cover had already been designed, and his label was fully expecting to put it out in later that year. As it happened, another album of his was on the same reel, the boozy Tonight’s The Night. Well, after hearing both records back to back, Neil decided he’d rather shelve Homegrown completely and put out Tonight’s The Night instead.
“Not because Homegrown wasn’t as good. A lot of people would probably say that it’s better,” he told Cameron Crowe later that year. “By listening to those two albums back to back at the party, I started to see the weaknesses in Homegrown. I took Tonight’s The Night because of its overall strength in performance and feeling. The theme may be a little depressing, but the general feeling is much more elevating than Homegrown.”
The reasons that it’s remained hidden away all the years probably run a whole lot deeper than issues of quality or feeling. “That record might be more what people would rather hear from me now, but it was just a very down album,” he said. “It was the darker side to Harvest. A lot of the songs had to do with me breaking up with my old lady. It was a little too personal… it scared me.”
The story of Chrome Dreams is actually quite similar to Homegrown. In 1977, Neil had two different albums in the can, one tentatively titled Chrome Dreams, and another called American Stars N’ Bars. Of course, he decided to go ahead and release the latter record leaving former locked away. It was a perplexing choice to say the least, considering the depth of material that Neil had collected over the past three years that would have made up Chrome Dreams — three of its songs “Pocahontas,” “Sedan Delivery,” and “Powderfinger” would eventually get added to his 1979 stunner Rust Never Sleeps — but apparently he was more inspired to release some fresher material. Fortunately, an acetate of the record leaked out somehow into the public and fans have passed around the bootleg for years, but it’s never officially seen the light of day, that in spite of the fact that Neil released another album titled Chrome Dreams II in 2007.
Unlike the last two entries, Odeon-Budokan is a live album, recorded, as it’s named would suggest, in both London — at the Hammersmith Odeon, and Tokyo at the Budokan — during his incredible 1976 tour with his faithful backing band Crazy Horse. These were some of their first outings with guitarist Frank “Pancho” Sampredo, who had stepped up to fill in for guitarist Danny Whitten, who died of a heroin overdose a few years earlier, inspiring some of Neil’s greatest and most pain-filled work along the way — “Needle And The Damage Done,” for example.
The legend of these two, fierce shows has only grown with each passing year. As Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbott bragged to Rolling Stone in 1979, “I have this tape from Japan. Compared to this tape, Zuma sounds like a bunch of guys sleeping in big, fat armchairs, smoking pipes,” he boasted. “Whenever I feel down, I listen to that tape.”
Oceanside-Countryside is one of the more mysterious entries in Neil’s unreleased canon as very little of it has actually ever leaked out. In fact, all we really have to go on as to its sonic properties is the song “Lost In Space” that was later added to Hawks & Doves. This album was supposedly recorded sometime in 1977 while Neil was kicking around Triad Studios in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In its initial form, Oceanside-Countryside was a pretty stripped-down affair, that Neil later beefed up with the help of a multitude of Nashville session players at the request of his label. Still, despite the time, effort and energy he poured into this record, at the end of the day, for whatever reason, he decided to walk away from it all and move on to something else instead.
Island In The Sun
This one is record mogul David Geffen’s fault. Shortly after signing to his label in the early 1980s, Neil invited Geffen to take a listen to what he thought was a finished record, a record that explored a whole host of off-the-wall themes and motifs, like ancient civilizations and whatnot. Needless to say, Neil’s boss wasn’t feeling the project nearly as much as his artist was. “David Geffen, listened to the record Island in the Sun, which I thought was done, and told me to do more,” he explained in his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace. I wanted to get started on a good foot, so I added another dimension, vocoded (electronically synthesized) voices, that made it into Trans.”
With Trans out, Island In The Sun remained out of view. Neil’s relationship with Geffen ultimately soured when the two couldn’t bridge their opposing worldviews. “I have never thought it was my job to make a record company look great. I thought it was the other way around,” he explained. “Not every record made by me is designed to be a hit. Some are expressions in an artist’s life. They tried telling me what to do so they could have their hit.”
Old Ways 1
A record similar in feel to Harvest that was pegged as being not “rock” enough by the powers that be. Neil eventually did put out an album titled Old Ways in 1985, but it was this 1983 release, something he took to calling Old Ways 1 that remained closer to his heart. Again it was clashing ideologies with his label boss that left it unreleased. “There was a whole other record, the original Old Ways, which Geffen rejected,” he told Rolling Stone in 1988. “It was a combination of the musicians from Harvest and Comes A Time. It was done in Nashville in only a few days, basically the same way Harvest was done, and it was co-produced by Elliot Mazer, who produced Harvest.
Incredible as it may sound now, Geffen simply wasn’t feeling a Harvest-type record in an era when Peter Gabriel was dominating the charts. “I was so stoked about that record,” Neil said. “I sent them a tape of it that had eight songs on it. I called them up a week later, ’cause I hadn’t heard anything, and they said, ‘Well, frankly, Neil, this record scares us a lot. We don’t think this is the right direction for you to be going in.'” Adding, “I guess they just saw me as some old hippie from the Sixties still trying to make acoustic music or something.”
You can now stream Hitchhiker now via NPR here.
According to legend, on July 29, 1966 Dylan was riding his Triumph motorcycle around upstate New York when he got involved in a crash. The details of what caused the accident and the extent of Dylan’s injuries have remained a total mystery. However extensive or minor they may have been, the singer decided to use the accident to step back from the limelight and take a little bit of downtime for himself at his home around Woodstock. He raised a family, recorded some tapes in his basement with The Band, and generally relished in his anonymity.
Dylan’s brief sabbatical officially ended exactly 48 years ago today on August 31, 1969 when he took the stage backed by the Band at the Isle Of Wight Festival in the UK. He and his iconic backing band returned to the land where he’d been branded a “Judas!” and rocked their asses off to the hundreds of thousands of wide-eyed acolytes spread out before them. They played 17 songs in total, four of which — “Like a Rolling Stone,” “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo),” “Minstrel Boy,” and “She Belongs to Me” — ended up on his 1970 album Self Portrait.
This entire show was actually later released as part of the Deluxe Edition of The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971). You can watch a small portion of one of the most triumphant gigs of Dylan’s career above.