Archive | July, 2018

Certain Songs #1264: Neil Young – “Sugar Mountain (San Francisco 10-22-1978)”

Album: Live Rust
Year: 1979

Recorded at the Cow Palace, San Francisco on October 22, 1978

What did you do on your 19th birthday? I don’t remember anything about my 19th birthday, but it was during a particularly directionless point in my life, where I was going to Fresno City College, and KFSR didn’t have any fixed date it was going on the air. (Though it did go on the air before I turned 20.) If I remember correctly, the only things I was doing on any consistent basis was going to as many concerts as I could afford and drinking a lot of beer.

I was also playing soccer, but there weren’t any World Cup championships in my near future.

And while in the wake of my parents separation, I was seriously considering escaping Fresno altogether and going to, like, UCLA (where Larry had gone) or Berkeley (because the Bay Area), the reality was that my high school grades were just too shitty.

Meanwhile, on his 19th birthday — the day I turned two — Neil Young wrote “Sugar Mountain,” his already nostalgic look at his fleeting youth, and his first great song.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
You’re leaving there too soon

I prefer the 1978 Live Rust version of “Sugar Mountain” to the 1968 version that first showed up as a b-side and eventually made it to Decade. I’ve always found that earlier version to be a bit tentative, like Neil is still too close to the subject matter of his oncoming adulthood to properly put the feelings across.

It’s so noisy at the fair
But all your friends are there
And the candy floss you had
And your mother and your dad

But, of course, as a veteran and having crossed the untrustworthy age of 30, he had enough distance to truly sing the song, and his performance on Live Rust is one of his greatest vocals. Just check how he creates space before he sings “sugar mountain,” or the way he wraps himself around “barrkers and colored balloons.”

There’s a girl just down the aisle
Oh, to turn and see her smile
You can hear the words she wrote
As you read the hidden note

Listen to how his voice trails off on the word “note,” giving everybody time to imagine the contents of that note as he heads back into the chorus, following it with an equally lovely harmonica solo, which dances around the melody without actually giving into it.

His confidence level is utterly off-the-charts — in the Rust Never Sleeps film, which also features this peformance, the conceit is that Neil is sleeping on top of one of the giant speaker cabinets, wakes up and just starts singing “Sugar Mountain,” — so of course he actually sings the opening couple of the chorus at the end acapella, and completely gets it over.

“Sugar Mountain (San Francisco 10-22-1978)”

“Sugar Mountain” live at the Canterbury House, 1968 (audio only)

“Sugar Mountain” at Live Aid, 1985

“Sugar Mountain” live at Farm Aid, 1995

“Sugar Mountain” live at the Bridge School Benefit, 1998

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #1264: Neil Young – “Sugar Mountain (San Francisco 10-22-1978)”

Album: Live Rust
Year: 1979

Recorded at the Cow Palace, San Francisco on October 22, 1978

What did you do on your 19th birthday? I don’t remember anything about my 19th birthday, but it was during a particularly directionless point in my life, where I was going to Fresno City College, and KFSR didn’t have any fixed date it was going on the air. (Though it did go on the air before I turned 20.) If I remember correctly, the only things I was doing on any consistent basis was going to as many concerts as I could afford and drinking a lot of beer.

I was also playing soccer, but there weren’t any World Cup championships in my near future.

And while in the wake of my parents separation, I was seriously considering escaping Fresno altogether and going to, like, UCLA (where Larry had gone) or Berkeley (because the Bay Area), the reality was that my high school grades were just too shitty.

(more…)

Certain Songs #1263: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)”

Album: Rust Never Sleeps
Year: 1979

Recorded at the Cow Palace, San Francisco on October 22, 1978

Believe it or not, when Live Rust came out, there was actually some debate as to whether or not it even needed to exist.

After all, Neil had recently put out the career-spanning retrospective, Decade, on which you could find near-definitive versions of many of the songs, and even more scandalous, Live Rust repeated four tracks from Rust Never Sleeps, including the exact same recording of “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black),” making it the only song that used the exact same performance on all three documents that came from that tour: Rust Never Sleeps, Live Rust and the film Rust Never Sleeps, though this version has some overdubs.

Confused? You won’t be. Actually, you probably will still be, because it’s pretty fucking confusing, and the only way I’ve been able to keep it straight is extensive research on Neil Young’s Archives website, where the most useful thing I’ve learned is that it’s somehow easier to search “My My, Hey Hey” than it is to search “Hey Hey, My My.”

Hey hey, my my
Rock and roll can never die
There’s more to the picture than meets the eye
Hey hey, my my

In 1978, that was a relatively safe statement: despite people declaring rock ‘n’ roll dead from the moment it started, it was pretty much at its cultural apex in the late 1970s, especially as punk gave it new life.

40 years later, and rock and roll is, of course, not dead, but it’s nowhere near the apex of what is now a completely fractured culture, especially as Neil Young’s peers are dropping or retiring left and right. (For a great book about all of that, check out Steven Hyden’s Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock.) Which was at least part of the reason that I wanted to see at least one of the NYCH shows: who knows if they’ll ever tour again?

Out of the blue and into the black
You pay for this, but they give you that
And once you’re gone, you can’t come back
When you’re out of the blue and into the black

Neil’s guitar — and to a lesser extent, Frank Sampedro’s — is so incredibly overdriven, so fuzzed out and fucked up, that it almost seems like an accident: like somebody poured liquid distortion on the tape. This right here, is where the “godfather of grunge” sound was born: Neil trying to outnoise the punks, knowing he can’t outspeed them (sorry, “Sedan Delivery“) all the while understanding how they’re the future.

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

Or at least that’s how I’ve always chosen to interpret it: Neil tying Elvis Presley’s death to the Sex Pistols flame out, and thus the first quarter century of rock ‘n’ roll. Especially on the acoustic version where he doesn’t ask the question but declares that it’s the story of Johnny Rotten (and also reminds us that it’s better to burn out than to either fade away or rust).

Ironically, Johnny Rotten almost immediately anachronised this lyric by changing his name back to “Johnny Lydon,” though I’ve always maintained that he could just change the lyrics to “The king is gone but he’s still exciting / Johnny Lydon, Johnny Lydon

So is the story of Elvis Presley or is it the story of Johnny Rotten? Both, but more importantly it’s also the story of Neil Young: no matter how he phrased it, he truly believed in burning out — giving it all until the end — and honestly, he’s still doing it. The thing about burning out, of course, is that some fires are bigger than others.

Hey hey, my my
Rock and roll can never die
There’s more to the picture than meets the eye
Hey hey, my my

And it’s also the story of me, or you. Trying to strike a balance between burning out and fading away, still believing in the power of rock and roll, still thrilling to how Neil just ripped notes out of his guitar throughout this improbably stupidly perfect song, which of course we covered in Sedan Delivery, and might even do so again.

“Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)”

“Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black), live in Berlin, 1982

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” solo acoustic at Live Aid, 1985

“Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” live w/ Crazy Horse in SF, 1986

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” live w/Crazy Horse, 1991

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” live w/ Crazy Horse, Bonnaroo 2003

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) live w/ Crazy Horse on Austin City Limits, 2012

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #1263: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)”

Album: Rust Never Sleeps
Year: 1979

Recorded at the Cow Palace, San Francisco on October 22, 1978

Believe it or not, when Live Rust came out, there was actually some debate as to whether or not it even needed to exist.

After all, Neil had recently put out the career-spanning retrospective, Decade, on which you could find near-definitive versions of many of the songs, and even more scandalous, Live Rust repeated four tracks from Rust Never Sleeps, including the exact same recording of “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black),” making it the only song that used the exact same performance on all three documents that came from that tour: Rust Never Sleeps, Live Rust and the film Rust Never Sleeps, though this version has some overdubs.

(more…)

Certain Songs #1262: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Sedan Delivery”

Album: Rust Never Sleeps
Year: 1979

Recorded at St. Paul Civic Center on October 15, 1978

So yeah, this is the song we named our band after. Pretty sure it was Doc who came up with it. And while it musically represented the Neil Young + The Replacements vibe we were going after, it wasn’t a song that we ever did, probably because that would have a bit too much.

That said, with its constant shifts in tempo — alternating a speedy almost blues-shuffle with slower, almost dreamy passages — “Sedan Delivery” is one of Neil Young’s weirder rockers, especially in the lyrics department, where each verse is chock full of vivid, not-quite-right imagery.

Next day I went to the dentist
He pulled some teeth
and I lost some blood
We’d like to thank you
for the cards you sent us
My wives and I were all choked up

The musical anchor of “Sedan Delivery” is Neil Young and Frank Sampedro doubling on an distorted riff during the fast parts that is heavy-sounding but light-feeling, so when they get to the slower parts it feels almost natural.

I saw the movie and I read the book
But when it happened to me
I sure was glad I had what it took
To get away.

Gotta get away
(Gotta get away)
Gotta get away
(Gotta get away)
Gotta get away
(Gotta get away)
Gotta get away
(Gotta get away)
Gotta get outta here

“Sedan Delivery” was originally recorded for the abandoned Chrome Dreams album, and while it still has the riff and the basic structure, everything was at the slower tempo — so it seemed way more normal than the near-unhinged version we got on Rust Never Sleeps.

And so the deeper we get into “Sedan Delivery,” the wilder it gets, especially during some of the call-and-response parts at the end as Sampedro, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot whoop it up, sometimes even together, but mostly not, especially after the last verse.

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)
Hard to find a job
(Hard to find)
Hard to find
(Hard to find!!!)
Hard to find
(Hard to find!!!)
Hard to find

And yeah, I ended up substituting “band” for “job” during that last verse in my head, and love the way they trade off “hard to find” while Neil tosses one last crazy guitar solo — the solos on “Sedan Delivery” are plentiful, but they’re all short, as befitting a song that seems like it had at least some punk rock influence, and of course leads into one of Neil’s career-defining anthems.

“Sedan Delivery”

“Sedan Delivery” live at the Cow Palace, SF, 1978

“Sedan Delivery” from Chrome Dreams, 1975

“Sedan Delivery” live in Hamburg, 1996

“Sedan Delivery” live at Bonnaroo, 2003

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page