Neil Young, ‘Demos and Live 1965 – 2012’ (Empress Valley Supreme Disk EV 1441)
I Ain’t Got The Blues / Flying On The Ground Is Wrong / Expecting To Fly / Whiskey Boot Hill / Broken Arrow / High School Graduation / Birds / Cinnamon Girl / Cinnamon Girl / Dance, Dance, Dance / The Loner / Mellow Mind / Ambulance Blues / Human Highway / Tonight’s The Night / Barefoot Floors / Country Home / Sad Movies / Singer Without A Song (67:59)
If anyone needed an extension to what should have been the final word to his career (Archives), it would be Neil Young. The golden tsunami of riches that spilled from his pen and guitar in the ‘70’s was naturally effortless and, while it would have been a mammoth task to put all this material together on the official boxes, leave it to the bootleggers to score the shavings from the cutting room floor and still come up tops.
That Neil himself suggested that you’d hear the good, the bad and the ugly on these multi disk sets is blown wide open here as some of the ‘good’ has been massively over looked.
This gathering focuses mainly on the 1960’s and early to mid-70’s with a grope around some neat live material as well as some sublime studio offcuts.
I Ain’t Got The Blues (Electra Demo, 15th December, 1965) – A slightly lo-fi recording (Though very, very good for it’s vintage), a formative Neil Young demo from the pre-Buffalo Springfield days. The spirit is very much early Neil and this particular sound would unfold again during his tenure with that band.
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong (Alternate take, 10th June, 1966, Gold Star Studios) – Preceded by a bit of goofy studio bantering between Neil, Stephen Stills and the control room, this early, unadorned take on the “Buffalo Springfield’ track has an off-kilter feel as the band watches Neil performs and allows it all to unfold.
Expecting To Fly (Demo recording, 2nd May, 1967, Gold Star Studios) – I guess Neil was quite taken by flying in his early years. Taken from sessions for the “Buffalo Springfield Again” LP, this in-studio, double tracked work out is brilliant quality, if maybe a little over baked – That it’s for demonstration purposes only makes more sense.
Whiskey Boot Hill (Unfinished instrumental, 6th May, 1967, Sunset Sound Studios) – An instrumental take of the first passage of ‘Country Girl’ that would end up on “Deja Vu”
Broken Arrow (Demo recording from acetate, 15th August, 1967, Gold Star Studios) – An early, double tracked demo for the “Buffalo Springfield Again” record. Missing many of the over dubbed effects that were on the final release, the lyrics are pretty much fully written. Whether Neil had intended that the ‘Mother had sworn on the wall’ in the first draft or it was a flub is unclear as it’s sung with out comment or statement.
High School Graduation (Outtake, 15th August, 1967, Gold Star Studios) – One of the great unreleased tracks from Neil’s stash, this simple demo is on acoustic guitar only – According to Ken Viola who touched base with Neil to request a set of lyrics so that he could record his own version misremembered it as being played on piano and guitar – Whether the demo he received was actually played that way and we’re missing that one might be a question for Ken himself.
Birds (Outtake, 3rd August, 1969, Sunset Sound Studios) – Take 5 from the session. Begins with Neil suggesting back to the control room that his last take was better than the previous take and muttering then that ‘65 was better than ‘66, this take isn’t the piano lead version that we’re all used to, but played on acoustic guitar instead. The very body of the track is already in place, the lyrics correct but for whatever reason, Neil decided that he wanted to take it to piano. Following the decision to put two different versions of the same track on albums in the early 1970’s, maybe Neil could have been persuaded to have included both on “After The Gold Rush”, however, we can enjoy this all too pretty version here instead.
Cinnamon Girl (Live recording, Fillmore East, 7th March, 1970) – A great live slab of hard-headed jamming from the first iteration of Crazy Horse, shamefully omitted from the Archive ‘Filmore’ release. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ has always held itself, in my mind, as one of those tracks that should have lasted around 12 minutes live, maybe it’s better for being as compact as it is.
Cinnamon Girl (Single mix, Danny Witten lead vocal, 20th March, 1970, Wally Heider Recording Studios) – An odd exchange as Danny seems to sound a lot like Neil, unless he’s singing over a guide vocal – There’s an obvious difference in their vocal styles but this is only paper shades between the two. The track seems to be mixed for radio broadcast as it’s a little less wide sounding too.
Dance, Dance, Dance (Outtake, 2nd July 1971, Quadrophonic Sound Studios) – A gift to his buddies, Crazy Horse included their version on their eponymous, sophomore album. This demo / outtake features some mean, squeaky, guitar, a baggy bass line and thick, sonorous drumming.
The Loner (Live Recording, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 5th February, 1973) – A great and deeply gritty live take that wasn’t included on the Performance Series release in 2019 for whatever reason – Neil’s vocals are perhaps not as strong as they could be but that’s just opinion – It’s a solid performance with a great stinging solo.
Mellow My Mind (Alternate Take, 8th December, 1973, Ranch Studio) – A banjo lead version replacing electric guitar and drums, with a steel guitar nearly imperceptible in the background. Much more intimate, if that was possible, this version sounds like a cross between a warm up and the fully finished article. It’s also nearly a minute shorter, losing the lyrics, “ Cause something so hard to find. A situation that can casualize your mind” and the second take of the “Railroad” chorus.
Ambulance Blues (Alternate Take, 5th December, 1973, Ranch Studio) – Missing the third chorus and final verse, this abbreviated studio recording is pretty much half the length of the version that appears on ‘On The Beach’.
Human Highway (Outtake, 5th December, 1973, Ranch Studio) – Long considered for a CSNY project, here it’s a bright, acoustic, studio outtake. It sounds a lot like the version that would later appear on ‘Hitchhiker’ but played here without the harp.
Tonight’s The Night (Early Take, 4th March, 1974, Ranch Studio) – I guess this is the ‘original’ alternate that Scott Young alluded to in his biography – A much faster, grungier, piece, a little less doomy, evidently a live take that’s recorded hot to tape – Neil sounds riled up as he recounts the lyrics, the stinging guitar soloing burning intensely. Neil doesn’t through in many asides as he does on the remake – Sticking to the lyrics as written. If you’ve heard Paul McCartney’s ‘Rode All Night’, the Ram outtake later rewritten as ‘Giddy’ for Roger Daltrey, you’ll recognise the feel of the track.
Barefoot Floors (Outtake, 15th June, 1974, Ranch Studio) – Originally recorded during the “Homegrown” sessions (The album that that was considered so ‘down’ that it’s release was replaced by “Tonight’s The Night”) and despite it’s inclusion on Neil’s own ‘Archives’ site, when the album was released in 2020 for Record Store Day, ‘Barefoot Floors’ wasn’t included on it, though it has been covered by Nicolette Larson since. It is, as Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” was, as stark and as somber a song as Neil would sing.
Country Home (Live, Festival Hall, Osaka, 5th March, 1976) – Some of the Japanese shows in ‘76 have long circulated on bootleg, they’re soundboard recordings and sound fantastic. This show only seems to have circulated from Mr. Peach’s recordings of the night so it’s a welcome release to hear a solid ‘board choice.
Sad Movies (Live, Eppelheim, West Germany, 18th March, 1976) – From a less than desirable audience recording comes the first rendition of this unreleased track – A plaintive acoustic thinker, the rendition sounds great if you were there, I guess, unfortunately, it’s marred by coughs, ambience and a bit of feedback. It’s a great ‘what could be’ track but it’s inclusion is appreciated, regardless.
Singer Without A Song (Rehearsal, unknown, 2012) – Skipping forward 36 years, we finish the set with a rehearsal take of a track that still hasn’t seen the light of day officially. Heavily promoted around the release of ‘Psychedelic Pill’ and at his reunion with Buffalo Springfield, in a year it was played over 50 times, still none of those performances have pushed Neil to actually put it out there.
The cover for this set is very basic for what it is, however, it’s a thick card sleeve in black and white featuring some gloriously moody Young shots. Featured inside is a little flyer proclaiming that Empress Valley is the best label for Led Zeppelin (A notable inclusion, I’m sure). Copies of the CD also come with a holographic EV sticker.
I’d highly recommend this set to anyone reading – Due to the paucity of Young recordings, there are a number of compilations that float around out there, this, however, is one of the best I’ve heard and barring one track, sounds the absolute boss. An instant pick up for sure.