Chrome Dreams (Godfather GR 253)
Pocahontas, Will To Love, Star Of Bethlehem, Like A Hurricane, Too Far Gone, Hold Back The Tears, Homegrown, Captain Kennedy, Stringman, Sedan Delivery, Powderfinger, Look Out For My Love. Bonus tracks, River Of Pride (‘White Line’, unreleased studio version, November 27, 1975), Campaigner (unedited, unreleased studio version, summer 1976), No One Seems To Know (live, Tokyo, Japan, March 10th, 1976), Give Me Strength (live, Chicago, IL, November 15, 1976), Peace Of Mind (live, Chicago, IL., November 15, 1976), Human Highway (CSNY, unreleased studio version, April 1976)
The flighty muse of Neil Young has caused several abrupt changes in style and strategy with the result that no other major artists has as many unreleased gems as he. It was more than a little bizarre last October when he released Chrome Dreams II, a sequel to an album that officially doesn’t even exist in his catalogue. For many years its very existence was merely assumed based upon a passing reference in the September 9th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone magazine (speaking about the upcoming tour with Crazy Horse “scheduled for November, just about when he’ll release his next LP, planed as Chrome Dreams.”) Its existence wouldn’t be confirmed until July, 1992 when an acetate surfaced in Germany complete with a (faked) track listing. A year later several CD releases were issued with this material making it available to all including Chrome Dreams (cd-77), and Time Fades Away / Chrome Dreams (CD XY201), both of which replicate the acetate accurately.
Another silver release is Chrome Dreams (“Black Label” 17088-02). This version differs from the others because the label changed up the song order, substituted an eleven minute live version of “Like a Hurricane,” and subtracted “Homegrown” and added a few more tracks (an electric “White Lines” (which they list as “River of Pride”), a 1992 acoustic performance of “Homefires,” an acoustic 1978 performance of “Ride My Llama” and a live “Peace of Mind.”) For their edition of Chrome Dreams, Godfather utilize the best edition of this classic ever assembled, the so-called “Rust Edition.” Released in 2004, this gathers together all of the best available versions of the of tracks, remastered and pitch corrected to produce the definitive version of the album. The label also reproduce the liner notes on the inside cover to provide fascinating reading about the background of the LP. It states:
“Neil Young was on a creative high in 1975. By the end of the summer, Zuma was finished, though still not released. Yet Neil carried on recording his new songs. Sometimes he recorded solo and sometimes with Crazy Horse. Lots of these songs would remain unheard by the public until quite a while later, but by late ’75, Neil had already written and recorded versions of such future classics as ‘Like A Hurricane,’ ‘Powderfinger,’ ‘Sedan Delivery,’ ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘Ride By Llama.’
“When American Stars ‘N Barswas released in 1977, Neil had scrapped most of the material he’d been recording since late ’75, replacing much of it with a series of rough hewn cowboy songs. Fun stuff to be sure, but had Neil committed the latest in a series of difficult to explain career suicides? Who else, except maybe Bob Dylan, would sit on a stash of such quality songs and not let the public hear them? Tracks 1 to 12 of this compilation are thought to be the unreleased Chrome Dreams album, readied for release weeks before Neil recorded those country hoedowns and rethought his strategy. Some of these song titles will be more than familiar to you, but the actual performances may surprise you.”
Most of the songs were recorded from September 1975 to November 1976 in California. The album begins with “Pocahontas,” which is the same version that appears on Rust Never Sleeps without the overdubs. “Will To Love” (from American Stars ‘N Bars), “Star Of Bethlehem” (from Decade), and “Like A Hurricane” are all previously released takes. “Too Far Gone” would be released in 1989 on Freedom, but this version is acoustic with Sampedro playing mandolin accompaniment. “Hold Back The Tears” is a completely different take than what appears on American Stars ‘N Bars. This is a sparse, haunting acoustic take and has a second verse not in the commercial version (“I call her name out in the night / I feel for someone but still something isn’t right / I those streets I hesitate to use / start looking better when night brings on the blues.”)
“Homegrown” is the same take that appears on Stars ‘N Bars but the guitars are higher in the mix. “Captain Kennedy” sounds identical to the commercial version released on Hawks & Doves. “Stringman” is the well known version recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on March 31st, 1976. There is no known studio version of the song and it wouldn’t be played again until his Unplugged session in 1993. One of the true highlights of the album is the acoustic version of “Powderfinger.” The electric version relied upon the biting guitars, but this version has only Young’s voice and passionate reading of the lyrics. Revealing the stark beauty of the piece, this is a true masterpiece.
The bonus tracks are also present on the Rust edition. The liner notes state: “We’ve chosen a select batch of bonus cuts to give you a further taste of just how creative Neil was during this fertile period. If the version of ‘White Line; (here retitled ‘River Of Pride,’ maybe because Neil forgot to sing the actual ‘White Line’ lyric) didn’t make the Chrome Dreams shortlist, then its continued circulation among collectors is something of a mystery. Maybe it was pressed onto acetate as a possible contender for Decade, which Neil was also preparing at this time. Whatever the truth, it’s a stupendous version of the song, recorded in 1975 with a loose and joyful Crazy Horse. Neil’s remake for Ragged Glory in 1990 may have been fine but it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of this earlier version. ‘Campaigner’ did make Decade, but not before losing one of its verses. You can hear the full-length version here.
“Three live cuts follow. ‘No One Seems To Know’ is an aching piano ballad that Neil once described as Part 2 of ‘A Man Needs A Maid,’ it’s first class but remains unreleased; ‘Give Me Strength’ dates from an earlier ill-fated album called Homegrown (an album that would have also featured ‘Star Of Bethlehem,’ the oldest cut in this collection) and is another lost classic; ‘Peace Of Mind’ is heard as an electric rock song played with the Horse and very different from the version Neil released on Comes A Time. And, as a nod to Zuma, we close with Crosby Stills Nash & Young. ‘Human Highway’ was recording during the Stills-Young sessions in 1976. The song was always meant to be a CSNY track, but Neil had run out of patience by the Comes A Time LP. Now you can have a glimpse of what might have been, which, come to think of it, is also true of the whole collection.”
Regarding its merit, it is true this collection fits right into his mid seventies output and would have been the perfect successor to Zuma. And that is also its weakness. Part of the fun in following Neil Young is to follow the changes and experiments. It is obvious that by the end of 1976 he tired of playing the “tortured troubadour” and wanted to branch off into other directions and the release of Chrome Dreams might have eliminated the release of the country stomp of American Stars ‘N Bars and the organized chaos of Rust Never Sleeps. As it is though Chrome Dreams is an fascinating glimpse into his art had he continued in the same vein and is essential to own. Godfather again did a great job with the mastering and packaging and this is a silver edition worth having.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)