Recorded at The Hit Factory, NY & Broken Arrow Ranch on December 14, 1988
Neil Young found his way home, of course, but he took the scenic route. As you do.
In Neil’s case, after going back to Reprise Records following his unsuccessful stint at Geffen, he had his first minor hit single in quite some time. Well, not so much a hit single as a hit video. And really not so much a hit video as a banned video that won MTV’s Video of The Year back when that still meant whatever it had ever meant.
I’m talking, naturally, about “This Note’s For You,” the perfectly serviceable title track from Neil’s first record for Reprise, which, was a blues album that to me seemed more in the grand tradition of The Blues Brothers instead of the Stax-Volt plus guitars that Neil was no doubt going for.
In any event, after doing everything he could to sabotage his career, Neil was back in the headlines, and in front of people, so while people were watching, he decided to make another left turn: make a record as great as any in his heyday, but incorporating many of things of the things he’d come up with in the meantime.
Thus, Freedom, his first great album in a decade, and one of the greatest albums he ever made.
The first glimmer of Freedom was an EP called Eldorado, recorded in late 1988 with the rhythm section that had powered the Bluenotes, drummer Chad Cromwell and bassist Rick Rosas. Eldorado was a preview of one aspect of Freedom: sparse songs with wild guitar — a pair of which “Cocaine Eyes” and “Heavy Love” remain unavailable anywhere else — highlighted by a crack-referencing cover of “On Broadway” and one of the highlights of Freedom, “Don’t Cry.”
Don’t cry my sweet girl
Nothing I say is written in stone
Don’t cry my sweet love
You won’t really be alone
I’m writing about “Don’t Cry” in the context of Freedom as opposed to Eldorado because Eldorado was only available in Japan and Australia, and I’m positive it was still an unheard legend to me when Freedom came out, so I got used to the one I originally heard. During the verses, “Don’t Cry” is sparse, Neil, Rosas & Cromwell barely playing, Neil’s voice shakey and naked, like he knows he’s done her wrong and really doesn’t know how to make it right.
I’ll help you pack your things
I’ll walk with you out to the car
I’ll hold on to the ring
I won’t forget the way things are
My sweet love
Your disappointed eyes
Are haunting me like my big lies
I see you glaring now
I see you staring in the fire
My sweet love
Then, of course, all of the pain and anger she must be feeling, as well as the shame he’s feeling come out in a series of massive guitar explosions. In the left speaker, in the right speaker, overpowering everything. Quiet LOUD quiet. Sound familiar?
In the end, he’s begging pleading asking her not to cry, but no matter how loud he turns up his guitar, he’s not going to get the sound of her crying out of his head.
“Don’t Cry performed live in San Francisco, 1989
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