Category: The Daily Loper

Certain Songs #1292: Neil Young – “No Wonder”

Album: Prairie Wind
Year: 2005

Recorded at Masterlink, Nashville on March 19, 2005

It would be 2005 before we got another good Neil Young album.

That’s not as bad as it sounds, I guess. First off, Broken Arrow was his last album of the 20th century, unless you count 1999’s CSN&Y album, Looking Forward, which I don’t even remember, so I guess I don’t.

But even a glance at the always helpful timeline on the invaluable Neil Young Archives shows an absolute paucity of studio recording during that period, and no lost albums.

So maybe it was the fact that it was recorded in spurts from 1997-1999 that make 2000’s Silver and Gold so unmemorable outside of the title track and “Razor Love,” which at least had some momentum. Also unmemorable: 2002’s Are You Passionate?, recorded in two spurts — May & November — in 2001 after Neil shelved an entire Crazy Horse album called Toast, in between which the entire universe seemingly changed.

While one of my all-time favorite Neil Young live bootlegs is a broadcast of one of the shows of the tour he took with Booker T & The MGs in 1993, they proved particularly ineffective as a backing band, which even Neil knew, as he brought 2/3 of Crazy Horse back onboard for Greendale, the incredibly ambitious “audio novel” he put out in 2003.

Honestly, it maybe should have been a real novel. For some reason, Neil didn’t think that the Greendale songs need a rhythm guitar, so there was no Poncho Sampedro, and as a result, the music seemed thin. The fact that many of the songs were warmed-over blues shuffles that lasted over 10 minutes didn’t really help, as Neil clearly need the long songs in order to get all of his story in, but in the end, only the final track, “Be The Rain,” would make even the lower reaches of his canon, and even that song starts off with “Save the planet for another day” and features Neil yelling at clouds with a bullhorn.

I’m sure that there are some of y’all who love it, but not me: I think it’s the weakest of all of the records he did with Crazy Horse.

So Neil decamped to Nashville for the first time since Old Ways with old mates Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, Chad Cromwell and Rick Rosas and wrote an album about grappling with both the death of his father, but also his own mortality, as he’d recently had an operation for an aneurysm, though as a dude who was having epileptic seizures onstage with Buffalo Springfield, his own mortality was never too far from his mind.

See the bluebird fly easy as a dream
Dipping and bobbing in the sun
Could she be the one I saw so long ago
Could she be the one to take me home
This pasture is green
I’m walking in the sun
It’s turning brown
I’m standing in the rain
My overcoat is worn
The pockets are all torn
I’m moving away from the pain

That said, the multi-layered rambling “No Wonder” felt like both a return to the Harvest / Harvest Moon sound and a continuation of it at the same time. Not only did it make extensive use of pedal steel and organ — as well as a smart, expansive guitar part from Neil — there was also a whole choir people doing backing vocals.

Tick-tock
The clock on the wall
No wonder we’re losing time
Ring, ring
The old church bell
The bride and her love
Seeking guidance from above

In the end, “No Wonder” shifts gears into what could almost be termed as an acoustic rave-up, with Keith’s pedal steel battling it out with Clinton Gregory’s fiddle, while Karl Himmel’s drums subtly drive them all. Like most of my favorite songs on Prairie Wind — “Painter,” “It’s A Dream,” “Prairie Wind” and even the more jokey “He Was The King” — “No Wonder” drove a perfect bargain between being overdone and utterly sparse.

“No Wonder”

“No Wonder” performed live in 2005

The Certain Songs Database
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 #1291: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Slip Away (Los Angeles 09-11-1996)”

Album: Year of the Horse
Year: 1997

Recorded at the The Forum, Inglewood on September 11, 1996

Along with “Big Time” and “Music Arcade,” “Slip Away” was a definite highlight of Broken Arrow, but where it truly shone was on Year of The Horse, where it had time to slowly unfold.

I mean, sure, it slowly unfolded on Broken Arrow, too, but it kinda got lost a bit, being the third long slow song in a row to start off on that record, whereas on Year of the Horse, it was the first song on the second disc, following a pair of shorter songs that ended the first disc.

So it stood out a bit more on the live album, where Ralph Molina’s rumbling rolling beat stood out more, as did Neil’s near-dip into a falsetto on the chorus.

And when the music started
She just slipped away
Just like a river rolling down
And when the music started
She just slipped away

It’s an incredibly lovely chorus, with Neil vocally augmented by Molina, while Poncho Sampedro jingle-jangle-jingles underneath, and of course after a couple of verses and a couple of choruses, it’s long guitar solo time, as the rhythm section settles in for the long haul, an Neil starts sending out jagged guitar lines into the ether.

And honestly, that’s pretty much it: whether or not you like “Slip Away” will totally depend on whether or not you have room for yet another long slow Neil Young & Crazy Horse guitar jam. Me, I never get enough of them, especially as new ones were going to become incredibly sparse — it would be 15 long years where we would get another one — which of course I didn’t know in 1997.

“Slip Away (Los Angeles 09-11-1996)”

“Slip Away” live in SF, 1997

The Certain Songs Database
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 #1290: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Barstool Blues (Santa Cruz 05-09-1996)”

Album: Year of the Horse
Year: 1997

Recorded at the Catalyst, Santa Cruz on May 9, 1996

One of the fun things about Year of the Horse, the live album that Neil Young culled from the nearly year-long tour he undertook with Crazy Horse, was that it contained not one, but two songs originally on Zuma, neither of which was “Cortez The Killer.”

One of those songs was an utterly epic take on the long-lost “Danger Bird,” and other was a great, jammy version of “Barstool Blues,” which was definitely not a blues, but felt like it was written at last call.

If I could hold on
to just one thought
For long enough to know
Why my mind is moving so fast
And the conversation is slow
Burn off all the fog
And let the sun
through to the snow
Let me see your face again
Before I have to go

On Zuma, “Barstool Blues” is anchored by a big jangly guitar hook and an almost country bassline, while Neil sings at the very top of his register, bouncing his cracked voice off against that top over and over again.

I have seen you in the movies
And in those magazines at night
I saw you on the barstool when
You held that glass so tight
And I saw you in my nightmares
But I’ll see you in my dreams
And I might live a thousand years
Before I know what that means

But twenty years later, Neil dropped the key into something easier for him to sing in a live context, downplayed the guitar hook and let Crazy Horse drive it forward. And while it might not quite have the pathos of the original version, it definitely had more drive.

Once there was a friend of mine
Who died a thousand deaths
His life was filled with parasites
And countless idle threats
He trusted in a woman
And on her he made his bets
Once there was a friend of mine
Who died a thousand deaths

In fact, it’s that drive that makes me love this version: after a reprise of the first verse, Ralph Molina switches up the beat, doubling up on his snare, and “Barstool Blues” goes into orbit for the next five minutes or so, Neil adjusting the direction with little fireblasts of guitar here and there, until they find a clear path.

Then he takes off this his guitar, shooting off shimmering electric notes against what counts as a rave-up for Crazy Horse, as they get more and more and more intense, until all four of them are bashing crashing smashing against each other in unison; Neil occasionally jotting out ahead for a quick solo, but always coming back to the fold, until finally, they just end it.

“Barstool Blues (Santa Cruz 05-09-1996)”

“Barstool Blues” from Zuma

The Certain Songs Database
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 #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable 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 #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable 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